The Place You Called From

Volume 2, Chapter 9: Someone Else’s Name
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Volume 2, Chapter 9: Someone Else's Name

The next day, Hinohara visited my house. He rang the doorbell several times with ten-second gaps, and while I did hear the sound of it, I had trouble hearing it as the doorbell, so it took me a while to notice my guest.

I slowly rose from bed, left my dark closed-curtains room, and went down the stairs while the light dazed me. I knew from his way of ringing the doorbell that my guest was Hinohara. It wasn't uncommon for him to visit me in person without notice. Perhaps he'd quickly noticed what had happened to Hajikano, or Chigusa, or maybe both.

I opened the door and Hinohara drew close to me. Unusual for him, his face was full of concern and haste.

"How much do you know?", he asked me.

"It'd be probably faster if you started." I went past him and sat on the front steps outside. "How much do you know?"

Hinohara glared at me for a while like he wanted to say something, but eventually his shoulders drooped and he sat beside me.

"I got a call from Chigusa at noon yesterday." He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it restlessly. "We'd traded numbers, but it was the first time she called me. I was surprised, and asked "What's wrong?" Then Chigusa said, "Are you listening, Hinohara? Listen closely to what I'm about to say." I didn't know what that was about, but I said sure."

Noon must have been before I arrived at Chigusa's house. So she'd not only left me a letter, but left a message with Hinohara in the form of a phone call.

Hinohara continued. "It was short, but I couldn't parse it at all. "A number of strange things may happen from here on. But please, do not blame anyone," Chigusa said. "Is that it?", I asked. "That's it," she said. Right after that, she hung up. It was curious, alright, but the weather was good for stargazing yesterday, so I figured I could ask her in person later."

"Strange things...", I repeated. "Ogiue said that?"

"Yeah, that was it, word for word. And last night, I was the only one at the hotel. Was that the "strange thing" Chigusa was talking about?, I wondered. But that didn't seem right to me. I felt like Chigusa would've described an occurrence like this some other way, not "a strange thing." So I considered, maybe the other three not showing up was just an influence of "strange things" that had already gone down?"

"So you called Ogiue."

"Yeah. I called her house right at noon today, but nobody answered. I was getting a bad feeling, so I kept calling with some time between each call. In the evening, somebody finally picked up. Seemed to be Chigusa's mother. I asked if she was there, and got an incoherent reply. Like she was really bewildered. I immediately sensed something real bad had happened. I told her I was a close friend of Chigusa's, and all of a sudden she cried like a dam burst. And she told me Chigusa drowned this morning."

"Drowned?", I repeated instinctively. Chigusa had surely turned to seafoam and vanished with me right there. But to know the cause of death for sure, they must have found her body. "Where did they...?"

"She washed up on the coast in a neighboring town. They called an ambulance right away, but it was already too late. Chigusa's mom had to go through some formalities for her daughter dying in an accident, and I guess she was getting the necessary stuff when I called. I was so shocked, I couldn't even give condolences. Chigusa was dead? It was a little hard to believe. But at the same time, I knew deep down... so this was the "strange thing.""

Once Hinohara finished his first cigarette, he promptly lit up another. Like he was trying to cover up his emotions with smoke.

"I had to think Chigusa knew about her coming death. Which led to the possibility her death wasn't an accident, but a suicide. But I couldn't think of any reason why Chigusa would have to die. Sure, there was no hope for the love she had, it wasn't going to be repaid, but she wasn't a girl who would kill herself over that. All of a sudden, it occurred to me you might know something, so I called, but you weren't at home. So next, I called Hajikano's house."

As soon as he uttered the name Hajikano, his mostly-level tone began to waver. More than being sad, it seemed he was incredibly angry about something.

"Hajikano's mother answered the phone. I asked if Hajikano was there, and again got a vague, inarticulate answer. Like with Chigusa, I told her I was a close friend of Hajikano's, but her mom was deeply cautious. After a long line of questioning, the phone suddenly got handed to a young woman. I think it was Hajikano's older sister. She asked me some questions to make sure I really was a friend. Once she knew I wasn't lying, she apologized for doubting me, then explained what happened to Hajikano."

Hinohara stopped there, seeming to observe my reaction.

"It was a different time and different place, but Hajikano had a drowning incident similar to Chigusa's," I said in his place. "Right?"

"What the hell is happening?" Hinohara dropped his cigarette underfoot and squished it against the ground. "You know something, don't you?"

"No, I don't have any more info than that."

"But you at least have some ideas?"

"I don't know." I shook my head. "Listen, Hinohara. I'm sorry, but give me some time alone. I still haven't accepted everything, and I need to sort things out. If I come up with anything, I'll contact you. So can you leave for now?"

Hinohara watched carefully for slight changes in my expression, trying to probe into me. And perhaps seeing that there was what looked like real sadness there, he gave a resigned sigh.

"I'll do what I can to look into the cause of the two accidents. I'll keep digging until I find an answer I'm satisfied with. And if I find out Chigusa's death wasn't an accident, but somebody else's doing, I'm gonna find the culprit and beat them to a pulp. I'm willing to put them through the same as Chigusa, depending."

Hinohara stood up and kicked the cigarette butt into the gutter.

"Call me if you change your mind. See you."

"Right, got it."

After Hinohara left, I went back to my room and lied on my futon. Being told the official truth about Chigusa's death, I felt a sense of loss like somebody'd secretly shaved away a portion of my body.

I told Hinohara "I don't have any more info than that." Obviously, that was a lie. I at least knew in detail the reality of Chigusa's death. More than that, depending on your point of view, I essentially killed her.

And in the letter Chigusa left me with, there was information about the "sin" Hajikano was trying to atone for. What happened in those blank four days. Chigusa looked into it herself for me, and arrived at what she thought to be the truth.

"I suppose I should have told you all this earlier, Fukamachi," she wrote. "But I was afraid of being seen as a disagreeable girl trying to eliminate her competition, so I kept silent. I'm sorry."

When I read that, I felt I had a gut understanding of why Hajikano had to kill herself at this particular time.

Perhaps Hajikano enjoyed those stargazing days more than anyone.

And that's why she felt she couldn't be the only one to keep on living.

*

I stood at the bathroom mirror, uncapped the marker, and marked under my eye. Even looking at it closely in the mirror, the black spot fit very naturally on my skin. A stranger would surely think it was a real crying mole.

Two days had passed since Hinohara visited my house. In that time, I'd stayed up in my room with the curtains closed, questioning myself about this and that. Should I have not led Hajikano out of her room? Was it my meddling which led Hajikano to attempt suicide again? Was there really no way to save Chigusa? If I had given up on Hajikano sooner, could I at least save Chigusa's life? Was it none other than me who led things to this worst conclusion?... Once I got thinking, I couldn't stop. I felt like everything I had done completely missed the mark.

Lying in my futon and staring at the ceiling all day, I gained an understanding of why Hajikano stayed in her dim room. Once you're caught in a vortex of regret, your mind becomes dominated with the powerlessness of thinking anything you do will only worsen the situation, and even leaving your room becomes an ordeal. And sometimes, a vague longing for death comes upon you. Like being under some kind of curse.

The cicadas were still ever-present outside the window, but had lessened compared to a week ago. The setting of the sun somehow seemed to have gotten much faster, too. Hot days were hot days, but I'd never experienced such unbearably hot days as the last ten or so.

Which would come first: the end of summer, or my death? If possible, I wanted to leave this world before summer ended. Before the cumulonimbus clouds departed, before the cicadas went away, before the sunflowers wilted. The most lonely thing was always being the last to leave.

The morning of the 20th, I got a call. I had started to find even eating troublesome, but the instant I heard the phone ring, my body moved naturally. I guess my body still hadn't forgotten the joy of when I was on the line with Hajikano.

The caller was Hinohara.

"I've been running around everywhere for four days," he said. "But thanks to that, I've got a general idea of things."

"A general idea?", I repeated, thinking there was surely no way he'd figured out everything, down to the bets with the woman on the phone, in just four days.

"Yeah. I mostly get why the two of them fell into the sea. I went fishing around in Chigusa and Hajikano's history."

"What? How?"

"First, Chigusa," he continued, ignoring my question. "There was nothing clearly amiss in her history. She never had disputes with others, and seemed to live a calm life. The one exception was that from elementary school up to very recently, she was in a wheelchair. She damaged her vertebrae in an accident and couldn't stand for long periods, but recently was finally able to walk again."

"Well," I prodded, "what about Hajikano?"

"Just the opposite," he said like reading bad news. "I went around asking former classmates of Hajikano's, and they all told me the same thing. "She wasn't always like that." "She was honest, cheerful, liked by everyone." It seems most attributed that change to the birthmark that appeared on her face in winter, second year of middle school. Her personality gradually changed after that, and she was like a different person half a year later. That was the general consensus. ...But some had different ideas. In summer of her third year, Hajikano had a four-day absence from school without any warning. And those four days marked when honest, cheerful, liked-by-all Hajikano turned into the silent and gloomy girl of today... That was their view."

Through the phone, I heard him sitting down on a sofa.

"Logically, the former is more reasonable. People's personalities don't change in four or five days. But for some reason, I felt like those blank four days were the key to answering my doubts. ...To get to the point, my hunch was right. Hajikano was absent just before summer break started, around July 12th. I went checking up on what happened to Hajikano within that timeframe. Expanding my scope from her class, to her year, to her whole school, I came upon a curious incident. It happened in a neighboring town, on the second day of those four blank days. On that day, the charred corpses of two middle school girls were found in some ruins in the mountains. The news said it was suicide, with a definite note left behind."

Struck with admiration for his detective skills, I spoke. "I remember that. It made the news, even got mentioned at a school assembly."

"Yeah, it was a well-known incident around here. But at the time, I couldn't see any common points between the two dead girls and Hajikano. But I had an unusual conviction. It was absolutely no coincidence that their deaths and Hajikano's blank four days overlapped. As I kept digging, sure enough, I found the thread connecting them to Hajikano. The three of them were in the same class for one year in elementary school. ...Now, here's where I made a slightly crazy leap. What if the gruesome suicide by fire in the ruins wasn't planned for two people, but for three? What if there was meant to be three charred corpses instead of two, but one of them ran away?"

I had no words.

...Had Hinohara really gotten this far in just four days?

He went on. "It was an interesting theory, but too much of a leap of logic. I didn't have a shred of proof. If I knew what the suicide note said, the truth would be clear, but unfortunately I don't have those kinds of connections. Just as I was giving up, I got a call from a friend who heard I was questioning Mitsuba Middle School students. Turned out he knew a teacher at the school. He told me I could meet him anytime if I was interested.

"So the next day, I went to meet that teacher, and told him my ridiculous theory with deadly seriousness. I thought he'd deny it out of the gate. But once I was done, the teacher put his fingers to his brow and rubbed it, then said this. "You won't hear anything from me, but it wouldn't be strange if that happened." ...Don't you think that's odd? Shouldn't you normally imply denial after you say "you won't hear anything from me"?"

"There's nothing odd about it," I said. "In short, you're saying your idea was right?"

Hearing my stifled laugh, Hinohara got annoyed. "What's so funny?"

"No, I'm not laughing at you, Hinohara. It's just too funny that you arrived at a truth I couldn't reach after a month in just four days."

Hinohara gulped. "I knew it. You knew all this?"

"Yeah. Though I only knew the reason for Hajikano's suicide after she jumped into the sea, so it was all too late anyway."

What Hinohara was telling me was largely the same as what Chigusa wrote in her letter. Their approach to the mystery and thought processes had some overlap, and their conclusion was exactly the same. The two separate lines of logic filled in each other's holes, and it seemed there was no more room for doubt: Hajikano was involved in the suicide of those two middle school girls from the neighboring town.

I stopped laughing and collected my breath. "Hey, Hinohara. I don't know when, but I'll be able to meet Hajikano in the hospital soon. When that happens, will you come with me? She's fond of you."

"Sorry, but I can't do that," he coldly refused. "I'm still not certain about the connection between Chigusa's illogical death and Hajikano's suicide attempt. But there's one thing I can say. For some reason, whenever Hajikano tries to die, she doesn't, but people around her do. ...Or maybe my theory that Hajikano led Chigusa to suicide is wrong. And the cause behind her death is somewhere completely different, and I'm over here just making up conspiracies. But at any rate, three people who were deeply connected to Hajikano are dead. That's an undeniable fact."

He paused a few seconds, like giving his words time to sink in.

"I want absolutely no involvement with her anymore. You better watch it too, Fukamachi. Or else you might just be number four. ...And now that Chigusa's gone, I have no reason left to go to that rooftop. Our stargazing days are over. Goodbye."

The call ended.

I put down the receiver, returned to my dark room, and lied down on the futon once more. I spotted the telescope case lying in the corner of the room. The day we saw the Perseid Meteor Shower, Hinohara said "I completely forgot a telescope would only get in the way," and had me keep it at my place. Though for a time he didn't even let me touch the telescope, lately he could tell how passionately I was studying stargazing, to the point that he'd even let me hold onto it.

The telescope I had done everything to get for Hajikano's sake. Now I got fed up even looking at it. It was a symbol of my failure, a symbol of defeat. These past few days, I had tried to avoid even letting the telescope enter my sight, but I felt its presence in the corner even if I wasn't looking directly at it. I should really return it to Hinohara already, I thought.

I lifted my heavy body, picked up the case containing the lens tube and tripod, and left the house. The sun was still shining, but its rays felt weak; none of that scorching, skin-burning sensation. The road was dirty with mud dropped by a tractor. Maybe from a barbecue, the lukewarm smell of burning sausage was carried on the wind.

As I tightly re-gripped the telescope case so as not to drop it and started walking, a familiar blue car stopped in front of my house. Masafumi appeared from the driver's seat. From what I could tell, it wasn't like he just happened to see me and stopped the car.

"Aya's calling for you," Masafumi said, and pointed to the passenger seat. "Get in."

I nodded and got in the car.

*

"Just to let you know, it'd be a waste of time asking me the situation."

Masafumi picked out a cigarette butt with relatively more leaf left from a tray packed with them like sunflower seeds, put it in his mouth, and lit it with a cigarette lighter. Then his face scrunched up like it was disgusting, and he breathed out the smoke.

"Aya just asked me to come get you, so I have not a clue about any details. She's waiting at the hospital, so ask her anything there you want to ask there. All I was told is that her sister is in the hospital, and she's open for visiting as of today."

"In other words, Aya wants me to meet with Hajikano - er, her sister?", I asked half-believing.

"I told you, I dunno," Masafumi said unhappily with the cigarette still in his mouth. "Maybe Aya just has to stay near the hospital, y'know?"

I nodded. He was right. The possibility existed that Aya just wanted to talk to me, but had to look after Hajikano at the hospital, so she asked Masafumi to bring me to her.

After the top of a narrow, winding hill was a tiny local hospital surrounded by thick forest. Masafumi dropped me off at the rotary, said "I've got tons to do back at the lab, so find your own way home," and drove off in a hurry. I looked around for Aya, but didn't spot her. Figuring it was safer to wait here rather than run around searching, I sat on the planter in front with the telescope case on my lap and waited.

A large river ran in front of the hospital. The riverbed was covered with plants as tall as people, and it wasn't clear how much was ground and how much was river. The thick vegetation even spread deep into the side of the road on the bank, and it really didn't seem to be in any state for people to walk on. Past the river, I could see dense green mountains, and a few steel towers rose from the foot of the mountains up to the middle. While waiting for Aya, I gazed absentmindedly at the peaceful scenery without any particular focus.

After some time, Aya appeared from the front entrance. She had a worn T-shirt and a denim skirt with frayed edges. Her makeup was messy, as was her hair, and she looked like she'd aged three years since we last met.

"Sorry to call you all of a sudden." Aya gave me an exhausted smile. "I'll have to give Masafumi some compensation later too. ...Well, let's go."

"Hold on a moment," I hurriedly stopped her. "Are you taking me to meet Yui?"

"Well, obviously. Or is there someone else in the hospital you know?"

"Nothing like that. But I felt that me meeting Yui right now would have an adverse effect. Have you told her that I'm coming?"

"I haven't. But relax, it's fine." She smiled at me, but her eyes were hollow. "Yui seems more peaceful than she's been in years. Just -"

Her words cut off there as she seemed to reconsider something.

"...No, you should meet her in person instead of me explaining it."

Going through the door, the unique hospital air of disinfectant and patient odor enveloped me. The fluorescent lights in the halls emitted a pale blue light, making the already-glum hospital interior even more uncomfortable. The linoleum floor was stained in places, and the old sofa in front of the reception desk was unspeakably shabby, showing signs of many repairs.

After receiving visitor passes at the front desk, Aya took me to the elevator and we went up to the fourth floor. Aya stopped in front of a room with the door left open and wordlessly pointed inside. I couldn't see in from where I was standing, but the entrance had a plate with "Yui Hajikano" on it. There was space for three other plates, but they were all empty. So it was a four-person room, but only Hajikano was occupying it now.

I put my hand on my chest, took a deep breath, looked at the plate with Hajikano's name again, and stepped resolutely into the hospital room.

There were beds in the four corners of the cramped room, and Hajikano was in the back-right bed from the door. She wore a pale blue gown and was absorbed in what looked like a thick notebook, so she didn't seem to notice me there. What was she reading so passionately? I quietly walked over and peered at what was in her hands. I couldn't tell the contents, but I saw there were many short handwritten sentences.

Just then, Hajikano finally noticed my presence. She shook, quickly closed the notebook, and put it at her bedside as if to hide it from my sight.

When she made eye contact with me, she shyly bowed her head.

I felt an indescribable unease from that reaction.

"Hajikano." The voice I barely managed to squeeze out my throat felt like it wasn't my own. "Could you -"

"U-Um, sorry," Hajikano interrupted. "Before you talk, there's something I need to make sure of..."

She lowered her head and cowered pitifully, then slowly breathed in and spoke like she'd been thinking hard.

"What is your name?"

The color left my vision, and my ears rang so loud, it was as if they directly shook my consciousness.

As I stood there at a loss for words, Hajikano innocently spoke.

"...The place I'm in is a hospital room. What I'm sleeping in is a bed. Outside the window are keyaki trees, and the season is summer. I haven't lost any knowledge of that sort. As you can tell, I can clearly speak, too. But when I look in the mirror, I don't feel like I'm seeing myself in it. It's like I'm looking at an older relative."

It was clear to anyone that these were signs of memory loss - more specifically, retrograde amnesia. Perhaps it was an escape reflex from her mental wounds. Or maybe memory damage from a lack of oxygen. But all that didn't matter.

My concern wasn't the cause of the memory loss, but the future it would bring about.

"So I don't know who you are, and what kind of relationship I had with you. I'm sorry to tell you this after you came and visited."

I knew very well that it was imprudent to be delighted about it.

But, potentially.

Maybe if her memory loss wasn't very temporary, and lasted for some time.

Could Yosuke Fukamachi get to start over with Yui Hajikano?

But those hopes were crushed by Hajikano's next words.

"Luckily, however, before I lost my memory, it seemed I wrote a diary every single day. It was in the luggage my sister brought me. That said, it's a very simple diary, really not much more than a list of events. ...Ah, and so I should mention, you don't need to hide the fact that my fall into the sea was a suicide attempt and not an accident."

Hajikano gave me a worry-free smile.

I looked to the notebook on her bedside. Thinking about it, I did recall that notebook. That day I entered Hajikano's room with Aya's forceful aid, it was open on the desk. Maybe she was writing in it right up until I arrived.

The fact that Hajikano kept a daily diary was surprising, at least to me. I thought she had long since lost interest in her own life. Does someone who's planning to commit suicide soon write in a diary every day? Or maybe she kept a diary because she was going to commit suicide?

Hajikano noticed my gaze and shifted to block the path between me and the notebook.

"I've still only read the entries for the past few days, but it seems Yui Hajikano had a strong desire to kill herself. I still haven't found any part explaining the cause of it, but she must have been troubled by this birthmark. Was memory loss the best escape from her desire to die? How miserable."

She lifted her head, which had been lowered the whole time, and peered into my eyes from under her hair. "Er, so, I'd like to ask your name soon..."

"Don't you already have a guess?", I dodged, wanting to delay judgement by just a little more. "You read your diary, right?"

"Yes, as far as I've read, it seems the people who would come visit me are rather limited, so I do have a guess. I'm just not sure."

Then suddenly, her eyes stopped on something hanging down from my hand.

"...Is that..."

Hajikano pointed at the telescope case.

"Are you perhaps Yuuya Hinohara?"

After a long hesitation, I slowly nodded.

The smile Hajikano gave me was a special kind, which she'd never given me before.

Ahh. This is how she smiles in front of Hinohara, I thought.

*

After the long meeting was over and I left the room, Aya, who was seemingly sitting outside the whole time, stood up laboriously.

"Well done, Yocchan. Or should I say, Yuu-chan?"

I drew a deep sigh. "You heard everything?"

"I haven't seen Yui enjoy herself so much in forever. What a clever idea, Yuuya Hinohara."

We took the elevator down to the first floor, gave back our passes, and went outside. The sounds of higurashi and crows came from the trees around the hospital and overlapped each other. I checked the time table at the bus stop; it was twenty minutes until the next bus.

"...What should I do?", I asked Aya. "I can't possibly keep calling myself Yuuya Hinohara."

"I want to confirm some things," Aya said. "Is Yuuya Hinohara the guy who called me the other day, digging up this and that about Yui?"

"That's right."

"Judging from earlier, Yui seemed attached to him."

"Yes. Before she lost her memory, Hinohara was the only one she had affection toward."

"Only? Doesn't she like you, Yocchan?"

"She doesn't hate me, that's all. But Hinohara was not only not hated, but actually liked."

"Hmm." Aya nodded vaguely. "So, why hasn't Yuuya Hinohara made any contact since that call?"

I gave it some thought, then spoke. "Miss Aya, you were aware Yui and I were going to the rooftop of the ruined hotel to stargaze every night, yes?"

"Yeah. And Yuuya Hinohara was one of the people there, right?"

"Exactly. And there was another member of our stargazing group, a girl named Chigusa Ogiue. The day after Yui's attempted suicide, she fell into the sea and died as if following after her. And Hinohara feels that Yui is responsible for Ogiue's death."

"Wait, what do you mean?" Aya twisted her neck. "Why would this Ogiue jump into the sea because Yui did?"

"While this is only within the realm of possibility...", I prefaced, then explained. "Last summer, there was an incident where two middle school girls in a neighboring town were found to have burned themselves to death. Hinohara suspects Yui's involvement in this incident. This is because, at just the same time, Yui was absent from school for four days straight without warning. And a number of her classmates say her personality changed drastically after those four days."

Aya pondered. "...In other words, Yui was the sole survivor of a group suicide, then went on to get Ogiue involved in something similar?"

I nodded with admiration. Her head worked fast, like only a sister of Hajikano's could.

"Of course, this is only something Hinohara thought up. I'm convinced that Yui's suicide attempt and Ogiue's death aren't directly related."

"I see." Aya closed her eyes in thought. "At any rate, this Hinohara guy decided to abandon Yui? So he's not going to visit."

"I believe you could reasonably assume that."

"And yet Yui doesn't know that. She still doesn't realize she's been abandoned by the one man she trusted in. After all, a man calling himself Yuuya Hinohara showed up."

My shoulders drooped. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told such a lie."

"Really? I thought it was a good idea, myself."

"Are you being serious?"

"Of course. Or do you intend on going back to that room right now and saying, "Sorry, all that was a lie. I'm not Yuuya Hinohara, I'm Yosuke Fukamachi. Also, the real Yuuya Hinohara never wants to see you again"?" Aya laughed it up. "It's fine. Yui seems really happy, and it's advantageous for you, right, Yocchan? On the off chance you're found out, if you offer a good explanation, well, maybe she won't forgive you, but I think she'll at least accept it."

"I wonder about that." I tilted my head. "Why did you have to give Yui the diary in the first place, Miss Aya? What merit is there to giving back her memories? Didn't you consider that leaving her having forgotten everything would be happiest for her?"

"Yeah, maybe you're right, Yocchan," Aya admitted. "But I just wanted her to look back on her life from an objective standpoint. To look at herself like a third party and see what stupid ideas she was possessed by. 'Cause that's something she can only do now, right?"

The bus arrived. I bowed my head to Aya and got on the steps.

"You'll come visit again tomorrow, won't you?", she asked from behind.

I turned back. "What point is there in me visiting?"

"Um, Yocchan," Aya said forcefully to be heard over the sound of the engine. "I didn't call you here because I wanted someone to console Yui. Unfortunately, I'm not that good a sister. I just want to know how far one boy's fairytale-y love can go in a heavy situation like this. I just want to see where that ends up."

The driver warned me to hurry up since the door was closing. I went up the steps and sat in the nearest seat, and the bus departed right after.

I leaned back in the seat, closed my eyes, and looked back on every bit of the conversation we had. And I quietly became convinced that I would visit the hospital room again tomorrow. It was a hard invitation to resist. Even if I was fooling Hajikano, even if I was using a friend, I felt it would let me have a close relationship with her again like four years ago. Everything else became unimportant. Ultimately, just like Chigusa said, my true nature was that of a bad person.

The sun was setting as the bus arrived at my stop. While walking down the shopping district, I heard a phone ring like it had some distant day. It had been quite a while since I heard it. When was the last time I received a call from that woman? I think it was the second day of summer break, when she used The Little Mermaid as an example to explain the penalty for losing the bet.

"This is your first time using such means," the woman said with surprise as I put the receiver to my ear. "I did not expect you assuming another person's name to approach Hajikano. ...Not exactly fair, is it?"

"I don't want to be lectured on fairness after you offered bets to me and Ogiue at the same time," I replied. "No matter how things went down, one of us had to lose their bet, right?"

"If you did not want Ogiue to die, you should have loved her. You are the one who abandoned her," the woman on the phone said, as if all responsibility lay on me. "Now... Fukamachi. I should warn you. Right now, to Hajikano, you are not Yosuke Fukamachi, but Yuuya Hinohara. Say your relationship advances, and there is a mutual love between you. Even so, who she would be loving is Yuuya Hinohara, looking like you and talking like you. I cannot recognize that as winning the bet."

"Oh, I'm aware. I'm not pretending to be Hinohara because I want to win the bet. I'm just doing it because I want to."

The woman spoke after some silence. "Is that a declaration that you do not care if you lose the bet?"

"Not necessarily. Of course I'm afraid to die. But for now, I'm happy to see Hajikano smile up close. To meet my end while I'm being distracted by that... surprisingly, it doesn't sound so bad," I said, then laughed to myself. "Well, I guess you wouldn't get it."

"Is that right," the woman bluntly replied, but I felt her voice was a little more irritated than usual. "In any event, what you have done is in clear violation of the rules. As such, you will receive an appropriate penalty."

"Penalty?"

"Henceforth, you are forbidden from revealing your true identity in front of Hajikano," the woman informed me. "Since you have named yourself as Yuuya Hinohara, I will have you enforce it to the end."

"Aha. Selectively taking my voice when I give my name. That makes things very Little Mermaid-esque," I said distantly. "And it makes victory pretty desperate, huh?"

"For your information, you are the one who broke the rules," the woman coldly remarked. "Well then, I look forward to August 31st, Yosuke Fukamachi wearing Yuuya Hinohara's skin."

I heard the call end. I put the receiver back and resumed walking down the shopping district.

And so I came to spend the remaining eleven days of summer break as Yuuya Hinohara.

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