Third and Final Time
Akane Yuki was someone I never thought I’d speak to.
Truth be told, I really thought Hinata ruined our Kyoto trip when she invited her.
I mean, why would you invite someone who clearly liked being alone to a group like ours?
She wouldn’t be able to keep up with Hinata’s energy.
She wouldn’t be able to talk to me about anything I liked.
Even Kana, an introvert like Akane, wouldn’t be comfortable with someone who might as well be a stranger in our group.
I half-heartedly answered Hinata’s request back then and it changed my life forever.
When I heard that ear-piercing, joyful cry, I thought it had to have been Hinata; only she could make such a delighted cheer.
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.
Of course, now, two of my best friends are going out together and I couldn’t be happier for them.
Back then, I thought Akane was awkward, stiff and really didn’t care about us.
The train ride to Kyoto was near torturous at times because of her, though I didn’t exactly blame her for it.
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.
It wasn’t a pleasant feeling and she eventually excused herself; she ran away.
Ah, I thought, it’s going to be like this for the whole trip.
But something happened that I didn’t expect.
Hinata chased after her and, when Akane came back, she opened up to us.
And we had a blast.
We became friends.
We exchanged phone numbers.
We ate lunch together every day.
I never thought I’d see the Lonely Ice Princess smile and laugh.
I never thought I’d be so happy to have her as my friend.
But things were never that simple.
I picked up on it first, and mentioned it to Hinata after class.
Hinata said she’d noticed, but I doubt that.
She tried to set Akane up with Rei, a truly terrible idea.
Every time I looked over at Akane, I dug my toes into my shoes.
Because that wasn’t Akane Yuki.
That was the Lonely Ice Princess.
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.
Did she have a phobia of men?
Did she find Rei attractive?
Or was there something else behind that painful expression?
When Rei’s friends came over, I thought I’d figured it all out.
No, maybe that doesn’t quite cover it.
It’s not strong enough of a word to describe how much it overwhelmed Akane.
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.
I felt powerless.
More than that, I felt pathetic.
I called Akane my friend, yet I couldn’t even offer her my hand.
Did I truly know anything about her?
Could I have done anything to stop her running away from Ryuuji and the others?
…I don’t know.
So, I would try to help her in my own way.
I’d try to lighten her burdens and lift her spirits and -
I drove a knife into her back.
…All of those emotions poured over me as Akane screamed at me, berating me for my terrible joke - I did this to her.
I made her confess all of these ugly things at once and then she revealed that she was bi-sexual.
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.
If Akane ended up leaving the school because of the bullying and ridicule, what would I do?
Could I do anything to save her?
How badly did I need to be punished to be forgiven?
The answer was that she forgave me.
Didn’t I do that to you?!
Akane looked so relieved - no, she looked as if she’d been saved.
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.
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.
And the dots connected all at once.
Akane liked Hinata, and Hinata liked Akane.
I was so happy for them!
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.
It was so loud, in fact, that I woke my mum who then yelled at me the next morning.
Still, it was worth it!
Two of my best friends were dating and I would do anything to make sure their relationship was a success.
Kana and I agreed to cover them as much as possible, so no one would find out that they’re dating.
Don’t worry, you two - we’ll protect you!