I Want to Eat Your Pancreas

Chapter 4
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Chapter 4

The ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ is, in essence, her will - that is what I believe. In that unused paperback, she writes about the everyday things she sees and feels, leaving them behind. Evidently, it seemed that this method of recording had rules unique to her.

I couldn’t say I knew any for certain, but was fairly sure of a few that I had observed. Firstly, she wasn’t simply recording her day-to-day experiences. Days where she saw something special, days where she felt something special - within the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’, she compiled only things that were of value in leaving behind after her own death.

Secondly, she chose not to leave behind non-textual information in the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’. It seemed she thought that things like drawings or graphs didn’t fit in a paperback, choosing to only write with a black ball pen on the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’.

Lastly, she decided that she wouldn’t show anyone the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ until she died. With the exception of me, having seen the very first page due even more so to a force majeure than a blunder on her part, no one else had seen her life’s records. It seems that she had told her parents to release it to all her loved ones after her death. Whatever its present purpose, those around her would receive her message after she died, thus making it something akin to her will.

But even though nobody should have been able to influence those records or be affected by them until she died, just once, I had given her my opinion on the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’.

It was regarding my name - I didn’t want it to appear in the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’. It was simply because I didn’t want to receive any unnecessary scrutiny or criticism from her parents and friends after her death. In the midst of our library committee work, she had made a remark regarding the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ that “various people appear inside”. It was then that I formally requested the omission of my name. Her answer - “I’m the one writing it so that’s up to me.” I swallowed whatever more words I had. “If you say you don’t like it, it makes me want to do it even more,” she added. I resigned myself to the trouble that would ensue after my classmate’s death.

With that said, my name had probably already been written down together with the episodes involving yakinku and dessert, but for the two days after we had gone to Dessert Paradise, my name shouldn’t have appeared in the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’.

The reason was that in those two days, I hadn’t exchanged a single word with her at school. It wasn’t unusual or anything, since we had always done our own thing in class. Instead, it could be said that those days adorned by yakiniku and desserts were the irregular ones.

I had attended school, taken tests, and returned home quietly. Though I often felt the stares of her best friend and those from that group, I determined that there was no need for me to go out of my way to be affected by them.

Nothing truly special had happened in those two days. If I were forced to pick something, there were only two minor incidents, the first of which - while I was silently sweeping the corridor, a boy that normally didn’t even so much as look at me had come to talk to me.

“Yo, Plain-Classmate, are ya dating Yamauchi?”

His rather inelegant manner of speaking had a sort of freshness to it. I suspected that it may have been the case that he carried some affection for her, and in turn was illogically angry at me, but his appearance suggested otherwise. Judging by the look on his face, he wasn’t the slightest bit upset, in fact, there was some air of misplaced glee about him. He must have been one of those frivolous people that were like bundles of curiosity.

“No, absolutely not.”

“That so? But the both of ya had dessert, right?”

“We just happened to have a meal together.”

“What’s with that?”

“Why are you interested?”

“Hm? Ah, don’t tell me ya think I like Yamauchi? No way! Look, I like girls that are more refined.”

Even though I didn’t ask, he continued to blabber on nonchalantly. It seemed that the only thing we could agree on was that she wasn’t refined.

“I see, so we had the wrong idea, but everyone in class is buzzing ‘bout it ya know.”

“It’s all a misunderstanding, so I don’t mind it.”

“How mature, ya want some gum?”

“Not really. Could you hold the dustpan for me?”

“Leave it to me.”

He was flaky and always skipped out on cleaning duty, so I thought he’d turn me down. But contrary to expectations, he helpfully held onto the dustpan for me. Perhaps he didn’t understand the concept of clean-up time, and had someone taught him, he’d have been willing to do it properly.

He didn’t pursue the matter any further than that. This was the first incident that happened within those two days that I found to be irregular.

Having a conversation with a classmate wasn’t that unpleasant, but while the next irregularity was trivial, it had put me into somewhat of a melancholic mood. The bookmark that should have been sandwiched within my paperback had gone missing. Though I fortunately remembered the scene I had read up to, it wasn’t something that was distributed for free at bookshops and the like; it was something made of thin plastic that I had bought when I went to the museum previously. I didn’t know when it had gone missing, but in any case, even though I wasn’t the least bit bitter that my own carelessness was the root cause, I felt down for the first time in a while.

However, despite feeling down about something that was ultimately superficial, those two days were normal for me. And since the norm for me was tranquillity - that meant I hadn’t been haunted by the girl who was close to death.

The beginning of regularity’s end began on Wednesday night. I was enjoying the last of “normalcy” when I received a single message.

No matter how much I hoped and wished, nothing could change the fact that at that time, I hadn’t noticed the signs of abnormality beginning - it was probably because I was a character. Even in novels, the only ones that knew the setting of the first chapter were the readers. The characters themselves don’t know a single thing.

The message’s contents were as such:

“Good job with the tests! We’re getting a day off from the tests tomorrow, aren’t we? [smiley face] To get right to the point, will you be free? You’ll be free anyway right? I’m thinking of going on a trip on the train! [peace sign] Anywhere you want to go?”

Her making assumptions about people’s circumstances sort of ruined my mood, but she had hit the bull’s-eye when she said I was free, and I didn’t have any reason to turn her down, so I replied, “I’m fine with going anywhere you want to go to before you die.”

Of course, this would later come back to bite me in the neck. I simply should have known better than to leave the decision-making to her.

And so, the message specifying the place and time soon followed. The rendezvous point was a large and prominent train station within the prefecture, and the time was peculiarly early, but I wrote it off as just another one of her many whims.

I replied with a message containing just two characters, and she responded with the last message I received that day.

“You absolutely can’t break this promise okay?”

No matter how much we opposed each other, I fundamentally never broke promises, so I replied with a final “alright” and left my cellphone on my desk.

As a spoiler, the word “promise” was the crux of the girl’s trick. Actually, perhaps it was only I who had interpreted it as a trick. I’d thought that the “promise” she mentioned referred to our outing tomorrow. I was wrong. Her “promise” referred to my slip of the tongue - “I’m fine with going anywhere you want to go to before you die.”

The next day, I headed to our meeting place early in the morning and found her already waiting there. She was carrying a sky blue backpack that she usually didn’t bring along, and wearing a straw hat that she usually didn’t put on - she looked as though she were leaving on a journey.

Before we even exchanged greetings, she expressed her shock at my appearance.

“You’re dressed too lightly! Is that all you’re carrying? What about your change of clothes?”

“…………Change of clothes?”

“Hmm, well, I guess you can just buy some over there. Seems like there’ll be a Uniqlo.”

“Over there? Uniqlo?”

That was the first time I felt signs of unease in my heart.

Treating my misgivings and questions like wind to her ears, she looked at her watch and responded with the question - “have you eaten breakfast?”

“It wasn’t very filling, but I had bread.”

“I haven’t eaten. Is it fine if we get something?”

I thought that there wasn’t any particular issue with that, so I assented. She grinned and started to head towards her destination in large strides. I had assumed that we were headed to a convenience store, but we arrived at a bento store instead.

“Huh, you’re getting a railway bento?”

“Yeah, it’s for eating on the Shinkansen. Are you getting one too?”

“Wait wait wait wait wait.”

I grabbed the upper arm of the girl that was happily admiring the bentos lined up on the display, and pulled her away from the cashier. The granny at the register had been smiling pleasantly as she glanced at the girl, but when their eyes met a second time, the girl wore a shocked expression, giving the granny a shock too.

“That should be my expression.”

“What’s wrong?

“Shinkansen? Railway bento? Explain properly - what exactly are we doing today?”

“Like I said, we’re going on a trip on the train.”

“So by ‘train’, you meant the Shinkansen? And when you say 'trip’, just how far do you mean for us to go?”

After making a face that said she finally remembered something, she plunged her hand into her pocket and took out two rectangular pieces of paper. I immediately recognised that they were tickets.

She passed me one, and after taking a look at it, my eyes spread wide open.

“Um, is this a joke?”

She chortled. It seemed like she was serious.

“It says we’re not going somewhere for a day trip, so it seems like we can still rethink this.”

“…………No, no, Get-Along-kun, you got it wrong.”

“What a relief, so it really was a joke.”

“That’s not it, we’re not going for just a day trip.”

“…………Huh?”

The futility of the entire exercise aside, our conversation from this point on flowed in such a way that I ended up overpowered. For the sake of convenience, a large part of it has hence been omitted.

She asserted herself, and while I tried to persuade her otherwise, she played her trump card - yesterday’s messages. Thus exploited was my intention to never break a promise.

Before I realised it, I was already riding on the Shinkansen.

“Haaah.”

While staring at the flowing scenery from the window seat, I was lost on whether I should accept being thrust into the present situation. Beside me, the girl was enjoying her mixed rice.

“This is my first time going on a trip like this! Get-Along-kun, have you done anything like this before?”

“Nope.”

“You can relax y’know, since I’ve properly prepared travel magazines for today.”

“Ah, is that so.”

Even reed boats should have a limit somewhere; I frowned at myself.

Incidentally, just like the yakiniku, the money for the Shinkansen tickets came from her purse. She told me not to mind, but it wouldn’t do not to repay her, even if it was at the cost of the dignity of a human like me.

While wondering whether it was time to get a part-time job, an orange was shoved right before my eyes.

“Want some?”

“……Thanks.”

I received the orange and quietly began peeling its skin.

“You’ve got no energy at all, huh. Don’t tell me you feel like getting off?”

“No, I’m staying on board. For your plans, and the Shinkansen too. And I’m reflecting on my decision to do so.”

“What a downer, you’ve got to be more cheery when travelling!”

“Though it seems more like an abduction than a trip to me.”

“If you’re going to keep looking back on yourself, you should just look at me instead.”

“And exactly what do you mean by saying that?”

Once again treating my words like the wind, she closed the lid on the railway bento she was done with, and tied a rubber band around it. Her nimble hand movements gave off the impression that she was a perfectly alive human being.

I discouraged myself from putting into words the contrast between the sense of reality she emanated and the actual reality, and proceeded to silently eat the orange one wedge at a time. She had bought the oranges from a kiosk, but they were unexpectedly sweet and succulent. I took a look outside and saw the rural landscape spread out into the distance - a scene which I normally wouldn’t have seen. I spotted a scarecrow in the field, and for some reason, that made me resign myself to the fact that there was no longer any point in resisting.

“By the way, Get-Along-kun, what’s your first name?”

It was a sudden question from the girl comparing local specialties in her travel magazine next to me. Looking at the greenery of the mountains had calmed me down, so I responded to her query straightforwardly. Even though my name wasn’t even that unusual, she was nodding her head with great interest. Following which, she whispered my full name to herself.

“Wasn’t there a novelist with a name like yours?”

“That’s right, though I don’t know which one you thought of.”

Using my own first and last names as a base, two authors came to mind.

“Could this be the reason you like novels?”

“That’s not far off the truth. I did start reading because of that, but I like books because I think they’re interesting.”

“Hmmm, so you have the same name as your favourite author?”

“Nope. My favourite is Osamu Dazai.”

Seemingly somewhat surprised at hearing the name of a literary master, her eyes spread wide open.

“By Osamu Dazai, you mean the one that wrote 'No Longer Human’?”

“That’s right.”

“So you like gloomy books like that, huh.”

“It’s true that Osamu Dazai’s brooding nature comes through the atmosphere of his books, but words can’t be dismissed just because they’re gloomy you know.”

It was rare of me to be speaking so enthusiastically, but she responded with a pout, seemingly disinterested.

“Hmm, well, guess it just doesn’t engage me.”

“Looks like you aren’t really interested in literature, huh.”

“Yeah, not really. I read manga though.”

Just like I had expected. It wasn’t a matter of good or bad, I just couldn’t imagine her patiently reading a novel. Even for manga, if she was at home, she’d probably be reading it while loafing around her room and making noises at every little thing.

It couldn’t be helped that my conversation partner wasn’t interested in what I had to say, so I asked her something that I was curious about.

“Seems like your parents are pretty okay with you travelling. What did you do?”

“I told them that I was travelling with Kyouko. If I told my parents that I had one last thing I wanted to do, they’d most likely agree to it in tears, but as expected of travelling with a boy - I can’t tell how they’d react.”

“You’re really horrible huh - trampling on your parents’ feelings.”

“Speaking of which, what about you? What sort of excuse did you give your parents?”

“Since I didn’t want to worry my parents, I’ve been lying to them about having friends. So I told them that I was staying at a friend’s house.”

“That’s horrible, but how lonesome.”

“But couldn’t you say that no one got hurt?”

She shook her head in dismay and proceeded to retrieve another magazine from the backpack placed next to her feet. What an attitude for the culprit who had forced me to lie to the parents I loved. Seeing that she had engrossed herself with her magazine, I seized the opportunity to conjure a paperback from my sling bag, and began to focus on that instead. Worn out by the extraordinary amount of noise she had been making since morning, I wanted nothing but to surrender myself to the story and let my heart be healed.

While thinking about things like that, it suddenly dawned upon me that I was practically tempting fate to let her disrupt my peace; it was a certain someone’s fault that I had become completely paranoid. Thankfully, my precious time passed without any disturbances. I concentrated on my novel for close to an hour before I reached a good place to stop. It was then that I suddenly became aware of the peace I had managed - but never expected - to grasp. I looked to my side to see the girl soundly asleep, magazine resting on her stomach.

She didn’t wake for the rest of the trip. Not even after the Shinkansen had arrived at our station.

If I had to say it, it looked as though her short life had ended on the Shinkansen, but the truth was that she was simply impossibly hard to awaken - it wasn’t an omen, and it wasn’t really a misunderstanding either. I gently poked her cheeks and pinched her nose, but she just groggily moved away and made no signs of waking up. As a last resort, I shot a rubber band in my possession at the back of her defenceless hand - she jumped out of her seat in an overreaction.

“You could’ve just called me awake or something!” She said as she punched me in the shoulder. Even though I had went through all the trouble to wake her up - unbelievable.

“Our first landing! Waaah! I can smell ramen!”

“Isn’t that just as expected of your imagination?”

“I definitely smell it! Isn’t it your nose that’s rotten?”

“I’m just grateful that my brain isn’t rotten like yours.”

“It’s my pancreas that’s rotten though.”

“I’m a coward, so let’s ban that deathblow from now on. It’s not fair.”

While laughing, she said, “What if we made Get-Along-kun a deathblow too?” But I didn’t have any plans to contract a serious illness in the near future, so I politely turned her down.

We took a long escalator down from the platform to a floor where the souvenir shop and the rest area were located. The space seemed to have been newly renovated - it got full marks for cleanliness and left me with a favourable impression.

We took another escalator to get to the ground floor, and we finally reached the ticket gates. An unexpected sensation assaulted me the moment I stepped out, so much so that I doubted my own senses. Like she had said earlier, I could smell ramen. Amazing - perhaps it really was true then, that he in the urban prefectures could smell sauce, while he in the rural prefectures could smell udon. I’d never been to either, so I couldn’t deny the possibility, but who would have thought that a single dish could permeate the everyday lives of humans to this extent?

Even without looking at the face of the girl standing beside me, I knew that she was definitely snickering at me, so I absolutely refused to look.

“So, where are we going?”

“Hehehehehehehehe, huh?”

How annoying.

“Ah, where are we going? We’re going to meet the God of Studies. But before that, we’re getting lunch.”

Speaking of which, my stomach did feel empty.

“As I thought, it’s gotta be ramen, how about it?”

“No objections.”

Amidst the bustle of the station, I traced her large strides at my own comfortable pace. We were apparently headed for some shop she had read about in the magazine while on the Shinkansen. Her gait showed neither sign of pause nor hesitation. We descended underground, exiting the station into an underground street, and found ourselves standing in front of the ramen store far sooner than expected. As we neared the store, its distinctive scent of broth thickened, and though I wasn’t really put off, there were copies of a page from a famous gourmet manga promoting this shop plastered onto its outer wall. However, it didn’t seem to be a weird shop, so I was relieved.

The ramen was delicious. The food arrived quickly upon our orders, and we quickly began to stuff ourselves. The both of us had chosen to get an extra set of noodles, and when we were asked how hard we wanted our noodles to be, I heard her say “steel beam”; I politely followed suit. To think there was such a classification for the level of hardness - it would be best if no one ever found out about this matter, for it made me red with shame. Incidentally, “harigane” was probably created by boiling the noodles for a shorter duration of time.

Reinvigorated by the hearty meal, we quickly got on our next train. There was no need to rush, since the shrine of the God of Studies she had wanted to meet was about thirty minutes away by train, but as the leader of our expedition had demanded we hurry, I simply followed suit.

While sitting on the train, I remembered a report that I had read somewhere, and I parted my sealed lips.

“It seems like this prefecture is rather unsafe, so it’s best to be careful. Shooting incidents and the like are apparently quite common.”

“Is that so? But isn’t it the same with any prefecture? Haven’t you heard about that murder case in the neighbouring prefecture that happened the other day?”

“I haven’t been watching the news lately though.”

“Someone from the police said it on TV, but it seems like perpetrators of random attacks are the hardest to catch. Like they say, the devil’s children have the devil’s luck!”

“Though that shouldn’t be the main takeaway from this story.”

“That must be why you’re going to continue living and I’m going to die.”

“I’ve only just learnt this now, but proverbs can’t be trusted. I’ll remember that.”

It really did take the train thirty minutes to ferry us to our destination. The sky was so sunny it was getting on my nerves; just by standing around, I was starting to get soaked in sweat. I wondered if I would really be alright without a change of clothes, but it seemed that our next stop would be close to a Uniqlo.

“What great weather!”

With a smile that rivalled the sun, she climbed the slope up to the shrine with light steps. The slope to the precinct was crowded despite it being a weekday afternoon. On both sides of the street, there were stores selling all manners of souvenirs, sundries, food, and even the odd suspicious-looking T-shirt - it truly was a sight to behold. A store selling specialty mochi especially caught my eye, and the sweet fragrance it emanated tickled my nasal cavity.

From time to time, the teetering girl would get pulled into a store, but in the end, we didn’t buy a single thing. Fortunately for us, the store attendants were understanding, and I was able to enjoy just looking at the items in peace.

Having finally reached the end of the slope - now drenched in sweat - we headed straight for the first vending machine in sight. It was frustrating to lose to a vending machine, especially one deliberately installed in such an exquisite location to take advantage of thirsty passers-by, but there was no resisting a life-preserving instinct.

Whipping her sweat-soaked hair from side to side, she was smiling as always.

“Feels like we’re really in the springtime of life!”

“The grass may still be green, but it’s not spring…… It’s hot.”

“Have you ever been in any sports clubs?”

“Nope. You see, I’m of noble birth, so it’s fine even if I don’t move my body.”

“Don’t insult those of noble birth. You should exercise more, you’re sweating as much as I am, and I’m sick.”

“But that doesn’t have anything to do with my lack of exercise.”

Even the people around us had reached the limit of their stamina - many sat shamelessly in the umbrage of nearby trees. It seemed like today was another especially hot day.

Somehow overcoming our dehydration, we slipped away from the other youth, and resumed our journey. We washed our hands, placed them upon the burning hot statue of a cow, crossed a bridge as we watched the turtles float on the water, and at long last, we arrived before the god. As for why we came across a cow on the way, I remembered reading an explanation for it, but the tepid heat had caused me to forget. She, on the other hand, never seemed intent on reading it.

We stood in front of the box that acted as the god’s wallet, and tossed in a small amount of money as an offering. Then we properly made our prayers - bowing twice, clapping twice, and bowing once more.

I had learnt from somewhere that shrine visits weren’t actually the time to make wishes of gods. They were originally meant as an expression of one’s determination before the gods. But right now, I couldn’t muster any sort of determination. Since nothing could be done about it, I thought I’d give the girl beside me some help. Feigning ignorance, I made a wish to the god.

May her pancreas be healed.

Only when I was done did I realise I had prayed for even longer than her. Surely, wishes that we know won’t come true were easier to pray for. Perhaps she had actually wished for something different from me. I didn’t feel the need to ask her. Prayers were something that should be offered in silence, alone.

“I wished to be lively until I died. Get-Along-kun, what about you?”

“……You’re always trampling on my intentions huh.”

“Huh, don’t tell me you wished for me to slowly get weaker? You’re the worst! I was wrong about you!”

“And why would I wish for someone else’s misfortune?”

The truth was that I had wished for the complete opposite of what she had speculated, but I didn’t tell her. Speaking of which, wasn’t this the God of Studies? Well, it was a god, so it probably didn’t bother about the details.

“Hey, let’s go draw our fortunes!”

I furrowed my brow at her suggestion. I had considered fortune slips to have no connection to her fate. Predictions about the future were written on them, but that girl didn’t have a future.

She rushed to the spot where the fortune slips were being sold, confidently deposited a hundred yen into the box, and drew a fortune. It couldn’t be helped, so I followed along.

“The one with the better fortune wins!”

“Just what do you think fortune slips are?”

“Ah, I got a Great Blessing.”

She was grinning from ear to ear. Inside my heart, I was dumbfounded. Just what did the gods think of this girl? With this, it was proven that fortune slips didn’t carry any sort of power at all. Or perhaps, it was actually an act of kindness from the gods to the girl who had already drawn an extraordinarily great curse.

She raised her voice.

"Ahahahahahahahahahahaha! Look, look! It says 'your disease will be healed soon’! There’s no way it’ll be healed!”

“…Just what about this are you enjoying?”

“What’d you get?”

“Blessing.”

“So it’s lesser than a Small Blessing?”

“Though there are also those that say it’s just lesser than a Great Blessing.”

“Whichever way it is, it’s my win, hehe.”

“Just what about this are you enjoying?”

“Wow, yours says that you’ll meet a good match in love, how nice.”

“If you really think it’s great, don’t say it so contemptuously.”

She slanted her slim neck, and brought her face into point-blank range of mine, a smirk plastered across her face. “Even though I would say she was cute if I had to,” I ended up thinking - my greatest blunder yet.

I looked the other way, and I heard her cackling. She didn’t say a word once her laughter stopped.

We left the inner shrine and headed back the way we came from. But instead of crossing the bridge from earlier, we turned left, coming across the treasure house as well as a pool named the Iris Pond. There were plenty of turtles floating about on the water, for which we went to buy food pellets to scatter into the water. Looking at the laid-back movements of the turtles, I got a little distracted from the heat. I broke out of my daze with the quiet realisation that she had begun talking with a little girl. I looked at her smiling face and thought, “As expected of a human who is the opposite of me.” The girl asked, “Big sis, is he your boyfriend?” And she replied, “Nope, we just get along!” Her response confused the young girl.

Once we were done feeding the turtles, we walked the path along the pool and came across an eatery. At her suggestion, we popped in. The store was outfitted with an air-conditioner and we sighed on reflex at the respite it provided. The spacious store had three other groups of customers apart from us. There was a family, a classy elderly couple, and a group of four aunties who were heartily engaged in raucous chatter. We sat down at the table by the window.

Soon, a gentle-looking granny arrived with two cups of water, and took our orders.

“Two umegae-mochi, and I guess I’ll get tea. Are you fine with tea too?”

I nodded, and the granny smiled as she left for the back of the shop.

I drank the cold water, and felt my body temperature steadily decrease. It was a relief to feel the chill spread to my fingertips.

“That confection - you called it umegae-mochi, right?”

“It’s a specialty. It was listed on the magazine.”

“Sorry for the wait!” And before I could assert that we hadn’t waited at all, two red plates of umegae-mochi and two cups of green tea had been placed on our table. Since we had to make payment upfront, the two of us split the bill in half and handed our coins to the store attendant.

I picked up the round white mochi that seemed to be in constant production within the store, and its crispy baked exterior made itself evident. As I bit into it, plenty of sweetness, together with the faintly salty red bean paste, filled my mouth. It tasted delicious, and the green tea paired rather well with it.

“Doesn’t it taste great? Following me was the right decision after all.”

“Just a little.”

“You aren’t honest, huh. At this rate won’t you just go back to being alone once I’m gone?”

It’s not like that would bother me. That was what I thought. To me, the situation now was the true anomaly.

Once she was gone, I would return to my original lifestyle. Without interacting with anyone, I’d shroud myself in the world of novels. I’d return to that kind of everyday. It wasn’t something that was decidedly bad. But, I didn’t think I could make her understand.

Once we were done with our meal, she spread her magazine open on the table.

"What are we going to do next?”

“Oh, you’re really getting into this huh.”

“I decided that I may as well lick the plate clean after seeing a scarecrow on the Shinkansen.”

“Ah, okay, I don’t understand what you just said. But I’ve come up with a list of things I wanted to do before I die.”

That was a good thing. She had probably realised how pointless it was to spend time with me.

“Like going on a journey with a boy, eating tonkotsu ramen at its place of conception, and though we just plunged into this journey, for now, the last goal for the me of today is to have offal hotpot for dinner. If I can fulfil that much for today, I’ll be super happy. Get-Along-kun, do you have anywhere else you want to go?”

“Not really, I’m basically indifferent to tourist attractions, so I don’t really know any places for us to go. I’ve already said it in yesterday’s message, but I’m fine with going anywhere you want to go.”

“Hmm, I see, so what shall we do………… Wah!”

She had let out a dumb sound. The cause was the sound of something breaking coupled with someone’s crude scream that had filled the room. I turned towards the direction of the ruckus and I realised that within that ever-noisy group of aunties, one of them had raised her voice hysterically. Next to them, the granny was bowing her head. It seemed that she had somehow stumbled and toppled over a teacup. The crash of the ceramic teacup shattering against the floor had surprised the girl who was troubled thinking about our next course of action.

I kept a watch on the situation and observed. Even though the granny continued to apologise profusely, the auntie who seemed to have gotten tea spilt on her own clothes got increasingly possessed by hysteria, and appeared no different from a lunatic. Glancing in front of me, I saw that she was also watching as she sipped on her tea.

I had thought that the situation would somehow be resolved peacefully, but my expectations were quickly dashed - the auntie absolutely blew her lid and roughly shoved the granny away. Having been pushed over, the granny staggered and collided with a table, causing it to flip and collapse onto the floor. The soy sauce dispenser and a bunch of disposable chopsticks were also scattered about.

The only one that still remained in the side-lines after witnessing the present state of affairs was me.

“Wait a moment!”

Raising her voice to a level that I had not heard until now, the girl that should have been sharing a table with me stood up, and rushed over to the granny down the aisle.

“I knew it,” I thought. I, who wished to remain a bystander, and she, who wanted to be involved - it was that kind of thing. I could say with conviction that if I reversed myself as a person, that if I were her, I would have stood up too.

The girl helped the granny up, yelling at the ladies she considered her enemies. Of course, her opponents fought back, but this was probably her true worth. Having seen her in action, the other customers in the shop - the father of the family, and the elderly couple - kicked into gear, and supported the girl.

After receiving criticisms from all sides, even the other aunties turned red. The group hastily left the store, muttering complaints all the way out. With the troublemakers gone, the girl checked on the granny, and was praised in return. I was still drinking my tea.

After putting back the table in its original position, the girl returned with an “I’m back”. She still appeared to be mad. I thought that she may have been upset with my lack of action, but that wasn’t it.

“Even though the granny tripped and fell over because that auntie suddenly stretched her foot out. How utterly horrible!”

“Yeah.”

In this world, there exists a notion that the sins of perpetrators and bystanders carried the same weight. In which case, I was no different from those aunties, and so refrained from strongly condemning them.

While looking at the girl who got angry for the sake of justice, and whose days were numbered, I thought that the devil’s children really had the devil’s luck.

“There are plenty of humans that should die before you, huh.”

“I know, right!”

I smiled bitterly at her agreement. Just like I had thought, I’d probably be alone again once she was gone.

When we left the store, she received six umegae-mochi from the granny as a thank-you gift and souvenir. She turned it down at first, but at the granny’s insistence, graciously accepted it. I too got to eat some of that umegae-mochi which had been baked as part of an earlier batch, and I enjoyed the moist and different texture – even this too, was delicious.

“For now, let’s head towards the city, since we need to look for a Uniqlo too.”

“That’s true, I sweated more than I thought I would. I’m really sorry but, I’ll definitely repay you before you die, so could you lend me some money?”

“Huh, I don’t want to.”

“…………You’re a spawn of the devil, huh. Let’s get along in hell.”

“Wahaha, it was a lie, I was just joking, just joking. It’s fine even if you don’t repay me.”

“No way, I’ll repay you everything you’ve paid for up till now too.”

“How stubborn.”

We took the train, and headed back to the station we came from. The inside of the train was quiet. The elderly were dozing off, and the little children were gathered together, holding their war council in whispers. Since the girl was reading her magazine beside me, I gazed blankly outside. The time indicated that evening was approaching, but the summer sky was still bright. It would be great if it just stayed bright forever. Having reached this moment in time, I started thinking about that kind of thing on a whim.

“If only I had made that my wish to the god instead,” I muttered to myself, as she folded her magazine and closed her eyes. She stayed like that, fast asleep until we arrived at our station.

The number of people at the station had increased from the afternoon. In the midst of students and salarymen making their daily commute, we walked leisurely. I thought that the residents of this prefecture walked faster than those living elsewhere. Maybe it was to avoid trouble in an unsafe prefecture.

After consulting with her, we decided to proceed to the single downtown district within the prefecture. We had looked it up on our cellphones, and it seemed that there was also a Uniqlo over there. We searched it up some more, and apparently, in order to get to the first station within the city from the location of the shrine, we should have continued on without exiting the ticket gates. But at any rate, having been abducted, it was impossible for me to have done my research, and she was never a human meticulous enough to care about such things.

We got on the subway, and headed downtown.

The night had fallen completely, and it was now 8 PM. We were seated at a hori-gotatsu, picking at a steaming hotpot. The taste of the specialty hotpot with no other ingredients but offal, cabbage, and garlic chives had left me - who had declared meat superior to innards - speechless. Of course, the girl was as noisy as ever.

“It’s great to be alive!”

“No lies in that statement huh.”

I drank the soup from my own bowl. Thoroughly delicious.

After we had arrived at the city, we visited Uniqlo, and following which, we simply wandered around aimlessly. We entered a glasses shop because she wanted to buy sunglasses, and later visited a bookshop I had spotted. It was fairly enjoyable just looking at the townscape of a land I didn’t know. Later still, we chased pigeons in a park we chanced upon, and sampled the signature confections of the prefecture in a local confectionery. Time passed right by.

As the darkness of night crept in, the prefecture’s residents began lining up at the unusual food stalls along the street. While I was still fixated on the scene before me, we started making our way towards a hotpot establishment that had caught her eye. Since it was a weekday - or perhaps we were just lucky - we were ushered to a table in the crowded restaurant straight away. “It’s all thanks to me,” so she bragged, but she hadn’t even made a reservation or anything like that, so it absolutely wasn’t thanks to her.

For the most part, we didn’t talk about anything of substance during our meal. She heaped praises onto the hotpot from start to finish as I quietly relished the food. I managed to enjoy the hotpot without saying anything pointless. When faced with delicious food, it wouldn’t do to act otherwise.

The next time she opened that pointless mouth of hers was when the store attendant added Chinese noodles to the soup brimming with umami.

“With this, the two of us are hotpot buddies too.”

“Are you trying to make it seem like we’ve been living under the same roof and eating from the same pot?”

“Even more than that. Since I’ve never even eaten hotpot with any of my boyfriends.”

She tittered. The reason her way of laughing was different from usual was because alcohol had entered her system. She had brazenly ordered wine despite her status as a high school girl. The waiter made no second guesses as to the excessively unabashed order, and promptly conferred a glass of white wine. Even though I would’ve been happier had he just contacted the police.

The girl who was in an even better mood than normal wanted to talk about herself even more than usual. It was convenient for me since I preferred to listen to what other humans had to say, as compared to speaking myself.

As for how our conversation went, she started with her last boyfriend who was apparently also my classmate.

“He’s a super great guy. Yeah, really, I received a confession from him, and I thought that since he was a good person and a friend, it’d be fine to go out with him, so it was hard to understand that it wasn’t like that. I mean, I’ve already said it quite frankly, haven’t I? After we started going out, he’d get moody easily, and once we started fighting, he’d stay angry for a super long time. It’d have been fine if we were friends, but I didn’t want to be with him any longer.”

She brought the wine to her mouth. I kept quiet, unable to empathise, and listened to what she had to say.

“Even Kyouko had good things to say about my ex-boyfriend. Since he seemed like a refreshing boy on the surface.”

“Doesn’t seem to have anything to do with me.”

“That’s true, after all, Kyouko does avoid you.”

“Didn’t you think you’d hurt me by saying something like that?”

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m not hurt. I avoid her too, so we’re even.”

“Even though I want you to get along with Kyouko after I die huh.”

With an expression different from how it was up till now, she looked at me straight in the eye. Evidently, it seemed like she was serious about those words. With no way out, I answered, “I’ll think about it.” “Please do,” came her curt reply. Those words were spoken with an earnest conviction. My heart that had already decided that we weren’t going to get along anyway wavered, if just a little.

We left the restaurant once we had satisfied ourselves with the hotpot, and our faces were caressed by the pleasant night wind. Even though there were coolers installed within the restaurant, they were made largely defunct by the many hotpots simmering away inside. She had left after me, since she had been footing the bill. Under the condition that I would definitely repay her for everything she spent on me on this trip, I agreed to leave the bills to her.

“Waaah! Feels great!”

“It’s still cooling at night huh.”

“Right? Okay then, guess it’s about time we head to the hotel.”

I had heard about our place of residence from her earlier in the afternoon. It was a fairly high-grade hotel that was connected to the Shinkansen station we had arrived at, and it seemed to be well-known even within the prefecture. She had actually intended on staying at a simple business hotel, but when she informed her parents about her plans, they proposed that she may as well stay at a better place, and so provided her with a subsidy. Since she had already gone that far, there was no reason not to take advantage of their kindness - it was that kind of thing. Of course, half the money her parents had forked out was meant for Best-Friend-san, but the responsibility for that lay with her, so it wasn’t my business.

Having reached the station, it really wasn’t long till we arrived at the hotel. No, it’s not like I was casting doubt on the official information, what I had meant was that the hotel was even closer than I’d expected.

I had already confirmed it beforehand in the magazine she had brought along, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the luxury and elegance of the hotel’s interior. If I hadn’t prepared my heart, my jaw would’ve probably hit the ground. And so, I should have been bowing my head down to her. But since even I had a grain of self-respect that wouldn’t allow that, I was really glad to just act surprised on the surface.

Even though I’d avoided getting blown away, I was still becoming predictably restless in this atmosphere that didn’t match my own social standing. I thus let her handle the checking in, while I sat down on the refined lobby’s sofa, and quietly waited for her. The comfort I got from sitting on the sofa felt deep and gentle.

With a look that indicated she was used to this, she boldly headed for the counter, and the hotel staff all bowed their heads down as she approached. I thought without a doubt that she wouldn’t become a decent adult, but then remembered that she simply wouldn’t become an adult.

While drinking tea from a clearly out-of-place PET bottle, I watched from the side as she dealt with the receptionist.

The person handling her check-in was slender, and had his hair combed straight back - a young man that very much gave off the air of a hotel receptionist.

Just as I thought about the trouble the receptionist would have to go through, she started to fill in some form she was presented with. I didn’t listen to the contents of their conversation from this point onwards, but she returned the piece of paper, and with a refined demeanour, the beaming receptionist began keying in the information into his computer. Probably having confirmed the reservation, he turned back to her and began courteously speaking.

She made a surprised expression, and shook her head. The receptionist’s face stiffened in response, as he began to operate the computer once again, all the while still speaking to her. She shook her head again, took her backpack off her shoulders, and handed over a piece of paper that she had retrieved from within.

The receptionist compared the piece of paper to the computer screen, and frowned before momentarily withdrawing further behind the counter. Like her, I waited around doing nothing in particular, until he returned with an older man; the two of them bowed their heads to her profusely and countlessly.

After which, it wasn’t the younger man, but his senior that made a deep, full-bodied bow of apology, and began speaking to her. She made a troubled smile.

I watched the situation unfold from the side, wondering if something had happened. Thinking about it normally, it would have been logical to be under the impression that there had been a mistake on the hotel’s side, and the reservation had been recorded erroneously, but I felt that that alone would not have explained her troubled smile. Whatever the case, I expected the hotel to properly deal with the situation, and so thought little of it. At worst, we could simply wait out the night at some net cafe.

Still smiling in a troubled manner, she kept stealing glances at me, and so for no particular reason at all, I nodded back at her. There wasn’t really any meaning behind that action, but after spotting my response, she said something to the two apologetic men at the counter.

Right away, the faces of the two receptionists brightened up, and though they kept their heads down as always, it seemed like this time, they offered her words of gratitude. The me a few minutes later was going to want to beat up the me that thought it was best their conversation had concluded. Just like I’ve said many times before, I was lacking in my crisis-management skills.

After accepting the key and the like, she returned with her head held low once again. I looked up at her face, and told her, “Seems like you had some trouble huh.” She returned my efforts with her facial expressions. First, she pursed her lips, showing her embarrassment and apprehension, then she peeked at my expression, and finally - as if she was casting them all away - she broke into a broad grin.

“Hey, so it seems like they made a little blunder.”

“Yeah.”

“They’ve filled up all the rooms of the type we originally made reservations for.”

“I see.”

“Yup, so, since it’s their responsibility, it seems like they’ll prepare a much better room for us than the one we had reserved.”

“That’s pretty great huh.”

“Hey…………”

She dangled the single key she carried in her hand beside her face.

“We’ll have to share the room, but it’s fine right?”

“…………Huh?”

There’s wasn’t a single sensible thing I could say in response to her smile.

I was getting sick of explaining things like this, and I think if anyone could read the inside of my heart, this situation’s development would be fairly obvious, but I was overpowered by her, and ended up staying over in the same room.

I’d like if no one thought that I was a weak-willed flirt that easily agreed to stay in the same room as someone of the opposite gender. To put it in one way, there were some financial issues between me and her. Just by exploiting that alone, my insistence that it would be better for me to stay over at a separate location was denied.

That said, who was I even making excuses for?

Yes, excuses. Taking on a firm stance and going in a separate direction from her - that was what I should have done. Even for her, it would probably have been impossible to stop me. However, I willingly didn’t do so. The reason? Well, I’m not sure.

In any case, I ended up sharing the same room with her. Having said that, there wasn’t anything for me to feel guilty about. I could guarantee that for the rest of my life. We were pure.

“Isn’t sleeping together in the same bed exciting?”

Okay, I was the only one who was pure.

“Are you dumb?”

I frowned at the girl who had said something strange after spinning around as though she were dancing under the chandelier that emanated a soft light from the middle of the spacious room. I sat down on a good sofa within the Western-style space, and told her something of the utmost common sense.

“I’ll be over here.”

“Come on, since we’ve gotten a good room, you should at least have a proper taste of the bed!”

“In that case, I’ll lie down on the bed for a little while afterwards.”

“Shouldn’t you be happy to sleep with a girl?”

“Stop with those unwarranted attempts at character assassination. Look, I’m just a gentleman wherever I go. Just save those kinds of things for a boyfriend.”

“Since we’re not in a relationship, wouldn’t it be fun to do things we shouldn’t do?”

After saying that, seemingly having thought of something, she took out the ‘Disease Coexistence Journal’ from her backpack and made a memo. I often saw this behaviour when observing her.

“Wo~w! There’s a jacuzzi!”

While listening to her frolicking about in the bathroom, I opened the glass door, and stepped out onto the veranda. The room we had been shown to was located on the 15th floor of the high-rise, and even though it wasn’t a suite, it was way too luxurious for high school students. The toilet and the bath were even separated, and the night view was spectacular.

“Waaah, it’s wonderful.”

Before I knew it, she was out on the veranda, enjoying the night view. Her long hair swayed in the whispering wind.

“It’s just the two of us gazing into the night - don’t you think it’s romantic?”

I returned into the room without answering. Sitting on the sofa, I picked up the remote on the round table before me, switched on the television that was as big as the room was large, and browsed through the channels. There were many local programmes on air that I usually didn’t get to see, and the entertainers showcasing dialects caught my interest more than the girl’s nonsense.

Abandoning the veranda, she closed the glass door and cut in front of me to sit on the bed. I could imagine from the look on her face when she made a “woah” just how springy the bed was. Alright then, guess it wouldn’t hurt to have just a little taste of its springs.

Just like me, she was watching the large television.

“Dialects are interesting huh. Have ye eaten? It sounds just like some warrior from way back. Even though the town is cutting-edge, its dialect sounds old - how strange.”

For someone like her, she said something rather meaningful.

“Seems like it’d be pretty fun to study dialects as a job.”

“Guess we agree once in a while huh. Even I’m thinking that it’d be fine if I studied that kind of stuff once I enter university.”

“How nice, I wanted to go to university too.”

“……What do you want me to say to that?”

I’d like if she stopped with the non-humorous, sentimentality-cladded stuff. I didn’t even know how I was supposed to feel.

“Don’t you have any trivia about dialects or something?”

“Let’s see, well, when we hear them, they all sound like the same Kansai dialect to us, but there are actually quite a number of variants. How many variants do you think there are?”

“Ten thousand!”

“……That’s just plain impossible. I’m going to get angry if you keep pulling answers out of thin air, you know? There are various views, but some say the actual number may even be close to thirty.”

“Huh, is that so.”

“……I wonder just how many people you’ve hurt up till now.”

Since she was a girl with a wide network of acquaintances, that number was probably immeasurable. Honestly, what a sinful human. On that point, I, who didn’t acquaint myself with anybody, would never hurt anyone. As for which of us is righteous as a person, I think that judgement will be divided.

She silently watched the television for a while, but before long - probably finding it unbearable to remain still - she began rolling around on the wide bed, and after completely messing it up, she loudly exclaimed, “I’m having a bath!” Following which, she entered the bathroom and started filling the tub with hot water. With the sound of gushing water acting as BGM from beyond the bathroom wall, she retrieved various small items from her backpack, and started the water in the washroom that was separate from the bathroom. She was probably removing her make up. Though it’s not like I was interested.

Once the bath was filled with hot water, she disappeared into the bath with delightful glee. “Peeping is a no-no.” Such was the foolish piece of advice I had received, but I didn’t even look at her walking into the bathroom. See, it’s because I was a gentleman.

I could hear her humming a song in the bathroom, something I’d heard before from what was probably a commercial. Wondering just how in the world had I arrived at the present situation in which I was sitting so close to a classmate as she took a hot bath, I thought back and reflected on my own plans and actions. Looking up at the ceiling, the chandelier flickered from the corner of my eye.

When I had reached the part of my memory where I was getting assaulted by her on the Shinkansen, I was called out to.

“Get-along-ku~n, could you get me the facial cleansing cream from my backpack?”

Submitting to her voice that echoed from the bathroom, without feeling anything in particular, I grabbed the sky blue backpack that had been left on the bed and peeked inside.

I hadn’t felt anything.

That was why it was as if my heart had been hit with an earthquake from somewhere when I laid my eyes on its contents.

I looked inside the backpack - coloured just as brightly as her.

And though there should have been no need or reason to be shaken up, my heart was pounding.

Even though I should have known, even though I should have understood. Even though I should have already grasped the premise of her existence, having seen that, I choked.

Calm down……

I told myself so.

Inside her backpack were several syringes, an unprecedented amount of pills, and what seemed to be a measuring apparatus that I didn’t know how to operate.

I somehow managed to hold my ground and stop my thoughts from racing away.

I had known, that this was reality. The truth that she was maintaining her existence with the power of medical science. When I looked at what lay before my eyes, I felt an unspeakable horror befall me. And right at that moment, the face of the fear that entrapped me showed itself.

“Anything wro~ng?”

I turned towards the bathroom, and saw her wet arm flapping about; she, who lacked even the slightest clue about the state of my heart. In order to prevent her from realising the feelings that had been born within me, I hurriedly searched for the tube of facial cleansing cream and handed it over to her.

“Thaaanks! Ah, this is because I’m naked right now!”

Before I could even muster a response, she cracked, “At least say something! This is embarrassing!” Having fulfilled the role of a straight man in her own little routine, she closed the bathroom door.

I approached the bed she had occupied and threw my body onto it. It engulfed me in a springiness that I had come to expect. And the white ceiling seemed to engulf even my consciousness.

I was confused.

But why?

I should have been aware, I should have known, and I should have understood.

But even so, I was still averting my eyes.

Averting my eyes from her reality.

In actuality, just by having seen those items, I was becoming ruled by mistaken feelings. It was as though a monster was gnawing at my heart.

Why?

My unsettled thoughts went spinning round and round, and I fell asleep on the bed, the spinning probably having reached my eyes.

When I had come to, the girl who had washed her hair was shaking my shoulder. The monster had retreated for now.

“So you did want to sleep on the bed.”

“……Like I said, I just wanted to have one taste. This is plenty.”

I stood up and seated myself on the sofa. So as to ensure she wouldn’t notice the wounds the monster left, I stared at the television as expressionlessly as I could. I’d regained my composure, and the fact that I could do that much was reassuring.

The girl was drying her long hair with the dryer provided.

“Get-Along-kun, you should take a bath too, the jacuzzi was great!”

“Guess I should. No peeping alright, since I’m going to peel off my human skin when I enter the bath.”

“You got sunburnt?”

“Yeah, guess that works too.”

With the Uniqlo carrier that contained the clothes I’d bought with money borrowed from her, I headed into the bathroom. Where humidity was heaviest, a sweet scent swirled about, but knowing better, I simply dismissed it as a concoction of my imagination.

Just in case, I properly locked the door before I removed my clothes and rinsed myself under the shower. After I was done washing my head and body, I immersed myself in the bathtub. Just like she said, once I activated the jacuzzi function, I was enveloped by a sense of bliss that couldn’t be put into words. The tracks left by the monster trampling over my heart were slowly washed away. Baths were great. I fully enjoyed the bath of a high-class hotel that I supposed I wouldn’t get a taste of for at least another ten years.

I left the bath and found the chandelier lights switched off, making the room considerably dimmer. The girl was seated on the sofa that should have been my bed, and lying on the round table was a convenience store carrier that hadn’t been there before.

“I bought some snacks and stuff from the convenience store downstairs! Could you get two cups from the shelf over there?”

Just as she had requested, I grabbed hold of the two cups and brought them over to the table. Since the sofa was occupied, I sat on the elegantly designed chair across the table. Just like the sofa, this too had a springiness that could calm a person’s heart.

While I sat comfortably, she lowered the convenience store carrier onto the floor, retrieved from it a bottle, and poured its contents into the two cups. She filled them both to half their capacity with the amber-coloured liquid, and then continued filling them with a colourless carbonated drink from another bottle until they were about to overflow. The two liquids mixed together, creating a mysterious cocktail.

“And this is?”

“Plum liqueur mixed with soda - I wonder if this ratio is alright.”

“I’ve been thinking since the offal hotpot, but you’re only a high school student.”

“I’m not acting cool or anything, I just like alcoholic drinks. You’re not going to drink?”

“…… It can’t be helped, I’ll join you.”

I brought the completely filled cup to my mouth, making sure not to spill any of the plum liqueur. The first sip of alcohol I had drunk in some time had a refreshing aroma, and was unexpectedly sweet.

She enjoyed sipping at her own share of plum liqueur - just like she had proclaimed - while spreading her snacks out on the table one by one.

“Which faction of potato chip flavours are you in? I’m in consommé.”

“Anything other than salt is just anti-establishment.”

“We really do go in different directions huh! I didn’t buy anything but consommé though - serves you right.”

I watched the girl that seemed to be having quite some fun, and sure enough, the liqueur was becoming too sweet. I was pretty much stuffed after the offal hotpot, but the junk food oddly got my appetite working again. While munching on the treacherous consommé potato chips, I sipped on the liqueur.

Once we were both done with our first glass, she poured us a second glass each, and made a proposal.

“Let’s play a game.”

“A game? We’re even going to play shogi?”

“I’m at the level where I can at least understand the rules of shogi, but you look like a strong player to me.”

“Well I do like tsume-shogi, since I can play it alone.”

“How lonesome. I brought poker cards though.”

She walked over to the bed, and brought back a box containing a set of poker cards from inside her backpack.

“I think it’s more lonesome to play with poker cards with just the two of us. For example, what do you even want us to play?”

“Grand Millionaire?”

“It’ll just be revolution after revolution and there won’t be any commoners though.”

She giggled, seemingly in a good mood.

“Hmmm.”

Taking out the poker cards from the plastic box, she looked like she was thinking as her body shook from the shuffling. Without being particularly intrusive, I took the Pocky she had bought and nibbled on one.

Once she shuffled the cards about five times, she stopped. After seemingly nodding to herself in approval countless times for coming up with some idea, her sparkling eyes turned to me.

“Since we’re already drinking, let’s go with the momentum and play Truth or Dare too.”

I knitted my eyebrows, having heard the name of a game I wasn’t used to hearing.

“What kind of game has a name as heavy as that?”

“You don’t know? Then I’ll explain the rules as we play. But first, the most important rule. You absolutely can’t quit the game. Got it?

"In other words, I just can’t push over the shogi board, right? That’s fine, I won’t do that sort of unrefined thing.”

“You really said it huh?”

Her mischievous laughter had an odious tinge. She moved all the snacks on the table to the floor, and skilfully spread the faced down poker cards onto the tabletop to form a circle. I could tell from her expression that she was going to exploit the gap in our experience to beat me, and this in turn fired me up - I was determined to take her down a peg or two. There was no problem, since most games involving poker cards were battles of wit and luck. Experience wouldn’t help much once I understood the rules.

“Incidentally, we’re using poker cards because we just happened to have them, but using rock-papers-scissors would be fine too.”

“……Give me back my fire.”

“I’ve already eaten it. Alright, so the one that flips over the largest card from within this circle will be the winner. And the winner will get the right.”

“The right?”

“The right to ask ‘truth or dare?’ Speaking of which, I guess ten rounds will do. For now, just pick a card.”

As instructed, I flipped a card over. It was the 8 of Spades.

“What if we both pick cards of the same number?”

“It’d be troublesome otherwise, so we’ll just pick another card. I mentioned it earlier too, but since I only made up the rule because it was fitting, this game isn’t really related to poker itself.”

This time she drank her plum liqueur as she turned over a card. It was the 11 of Hearts. I didn’t really understand, but I could tell I was definitely in a disadvantageous situation, so I readied myself.

“Ya~y, so now I have the right. Now I’m going to ask ‘truth or dare?’ And first, you’re going to say ‘truth’. Okay, so, truth or dare?”

“Truth…… Then what?”

“Then for starters, who do you think is the cutest in our class?”

“…………Just what are you asking all of a sudden?”

“This is Truth or Dare, you know? If you can’t answer, then you’ll have to choose dare. And if you choose to have a dare, then I’ll decide what you have to do as the dare. Whether it’s truth or dare, you absolutely can’t avoid choosing one of them.”

“What a devil’s game.”

“I’ve already said it before, but you can’t back out now. Didn’t you agree to it too? You wouldn’t do anything unrefined, right?”

Thinking that making me show my resentment was all part of her plan, I remained expressionless in front of her, who was laughing unpleasantly as she drank her liqueur.

No, it was too early to give up. There should still be a way out somewhere.

“Does such a game really exist? Are you sure you didn’t just make it up on the spot? If that’s the case, then I insist that it invalidates my agreement to not drop out of the game.”

“Too bad, huh. Do you really think I’m the sort of human that doesn’t think their plans through?”

“I do.”

“Muahaha, it’s a fully-fledged game that has even appeared in many movies. I can assure you it’s real since I’ve properly looked it up after seeing it in a movie once. So thanks for going out of your way to reiterate that you wouldn’t quit the game.”

Cackling in a manner that I imagined only the denizens of hell could, there was clearly malice lurking within her eyes.

Somehow, it seemed that I’d once again been caught in a trap. Just how many times did this make it?

“Let’s not violate public order and morals in our truths and dares though - ah, but you’ve never experienced anything erotic before huh, good grief, you’ve got to remember to control yourself alright.”

“Keep quiet, dummy.”

“How mean!”

She finished the liqueur in her cup, and poured herself a third one. Her perpetual half-smile indicated that some of the alcohol had probably already begun circulating in her system. Incidentally, my face had been hot since a while ago.

“So, first of all, my question - who do you think is the cutest in our class?”

“I don’t judge people by their appearances you know.”

“Personality doesn’t really matter, it’s about who you think has the cutest face.”

“…………”

“Incidentally, I’m not going to show any mercy if you chose to do a dare instead.”

I felt nothing but bad vibes from that.

I thought of the best way to avoid damage in this situation. It couldn’t be helped - I chose truth.

“I think that girl is pretty. That girl who’s good at math.”

“Ah!! You mean Hina! She’s one eighth German you know. Hmm, so you like that kind of girl. Even though Hina’s pretty, I don’t think she has a boyfriend or anything, and if I were a boy I’d probably choose Hina too. You’ve got a good eye, huh!”

“Saying I have a good eye only if it matches your opinion, you really have an enormous ego huh.”

I drank more liqueur. I had become a lot more numb to the taste than before.

At her command, I once again chose another card. Nine rounds to go. It looked unlikely that I’d be able to escape halfway, so I hoped for all of the remaining questions to be mine to ask. Alas, it seemed that I wasn’t really lucky in times such as this.

I got the 2 of Hearts, and she got the 6 of Diamonds.

“Woohoo, I guess heaven favours children with kind hearts.”

“I’ve suddenly become unable to believe in any god.”

“Truth or dare?”

“……Truth.”

“If Hina is number one in the class, just by appearance, where do I place?”

“…………Amongst the faces of the humans I can force myself to remember - number three.”

Thinking of infusing myself with the alcohol’s power, I drank more of my liqueur. At the same time, she too brought her cup to her mouth, and drank even more vigorously than me.

“Wo~w, I did ask the question myself, but I’m super embarrassed! I mean who’d have expected Get-Along-kun to answer so honestly - it’s too much.”

“I just want this to end faster. So I’ve resigned myself.”

Probably because of the liqueur, her face had turned red.

“Get-Along-kun, just take it slow, the night is long after all.”

“That’s true. They do say time feels longer if you’re not enjoying yourself.”

“I’m having a lot of fun though.”

So she said, pouring another two cups of plum liqueur. Since there wasn’t any soda left, she filled the cups to the brim with the strong plum liqueur. Even without a taste, I could tell just how sweet it was from the fragrance it emanated.

“I see, so I’m the third cutest huh. Ehehehehe.”

“Never mind that, I’m drawing my card. Alright, the 12 of Diamonds.”

“Do you really not intend on getting fired up for this game? Here I come - waaah, the 2 of Hearts.”

I took a glance at her disappointed-looking face, and I was relieved from the bottom of my heart. The greatest resistance I could muster within the ten rounds of this game was to trump her hand, even just once more. I swore that once these ten rounds were over, I’d never again join her in these incomprehensible activities that she called games.

“Come on, Get-Along-kun, say it.”

“Aaah, truth or dare?”

“Truth!”

“Ermmm, that’s right, hmm.”

I wondered about what I wanted to know about her, and thought of it right away.

Something that I wanted to know about her – there was nothing else but this.

“Okay, I’ve decided.”

“This is starting to get my heart pounding!”

“What kind of child were you?

“…………Erm, is that really okay? I was even prepared to at least reveal my three sizes.”

"Be quiet, dummy.”

“How horrible!”

She leant back and looked upwards, seemingly enjoying herself. Of course, the intention behind my question wasn’t to hear about her fond memories. What I wanted to know was how a human like her came to be. I wanted to know how she - my opposite - grew up, how the surrounding humans impacted her, and how she impacted them.

The reason was simply because I found it mysterious. I wondered just how large the gap between our lives must have been for the establishment of our differing natures. I was interested in whether I could have turned out to be like her with a single misstep.

“How I was as a child huuuh - at any rate, I’ve been told that I was restless.”

“Makes sense huh, I can easily imagine.”

“Right? Since girls were taller in elementary school, I would even get into fights with the largest boy in class. I even wrecked some things, so I was a problematic child.”

Indeed, there may be a link between the size of a person’s body and their character. My body had always been small and weak. Perhaps that was why I became an introverted human.

“Is this much enough?”

“I guess so, then let’s move on.”

Thereafter, it seemed that the gods really did favour good children, and somehow or other I won five straight victories. The proud girl from when the game began had disappeared, leaving the girl that the gods had abandoned together with her pancreas, who drank more liqueur with each loss and had gotten into a bad mood. No, to be accurate, she got displeased every time she heard my questions. With only two sets remaining, her face was bright red and her lips were pursed, and it looked like she was going to slide down the sofa. It was as if she were a child sulking.

Incidentally, below are the five rounds of questions and answers that made her say, “Is this an interview?”

“What’s the interest you’ve had for the longest time?”

“If I had to pick something, I gue~ss I’ve always loved movies.”

“Which famous person do you respect the most and why?”

“Chiune Sugihara! The one that gave the Jews visas. It think it was super cool of him to go through with what he himself thought was right.”

“What do you think are your own strengths and weaknesses?”

“My strength is that I can get along with everyone, and I’m not totally sure about my weakness, but I guess it’s how I’m easily distracted.”

"What’s the happiest moment of your life?”

“Hehe, I guess it’s meeting you. Teehee.”

“Not counting the stuff about your pancreas, what’s the most painful moment of your life?”

“I guess it was when the dog I was always with died when I was in middle school………… Hey, is this an interview?”

I made a splendid face of ignorance if I said so myself, and responded, “Nope, it’s a game.” And with teary eyes, she cried out, “Then ask questions that are more fun!” After which, she proceeded to drink another cup of liqueur.

“Drink up.”

So as to not offend the drunkard that was facing me with a vulgar look, I drank some liqueur too. With that, I had become rather tipsy as well, but I was still better at maintaining a poker face than her.

“Two rounds remaining; I’m going to draw now - the 11 of Spades.”

“Whaaat! Why’s it so stro~ng, gah!

While wholeheartedly moaning in sorrow, frustration and exasperation, she flipped open a card too. I looked at the number she had drawn, and I - who had been convinced that I’d won - had sweat dripping down my back.

The 13 of Spades - it was a king.

"I, I, I, I did it! ……Hmm?”

It seemed that the alcohol had reached the legs of the girl that cheered and stood up at the same time, and so she staggered and toppled back onto the sofa. With an appearance completely different from before, she snickered at the abnormal state of her own body.

“Hey, Get-Along-kun, I apologise, but this time, could you choose after I’ve revealed both the question and the order?”

“So you’ve finally revealed your true colours huh, to say nothing of the questions, you really just want to give orders.”

“Aaah, yeah, yeah, it’s Truth or Dare after all.”

“Well I guess it doesn’t break the rules.”

“A~lright, truth or dare? For truth, tell me three things that you think are cute about me. For dare, carry me to the bed.”

My body started to move on its own, perhaps even before she stopped talking. In this case, if I chose truth, I’d eventually have to move her anyway, so there wasn’t any room for hesitation in choosing the option that let me kill two birds with one stone. Not to mention, the question she asked for truth was much too foul.

Standing up, I was struck by the false impression that my body was lighter than usual. I headed towards the sofa she was sitting on. She cackled, seemingly enjoying herself. It seemed that the alcohol had gone to her head. Thinking of lending her a hand, I stretched my palm out right before her eyes. As I did so, her loud laughter stopped.

“What’s with the hand?”

“I’m lending you a hand, so come on, stand up.”

“Nope, not gonna stand. Since I can’t put any strength into my legs.”

She slowly raised the corners of her lips.

“Haven’t I said it? To CA~RR~Y ME.”

“…………”

“Come on, come on, a piggyback might be good, or maybe even a princ- waaah!”

Before she could finish saying that embarrassing name, I dug my arms beneath her back and knees, and lifted her up. Even the feeble me had enough strength to carry her for a few meters. Hesitating was a no-go - that was what I thought. There was no problem - we were drunk right now, so some shame could be slept off.

Before she could even show any reaction, I threw the girl in my arms onto the bed. The heat slipped away from my arms. She remained frozen, shock still apparent on her face. Out of breath, no thanks to the alcohol and physical exertion, I stared at her as her face slowly and quietly broke into a smile before she started to laugh in a manner reminiscent of the clicking noises that bats made.

“I was surprised! Tha~nks!”

As she said as such, with slow and sluggish actions, she moved to the left side of the large bed, lay on her back, and closed her eyes. I thought that it would’ve been good if she just fell asleep like that, but she giggled as she hit the surface of the bed with both her arms. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like she would forfeit the last game.

I hardened my resolve.

“Well, it’s the last round huh. I’ll specially flip yours open for you. Just say which one it is you want.”

“Okay, guess I’ll go with the one right next to my cup.”

She went quiet, and she casually threw her restless arms onto the bed.

I, still standing, flipped open the card whose corner had been caught under the cup holding a little plum liqueur.

The 7 of Clubs.

“7.”

“Waaah, ambi.”

“Is it alright if I take that to mean that you’re ambivalent?”

“Yup, ambi.”

I ignored the girl that continued to say “ambi~” after probably having taken a fancy to the word, and stared at the circle of cards to choose my last one. In times like this, there may be people that would deliberate over and take great care in their choice, but they were mistaken. Since we were pretty much choosing under the same conditions, there were basically no other factors involved apart from luck. In such cases, one should quickly make their decision without looking back.

Casually, I picked a card from within the circle, and to the best of my ability, I cleared my mind of unnecessary thoughts before flipping it open.

What I needed was luck.

No matter if I decided that this counted as being manly or not, the number wouldn’t change.

The card that I drew was-

“What number is it?”

“…………6.”

In times like this, I - who was honest to the extent that I couldn’t lie - was at a disadvantage. It would probably be easier for me if I was able to become a human that could push over the shogi board, but I didn’t want to become one, and I couldn’t.

“Woohoo, wonder what I should get you to do~.”

After saying so, she became silent. Feeling like a prisoner on death row, I stood still as I awaited her question.

For the first time in a while, silence befell the dim interior. Perhaps as part of the hotel fee, almost no noises from outside could be heard - not even the noise from the neighbouring rooms leaked through. Unpleasantly, due to the fact that I was drunk, I could clearly hear the sounds of my own breathing and heartbeat. I could also hear her regular and deep breaths. I thought that she may have even fallen asleep, but when I looked at her, her eyes were wide open, stare fixated on the dark ceiling.

Having too much time on my hands, I looked outside through the opening between the curtains. The busy streets still shone with man-made lights, exposing no eagerness for sleep.

“Truth or dare?”

The sudden words came from behind me - it seemed like she had finally arrived at a conclusion, and while praying my hardest that it wouldn’t be something that would threaten my heart, I answered with my back still facing her.

“Truth.”

A single breath - I heard the large flow of air, and she uttered the last question of the night.

“If I-”

“……”

“If I said I was really, really afraid of dying, what would you do?”

Without voicing a single world, I turned around.

Her voice was too soft, and it made me think that my heart was about to stop frozen. In order to escape the chills, I had to make sure if she was still alive, and so I turned around.

She might have felt my gaze on her, but even so, the girl continued to stare motionlessly at the ceiling with her lips sealed, disinterested in saying any more.

Perhaps, she was being serious. I couldn’t grasp her true intentions. It wouldn’t be strange even if she was being serious. It wouldn’t be strange even if she was joking. If I took it seriously, I wouldn’t know how to answer. If I took it as a joke, I wouldn’t know how to answer.

I didn’t know.

As if laughing at how feeble my imagination was, once again, the monster in the depths of my heart began to breathe.

The terrified me disregarded my own intentions, and opened his mouth.

“Dare……”

She didn’t say whether my choice was good or bad. She simply remained staring at the ceiling, and gave the following order:

“Sleep on the bed too, no objections or opposition allowed.”

“Ambi~,” she went once again, this time singing it with a melody.

I was frustrated over the course of action I had to take, but as expected, I was unable to push over the shogi board.

I switched off the electricity, and lay down with my back to her, simply waiting for the sandman to whisk me away to sleep. From time to time, the bed that wasn’t mine alone would rock as she tossed and turned in her sleep. It seemed she didn’t have the heart for sharing.

The large-sized bed had enough space even if the two of us were to sleep with our backs flat.

We were innocent.

Innocent, and pure.

I didn’t have to seek forgiveness from anyone.

Both she and I woke up at the same time because of the same reason. A cellphone was beeping noisily. I took out my phone from my bag, but there wasn’t even a single notification - since that meant it had to be hers, I retrieved the phone that was left on the sofa and handed it over to the girl that was sitting on the bed. The sleepy-eyed girl opened the flip phone, and held it next to her ear.

Right away, I, who wasn’t exactly next to her, could hear a roar from the phone’s speaker.

“Sakuraaaaa! Tell me where you are right now!” With a frown, she held the phone away from her ear. Once the caller had calmed down, she pressed it against her ear once again.

“Good morni~ng, what’s up?”

“Don’t ask me what’s up! I’m asking you where you are!”

Looking a little unsure, she informed the caller of the name of the prefecture we had set foot into. I could tell that the caller was appalled.

“Wha- why would you go all the way there, and you even lied to your parents that you were travelling with me!”

With that, I knew that the other person on the line was Best-Friend-san. In response to her friend that was kicking up a fuss, she let out a carefree yawn.

“How did you know?”

“There was stuff about the PTA circulating through the telephone chain this morning! After yours, it’s mine y'know! There was a call from your mom, and I was the one who picked it up - I had such a hard time fooling her.”

“So you fooled her for me, as expected of Kyouko. Thanks so much. How did you do it?”

“I pretended to be my sister, but none of that matters! Why did you go as far as deceiving your parents to go to that sort of place?”

“……Mmm.”

“Besides, if you really wanted to go, you didn’t have to lie or anything, just properly go on the trip. I’d even follow along.”

“Aah, that sounds good, let’s go somewhere over summer vacation. When does Kyouko get a break from club activities?”

“I’ll check the calendar and contact you later ‘kay - as if!”

The brilliant flatter-and-retort reached my ears with volume to spare. Even if someone was speaking at a normal volume over the phone, inside a quiet room, it’s possible to overhear a certain amount of content. I washed my face, and brushed my teeth as I watched her talking over the phone. The toothpaste was even mintier than the one I usually used.

“Basically quietly going somewhere far away by yourself - you aren’t some cat that’s about to die y'know.”

A joke that couldn’t be laughed at - I thought as I listened, and she gave a response that was even harder to laugh at, but was in fact the truth.

“I’m not alone though.”

With bloodshot eyes because of last night’s alcohol, and looking like she was enjoying herself, she directed her line of sight at me. I wanted to bury my face in my hands, but unfortunately, they were both busy holding a toothbrush and a cup.

“You’re, not alone? Huh, with who… Your boyfriend?”

“No way, you already know that I’ve broken up with him!”

“Then who is it?”

“Get-Along-kun.”

I could hear the speechlessness from the other side of the phone speaker. With no more concern as to how this would turn out, I continued to brush my teeth.

“Y'know, you-”

“Just listen to what I have to say, Kyouko.”

“…………”

“You may think it’s strange, and you may not understand why, but I’ll definitely explain all of it to you someday. That’s why even if you aren’t quite convinced, please just let this go. And so, I hope you’ll keep this matter to yourself for now.”

“…………”

It seemed like her tone had become serious, and before I knew it, she had put Best-Friend-san at a loss for words. I thought that that was only natural. After all, the girl did leave her best friend behind to go on a trip with some unfamiliar classmate.

Best-Friend-san kept mum for a while on the other side of the phone. The girl patiently pressed the phone against her ear. Finally, a voice could be heard from the electronic device.

“…………Got it.”

“Thanks, Kyouko.”

“I have a few conditions.”

“Anything you wish.”

“Come back safely, and buy me a souvenir. Also, go on a trip with me during summer vacation. Lastly, tell this to Classmate-That-Has-An-Incomprehensible-Relationship-With-My-Best-Friend - if he does anything to Sakura, I’ll kill him.”

“Wahaha, I got it.”

After exchanging a few pleasantries, the girl hung up. I rinsed my mouth and sat on the sofa that had been stolen by her yesterday. While clearing up the poker cards that were scattered all over the table, I took a look at her and saw that she was stroking her long hair that was still messy from waking up.

“It’s nice to have a best friend that thinks of their friends, huh.”

“I know ri~ght, ah, you might have heard already, but it seems like Kyouko’s going to kill you.”

“Only if I do anything strange, right? So besides saying I was innocent, please explain things properly.”

“What about the princess carry?”

“Ooh, so it had that kind of name - with everything done and over with, I felt like I was part of some moving company.”

“Guess you’re getting killed by Kyouko no matter what she hears.”

Once she was done showering to fix her bed hair, we headed down to the first floor of the hotel to get breakfast.

Breakfast was provided in the form of a grand buffet, and as expected, it really brought to mind the class of the hotel. I mainly chose to put food like fish and tofu on my plate, and made a Japanese-style set meal breakfast. Having taken a seat by the window, I was waiting for her when she arrived with a ridiculous amount of food on her tray. “I need to eat lots in the morning,” so she said, but in the end, she left a third of the food untouched, and I had to eat that. While we were eating, I earnestly preached to her about the joys of planning.

After returning to our room, I boiled some water and brewed some coffee; she fixed herself some black tea. We took a breather and watched the morning programmes, taking up the same positions as last night. Within the serene space that dazzling sunrays streamed into, it was as if the both of us had forgotten the last question from yesterday.

“What’s the plan for today?”

When I asked, she energetically stood up, walked over to her sky blue bag, and took out a notebook. It seemed she had sandwiched the Shinkansen tickets inside it.

“We’re taking the Shinkansen at two-thirty, so we’ll have time to eat lunch and buy souvenirs. Shall we go somewhere before that?”

“I don’t know this area so I’ll just leave it to you.”

After we leisurely checked ourselves out and bowed our heads to the employees, in compliance with her decision, we took a bus and headed for a shopping mall that was apparently famous. A commercial complex that was built to have a river run through it, it had everything from shops selling daily necessities to a theatre, and it seemed there were many foreign tourists that were visiting it as a sightseeing spot. Taking a look for myself when we arrived, the gigantic red facility had unrivalled impact, exuding the atmosphere of a true landmark.

We were lost as to where to go in the building that was made to be complicatedly magnificent, but when we wandered around, there just so happened to be a clown having a street performance at the wide space next to the water’s edge, and we mixed in with the other spectators.

The approximately twenty minute long performance was entertaining, and at the humorous beckoning of the clown after the show, I put a hundred yen into his hat, as typical of a high schooler. Seemingly having enjoyed herself, she put in five hundred yen.

“Wasn’t that fun? Get-Along-kun should go become a street performer too.”

“Please check who it is you’re talking to. Doing a job where I have to engage others is impossible for me. That’s why I think that person is amazing.”

“I see, that’s too bad. Maybe I should give it a go. Ah, I forgot, I’m going to die soon.”

“Did you bring up this topic just so you could say that? You do have a year after all, even if reaching their level is impossible, you’d still get pretty good if you practiced.”

At my suggestion, she smiled resplendently. It was a smile that looked contagious.

“Yeah! That’s true! Maybe I should try it out!”

Thrilled at her prospects for the future, she bought a few items to practice with from a magic goods specialty store within the facility. Throughout her purchase, I didn’t get to enter the store. Since she would be performing for me too someday, there’d have been no meaning were I to help her choose - that was the reason why. It couldn’t be helped, so I watched the commercial for magic goods playing at the storefront together with some elementary schoolers.

“Aah, maybe with this, I’ll emerge like a comet, and have my name passed down to future generations as the legendary magician that suddenly disappeared.”

“If you were unbelievably talented, then perhaps.”

“One year of my life is worth five years of other people, so it’ll definitely work out. Look forward to it.”

“Wasn’t the value of a person’s single day unchanging?”

Looking like she was really serious about this, her expression was brimming with greater verve than usual. What made humans shine was the ability to achieve their goals despite their lack of time. Standing next to me, she probably shone much more prominently.

As I walked around the facility with the shining girl, time passed right by. She bought a few articles of clothing. She kept coming to me with cute-looking T-shirts and skirts in hand, and asking me to appraise each and every one of them, but since I didn’t really understand what counted as good or bad in girls’ fashion, I chose to say they suited her - words that contained neither praise nor criticism. Unexpectedly, those words had put her in a good mood, so I was glad. And since I didn’t lie about the clothes suiting her, my heart didn’t feel a twinge of guilt.

We dropped by a shop selling Ultraman goods on the way, and she bought me a soft vinyl figure of a monster that looked like a skeletal dinosaur as a present, but I didn’t understand the meaning behind her choice. When I asked her, she said that it suited me. It didn’t put me in a good mood. In return, I bought her a soft vinyl figure of Ultraman. When I said it suited her, she was put in a good mood like always.

We put the hundred yen soft vinyl figures on our fingers, and after eating some soft serve ice cream, we started to head back to the station. It was just about noon when we reached the station, and we - who had only eaten soft serve ice cream - went to look at souvenirs before getting lunch. Within the compound of the station, there was a large space that sold only souvenirs, and it caught her eye.

While tasting various food items, she bought snacks and specialty fish roe for her family, as well as some snacks for her best friend. I also bought some snacks for myself that had been awarded the gold award by Monde Selection consecutively for years. Since I had only told my family that I was staying over at a friend’s house, I couldn’t bring any souvenirs home. It was a real shame, but this time it couldn’t be helped.

We ate ramen at a different ramen shop from yesterday, and since we had time to spare, we had tea at a cafe before boarding the Shinkansen. I started to get sentimental over the end of the trip.

Even more so than the me of the past who had been taken along by her, I had become somewhat forward-looking.

“Let’s go on another trip - I guess next would be winter.”

The girl that was gazing at the scenery from her window seat said as such. I was a little lost as to how to respond, but in the end, I answered truthfully.

“Yeah, that may be nice too.”

“Ooh, awfully honest of you. So, did you have fun?”

“Yeah, I had fun.”

I had fun. That was how I really felt. I grew up in a laissez-faire household where both my parents were busy, and of course I didn’t have any friends to go on trips with, so I enjoyed myself much more than I’d thought I would.

She made a surprised face for some reason, and after looking at me, she quickly returned to her usual smile and forcefully grabbed onto my arm. Not knowing what to do, I was frightened. Perhaps realising how I felt, she gave a look of embarrassment, then retracted her hand and whispered, “Sorry.”

“What, were you trying to take my pancreas by force?”

“No, it’s just that it’s rare of you to be so honest, so I got carried away. Yeah, I had loads of fun too. Thanks so much, for coming along. I wonder where we should go next. I guess heading north would be nice. I wanna completely relish the cold.”

“Why do you have to treat your body badly? I hate the cold, so I want to escape even further south than this.”

“Waaah, we really do go in different directions!”

Still looking at the girl who had puffed her cheeks out in mock annoyance, I broke the seal of the souvenir I had bought for myself. Having given her a share of the snacks, I bit into the steam bun-type snack myself. The taste of the butter was almost too sweet.

By the time we arrived at the town we lived in, the summer sky had slowly begun to adopt an ultramarine hue. We took a train to our usual station, and rode our bicycles to somewhere near our school before parting ways at the usual place. Since we would meet on Monday anyway, both the girl and I quickly made our farewells and headed down our respective roads home.

When I got home, neither my mother nor my father had returned yet. After properly washing my hands and rinsing my mouth, I stayed in my room. When I lay down on my bed, I was overcome with a sudden wave of sleepiness. While wondering if I was physically tired, sleep-deprived, or perhaps even both, I fell asleep.

I was woken up by my mother when it was time for dinner, and I ate fried noodles while watching television. While most would say that everything up till reaching home could be called a journey, I learnt that in a way, the journey really only ends when I have my usual home-cooked food. I had returned to my everyday life.

For the remainder of the weekend, there was no contact from her at all. Just like always, I stayed in my room reading books, only leaving for a supermarket alone in the afternoon to buy some ice cream. Having spent whatever was left of the two days unremarkably, it was already Sunday night when I had a realisation.

I had been waiting for her to contact me.

When I went to school on Monday, the fact that I had went travelling together with her had spread throughout the class.

I wasn’t sure whether it was related to that, but I discovered my indoor shoes inside a trash can.

Whatever the case, it didn’t seem like I had accidentally dropped the ball.

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