Chapter 4 – The Donkey, The King, And Me
“You know, dogs are originally animals who lived in groups!” said Sudou fervently, picking up a cherry tomato with a little fork from her lunch box. “The members of the pack are your family, so when you’re in trouble they help you, when then praise you you’re happy, and when you’re away from them you feel lonely. It was like that for our dog Leo! But cats are different!”
“But I think the way they keep their distance is fine,” replied Shuuji with a vague smile, pausing a little to eat a mouthful of his bread. “Neither close nor distant, just living their lives as they want. Also, recently there was a study explaining that while dogs understand that humans are different from them, cats think that humans are cats too. I think it’s nice that they see us like that.”
In front of me was Hiiragi, listening to both of them while nimbly eating with her chopsticks.
Since the day of the test we’ve been eating together like this. Sudou and Shuuji would come once the fourth period ended, and we would eat while chatting until the fifth period.
Of course, the one who did most of the talking was Sudou, then Shuuji, then,
“Umm, how did they perform the study…?” asked Hiiragi, who had become more talkative. “How did they check that cats see humans as cats…”
“Ah, yeah, it was written in the article if I remember correctly… They compared how cats and dogs acted between each other, and how they acted with humans. The result was that cats act the same with humans as they do with other cats, while dogs behave differently than they do with other dogs.”
“I don’t know how true it is, though. Just something I read in a web article.”
“But you know!” exclaimed Sudou after swallowing her cherry tomato.
After going through the midterms without failing any subject, she went back to her usual energetic self.
“That means that dogs are smarter! They’re the ones who’re right after all! So they’re cuter!”
“Smart doesn’t equal cute, you know.”
“The smarter they are, the easier it is to understand each other!”
“… Hosono-kun,” Hiiragi stopped using her chopsticks and looked at me while tilting her head. “Which one do you like between dogs and cats?”
I felt a pain in my chest.
It’s been happening since that day. Each time Hiiragi looked at me and talked to me, my chest hurt and I lost my words.
What’s more, she just said the word “like”.
Even I think I’m an idiot. I know it wasn’t said with “that meaning”. Still, just hearing that word from her made me lose my calm.
“… Cats, I guess? You have Shishamo after all…”
Perhaps she became uneasy because of my silence, Hiiragi looked at my face.
Her smooth black hair swayed. Her almond shaped eyes were looking at me.
“… No, not really,” I managed to answer after calming myself by drinking my lemon tea. “True we’re keeping a cat at home, but… That’s because my mother picked him up. If she picked up a dog, I’d be fine with it too…”
Honestly, I didn’t care. I didn’t actually listen to the conversation.
I was more preoccupied with Hiiragi’s lips as she ate a piece of broccoli in front of me, so I didn’t have room to think about something else.
“Ah, it’s here, the ‘I can’t choose’! There’s always someone who can’t decide for himself!”
“But I think that most people are the same. After all, both cats and dogs are cute.”
“I admit that’s true! Still, I can’t agree with the recent cat trend! The cuteness levels of cats and dogs didn’t change at all, so why are cats treated better!”
“You’re right, recently cats have been more popular. Even on TV, there’s often some show about them…”
Hiiragi has changed considerably since I met her.
Hiiragi, who once couldn’t talk with anyone and just read alone in the classroom. Now, she was talking like that with Sudou and Shuuji, two people completely different from her..
Of course, these two are special. She probably can’t be like that with anyone. Still, thanks to them Hiiragi will be able to broaden her relationships, and eventually be able to talk to more people.
I’m happy about that, but it makes me feel a little lonely too.
True, I was the one who made things turn this way. Still, little by little, our secret relationship, this situation where I was able to keep her to myself, will end.
If Hiiragi’s wish is granted.
If she can act normally with people, get more friends, and be able to live cheerfully like Sudou and Shuuji.
Would she still talk to me?
Would she still say it’s fun being with me?
“As long as you like them, it’s fine, isn’t it?!”
Sudou’s words startled me. Had I been thinking out loud?
“Who cares about trends! If there’s a naked mole-rats boom, then people are going to say that naked mole-rats are the cutest!?”
Oh right, we were just talking about preferences in animals…
I thought she read my thoughts for an instant. Not that it’s possible.
Still, what Sudou said is true. People are fine liking what they want. Thinking about the others comes after that.
But I couldn’t make up my mind so easily. I really couldn’t deny feeling loneliness and uneasiness as I witnessed the changing Hiiragi.
“… I rather like naked mole-rats, though…” said Hiiragi, causing Sudou and Shuuji to look at her strangely. “W-what… I’m the only one?”
“… Tokki, you really have strange tastes,” replied Sudou, putting her hand on Hiiragi’s shoulder while looking at her with a pitying smile.
A little after Sudou and Shuuji went back to their classroom, leaving the dogs vs cats battle unfinished, Hiiragi started talking to me just before the fifth period started.
“Y-yeah, what is it?”
“E-err, is your next Sunday free…?”
“Sunday? Yeah, I didn’t plan anything…”
“I see… Then, hmm, would you like to go out together?”
“Y-yeah. Though, shouldn’t you have asked earlier when the other two were here? It’s more likely for them to have something planned than me.”
“… Ah, err, no, that’s not what I meant,” Hiiragi looked down a little, then at me with an enquiring look. “Umm… Just the two of us…”
I caught my breath.
Just the two of us. Without Sudou and Shuuji.
Why? We always went out with the four of us, never just Hiiragi and me. Why would she suddenly ask that?
“… I-it’s fine if you don’t want to! I don’t want to force you…” said Hiiragi. Then she added as if trying to explain herself, “Erm… There is a café I want to go to, and you can read novels and other things like that here, so I thought that only you would have an interest in it…”
“Ah, I see.”
I finally understood. True, Sudou and Shuuji wouldn’t be interested in a café like that. Rather than them, she would be more at ease with a book lover like me.
“Okay. I’ll go with you.”
“Thank you,” said Hiiragi with a smile, a smile that she had started to show more often recently. “Then I’ll send you the meeting place and other details on LINE later… Really, thank you.”
The chime rang and Hiiragi turned forward.
The fifth period started with the mathematics teacher, Tanaka (59), walking unsteadily into the classroom.
We stood up, bowed, sat down and class started. I started to think, looking at the back of Hiiragi’s head.
The two of us. Café. Sunday. Meeting place.
Isn’t that what we call a “date”?
Of course I’m sure Hiiragi doesn’t have such an intention. But when looking in from the outside, a highschool boy and girl going out together, you would pretty much always think it’s a date.
Thinking about that, I couldn’t help but fidget my feet. It was totally different from our usual outings, it felt like the hurdle was higher.
And at the same time, I noticed.
I felt a little sense of discomfort in my chest.
Inside my merrily jumping chest, there was a distortion, as if a cold little stone had rolled inside.
What was that? Was that an illusion produced by my loneliness and anxiety too?
“What should we talk about when it’s just the two of us?” I asked to Shishamo sitting on my stomach. “Until now we were always four, so I just had to follow the conversation with Sudou and Shuuji, but if it’s just the two of us…”
Eight hours had passed since I was invited by Hiiragi.
The strange uncomfortable feeling in my chest went away, only the excitation and nervousness were still here. Not able to calm myself, I wanted someone to talk to, so here I was, speaking to Shishamo.
I’ve been alone with Hiiragi a few times.
When I understood she was Tokiko, when she asked for my help, or on the way back from her house. But each time there was a subject. “14 Years Old”, Hiiragi’s request, Hiiragi Tokoro. And this time, there won’t be such an easy topic. What’s more, it won’t be for just a few minutes, but a whole lot more.
It’ll be the first time I’ll be alone with a girl for so long, so I don’t know what to do to pass time in such a case.
“What about you Shishamo? When dating a male, how do you like it?”
I tried asking, but the fat cat on my stomach only continued to look down at me proudly.
In the first place, what does Hiiragi think about me?
First, there’s no doubt that she has a favorable impression about me. I can’t read the mood, and I’m no good at guessing people’s feelings, but she did say I was popular with her. And I don’t think that Hiiragi… that Tokiko would lie like that. I’m pretty sure that her impression of me is positive.
But I don’t know what kind of affection it is.
Is it towards a friend she made in high school?
Or towards someone from the opposite sex?
I’m almost sure it’s the former. Until now, there wasn’t anything in Hiiragi’s behaviour showing that she saw me as someone from the opposite sex.
Also, objectively, I’m not that good looking, can’t read the mood, not cheerful, not a sportsman, so I basically have nothing needed to be popular. I really can’t see anything in myself that would make a girl fall in love with me. Expecting her to see me as a man even for a moment feels really embarrassing and conceited to me.
And what about me?
Do I want Hiiragi to like me? Do I want to become a couple with her? Do I want to do erotic things with her?
Most likely, everything. I want to be liked as the opposite sex, be in a special relationship, and do things only allowed to lovers.
I interact with Hiiragi, who might only see me as a simple friend, with such impure motives. I felt like I was dishonest towards her.
Besides… Can I, who hurt Ashiya, feel like that? Do I have the right to wish for that?
As I was faintly feeling guilty, I heard a noise from the door being opened in the entranceway on the first floor.
Seems like my mother was talking to the visitor, though I couldn’t hear the details through the walls.
Several people footsteps entered the house, went through the hallway, went up the stairs, and just as I was thinking “You’re kidding right…” stopped before my door.
“‘Scuse for intruding~”
Sudou and Shuuji entered without even knocking.
“Wait… T-the heck you’re doing!”
I jumped up from the bed where I was lying down. Shishamo jumped down on the floor looking annoyed.
“Just wanted to talk about something. Woah, Shishamo really became big!”
“Yeah, she’s a splendid adult now.”
“No, don’t just enter someone’s room like that! Knock at least! What would you have done if I was in the middle of something?!”
“You’re the worst! No, really, the heck are you doing…”
Sudou and Shuuji sat around the low table as I scolded them, putting chips and some juice they had probably bought before coming on it..
“So, what are you planning…”
“Say,” started Sudou, looking up at me sitting on my bed, “there is something I want to confirm with you, Hosono.”
“Are you going out with Tokki?”
Time stopped for an instant when I heard that incomprehensible question.
I thought it was a joke at first, but both their expressions were serious. They were asking for real.
“T-there’s no way we would… Why would you suddenly ask that…”
“Really? Recently the vibe between the two of you changed.”
“Yeah, I think so too,” said Shuuji, sitting seiza style on the carpet.
He was making a serious expression, like a young man greeting the parents of the woman he’s going to marry. I’m sure the parents would be delighted if their daughter brought such a man home.
“I don’t really want to intrude, but recently you two stopped talking in public. Yet, you give off the vibe of being in an even more intimate relationship than before, as if you can understand each other, something like that… So yeah, seeing you like that, the only thing to ask is if you started going out.”
“Also, Tokki became cuter.”
Sudou was more relaxed than Shuuji, but still had a serious expression, her back straight while sitting with her legs forming the shape of a “W”.
“Of course she already was a real beauty before, and I was super envious about that, but still, recently she became even more radiant. Did you notice? The guys in your class are looking at Tokki more than before.”
“… E-eh, really?”
I didn’t notice at all. I never paid attention to anyone besides Hiiragi in the class.
“Moreover, remember when you were the only one to rest at Tokki’s house? Shuuji said said that something must have happened.”
“You confessed and got an OK. That or you went straight for a kiss, or even more.”
“… I see.”
That’s a big misunderstanding.
The fact is, far from confessing, I met her sister and totally got in her palm.
But I see… For Sudou and Shuuji, it looked like that. Well, it’s true that we just gave a random explanation, so it wouldn’t be weird for them to misunderstand.
Shishamo, who was lying on the bed, came back onto my knees. I felt her weight and warmth on my legs through my jeans.
“Err, I’m not lying, I’m seriously not going out with Hiiragi,” I answered while petting Shishamo.
“Yeah. No confession either. Actually, what did you intend to do if that was the case?”
“Well, we would be considerate of course!” said Sudou. Seems like the tension finally wore off as she was back to her usual self. “I know we’re rather forceful, but we still thought that you might want time for just the two of you so we should refrain. That’s why we needed to know.”
“So that’s why…”
That’s really something these two would think. Yeah, they’re pretty forceful, but they know when to draw back. Something I can’t do.
Perhaps she didn’t like where I petted her, Shishamo started to fight against my hand on top of my knees. I stretched the sleeve of my shirt to protect my hand.
“But,” started Shuuji, opening a bag of chips, “you like Hiiragi, right?”
I was less flustered than I thought I would be.
I was only thinking that, as expected, it was obvious to see. If it was these two, of course they would notice. It was still embarrassing nonetheless, though.
“It’s unusual for you to look after someone. You usually don’t care about people, and yet you were looking after Hiiragi-san even before we met her. What’s more is that you know her really well, and you’re always looking at her… With that, no matter how I thought about it, it only meant that you like her.”
“… You’re right,” I honestly confessed. “Yeah, it’s just like you said, Shuuji.”
“That you like Tokki?”
When I nodded, Sudou made a huge smile.
“Fufufufu!” Sudou smirked, looking at me with her arms crossed on the low table.
“At last, Hosono fell in love! That’s good, I’m rooting for you. If you need help, call for me!” exclaimed Sudou.
“Same here. I heard the love stories of many people, so I think I can give good advice,” added Shuuji.
“Nah, you don’t need to… It’s not that big of a──”
I suddenly realised as I was talking.
That’s right, Sudou and Shuuji are here.
I don’t know what to talk about when I’m alone with Hiiragi.
In that case, I just need to ask the two in front of me who have high communication skills, and also know Hiiragi. I’m sure they can give me useful advice.
“… Ah, well…”
I could ask.
… Was that really fine? Can I really ask for their help after all this time?
Until now I’ve been really mean to Sudou and Shuuji.
Ignoring their messages on LINE and their invitations to go out, I did things that could make them hate me many times.
It would be far too selfish of me to ask for their help the moment I’m troubled.
I remember the expression Ashiya had that day.
Because of what I said, she started to cry.
I’ve been recalling that scene many times for years.
When I made her have such an expression, can I really──
Shuuji smiled at me as I was hesitating.
It was a smile that would make any girl in this world fall for him in an instant.
“You look like you’re hesitating but… You don’t need to be reserved with us, you know.”
“Yeah!” exclaimed Sudou, putting the pet bottle she had on her hand on the table loudly.
It surprised Shishamo who stopped attacking my hand, making her look at Sudou.
“Hosono’s happiness might be linked to Tokki’s happiness, so we want to help as much as possible!”
“… I see,” I answered, letting out a smile reflexively.
I knew it. After all, I was next to them until the case with Ashiya.
Still, I’m realising once again.
That these two were really soft hearted, to the point that I would worry about them.
I’ll still keep my distance from them from now on too.
It’s my policy, and I don’t intend to yield.
Still, now, and only now, I’ll ignore it and depend on them.
“… Well then, I have a little thing I would some advice on.”
It has been a while since there was such fine weather.
The asphalt that was dyed black by water until yesterday had completely dried, and the wind was filled with the smell of summer.
I perfectly remembered the advice Sudou and Shuuji gave me. I don’t think I’ll be able to make use of everything, but I’ll do what I can.
I arrived at the park in the residential area just past noon.
Hiiragi chose the park where she asked for my help as our meeting place. It often comes up in “14 Years Old”, and it’s near Hiiragi’s house.
Just like last time, children were playing around under the watch of their parents. I don’t know if it was because of the season, or because it was Sunday, but their voices were somehow more cheerful than last time. As for me, I was nervously waiting for Hiiragi.
Then, ten minutes before the arranged time.
“Sorry, did I make you wait…?”
Hiiragi trotted towards me, who was sitting on a bench.
“Nah, I just arrived. I know it sounds like lip service, but I really just arrived.”
It was a lie.
In fact, I arrived thirty minutes earlier. Of course, I won’t say it.
“I see, thank you…”
Perhaps she guessed something looking at me, Hiiragi let out a smile.
“Well then, I’ll take you on your word. Let’s go.”
I stood up and started walking next to Hiiragi.
I observed her with a sidelong glance.
Today Hiiragi was wearing a blue, greenish dress with a thin cardigan, and sandals with a complex design. Compared to the clothes she wore at her house which bore a simple design with an emphasis on ease of movement, it looked a little stylish.
As for me, Sudou had chosen a white shirt, jeans and sneakers for me to wear. She said “You don’t have decent clothes, so it can’t get better than this, but, yep, at least she shouldn’t think it looks bad,” so it should be fine. Probably.
“About where we’re going today,” not noticing my glance, Hiiragi started to explain in a good mood. “It’s a café made from repairing an old Japanese-style house… It was constructed 80 years ago and a musician couple lived there, but they had to sell it and it was planned to be demolished…”
“80 years, huh, that’s amazing.”
“Right? That’s why some people thought it was a waste to demolish it, so they collaborated to buy it back and renovated the interior.”
I see, it was the kind of place Tokiko would love.
It was repeated many times in “14 Years Old” that she likes old things.
“I always wanted to go to this café… But I didn’t really find the time to, so I’m glad you agreed to come with me, Hosono-kun.”
Hiiragi smiled innocently. Like I thought, there wasn’t any hidden meaning in today’s outing.
Still, I wonder why.
The distance between us, as we walked next to each other, was strangely close.
Even when I thought she was too close and took some distance, she would immediately close it to the point that our shoulders would touch. I could feel her body’s heat through the thin cloth.
I’m sure I’m overthinking this. Yeah, I’m sure we always have been walking so close to each other. Wait, thinking about it, I almost never walked next to Hiiragi, or rather, next to anyone, so I can’t be sure if she’s actually too clo──
Hiiragi suddenly raised her voice.
At the same time, her body pitched forward.
Everything happened in slow motion, like a scene in a movie. I could see Hiiragi’s hair swaying as her body continued to pitch forward.
She’s going to fall!
I reflexively extended my hand and caught Hiiragi’s. I could feel her whole weight with my arm.
The weight gave a sense of reality compared to Tokiko who doesn’t have a mass.
I put some force into my arm and pulled Hiiragi up to recover her balance, bringing the world back to its usual speed.
“… S-sorry!” Hiiragi turned towards me, really flustered. “I ended up stumbling… Actually, I just bought these sandals, so… I’m not used to them…”
“Ah, umm, yeah…”
“I was heavy, right? I’m really sorry…”
“No, you weren’t…” I answered while being bewildered by the soft feeling of Hiiragi’s hand that I still hadn’t let go of.
We’re in the midst of summer, and yet her fingers were nice and cool. Her hand clasped mine weakly. Contrary to the hand of a man like me, Hiiragi’s palm was round and soft.
And as I was thinking,
Hiiragi started to walk.
With her left hand still clasping my right hand.
I was confused.
Right now, I am walking hand in hand with Hiiragi.
Why Hiiragi didn’t let go of my hand?
Normally, a boy and a girl who are just friends don’t walk hand in hand. Does she have some goal? Or because she doesn’t have much experience with people she thinks it’s normal…?
Wanting even a little hint, I tried to take a glance at Hiiragi’s face walking next to me.
However, she was looking downward and her black hair was hiding her profile, so I couldn’t see.
I couldn’t understand why she would do that.
And yet, joy started to overflow in my chest.
An irritating happiness came through her palm to me.
No matter what she actually thought, the moment we started to walk hand in hand, I felt so happy I could fly. I started to think seriously that I didn’t need anything other than that, just like in those cheap love songs.
Still, I wonder why.
On the other side of the endless euphoria, I also felt a certain cold feeling.
The same strange feeling that I had felt in the classroom before.
It felt like something was different, that something had started to diverge from how it should be.
And that feeling was far more pronounced than yesterday.
… Let’s stop thinking about that for now.
I shook my head lightly, then looked forward.
Our destination was in the residential area, currently peaceful in this early summer.
The blue sky was spreading like watercolours, with a few clouds here and there. The sun shined down on the buildings and asphalt, making everything look shining and dazzling.
And in my right hand, I felt Hiiragi’s.
Right now, I’m alone with Hiiragi. We’re walking hand in hand.
I didn’t want to have some needless anxiety spoil that.
After a few minutes’ walk from the park, I expressed my admiration the moment we stepped in the café.
Wooden tables and chairs with cute designs were lined up on the wooden floor. On the side of the entrance was an open corridor giving a view of the verdant trees in the garden.
The pillars had countless scratches, and in the corner were old bookshelves and desks, making you remember it was a house before. It seems this café was really popular as almost all the seats were filled by young women. Thankfully, we found some seats at the counter.
After seating on one of the high chairs, I noticed that books were scattered before me. A masterpiece from an author of the Meiji era, a photo album from a famous photographer, compilations of comments about different performers, etc..
“Just as I expected, this café has a pleasant atmosphere…”
After ordering coffees and cakes, Hiiragi started to look at the books in a good mood.
“You can read any book in the café as you please. You should search for a book you like too, Hosono-kun…”
To start with, I took the photo album in front of me. The photographer took a photo every day for a year then collected everything. It had some beautiful and interesting photos, but I was too distracted by Hiiragi next to me to concentrate on it.
“… Incidentally,” started Hiiragi just after we received the coffees we ordered, her eyes still on the book in her hand. “Umm… I’m a little curious.”
“Do Sudou-san and Shuuji-kun have someone they’re dating presently…?”
My heart leapt, surprised.
Why would she ask that now? It can’t be that she’s starting to get interested in Shuuji?
“I-I’m not asking with that sort of meaning…” added Hiiragi, perhaps she also thought what she said was too sudden. “It’s just that those two seem very popular, but they’re always with us… So I just wondered if they didn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend… That’s all.”
“… I-I see.”
Looking at how she was flustered, it was probably the truth. Hiiragi wouldn’t be able to act in that kind of situation.
“These two aren’t dating anyone, and they didn’t in the past too, I think. I distanced myself for a while, but I didn’t hear any rumour about them.”
“Eeeh, that’s unexpected…”
“Apparently they get confessed to a lot, but… well, they’re rather earnest and serious, so they wouldn’t accept on a whim.”
“I see…” Hiiragi added, “Then, u-umm…”
“… Did you ever d-date someone, Hosono-kun?”
She changed the target to me.
“Did you ever like someone? … Ah, perhaps you even have a girlfriend… In that case, I’m sorry for calling you. Even if you don’t have a girlfriend, if you have someone you like… I’m sorry…”
Hiiragi got a little disordered. She was still her usual bad speaker.
“Someone I like, huh…”
How should I answer that?
I never dated anyone, nor did I ever like someone seriously.
That is to say, until a few weeks ago, when I realised I liked Hiiragi.
I’m sure she just asked out of interest. So she shouldn’t expect a serious answer.
However, if I answer that I have someone I like, she’ll probably enter cheering mode and encourage me. On the other hand, saying I don’t would be a lie. Someone inexperienced like me has no way to know the correct answer.
After seriously thinking for around ten seconds, I answered.
“… Nah, I never fell in love.”
I chose to lie.
“I never dated anyone before, nor I am currently… Or rather, do I look like I am?”
“I think you could get a girlfriend easily, though… Then, you don’t want one? You’re not interested in romance…?”
“… No, I wouldn’t say… that.”
“Then you think it would be nice to have one someday?”
I was reaching my limit.
If she asks more than that, I’m going to say things I shouldn’t.
“What about you, Hiiragi?” I said to prevent her from asking another question. “Did you ever fall in love or date someone?”
“I didn’t,” declared Hiiragi with an unexpectedly clear tone. “Or rather, you should know that. It’s written in ‘14 Years Old’, no? That I never experienced love…”
It was just like she said, I knew that. There wasn’t anything about her being interested in a boy.
“… But, that’s until you were 14 years old, no?” I said nervously.
For some reason, Hiiragi looked away, flustered.
“So… What about after that… Or recently──”
“Ah, sorry!” said Hiiragi to interrupt me as she vigorously took out her smartphone from her pocket. “S-someone is calling me! I’m leaving for a moment!”
“S-sorry, even though we were talking!”
Hiiragi stood up in a hurry in order to go to the toilet behind me.
However, I saw it. That the display of her phone wasn’t showing any incoming call.
Perhaps because of the rush, Hiiragi’s foot got caught up in a chair.
She lost her balance and fell on my back.
“S-sorry! I stumbled… again…”
“Nah, I’m fine… Take care to not injure yourself…”
“I’m really sorry…”
Her face bright red, she recovered her posture, then went to the toilet in a trot.
On my end, as I saw her go I was greatly flustered by the sensation I felt on my back.
When she fell on my back, I felt two round things around my shoulders…
That was… yeah, I’m sure that was Hiiragi’s breasts.
In manga and novels they always talk about how soft they are, but what I felt first was the hardness of the bra. Then after that, I surprisingly felt the soft swellings hidden behind the thick cloth.
If I had to describe her, then Hiiragi was the slender type. Her upper arms and legs were like those of a model, Sudou even said she was really envious about her body.
Still, apparently she had bigger breasts that her slender body makes you think.
“… What the heck am I thinking…”
Right now I’m in a charming old-fashioned café. No matter how happy I am that the girl I like pressed her chest on me, it’s not the kind of place I should think about that.
To calm myself I drank all the coffee in my cup in one go.
When looking towards the toilet, I could see Hiiragi trying her best to look like she was bothered by a call while acting like she was talking to someone.
We read books, took a break and talked a little, then read books again. Three hours later, we exited the café.
“Umm, thank you for today… It was fun…” said Hiiragi at the station when we were at the point of separating, making me uneasy.
Did I do fine? Thanks to Sudou and Shuuji’s advice I could keep the conversation going on, but… I hope I didn’t bore her.
“Err… Sorry, in the end I just went along with you…”
“Eh!? T-that’s not true!” exclaimed Hiiragi, shaking her head. “Rather it’s me who should apologise… I always make you listen to my selfishness… But… if you’re fine with it…” Hiiragi peered at my face uneasily, “Would you go out with me again…?”
My heart throbbed strongly.
I know it’s not that “that kind” of going out, that there is no way she had such intentions. Still, for me who is in love with Hiiragi, that sentence shook me greatly.
And once again, I felt a pronounced discomfort in my chest.
I clearly felt that something was starting to diverge from how it should be.
Even though the one before me was Hiiragi, I felt like I was talking to someone I didn’t know, as if a strange being was in front of me. I felt an incomprehensible loneliness.
“Also, umm… err…” Hiiragi looked down, apparently hesitating to say what she wanted, but she continued. “If possible, I have something important I would like to talk about tomorrow…”
“… Something important?”
“Yes. So if you have time, I would be glad if we could talk after school…”
“… I see, got it. I’ll make time after school.”
“Thank you…” said Hiiragi, smiling with her face bright red. “Well then, see you tomorrow.”
Hiiragi waved her hand and went away. As I was seeing her away, the discomfort in my chest became clear enough to the point I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
I wonder what it is…
That evening, I was worrying endlessly on my bed.
The discomfort I had towards Hiiragi started a few days ago, and was growing each day.
If I had to give an example, it was as if you walked, then suddenly you found yourself in an unfamiliar place and started to feel uneasy and lonely. It was the first time I ever felt like that about someone.
Maybe it’s just because I’m liking her unrequitedly.
Maybe I’m anxious about doing something bad and being hated for it?
I think there is that too. I’m careful about everything I do when I’m with her. After we separated, I kept regretting not doing this or that better.
But what I felt wasn’t uneasiness with a hint of happiness in it, the discomfort in my chest was filled with pure anxiety.
The question then is, what about Hiiragi makes me feel anxious? I don’t have any idea what it could be.
As I was thinking, I heard people talking downstairs. Seems like someone came.
Then, just like it happened before, footsteps came upstairs until before my door.
“Knock the damn door…”
The one who opened the door was the plain clothed Sudou.
“Hey, it’s fine, we’re friends.”
“No matter how good a friend you are, you should knock… Anyway, why did you come so late?”
Looking at the clock on the wall, it was already past 9pm. It was kinda late for a highschool girl to come in the house of an acquaintance.
“Well… There is something I want to talk about, or rather to check…”
Sudou entered my room, then closed the door. At first I thought she wanted to hear about today’s date, but I noticed that her expression was unusually serious, so I prepared myself.
“Something you want to check?”
“Yeah… Actually, I’m still a little confused…”
Sudou sat down on a side of the low table and started searching for something in her bag.
Then, after finding it, she took it out and presented it to me.
“You know about that… right?”
I was at a loss for words.
“I learnt about it today, but…”
The reason was simple.
It was because the thing in Sudou’s hand was──.
“You know that novel, no?”
The cover was an illustration of a middle school girl.
The title was written with a simple design.
During the past year I had read it again and again, the novel that directly changed my life.
It was “14 Years Old”.
──The world only made one promise to us. I’m looking forward a little to the day it’ll be fulfilled.
(14 Years Old/Hiiragi Tokoro – Machida Edition)