Ever since I suggested to Konya that we don't force ourselves to pretend we don't know each other, things have got a little more complicated. Firstly, Alice, gave us angry looks when we exchanged simple pleasantries or just talk literary a few words. She was a bit more nervous than usual, but she didn't want to talk to me, resentful that she was dealing with our enemy.
My sister usually ran away to Daisuke at that time, but she started rejecting him too, and I knew they both suffered because of it. Now she spent most of her time with the girls in our class. She limited her contact with me to our duties. I couldn't put off this conversation any longer.
The other thing was Hamada, who was still hanging around me. She often asked me for help, even with small things, and urged me to come and support her, saying that she really cared about it. She suggested that she wanted to go somewhere and expected me to invite her there. Also, she would smile and wave at me often. I didn't know what to do. It was nice that she was interested in me, but I missed the key emotions of falling in love.
I also did many other tests online and always got the same answer - Konya Tatsuo. Of course, I wondered where all the feelings I had for Hamada had suddenly disappeared. Although it did cross my mind a few times to agree to go on a date with her, to make sure I really didn't feel anything for her. Right now, I'd rather our relationship be limited to being good classmates. But I didn't want to hurt her.
However, I had to admit to myself that Konya is the priority in my heart. In order not to annoy anyone more than necessary, we started eating lunch on the school roof every day, and once a week we studied together in the library. And I won't say, I've always been waiting for these moments with longing. I felt at ease then, and each time I learned something new about him, even if it was a little thing like his favourite colour was red. His mere presence gave me peace, comfort, and pure happiness.
I had the impression that I was with a completely different person then, more open and laughing. He liked to tease me and tell me all sorts of interesting facts. And when he could share his historical knowledge with me, he had a strange joyful energy, his eyes sparkled, he waved his arms and he couldn't sit still. I loved seeing him like this, partly wishing others could get to know that part of him, but at the same time wanting to keep it to myself.
Accidental touching of hands or arms became something I longed for, and I provoked such situations as often as possible. Konya asked me if I felt anything unusual when we were touching even randomly, admitting that he felt a pleasant, electrifying warmth, to which he was slowly becoming addicted. Previously, I must have been overwhelmed by the emotions it caused, I didn't pay attention to it. The first time I felt something like that was when he grabbed my hand when I invited him home.
Never in my life would I have suspected that it would turn out like this, much less how it would end, how I wanted it to end. Where did these feelings come from, had I been so in love with Hamada all these years that I didn't even think I might like someone else, and it's a boy? The thought itself wasn't scary, more the fact of how quickly my feelings changed, it made me feel bad.
Through it all, I've been thinking a lot about the very nature of feelings, and it's slowly dawning on me how difficult the task Alice and I have been given is, even though I don't feel like doing it. Love used to hurt a lot before it made you happy if it meant it at all.
Daisuke walked beside me, heartbroken, and for the first time in years, I didn't know how to comfort him. I couldn't remember the last time I saw his tears, either. He was usually the one to defuse unpleasant situations with his contagious, friendly laugh, and now he was heartbroken because Alice had turned down his invitation for a third time.
"I'll talk to her," I said firmly.
"And what will you tell her?" my furious friend growled. "That she should agree because you asked her to. I don't want such a favour. I need some time to accept defeat, give it to me, and try not to pick up the side."
I sighed heavily and patted his shoulder, indicating that I had taken his request to heart, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to talk to my sister. I had to do it anyway, at least to ask if there was anything I could do to help. It was Friday night, and I was waiting for Alice to post the next chapter of her novel. She treated keeping to her deadlines and her schedule as some sort of sacred task, which made me worried when she didn't.
I started reading her work as a support and better understanding of the characters she asked me to draw, I was reluctant to even admit to myself that my sister had talent, and I was hooked. I figured maybe something had happened, she was putting in more final touches than usual, hence the delay.
When I woke up the next day, the chapter was still gone, and that freaked me out. Enough of this, I told myself. I pulled myself together, ate breakfast, and headed to my sister's, I had a feeling it had gone too far. I was barely catching my breath as I rang the doorbell, exhausted by the fast pace I had imposed on myself.
It was opened by a large man, Alice's stepfather, I guessed, with a sinister expression on his face. I swallowed, I would never want to have a dogfight with him. It's strange that he taught literature at the university and was not a member of the mafia. No, Kiyoshi, we don't think with stereotypes! I reminded myself. This is the other half of Alice's mother, she said this man treated her like his own daughter. He watched me carefully and waited for me to introduce myself, but I was a bit paralysed with fear.
"Good morning, I'm Sugiyama Kiyoshi. I'm sorry to come in so early in the morning but is there Alice, I need to talk to her," I said, my voice trembling.
"I'm her friend."
"Did you make her cry all night?" he asked angrily.
"No," I answered honestly. "I want to talk to her and comfort her."
"So you know who's behind this?"
I admitted I knew, and he looked like he was going to get it out of me and then murder the person. Luckily, Alice appeared in the doorway in her pyjamas, probably just getting out of bed. Her eyes were puffy and full of sadness.
"Kiyoshi? What are you doing here?" she asked in surprise, her voice still sleepy.
"Shall we go for a walk?"
"Sure, just give me a few minutes," my sister announced.
"You're waiting here," Alice's stepfather said dryly and shut the door in my face.
When I heard about him from my sister, I never thought it could be so scary. So I sat on the stairs and waited, wondering how to conduct the conversation. Alice reappeared sometime later with a sandwich in her hand. We walked in silence at first, and I let her finish her breakfast in peace, which she ate so slowly as if she expected what would happen once the food was out of her hands.
"Why did you cry? Because of Daisuke? After all, it was you who refused him again," I asked quietly.
"You think I wanted to!" She burst out suddenly, directing all her anger at me.
"If not, why didn't you agree? " I tried to stay calm. "Nothing's stopping you, certainly not me. On the contrary, I think you two are perfect for each other. I know he wouldn't hurt you, he's been in love with you from the start and..."
"Kiyoshi," she cut me off and looked at me with a smile through tears. "You forget we're cursed."
"You mentioned it, but you said so many times that we are good ones. We help our father, and people find their other halves thanks to us, they are happy."
"That's true," she laughed, her voice hoarse. "We have wonderful skills that are a blessing to others and a curse to us."
I was silent for a moment, and we sat on the nearest bench in the park, staring at the fountain. I didn't know what to say, so Alice spoke up again, after a heavy sigh, as if she was thinking hard about something in the meantime.
"Our curse is not being able to find our own other half. You can't see if Daisuke and I really fit together." She said sadly.
"You still can date, dating is nice too," I argued.
"And what's next? Fall in love with him completely?" she huffed, dissatisfied that I didn't understand her point of view. "It'll be great until his true other half shows up on the horizon. What are you going to do with that knowledge, knowing that he'll be happier with someone else? That I'll have to give him up? Even if I try selfishly to keep him, he'll go away sooner or later." Her bitterness was seeping through her words. "How many times can you go through this? Once? Two? Ten? Getting involved with another person and hoping that you are the one, while never being 100% sure and afraid every day that..." She hid her face in her hands. "That's our curse, Kiyoshi."
I felt like a complete idiot, I never thought about it that way, because I never wanted to understand what our role actually was. Her words hit me like a cold shower, or rather a slap, with every sentence. I reached out and stroked her head, failing all the way as a big brother.
"How many times have you been through this?" I asked in a whisper.
"Once," she replied, smiling sadly. "Two years ago. And that was once too often. You can't blame me for trying to protect myself from this. Even if it may already be a little late."
I understood that she reciprocated my friend's feelings, she just didn't realize it fast enough. She bet on reason and simply did not want to go through this pain once again. She rested her head on my shoulder, sniffling. I handed her the handkerchief and then the grim truth hit me, I too have someone to lose like this.
"I'm sorry Alice, I was too stupid to figure it out earlier," I said, putting my arm around her. "And that I'm a hopeless big brother." I felt her nod in agreement.