Chapter 18:


Third and Final Time

“No.”Bookmark here

“Akane, please!”Bookmark here

“No.”Bookmark here

“Why not?!”Bookmark here

“…It’s embarrassing.”Bookmark here

My girlfriend swooned and hugged me more tightly. “Please! I’ll be wearing one too, so it won’t be embarrassing. Inori and Kana will wear one too, right? Right?!”Bookmark here

“Inori will.”Bookmark here

“Oi.”Bookmark here

“Ow.”Bookmark here

That chop to Kana’s head did not seem gentle or playful.Bookmark here

“I’ll wear one if Inori does.”Bookmark here

“Why?!”Bookmark here

“Because.”Bookmark here

“Huh?!”Bookmark here

“Inori, please! Come on, you know we’d all look cute in maid outfits.”Bookmark here

“No. Way. I am not wearing something like that unless my-”Bookmark here

Before Inori blurted out something too shameful, she went quiet and red. A few of the groups nearby were looking at us, and some of them snickered a little bit at our ‘skit’.Bookmark here

The school’s cultural festival was coming up and we were doing a maid café; it had been a close vote between that or a haunted house, but one vote swung the tide.Bookmark here

I would later learn that it was Hinata’s last minute betrayal that led to this.Bookmark here

“Guys, I really don’t want to wear something that embarrassing.”Bookmark here

“Me too,” Inori, Kana and I all agreed.Bookmark here

Hinata smiled. “So, let’s all vote for the haunted house and hope that’s enough.”Bookmark here

It would have been if Hinata hadn’t suddenly realised she’d have an excuse to see me in a maid outfit.Bookmark here

My girlfriend, it turns out, wanted that more my happiness.Bookmark here

No matter how tightly she glued herself to me or begged, I’d intended to refuse.Bookmark here

However, I didn’t want to upset my classmates who wanted to do the café so much, so I decided to drag Inori down with me.Bookmark here

Forgive me, my friend.Bookmark here

“Hinata, if I do this, you owe me big time,” I whispered into her ear. Bookmark here

“I’ll do whatever you want!”Bookmark here

I grinned and teasingly asked, “Anything?”Bookmark here

Her face instantly became flushed, and I thought she was going to pass out.Bookmark here

Still, after all was said and done, we were doing the maid café.Bookmark here

I also pulled some strings with Rei, who was organising us, to make sure I was just one of the poster girls at the door, dragging people inside.Bookmark here

I wouldn’t have to serve anyone, and I’d have at least one guy and another maid by my side in case.Bookmark here

My friends would try to match their shifts and schedules with mine, but there would be at least an hour where I’d be with people I barely spoke to.Bookmark here

There was even an hour I’d spend with Ami at the door.Bookmark here

…Hopefully, that wouldn’t be too awkward. Bookmark here

Actually, I hoped for something more.Bookmark here

I wanted to make up with her.Bookmark here

Years had passed since I was burnt, and I had a lot to think about in that time.Bookmark here

I truly felt like I understood why Ami and I stopped being friends, and I wanted to rekindle that flame.Bookmark here

Half of my life was over - I didn’t want to be bogged down by regrets for the rest of it.Bookmark here

“Did you guys know there’s a big prize for the class who gets voted the best exhibit this year?”Bookmark here

“What’s the prize, Rei?”Bookmark here

“No clue. Just heard some of the teachers talking about it.”Bookmark here

“Do you think we could win?”Bookmark here

“Not with you here, Hinata.”Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

“Ladies, back me up.”Bookmark here

“High chance,” Inori said.Bookmark here

“Maybe,” Kana agreed.Bookmark here

“Akane…surely you don’t think the same as they do, right?”Bookmark here

“…It might hurt our chances,” I mumbled.Bookmark here

“Akane!” Hinata looked like she could cry.Bookmark here

I squeezed her hand and made an apologetic face at her. Bookmark here

“Still, you guys have the hardest job. Us guys just have to buy the stuff we sell, make it and make sure no one acts out of line.”Bookmark here

“Jealous of our pretty little outfits, Rei?”Bookmark here

“I wouldn’t have minded it if we did a butler café or something instead.”Bookmark here

“You’d be a terrible butler.”Bookmark here

“I’d still like to give it a go. Still, didn’t think all four of you would agree to wear maid outfits.”Bookmark here

“It’s just how it is,” Inori grumbled. “It’s not like it’s embarrassing or something you want everyone to see you in, or-”Bookmark here

“She’s…been like that since Akane dragged her into it,” Kana sighed. “Even though her boyfriend said he’s looking forward to it.” Realising that Inori wasn’t going to stop sulking anytime soon, Kana changed topic. “What are the other classes doing?” Bookmark here

“I don’t know.”Bookmark here

“Helpful.”Bookmark here

“What? I don’t really care about what the other classes are doing - I just want to make our class’s the best.”Bookmark here

“…What about the guys’ class?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Aki and those guys? Oh, they’re doing a play in the gym near the end of the day. Apparently, they’re going all out to make it the best play the school’s ever seen.”Bookmark here

“Ambitious,” Hinata mused.Bookmark here

“Or foolish,” Inori chimed in.Bookmark here

“Or both.” Rei chuckled. “Whatever it is, they didn’t want to give me any details. Aki and Hayato were both like ‘Nah, man, you’ve got to wait until the day of the play!’ I guess they really want everyone to enjoy it.”Bookmark here

Though Rei said that, Ryuuji often stopped by our class to help out.Bookmark here

“Don’t you have-?”Bookmark here

“I was told ‘Just learn your lines and let us know if your costume fits’, and to not do anything but that. Oh, and turn up to rehearsals on time.”Bookmark here

“Why don’t they want you lending a hand?”Bookmark here

“Beats me. Aki said they didn’t want their lead actor to get hurt before the big day.” Ryuuji shook his head and sighed. “Yet the lead actress can help out as much as she wants.”Bookmark here

“What play are you guys doing?” I asked.Bookmark here

Ryuuji’s expression brightened up a little. “Romeo and Juliet.”Bookmark here

“A classic, nice, nice,” Hinata said. “Oh! Whose playing Juliet?”Bookmark here

“Sakura Amazawa.”Bookmark here

“Not bad, Ryuuji.” My girlfriend poked him with her elbow. “So, excited to practice your big kiss scene?”Bookmark here

“We’re…not actually kissing.”Bookmark here

“Pfft.”Bookmark here

“…Hinata.”Bookmark here

“…Sorry, but…pfft.” She covered her mouth and turned away from him. Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Ryuuji. There’s plenty of other women in the world who won’t want to kiss you anyway.”Bookmark here

“Rei.”Bookmark here

“…How comes?” Inori asked.Bookmark here

“That no girl wants to-?”Bookmark here

Rei’s tease was interrupted by Ryuuji’s fist to Rei’s back.Bookmark here

“Actually, I asked for the kiss to be cut.”Bookmark here

“Wow. Way to blue-ball yours-”Bookmark here

The subsequent smack to the back of Rei’s head looked really painful.Bookmark here

“Why?” Hinata asked.Bookmark here

“Because…I know she has someone she likes, and…it’d be wrong to do something like that.”Bookmark here

“What if she liked-?”Bookmark here

“She doesn’t.” Ryuuji definitively said as he stared Hinata down. “I know who she likes, and it isn’t me.”Bookmark here

“…Sorry.”Bookmark here

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”Bookmark here

After that, we continued with our preparations for the café, helping to design the posters, menus, the table and chair clothes too. Inori and Kana stepped away to help some of the others sewing our outfits, whilst Rei, Hinata, Ryuuji and I were just doing busy work for everyone.Bookmark here

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly exciting.Bookmark here

Still, it was nice.Bookmark here

I didn’t contribute to any cultural festivals in my past lives, so it was something I welcomed.Bookmark here

As the days went by and we all spent more time together getting things ready, Hinata said she had something to talk about on our nightly phone call before bed.Bookmark here

“Are you okay with Ryuuji now?”Bookmark here

“…I think so.”Bookmark here

“What about the other guys?”Bookmark here

“…I’m…not sure.”Bookmark here

“But you might be okay with Ryuuji like you are Rei?”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I don’t know.Bookmark here

Ryuuji Sakamoto.Bookmark here

My husband.Bookmark here

My friend.Bookmark here

Father of my unborn child.Bookmark here

The despair who drove me to suicide.Bookmark here

I said I would face you, and-Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“I want to be.”Bookmark here

“…Why?”Bookmark here

“Because I want to be friends. I…don’t want to make you guys worry about me all the time, or be too overprotective, or think you can’t spend time with the people I struggle to talk to. I love you, Hinata, and Inori, Kana, and Rei’s a good friend, but…” I clutched my chest. “I don’t want to push the people you like out of your lives because of me.Bookmark here

“I don’t want to make you guys choose between your friends, and…I don’t want people to lose their friends…because of me.”Bookmark here

“…Akane.”Bookmark here

“That’s why, please help me bring us all closer together.”Bookmark here

The cultural festival - I would use this event to finally become friends with all of the guys.Bookmark here

However.Bookmark here

The burning sensation returned.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I couldn’t help but feel a terrible dread crawling up my back.Bookmark here

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