Chapter 16:


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

Bookmark here

But things were never that simple.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Boys.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

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

Bookmark here

Because that wasn’t Akane Yuki.Bookmark here

That was the Lonely Ice Princess.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

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

Bookmark here

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

Bookmark here

…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

Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I drove a knife into her back.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Bookmark here

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

Bookmark here

And the dots connected all at once.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

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

Bookmark here

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

You can resume reading from this paragraph.