Chapter 2: The Girl's Temptation

Month: O

Date: X

Clear

The athletics festival is a little depressing, because I know that I’ll only become a burden to everyone.

We discussed the athletics festival today in class.

I don’t know whether to call it a stroke of luck or misfortune: our class hardly had anyone motivated at all.

I was relieved, and my chest stabbed a little.

I hate myself for being relieved at that, what an utter disaster.

During the dull, cold discussion, when they were choosing someone for the troublesome duty of cheer competition rep, although it wasn’t overly blatant, everyone was clearly dodging out of the way; it was so painful to watch…

I wanted to raise my hand and volunteer, but in that kind of atmosphere there was no way I’d have the courage to do that.

It’s way too difficult to raise your hand in that kind of atmosphere… I don’t think it could’ve been helped, anyway.

So I waited for someone else to raise their hand. I surveyed everyone expectantly, waiting for someone other than myself to raise their hand, but no one did.

Yet the upperclassmen on our team seemed different from us: they were full of energy and motivation. It looks like I’ll only be holding everyone back, and I’m really sorry, but there’s no way I can carry the whole class.

If it were possible… but I couldn’t actually do it, will the end result be the same?

… Next time.

Next time… When I think I’m able to do it.


+++


Today, Yaegashi Taichi came again with everyone else to the club, where everyone horsed around and did their own thing too.

“All right, let’s call it a day then!”

Club President Nagase Iori said in a clear voice.

Today, Inaba Himeko had other plans, so the other six members gathered at the club and held a brief meeting about the . After the club was dismissed, everyone started their journey home.

On the way home, the people who had to head in different directions from everyone else gradually bid their farewells, and when the station nearest his home came into view, only Taichi was left.

Taichi walked out of the ticket stile and returned his ticket pass to his bag. Just then, a comfortable breeze blew by, and Taichi stretched slightly. A faintly sweet whiff of fragrance floated through the air on the wind; it seemed to be the aroma coming from the bakery in front of the station. He was a little hungry, but Taichi decided that he had to resist today. After all, the month had just begun, and spendthrift habits were strictly prohibited.

Taichi walked towards the parking lot.

The weather was beginning to grow hot and muggy, and in about a month, summer would arrive.

A high school couple walked in his direction, their fingers intertwined and pressed sweetly against each other. Taichi couldn’t help but observe them, and his mind conjured an image of himself and Inaba. Ever since he had gotten a girlfriend, Taichi’s perspective of couples on the street had changed: he could compare couples he saw to himself, and reference them as dating advice.

Now it was the girl’s turn to hug the boy’s arm tightly.

Inaba wanted to press closer to him, so should he let loose a bit and stop paying too much attention to other people’s gazes? No, that would be too awkward, and wouldn’t it upset some people? It was the same in the clubroom, especially when Nagase was present. Since there had been some complicated situations in the past, it was really quite difficult to ignore Nagase’s gaze.


“————————————————”


He felt that, from far away, from as far away as the furthest boundaries, or rather, from as far away as the terminus of conscious thought, came a certain, extremely faint noise, reverberating in his mind.

It seemed to be an intangible, inconsequential, peculiar feeling, and before his brain could capture it, the noise vanished in the blink of an eye.

Taichi somehow felt a premonition, and turned his head to look behind him.

Nagase Iori was standing there.

“Huh? Why are you here, Nagase?”

Taichi asked in a slightly stupid voice. Taichi and Nagase didn’t live in the same town; the two of them had parted very early on, and he didn’t hear anything about Nagase needing to come this way for something.

But the one thing he could be sure of was that Nagase was standing here.

“I need to… tell you something… can you talk right now?”

The girl, as beautiful as a natural antique, looked up at Taichi and asked.

“Um… but… can’t we talk tomorrow?”

--- Did he just reject her?

Taichi didn’t know why he rejected her. He didn’t know the reason behind it, but before his brain could cogitate, his mouth had moved on its own. The reason being that he was having a very ominous premonition, and his instinct was screaming at him to get away from there.

“Are you busy with something?”

“Ah, no… I’m not busy with anything… Let’s talk now, then.”

What the hell was he saying? Nagase clearly had something to discuss, yet he was rejecting her without any reason whatsoever; this was extremely weird.

Taichi shifted his own thoughts.

She must have something important that she couldn’t tell him over the phone or by text message.

“... Let’s go find a family restaurant to sit down and talk.”

“No, no need, we’ll talk here.”

“Oh… I see.”

Nagase’s long hair swayed in the cool breeze that delivered the fragrance of summer; the air exuding from her slightly hanging curtain of night-colored hair very much suited her current, transparently melancholy expression, suiting it so much it was frightening.

Whether they were attracted by Nagase’s beauty or not, the passersby heading towards the station ticket stile occasionally turned their heads towards them.

Nagase’s fixated eyes captured Taichi’s frame; her eyes made Taichi’s heart began to clamor.

She opened her mouth:

“If I told you --- I can’t forget, what would you do?”

The surroundings were suddenly utterly engulfed in silence. In the space where no other sound was audible, there came an illusion that Taichi and Nagase were left alone, but that illusion suddenly faded, and the normal world returned.

“W-What do you mean… can’t forget? Who or what can’t you forget?”

Taichi’s voice was trembling. He clearly didn’t need to tremble, there was clearly no reason for him to start trembling.

“Just that Nagase Iori still can’t forget about Yaegashi Taichi.”

Why? Even now…

Nagase revealed a flirtatious, lonely smile, that looked like it was about to melt.

This was a decisive blow. It was much too sudden, much too sudden… No, but it wasn’t too sudden at all, was it? Taichi could understand the connotation behind her words, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Didn’t want to acknowledge it? Why? Because ---

He really didn’t dare to believe it.

“What… in the world… are you saying?”

Taichi squeezed out his voice, clutching onto a wisp of hope.

“Ah… I still like Taichi, after all.”

Reality is utterly cruel.

Even if the situation of “if things ended over there, then things ended” had happened, the story would still not conclude.

As though an artificially constructed perfect moment was withering and scattering, ruthless reality would still continue.

There was no perfect ending for suppressed love.


□■□■□


The next morning, Taichi went to school with a bizarre anxiety.

Because he had to catch Nagase, who had suddenly confessed to him yesterday, in the classroom.

After Nagase had conveyed to him that she “still couldn’t forget about Yaegashi Taichi”, she had left without waiting for an answer, as though it were a declaration of war.

Still can’t forget; like --- Nagase meant that the feelings between both of them should have been consummately concluded without a hitch, but they hadn’t concluded after all?

The much-too-sudden declaration of war only brought confusion upon confusion for Taichi. With too many things on his mind, Taichi was completely unable to sort out his next course of action. The thing he minded the most, though, was how Nagase and Inaba viewed this situation.

Nagase Iori and Inaba Himeko.

Both of them had told him that they liked him, and he had liked both of them back. There was a firm bond between those two, incorruptible by anyone else, inaccessible even by Taichi.

Judging by what had happened before, Nagase should have told Inaba about this situation first --- in other words, the situation of her still concerning herself over Taichi and making such a declaration to him. But…

Taichi looked towards Nagase’s seat; she had not arrived yet.

“Good morning hello~, Taichi!”

“Whooooa!”

Nagase suddenly greeted Taichi from behind.

“What’s up, Taichi, what’s with that weird noise?”

“Nothing… Um… M-Morning.”

“Uh-huh, good morning. What’re you being so sneaky for?”

“B-Because…”

It’s all because you said that kind of stuff --- Taichi couldn’t say that, and he didn’t want to bring up that subject right now.

“Say, it’s pretty hot today! I’ve already switched to the summer uniform, but I can’t help but want to change into a cooler getup now!”

Having changed into a short-sleeved top and vest, Nagase sang “Should I take it off?! What to do?!”, as she grabbed her vest and fanned herself.

Nagase Iori was, as usual, shining clearly and brightly as if completely normal.

As if she had forgotten what had happened yesterday.

But Taichi knew that Nagase couldn’t have forgotten. If Nagase had the intention, she would take action according to her thoughts. Taichi knew that Nagase could do this.

“Hey, Iori! It’s really hot today, good morning! Good morning to you too, Yaegashi-kun!”

Nakayama Mariko entered the scene, twintails swinging.

“Hey, Nakayama! It really is super hot today, I can’t stand it! Morning!”

Nagase responded to Nakayama, seemingly cheerful and delighted.

“Hm? What’s up, Yaegashi-kun? Are you ignoring me?”

“Ah, it’s nothing. Morning, Nakayama.”

“Hmm? You don’t look too good today~, Yaegashi-kun. If you aren’t up and at ‘em, Yaegashi-kun, I can’t get excited either… Shouldn’t be that bad, though! Ah, Yui-chan. Good morning~.”

“Ah, Yui’s here, so, about yesterday~.”

Nagase and Nakayama left Taichi in a storm of chattering.

Left alone, Taichi realized that his back was drenched in cold sweat.

Just then, as though Nagase and the others had passed the baton to him, Watase Shingo sidled up to Taichi.

“Yo~, Yaegashi. Hey, I’ve been thinking, girls seem to congregate very naturally near you, right? Since that’s the case, as long as I stick to you and don’t let go, the chances of me getting close to girls… to Fujishima-san would increase, wouldn’t they? It’s pretty simple for me to say hello or things like that to normal girls, but I’ve no such luck with Fujishima-san… Say, why the long face? If you keep looking sullen like that, your chances are gonna slip away, too.”

Taichi hadn’t the strength to retort.

What on earth was Nagase thinking?

What did Nagase want him to do?

How was he supposed to deal with that unconcluded bout of love?

After school that day, cheer competition reps from each year level were to gather together and begin practicing. During lunch break, Taichi, leading Class 2-B on his own, was assigned as the head for a pre-practice meeting (because he had lost at jankenpon).

Taichi finished his lunch very early and headed for the meeting point.

He seemed to hear a noiseless sound.

“Did you think about what I said yesterday? The part about me liking Taichi.”

So sudden again.

Taichi was seized by Nagase in the corridor of the north school building, and goosebumps erupted all over his body.

This school building was made up of special classrooms; even during lunch break, there was barely a soul in sight.

If this were normal, this would currently be the time Nagase was having lunch, so it couldn’t be a coincidence for her to be here. Nagase had followed Taichi and looked for a place with no people before talking to him.

Nagase Iori, with her short-sleeved top and vest getup, proper features, impressive figure, and a perfect smile… smile? In this type of situation, for her to be wearing a smile was a little off, wasn’t it?

“What do you mean, did I think about it… How do you expect me to answer that…”

“I’m being serious.”

Suddenly changing to a stern expression, Nagase took Taichi’s heart captive. With nowhere to run, Taichi felt not the slightest bit of hope that he could flee.

Her charm, forged from her perfect, faultless beauty, was like coercion.

“What exactly have you seen, Taichi?”

What exactly had he seen?

He had once, for a time, misunderstood Nagase Iori as a person, so Taichi had become determined to absolutely observe Nagase closely this time. But was he being cocky?

The weather should have felt hot for the first half of June, and especially since today was muggy. It was clearly so hot, yet he felt quite cold.

“I want to become a little more stubborn.”

Nagase said, smiling a faint smile.

Inaba’s face suddenly floated into Taichi’s mind. He’d forgotten when, but he remembered that Inaba had once said something about Nagase wanting her to become a little more stubborn, so that Inaba could change herself.

What on earth would things become? Hadn’t the triangle, although dangerous but still managing to balance itself, already stepped across danger and completely stabilized? Was it about to waver again? Had it never stopped wavering?

Was it really going to waver until it collapsed this time?

“Hey, hey, Nagase, what did you say to Inaba about this…”

“I didn’t tell Inaban anything, because there’s no need to.”

The need to do such a thing was, of course, between the parties themselves --- from that perspective it made sense, but weren’t Nagase and Inaba an exception?

It was almost as though the frightening Nagase had returned… No, was it that that Nagase frequently stayed in Nagase’s heart, and the only difference was whether it expressed itself or not?

“It’ll be all right, as long as Taichi and I don’t tell anyone, no one will ever find out. So just think about it, let’s start all over from the beginning, not just as simple friends.”

Not just as simple friends, the meaning behind this was…

“... Did something happen?”

“No, it’s just… I can’t resist it anymore. I want to act boldly and pursue what I want.”

Resist? Had he and Inaba been compelling Nagase to resist all this time?

“Uh, but… that’s impossible, isn’t it?”

The love between himself and Nagase had once, for a time, reached an end.

Yes, both of them should have completely accepted that ending.

Furthermore, there was friendship between Nagase and Inaba, and besides, Taichi and Inaba were dating. So ---

“There is nothing in this world that is impossible or cannot be done.”

The crimson, flirtatious luster of Nagase’s lips as she murmured this seemed to be enticing Taichi.


After school, the Nagase who attended cheer competition practice was the Nagase Iori who was friendly to everyone, innocent and unaffected.


□■□■□


“Nagase, let’s sit down and talk this out properly.”

The next day, before he arrived at school, Taichi bumped into Nagase.

He was shocked for an instant, but he immediately pulled himself together and took the initiative by talking to her. Lately, when they had been alone together, Nagase kept giving off a weird vibe.

“Hm? You got something to tell me?”

Nagase asked with a clear, outgoing smile, devoid of any malice whatsoever.

Was this her true face? Or was it a mask?

Extreme thoughts began permeating his mind.

“It’s about something you said to me, Nagase.”

Taichi thought that he couldn’t escape. Even if a thorny ending awaited him, he had to face it head on; he had to express his sincerity. Moreover, it was quite probable that Nagase became like this due to some sort of turning point, and troublesome things like before could possibly happen again.

“Something I said to you? Uh… Which thing?”

“Um, the thing you ran over and told me about yesterday, and the day before. That… thing.”

“Something important I told Taichi recently? Hmm…”

Nagase knit her brows together and sank into thought, seemingly truly unaware of what the thing was.

It really didn’t look like theatrics, but this was Nagase Iori he was dealing with; it wasn’t impossible for her.

“Sorry, I really don’t know what it is. Have I been saying strange things lately?”

Nagase said, smiling.

It was a perfect smile, like that of an idol.

That smile was much too perfect, rendering one absolutely unable to see through her inner thoughts.

He could only find the correct answer without any hints; was she testing him?

If this was the case, then he’d take the initiative and strike first.

“It’s about… you liking me.”

Nagase, who had been walking shoulder-to-shoulder with Taichi, halted her footsteps.

She froze to the spot, but immediately thawed.

“--- Who are you talking about?”

Her cold voice seemed to pierce right through him; Taichi couldn’t help but feel fear.

“... You, Nagase.”

“Liking whom?”

“Liking me… Liking Yaegashi Taichi.”

“Judging by the atmosphere, this, ‘liking’. Doesn’t refer to ‘liking’ as friends, does it?”

“Yeah… Of course not.”

The instant Taichi confirmed this, Nagase’s smile froze.

She was clearly smiling, but she wasn’t; she was clearly smiling, but it was without emotion.

Taichi had never seen a smile so horrifying.

“Hey, I usually really don’t mind. No matter whether I’m chatting with Taichi, or whether Taichi’s getting intimate with Inaba, or whatever; it’s all the same.”

It was clear but sounded monotonous; to some people, her voice might sound artificially synthesized.

Nagase took a step closer to Taichi.

“Because that thing already had a complete ending.”

Nagase took another step closer.

“But, you had to bring up old affairs…”

Nagase leaned the top half of her body forward, as though about to exhale her breath onto Taichi’s face, and brought her face up to his.

By the time she was close enough that he could count her eyelashes with his naked eyes---

There’s gotta be a limit to being crazy!

She condemned him in a voice full of rage.

Then, leaving Taichi unable to move a single step, Nagase went around him and left.


Their conversation in the morning seemed to have left Nagase in a very bad mood, so for most of the morning, Taichi was ignored by her.

It was clearly Nagase who had opened her mouth first and told Taichi that she still liked him; this made Taichi very confused. This was much too unreasonable, he thought.

“Hey, Taichi.”

During lunch break that day, while Taichi was in a first floor corridor, he was again seized by Nagase while alone. Nagase wasn’t very impassioned or hesitant; she spoke to him very typically.

Simply unfathomable.

Taichi could not understand what Nagase Iori was thinking.

“Say…”

“Wait a second, Nagase, don’t you think your attitude this morning is way too different from your attitude right now? You pretended not to know anything during the morning, and even ignored me, and now you’re back to normal… What on earth is going on?”

Taichi couldn’t make heads or tails of it. These completely different versions of Nagase had appeared several times and had spoken what she had wanted to say, like she was minding her own business. Taichi didn’t know which of her words to believe, or what was reality.

“Um… T-That was…”

Nagase had a flustered expression.

“My way of talking… might be a little too crazy, sorry about that. But, the first one to bring this up was clearly Nagase, wasn’t it?”

“Back then… I was afraid that others would overhear…”

Nagase murmured timidly, without much confidence; this reaction went beyond Taichi’s expectations. He sank into a sort of illusion, as though he were the one excoriating the unfortunate, pretty girl, making him unsure of what to do.

“There had been other people heading to school too back then, hadn’t there…”

“Right?”

Regaining her composure, Nagase suddenly looked happy; her mood swings were really quite dramatic.

“Yes indeed, so! When there are other people nearby… you can treat it as though I’m ‘pretending’. Only when I’m alone with Taichi… when I say ‘this is for real’, is it truly real. You have to remember this password.”

Nagase spoke nonstop, rendering Taichi unable to immediately react.

Nagase was supposed to detest being mistaken for ‘pretending’ to the extreme, and had always distressed over this; it was very difficult to think that she would so recklessly say the word ‘pretending’ of her own accord.

But Nagase herself had spoken the word.

“... Why do you say that? It’s as though the surroundings don’t matter at all and you’ll only express your true self in front of me---”

“Because I’ve discovered that, as long as Taichi is here, my world is a complete world.”

Nagase revealed a flirtatious smile, as though she were saying, I just told you a very precious secret.

Taichi was baffled by Nagase. He felt that she was speaking the truth; Nagase possessed the power to entice others.

“So, Taichi.”

Emitting a woman’s scent, the girl beautiful enough to belong to the heavens brought her face close and put her lips close to Taichi’s ear, causing Taichi to instantly stiffen.


“---It doesn’t matter if you don’t break up with Inaban, just go out with me.”


Nagase’s lips stirred like a dubiously sweet, enchanting flower.


“---It doesn’t matter if I’m not in first place.”


Taichi frantically put distance between himself and Nagase.

“Nagase, it’s wrong to say that---”

Nagase pressed her right hand onto Taichi’s lips, sealing his mouth.

Two students who appeared to be first years passed by Taichi and Nagase, shooting curious looks their way.

Waiting until those two were no longer visible, Nagase brought out a notepad and pen, fluidly scribbled words onto a piece of paper, and then handed the paper to Taichi.

Meet me at the fountain in the park at 5 PM today.


Chihiro and Enjouji’s class seemed to have some sort of activity today, so neither one of them showed up at the club. Only the five second-year founding members were gathered at the Cultural Research Club.

Nagase looked as though nothing had happened at the club, carefreely chatting and laughing with everyone, but she seemed to be intentionally avoiding Taichi.

Taichi watched the other four talk and laugh from aside, sighed helplessly, and turned his eyes towards his notebook.

He really wasn’t in the mood to solve equations; he was doodling some meaningless patterns with his mechanical pencil, then rubbing them away with his eraser.

“Hey, Inaban, just go like this~!”

“Wah, you idiot! Stoppit! Hey, I said… Pu, guhahahahaha!

Nagase horsed around with Inaban, seemingly without a shred of guilt.

Nagase’s normal look was instead brewing up a strange feeling.

Was this type of attitude telling Taichi, that was just between us two?

Taichi had seen various expressions from Nagase these past few days.

Since the differences between them had been too great, Taichi even felt that there was an imposter in their midst. But in reality he could confirm that every single Nagase was the true Nagase; even now, he was still unable to comprehend Nagase Iori as a person.

Nagase had told Taichi: “I can’t forget you, and I like you, Taichi.”

Taichi found it difficult to grasp this feeling, unable to grasp Nagase’s true thoughts.

Taichi and Nagase had once been favorable towards each other, and if the timing had been right, the two of them should have been dating by now; they had been so fitting for each other, their hearts had once been tightly connected.

But under the teasings of fate, the love between the two had ended without results.

Both of them clearly confirmed this together.

It had been a shocking love. Although immature, it had been true love. Therefore, neither of them had the heart to start again from nothing, and had decided to wipe it all into a clean slate.

But, was Nagase already able to start again from nothing?

What had happened that had incited such an intense change in her state of mind?

If that were the case, then what did he think?

Was he willing to start again from nothing?

After he had confessed, she had accepted, but they hadn’t developed to the point of dating; afterwards, he had confessed again and was rejected, and once they had truly understood both of their feelings, the result of their discussion was to reset everything; then, time passed… And now, she was confessing to him that she still liked him.

What will Yaegashi Taichi, who had always adored Nagase Iori, do---

“What’s wrong, Taichi?”

“Huh?”

Inaba was peeking concernedly at Taichi.

Once Inaba stopped showing off, she would frankly expose her own feelings. Watching Inaba’s natural beauty illustrate rich expressions put Taichi’s heart at ease more than any scenery could.

His cold heart slowly regained its warmth.

“No, it’s nothing.”

His girlfriend was Inaba Himeko.

The person most important to him right now was Inaba Himeko.

“Really? You seemed preoccupied last night when I was on the phone with you.”

Inaba’s bright eyes reflected Taichi’s figure.

“Nah, nothing like that.”

Taichi replied, looking away; he didn’t want Inaba to see through his thoughts right now. It was as though he was betraying her; this made Taichi’s chest tighten up.

Catching sight of the situation, Nagase piped up to tease Inaba:

“Ooh~, wah~, Inaban’s pampering Taichi again~, it’s so flashy~, where are my shades?”

“N-Nothing wrong with that, w-we’re dating, anyway… Say, you’ve been teasing me all day, what about Taichi?!”

Taichi’s heart had been disturbed so much by Nagase that even his girlfriend, whom he loved the most, was concerned for him.

What an ugly good-for-nothing he was.


To resolve this chaotic situation, he had to do as Nagase said: head to the park and meet her there.

Thinking this, right before club activities were about to end, Taichi spoke up: “I have things to do,” and prepared to leave first. Since the time written on the note was 5:00 pm, if he waited until club activities ended before leaving the building, he wouldn’t be able to arrive at the designated location on time.

Even as Taichi got up to leave, Nagase still showed no reaction at all. Was she planning to leave later, so as not to arouse suspicion?

“Where are you going? I’ll come with you.”

Inaba said, but Taichi firmly rejected her. Seeing Inaba look hurt, Taichi felt a stabbing pain in his heart.

The park Nagase was referring to was close to the school, in the opposite direction from Taichi’s path to school. The park was indescribably large, but Nagase had indicated “at the fountain” so they should be able to meet successfully.

Taichi cast a sidelong glance at the currently practicing sports club, left the field, and headed for the park.

What in the world was Nagase thinking right now? What was she trying to do?

Taichi was still unable to determine Nagase’s true thoughts, or what Nagase was going to do, so he had no way of taking countermeasures.

Taichi was furious at his own inability, but just on his own, he was unable to discern what was normal; if there were someone to give him an objective opinion, that would be a different story. Yes, if he could find someone to consult about this situation, that would be great. If he worried about it on his own, he would occasionally run into dead ends; if he could observe things from someone else’s perspective, sometimes problems would be very easily solved.

Taichi was aware of this, but who would he consult for this sort of thing?

Just then, the air suddenly trembled.

“Hey, Yaegashi-kun.”

As though descending from the sky, a resounding voice filled with dignity made Taichi turn his head around to look behind him.

A girl with glasses flashing like the flames of hope and hair tied to the back of her head to expose her forehead, wearing a uniform as straight as a ramrod, whose appearance would seem to be published in a tour guide handbook introducing the school. This girl, who emitted the style of individuality from all over her body --- was Fujishima Maiko.

Fujishima’s upright stature made others recall the era during which she was acclaimed as the strongest class president.

“Fuji… shima?”

The timing of her appearance was simply too coincidental; Taichi couldn’t help but emit a foolish voice.

“There’s something you want to consult me about, isn’t there?”

This was too opportune, something like this could actually happen? He had just been half-jokingly fantasizing, if it were that person, she could probably give me some good suggestions, and the person had appeared right before his eyes. Furthermore, it was the Fujishima everyone was hoping would revive once more, to before she became weak; this was like a dream.

Without a shred of suspicion, it wouldn’t hurt for Taichi to tell her about it in this sort of situation, would it? If he didn’t take this opportunity to say it, when would he?

“Can you promise to absolutely never tell anyone about this?”

“Don’t look down upon me, okay?”

Ahh, this can’t be wrong.

This was the Fujishima from before, the class president more dependable than anyone else.

“Fujishima, you should know roughly what’s happening, so I’ll keep it short. To be honest, recently… Nagase’s been telling me, ‘I can’t forget you, and I still like you’... Don’t tell anyone!”

“Go for it.”

Fujishima responded at once.

She didn’t show a shred of hesitation, not even giving Taichi time to think.

“Huh?”

“So, just go for it.”

“What do you mean… by ‘go for it’?”

He really wanted Fujishima to give him an answer.

“I’m telling you to pursue both relationships at the same time.”

But, this wasn’t the answer Taichi was hoping for; it was the answer he could absolutely never hope for.

“Uh, but… in a certain sense, that response does have a very Fujishima-like feel to it.”

If it were the Fujishima who advocated free romance, she would very likely say that. But, even so, it seemed a little off, didn’t it? Even if it were such advocacy, if it were Fujishima, she would say it in another way.

But, Fujishima seemed to see through Taichi’s wavering, and staunchly declared:

“That would be so-called happiness, that would be the correct path, because that way, everyone can be happy.”

Fujishima said with a benevolent smile like that of a goddess.

“Trust me.”

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk.

Gears that were not supposed to move roared loudly, and began to turn.

Was this path really the path he should take?

Taichi arrived at the fountain Nagase indicated.

Elderly folk were walking their dogs, and primary school students were romping in all directions on bicycles. The park in the evening was peaceful in this way, but Taichi’s heart would not calm, a storm tearing about inside him.

On his way to the fountain, Taichi could not stopping worrying over the words that Fujishima had thrown his way.

“Romance Expert”, “Missionary of Love”, “Romance Goddess” --- the suggestion that Fujishima, with those joking nicknames, had given him.

Without even thinking about it, he knew that pursuing both relationships at the same time was absolutely the wrong move.

It was clearly the wrong move, but hearing Fujishima declare it so resolutely and decisively… No, it was definitely still wrong.

Taichi chased these silly thoughts from his brain.

Nagase should be arriving soon; he had already prepared himself mentally, and now awaited her arrival.

Her frighteningly flirtatious look when she had been alone with Taichi during break again floated into Taichi’s mind.

---It doesn’t matter if you don’t break up with Inaban, just go out with me.

---It doesn’t matter if I’m not in first place.

The words, accompanied by a warm, exhaled breath, stuck in Taichi’s ears like honey, unable to be shaken off. Sweet fragrance disturbed Taichi’s mind.

But, no, it was impossible.

Even if Fujishima gave him a hard shove, it was still impossible.

Even if Taichi thought Fujishima was a very awesome and dependable person, such a statement was still a little off…

A little off?

Yes, something had always been a little off. He didn’t know when it had started, but he had felt a little off. But in his own life, there shouldn’t be anything off---

“Huh? Whatcha up to, Taichi?”

Taichi shivered for a moment, seeking the owner of the voice.

Who was it? It wasn’t Nagase.

Kiriyama Yui was standing a slight distance away from Taichi.

“... Kiriyama?”

Why would Kiriyama be here? Taichi thought as he looked to the side, and saw Uwa Chihiro also present.

“I go to the dojo today, so I wanted to leave for home earlier, and then I saw Chihiro-kun running this way. I thought Chihiro-kun might have forgotten that we needed to go to the dojo today, so I chased after him… and then, since Chihiro-kun wanted to run away, I just continued to chase him here.”

Kiriyama shrugged, glancing towards Chihiro. Chihiro’s expression looked very awkward.

“Well, what’re you doing, Taichi? Waiting for someone?”

“... Y-Yeah, you could say that.”


In the end, no matter how late Taichi stayed, Nagase did not appear at the agreed location.


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