Third and Final Time
After drifting through the lazy river for ten minutes, the others came to find us and suggested that we got lunch.
Just before we left, I grabbed Hinata’s arm and whispered, “H-hey, before we go home, c-c-can I speak to you…in private?”
I spoke softly enough that no one else should’ve heard us, but I did notice Rei giving me a few looks here and there during lunch.
But he was more than ten metres away from me - there’s no way.
Still, it didn’t change what I had to do.
I was going to confess.
No one would get in my way.
“Hey, they have a volleyball court!”
“Oh yeah, they do.” Aki sighed a little and asked, “Ryuuji, don’t tell me - you want to play, don’t you?”
“Why not? It’s not every day you can play beach volleyball!”
“Indoors, at least,” Inori quipped.
“Come on, it could be fun. And, hey, we can always go swimming later. Right now, there’s no one on it, so please. Just a few games.”
“I’ll pass,” Hayato’s older brother said.
“…What about the rest of you guys?”
Rei looked awkwardly over at us, casting a few more glances at me. I mouthed to him I don’t mind which seemed to settle the matter.
“Alright - just for a bit. I mean, we didn’t come to a water park to play volleyball.”
“Great! That’s fine.”
“Actually.” Hayato grinned and let out a low murmur. “What if we made it more interesting?”
“Well, if Kou’s sitting out, then why don’t we do a double’s tournament, and the winners can ask the loser to do something.”
“Pervert,” Inori, Hinata, Kana and I all said at once.
“Oi! I never said it had to be anything like that!”
“Well, if it was that, I’d be fine no matter who lost,” Rei mused.
“I meant like a dare or something small, like let us copy your summer homework or-”
“So, that’s the real reason?”
Hayato shut his mouth and looked away from us.
“W-well, if it’s just something like that, then that’s alright, isn’t it?” Aki asked. “Nothing that crosses the line or anything, and we’ll stick to same gender pairs, okay?”
We agreed to Aki’s proposal and drew straws to see who would end up with who, and the teams ended up as: Rei and Aki; Hayato and Ryuuji; Kana and Inori; Hinata and I.
Truth be told, I was not too happy with this arrangement.
I should’ve been happy to be with Hinata, but - she’s not the most athletic member of our group.
Actually, Hinata’s arguably the least athletic of us girls.
She has boundless energy and throws her all into everything, but it doesn’t often produce results in sports, and today was no exception.
At first, it looked like my abilities would’ve been enough to carry us to victory, but then they started targeting Hinata and we started losing badly really quickly.
Our first game was against Inori and Kana, who were relentless in picking on Hinata.
There was only one small saving grace about this - Hinata kept making lots of cute faces whenever they picked on her, or if she missed a shot.
I wish I had a camera.
What is this?
I was never like this with Ryuuji in my second life.
Even during our happiest moments, I was never like this.
There were times when I thought he was cute, handsome or really hot, but this - this felt…different.
“Oi, Akane! It’s your serve!”
Our final game, the loser’s bracket, had just begun.
Whoever lost would have to obey an order from Rei and Aki who, all things considered, were arguably the best pair to have lost to.
If it was Inori and Kana, I wouldn’t even want to imagine the embarrassing things they’d try to make us do.
If it was Rei, he’d make sure that the order didn’t cross any lines I’d be uncomfortable with, so I didn’t mind losing.
Seeing Ryuuji and Hayato on the other side - I felt like I didn’t want to lose.
We were down by one point and there were two minutes left before the match ended.
I know, in my heart, that you are not the man I loved and grew to hate.
I know that you, right now, are a good, friendly guy, who aided me even when you didn’t have to.
You’ve been nothing but kind and sweet, but -
I cannot release the hand gripping my heart in a vice whenever I see you.
I leapt up into the air and spiked the ball back into their court, scoring a point.
If playing volleyball with you, if winning against you now, helps me loosen that grip even slightly, then I’ll do it.
I of all people know how much a second chance means.
Which is why - no matter what happens today, I’ll give you another chance.
It’ll be difficult, painful - I’ll feel like I’m suffocating again, but I want to try.
After today, no matter what happens, I’m not going to let my past lives hold me back any longer.
Today, I move forward!
“That’s game! Sorry, ladies, but you lose!”
“Dammit! We were so close! Sorry, Akane, I - why are you smiling?”
I hadn’t even realised myself but it wasn’t a bad feeling.
“Alright - so, that’s that. Akane, Hinata; sorry, but you have to follow whatever order Rei and I come up with. And we’ve already decided on it, haven’t we?”
“Yep. Girls, we know just how much you both love thrill rides, especially you Hinata.”
I saw my friend’s face go pale as the others started snickering.
I knew exactly what they were going to say.
“Akane, Hinata – please go ride the Annihilator water slide; twice, back-to-back.”
Just when I thought Hinata couldn’t scream any louder.
And so, with a downtrodden Hinata, we made our way back over to the slide that had traumatised my friend so much.
“No, no - Rei, I hate you. Why me?”
Oh my - she’s actually got a few tears in her eyes.
I lightly stroked her head and said, “It’ll be fine; I’ll be right there with you.”
“Really. I mean.” I laughed a little. “It’s a pair slide.”
“…And you’ll sit in the front?”
“And I’ll sit in the front.”
“And you’ll hold my hand.”
Hinata brightened up quite a bit and rubbed her head against my hand like a puppy.
Thank you for this, Rei.
On the first time down, the others had gathered to see us dismount and hear Hinata’s screams; naturally, they laughed when she got embarrassed and told the boys how much she hated them.
“Well, we’re going to go back in the tidal wave pool for a bit, so just come meet us when you’re done here.”
“I’ll remember this, Rei Yukimura!”
“Oh, how scary. Hey, anyone want to buy a waterproof camera to-”
“Akane, let’s go!”
This time, she dragged me to the slide.
This time we ended up having to queue for twenty minutes, the whole time, Hinata insisted that I held her hand.
When I asked her why, she just said, “Otherwise I won’t stop shaking.”
Though she said that, she was still shaking.
So, we rode it again, still holding hands, though we had a bad dismount this time.
Our raft was capsized and we both ended up under the water.
In the confusion.
Hinata ended up in my arms.
Our faces were only a few inches apart and she had both of her arms in front of her chest.
Hinata was always cute, but now - she looked beautiful.
“Please vacate the exit area!”
The lifeguard’s call brought us back to reality as we scrambled to get out of the pool.
“S-s-s-s-so, le-let’s go-”
I grabbed her hand.
I took Hinata to the most secluded area I could find in the shade, and we just stood there, in silence, for an uncomfortable amount of time.
All of my resolve that I’d built up felt like it was about to collapse beneath me.
…Where did all of my earlier bravado go?
Didn’t I say that I’d confess no matter what?
Didn’t I say I wouldn’t let my past lives bind me?
Why am I overthinking this?
I looked more closely at the girl I liked, deep into her jewel-like eyes, and felt my cheeks warm.
Hinata - there are so many things I could say I love about you.
Your cute expressions.
There are few days when I don’t think about how grateful I am to have met you, and you probably will never know just how much you mean to me, and how much you’ve changed my life.
So - I told her all of that.
I didn’t care how embarrassed either of us were.
I told her everything I loved about her, word for word as the thoughts floated into my mind.
“Hinata - I love you. Please go out with me.”
I wouldn’t let it be left ambiguous.
I wouldn’t leave myself a way out in case she turned me down.
No, this was it.
No matter what my best friend says, I’ll accept it.
My eyes started to water.
As did hers.
Did that mean-?
I don’t know when, but Hinata had thrown her arms around me, and had started giggling happily. She was rubbing her cheek against mine, her tears falling onto my skin, and laughing - it was the laugh I loved most in this world.
“It’s not a dream, and I love you that way too!” Hinata laughed again, broke away from me and started wiping the tears from her eyes. “I’ve loved you for so long and.” She sniffed. “I didn’t think you’d ever-! I mean, you’re you and I’m-”
“That’s my line, idiot.” I lightly chopped her forehead and giggled. “Even when you said you were into girls, I didn’t-”
“Oh god, that’s when I thought someone would find out and then tell you, and then we’d-!”
I put my hand on her cheek; she became meek as her skin turned pink.
“Hinata - you’re my girlfriend, right?”
“Then…can I…kiss you?”
She smiled lovingly at me. “…Yes.”
In a quiet corner of the water park, our lips touched and I became the happiest woman alive.
I had a girlfriend.