Chapter 16:

Inori

Third and Final Time


Akane Yuki was someone I never thought I’d speak to.Bookmark here

Truth be told, I really thought Hinata ruined our Kyoto trip when she invited her.Bookmark here

I mean, why would you invite someone who clearly liked being alone to a group like ours? Bookmark here

She wouldn’t be able to keep up with Hinata’s energy.Bookmark here

She wouldn’t be able to talk to me about anything I liked.Bookmark here

Even Kana, an introvert like Akane, wouldn’t be comfortable with someone who might as well be a stranger in our group.Bookmark here

I half-heartedly answered Hinata’s request back then and it changed my life forever.Bookmark here

“I will!”Bookmark here

When I heard that ear-piercing, joyful cry, I thought it had to have been Hinata; only she could make such a delighted cheer.Bookmark here

Yet.Bookmark here

I saw an embarrassed Akane apologising for her excitement and Hinata’s confusion and blush - at the time, I assumed she must’ve been just as embarrassed.Bookmark here

Of course, now, two of my best friends are going out together and I couldn’t be happier for them.Bookmark here

Back then, I thought Akane was awkward, stiff and really didn’t care about us.Bookmark here

The train ride to Kyoto was near torturous at times because of her, though I didn’t exactly blame her for it.Bookmark here

She wasn’t comfortable around us, and we were trying to make her open up; even though we had good intentions, we were still forcing her into an uncomfortable situation.Bookmark here

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling and she eventually excused herself; she ran away.Bookmark here

Ah, I thought, it’s going to be like this for the whole trip.Bookmark here

But something happened that I didn’t expect.Bookmark here

Hinata chased after her and, when Akane came back, she opened up to us.Bookmark here

And we had a blast.Bookmark here

We became friends.Bookmark here

We exchanged phone numbers.Bookmark here

We ate lunch together every day.Bookmark here

I never thought I’d see the Lonely Ice Princess smile and laugh.Bookmark here

I never thought I’d be so happy to have her as my friend.Bookmark here


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But things were never that simple.Bookmark here


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Boys.Bookmark here


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I picked up on it first, and mentioned it to Hinata after class. Bookmark here

Hinata said she’d noticed, but I doubt that.Bookmark here

She tried to set Akane up with Rei, a truly terrible idea.Bookmark here

Every time I looked over at Akane, I dug my toes into my shoes.Bookmark here


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Because that wasn’t Akane Yuki.Bookmark here

That was the Lonely Ice Princess.Bookmark here


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Then, the next day, Akane was feeling better after Rei left our classroom. I didn’t bring it up because it looked like Hinata had done something, but I decided to keep an eye on Akane just in case.Bookmark here

Did she have a phobia of men?Bookmark here

Did she find Rei attractive?Bookmark here

Or was there something else behind that painful expression?Bookmark here


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When Rei’s friends came over, I thought I’d figured it all out.Bookmark here

Phobia.Bookmark here

No, maybe that doesn’t quite cover it.Bookmark here

It’s not strong enough of a word to describe how much it overwhelmed Akane.Bookmark here

I knew Akane couldn’t withstand the weight pushing down on her shoulders and I really wanted to help, but I was too scared to pry.Bookmark here

I felt powerless.Bookmark here

More than that, I felt pathetic.Bookmark here

I called Akane my friend, yet I couldn’t even offer her my hand. Bookmark here

Did I truly know anything about her?Bookmark here

Could I have done anything to stop her running away from Ryuuji and the others?Bookmark here


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…I don’t know.Bookmark here

So, I would try to help her in my own way.Bookmark here

I’d try to lighten her burdens and lift her spirits and - Bookmark here


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I drove a knife into her back.Bookmark here


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Anger.Bookmark here

Disgust.Bookmark here

Hatred.Bookmark here

Misery.Bookmark here

Despair.Bookmark here

Anxiety.Bookmark here

…All of those emotions poured over me as Akane screamed at me, berating me for my terrible joke - I did this to her.Bookmark here

I made her confess all of these ugly things at once and then she revealed that she was bi-sexual.Bookmark here

I didn’t mind, Kana and Hinata definitely wouldn’t, but the world isn’t such a kind place where everyone will accept you for who you are.Bookmark here

If Akane ended up leaving the school because of the bullying and ridicule, what would I do?Bookmark here

Could I do anything to save her?Bookmark here

How badly did I need to be punished to be forgiven?Bookmark here

The answer was that she forgave me.Bookmark here

Why?!Bookmark here

Didn’t I do that to you?!Bookmark here

Didn’t I-?!Bookmark here

Akane looked so relieved - no, she looked as if she’d been saved.Bookmark here

It was only then that I understood what I’d done - I’d helped her lift that weight off her shoulders, and now she felt lighter than ever.Bookmark here

That night, as I was lying in bed about to drift off to sleep, I remembered Hinata’s coming out too - something I’d known about for a long time.Bookmark here


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And the dots connected all at once.Bookmark here


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Akane liked Hinata, and Hinata liked Akane.Bookmark here

I was so happy for them!Bookmark here

I was rooting for them so much and when they told Kana and I they were dating, I squealed like I’d seen an adorable puppy.Bookmark here

It was so loud, in fact, that I woke my mum who then yelled at me the next morning.Bookmark here

Still, it was worth it!Bookmark here

Two of my best friends were dating and I would do anything to make sure their relationship was a success.Bookmark here

Kana and I agreed to cover them as much as possible, so no one would find out that they’re dating.Bookmark here


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Don’t worry, you two - we’ll protect you!Bookmark here

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Cora
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Bookmarked
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