Kimi ni Koi wo Suru Nante, Arienai Hazu Datta - Chapter 3
It was now February, and I’d already taken exams at a number of private universities. They served to test my own capabilities and to familiarize me with the process before I apply to my dream university later on. My current record is one pass and one fail. My third exam will take place next week, so I still have a long road ahead of me. However, knowing that at least one university had accepted me gave me a bit more assurance than before.
I had been studying in my room for quite some time, so my head and shoulders were pretty stiff. Deciding to take a breather, I booted up my PC and opened my email. It’d been a long time since I logged in, so a fair amount of unread emails had accumulated in my inbox. Most of them were adverts, but I noticed there were some emails from unexpected people mixed in among them.
Sender: Wada Kouta
Subject: How are you?
Body: Hello, Iijima-senpai. It’s been a while. This may be sudden, but will you be able to come to school on the next school day? I know you must be busy with the exam season, but since we underclassmen also only have classes in the morning, I thought we could have lunch together. I’d like to repay my senpai for all the help I’ve gotten over the past year.
Wada is a kouhai I’m close with, a first-year student in the Local Geography Club. He was the boy who first entered the Chiibaa costume back during the cultural festival.
When I looked at the date, I saw that the email had been sent last week, so the next school day he was referring to in the email, the day after tomorrow, was already fast approaching. I had already decided to skip school on that day long before he had sent the email, so ultimately I would have to decline his offer, and even then I had to wonder if it would make sense for me to bother replying to his email after all this time.
I was about to pretend that I hadn’t seen the email at all when I spotted another familiar name in the sender field of my inbox. I double-clicked on the email and opened it.
Sender: Saito Katsuya
Subject: How ya doin’?
Body: Haven’t seen your face in a while, Yassan. You doin’ okay? Actually, you know, when I went to the library to study the other day, I ran into Mamii-sensei and they pestered me about what you were up to! Sensei even got mad and said, “If he doesn’t show up by the next school day, I won’t give ‘em his diploma.” So, make sure to drop by sometime soon, okay~? I’ll be waiting for you too (in my birthday suit) ♡.
Reading the last sentence left me feeling drained. Having a guy wait for me in the nude certainly wasn’t anything to rejoice about, and imagining Katsuya’s chubby, pale naked body brought about an intense feeling of disgust. (Incidentally, “Mamii-sensei” is referring to Mamiya, our middle-aged homeroom teacher. The nickname may sound cute, but in reality, he’s just a regular gorilla-like old man.)
I had enough days of attendance, so it was unlikely that I would actually be denied graduation, but I preferred to avoid causing any problems. I couldn’t care less about the students spreading around baseless rumors of me, but the last thing I wanted was to worsen the teachers’ image of me.
Well, I guess the rumors should’ve already died down by now, and I’m pretty sure everyone else won’t have the leeway to bother thinking about such things. Reluctantly deciding to go to school, I responded to Wada’s email with a simple “OK.” As for Katsuya’s email, I decided to ignore it completely.
Of all the days I chose to come to school, it just had to be the day before Valentine’s. It was most likely the reason why all the boys I passed by seemed to have slightly excited expressions on their faces, but for those who didn’t expect to receive gifts from anyone, it was nothing more than a sad and depressing event.
Because of my train’s schedule, I always came to school significantly earlier than when my lessons actually began. Staying in the classroom would’ve made it look like I was expecting something, so I decided to head to the library to quietly study on my own.
The library was located in the new building, which was connected to the old building by a passageway. As I walked down the cold corridor all by my lonesome, several people shot towards me from around a corner, like bullets.
“Yassan! You’re still alive!”
Unable to avoid him, I found myself tightly embraced by Katsuya. Despite my annoyance, he proceeded to put his arms around my body and ruffle my hair over and over.
Isn’t he overreacting here…? I was only away from school for a few days… Well, I guess he was worried about me in his own way. I patted him on his back a few times to put him at ease, which made him hug me even tighter.
Then I heard the mannish, husky voice of a girl from behind me.
“What’s up with you two? An unexpected BL relationship at a co-ed school?”
Standing there with her head tilted to the side was Tamura, toting an English workbook under her arm as she stared at us with a look of amazement on her face. Katsuya quickly detached himself from me and, holding both of his hands out in front of Tamura like a dog, said:
“Ah, Tamu-san! Chocolate, please!”
“…I knew there’d be guys like you. Good thing I prepared some just for a situation like this.”
Grinning, she took out some chocolate wafers in red candy wrapping from the pocket of her uniform and dangled it in front of Katsuya.
“Thank you! Just as I’d expect of you, Sis! You’re so cool! I’m getting goosebumps! I’m even starting to get wet!”
“Just make sure your tip is the only wet thing here… So, back to what I was saying earlier, which one of you is the passive one and which one of you is the aggressive one?”
“Hmm, I’m fundamentally okay with either, but if it’s Yassan we’re talking about here, then I’d definitely have to go with being the aggressive type.”
Katsuya immediately opened the wrapping and popped the chocolate into his mouth. As usual, I wasn’t able to follow their conversation at all.
“What on earth are you two talking about?”
Tamura finally turned to look at me when I asked.
“Ooh, Messhi. Looks like you’ve acquired a monk-like air around you in the short amount of time we haven’t met.”
That was likely because I forgot to shave my chin and lower jaw. Also, I started cutting back on my calorie intake recently to prevent falling asleep unintentionally, and although I haven’t checked my weight yet, I feel as though I’ve lost a lot of mass. That might be the reason as to why I look so haggard and skinny.
Perhaps taking pity upon my miserably thin condition, she rummaged around her pocket just like before and gave me something.
“I’ll give one to you too, Messhi. I’m sure you don’t have anyone else to give you chocolate anyways, right?”
I unconsciously turned meek and docile as I accepted her gift. The chocolate she gave me was a small, individual one that came from a larger, economic pack of chocolates. I have no idea if I should react happily or coolly instead.
“What? You don’t have to give me anything in return.”
…Doesn’t that imply that she’s actually expecting something in return? Well, she does have a calculating side to her, so I suppose I should at least give her something simple.
“Oh yeah, are you going to have lunch together with Wada-kun and the other kouhais too, Tamu?”
Our kouhai in the Local Geography Research Club asked if they could have lunch together with their senpais. I myself would be going, but I wonder what Tamu’s going to do. However, Tamura raised her voice slightly and muttered a surprised “Huh?”
“I haven’t heard of anything like that. What’re you on about?”
Her response also caught me off-guard, and I said.
“Huh…? But last week, Wada-kun sent me an email saying, ‘I’d like to have lunch together with my senpais.’”
(EDN: I don’t have the raws currently but I’m going to make an educated guess and say that this was originally senpai-ho [multiple], which doesn’t really translate well into English. Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of changing it to “my senpais”. Apologies.)
Since he said senpai(s) in his email, I thought that naturally, he was also inviting Tamura as well. The only other third-year in the club was a girl from the science and math department who showed up to club meetings even more rarely than Tamura, so it was hard to imagine that Wada was inviting her too. Suddenly, Tamura laughed, and seemingly chiding me, spoke in a disinterested tone.
“Take a guess. He might have something he wants to talk about between fellow men only, y’know?”
Men only… I had no particular qualms about that, but the reason why he had gone out of his way to make it seem like there’d be others as well was a mystery to me.
“Looks like dudes are the only people you’re popular with, Messhi.”
Tamura joked as she waved her hand, making her way into the library ahead of us. “Who’s Wada? Is he cute?” Katsuya asked, theatrically covering his mouth with his hand. It seems that even Katsuya is a little out of sorts, perhaps because of exams.
I rushed into the classroom as soon as class started and found that there were several empty seats here and there despite homeroom having already begun. This was probably due to the fact that some people had entrance examinations for private universities that conflicted with regular school.
Although it was called a “school day”, in reality, third years didn’t really do much besides a quick cleanup, reviewing the finer details of their future plans, preparing for the graduation ceremony, being reminded over and over again not to cut loose even if one has already decided their career path, and a ninety minute period where we didn’t do much of anything before we were finally dismissed.
As usual, I immediately left the classroom. I made my way through the school gate and was heading in the opposite direction of the station when suddenly, someone grabbed me from behind.
“Where are you going, Yassan?”
When I turned around, I saw Katsuya slowly heaving his shoulders up and down. Looks like he ran to chase after me. I thought I’d told him earlier this morning that I had some business to attend to today, so he should go home first…
When I threw him a perplexed look, he stared up at me and grinned widely.
“Hey, hey, I bet you’re on your way to meet up with Kitaoka-san, right?”
“I’m sure you two are gonna meet somewhere a bit far away from school, eh?”
“…That’s not it.”
Since I haven’t told Katsuya the truth yet, it looks like he still believes Kitaoka and I are on good terms. Good grief, I wonder how long it’ll take for him to realize her true nature.
When I told him I was only heading to a nearby coffee shop to kill some time since it would be a while until I met with my kouhai, he said, “Really? I’ll be coming along with you to make sure of that!”
Unsurprisingly, Katsuya was being pretty persistent about the matter.
Arriving at the shop, he and I sat across from each other on a comfortable sofa in the back. Since we didn’t have much money and we weren’t very hungry yet, we only ordered coffee for the time being.
My meeting with Wada was scheduled to take place at 12:30 near the third-years’ classrooms. I could’ve just studied in the library until then, but I wanted to avoid being inside the school as much as possible, so I came here. It was only a 10 minute walk away from the school, but since it was in the opposite direction of the train station, students rarely visited here. You could call it a “secret hideout” sort of place.
While waiting for my coffee to cool off a bit, I addressed Katsuya, who was currently pouring milk into his cup.
“Oh yeah, It seemed to me that Mamiya-sensei wasn’t mad at all, hmm?”
The email that Katsuya wrote to me said something along the lines of my homeroom teacher supposedly being angry at me for being absent from school.
However, when I met my homeroom teacher today, he didn’t seem particularly unhappy towards me at all. In fact, he even said, “I was surprised when you suddenly decided to change your university choice, but either way, good luck.”
With those unanswered doubts swirling in my mind, Katsuya calmly and nonchalantly answered me.
“Ah, cat’s out of the bag? But you know, I was worried that if I hadn’t worded it that way, you wouldn’t have come to school.”
So the email turned out to be a bluff, after all. As I was puzzling over why he would do such a thing, Katsuya continued in a coquettish tone.
“I feel lonely without you here, Yassan. Besides, that part about Mamii-chan being concerned about you was actually true, y’know~.”
His sickly sweet tone irritated me to no end. Why was nobody on my side…? Whether it be Katsuya, or Wada… or Kitaoka. Why was everybody ganging up on me and lying to me? Was I really that gullible of a person? It felt like I was about to drown in self-loathing.
Having seen Kitaoka today for the first time in a long while, I noticed that, just as Katsuya had told me the other day, she seemed way less enthusiastic than before. While cleaning, we made eye contact for a moment, but I immediately looked away awkwardly. If she looked at me like that, it would’ve felt like I was the one at fault somehow. Even though I should’ve been the one who was hurt.
I still had this hazy feeling smoldering deep in my heart. If only I hadn’t come to school today, I wouldn’t have to feel this way. It’s all his fault, I thought, glaring lightly at Katsuya.
“Looks like in the end, the only person you got chocolate from at school was Tamura-san, hm? Ah, but perhaps someone else will give you some later today?” Katsuya commented unconcernedly. I put down my mug on the table, and spoke with a serious intonation.
When I told him I had something I wanted to consult him about for a bit, he casually replied, “What’s it about~?”
“It’s about a kouhai of mine from my club. He has this girl he’s pretty close with, and he thinks she’s kind of a nice person to be around.”
Heeeh, Katsuya hummed. It actually isn’t about my kouhai… But I’ll keep that to myself.
“But one day, he overheard this girl badmouthing him behind his back to other girls.”
I added that the girl wasn’t that kind of friend, that he wasn’t in love with the girl, and so on. Katsuya listened in silence.
“…And now, it looks like he’s pretty bummed out about it. I’m not sure what I should say to him. If it were you, what would you tell him?”
This was my first time asking for another person’s opinion ever since it happened. I was a little nervous, as I couldn’t tell how Katsuya would respond. To be honest, I had been somewhat skeptical about consulting with Katsuya. But he does have a girlfriend, and he even seems to have a smooth relationship with her, so he probably understands a woman’s heart better than I do. It wasn’t like I was grasping at straws here, but I figured there was at least some merit to asking him.
Katsuya stirred the milk in his coffee with a spoon, tapping it several times on the rim of the cup before placing it on the table.
“Hmm, that’s a tough one.”
You can say that again, I nodded. My glum feelings brought about by the incident turned out to be justified, after all. It made me feel a little relieved.
“Well, all I can do is tell him not to worry about it, and to not let it weigh on his mind.”
I was somewhat let down by his commonplace response. If I could just simply “not worry” about it, I wouldn’t have had any of these troubles. I can’t make her out to be the sole villain here, but neither can I face her, forgive her, or even forget her, which is why I’m suffering.
Perhaps the problem will eventually be resolved with time. But how can I endure my suffering until then? That’s all I want to know, yet no one can give me even a single hint or clue. As I remained silent, unable to respond at all, Katsuya sipped the drink in his mug and continued.
“But I wonder if what the girl said was actually her true feelings?”
His unexpected take on the matter dumbfounded me. “What do you mean?” I asked, to which he calmly replied.
“I mean, it’s not like she said it for the boy to hear, right? He just happened to overhear her.”
What a surprise. Who would’ve thought he’d look at it from that angle? Having something I overlooked previously being pointed out to me now was a good thing. Katsuya sat deeper in his chair, and with an uncharacteristically serious expression on his face, asked.
“What was the situation like in detail?”
“Eh… Well, the girl was talking to her friends in a classroom after school, and this kouhai of mine happened to be passing by the hallway outside of it. Then, he overheard her saying those things… or something.”
“I see. And this… ‘nice person to be around’ sentiment of his, to what extent would you say it was? Could you say for certain that he had romantic feelings for her?”
“I… wonder. But, well, I guess he trusted her a fair bit.”
I hurriedly tacked on, “I’m not really sure though.” That wasn’t good. After all, this story is about “my kouhai.”
“Mm-hmm,” Katsuya nodded deeply. Having spoken everything without pause, I sipped a bit of the coffee I had in my hand.
“Then couldn’t she just have been bantering with her friends?”
I almost did a spit take at his words. Bantering… It’s true that that was the sort of mood I noticed at the time.
“Eh… But they’re her close friends, you know?”
“That doesn’t mean she’s telling them her true feelings behind your back. For example, when a husband talks badly about his wife outside the house, is there anybody who would take him seriously?”
“That’s because they’re married.”
“It’s the same thing. There are many people in this world who speak ill of the people they are close to.”
I can’t help but feel that he’s making a bit of a leap in logic, but I can’t make a rebuttal against his strong statement, either.
“Just so you know, I never believe anything unless the person in question is saying it to me directly.”
He stared fixedly at me. Maybe he’s already seen through me and knows that I’m talking about myself. I hung my head low in discomfort, but Katsuya didn’t let up in his pursuit.
“After all, what they’re telling me is what they want me to know, what they want me to think. Therefore, no matter what they say behind my back, I know that what they told me is the truth.”
“I know there are lots of things people say behind my back. However, there aren’t many people who actually say them to my face… which means they don’t really feel that strongly about it.”
His unexpected words shocked me. With Katsuya’s appearance and hobbies being what they were, there were many who spoke badly of him, calling him “gross” behind his back. Yet despite not changing his ways at all, he never grew twisted or bitter. I always wondered how he managed to keep his mind and mentality intact. Apparently, that strength of his originated from this conviction. It’s why he never wavers, is always upright in his actions, and always seems to be happy. It’s because he’s this kind of person that his girlfriend fell in love with him and their relationship is going smoothly. That said, however…
“…You’re probably going to fall for a scam one day.”
Won’t this “only believing what someone says to your face” mindset make him an easy target for malicious people? It makes me a bit worried for him. However, even when faced with my harsh opinion, Katsuya still replied in a nonchalant manner.
“Of course, if money is involved, it’s a different story, you know? But what’s the point of scamming people like us who have no money and no power?”
Each and every one of his arguments were so logical, I was at a loss for words. Then, as if to deal the finishing blow, Katsuya stated, “Sure, it might’ve come as a huge shock to the boy, but if he was really that upset, why didn’t he ask the girl what she really meant or even confess to her properly? Why is he so hesitant to the point where he just wavers without taking any action? I don’t get it.”
The way he’s speaking and the attitude he’s taking… He’s figured out the truth, hasn’t he. I speculated as such in my mind, but I didn’t want to find out, so I just said, “I’ll pass it on to him,” to which Katsuya flatly replied, “Hope it helps,” in a tone that made me unable to tell whether he was joking or being serious.
Afterwards, Katsuya and I both worked on our respective exam preparation materials until I eventually stood from my seat and said, “I have to get going now.” I arrived at school just in time for my appointment and made my way to the rendezvous point; the dim, deathly silent, deserted entranceway to the third year building. Still wearing my outdoor shoes, I sat down on a chilly step near the shoe lockers and waited idly for Wada and the others to arrive. Outside the building, I could see the scenery: an asphalt road extending all the way to the school gates, the gymnasium, a hedge of pine trees, and a bronze statue of the founder of the old junior high school. This unchanging view has been here ever since I enrolled in this school.
It’s a strange feeling. I’ve been going here for the last three years, and in about two more visits, it’ll be the final time I’ll ever be able to admire this view. This reality hasn’t really sunk into me yet, and the concept of parting still feels like something in the distant future.
(But, well, I don’t want to be here anymore.)
I’d already decided. I was going to head to a new, foreign city. It’s the reason why I’ve been working so hard, so this isn’t the time for me to be caught up in petty sentimentality.
Anyways, when will the person I’m waiting for show up? I looked at my watch and saw it was already 5 minutes past the scheduled time. I’ll wait for a little longer and if they don’t show up, I’ll try and go looking in the classrooms. I was looking away from my watch when I heard the voices of girls talking to each other a distance away. Somewhat curious, I turned around only to find that before I knew it, a small girl had made her way right behind my back and was looking down at me.
As I was reeling from the shock, the girl vigorously lowered her head and apologized.
“Iijima-senpai, I’m sorry to have made you wait.”
The girl turned out to be my kouhai from the Local Geography Research Club, the one who couldn’t enter the Chiibaa suit during the cultural festival due to her lack of physical strength, Kouhai D, otherwise known as Tanaka Eiko. Putting aside Tanaka’s claims that “Homeroom ran late…,” I stood up and put my backpack, which I had placed next to me, back on. It was great that she came first, but the ringleader behind all this still wasn’t present. Having my suspicions, I questioned Tanaka.
Startled and confused by her sudden screaming, I watched as she flapped her hands and hurriedly waved them about in front of her face.
“Sorry, that was a lie.”
I knew it… I’d been expecting it so there was no real damage done, but still, being deceived made me dejected. Unconcerned with my emotional state, Tanaka pulled me by my arm, cupped her hand around my ear, and secretly whispered to me.
“The truth is, a girl from my class wanted to talk to you, so I asked Wada-kun for help in calling you out.”
“A girl from your class…?”
Who could it be? I don’t think I know any first-year girls besides the ones in the club. As soon as I muttered my question, Tanaka turned around and called out, “Honoka-chan.” Then, from behind the shoe lockers, a girl of medium height with long hair tied in a twintail just below her ears slowly walked out.
The girl bowed her head, prompting me to return a “hello”. She then replaced Tanaka and stood beside me, smiling but seeming a little embarrassed as she looked down.
“Do you remember me?” she asked. Her question made me look at her more closely. Her skin had lots of moles but was smooth, her eyes were long and cool, and she had a homely and simplistic air about her. For some reason, she looked vaguely familiar to me. Did I meet her on the train? Well, maybe, but…
Suddenly, I almost felt like shouting out in exclamation. I remember now. She’s the girl from the volleyball match during the ball game tournament; the one who I saved from getting hit by a foul ball. I’m pretty sure she was one of two girls who were cheering on the boys from the outskirts of the field during the match. I was standing nearby and shouted, “Watch out!” before pushing her away. So she was a classmate of Tanaka’s, huh, I thought before belatedly feeling a sense of horror. Thank goodness Tanaka hadn’t been there at the time. Being a kouhai from my club, she was quite close to me and so it would’ve been awful if she’d seen me during such an embarrassing moment. As I did my best to cover up the fact that my heart was in unrest, I quietly replied to her.
“Umm, you’re the one from the ball game tournament…”
The girl repeatedly nodded her head. Then, Tanaka gave the girl a big pat on her shoulder and left the two of us. The girl bowed her head to me once more, her cherry-red cheeks awkwardly relaxing.
“I’m sorry for not properly thanking you for your help at the time.”
There wasn’t any opportunity for her to thank me at the time in the first place. I was immediately taken to the infirmary, and the crowd that had formed left her no way to talk to me. I guess she remembered me because of the name on my jersey, but if not for that, I’m sure she would’ve forgotten me, which is what I was hoping would happen. As I awkwardly clammed up at the embarrassing memory, the girl brought out a patterned paper bag and held it out to me with both of her hands.
“This is by no means in place of that, but I made this for you, so… if you’d like, I hope you’ll take it.”
My brain couldn’t keep up with the unexpected turn of events, but for the time being, I decided to honestly accept her gift. The bag had random English letters printed on it and very few creases or wrinkles, so it probably wasn’t some sort of reused shopping bag, but instead a bag purchased just for this occasion. Looking inside, I found something about the size of a plastic bottle lying on its side, neatly wrapped in white non-woven fabric and a dark blue ribbon. Which means… Judging from today’s date and her words, this is probably a homemade chocolate cake or something.
My cheeks reddened as I expressed my thanks. Wow, I never expected this to happen to me. Katsuya did say, “Maybe you’ll receive something soon,” but I’m sure that not even he expected a girl like her to give me a present. Of course, a part of me thought to refuse, that what I’d done wasn’t that big of a deal. But I couldn’t just ignore the fact that she sincerely wanted to thank me, plus it was always nice to receive chocolates from a girl no matter what form it took. Deciding to properly give her a return gift one day, I happily accepted the bag from her.
“…Please have a look yourself when you get home.”
Well then, I’ll be sure to open it as soon as I get home. I felt so excited, my face almost loosened into an uncharacteristically smug expression. As I covered my mouth with my hand as if to stroke my unshaved mustache, the girl nervously spoke up again.
I wonder what she’s going to say. I looked back at her face, which was a step higher than mine, and saw that her cheeks were just as flushed as mine, her lips trembling slightly.
“It might be rude of me to ask this out of the blue, but…”
She paused for a moment. Then, just as I was tilting my head to the side in confusion, the girl squeezed a feeble voice out of her throat.
“Please… go out with me.”
“…I… like you.”
Huh… I thought I’d heard her wrong. But her eyes were bright red and moist, so she surely must’ve gathered a lot of willpower to say that to me.
This was my second time receiving a confession of sorts from someone else. The first one was from Kumiko last fall when we were together in an outdoor cafe. However, the atmosphere this time was completely different from then. Of course, Kumiko’s was just a joke, so it didn’t really faze me. But even if I did save this girl during the tournament, at the end of the day Kimura should’ve been the one to take the spotlight… So why was she looking my way instead of his? I had absolutely no clue.
I was so confused that it felt as if my head was going to fry itself, but still, I asked the girl a few things.
“Um, I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Nakajo. Nakajo Honoka.”
She answered in a high-pitched, bell-like voice. Nakajo… Yep, not a name I’ve heard before.
“Nakajo-san, are you serious in what you said?”
Nakajo silently gave a strong nod in response. Her twintails bobbed in the air. They weren’t the same height, but for some reason, her hairstyle reminded me of a white rabbit.
Well, if she’s this stiff and nervous then I’m sure it’s unlikely to be a lie or a punishment game of some sort. After confirming her sincerity, I sighed and cut straight to the point.
“But there are those suspicious rumors about me. Even you’ll get caught up in them.”
Supposing we were to go out, having a peeping Tom like me as her boyfriend would be a huge disgrace to her. I can’t bring myself to cage in such a seemingly innocent girl and cause her misery. However, even after hearing my concerns, she shook her head side to side while still looking down.
“…I’ve heard from Tanaka-chan. But she said it was ‘impossible’, and I believe so, too.”
Eh? I almost reflexively blurted out. Surprisingly, she already knew and yet she still decided to confess to me. She might be more serious about me than I thought. The embarrassment and bewilderment left me at a loss for words, but Nakajo resolutely continued.
“Iijima-senpai would never do such a thing.”
…I wonder how she can assert that so confidently. Even the girls who had been in my class for almost a year easily swallowed up the rumors about me. Nakajo sniffled once before she let everything out in one breath, her voice heated as she spoke.
“I’ve been watching you ever since that day, Senpai. On the train and during lunch break, to name a few. Senpai, you’re always so calm and laid-back. When you bump into someone at the ticket gate, you would say sorry right away, and when the school cafeteria has only one loaf of bread left in stock, you would concede and let a kouhai of yours take it. When I saw that, I thought, “What a nice person he is.” A person like that would never do something that would make others hate him.”
So she’s been watching me that closely, huh. It made me feel somewhat ashamed. Now that she mentioned it, that was certainly one way my actions could be interpreted, but the truth was that I hadn’t taken them with such praiseworthy intentions. I dislike fighting with others, so my humble act is merely a way for me to avoid troublesome things from happening to me. I am not as kind of a person as she thinks I am. As I fumbled over how I should break this to her, she continued her heart-wrenching confession.
“Really, I’ve been watching you for a long, long time. I thought I’d be fine even if you didn’t notice my feelings, but in the end, I still liked you. I thought that if graduation was going to separate us either way, then I might as well give it a shot.”
When she finished, she looked up and stared straight at me. Her slit eyes were filled with tears, and it now seemed as though they were about to spill over.
“Is that… a no…?”
Her grief-stricken tone shook my heart. I could tell how much she thought of me; no matter what I did, I wouldn’t be able to change her feelings. I myself had been in a fruitless love until just recently, so I knew very well how she felt. In fact, her feelings might even be stronger, more sincere, and more genuine than mine ever were.
A girl who earnestly likes me, is honest, and is cute. I’m sure I wouldn’t be unhappy spending my final days as a teenager with a girl like her. However…
I bowed my head to her. I didn’t want to see what kind of expression she had, so I kept my head facing the floor as I continued.
“I’m not looking to go out with anyone right now.”
Up until now, I’ve always lived my life half-minded, drifting along and going with the flow. This was the first time I’d ever decided on my own path: to “leave my hometown and start from scratch.” Having a girlfriend would be throwing cold water on my newfound resolve, and besides, I don’t want to leave behind any regrets when I leave this town. I want to prove to myself that I have the willpower to carry through with my decision until the end.
Another point worth mentioning is that I still haven’t recovered from my previous scar yet. I don’t think I can sincerely treasure another girl as I am currently. I once heard someone say that “the cure for a broken heart is a new love,” but this girl’s feelings are too sincere for me to use her as a mere means to forget. I nervously looked up and met Nakajo’s eyes. Her expression was twisted in sorrow, and her lips and shoulders were trembling.
“No matter what…?”
Her imploring words made my chest tighten painfully. With a guilty conscience, I spoke to her slowly so I could get my point across.
“It’s not that there’s a problem with you…”
In truth, the problem lied with me. There was no fault to be found with Nakajo. If anything, falling in love with a warped person like me and then getting hurt for seemingly no reason should make her the victim in this situation.
Tears flowed from the corners of her slit eyes and trickled down her smooth white cheeks, passing by her two moles. I almost reached out my hand to wipe them away, but hurriedly decided against it.
“If that’s the case, then please grant me at least one last request.”
Nakajo’s request came out in a nasal, stuffy voice. What on earth could she want from me…? I braced myself as Nakajo looked me straight in the eyes, hers now red and swollen.
“I’d like for you to be my boyfriend just for today, please.”
I couldn’t tell whether her request was modest or just plain bold, and the surprise inadvertently showed on my face. Taking it as a sign of rejection, Nakajo’s voice grew even more sorrowful.
“Is that a no, too?”
“One whole day is… kinda long.”
I had my exam to think about next week, not to mention that the entrance exam for the university I actually wanted to enter was only several days away. Forget next week, even now I was swamped with worksheets I had to do later this afternoon, so spending a whole day out having fun wasn’t something I could afford. Of course, I do feel sorry for Nakajo, but with the circumstances being what they are…
Nakajo sniffled loudly once more before swiftly closing the gap between us in one go, pleading with me even further.
“Then, one hour! Could you please go out with me for just one hour?”
…Seeing her so bravely persisting in her efforts, I couldn’t find it in me to refuse her a second time. Sighing, I leaned in and posed a question to her downcast, red-tinted ears.
“Where is your house?”
Nakajo instantly raised her head, her voice filled with bewilderment as she told me the name of a station. It was only a stop away from the station I regularly commuted from.
“Alright, I’ll walk you to your house.”
Nakajo seemed unsure of how to respond. She did look happy, but at the same time someone dejected. Or perhaps she’s actually feeling both of those things at the same time.
“We only have an hour, no? If I get off first, we won’t have enough time.”
“Is it really okay…?”
A part of me wondered if we should maybe have lunch together, but I didn’t have an inkling as to her tastes and preferences, so I wouldn’t know where to go. Plus, the two of us eating together alone might create an awkward atmosphere between us. Therefore, walking as we talked could serve as a distraction to some extent, and it just so happened to be that there were hardly any second year students in the area, so there was little risk of people seeing and making fun of us.
Snapping out of my thoughts, I nodded and replied, “Of course,” to which Nakajo responded by wiping away the tears from her eyes with a bashful smile. “I’ll go get my bag.”
Thank goodness, it looks like she’s recovered a little. A few seconds later, Nakajo came back with her school bag in hand and loafers on her feet. We walked out of the school building together side by side, and when we reached the school gate, Nakajo quietly asked.
“Can we hold hands?”
“…Maybe not here.”
Even though I turned her down, Nakajo showed no sign of disappointment as she looked up at me with a bright smile on her face. Seeing her face which had few distinctive features but no wrinkles at all, I vaguely thought to myself, “This girl might become something special in the future.”
The walk from the school to the station took about fifteen minutes. During this time, I walked home shoulder to shoulder with a girl two years younger than me, chatting about trivial things. She started off by saying, “I’m glad there weren’t any club activities today,” which prompted me to ask her which club she was in. She then replied, “I’m in the choir club.”
“I see. So you’re in the choir club, huh. How fitting.” I said. Nakajo curiously tilted her head to the side. “Really?”
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about how beautiful your voice sounds.”
Her voice was high-pitched and clear, yet at the same time, slightly shaky and mysterious. When she confessed her feelings to me a while ago, her lines resonated in my heart so much that I would have inadvertently said yes if I wasn’t careful. If not for her being in the choir club already, I think she could’ve been better off in the theater club, making better use of her voice.
For some reason, Nakajo’s face flushed red, which made me want to tease her. “Why don’t you try and sing something?”
Nakajo narrowed her eyes in embarrassment, but she still delivered her response in a clear tone.
“Sure, after we get off the train later.”
It looks like I won’t be getting the grand reveal of her singing voice just yet. The sound of a giggle made its way to my ears as I swore I would definitely make her sing after we got off the train.
And so, as time went by with our awkward conversation, we arrived at the station. There was still some time before the inbound train departed and I was pretty sure the balance on my train pass was running low, so I told Nakajo, “I’m gonna go top up my card real quick.” She replied, “Then I’ll head to the restroom,” before running off toward the station building.
I made my way to a ticket machine next to the gates, taking out my wallet and inserting my card and about 3,000 yen’s worth of bills into the machine before operating its touchscreen. After successfully topping up my balance, I put my wallet back in my pocket and leaned against the pillar in front of the ticket gate to wait for Nakajo. That was when I realized the paper bag I was holding up until a few moments ago was gone. Crap, that was the chocolate Nakajo worked so hard to make for me. How stupid can I be to forget that? I lambasted my idiotic and careless self. I must have left it back at the ticket machine when I was topping up my card earlier. It looks like even I am surprisingly nervous about this date, huh. I turned around, trying to head back to the machine as soon as possible.
I was so shocked to see something unexpected in my field of vision that I unknowingly uttered that one syllable.
A girl I knew from my school was standing where I had just been standing.
Her well-featured face, clearly visible to me even from a distance, was twisted sullenly as she hung her head low. She had a scarf wrapped under her long, lustrous brown hair, and her considerably shortened skirt exposed a lot of her legs, giving her a very different impression even though she was wearing the same uniform as Nakajo.
Why are you here…?
Kitaoka Ema slowly turned to look in my direction. At that moment, my heart pounded the hardest it ever had even during this chaotic day. Shouldn’t she have left for home a long time ago? In fact, Kitaoka doesn’t often use the train, since she usually walks to and from school. Maybe she’s planning to go out somewhere?
I was pretty sure our eyes actually met for a moment, but I quickly looked away and pretended not to notice. It wasn’t like I had to talk to her just because we happened to have met, and I didn’t have any particular business with her, either.
Or at least, that’s how it should’ve been, but for some reason Kitaoka had the paper bag I was looking for in her hand; her head hung low and her eyes looking down at it. Perhaps she was about to report it somewhere as a lost item she found. If so, that wasn’t good. I had to get it back quickly, before Nakajo returned. I steeled myself and made my way to the ticket machine before meekly calling out to Kitaoka.
“Um, excuse me. That’s, um, mine…”
Kitaoka’s head suddenly snapped up. Her expression was oddly stiff, as if I was the last person she wanted to see. I see. So she doesn’t want to see me. I knew her feeling that way was inevitable, but knowing that other people thought that way about me made my heart ache. Besides, I was also the prey who ran away from her at the very last moment. I could somewhat imagine how Kitaoka, given her prideful nature, would be at a loss as to how she should act towards me.
Seemingly trying to run away, Kitaoka averted her gaze and held out the paper bag in her hand to me.
“Ah, erm… You left this here.”
I gave her a vague response, something along the lines of “yeah,” or “uh-huh,” and took the paper bag. I looked inside the bag to double-check and found the item Nakajo had given me earlier, wrapped in white wrapping paper, lying neatly inside.
…Maybe Kitaoka has also realized what’s inside the bag? The mouth of the bag was open, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she had inadvertently glimpsed it. Even so, there isn’t an issue in her knowing what’s inside. She has no right to complain about who likes or takes an interest in me. That’s how it should be, but… when I glanced at Kitaoka to see how she would react, I found our eyes meeting each other. With a complicated look on her face, she quietly asked me.
But the rest of her question was drowned out by a beautiful voice coming from the side.
“Sorry for making you wait!”
When I turned to look in the direction of the voice, I saw Nakajo panting for breath as she emerged from the crowd of people. She made her way beside me and checked the delicate-looking watch on her arm before speaking in a pleasant tone.
“…Ah, it’s almost time for the train to depart. We better get going.”
Nakajo looked up at me and grabbed the sleeve of my uniform, urging me on. She didn’t seem to be able to see Kitaoka, who was probably hidden behind either a person or a pillar.
“See you,” I lightly bowed to Kitaoka. In doing so, Nakajo, now becoming aware of Kitaoka’s presence as well, bowed and gave an affable smile to her that captivated me. As Nakajo pulled me along, I passed through the ticket gate and headed to the platform where the train would be arriving. Her enthusiasm was so great that I had no time to look back as I was swept along in her pace.
After arriving at the platform, true to Nakajo’s words, the train arrived just minutes later. There were only a few passengers on the train, probably because it was a long carriage, so we sat side by side in one of the box seats. The heat blasting on my feet slowly warmed my cold body. I looked down at the toes of my sneakers, and with the warm air around me, lapsed into thought.
Why was Kitaoka at the station? Homeroom ended more than 3 hours ago. She could’ve been hanging out with her friends in front of the train station, but it seems strange that she would be out this late. And besides, even if that were the case, she would’ve been with someone else when I met her.
Also, I assumed she was going to take the train, just like us. However, Kitaoka didn’t seem to follow us even as we hurried, so it didn’t seem like she was on the same train as us. That meant she wasn’t planning on going to her prep school, since her prep school was located north, in the direction this train was headed. The outbound train heading south goes to areas even more remote than this one, so I never use it unless I have important business. Therefore, she must be there to meet someone. But we’re literally in peak exam season right now; what is she doing…?
“…That cute girl back there.”
I accidentally made a weird noise in response to the subject Nakajo had abruptly brought up.
“She’s a third-year, isn’t she? I’ve seen her around the school a few times.”
She must be referring to Kitaoka. I panicked, wondering if she could see through my thoughts, but when I turned to look at her, I saw a carefree look on her face, so it didn’t seem like there was any deep meaning as to when she brought this up. Well, that girl does stand out a lot, so it’s no wonder that everyone in school remembers her. Suppressing the unpleasant feelings within me, I quietly replied.
“Yeah… she’s a classmate of mine.”
I didn’t tell her any more than that. After all, the reason we were talking was because I’d forgotten the gift Nakajo had given me, and I’d prefer not to explain that.
After a few moments, Nakajo, still with a smile on her face, asked me a completely unexpected question.
“Did you by any chance receive some chocolate from her?”
Huh? I almost unintentionally raised my voice. There’s no way that would ever happen even if it was the obligatory “friend” chocolate. But denying her out of irritation would make me feel bad, so I smiled and brushed it aside.
“Nah, I was just asking her what she was doing out this late.”
In reality, that sort of conversation never happened between us. But I’m sure her incomplete question back then would’ve turned out to be something similar to what I said.
Oh yeah… Though I may have only been at school for a short time, I did notice several of the boys excited over getting chocolate whereas the girls were nervously pacing about classrooms with small packages in their hands. Maybe that girl gave one to someone, too. Even though I knew that I was in no position to complain, even though I, who had already given up on her, was supposed to feel nothing of it, I couldn’t help but feel pain in my chest at the thought of it.
I felt my mood sink for a moment, but I decided to switch gears and focus on being Nakajo’s “limited one-hour only” boyfriend. When I brought up the topic of our mutual acquaintance, Tanaka Eiko, Nakajo happily said, “We’ve been close friends ever since we first entered the school.”
“But I didn’t know that you, Iijima-senpai, were in the same club as Tanaka-chan until quite recently,” she added. Well, that’s just how it is. The Local Geography Club only meets once a week, and Tanaka and I were two grades apart on top of that, so we didn’t know each other very well. Tanaka would’ve rarely, if ever, brought me up in conversations with her friends. I asked her when she found out, and she bashfully replied, “I think it was after the cultural festival. Tanaka-chan said something like, ‘It’s a shame I wasn’t able to see Iijima-senpai and Tamura-senpai’s married couple skit.’… It was then that I had a sneaking suspicion it was you, so I asked Tanaka-chan about it.”
When I heard the words “married couple”, I immediately sat up in surprise.
“…Just so you know, Tamura and I aren’t in that kind of relationship.”
I wondered if Tanaka had been looking at me and Tamura that way this whole time. It’s true that we were close, but it was more of an “undesirable” sort of close, so our conversations never took on a romantic tone. In response to my denial, Nakajo smiled and let out a light “fufu.”
“I know. If I’m not mistaken, you two along with Saito-san are all close friends because you come from the same junior high, right? I’m so jealous.”
…I wonder if she heard that from Tanaka, too. That girl is surprisingly talkative. Thinking about Tanaka’s small, timid-looking face, I wonder if she masks her true nature when she’s in front of me.
Nakajo, who was sitting beside me, kept her gaze locked onto my side profile as she smiled happily the entire time. “I’m having so much fun talking to you, Iijima-senpai,” she said. It made me so embarrassed that, when we passed by the penultimate station before our destination, I finally asked her what I’d been wanting to ask the entire time as I averted my eyes in embarrassment. “What do you find so good about me?”
“Your looks, your personality; I like everything about you,” came her immediate reply.
My looks… are so plain and run-of-the-mill, you could find someone like me anywhere. Personality-wise, I’m a dark and weak-willed person who often finds himself falling into bouts of self-loathing. No matter how you look at it, I’m not deserving of her devotion at all. I was unsure of how to respond to her exaggerated words of praise, but nevertheless, Nakajo continued with a slight blush on her cheeks.
“Tanaka-chan showed me a picture of your club during the opening of the cultural festival. Your bare face was really cool, too.”
The opening of the cultural festival was a time when, due to having to put on the Chiibaa suit, I opted to instead use contact lenses instead of my regular glasses. I don’t know why so many people took pictures of me at that time, but I didn’t expect it to be this widespread.
“Isn’t that just your imagination saying things to you…?”
Maybe she just happened to glance at a well-photographed image of me. However, Nakajo shook her head and said, “That’s absolutely not true.”
“It isn’t just a figment of my imagination. Even Tanaka-chan said she would ‘preserve the photo for eternity.’”
“I’m sure the one behind the rumors antagonized you because they were jealous of your good looks.”
“…You really have a way with words, don’t you?”
I was beyond embarrassed at how much she was flattering me, and my face inevitably started heating up. To think that such a quiet and docile-looking girl like her could be this talkative. I realized once again that love really does make a person go crazy, feeling a mild sense of horror at the same time.
Once we got off the train, I noticed that despite the cloudy weather, the area seemed to be warmer than usual—perhaps due to the lack of wind.
“Ah, this here is a cake shop called Mozart. Their cakes are pretty good.”
“Hoh, I see.”
I walked through the hilly city together with the girlfriend whom I would soon part with. It may have only been for a handful of minutes, but I was glad to have been able to talk with her. She was straightforward and positive, which allowed me to truly be myself, something I’d forgotten how to do these past few days.
When I looked at my watch I saw that there was still some time left before we were to part, so we stopped by a park with a large artificial pond. There were few people around and the place was mostly empty, likely because it was a weekday in the middle of winter. I sat down on the steps of the sloping plaza before turning around to face Nakajo.
“It’s time for you to make do on your promise and sing.”
“Alright. Here’s a song I learned just recently,” said Nakajo. She then began to sing an English song. It was a song written many years before she and I were even born. Its lyrics seemed to depict a young Irish couple whose love was torn apart by religious conflict. When she sang about the difficulties of living “with or without you”, I felt a distinct sadness in my heart accompanied by a sense of nostalgia even though I had never heard this song before.
“That was incredible. You sounded really nice. It really moved me.”
“Could you please sing one more song?”
Nakajo looked embarrassed, but still humored my request by singing in her lovely voice once again. This time, she sang a cheerful pop song that even I knew. After that, we continued to talk about various topics with each other, but since we weren’t walking anymore, the cold began to penetrate my body. “I guess it’s about time to leave,” I said as I stood up. Nakajo seemed sad for a moment but she quickly put on a brave smile.
We made our way to a relatively large house located in a refurbished residential district. There was a polished sedan parked in the garage, and the trees in the yard seemed to be well-tended. It gave me the impression that she must have grown up in this house with a lot of love and care given to her.
“Short though it may have been, I’d like to truly thank you for everything.”
Nakajo gave me a bow. A part of me had some misgivings, wondering if it was really okay to leave things this way, but I decided to ultimately accept her goodwill in stride.
“One last thing. Which university are you applying to?” she asked. I briefly told her the name of the university that I had applied to earlier this year during the mid-year examinations. “I see… It’s really far away, huh…” Nakajo replied sadly. However, when my eyes met hers, she spoke in a powerful tone which made it seem as if her previous sadness was never there at all.
“Good luck. I’ll be rooting for you.”
“Alright. Thank you.”
“And please laugh at me if I end up chasing you two years from now.”
If I got accepted, she would actually have to wait for 3 years since the first-year buildings were on a different campus. However, I didn’t dare correct her, because it would be presumptuous of me to talk about when I haven’t even passed the entrance exam yet.
Three years… I wonder if something will have changed in me by then. I’m not really sure right now. Nevertheless, I smiled and said, “I’m looking forward to it,” hoping that by then I would be a little more positive than I am now.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you. I know it’s been basically years since the last chapter; sorry about that. Anyway, huge thanks to my editor Unu who managed to finish editing in such short notice. Next chapter isn’t too long so it should be done “soon”
Once again, thanks for reading and happy holidays.