I came back a little disappointed but happy nonetheless. I was immensely relieved that my mother hadn't reacted badly to this news about my life, although I feared that it wasn't just a game on her part. I knew it wasn't over and obediently sat down again at the table when she called me. I waited for her to finish cleaning, fearing that it would damage our good relationship a bit. My mother, a woman I loved and respected more than life, watched me intently. I saw both concern and amusement in her eyes.
"Sometimes I forget that you're almost an adult now, so I shouldn't be surprised that you're in a serious relationship," she said, setting a cup of steaming tea in front of me. "Of course, I don't mind that it's a boy." I gave her an uncertain look. "You know how open and tolerant I am. I'm just sorry you haven't stuttered a word about liking someone before."
"I doubt you'd be pleased if you found out who it was," I replied, taking a sip of my drink. "Especially after what Alice told you."
"I couldn't ignore it," she defended herself. "But I'd also listen to your opinion and wonder why your statements diverge so much. I'm aware of who you are, but I don't know all the details, son."
"Well," I sighed. "There is a problem with us. Alice and Konya react to each other as they naturally should."
"They hate one another and when they are around each other it's a matter of seconds until they start jumping at each other's throats, with me around, they try to control themselves, but they don't always succeed," I explained. "Me and Konya should act like this with each other too, but instead… you see."
"I'd like to see your father's face when he found out about this," my mother laughed and smiled wanly. "Are you sure, Kiyoshi? I know you can't check it in any way."
"I can't be more sure," I replied, straightening my back.
"Then I'll try to like him." She smiled. "Someone who makes my only son happy can't be that bad."
We chatted for a while, and then I retreated to my room, saying I was tired. I wrote to Konya to see if he got home safely. He quickly replied yes, thanking me for the concern. And then he sent one message after another, adding stickers now and then to help express his indignation when he told his father about my mother's reaction and the joking remark she made us. Konya’s father reportedly found it amusing and wished he had thought of it himself, and then said he had to come up with something better. I rolled my eyes, adults probably get bored at some point, since they are so eager to compete under the title 'which of us will embarrass their child more'.
I thought about what had been said that day and felt warmth and peace in my heart. As if I didn't have to worry about the future anymore, because everything suddenly seemed achievable when you had the support of your loved ones. I figured it might be time to clarify the path I wanted to follow. Earlier, however, I was obsessed with painting, although I promised myself that until the exams were over, I would not grab a brush. Well, I was bad at keeping my own resolutions.
The exam time itself was quite calm, of course, each of us complained about something different. It seemed to me that I should have slightly better results than usual. I even managed to get back into Alice's favour a bit due to the stress they caused during this difficult time for each student. She talked to us when Konya wasn't around, but she was so reserved.
I missed her, she was my little sister after all, but we were too different in our approach to some things, and we were both very stubborn. But I knew I had to fight for her happiness somehow. In addition, knowing that her other half is so close, they would come together sooner or later, but why would she suffer longer than necessary?
Fortunately, Daisuke, although earlier I had the impression that he had already dealt with his broken heart, it turned out that he was only hiding it well. He continued to follow her with sad eyes when she wasn't looking and tried to talk to her every chance he got, but he'd resigned himself to the fact that it wouldn't work. I knew it would be different in the end, but I just couldn't stand how close they were yet so far away. My frustration sometimes reached its zenith, perhaps one of the few signs that I was my father's son after all.
While worrying about the two, I didn't notice that Hamada was preparing for the final attack in the meantime. For the strike, she chose the last day of school before the holidays, and the courtyard in front of the school as its place. She wanted a large audience. I was waiting for the rest of us to go home together and maybe make some holiday plans together. I was hoping that Daisuke didn't take on so many shifts and would have a lot of time for us and that Alice would get carried away by the holiday atmosphere and agree to meet us.
Hamada, when I was completely lost in thought, surprised me by throwing her arms around my neck and laughing out loud. After the initial shock, I noticed that this caught the attention of many students, so they stopped, pretending that they were not interested in the scene between us at all.
"What are you doing?" I asked, more tired than angry with her behaviour, as I tried to break free from her strong grip. "I remind you that whatever that bastard Konya made you do, I'd still like to date you," she replied. "Listen to it, Kiyoshi." She looked around us.
Indeed, there were whispers to me about how could I have rejected Hamada for Konya, that I should be grateful to fate that such a girl paid attention to me at all. Some felt sorry for me, that I was probably his biggest victim since the beginning of school, probably believing the version of the rumours that I was his hostage. I looked into the eyes of my former dream girl, seeing nothing more than sheer stubbornness and fear of not achieving something she set out to do.
"Everybody thinks we're a better fit." She smiled and touched my cheek. I shuddered. "Maybe it's even destiny."
Destiny? Sure, I thought, knowing all too well how it works and actually working on its behalf a bit myself. I laughed and pulled more firmly away from her, then felt a tug as she pulled me back to her. I glared at her angrily and turned around as Konya was coming our way. His expression didn't show anything good, I shot him a look, trying to say something like "Don't you dare do that!" but nothing entered his momentarily befuddled mind.
Tatsuo grabbed my other arm and yanked me the other way, then Hamada again. With every jerk, they shouted over each other that I belonged to one or the other. I was fed up with it, I belonged to no one, and when I did, I decided it myself, and certainly not like this. I finally broke free in anger from the arms of both, another moment, and they would tear me apart. I wanted to say something to both of them and at the same time somehow show everyone to leave us alone.
I walked over to Konya, who smiled triumphantly and gave Hamada a defiant look. I don't think he has realized how angry I am yet.
"We'll talk about it later," I muttered.
I grabbed his uniform tie and pulled him to me to kiss him. As a kiss, it was wonderful, but my anger overshadowed it a bit. I hated being the centre of attention and hoped it was the last time I was going through this at school.
"Did it occur to you, finally?!" I exclaimed and looked around, lingering on the shocked Hamada. "Maybe get on with your own life."
Konya caught up with me a moment later, although the fury definitely helped to increase my pace. He grabbed my hand and turned me towards him.
"What is it?" he asked in surprise. "First you kiss me in front of everyone, and then you leave in a rage."
"And?! Do you want to keep tugging at me like the toy you and Hamada were arguing about just a moment ago?" I faulted him, snatching my hand away and continuing on my way.
I didn't feel like talking to him, I know he wanted to make it clear that I was his, but he could have done it in so many other ways than treating me like an object to be fought over. Heck, I didn't want to argue, but apparently, there are fights even in relationships that make other halves.
I began to calm down slowly and regretted having left him like that, wondering if I should call him and ask him to talk to me calmly. I sighed heavily and took my phone out of my pocket. Instead of looking for Tatsuo, he found me first and got down on one knee before me, head down and arms outstretched with mint ice cream as an apology.
"I should have handled it differently," he admitted desperately. "But I couldn't bear to see my beloved in another's arms. Please accept this gift as a sign of my apology." I couldn't help but laugh, but folded my arms over my chest and pretended to think. Konya raised his head slightly and opened one eye. "I beg your forgiveness, noble sir."
"All right," I replied, still pretending to be offended, I reached for my delicacy when he grabbed my hand even more tightly.
"Fulfil one more request of mine then and spend some time with me on my birthday," he announced in a serious tone, voice slightly trembling as if he was afraid that I might refuse him just because of a small argument.
"As much as you want," I replied, touched by this request. "Now get up and tell me how much time I have to find the right gift?"