Third and Final Time
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?!”
That chop to Kana’s head did not seem gentle or playful.
“I’ll wear one if Inori does.”
“Inori, please! Come on, you know we’d all look cute in maid outfits.”
“No. Way. I am not wearing something like that unless my-”
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’.
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.
I would later learn that it was Hinata’s last minute betrayal that led to this.
“Guys, I really don’t want to wear something that embarrassing.”
“Me too,” Inori, Kana and I all agreed.
Hinata smiled. “So, let’s all vote for the haunted house and hope that’s enough.”
It would have been if Hinata hadn’t suddenly realised she’d have an excuse to see me in a maid outfit.
My girlfriend, it turns out, wanted that more my happiness.
No matter how tightly she glued herself to me or begged, I’d intended to refuse.
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.
Forgive me, my friend.
“Hinata, if I do this, you owe me big time,” I whispered into her ear.
“I’ll do whatever you want!”
I grinned and teasingly asked, “Anything?”
Her face instantly became flushed, and I thought she was going to pass out.
Still, after all was said and done, we were doing the maid café.
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.
I wouldn’t have to serve anyone, and I’d have at least one guy and another maid by my side in case.
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.
There was even an hour I’d spend with Ami at the door.
…Hopefully, that wouldn’t be too awkward.
Actually, I hoped for something more.
I wanted to make up with her.
Years had passed since I was burnt, and I had a lot to think about in that time.
I truly felt like I understood why Ami and I stopped being friends, and I wanted to rekindle that flame.
Half of my life was over - I didn’t want to be bogged down by regrets for the rest of it.
“Did you guys know there’s a big prize for the class who gets voted the best exhibit this year?”
“What’s the prize, Rei?”
“No clue. Just heard some of the teachers talking about it.”
“Do you think we could win?”
“Not with you here, Hinata.”
“Ladies, back me up.”
“High chance,” Inori said.
“Maybe,” Kana agreed.
“Akane…surely you don’t think the same as they do, right?”
“…It might hurt our chances,” I mumbled.
“Akane!” Hinata looked like she could cry.
I squeezed her hand and made an apologetic face at her.
“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.”
“Jealous of our pretty little outfits, Rei?”
“I wouldn’t have minded it if we did a butler café or something instead.”
“You’d be a terrible butler.”
“I’d still like to give it a go. Still, didn’t think all four of you would agree to wear maid outfits.”
“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-”
“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?”
“I don’t know.”
“What? I don’t really care about what the other classes are doing - I just want to make our class’s the best.”
“…What about the guys’ class?” I asked.
“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.”
“Ambitious,” Hinata mused.
“Or foolish,” Inori chimed in.
“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.”
Though Rei said that, Ryuuji often stopped by our class to help out.
“Don’t you have-?”
“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.”
“Why don’t they want you lending a hand?”
“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.”
“What play are you guys doing?” I asked.
Ryuuji’s expression brightened up a little. “Romeo and Juliet.”
“A classic, nice, nice,” Hinata said. “Oh! Whose playing Juliet?”
“Not bad, Ryuuji.” My girlfriend poked him with her elbow. “So, excited to practice your big kiss scene?”
“We’re…not actually kissing.”
“…Sorry, but…pfft.” She covered her mouth and turned away from him.
“Don’t worry, Ryuuji. There’s plenty of other women in the world who won’t want to kiss you anyway.”
“…How comes?” Inori asked.
“That no girl wants to-?”
Rei’s tease was interrupted by Ryuuji’s fist to Rei’s back.
“Actually, I asked for the kiss to be cut.”
“Wow. Way to blue-ball yours-”
The subsequent smack to the back of Rei’s head looked really painful.
“Why?” Hinata asked.
“Because…I know she has someone she likes, and…it’d be wrong to do something like that.”
“What if she liked-?”
“She doesn’t.” Ryuuji definitively said as he stared Hinata down. “I know who she likes, and it isn’t me.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”
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.
It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly exciting.
Still, it was nice.
I didn’t contribute to any cultural festivals in my past lives, so it was something I welcomed.
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.
“Are you okay with Ryuuji now?”
“…I think so.”
“What about the other guys?”
“But you might be okay with Ryuuji like you are Rei?”
I don’t know.
Father of my unborn child.
The despair who drove me to suicide.
I said I would face you, and-
“I want to be.”
“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.
“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.”
“That’s why, please help me bring us all closer together.”
The cultural festival - I would use this event to finally become friends with all of the guys.
The burning sensation returned.
I couldn’t help but feel a terrible dread crawling up my back.