❀ January 30th, 2013 - Shirakawa ❀
If being locked up inside the small, yet humble, student council was not enough to make my anxiety skyrocket to unbelievable heights, what made matters worse was the reason why I found myself in this particular predicament, sitting right next Manabu who seemed to be in his own world, smiling without a single hint of worries in him, even if we had, as well, right in front of us, a tall, blonde girl who was hitting with increasing anger a tiny whiteboard that was filled with annotations made with a black marker.
An empty classroom that with the years began to change, adapting to the different students that decided upon themselves to take this role to improve the lives of their fellow members by creating activities, regulating clubs and being in charge of every single event either for the elementary or the junior high section of the school. A job that demanded dedication, responsibility, passion, and determination.
That was why I felt out of place inside here, especially having Miss Hazawa intently staring at us with her watery-green eyes almost without blinking.
"Get a grip, underclassmen! You are the only class that has not planned an event for the upcoming Open House!" Slapping with great force the innocent whiteboard, some piled up papers fell from an untidy desk in the far-off corner.
"Aw, no need to be so violent, Miss Seira!" Smiling as if this wasn't a big issue, Manabu placed both of his arms behind his neck. "We still have five days left, don’t be such a worrywart!”
“I am in my right to worry about this, five days is not enough. Even if this Open House lasts for only two days, it doesn’t mean you can be as laid back as you are now,” sighing, she fixed her small light-blue hat which had fallen a bit from a side due to her violent movements. “And that’s upperclassman Seira for you!”
“Aw, c’mon Seisei! We can let the younguns be a bit wild and rash with this! Don’tcha remember the times when you were in their position last year?” Banri Ueno nodded, his wild black hair swaying.
The second-in-charge of the student council, the boy who was known for being the King of Laziness, had spoken on behalf of Manabu’s excuse as if it was perfectly understandable to be so irresponsible. That was why my childhood friend gave him a thumbs-up as if it was all an intricate plan to sabotage Miss Hazawa’s attempt to punish us.
“Please, don’t group me together with you.” Was her only response to his wild remark. “Anyhow, truth to be told I expected this could happen once I was informed that underclassman Hazakura proposed himself to be in charge. Nonetheless, underclassman Samidare… You as well?”
I had nothing to say to defend myself against the truth.
“I…” Biting my lower lip, I noticed it was futile to even think about a petty excuse.
“I dragged Yui-Yui into this so don’t bully her!!” Defending me, Manabu stood up. However, it was a mistake to even believe that would turn out okay. “It’s not her fault she arrived late, fell asleep in class and ended up being my partner in this after I told Mr Kamioka to make her our class-representative to atone for her student sins!”
“Don’t expose me like that!!” Sweating bullets, I did my best to not snap. I was in front of Miss Hazawa and Ueno after all, and God knows when Koharu would appear, opening the door out of nowhere and stumbling up this dramatic chaos. “That’s not… true… I think.”
“Hah…” sighing, Miss Hazawa delivered a tired look towards both of us. “Look, we don’t have time to lose, okay? Even if it’s only for two days, which implies less prepping time, we still need to know the activities each class is doing on both sides so there are no two similar events. You won’t be able to leave this place until you think up of something. There is no time to even discuss it with the rest of your class. Whatever you suggest here is what goes underway.
“Bunny—!” However, Manabu was interrupted half-way.
“Approved!!!” Holding a stamp, Ueno was ready to place it onto a paper, approving what could be the worst idea my childhood friend could’ve come up with.
“No bunny-girl themed cafés!!!” Crossing both of her arms, Miss Hazawa yelled in panic. “Nothing of that sort, that stuff is forbidden. Think of the kids!”
“Aw, we all know those kids have seen even worse than what we saw when we were their age… party-pooper.” Muttering under his breath, Manabu seemed to be discouraged. “That was my only idea… Well, it’s all up to you, Yui-Yui! What you suggest is what we’ll do! Now, think up something amazing because I don’t want to stay here until I’m an old man… And I need to see Dream✩Star’s Blog tonight too… And play「Angel Live!」's newest Event… So much to do!!!”
Of course, lay all the pressure on me, Manabu.
"I had forgotten all about Aika's event…" I could have sworn Miss Hazawa believed we were unable to hear her. "Hope I have enough Stamina Bottles for the Rhythm Section… I lose my LP so quickly in them. Why must I suck at rhythm style gameplay?"
"So you do play it!" With his index finger pointing towards her, Manabu strikes a victory pose. "When will you send me your game ID?!"
All life had left Miss Hazawa, now being her turn to be exposed by Manabu.
"I don't play it! I don't even know who Aika Miyanoshita is! Don't change the subject!"
"Says the one who has her as a profile pic on Chipper…"
"... How do you know that…?" Miss Hazawa was losing her cool. "No one knows my social media handles… Oh, God."
"Wait, I got it right?" Grinning, the red-eyed boy gave the final word. "Lucky!"
"Well, let's get back on track shall we?" Ueno suddenly spoke, gaining everyone's attention once again.
He stared at me, everyone following suit.
Having three pairs of eyes piercing my soul just to see what idea I could come up with was raising all sort of red flags inside my heart. Something had to come out of my mouth. Something fun. An activity that everyone could have fun with. Something simple, quick and exciting. Something that would bring smiles to everyone.
Am I capable of thinking of such a thing?
That was when it hit me as if a rumble of thunder had stricken right into my very deep core.
“How about… sharing what you’re passionate about?”
Tripping between my words, just like if I were running and jumping against obstacles, I prayed for my voice to be heard.
“Sharing what you’re passionate about?” Miss Hazawa questioned my suggestion, finally taking a seat. “What do you mean with that?”
“For example…” Hesitating, I tried to bring into my mind a lovely experience I had a while back. “Upperclassman, back on our Job Experience Project, you shared with me your passion for makeup. You were so happy talking about it, doing your best to transform me into something different… You were enjoying yourself and smiling! Seeing you like that…. Made me have a little bit of interest in make-up! If we all shared what made us happy, we could show the visitors and our schoolmates’ new things that maybe they never had heard before or… or even had any interest, to begin with… and… that way we share our happiness with them, make them happy in turn and share what makes us happy!”
“You’re repeating yourself in the very end but I guess I get your point,” with a soft, heartwarming smile, Miss Hazawa took the stamp from Ueno’s desk and pressed it firmly against a sheet of paper after writing our proposal and signing it. “It’s simple and easy enough to do. Just remember to tell your classmates about it and we’ll be looking forward to what everyone has to share.”
Miss Hazawa has changed a bit since the incident… However, we haven’t had time to talk about what actually happened and her stumbling upon my… secret? I suppose it can be called a secret.
“Um, Miss Hazawa… would you mind if I…?”
“Speak up, underclassman Samidare!”
And, just as if it were on cue, right before Manabu and I stood up to finally leave the student council, Koharu’s figure appeared after sliding the door with all his might while seemingly carrying a huge tower of files with a pale face that was slowly turning purple.
“Heavy….” I heard him whisper while his glasses slipped from the tip of his nose.
And that was when he collapsed towards the floor, all the files flying in slow motion as if they were multicoloured snowflakes during a fierce blizzard. The blonde girl rushed to quickly grab some of them in the air, while Ueno whistled, and I and Manabu yelled to lookout.
Albeit a little too late.
The ash-coloured hair boy was lying on the ground, his body clearly out of stamina as if he had passed out. Miss Hazawa had managed to catch three files and hurriedly started to grab the rest of them that were around Koharu. However, none of us aided him for some reason. Yes, I was deeply worried about him, he is my friend after all! Yet, Manabu was holding down his laughter and I was dumbfounded as to how little strength and physical resistance Koharu had.
“That’s the fifth time this week, a new record!” Ueno suddenly mentioned. “Don’t worry you two, Koharuno’s alrighty. He just needs to take a break on the floor. In a few minutes, he’ll be back on his feet!”
“Shouldn’t he go to the infirmary, though…?” I suggested.
“It’s okay, he’ll be fine.” Miss Hazawa mentioned nonchalantly while picking up more files and leaving them in an orderly fashion on top of the central desk while checking one that had fallen half-open. “His stubbornness is stronger than his poor stamina…. Aw, that’s so sweet! The first graders in the elementary section are doing a stuffed animal café!”
That was when I learned how little respect Koharu had in the Student Council even if he was the vice-president and was feared by half of the school population due to his constant patrolling.
“Well then, we’ll be going! Recess is gonna be over if we don’t hurry up, Yui-Yui!” Grabbing my hand, Manabu took me out of the council towards an almost empty hall so we could walk to the patio outside and finally meet-up with Shinji and Yuiko.
No!!! I have to talk to Miss Hazawa!
“Time to eat the yummy food Shinji got for us back in Takayama! He should be here already from delivering lunch to his sis. I can’t wait to eat that scrumptious omelette rice! What didja ask for?”
I guess I can try tomorrow...
“A condensed milk popsicle!” Happily, I giggled.
“Isn’t it too cold to eat ice-cream….?”
“...D-Don’t judge me… It’s always time for ice-cream no matter the season!” Slightly blushing, I quickened my pace.
I hope Yuiko is doing okay all alone with Shinji. Even if it was not for a long time, I’m still worried. We were inside the Student Council room for at least fifteen minutes, Shinji should’ve arrived just a few minutes ago. I need to apologize to her for making her have to endure that considering her primordial fear… I feel awful about that.
“You can be so childish sometimes!” Grinning, my red-eyed friend caught up to me, taking his smartphone out without a care in the world.
“Hey! If any Professor sees you with that out…!” Quickly, I did my best to grab the electronic device but, unfortunately, he was faster.
“No, no! No touchy. Any electric thingy you touch dies!” Manabu shook his head. “I don’t want my phone to be a part of your electronic graveyard!”
“Please…. Don’t remind me of that….” In distress, I did my best to empty those thoughts.
“I’m re-reading Dream✩Star’s blog, ya see! She posted something super interesting last night!” examining the most likely to be screenshots since there is no Wifi reception here, he slid his fingers slowly while focusing on his screen.
Once in a while, I had to grab Manabu in order for him to avoid crashing against the walls from the hallway.
“Woah, look out…” rapidly, I managed to move him right in time so he wouldn’t bump against a group of people. “Honestly, Manabu. What is so interesting about that post of hers? Is it about what she ate?”
“How dare you Yui-Yui say that Dream✩Star only talks about food!! That’s rude!! I know she is as cute as that pink small round puffball that has an infinite stomach but sheesh!!” Genuinely hurt about my mistake, he pretended to be mad. “Actually…”
Before I could hear what exactly he had to say, we arrived at the courtyard.
Situated at the back of the school building, it was surrounded by a rusty fence. The same fence Shinji always uses to trespass his way inside whenever he goes out of his way to deliver her older sister her forgotten lunch boxes. The garden itself was extremely vast, being the countryside, and it had an old baseball court which was mostly used by the elementary students during their own recess. Not everyone used the courtyard, though. Most people ate inside the classroom or the small cafeteria.
Sitting down on opposite sides, on an uneven circular bench around an old tree, were Shinji and Yuiko. My nutmeg haired coloured friend seemed annoyed, playing with his uneven bangs under his beanie hat. Apparently, he had already finished whatever he had brought to eat since I could see nothing of the sort.
My lunchbox was peacefully waiting on top of Yuiko's knees, its polka dot motif making a high contrast with her’s that had a checkered pattern.
A gentle breeze touches my cheeks once I see her standing up, warmly waving her hand.
“I’m so sorry for the wait!” Leaving Manabu behind, who still was deeply engrossed in his own cybernetic space, I stood between my two friends. “The student council issue took longer than expected.”
“It’s okay!” Smiling as if the sun lived inside of her, the girl that was a perfect version of me extended my lunchbox on both of her hands. “Let’s eat together!”
“Tsukiame was nice enough to wait for you but I was dying over here. I would’ve eaten Manabu’s omelette rice but I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I did… I already had my bread.” Sighing, Shinji shoves a white, plastic bag into my chest. I did my best to balance between it and the gigantic lunchbox Nobu made for me that morning. “I ate one of your popsicles though.”
“... You really did!” Discouraged, I looked inside the bag to face the truth and took out the remaining one, just to notice it was about to melt through its wrapping. “I guess I’ll eat the dessert first…”
You’ll pay for this, Shinji.
“Maybe you should start with your own food. I take it you can’t still measure properly your rations?” Shinji raised an eyebrow, making me flinch.
He was absolutely right: my lunchbox was already big.
I’ve told Nobuyuki thousands of times to hold back!!!
“I am excited to see what you brought today. I love sharing my lunch with you!” Clasping her hands, Yuiko turned around towards the bench and took out her garden mat, stretching it on top of the garden.
Giggling, she sat down on the pink surface, opened up her food and served some barley tea she had on a warm mug. Slowly, she gave a cup to Shinji, then to me, and finally one to Manabu who had somehow spawned on the bench, still glued to his screen.
Now that I think about it… Yuiko never told me what actually happened that day. I remember Miss Hazawa fainted in the room and she came inside saying she would explain something to me the next day. However, Yuiko never did. I wonder how should I ask her about it… if she even wants to tell me anymore...
“Does the tea taste good?”
Her voice shattered my thoughts.
“It does, just like always!” Enthusiastic, I opened my lunchbox as well after unwrapping it.
I’ll just stop thinking about that, Yuiko isn’t a bad girl so I shouldn’t be making up those things… Now, I’ll eat what I can from here and then dive deep into the popsicle. I need to hurry or it’ll melt away even though it’s freezing outside!
Although, once I saw what awaited me I couldn’t help but let a small gasp escape from my mouth.
Mr Magic Boy had done it once again.
He had sent me a huge portion of grilled eel with the remaining wagyu beef from some weeks ago.
Doesn’t he realize how expensive eel is nowadays!? And we still have that beef at home!?
I quickly closed it and wrapped it up, pretending nothing was wrong before anyone realized a thing.
“I just realized I’m not even that hungry, ahaha!” Fake laughter made its way outside while I scratched my head. “Ha, ha… ha…”
I’ve suffered the ultimate betrayal by my own body…
My stomach had finally spoken the truth.
I could feel Shinji’s gaze fixed right into my back, piercing right into my awful lie while my belly didn’t stop its obvious growling.
“Well, maybe juuuuust a little…” Not knowing what to do, I was still rather hesitant to open the lunchbox since I had no idea of what excuse to give. “Oh, Yuiko! What did you bring? Your mum makes your food every morning, right? I loved the egg salad sandwich she did last time!”
“Umm...!” Due to my random outburst, I leaned a little bit too close for comfort near her face. “T-Teriyaki chicken meatballs and rice.”
“That sounds nice.” Shinji’s reply caught me off-guard.
“T-Thanks.” As well as Yuiko’s.
A heavy silence settled over them, thicker than the uneasy tension in the atmosphere. Unsettled eyes glanced around and tried to avoid catching each other while I stayed in a dazed state. Shinji shifted uncomfortably in his place and Yuiko grasped her nervous hands, playing with her fingers as if making small circles.
Did something happen between them while we were gone?
“Want to try some?”
Breaking what seemed to be a heavy atmosphere formed only by myself, the girl that made my insecurities go away, opened her lunchbox, unpacking it and releasing into the world a two-layered tupperware. My eyes were having a feast with all the colour combinations the food had managed to portray.
On one side, there were the teriyaki chicken meatballs, softly broiled with that honey hue the sauce usually gives, alongside steamed rice that seemed to had been done this same morning, alongside boiled broccoli in the corner. However, what was much more pleasant to the human sight were the side-dishes on the other lunch compartment.
Half a boiled egg was cut right next to some small tomatoes, which had a little plastic stem connecting them both with a leaf as if portraying a cherry. There was another broccoli right next to what seemed to be a flower, yet it was sliced ham shaped like one, accentuating Yuiko’s mother’s talent. Finally, there was a portion of crab salad, a mandarin orange with another green plastic stem on top and fresh strawberries.
“Everything looks so good…” Shinji and I muttered at the same time, surprising myself once again since he was suddenly sitting right next to me.
I couldn’t even move, nor breathe. I was frozen on the spot. Silently echoing inside of me, my heart was unable to stop pounding.
“Oh!!! My!!! Bloody!!! Hell!!!”
Leaping on top of the three of us, Manabu threw himself pushing his smartphone between us. Yuiko was barely able to pick up all of her lunch from the pink mat, while some of the tea spilt on the bare garden and Manabu’s knee went straight into the bag where my popsicle was.
“My ice-cream!!!!” I yelled.
I’m going to destroy Manabu.
Not caring at all, with both of his arms he hugged out necks, bringing us closer to him and his phone. However, in the process, me and Shinji’s cheeks were touching each other, making me forget all about my upcoming dessert having been destroyed by the blonde. Nonetheless, at the same time, I could make out Yuiko being extremely uncomfortable yet she did her very best to don’t cause any troubles by it.
“What’s going on!? Let us go!” Pissed off, Shinji couldn’t help but lose his patience.
“Don’t you read this???” Pointing right into a sentence in his smartphone, Manabu was clearly distressed. “I thought I had read it half-asleep in the morning, praying it wasn’t true but…!”
Two pairs of orange eyes alongside a pair of nutmeg coloured ones stared intently at the screen, clearly unable to comprehend what had Manabu completely in distress.
“Dream✩Star is going on a hiatus!!!”
“... Huh?” After freeing us, our heads tilted to one side.
“A!!! HI!!! A!!! TUS!!!” Remarking each syllable separately, using his hands as well to emphasize his point, his red eyes were all over the place. “That’s unheard of! She is an ally of justice! She prides herself on being a magical girl that protects us from the evils of this world! If she takes a vacation who is supposed to…?”
“I could!” Without thinking, I spoke.
Astonished by my remark, everyone looked at me with sheer curiosity.
“Could not!” Fixing my own sentence, a burst of nervous laughter escaped my lips. “Also, both of you owe me an ice-cream now!”
Gosh, even if I haven’t been a magical girl for at least a whole month I felt my pride being shattered for some reason.
“But I already bought it for you and Manabu was the one that ruined it just now!” Shinji protested.
“He did to the leftover one!! You were supposed to bring me two! Who told you, you could eat it?”
“A-Anyway… what brought her to that decision?” I heard Yuiko ask. “To your um, magical girl to go on a break, Hazakura?”
“That’s what she doesn’t mention!!!” Crossing his arms, Manabu pouts. “Rumours say that it’s because she’s getting engaged in some online drama. But I don’t believe that since she’s a sweet girl!”
“Drama? She is leaving because she’s engaged in a programme?” When I spoke out, Shinji hit my head, slightly, with his knuckles. “....??”
“Online drama, Yui.” That was all he said.
“That’s what I said! Can’t you watch dramas on the internet nowadays? I’m sure I’ve heard you can!”
“I believe that what Hazakura and Hinaga mean is online arguments, Yui.” Patting my head, right where Shinji had just stuck it mercilessly with his hand, Yuiko smiled.
“Then why are they called drama?”
“Because they are dramatic, just like watching a soap opera at home but on your phone or PC about strangers and more strangers engage into it sometimes without knowing the true reason behind it and it can lead to purges as well. They are super scary and spooky!” Manabu hugged himself. “That’s why I know that everything they are saying are lies! It’s impossible for my endearing Dream✩Star to start fighting with her own fans!!”
“I don’t see anything sweet nor endearing about a girl who asks for money using a hoax.” Standing up, Shinji grumbles his opinion and turns his back onto us.
“It isn’t a hoax, magical girls are real and she proves it!” Fuming, Manabu does like him as well.
“Is this a live-action version of an online drama?” Still somewhat confused, I dared to ask.
“You could say that…” Without losing her smile, albeit a bit scared, Yuiko confirmed my suspicions.
“Oh right, before I forget!! I have to go back to the classroom and talk with Mr Kamioka about what we’ll do for the Open House this weekend.” Suddenly remembering my duties, my voice broke Shinji’s and Manabu’s argument.
“Oh yeah, how did that go?” My tanned skin friend asked nonchalantly, pushing Manabu’s fury with a single palm while he kept trying to punch him in the face. “Everything okay?”
“Surprisingly, it went well! I suggested that our class should talk about the things they are passionate about!”
The sunlight came all at once, its rays slowly warming up the damp ground from yesterday’s dew. It came alongside a lively wind, caressing my small pigtails into an unknown vortex. The sensation made me smile, doing my best to transmit what made everyone happy towards others. However, even if the sun had come out to play, the wind to sing and my emotions to bloom…
If I’m happy, I end up losing everything. If I’m happy, I inflict pain on others. What could I even share?
The non-colourful hues of winter were slowly melting away, as far as my eye could see while walking back home from school. The sun that had decided to bless us with its mighty glory roared still at this hour, making me wonder if Spring this year was going to be an early Summer. Different sized leaves fluttered in the wind, dancing with my grey skirt and red ribbon. Even if the breeze was freezing, it was a nostalgic feeling living all of these seasonal changes. Even if I was all alone right now, I did my best to believe that something good would happen at any moment.
I perfectly knew, too, that at home, a cosy new sensation I was slowly accepting into my heart would be ready to greet me with a sweet “Welcome home”.
The boughs glistened with frost; the air hung silent and cold. The population of Shirakawa had doubled, the new half being made of snow and ice that would soon become small riverbeds.
It was odd to see the fields so quiet, not a single soul tending the rice fields. The sun was a radiant, all-watching eye, its light creeping into every corner, bathing the whole world in a warm glow.
Upon the road, I stand as still as the trees, not totally frozen, for just as their budded twigs move so do my short pigtails. My eyes were closed. Tousled purple hair whipped into my face; blown by air as fresh as any after a rainstorm. After several deep breaths, I took in the view, from here the fields were laid out like quilts and I missed seeing the trucks parked nearby, carrying out the most recent harvest from there towards Takayama or even the capital city of Gifu itself.
Once I saw Hachiman Shrine’s silhouette, I quickened up my pace and arrived home, which was just right in front of it.
Surrounded by gravel and small stones, the entranceway was decorated with large flower pots, each containing different buds ready to bloom once spring begins. Violet, red, white, pink. Nobuyuki had been taking care of them while giving this place proper maintenance. Both windows that looked outside were firmly shut, while the ones on the second-floor open, the green mosquito net covering them being seen. It would seem he was ventilating my room.
Sliding the pinewood door, I came inside taking my shoes off and changing into slippers. I could see magic boy’s ones as well, which used to be from my late father, indicating he was here.
Carefully making my way inside, unusual sounds made their way to my ears.
“Nobuyuki?” I called, with no answer whatsoever. “I know you’re in the house. Your shoes are at the entrance and you left the second-floor windows open.”
With the floor cracking up against the slippers, silently I kept making my way further in, leaving my school bag on top of the sofa in the living room, right next to the dinner table where I carefully placed my uneaten lunch. The kitchen was empty and clean, with no traces of food being prepped up to be cooked later tonight, which meant Nobuyuki had not gone outside to buy the ingredients yet.
I do still wonder where he gets the money to do that.
However, once I was about to make my way upstairs, an incredibly loud noise could be heard. It was just as if a gigantic tornado had formed itself devouring everything in its path making me endlessly spin on the spot. A hand grabbed my shoulder, the blue-haired boy with the yellow scarf being the cause of it all.
“Ah yes, you’re finally home my dearest! Now, now, it’s time to pick up the pace… It’s already 3:45 PM!” Hurrying up, he opened the kitchen cupboards and took out a small bottle, filling it with water and storing it into what seemed to be a large green backpack. “Move, move!”
“What are you even doing…?” I mumbled, clearly unable to comprehend the situation.
“Are you seriously going to ask that, my dear Yui?” With ragged breaths, he pushed me outside the house while closing up the door and grabbing up my hand, carrying me down the street. “We’ll be late at this point!”
“Could you explain yourself? I wasn’t even five minutes inside! I’m even with my slippers on!”
Nonetheless, he shoved with his other hand a pair of sneakers against my face.
“We have no time to lose! It’ll take us at least an hour to get there if there is no traffic and then around twenty minutes on foot to arrive at our final destination!”
Doing my very best to get his grip off me, I had no idea where I was being kidnapped to. I thought of raising my voice and screaming, yet I was completely terrified of what he could do to me if that situation arose. I mean, the first time we met, he threatened to kill me. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a trick up his sleeve if I tried to run away.
That was when I noticed the direction of where we were walking towards to: The Village Town Hall.
There was a bus stop there.
That was when I realized it.
“Are we going to Takayama?”
“Yeah, where else?” He kept dragging me until I caught up to his pace. “I don’t know anywhere else except that place and here.”
“Are there any special offers there? That’s why you’re taking me too? To be your guide?” I couldn’t think of anything else. “Did you hear a sale on the radio or on the TV?”
“Now that you mention it, I should’ve thought of that before we left. Oh well, what’s done is done. I already have my focus on a noodle udon restaurant three blocks away from where we’re going. Next time I’ll do a quick search and buy all the offers on the supermarkets!”
And in an instant, we were just right next to the bus stop.
What should’ve been at least a twenty-minute walk turned out to be insanely fast.
Did he do something?
And right on cue, the bus arrived and opened its doors while letting go of some steam.
“Time to go for your lessons!” He said, with a wide, big smile while going up the small stairs.
“My what?” Still dazed, I followed him.
“Your tennis lessons, of course!”
I HAD DELETED THAT INCIDENT FROM MY MIND! Did he really…?
“Aren’t you excited about your first day?!”
He really did. HE REALLY DID SIGN ME UP FOR THEM.
And with that, the doors closed and the bus went on its merry way, leaving me with no means of escape.
The bus was chilly, a little colder than I found comfortable.
Fortunately, only two people were on it, probably going to Takayama for cram school.
Nobuyuki paid our fee and made his way towards the very back of the bus. While he walked, the green backpack he was carrying made loud sounds, objects clacking against each other inside. Patting down on a seat right next to him which was the one next to the window, he sat and left the oversized luggage on the floor. The seats were made of a velvet-like material and of a very bright blue colour, being bothersome for my eyes while I made my way on the small aisle holding onto the handrails.
Once I made it to my indicated seat, I sighed.
“You really are something else,” without knowing what else to say, all I had were questions. “I don’t agree with this. I can’t use the money I have for these lessons. Once I am there, I will say it was all a mistake and go home… God, I’ll start homework late. How did they even let you sign me up in the first place? This isn’t something like paying up weekly food at the local mart! The fee should’ve been expensive.”
“My lovely Yui, everything is under control. You can one hundred per cent trust me on this!” He smirked, apparently proud of his endeavour while the bus’ wheels hit the uneven pavement, making his bead-hair bounce up and down. “I will cover up the expenses of these lessons. After all, it was my idea so I must be a responsible partner so rest assured! I’m doing this for your own good! After my research, this seems to be an excellent sport for you to work your stamina, reflexes, strength…”
“Wait a second… You signed me up first without knowing anything about tennis?”
I wanted to choke him right on the spot.
No, Yui! You cannot let Shinji’s behaviour rub onto you so much!
“There isn’t a sport like that from where I come from, unfortunately.” Nobuyuki crossed his arms.
“But apparently, you have enough knowledge of dumb stuff in order to save yourself from rule number one, Shower Time.” Remembering the incident which made me feel like a complete idiot, I pouted. “That isn’t fair at all!”
“I didn’t make that up!!” Excusing himself, he raised both of his palms, hiding his face deep into his tattered yellow scarf. “A-Anyhow, I am well versed about this sport now so you can ask me anything!”
“As if I had a choice… it’s either that or an awkward silence between us for at least an hour.” Preparing myself for the worse, I asked the only question that was burning deep inside of me: “How did you even learn about it? There isn’t a PC or laptop at home and you don’t have a smartphone. And even if you did, there is no internet connection at home… Now that I say all of this out loud my house sure is living in a completely different era...”
“Now you have a point there, I should get one of those gadgets,” nodding to himself, Nobuyuki proceeded. “Having what you call phone could be super useful at some point. However, we have our own communication skill so I see it unlikely for now!”
“Please, if something happens while I’m at school? I could contact you that way.”
“Please,” mimicking me, he replied with what seemed to be a witty look which I couldn’t stand for some reason. “Our own communication skill doesn’t have an operating radius. I can get in contact with you no matter the distance!”
“Today at school, during your lunchtime, you had very ill thoughts about your friends in regards to some ice-cream. Really, my dearest? That’s so childish!” Holding up what apparently was a laugh, he went on. “And sheesh, I did hold back on your lunchbox! The eel wasn’t so expensive… It was lower than what I spent on those wagyu slices of beef last time, to be honest.”
“That’s still expensive! And oh my Lord, I won’t be able to even feel safe at school anymore. You can read my thoughts everywhere with your silly telepathy! Won’t I ever have some privacy back into my life!?” Hitting my head against the cold window, my forehead froze in an instant.
“I am not invading your thoughts anymore as you asked me to, so I consider that an improvement! See how I am not constantly entering your mind?” Happily, he smiled. “And it’s not telepathy… Plus, I truly wanted to abide by your petition by suggesting the transfer student option but what? What was your reaction to it? Plain denial!”
God, give me patience. This...sneaky... guy!
“I haven’t even done any exercise yet and I already feel exhausted…” Doing my best to keep calm, I sifted through my seat and tried to lead the conversation elsewhere while changing from my slippers into the sneakers Nobuyuki imposed on me. “So? How did you find out what tennis is about? There aren’t any public libraries nor net cafés in Shirakawa.”
An evil laugh escaped from his lips.
“Well, well… What do you think I could have been doing while you were working at the Post Office with that guy that barged into the house the other day?” Raising up his index finger, he had made a valid point. “At that time, you had no idea it was actually I, Nobu, who followed your bus down the road!”
“Don’t make me remember the anxiety attack that gave me… I really thought it was a dog, not you.” Lifting up my face after putting my sneakers on, I left the slippers on my knees. “And ‘that guy’ has a name and it’s Shinji.”
“If you knew it was me it wouldn’t have broken your heart!?” Speechless, the yellow scarfed boy’s soul was shattered. “Note to self… Yui is a cold-blooded veneficae.”
The bus rocks us from side to side as we travel these familiar roads. I gazed out of the window and felt like the scenery was recurring, going round and round, observing the same trees, houses and fields.
“Seeing as you ignored my remark, I’ll take it as the truth.”
Honestly, answering would have led to an argument I have no energy to engage in.
“As I was saying, before learning how truly evil you are, I decided to stroll around the premises. You know, scout around so I can aid you if anything happened. That’s why I was nearby when that HeartBit afflicted adult attacked you and the other girl.” Fixing his throat, Nobuyuki was slowly catching my attention again. “In any case, while I was doing my rounds, I saw the tennis pamphlet at a certain store.”
“A certain store…?” Something smelled fishy here.
“Why did I had to go and say it that way…?” I could hear him mutter, with a slight blush on his cheeks. “I.. saw it in.. a bookstore.”
“What were you doing in a bookstore if you were supposed to be patrolling?” Raising both of my eyebrows, I leaned closer to him with suspicion.
“Can’t a guy have a rest!?” He protested, blushing more than usual. His face was almost burning in shame. “Mangas are fun okay!?”
“...You got distracted… with manga?” Holding a laugh, I tried to connect the dots. “So, while you were doing your rounds, you stumbled upon the bookstore and started reading manga… and that’s when you saw the pamphlet. I can’t believe something so silly lead to all of this...”
“『Macaron Honey Beats』is a masterpiece, not something silly!!!” Bashfully, he turned around, clearly hurt. “It’s obvious you haven’t read it in order to say that… I feel sorry for you, almost.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ticking me off, I had to sigh in order to keep my composure. “A guy that could be called a transforming alien with magic powers dares to tutor me about manga, a thing he didn’t even know existed at all until I casually mentioned it that day we met???”
“I’m not an alien!! And skip those technicalities!!” Ashamed, Nobuyuki did his best to get back on track. “Anyway, that was when I thought that in this place, libraries should exist! I should go and learn about the sport as soon as possible!”
“Just say you thought you could find more volumes of that manga in the library…”
“After going to the city library, I found some books there that taught me everything I needed to know!” Proud of himself, he puffed his chest.
“Admit you couldn’t find any manga and resigned you decided to do that…” covering my mouth, I was near the point of breaking down in laughter.
“Alright, keep on making fun of me!! I won’t talk to you anymore during this hour trip!” Pouting, Nobuyuki fully turned around, giving me his back. “I won’t give you an easy-to-follow tutorial about tennis either.”
“Suit yourself, I guess?” Confused about how everything turned out this way, I had nothing better to do than to fiddle with my phone.
Now that I remember, Yuiko sent me a text that day, didn’t she? The day I passed out for three hours inside the archives room in the postal office. Given Nobuyuki doesn’t want to speak with me anymore, I could ask him about that later.
Taking out my flip phone from my grey skirt pocket, I went directly to the “new messages” area and found Yuiko's unopened text.
Here it is!
Holding my breath, my fingers shake as I press the phone’s keyboard.
In the past few years, I lived a bitter life with no light. My heart was chained with emotional numbness and rejected the single concept of happiness. I was scared of feeling myself being content with life, so I pretended that every happy moment I felt were just fake. As time passed by, my perception of happiness eventually changed. How was I supposed to know I was truly happy? At what point would I realize I was living in a happy moment? Happiness within me only brought sorrow to my surroundings.
However, why is my heartbeat pounding so fast? Why is my breathing becoming erratic? This isn’t an uncommon situation at all. I am used to getting text messages. Yet, why oh why, was this one, in particular, causing foreign emotions inside of me?
When I met her, I jumped directly to the conclusion that she was a pure reflection of a perfect me. Her innate beauty was heavenly and exceptional, provided that her voice was like a perfect melody. I couldn’t provide a perfect adjective that would perfectly describe her perfect perfectness against imperfect me. It was like a huge puzzle to me, one that I could not find the perfect piece for it to fit.
The moment she talked to me, my whole body became numb. It seemed that her angelic face was stuck on my mind and her innocent voice gave me this warm, nostalgic feeling. Her unique and prevailing beauty caught my attention and that sweet personality of hers captured my entire world. She was immaculately the complete package of what I aspired to be and her approach gave life to something in my heart I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was.
For what reason does Yuiko generate such unusual feelings within me?
I should feel scared of our similarity. I should find it unusual, creepy, even disgusting. Nonetheless, that same thing is what makes me believe I have a close, special connection with her even if I have not known her for at least a full month.
Every time I see her smile, her being happy, her being content, fills me inside with an indescribable feeling. That was why, the noon she confessed her androphobia, brought me to tears as well. The shining moon reflected our unreachable, wavering agonies. Her fears and unhappiness resonated so much within me, I felt like a bad person for not noticing. Me, someone useless and pathetic who even dared to think I wanted to be like her, failed to notice her pain.
Me feeling ‘happy’ around her brought Yuiko inner misery, unable to tell me the truth straight out.
Maybe she was mad about that? That I was unable to notice it and she endured it?
The distance between my finger and the button suddenly seemed eternal and ethereal. Why did such a small thing, a simple text, make me so terrified and anxious?
With a sudden long yawn, stretching both of his arms as if he had all the space in the world, Nobuyuki pushed me on accident and unleashed my worst nightmare: I had pushed the button.
I yelped, unable to take ahold of myself any longer, enduring the tears that wanted to come out of my eyes.
That was when I noticed that everything up until now was just in my mind.
【From: Yuiko Tsukiame. Sent: 8:32 AM. Date: January 24th】
Good morning, did you sleep well yesterday? I wholeheartedly hope you did. It became a chaotic evening after all… I truly apologise for what happened on the rooftop. It was not my intention to be seen so vulnerable while pouring one of my fears onto you. It was selfish on my part. I should have found a better way of telling you about it. However, for some reason, I could not find it within me to think of something logical. It suddenly happened, and that is not like me at all.
Would you mind, after all of this is over and we are back at Shirakawa, talk about this and properly apologise to you?
P.S: Is it alright if, afterwards, we talk about something? It has to do with what I promised to tell you today, the thing I mentioned last night when Miss Seraphine collapsed. Oh, and I forgot to mention this before but, Hazakura gave me your contact information, I am sorry if it caught you off-guard. I remember we exchanged phones one day but I did not manage to get your info.」
Such sophisticated writing…
However, one thing broke me inside.
She is not mad at me. She does not hold a grudge against me. Yuiko wants to apologise for something that is not even necessary… She didn’t even mention anything about this while we hung together during lunchtime either...
“Why am I so self-centred, I wonder,” holding my cry, I swallowed my inner tears. “I was being selfish again.”
I’m so sorry I’m replying so late to this. I hope you don’t think I read it and decided to ignore you, I would never do that (´；д；`). Is it okay if we talk tomorrow? And you weren’t selfish!! Also no worries, I really don’t mind you writing to me out of nowhere. It was a pleasant surprise! Let me know if it’ll be during or after school! Maybe we can grab something to eat on our way if it’s the latter!
See you tomorrow!!」
Trying to sound happy while I’m suffering on the inside makes me feel like a fake person… But, in reality, I am actually a fake. I am unable to really enjoy happiness, thus why I pretend. I wonder, will Yuiko see through my act, just like Shinji does? I hope she doesn’t.
Bringing myself to endure this excruciating pain, the best thing I could do was to close my eyes, praying for the bus to stop just as I wished for my heart rate to cease.
Chapter Divided into two parts due to Honeyfeed's Character Limit.