Shiomi stopped for a minute to catch her breath. She clutched her hands tightly and barely stopped herself from crying.
Then, she continued. "Luckily, there was a homeless person nearby. He had witnessed the entire thing, but had not tried to stop them. When Haruto jumped into the water, his guilt got the better of him and he jumped in to save Haruto. He carried the unconscious Haruto to the hospital and later reported everything to the police. There was a lot of commotion due to this but the bully's father managed to handle the situation and Kentaro and the bully had to move to another city. Apparently Kentaro's father worked in the hospital owned by that bully.I guess... That's why he betrayed Haruto, he couldn't let his family's image fall down. Shiomi held her breath for a moment and stopped twiddling her thumbs as she continued, “But the worst part comes now. I went to the hospital to see him and... He had forgotten everything that had happened. All he remembered was him having all the fun times with Kentaro. He didn't remember Kentaro betraying him and all I could tell him was that Kentaro had to move away. He... He has been happy since then, but I... I... Couldn't let anybody else come close to him. I couldn't risk almost losing him again. I just can't Ryouta..." Shiomi broke down and sobbed silently. Suddenly, behind Shiomi, a familiar voice asked, "So my entire life is a lie?"
Horrified, Shiomi, looked back to see the tear streaked face of Haruto.
"Haru- Wha- How-?"
Haruto cut her off, "I remember everything now, Shio. Everything. And now I know, all the times you lied to me… To 'protect' me from others because of your own selfish guilt of not being there with me when I jumped into the river."
Speechless, Shiomi stared at Haruto as he got up and walked away, hiding his eyes underneath his bangs. She wanted to get up and stop Haruto but she just couldn't move. Ryouta sat there stupefied, not knowing what to do. He didn't know whether to go stop Haruto or stay with Shiomi and calm her down. He hated this helplessness to do anything, to be unable to help out the people around him.
She smiled weakly, looked towards Ryouta and whispered, "I guess he hates me now... Thanks for listening to me Ryouta, all three of us could have been really good friends if I hadn't messed up."
He watched Shiomi get up and leave. As he tried to stop her, he couldn't raise his hand to stop Shiomi from leaving. He watched both the friends quietly walk away from each other, both hurt by each other. Ryouta slowly fell back on the ground and stared at the blue empty sky. His mind continuously attacked by different thoughts, until one clear thought appeared in his mind. "Ahh... I see it now. It was because of me entering their lives. It was because I became curious that their friendship was ruined. It was all my fault…!"
Ryouta's head became clear. He knew what he had to do. He closed his eyes and waited for the recess bell to ring.
Futaba noticed something weird after recess. Haruto had apparently disappeared and Ryouta wasn't focused on his studies at all. He was just looking outside the window with an expressionless face. She wanted to get up and talk to him but she just couldn't find the right timing to approach him. She texted Ryuuji that she wouldn't be able to walk home back with him and waited for school to get over. Finally, the final bell rang and Futaba quickly went to Ryouta.
"Stay away from me, Futaba."
Futaba stood, shocked as Ryouta got up and left the classroom without even looking back.
Ryuuji read Futaba's text as he kept his books inside. He didn't have any other plans with his friends so he decided to go to the cafe where Ryouta and he worked. Today wasn't Ryouta's shift so he would have a nice cup of cold coffee before working his shift. He left the school and walked up to the cafe on the corner, Nagasaki's Coffee.
The door opened with a small bell chime. He greeted the old lady manager, Mrs. Nagasaki. She smiled and wished him back. The man on the counter, Miyuki Shimura, greeted Ryuuji.
"Welcome Ryu! You're early. Your shift doesn't start in an hour."
"Yeah, I know. I'm here for a cup of coffee before work."
The man behind the counter smiled gently at the young man, "Well then, take a seat, one cup of coffee coming right up."
Ryuuji walked to one of the seats but before he could take a seat he caught a glimpse of a girl wearing their school's uniform. Ryuuji stopped and asked, "Hey, are you from-?"
The girl with white hair, who had been staring outside the window for a long while, looked back at Ryuuji with tears rolling down her cheeks. She immediately wiped them off and said, "H-hey! Yeah, I'm from Kusumigaoka High too."
Ryuuji sat across her and said, "Alright! I've decided not to get up from this seat until I make you all happy and cheerful again." He managed a smile.
"N-no, it's fine! I'm okay. Don't worry. I wouldn't want to disturb you."
"Not at all, milady. I cannot ignore a damsel in distress,” he said teasingly before continuing, “My name's Ryuuji Ito. I'm in my first year at Kusu High. Nice to meet you.” He said coolly, putting his elbow on the counter. The girl sniffled. She smiled weakly and said, "My name's Shiomi Mabuchi and I'm a second year student. Nice to meet you too."
"Wait... Shiomi... Where have I- Oh, now I remember! You're Ryouta's friend! I'm Ryouta's brother, Ryuuji. You can call me Ryu."
Shiomi was taken aback and said, "Ryouta has a brother!? Oh well... Yeah I guess."
Ryuuji hummed, "So... Shiomi-senpai. Why are you crying? Now that I know you're Ryouta's friend, I have no choice but to make you feel better again."
Shiomi chuckled and said, "You and Ryouta are completely different, though I can see you both have the same eyes."
"Mhm, yeah. It's our father's eyes. So anyway, senpai, what's troubling you?" Shiomi looked outside the window and told Ryuuji everything that happened. Ryuuji listened carefully and indicated for Miyuki to bring hot chocolate for Shiomi. After telling everything, Shiomi sipped her hot chocolate that Miyuki had brought a minute before.
Ryuuji took a sip of his coffee and said, "Shio-senpai... You did your best. You did what you thought was best. It must've been so hard for you... All these years, telling people to stay away, acting as the overprotective friend, just to make sure Haru-senpai doesn't remember his forgotten memories. And... After all that, having him remember this way... You must be going through a lot right now."
He smiled warmly at her and said, "Don't worry, Shio-senpai, everything will be alright very soon. I'm pretty sure Ryouta won't just sit around, knowing what has happened."
Shiomi smiled back weakly at Ryuuji and mumbled, "I hope so..."
Ryuuji, suddenly sat up straight and asked, "Shio-senpai, have you ever sung the songs of 9 idol stars?"
"Oh no. No way I'm doing that! Do you know how traumatic my childhood was having Haru sing it all day long!?" She groaned.
"Don't worry, I've had to suffer it too, especially those songs of Rika-pyon. And I realized that the best way to not cringe by hearing them sing is by singing it yourself. Let's go to a karaoke center."
He beckoned Shiomi to follow him and she got up reluctantly. As they were leaving, Miyuki called out, "Oi! Ryu! Oi, where are you going!? It's your shift next!" Ryuuji shouted back before leaving, "Thanks for taking my shift, Miyuki-senpai!"
"That little..." Mrs. Nagasaki chuckled softly from her place as she began preparing a cup of coffee for Miyuki. She gave the coffee to Miyuki and said, "I hope you don't mind working overtime today, Miyuki."
Miyuki sighed, "Oh well, that girl looked like she needed someone to cheer her up. And who else better than Ryuuji to do so…?"
"Don't worry Miyuki, Natsu-chan will be here soon to help you out." Miyuki blushed and got back to work, mumbling, "So what? Natsu is no help, always breaking dishes."
Haruto had been walking for a long time now. It was almost dark now, as the sun had started to dip below the horizon. He found himself a nice cosy spot in a public park. He couldn't go back... He couldn't go back to his house, or his secret place which only he and Shiomi knew of. That lonely park, where he used to go when he was sad.
He slowly went through the newfound memories in his head, remembering each moment crisply. He realised the origin of his passion to play soccer was nothing but a childish ambition to play as well as Kentaro. He remembered all the times someone new had approached him to be friends and very soon they would maintain their distance from him. He kind of understood why Shiomi did what she did, but he needed someone to be mad at. He sighed deeply, tired of walking and thinking about Kentaro for so long now. He wondered if Shiomi had picked up his bag from the classroom. Well it didn't matter, he would take it tomorrow.
He looked on his right to see a girl sitting with a sad expression, just like him. He looked closely to recognise her features and called out: "Futaba?" Futaba looked at Haruto and said, "Hey Haruto... Here's your bag. Since you disappeared after recess, I thought leaving it in the classroom wouldn't be safe."
Haruto took his bag and asked, "You won't ask me why I was not there after recess?"
The girl looked away, "I would... But right now I'm too depressed. Ryouta told me to stay away from him."
"What? Why?" Haruto tilted his head.
"I have no idea." Futaba replied softly. She bit her lower lip and said, "I wonder if he hates me. I jumped in his peaceful life out of nowhere. Ryuuji told me it would be okay but... Now I'm not sure if I should have approached him."
"I think... you did the right thing Futaba. You were worried about your classmate, nothing's wrong with that. It's his fault for being so rude and asking you to stay away!" Haruto grumbled.
"Classmate. Yeah..." The girl’s words trailed off as she thought of another topic. She successfully changed the subject and asked, "So... Where were you after the recess?"
"Meh. I ditched the class and went out for a long stroll."
"Okay, and why did you do that?" Haruto told Futaba everything. After Haruto finished, Futaba said, "Ouch... And look at me, complaining about being rejected…” Haruto shrugged and said, "Well, we all have our problems, we can't compare them. More than being angry, or sad, I just feel... Empty. I'm not sure what I should feel right now... Should I be angry at Shiomi for lying to me? Or should I understand that what she did was for my interest?"
Futaba got up from the wooden bench she was sitting on and went to sit with Haruto. She patted his shoulder and said, "Personally, I think that what happened in the past is done. You can just embrace these new memories and move on with your life."
Haruto looked at the dark sky and whispered, "Maybe you're right."
Later that night, when Ryouta and Ryuuji were having dinner, Ryuuji brought up the topic of Shiomi and Haruto, "Hey, Ryo. I met Shiomi-senpai today... I heard about Haruto and her... What do you think we should do to help them?"
Ryouta looked up and said, "Help them? The more you'll interfere, the more distant they'll get. It's not our place to interfere. It's better to stay away."
"No. I don't want you to come between them."
"... And what about you?"
"I am going to take responsibility."
With those words, he got up and left for bed leaving Ryuuji grinning. He whispered to himself, "Responsibility, huh? Finally, I'm getting you to react." Ryouta wore his pyjamas and got in bed. He closed his eyes and thought about his decision.
"Yes", he decided, "It's for the best."
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