Chapter 16:

Pure Bliss

Hanging by a Thread

Another day of school, another day where I have to deal with the excessive noise that comes with it. Like clockwork, the other students never fail to gather in their little social groups and talk nonstop.

Is it weird that I'm not as irritated this time around? I remember how I used to get annoyed at the tiniest bit of gossip. Now, I can't be bothered to care anymore. Have I grown used to it? Or did something else in my life change?

With my head cradled in my arms, I scoffed at the thought. What kind of question is that? Of course, something changed.

I tilted back just slightly to see the girls talking in their own little circles. Every time they were together, I always unintentionally referred to them as a whole. This time, my eyes were fixed on Alice.

Days have passed since the school trip ended. A lot of things happened during the trip, like how I almost died. However, even with something as significant as that, there was only one thing that stayed on my mind.

Ever since the day Alice kissed me, I tried my best not to make it obvious that something had happened between us, but Alice had different plans.

When we went out for lunch yesterday, she sat the closest to me. It was fine at first, but then she did the unthinkable. I carelessly left some sauce on my face, but before I could wipe it off myself, Alice did it for me. The amount of damage control I had to do was enough for me to retire from life right then and there.

Yesterday was also the day they told me that we had a little less than a month left before they had to leave. While I am sad, I plan to make the most of it. The last day of this semester is coming up in a week, and then we'll have two weeks to do whatever. What are we gonna do during that time? I should discuss it with the girls.

"Alright, kids, settle down," the teacher said as he walked in.

"Oh, Teach! Where the heck have you been?" a boy asked.

"Didn't the substitute tell ya? I think the cold winds of Kunisaki got to me. I was knocked out for days."

"It's so nice to have you back," a girl said. "That substitute didn't know how to teach at all."

"Yeah!" another one agreed. "I think Japanese was his second language or something. Did you hear him when he said, 'yoroshiku?' He said it like, 'yoro-shee-ku.' Hah! What was that?!"

"Alright, alright, let's stop with the criticism," the teacher laughed. "I'm back and feeling better, so it's me again."

The lesson went about as well as any other, albeit it was definitely better than these past few days when we had that god-forsaken substitute teacher. My classmate wasn't exaggerating. He did not know what he was talking about at all.

When the teacher finished his lecture, we had about ten minutes until the bell rang for the next class. I thought I could finally rest my head again, but of course, fate wouldn't allow it. Literally.

"Asahi-kun!" Lana effusively greeted me with the others following behind her. "Winter break is coming up next week. What should we do?"

"I was gonna ask you guys that," I said. "I'm not exactly the best person when it comes to knowing all the good spots."

"But you're Japanese..."

"And? In case you forgot, I was a homebody for my whole life."

"Then what do you suggest?"

"Uh... How about just staying at home?"

Alice smacked the top of my head as a sign of disapproval when she could've done literally anything else.

"What was that for?!" I exclaimed.

"For suggesting such a ridiculous idea," she answered nonchalantly.

"You asked, and I delivered. Why must I be punished?"

"Just because."

"I mean... I don't think staying at home together would be that bad," Chloe chimed in. "We can relax and watch Game of Chairs."

"Absolutely not!" Lana and Alice shouted together, which made Chloe flinch.


"Cuz it's boring," Lana grumbled. "I can't believe you got me to sit down for a whole hour just for one freaking episode."

The bell rang, signaling that it was time to head to the next class. We parted ways for now. Ever since meeting the girls, school had morphed into something like a meet-up spot for us. I rarely ever pay attention to class now. Not like I did before, but it has gotten a lot worse. At least I can still do my work correctly despite not listening in on the lectures.

Before I knew it, it was time for the next class, which was math. Thank the gods, too. History class is okay in my opinion. It's just that the teacher is so monotonous that it feels like I'm watching a bad documentary. At least I'll see Chloe.

I walked into the classroom and already, Chloe was being swamped by a group of boys. This happens almost every day. While she puts on a smile just to appease them, I can tell that she's uncomfortable. Actually, it's either because of ignorance or stupidity that those students can't tell. The look on her face is as clear as day.

As soon as she saw me, her face lit up. She inconspicuously gestured for me to sit down immediately, probably so that she could finally relieve herself of all the attention. When I did, she couldn't have made it more obvious. The moment I sat down, she instantly turned around and greeted me with a much more genuine smile.

"Hello, Asahi-kun," she greeted me with that sweet voice of hers.

"Hey," I scoffed. "How's it going?"

"Could be better. I just want the day to end already."

"Heh, that's me every single day."

"Uh... C-Chloe-san," one of the boys stuttered. "I was in the middle of my story."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Chloe mumbled in an attempt to hide her apathy. "I have something important to discuss with Asahi-kun. Could you tell me some other time?"

That same boy shot me an angry glare. What's he getting mad at me for? I wasn't the one who was forcing Chloe to listen to whatever I had to say when it was clear she had no interest whatsoever. This is no one's fault but his own.

With a grunt, he made his way back to his little corner while his goons followed him. It's been months now, and they haven't made any progress with her. If they haven't given up already, I wonder just how long they intend to keep this up.

"Thanks, Asahi-kun," Chloe sighed. "It was tough having to pretend like I was listening."

"It definitely looked tough," I chuckled. "Why don't you just tell them straight up that you're not interested?"

"Well... I don't want to come off as rude."

"Then tell them that you're spoken for. That seemed to work for Lana-chan when she was approached by someone."

"And who was the scapegoat? You?"

"Uh... Y-yeah."

Suddenly, a smile grew on her face, but it was not the same kind as before. It was as if she just thought of the most brilliant plan, one that meant the downfall of anyone involved. I don't like where this is going at all.

"Then I'll do that next time," she grinned playfully.

"W-wait... you're not... gonna use me as the scapegoat, are you?" I gulped.

"Who else if not you?"

Once again, I'm gonna be left with damage control by none other than these arrogant goddesses. How do I even respond to people if Chloe goes around telling them that she's taken by me? I guess I'll handle it when I get there, but it won't be pretty.

The rest of the day went by without much of a problem. Surprisingly, I haven't bumped into the girls since leaving our first period class. Maybe they're off somewhere.

As I made my way to the front gate, I stopped in my tracks when I saw Lana leaning against a brick fencepost. As much as I wanted to walk up and greet her, there were too many eyes there. I wanna keep a low profile at least until I get out of school grounds.

However, she didn't seem to mind those eyes at all, as a smile steadily grew on her face when she saw me. With a hand in the air, she gestured for me to come over. So much for keeping a low profile.

"What kept you?" she giggled. "Trying to hide or something?"

"I wonder," I chuckled. "Are you waiting for the others?"

"Nah, I was waiting for you."

Full of sarcasm, I replied, "Oh, really? I'm honored."

She then grabbed my arm and squeezed it tightly. Suddenly, my confidence was gone.

"Heh... you've become increasingly bold, Asahi-kun," she whispered. "Shall I show you what it means to mess around with a goddess like me?"

"I won't do it again..." I squeaked.

"We'll see."

That fierce expression on her face disappeared, replaced by one that hurts me every time I see it. With her brows slightly raised and her eyes loosened, she looked at me with longing and sorrow.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"You know the answer to that," she sighed, "but you try your best to ignore it and just enjoy the moment. That's the worst part, and it makes me feel so bad."

Lana gently wrapped her arms around me and rested her head on my chest. Many students are watching us, but I can't bring myself to push her away.

No... even with a thousand eyes on us, I still wouldn't push her away. She deserves this much, so I'll indulge it for her.

Five minutes passed, and for those minutes, everything around me seemed to have disappeared. The students who were staring at us faded into obscurity, and even the school was but a speck of dust amidst the field of nothingness. The only thing there was me and her.

Lana softly pushed herself away, and after a deep breath, smiled at me with almost unnoticeable red eyes.

"Feeling better?" I asked.

"Yeah. A lot better, actually," she said. "Thank you, Asahi-kun."

"Take however long you need. I'm here."

"Sorry, but I don't necessarily have all the time in the world anymore."

"O-oh... that's right."

"Speaking of which, ready to go?"

"Go...? Go where?"

It was as though what happened just now didn't happen at all. With a dubious smirk on her face, she wrapped her fingers tightly around my wrist. Oh no... not again.

"Let's move!"

"Wait! Wha-"

A word and a half was all I had time to say before she began dragging me towards the school. We raced down the sidewalk like a pair of madmen, passing up other students who were walking home and barely missing them.

"H-hey! Slow down, will you?!" I shouted.

"No time to lose!" she grinned. "Just like old times, huh, Asahi-kun?!"

Finally, we pulled to a stop at a secluded area, but I guess that wasn't enough for her. Before I could say anything after catching my breath, she pulled me in, and a bright light engulfed us.

Suddenly, we were lying on the ground surrounded by a layer of thick shrubs and bushes, panting heavily and convulsively. It really is like old times. Have I gotten so used to them waiting for me that I forgot how pushy they were before?

"I don't get why we couldn't have just walked," I sighed.

"That's no fun, now it is?" Lana laughed.

I lifted myself off the ground and helped her up. With just a glance, I immediately knew where we were.

On the other side of the bushes was a stone path. A lonely bench sat underneath a tree that was surrounded by a field of tan grass. It seems the trees around lost their leaves to the cold weather. Cherry blossoms dotted the ground, but most of them had already faded from their original color.

"This place..." I mumbled.

"Yeah," Lana said with a reminiscent smile. "This spot marks the end of our first-ever hangout. It's been a while, huh?"

"It has... It makes me happy and sad at the same time."

"Right? I wish... it could've lasted a bit longer."

Looking back, I was such a naïve kid. Well, I can't really blame myself. Anyone would react the way I did when faced with the impossible situation of meeting actual goddesses. It's just that everything happened so fast.

I thought that the day I met them would also be the last, but they somehow kept appearing in the most random places. Lana especially was the strangest encounter out of them. To think that she would so quickly push me into a closet with her just because I happened to be there is still so crazy to me. Then again, she is a goddess. Even if I tried something stupid, she could've easily killed me.

I suppose that's the craziest part. They're goddesses who could've killed me the moment I found out who they were, but they didn't. Instead, they kept me by their side, and that eventually grew to where we are now. I can't say that I regret it either. In fact, I, too, wish we had more time.

"Asahi-kun! Look!" Lana exclaimed.

"Huh? What?" I said as I looked around to see nothing.

"Up! Up!"

I looked up and immediately froze on the spot. As if to officially signal the beginning of Winter, the first snow of the season is starting to fall. One by one, they glided down and shined their beautiful glitters across the sky.

Why do I feel so happy right now? I've bore witness to the first snow every single year, but I never thought anything of it. It's just snow. I don't see a reason why I should be excited.

Perhaps it's because I finally have someone I can share it with.

Lana reached her hand out to grab one. As soon as she opened her hand, it had already melted. That, however, did not deter her glee.

She sprung up once more and tried to grab as many as she could, laughing joyously with every attempt. Eventually, it became too overwhelming. For every snowflake she caught, tens upon tens of more would pass her by.

"Missed one," I chuckled. "Or ten. Make that a hundred."

"W-well, duh," Lana grumbled. "How do you expect me to catch them all with just my hands?"

"Why try when you know it's impossible?"

"I'd like to see you catch them all with just your hands."

"I won't even attempt it because I know my own capabilities. You, on the other hand, need to learn how to accept defeat."

"Oh yeah?"

She suddenly jumped around and latched onto me from the back, throwing an arm around my neck in a chokehold. As if that wasn't enough, she wrapped her legs around my waist. I had to somehow balance myself while being choked, which is way harder than it sounds because Lana is the worst at keeping her strength in check.

"L-Lana-chan!" I shouted. "You're... choking me!"

"Oh, wow. I totally didn't know that," she giggled sarcastically.

"Let go!"

"Hm... maybe I will if you tell me that I'm the bestest-most-amazing goddess you've ever met!"

"Huh?! Like hell, I'll say that!"

"Then I guess you're more willing to live the rest of your life without your neck."

How can she say something like that with a smile on her face? She really is dangerous. But... I knew that the moment I signed up to be their friend. Something like this was gonna happen eventually.

"You're... the bestest-most-amazing goddess I've ever met," I muttered.

"What was that? Couldn't hear ya!" she smirked wickedly.

"I'm not repeating it!"

Her grip on my neck only grew tighter the longer I kept my silence.

"Alright, alright! You're the bestest-most-amazing goddess I've ever met!"

Just like that, she let go and jumped off. It took me a minute to recover from all the strained coughs that came after.

"See? How hard was that?" she laughed.

"You might just be the most malevolent goddess I've ever met as well," I mumbled.

"I'll pretend like I didn't hear that."

I once thought that Alice would be the most likely one to kill me if given the chance. Turns out, Lana holds first place for that, and I don't even know if she's purposely doing it.

"Hey... Asahi-kun," Lana called. "Can I ask you something?"

"Yeah. What is it?" I replied.

"Do you... not hate us? Really?"

"Eh? Why would I hate you guys?"

"Because... we're about to leave... even though we promised you we would stay with you."

I had a feeling she'd say that. Alice was worried about the same thing. I didn't realize they cared so much about how I felt. I guess I never stopped to notice.

"That's not a reason for me to hate you," I scoffed. "In fact, I'm more thankful than anything. The many moments we shared were the absolute best moments of my life. Sure, it was a bit scary at first, but that pales in comparison to the better times we've shared."

"But... it's about to end," she mumbled, "and you'll be all alone again."

"Don't worry about that. I'm just glad that we ended up the way we did. You guys didn't have to keep me with you, but you did. For that, I have to say thank you."

"So... you don't regret meeting us?"

"What? Not at all. If I had to go back and choose, I would definitely choose you guys again. One hundred percent."

She froze on the spot while I stood there and maintained my smile. Of course, I don't regret it. Why would I? I'd never had so much fun in my life until I met these girls. Besides, it was never even my choice from the start, but I'm glad it wasn't.

Lana began walking towards me, her face unchanging. Oh gods... did I say something wrong again? My heart was beating with anticipation. My breaths felt shallow. I'm about to get yelled at, aren't I?

No... I was completely wrong.

Beneath the shadow of a large cherry blossom tree that had lost its leaves, she stood there with her hands behind her back and that soft smile I'd seen so many times but never got used to. The faint rays of sunlight combined with the falling snowflakes decorated her already beautiful appearance. We locked eyes, and for just a moment... time had stopped for real this time.

"Thank you... Asahi-kun," she said. "For confirming my feelings."

She suddenly grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and pulled me down to her height. I tried to speak, but my mouth wouldn't move. Why can't I move it?

Oh... that's right. It's because she's locking me down with her lips.

The winter air kept me cold for a while, but why is it that with something like this, my body feels so hot? That's obvious, isn't it? Lana, one of the most beautiful girls I've ever met and a freaking goddess, is kissing me.

I've never been paralyzed before, but this is probably as close as I'm gonna get. Every time the wind picked up, it stung like a bunch of needles. My fingers twitched, but no more than that. When I tried to move just a little bit, Lana pulled me back and sank her lips further.

Finally, she let go. Had she not been holding onto the collar of my jacket, I would've surely stumbled back. With her mouth slightly open and her cheeks glowing the brightest red, she subtly licked her own lips before it morphed into a satisfied smile.

"Alright, Asahi-kun. I'll take your advice and accept defeat," she said softly. "I love you."

I don't think I heard that right, but I definitely heard it right. What in the world is happening? She... loves me? Her... for real? N-no, maybe I'm overthinking it. Friends can say that they love each other, right? But friends wouldn't kiss each other while saying that. Alice did this too on the last day of the school trip. Both of them...

"W-what do you mean... you... love me?" I gulped.

She pulled a hand to the back of her head. As if the kiss wasn't the most significant thing that happened, her face only got redder. With a massive grin, she said, "What I said is exactly what I meant."

"But why? Why would someone like you... feel that way for someone like me?"

"You tell me."

She leaned her head up to mine. Her gleaming yellow eyes sparkled like a refined topaz dispersing light into many colorful arrays.

"What did you do to make me fall for you?" she whispered.

"I... didn't do anything," I mumbled.

"Errr! Wrong."

She then backed away and hopped a few steps forward before turning her head back with a gorgeous smile.

"All you did was be you," she said.

"What... that's it?" I scoffed.

"Yup. That's it. Congratulations Asahi-kun. I've given you my first kiss."

Before I could say anything else, she took me by the wrist and readied herself. That massive smile told me all I needed to know.

"Alright! Hope you're ready," she said.

"Huh?! W-wait a minute!" I shouted but was completely ignored.

"Nope! I'm too embarrassed to talk about this for any longer! Weee~!"

Together, we were taken by a bright flash of light.