Chapter 15:

One After Another

Hanging by a Thread

I opened my eyes to a familiar ceiling. A fan was spinning so slowly that it didn't even feel like it was cooling me at all. From the looks of the sky outside the window, it looks to be morning.

A surge of pain grew in my head, so I threw my hand up to clutch it. Human reflexes are so weird. What's my hand gonna do to a migraine?

I threw it down to my side, but instead of hitting the floor, I hit... something else.

Without much thought, I twisted my head to the left and immediately regretted it. I bit my own lips to hold back what would've been the loudest scream in my life.

Curled up right next to me was Chloe, her eyes shut, and her mouth just a hair from mine. If I had rolled any closer, that could've ended horribly. Her warm breath brushed subtly against my face, and a strand of her hair was tilting right up next to my nose.

I twisted my head to the other side before that strand of hair could make me sneeze, but that ended up being equally bad. On that side was Lana, who was lying on the entire left side of my body. Her head was leaning on my shoulder, and her hand was resting on my chest.

How in the world did I not realize this before? Perhaps a more significant question is how we even ended up in this position.

I carefully tried to weasel my way out of their grasp, but that only made it worse. Lana let out a restrained groan as she extended her arm and fully wrapped it around me. As slim as it was, I thought I had a chance to escape. Now, it's just impossible.

The door at the corner of the room slid open, and in walked Alice. She took a peek at the open window until she noticed that I was awake.

"Comfy?" she giggled.

"Hardly," I muttered. "This is just too much. You guys are getting way too comfortable with me."

"You don't like it?"

I merely let out an exhaustive sigh, refusing to answer a trap question like that. One way or the other, whatever I say will undoubtedly result in some kind of misunderstanding.

Alice pinched her chin as that smile turned into a devious smirk. "Well?"

"I'm not answering that," I sighed.

"Aw, come on. Indulge me a little."

I had to shut my eyes to keep myself from being seduced. Alice only ever gives me that look whenever she's trying to get something out of me, and it works ninety percent of the time. This is one of those times.

"I... don't mind it," I finally answered.

"Is that so?" she hummed. "Relish this moment, Asahi-kun. Not many people get to be so close to three beautiful goddesses such as ourselves."

I threw my head back on the pillow and stared at the ceiling once more. "You say that as if I don't already think about it every single day."

"How would I know?"

"I know you've been reading my mind."

She raised a hand to her cheek as she sarcastically said, "Uh-oh. Have I been busted?"

"You've been busted for a while now. But... Alice-chan. If you've been reading my memories, wouldn't you have seen the red threads that have been appearing recently?"

That smile faded from her face, as did the calm atmosphere. I didn't mean to bring it up like this, but now that I remember what happened before I fainted, I couldn't help but ask. This is something serious that must be discussed.

"Trust me when I say this, Asahi-kun, but I never saw any red threads," she said. "There wasn't the tiniest hint that an imminent twist of fate was coming."

"I see," I said. "I expected as much. If you guys really did see it, you would've bought it up already."

"I'm... so sorry, Asahi-kun."

"You don't need to apologize."

"What do you-"

She was interrupted by Chloe's muffled groaning, which was then followed by Lana's early morning yawn to signal her awakening. They both opened their eyes at almost the same time and just as immediately, they pushed themselves up to check my condition.

"Asahi-kun!" they both exclaimed worriedly.

Lana grabbed my face and turned it all over the place. "Are you okay?! Is there any lingering pain?!"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," I smiled. "There's nothing to worry about."

"B-but... you were hurt so badly because of us," Chloe bit her lips as tears ran down her face.

"It's not like there was anything you could've done. Wrong place, wrong time, no one's fault but my own for wandering that far."

I know that no matter how hard I try to calm them down, they won't let this go. That's just who they are. At the very least, I need to make it less painful because I, of all people, should understand how it feels to drown in my own sorrow.

"In the words of the great Alice-sama, all's well that ends well," I said.

"Asahi-kun..." Lana grunted.

"Alice... could you...?" Chloe mumbled.

Alice twirled her finger in a circle, sending a mass of golden orbs rotating around the room until it covered the walls. As soon as the orbs made a full rotation, Chloe and Lana jumped onto me, burying their heads in my chest as they began bawling.

"What is wrong with you?!" Lana screamed. "Why did you go so far away?!"

"Asahi-kun..." Chloe mumbled. "We... we were so scared."

I don't even know what to say. It's not like I intended for all of this to happen. How should I have known that the twist of fate would affect me right then and there? I decided not to mention it. This isn't exactly the best time for my arrogance.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I was too careless."

Lana aggressively grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me over, allowing me to get a full view of her angry face filled with tears.

"That's it? That's all you have to say?!" she grumbled. "You idiot! If we didn't make it on time... you would've... died."

She lowered her head and bumped it on my chest.

"You would've died... and we would've had to watch the one human we cherished die right before our eyes."

I grabbed her with one arm and held her tightly while doing the same to Chloe with my other arm. For a while, we stayed like that. The more I told them it was alright, the more they insisted that it wasn't, so all I could do was hold them tighter.

"Are you okay, Asahi-kun?" Chloe asked. "Like... really okay?"

"I'm perfectly fine now," I smiled. "You needn't worry about me. Really."

They weren't satisfied with that answer, but it was all I could say. In hindsight, it was my fault. I knew the red threads meant something. As much as I wanted to think that it wasn't the inevitable twist of fate, I locked it away in the back of my mind. I couldn't say anything at all about the red threads, but perhaps there was more I could've done. It just didn't cross my mind until I was at death's door.

Finally, they began to calm down a little. Their cries became subtle moans. Those moans became convulsive breaths. They lifted their heads and wiped their eyes, but those worried expressions were still there.

"Are you really okay?" Lana asked once again. "And you'd better not be lying."

"I am," I said. "Check me if you want."

She didn't even hesitate to take me up on that offer, as she immediately grabbed my face with both hands and stared at me with those glowing yellow eyes.

I could've sworn she flinched for a second there. Maybe she saw the moment prior to the twist of fate. It was a pretty scary experience now that I look back on it. I was... actually dying, and the thought of not being able to do anything about it was unbelievably terrifying.

"And?" Alice said.

"It's just as he says," Lana replied. "He's perfectly fine."

"See?" I said. "Told you so."

"You should be thanking us for that," Alice scoffed. "Not like it'll make a difference, but... we were really scared, Asahi-kun. You've no idea... just how scared we were."

I feel so ashamed, but what can I say? That's just it. I almost died, yet that's not even my biggest concern. What I'm more worried about is how the girls are feeling. Have I always been like this? No... I haven't, it's because of them.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Again, you have nothing to apologize for," Lana sighed. "So, please, just stop."

"Ah... Got it. Then everything's fine now, right?"

"For now," Alice said.

"Well..." Chloe gulped as she was fidgeting with the bracelet I gave her. "There's... something we need to tell you, Asahi-kun."

"What is it?" I asked.

Their expressions suddenly fell. With saddened eyes, they looked at each other as if to implore one another to speak. Chloe was facing me, but her eyes were trailing away. Lana dropped her head to where her face was no longer visible. Alice kept her composure as she fixed her gaze on the wall.

It didn't take long for me to realize what they wanted to say. Like a slot machine, Many things raced through my mind, but it eventually landed on one thing.

"Ah... It's... almost time... isn't it?" I asked.

Their silence was the answer I was expecting.

So... this is it. The day that I've dreaded for so long is finally coming. The only friends that I've ever made are about to leave, and I'll never be able to see them again.

I don't even know what to think. I knew this day would day, but I never knew how I would react. Am I angry or sad? Maybe a little bit of both, but it's not like I have the right to be angry at them. They have their own lives. They always have.

"Well, it was inevitable, right?" I chuckled, but my mind was collapsing. "I mean, there's no way that you guys can stay here forever. It makes sense."

"Asahi-kun..." Chloe whispered.

Completely ignoring her, I continued, "Oh, today is the last day of the field trip, isn't it? We should start packing, but I think I need to get some food first. I'm so hungry. Maybe it has something to do with being unconscious all day yesterday."

I got up and quickly made my way to the door.

"Asahi-kun," Lana called out sternly right as I was about to grab the door knob.

I froze in my tracks. Even though I was facing the door, I could feel their watchful gaze. What am I doing? Why am I running away? I need to confirm what it is I'm feeling right now, but my body won't let me.

"I... I'm fine, guys. Really," I said. "Excuse me. I just need a bit of time."

I opened the door and walked out, closing it right after and throwing my back on the wall next to it. What is wrong with me?! I know what I'm doing is horrible, but I'm still doing it. I truly am the worst human that could've caught them that day.

"Of course, he'd react like that," Lana's defeated voice came from behind the door. "I don't know why I thought we could somehow make it slightly better."

"He must be mad at us..." Chloe whimpered. "What do we do?"

No... I'm not mad at you. Please, don't think that. I wanted so badly to burst back in to let them know, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a bit mad. Why wouldn't I be? It's because I'm so freaking selfish, and I hate myself for it.

"Let's give him some space for now," Alice muttered. "We're about to break a promise we made to him... A big one, at that. I can only imagine what's going through his head right now."

I decided to leave before I could hear any more. I need to calm down somehow. Staying here and listening to them would only serve to hurt me more.

Without a second thought, I rushed out of the lobby and onto the front courtyard. The cold winds blasted me as soon as I took one step outside, but I didn't mind. It feels rather nice.

I sat down at a table and rested my head on it.

So many things happened this semester. Going into high school, I thought that everything would be the same as it was in middle school. I thought I'd be alone, and for the entirety of the first semester, I was. Never did I imagine that this semester would be any different. How wrong I was.

When the girls first showed up that day as transfer students, a trio of the most beautiful sisters, all I could think about was how loud it was going to get once they had settled in. That's how it always goes. One would think that they would obviously join the social hierarchy at the top, hanging around the exclusive popular students, but they didn't. Instead, they hung around me, all because I happened to stumble upon them by chance. Could it have been fate? Maybe. I never really believed in fate.

There were a lot of great moments, weren't there? Like that time when Chloe and Lana first learned what a maid café was. They thought it was totally strange why something like that would even exist. Alice seemed to have already known what it was since she tried to get Lana to get into a maid outfit just before we got there. It was so funny when she realized why Alice made such a ridiculous request.

There was also that time when Lana tried spicy ramen for the first time. Not the regular authentic kind that actually has flavor. Nope. She tried the one that erodes your taste buds the moment an ounce of the sauce touches the tongue. That was the closest I was gonna get to seeing 'the wrath of the gods.' Why did she even get mad at me? It's not like I made her try it. Well... I did push her a bit, but that was only because she was talking big game.

I need to forget about what happened when we went to a karaoke bar. The girls were surprisingly good singers. They sang modern pop songs like they were nothing. The worst part about that day was when it was my turn to sing. I was very insistent that I shouldn't, but I don't really get to make my own decisions around them. The first word that came out of my mouth would've killed an entire flock of birds. The girls wouldn't stop bringing it up for a good week.

So many memories... Does it have to end so soon? While I want to be thankful that we spent all that time together, I can't shake off the melancholy of having to say goodbye forever.

I shut my eyes and rested with nothing on my mind for a good five minutes. What am I doing here? The girls are leaving soon. I should be spending every second I can with them, but here I am, moping around doing nothing.

I immediately shot up from my seat and rushed back inside. Alright. I've come to a decision. I'm going to make the most out of however much time we have left. After that, I'll see them in the best way I can. It's the least I can do for them.

When I returned to my room, they were no longer there. Perhaps they returned to their room, so I made my way toward the end of the hall. When I knocked on their door, I was met with no response.

"Guys?" I called out.

Still, no one answered. I knocked again, and this time, someone said, "Come in."

I carefully opened the door to see Alice sitting on a window seat with one leg bent up and the other one hanging off. Her head was angled perfectly so that I couldn't see her face. She must be upset with the way I conducted myself earlier. It doesn't look like Chloe and Lana are here.

"Hey," I greeted her.

She wouldn't answer me. I'm getting more and more nervous the longer I stand here.

"Alice-chan?" I said once more.

Still, she wouldn't even turn to look at me, only keeping her gaze on the view outside the open window. Maybe I should just leave her alone, but when I saw her body subtly shaking, I inched closer instead.

"Hey..." I called out once more. "Did... did I do something wrong again?"

After a momentary pause, she took a deep breath and let it out.

"Yes, Asahi-kun," she answered as she turned. "As a matter of fact, you did."

My heart sank when I saw the calm look on her face as a flood of tears rapidly made its way down to her chin.

I flinched a little before going on an incoherent rant. "W-what? Wait... Is it... because I ran out earlier? D-don't cry, Alice-chan."

"Shut up," she demanded as she wiped her face with a hand. "You're the last person I want comforting me right now."

"I... I'm sorry."

She scoffed with annoyance, "You don't even know what you did wrong, and you're already apologizing. How... imprudent."


"Stop. Just... come here."

I went over and sat down next to her. Now that I'm here, I don't even know what to say, and it seems like she doesn't either, as she refused to make eye contact with me.

"Where's Chloe-chan and Lana-chan?" I asked, attempting to break the silence.

"They went out for a bit," she said.

"I see. I'll apologize to them as well when they get back."

"Why?!" Alice suddenly shouted, causing me to flinch.

She glared at me furiously as those tears that she just wiped away were replaced with fresh ones.

"Uh... S-should I not?" I gulped.

With her face now drenched once more, she cried, "Why do you feel like you're the one who needs to apologize? We're the ones who hurt you... who almost killed you... who will soon leave you..."

My mind went blank. How do I even respond to that? I've never felt that what happened to me was any fault of theirs. It was my choice to stay with them despite knowing the risks. I knew the twist of fate would happen, and I knew they would leave one day. It can't be anyone else's fault but mine.

"Alice-chan," I said.

She didn't move an inch, so I took it one step further. I grabbed her arm with just enough force to get her attention.

"Alice-chan," I said sternly. "Look at me."

Finally, she lifted her head, and even though our eyes connected, hers were still shaking as if she wanted to look away as soon as she could.

"You seemed fine before," I sighed dismally. "Were you holding it in the whole time?"

"I just... hate myself for having to put you through all of this," she sniffled. "Especially when we promised you. We told you that we would stay with you, and now... we have to leave. I hate it... so much."

"I'm fine now, Alice-chan. And I've already decided. I'd rather spend however long we have left with you guys instead of whining and complaining."


I quickly pushed a finger against her lips. Not the most impressive thing I've ever done, but it's definitely up there.

"Let's not continue this," I smiled. "Instead, let's move on. We only have so much time left."

She grabbed my hand and squeezed it a little too hard.

"O-ow!" I grunted.

"You've got some nerves," she muttered. "Perhaps you're the one who's getting too comfortable with us."

"Alice-chan... my hand..."

"Aw, am I hurting you? Maybe you should've thought about that before you decided to shush a goddess who can easily smite you down."

She let go of my hand and, with a newfound smile on her face, propped her head on my shoulder.

"Thank you, Asahi-kun," she said. "Truly."

It looks like she's feeling a bit better now. That's good. I don't know what more I could've done had she stayed like that.

"Remember when you asked me if you did something wrong?" she asked.

"I do, but you didn't tell me what it was," I gulped. "Is it really bad?"

"Yes, and don't even bother apologizing. This isn't something I'm going to let you off the hook for."

"Then how do I-"

Before I could finish my question, Alice grabbed my hand and pulled me to her, causing me to stumble over with a yelp. She caught me right before I fell, but not without pushing her lips against mine.

What...? What is happening? Why can't I feel my body?

The sun seems to have gotten brighter, scattering its magnificent rays throughout the room. I can't tell if the sudden warmth that is now washing over me is coming from that or Alice. My mind feels like it's melting.

She opened her eyes ever so slightly and looked at me, and I did the same. The only thing I can feel is her. The only thing I can see is her. The only thing on my mind is her.

Just when I thought she had let go, it was only to take a quick breath. Immediately, she wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me once more.

After what felt like the longest few seconds of my life, Alice retracted herself and glared at me intimately, a thick blush adorning her beautiful face as she breathed heavy breaths.

"You made me love you," she said with a smile. "That's the most unforgivable thing you could ever do to me."

Did I hear that right? Alice, a goddess from the heavens and a girl that's way out of my league, loves me? Like... more than a friend?

"Um... uh... I..." was all I could say.

She moved closer to me and giggled. "Something wrong, Asahi-kun? Go on. Tell me."

"W-what am I supposed to say? Except... why...?"

"Why, huh? I wonder that, too. Is it because you're the first human to treat me like a normal person? Or maybe... It's because I just think you're cute. I don't really know."

"How does that explain-"

It looks like the tables had turned, for it is Alice who was now holding a finger to my lips.

"Say not another word, Asahi-kun," she smirked. "I'm vulnerable right now. If this continues... I might fall for you even more."

Even if I wanted to, I still don't know what to say. My body still wouldn't move, much less my mouth. Alice, on the other hand, didn't seem bothered one bit. She stood up and giddily hopped towards the door with her hands behind her back.

"Today's our last day of the trip, huh?" she hummed. "It was fun while it lasted, but we should start packing up now."

She tilted her head back with a gorgeous smile and a finger poking the bottom of her mouth.

"Shall we, Asahi-kun?"