Chapter 16:

road not taken

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

Outside of school and school-related activities, has Shun ever hung out with friends before? If he has, it’s one of the things he no longer remembers. Well, putting aside his deal with Saori for the end of the school year, he can just make some new memories.

Miwa has everything planned out like a class trip coordinator, unlike the way she treats school so carelessly. They arrive at the shopping mall just minutes after opening. She grabs a map from the customer service desk, and gets everyone to mark off the shops they want to visit.

Right away, Saori chooses a candy shop—Shun isn’t aware she has a sweet tooth—and Hiro decides that he wants to check out the supermarket for some reason. After flipping through the pamphlet, Shun picks a store at random. Miwa cackles for a solid five minutes because apparently he picked a lingerie store. He doesn’t even know what that means.

(Hiro tells him not to ask.)

The first stop, as selected by their hardworking trip organizer, is the shop nearby that sells her favourite brand of cute stationary. The mall is just starting to fill with people as they head on over, and Miwa cheerfully greets the store clerks as they’re opening up.

Shun follows his friends inside. The shelves are lined with brightly-coloured pens, notebooks, and other cute stationery goods that look like they tumbled out of Miwa’s pencil case. There’s nothing that really catches Shun’s eye, so he just watches Miwa flounce around in excitement as if it’s her first time here.

At the end of the aisle, he spots Hiro staring fixedly at a rack of decorative pens. As he approaches, he sees a dark blue fountain pen float out of its holder and drop into Hiro’s outstretched hand.

He flinches a little when he hears Shun’s footsteps behind him, but relaxes when he realizes who it is.

“Yo,” Hiro says, spinning the pen around his thumb, “this one’s pretty nice, yeah?”

Shun leans in to examine it. The surface is a dark, inky blue with a splatter of glitter across the barrel like stars in the night sky.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “Are you going to buy it?”

“I kinda want to swap out my old one,” Hiro says, weighing the pen in his palm and twirling it experimentally. “I know it’s Gran’s old heirloom and everything, but I want something more…me, ya feel?”

“Wait, are you talking about—” Shun lowers his voice after glancing around to check that there’s no one nearby, “your blue…pen—wand…thing?”


“Can you use any pen as a wand?”

Hiro gives a noncommittal shrug. “Sorta? It’s not the pen itself, it’s the core. As long as that’s the same, I can still channel my magic.”

While he debates whether or not to buy it, Shun gets dragged into the scrapbooking section by Miwa.

“Look at these stickers,” she says, enthusiastically pointing out the sheets hanging on the wall. “And those ones. And those. And these too. Help me decide. Which ones are cuter?”

She’s just like Atsuko when she goes shopping, but worse.

“I literally have no idea,” Shun says. “Just pick the one you like.”

“But I like all of them!” she wails.

“Then pick the one you like the most.”

He ducks into the next aisle when she isn’t looking, pretending to be engrossed in the faux leather journals sitting on the shelf.


After agonizing over it for a long time, Hiro finally decides to buy the pen. Then they head to the candy shop for Saori. It comes as a surprise that Miwa has absolutely no interest in sweets, though she does follow them into the store.

Saori then proceeds to spend ten minutes staring wistfully up at the wall of brightly-coloured candies.

“Anything you want to get?” Shun asks, pretty much ready to offer to pay for them right then and there if she asks.

Saori purses her lips, and then shakes her head. “I don’t know. When I was little, I remember really wanting to try—but…I no longer recall what I’m looking for. I remember Father taught me to cleanse the heart of meaningless daydreams, and yet…”

“Uh, do you remember the packaging? Or the colour?”

“No,” she sighs. “And it does not matter. I came here today because I wished to see if it was truly meaningless. Father was right.”

“How would you know that from just looking?” Shun asks, frowning. “That’s no different from when you were a kid.”

When she doesn’t respond, he impulsively decides to grab the closest bag of assorted candies from beside the cashier and fishes out the wallet from his pocket. After he pays for it, he thrusts the bag into Saori’s hands.

“I don’t know if these are any good,” he admits sheepishly. “But you should at least try some before you give up.”

She doesn’t drop the candies, which is a good sign. But she doesn’t look too happy about it either. Though he’s not trying to be weird about it, he’s starting to feel self-conscious.

“My favourite type of candies are the lemon-flavoured ones,” Shun blurts out unthinkingly. “The really, really sour ones. I hope…you find something you like too.”

Embarrassed, he excuses himself to go look for Miwa before she has a chance to reply.


The four of them stop by the food court to eat lunch, and then they head for the supermarket where they spend the rest of the afternoon. Hiro says he chose it on a whim so they let Miwa take the lead like a tour guide, dragging them around to wherever strikes her fancy.

They stroll through the seafood and produce section like they’re on a grocery run, but no one buys anything. Saori is still clutching the unopened bag of candies with her gloved hand, which means she might not throw them out.

Shun hopes she doesn’t, because he spent his allowance on that.

By the time everyone is losing interest in wandering aimlessly through the supermarket, Miwa sets the stage for the next activity. From her bag, she pulls out some cute sticky notes with directions to their next destination and the transit timetable, all handwritten.

(If only she was this prepared back when they were studying for midterms…)

Once they leave the mall, they hop on a bus that takes them to the base of the mountain by late afternoon. According to the signs, the hike to the top should take roughly two hours. According to the time, the sun sets…in exactly two hours.

“We run,” Saori says matter-of-factly, as always the illogically logical one.

“Geh! How many meters is two whole hours of running?”

“It won’t take that long,” says Hiro. “Maybe one hour, tops?”

“Just how fast do you think people can run?” Shun interjects, as a subtle reminder that maybe running the whole way up a mountain isn’t something a normal person can do. But Hiro doesn’t seem to get the memo.

“Well, there’s this dude in the physics problem on our midterm that runs at fifty-five miles an hour—”

“How about we start heading up and hope we catch the sunset midway?” Miwa suggests, and Shun agrees at once.

Saori looks mildly disappointed at that, as if she actually wants to sprint all the way to the summit.


It’s getting dark by the time they near the end of the trail, and Shun has lost track of how long it’s taken them to hike all the way here. Even the last rays of sunlight don’t wait for them when they reach the top of the mountain, and it’s a little disappointing.

“The sun sets too earlyyyyy,” Miwa wails miserably, throwing herself down on the ground. “Why did the trees have to block our view?”

“You were the one complaining that your feet hurt,” Saori reminds her. “We might’ve caught the tail end of the sunset if we’d been faster.”

“And now my feet hurt more,” she complains.

It’s only after everyone rests a little and regains a bit of energy when it dawns on them that a two-hour hike up the mountain means it’ll be another two hours to make it back down. Miwa is utterly horrified.

Hiro pulls Shun aside to propose transporting everyone down the mountain on his broom one at a time—after knocking each of them out with a sleep spell first, of course.

Shun is reluctant.

“The ride will be perfectly safe,” Hiro says reassuringly. “And they’ll forget by tomorrow morning. Besides, I promised I’d take ya for a spin, yeah? At night, a bird’s eye view of the city lights is incredible!”

The thought just makes Shun feel motion sick. He’d kind of prefer being knocked out with a sleeping spell too if it has to be that way, but he doesn’t say it aloud.

“Heyyyyy, over here!” Miwa calls. “Kunihiro! You can totally see the stars from here!”

Later, Shun thinks the reason he ends up agreeing to Hiro’s suggestion is seeing his eyes light up at Miwa’s words like the stars glistening faintly above them. He’s learning a lot about his friends today. It’s the meaningful, yet simple things that make him reconsider what friendship means.

So it’s fine if they stay here for a little longer.

The clear, cloudless sky, the mountain breeze, the ache in his legs from hiking for two hours with his friends—these are the memories Shun wants to engrave into his heart.

“What are you doing, Takeuchi! If you take too long, the stars are gonna disappear too!”

“Okay, I’m coming, I’m coming.”

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