Yesterday night, after I had gone to sleep, a murder took place in the next prefecture. It seemed like it was a random attack of some sort - of course, it was all over TV in the morning.
That was why I thought the case would’ve been a hot topic at school as well, even though our examinations were starting today. But for my class at least, neither the case nor the tests were the focus of everyone’s discussions. To my annoyance, I found them buzzing about yet another topic instead.
In other words, they were trying to solve the mystery behind why she, who was cheerful, energetic, and popular, and I, the most plain and glum person in class, were out together on a day off. I thought that if there was an answer, I’d like to know it too, but since I was minimising contact with my classmates as usual, I wasn’t blessed with the opportunity to ask.
Something happened after we’d met each other in the library committee - that was the scenario they seemed to have settled on for now. I had hoped to be left out of their fantastic denouement, but outspoken girls with the courage to do unnecessary things went to ask her directly with loud voices, and in response to that unnecessary action, she unnecessarily said something unnecessary.
“We get along well.”
I recognised that my classmates were all focused on me, so just in case, I paid more attention than usual to their conversation - which was also why I heard her endlessly unnecessary statement. I felt my classmates’ stares shifting to me after her proclamation. Of course, I pretended not to notice them.
Every time we completed a test, my almost silent classmates would throw me glances, wordlessly casting me within the shadows of their doubt and bafflement - but as always, I just continued to ignore them.
An instance in which I could no longer avoid involvement came just once, at the end of the third hour - but even that was quickly resolved.
One of the girls that questioned her earlier with neither reservation nor consideration trotted over and started talking to me.
“Hey, hey - Plain-Classmate-kun, do you get along with Sakura?”
I thought that she must have been a good person for having asked that. The reason for such was that my other classmates were all observing us from a distance. Both before and right now, they must have made use of her easy-going personality, and sent her to the front lines.
I sympathised with my classmate, whose exact name I was unable to recall, and gave her an answer.
“Not particularly. We just happened to meet yesterday.”
Having heard and received my words, the kind and honest girl said, “Got i~t,” as she returned to a coterie of other classmates.
I didn’t hesitate to lie in times like this. Since I had to protect myself, as well as guard her secret, it couldn’t be helped. Even for the girl who said nothing but unnecessary things, the reason she met me was linked to her incurable disease - seeing as it was the most confidential of secrets, perhaps she would be willing to fabricate a cover story with me.
With that, the first hurdle was over. At the end of the fourth hour, the tests were over - I expected to score slightly above the class average this time too. Without really talking to anyone, I started to pack up and go home. Even though I didn’t have anything to do afterwards, I wanted to quickly go home. While thinking about such things, I was about to leave the classroom when a loud voice stopped me.
“Wait, wait! Affable-Classmate-kun!”
I turned around and saw her, who was grinning from ear to ear, and my classmates, who looked on with suspicion. The truth was that I wanted to ignore both parties, but since it couldn’t be helped, I ignored the latter and waited for the girl that was walking over.
“We need to head over to the library for a bit, it seems we have work.”
For some reason, her words managed to disperse the tension in the classroom’s air.
“I didn’t hear about this.”
“Sensei told me when I ran into her earlier. Do you have something else to do?”
“Then let’s go. It’s not like you were going to study anyway, right?”
I thought that was rude of her, but she was right, so I went along with her to the library.
I have no intention of detailing the events in the library, so to put it briefly - she had told a lie. A lie that involved conspiring with the library teacher-in-charge even though there was no need to. There wasn’t any work to be done; I earnestly inquired Sensei about our duties, but she and Sensei just laughed at me, who they had summoned. Despite my immediate attempts to return home, Sensei apologised as she brought out tea and teacakes. Out of consideration for the food, I forgave them.
After a short tea break, we were evicted from the library as it was closing early today. Having reached this stage, I asked for the first time why she had told that meaningless lie. I was sure she must have had a good reason.
“Not really. I just like being mischievous, y’know?”
“This girl…!” I wanted to say it aloud as we made our way to the shoe lockers, but that’d probably have been playing into the hands of someone up to mischief. That was when she stopped her foot mid-air. She jumped lightly over my foot - her eyebrows were raised and she was making a face that showed her heartfelt displeasure.
“It’d be good if you someday get punished like the boy who cried wolf.”
“You see, the gods are properly watching stuff like how my pancreas is goofing up. So don’t you lie now.”
“Though there also isn’t a rule that says you can tell meaningless lies just because your pancreas is goofing up.”
“Eh, is that so? I didn’t know. By the way, has Affable-Classmate-kun had lunch yet?”
“There’s no way I’d have been able to eat. I did get dragged away by you out of the blue.”
To the best of my ability, I tried to make my annoyance apparent through my voice. With that, we had reached the shoe lockers.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll buy something to eat from the supermarket and head home.”
“If you don’t have anything ready right now, then let’s go eat together. My dad and mom aren’t around today, and they only left me money, you see.”
While changing our shoes, I was thinking of declining her proposal, but truth be told, I didn’t know how to answer. I couldn’t come up with a clear reason to reject her. My true feelings that I felt yesterday, that “I had a little fun” - that too stood in my way.
Having put on her outside shoes, she stood on her tiptoes and groaned as she stretched her body. Today was a little cloudy, so the sun was weaker as compared to yesterday.
“So how about it? I have a place I want to drop by before I die, y’know.”
“……But it’ll be troublesome if we get seen by our classmates again.”
“Ah! That! I remember now!”
I thought her sudden increase in volume was a sign that she had become weird in the head. When I looked, her brows were knitted and she was acting all grumpy.
“Hey, Affable-Classmate-kun, you said you didn’t get along particularly well with me, right? Even though we did when we had fun on the weekend!”
“Yeah, I did say it.”
“I already mentioned it in yesterday’s message. That we should get along until I die.”
“I don’t really know about how it really is, but what I said doesn’t really matter, you know. It’s just that I can’t stand being talked to or questioned by our classmates - I’d much rather have them observe me if that’s all they’re doing.”
“Wouldn’t it be fine even if they didn’t misunderstand? What’s important is how we really are, our substance - even though you said that yesterday.”
“It’s precisely because substance is most important that it doesn’t matter even if they misunderstand.”
“We’re going around in circles huh.”
“Not to mention, I had to prevent news of your illness from getting out, so I told a meaningless lie, just like you. You should be praising me instead of getting angry.”
She had the face of a child that was thinking too much about something difficult.
“We really do go in different directions, huh.”
“It’s not just for our eating habits, and the gap seems even wider for this question.”
“Guess it’s just like a political question.”
Somehow, before I knew it, her mood had returned to its original state and she was roaring with laughter. Her simplicity and sprightliness must be two of the reasons why she had many friends.
“So, what about lunch?”
“……I don’t mind going, but is this really fine? That you aren’t having fun with your other friends.”
“There’s no way that I’d make a double booking in my plans, y’know. I already have plans with someone tomorrow. But you’re the only one that knows about my pancreas, so I feel at ease with you.”
“Am I supposed to be like a breather for you?”
“Yup, a breather.”
“Then, for the sake of helping someone out, I guess having lunch is fine.”
If it was for the sake of a breather, it couldn’t be helped. Even if we were discovered by our classmates and things became troublesome, for the sake of helping someone out, it really couldn’t be helped. Even she needed a place to spill her secrets. That was why it couldn’t be helped.
Yes, I truly was a reed boat.
“Where are we going?”
So I asked, and she, looking up at the sky with narrowed eyes, answered in the midst of what appeared to be a dance.
That a place called paradise could possibly exist in a world that would take away the life of a high school girl - I thought it was strange.
I started to regret following her as we entered the store. But even so, I understood how unreasonable it was to blame her. The one at fault was me. Because I’d always avoided contact with other people, and because I’d never been invited out, I didn’t realise that something was amiss. I didn’t know it was possible to find out too late that the other party’s plans differed from my own inclinations. It probably meant that my crisis-management skills were lacking.
“What’s wrong? You’re looking glum.”
The look on her face told me that not only had she noticed my discomfort, it also amused her greatly.
The answer to her question had come together pretty clearly. But since there wasn’t a single thing I could somehow use as an answer, I didn’t say anything. There was nothing I could do but make a lesson of this failure and capitalise on it the next time.
In other words, yes, I wasn’t the type of boy that would rejoice over being misplaced in a fancy and mellow space with no one else but a girl.
“You see, the shortcakes here are really good.”
Since before we entered, I’d found her choice of location just a little bit odd, but I didn’t really give it too much thought. Since I’d never came to this sort of place before, I must have let my guard down. But surely, who would have thought that a restaurant which targeted a specific gender as its customer base to this extent existed. When I saw the sales slip that the server left, I found that the box with “male” written beside it had been checked. Whether it was that male patrons were exceptionally rare, or that the prices changed based on gender, I didn’t know, but I could understand either way.
If I were to hazard a guess, the type of restaurant we were in now would be a dessert buffet. Its name was “Dessert Paradise”. Right now, a fast food restaurant looked much closer to paradise than this.
Reluctantly, I started talking to the grinning girl.
“Stop grinning. Hey, are you trying to get yourself, or even me, overweight? This is the second day in a row we’re going to a buffet.”
“Neither. I’m just eating what I want to eat.”
“I guess that’s true. So are you going to eat sweet things until you die today?”
“Exactly. You’re okay with dessert, right?”
“I’m no good with fresh cream.”
“Such people really exist? Then just eat some chocolate cake. They’re really good, and they don’t only sell desserts, they have stuff like pasta and curry - even peet-suh too.”
“That’s really good news, but could you stop pronouncing pizza like that? It makes pizza sound like it smells bad.”
“You mean the cheese?”
I was tempted to flick water or something at the nose of that girl who managed to smile so smugly at her own joke. I didn’t however want to be a nuisance to others, nor trouble the waiter by making a mess, so I stopped myself. Then again, it wasn’t as though I would’ve done it if we were at the roadside anyway.
It would be annoying to get flustered like she expected, so having reached this point, I put on a front like I had hardened my resolve, and went to get food together with her. Though it was a weekday afternoon, the restaurant was filled with girls from other high schools that had entered their examination period like us. After appropriately getting some carbs, some salad, a Hamburg steak and some fried chicken, I returned to our seats to find her already happily seated down. On top of her plate was a large portion of sweet things. Since I didn’t really like the sweetness of western confectioneries, I started to feel a little sick.
“Come to think of it, murder cases are scary, huh.”
Some tens of seconds after we began to eat, she brought up that topic.
I was relieved.
“Thank goodness, there wasn’t a single person talking about that case today, so I was starting to wonder if it was all just a dream of mine.”
“Isn’t that because no one’s interested? After all, it did happen in the countryside and not many people live there.”
“That’s a pretty heartless way of putting things, for someone like you.”
I thought it was unexpected. It’s not like I could say that I knew her, but the girl I imagined would never say something like that.
“But I’m interested though. I properly watched the news, and I even thought, ‘ah, I didn’t think this person would’ve died before me,’ okay!”
“I’m just asking because of that one in a million chance, but have you ever met that person?”
“Do you think I have?”
“Do you think I think so? Just forget I asked. So what were you saying?”
“Hm, I am interested, but you see, it’s probably just that everyone that’s living a normal life isn’t really interested in stuff like living or dying.”
That may be the right view of things. Living life as per normal, living or dying - people that live while conscious about these things are few and far between. That’s just how reality is. The only ones who live while thinking about life and death every day are probably philosophers, priests or artists. Not to mention this girl who’s been afflicted by a grave illness, and this person who found out about her secret.
“Speaking of coming face-to-face with death, there’s that huh. You start to live every day thinking that you’re alive.”
“That resonates with my heart more than any other words great men have spoken.”
“Right? Haaah, if only everyone else was dying too.”
She, who stuck out her tongue, had probably said it jokingly, but I took her words pretty seriously. As is often the case with words, all of their meanings depend on the sensibilities of the listener, not the speaker.
I started eating the conservative serving of tomato pasta on the heart-shaped plate. I was a little troubled but I managed to just barely get by. Thinking about it, having meals and going home are the same. A single bite of food may have a completely different value to her than it would to me.
But of course, it wouldn’t be right to say that there was any fundamental difference. Between me, who could die tomorrow due to the whim of a criminal or some other incident, and her, who was to die soon because of her weakening pancreas, there shouldn’t have been a gap between the values of our meals. The only ones who could fully grasp that are probably those that have already died.
“Affable-Classmate-kun, do you have any interest in girls?”
The girl that had cream stuck to her nose asked so with a silly face that didn’t indicate she had just been discussing life and death. It was amusing, so I didn’t comment on it.
“What are you saying all of a sudden?”
“Even though you looked flustered for being brought along to a shop full of girls, you didn’t so much as look even when you passed by a cute girl. I noticed it right away, y’know. Are you gay?”
Somehow it seemed like she had noticed I was flustered. I decided to work on my acting abilities. Though it remained to be seen whether I’d make improvements before she died.
“I don’t like being in a place where I don’t belong. And I also wouldn’t do something as ill-mannered as staring at other people.”
“So I’m ill-mannered, huh.”
She puffed out her cheeks. Since the tip of her nose remained as it was, her expression became even more amusing. It was an expression that appeared to be specifically meant for showing others.
“Oh no, I’ve really become ill-mannered; Affable-Classmate-kun, you said yesterday that you’ve never had any friends or a girlfriend, so I just sort of assumed that you’ve never liked anyone.”
“I don’t particularly dislike anyone either, so you could just as well say that I like everyone.”
“Yeah yeah, I got it, I got it. So, have you ever liked a girl? Anyone?”
With a sigh, she stuffed her mouth with fried chicken. It seemed like she was gradually getting used to dealing with my nonsense.
“Whatever the circumstances may be, you know what unrequited love is, right?”
“Like when your feelings aren’t returned.”
“That much I understand.”
“If you understand, then tell me about it already. Have you ever had an unrequited love?”
I judged that going about this in a pretentious manner would make for even more trouble. I’d be no match for her if she got angry like yesterday.
“Hmm, well, I think there was something like that, just once.”
“That, right there - what kind of girl was she?”
“And why would you want to know that?”
“Because I’m interested - you said yesterday that we were opposites, so I’ve been wondering what kind of person you’d fall for.”
I was considering telling her to just reverse who she was as a person in that case, but as I didn’t want to push my own system of values onto others, I didn’t say it.
“What kind of person, huh. Well, she was the type of person that used ‘san’.”
She furrowed her brows, and her nose shifted. The cream moved along as well.
“Yeah. We were in the same class in middle school. She was a girl that always used ‘san’ without fail. Bookseller-san, Shopkeeper-san, Fishmonger-san. Even for the novelists that appeared in textbooks. Akutagawa-san, Dazai-san, Mishima-san. On top of that, she even used it on food. Like Daikon-san, as she called it. Thinking about it now though, it was probably just a peculiarity - maybe she wasn’t even related to humankind. At the time, I just thought of it as never forgetting to be respectful. Or to put it differently, I thought that she was a gentle and modest person. And so, even more than for anyone else, by just a little bit, I had special feelings for her.”
Having said that in one go, I gulped down a mouthful of water.
“I’m not sure if that counts as unrequited love, though.”
I looked at her. Without saying even a single word, she smiled and ate the fruit-covered cake that was on her plate. Her smile deepened as she chewed, and while I was wondering what was wrong, she scratched her cheek as she looked back up at me.
She was fidgeting about.
“It’s just that, you see, it was even more wonderful than I thought it’d be, so I’m a little embarrassed.”
“……Aah, yeah, maybe she was a wonderful girl.”
“It’s not that, I meant your reason for liking her.”
I couldn’t think of a good response, so I imitated her and brought the Hamburg steak on the plate into my mouth. This was delicious too. Seemingly happy, with a smile rather than a smirk, she was looking at me.
“So what happened to that love? But that’s right, you’ve never had a girlfriend, huh.”
“Yeah. You see, that girl apparently had an appearance that looked cute to the average person too, so it happened that she was going out with a cheerful and cool popular guy in the class.”
“Hmm, guess she doesn’t have an eye for people.”
“What do you mean?”
“Naaah, don’t mind it. I see, so even you were once a pure boy with a fleeting love, huh!”
“So, I’m just asking out of courtesy, but what about you?”
“I guess I’ve had three boyfriends up till now. But just so you know, I was serious about all of them. There are quite a few people out there that say love in middle school is just fun and games, but I think those people are just fools that aren’t responsible in their own love for others.”
Her manner of speaking and facial expressions were both inflamed with passion, and her breath closed in on me. I moved back a little. I wasn’t good with heat.
Incidentally, with her looks, it was quite believable that she’s had three boyfriends before. She didn’t wear much makeup, and while she wasn’t a head-turning beauty, her facial features were dignified.
“Hey, don’t pull away.”
“I’m not pulling away, but I think there’s a little cream on your nose?”
“Huh?” The girl who didn’t understand made an utterly silly face. If it was that face, maybe she wouldn’t have had any boyfriends. After a while, she finally noticed it and hurriedly wiped her nose with a wet wipe. Before the cream on top of her nose disappeared, I stood up from my seat. My plate was already empty.
I got myself a new plate, intending to get something sweet this time. But just as I was about to move deeper into the store, to my good fortune, I spotted my favourite warabi-mochi, so I decided to appropriate some of the brown sugar syrup that sat beside the plates. After snapping out of my captivation with the art-like oozing of the brown sugar syrup, I poured myself a cup of coffee.
While deliberating on how to deal with the girl when she was in a bad mood, I slipped through the spaces within the crowd of high school girls to return to our table. Contrary to my expectations, she was in high spirits.
However, I was unable to take my place at the same seat I had been using up till just now.
Her smile deepened as she saw me nearing the table.
Probably having noticed her expression, the person sitting on the seat that should have been mine looked my way. The surprise she felt quickly made itself apparent on her face. As for me, I felt like she was someone I had seen before.
“Sa-Sakura, and, is that, Gloomy-Looking-Classmate-kun?”
I finally remembered just who that girl - who seemed even more indomitable than her - was. If I wasn’t mistaken, she was the girl who tagged along with her rather often. And if I remembered correctly, she was part of some sports club.
“Yup, Kyouko, why are you so surprised? Ah, Affable-Classmate-kun, this girl is my best friend, Kyouko.”
The smiling girl, her confused friend, and the cautious me who carried a plate and a cup. While I lamented in my heart that things would probably become troublesome again, I placed the cup and the warabi-mochi on the table, and sat down on an empty seat for now. For better or for worse, she and I had been shown to a table for four. From between the two girls that sat across each other, I was able to see the both of them without any conscious effort.
“Huh? Sakura, you mean, you get along with Gloomy-Looking-Classmate-kun?”
“Yeah, I already told Rika when she asked - that we got along.”
She smiled at me a little. Her best friend seemed to grow even more confused because of her smile.
“But, I heard from Rika that you were just joking?”
“Gah, that was just Affable-Classmate-kun being misleading because he didn’t want to be bothered. I can’t believe that Rika believed him over me - just where has our friendship gone?”
Best-Friend-san didn’t laugh at the words she’d said in jest. Instead, she shot me a questioning glance. Since my eyes had accidentally met hers, I nodded my head slightly. She returned the nod. I thought that was the end of it, but as expected of that best friend of hers, she didn’t let me off with just a nod.
“Hey hey, have I ever talked to Gloomy-Looking-Classmate-kun before?”
Thinking about it, it was a rude question, but it didn’t seem like she harboured any ill will. Though even if she did, I didn’t want to create a bad atmosphere.
“We’ve spoken before. When I was manning the library counter, you told me she wasn’t able to come or something like that.”
Having heard that, the girl started to roar with laugher. “Don’t call something like that talking,” she interjected.
“That’s just how you view it,” I thought to myself, but even the concerned person’s supposed Best-Friend-san muttered, “I wouldn’t call that talking either.” Well, to me and to Best-Friend-san, whatever it was, was a non-issue.
“Is this okay Kyouko? Aren’t your friends waiting for you at your seat?”
“Ah, yeah, it’s about time I go. Hey, Sakura, it’s not like I have any objections or anything, I’m just asking.”
Best-Friend-san stared at her face, only looking at my face just once.
“This is the second day in a row, and not to mention, it’s just the two of you in a place that’s full of girls and couples. When you said that the two of you get along, did you mean it in that way?”
Since she had so confidently refuted her, I swallowed the denial that lay at the tip of my tongue. I couldn’t say that I liked this situation with the two of them getting worked up.
Right after letting loose a relieved expression, Best-Friend-san immediately scrunched her face in dubiousness, and looked right back at me.
“So, what are the two of you? Friends?”
“I already told you, we get along.”
“That’s enough from you Sakura, since you tend not to talk sense sometimes. Gloomy-Looking-Classmate-kun, is it right to say that you’re only friends with Sakura?”
I guess only a best friend could understand her that well. I thought about how to deflect the stray bullet that had inexplicably locked onto me, and gave the most suitable reply I could muster.
“I guess we get along.”
I looked at both their faces simultaneously. One was drained and appalled, while the other was grinning from ear to ear.
Best-Friend-san gave an audible sigh. Then, with a renewed vigour, spat out, “I’ll definitely get to the bottom of this tomorrow,” waved goodbye only to her, and left.
I wondered whether tomorrow’s plans with a friend were plans with that person, and I was pleased that it was not me, but her, that would come under fire. As for the stares from my classmates that I would receive from tomorrow onwards, I’d already given up. If there wasn’t any real harm, all I had to do was turn a blind eye to it.
“Wow, who’d have thought that we’d run into Kyouko?”
Saying those words filled with equal parts surprise and delight, she took one of my warabi-mochi, and wilfully put it in her mouth.
“I met Kyouko when I was in middle school, you see. She’s been bold like that since the very beginning, so I thought that she was a scary girl, but we got along as soon as we started talking. She’s a good girl, Get-Along-kun, so please get along with her too.”
“……Is it fine not to tell your best friend about your illness?”
So I said, knowing that I was raining on her parade. The girl’s heart that was coloured with positive emotions would probably turn white in a moment. Then again, it wasn’t as though I said it because I enjoyed hurting her.
It’s just that I wondered if it were really fine for her to spend her little remaining time being honest with only someone like me - that was the meaning behind my question to her. Was there really no value in spending her final days with a best friend that was so much more precious to her as compared to someone like me? Unusually for me, those were words of consideration and compassion.
“It’s fine, it’s fine! That girl is pretty emotional, so if I told her, she’d definitely cry every time we met. Spending time like that wouldn’t be very fun, right? So for my own sake, I’ve decided to hide it from everyone else till the very last minute.”
And thus with her words and expression, she had wilfully repelled the torrent I had summoned upon her. They were more than enough to leave me speechless.
There was just one last thing. Witnessing her willpower had caused the question lurking within my heart since yesterday to surface - it wouldn’t do if I didn’t ask her that at the very least.
“Hm? What’s up?”
“Are you really going to die?”
Her determined expression disappeared instantaneously. I immediately regretted my decision, but I didn’t have the time to let my remorse linger - she quickly regained her expression, and as always, it went round and round, changing dramatically.
At first she smiled. Then her face turned into one of frustration. Then a bitter smile. Then it was anger, sorrow, and back to frustration. At last, she looked me straight in the eye and smiled.
Her smile deepened as she blinked even more than usual.
“I’m going to die. I’ve already known that for many years. Thanks to advances in medical science, most of my symptoms aren’t visible on the outside, and my life expectancy has increased. But, I’ll die. They’re saying that they don’t even know if I have a year left.”
Even though I didn’t especially want to know or hear it, her voice resounded clearly in my ears.
“I can’t tell anyone but Get-Along-kun. You must be the only person that can give me both the truth and an everyday life. My doctor can’t give me anything but the truth. My family overreacts to every single one of my remarks, and they’ve become desperate trying to keep up appearances in my everyday life. I think my friends will definitely be the same if they found out. You’re the only one that can live an everyday life with me while knowing the truth, so it’s fun to be with you.”
It felt like I had been stabbed deep in my heart by a needle. I knew that I provided her with nothing like that. If - just if - I had to say that I provided her with anything, it was probably nothing but an escape.
“I said it yesterday too, but you’re overestimating me.”
“Even more than that, I guess we really do look like a couple, huh?”
“……What are you trying to say?”
“Nothing in particular.”
As I thought, the girl that stuffed her cheeks with chocolate cake that she had so appetisingly pierced with a fork didn’t look like a human being that was soon to die.
I realised it.
Not one human being looks like they will someday die. Even me, even the person that was killed by the criminal, even her, we were all alive yesterday. We lived without behaving like we were going to die. I see - that may be why the value of today was the same for everybody.
While I was in the middle of thinking, she admonished me.
“Don’t make such a serious face, you’re going to die in the end anyway. Let’s meet in heaven.”
“……That’s true huh.”
That was right, getting sentimental about her life would just be conceited of me. It would be arrogant to believe that there was no way I could die before her.
“That’s why you should strive to be virtuous like me.”
“That’s right, after you die, I should go become a follower of Buddha or something.”
“You say after I die, but if you get involved with another woman I’ll never forgive you!”
“Sorry, I was just joking with you.”
She gave her usual, hearty roar of laughter.
We stuffed ourselves till we were full. Having paid our respective bills, we left the restaurant and started to head home for the day. Since there was a little distance to walk from school to Dessert Paradise, I had originally intended to ride my bike, but because of the time it would’ve taken to get my bike from home, as well as the suggestion of that girl to spare the effort, we had walked here to have our meals, still in our uniforms.
The two of us trotted home on a sidewalk along a national highway, simultaneously bathing in the light of the sun that was no longer directly above us.
“Isn’t the heat good too? Since this may be my last summer, I have to enjoy it all I can. I wonder what we should do next. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘summer’?”
“I guess that’d be a watermelon popsicle.”
She laughed. She was always in the mood for laughing.
“Something other than watermelon popsicles?” She continued, “Anything else?”
“They’re both ice!”
“Then what do you think of when you hear ‘summer’?”
“For me, it’s definitely stuff like the sea, fireworks, festivals, and not to mention, a single summer’s adventure!”
“You’re even going to find gold?”
“When you say 'adventure,’ you mean going on a journey, right?”
She sighed melodramatically, shaking her head with the palms of both her hands facing up. It was probably a gesture to show her dismay, or perhaps even an action to signal annoyance.
“It’s not just a journey. Come on, summer, adventure, you get it right?”
“So like waking up early to search for beetles.”
“I got it - Get-Along-kun is a dummy.”
“It’s dumber to let love rule your head whenever a particular season arrives.”
“So you do understand! Gah!”
Being stared down as sweat dripped down my face, I inadvertently looked away.
“It’s hot so don’t make things more troublesome than they have to be, okay?”
“Weren’t you the one that said the heat was good too?”
“A single summer’s fleeting love. A single summer’s mistake - since I’m already a high school girl, I think it’d be nice to experience those kinds of things once or twice.”
The fleeting stuff aside, making a mistake probably wouldn’t be good.
“I’m alive, so it wouldn’t do not to fall in love.”
“You’ve already had three boyfriends in your lifetime, isn’t that enough?”
“Hey now, the heart isn’t something that speaks in numbers.”
“That seems deep at first glance, but if you think about it properly, those words don’t really make sense. To put it simply, you just still feel like making boyfriends.”
I’d said those words with little thought to them, so I thought that she would have just made another joke in return, but I was wrong.
She came to a halt as though she had suddenly thought of something. I, who wasn’t given advance notice, continued to propel myself another five steps or so before finally deciding to investigate the meaning behind her actions. While I wondered whether she had found a hundred yen coin, the girl that remained rooted to the spot stared at me. She held her arms behind as her long hair fluttered in the breeze.
“……If I said that I felt like making a boyfriend, would you do all you could to help me?”
She looked at me with a face like she was carrying out an experiment. It seemed like she was forcing a profound expression.
The meaning of her expression, and the meaning of her words too - I, who was poor at human relations, couldn’t really understand them.
“Doing everything I can to help you - how so?”
“……Nah, it’s fine.”
The girl shook her head and began to walk once again. I stole a glance at her face as she returned to my side; her complicated expression had cleanly reset into a smile, making me all the more confounded as to what her intentions were.
“Could this be some joke about introducing your friends to me or something?”
Even though I thought there could be no other conjecture, I was swiftly denied.
“Then, just what are you-”
“I told you it’s fine. This isn’t a novel, so it’d be a big mistake to think that every one of my remarks means something. There isn’t really any meaning to it. Get-Along-kun, you need to have more contact with humans.”
“……Is that so.”
It came to the point that I was forced to comply. I couldn’t tell her that it was weird to plainly deny any meaning if there wasn’t any. It was because of my reed boat mentality. She had an air around her that indicated she didn’t want to continue the conversation beyond that topic – that was what I felt. But after all, since this was based on the sensibilities of someone unfamiliar with humans, it was uncertain how reliable it was.
At a fork in the road close to school, she waved her hand and loudly proclaimed:
“Alright then, I’ll let you know when I decide on our next date!”
Choosing not to pursue the matter of her having decreed my unconditional and ignorant participation in her plans, I turned my back to her waving hand. Perhaps, I had already adopted the mindset of licking the plate clean after having tasted the poison.
I thought about it even after we parted ways, but in the end, I still couldn’t understand her words and her expression from that time.
It was probably something I wouldn’t understand till I died.
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