TL: From here on things will get interesting.
I, Ayana Otonashi, had a boy with whom I was very close since I was a little girl.
His name was Shu Sasaki, and he was the kind of boy who always followed me around.
It didn’t take that long for Shu-kun and I to become friends, partly because our mothers were very close.
[Ayana, let’s play together!]
At the time, I thought Shu-kun was cute as he followed behind me, and I wondered what it would be like to have a younger brother.
It was surprisingly early in elementary school that I began to realize that such a world of me, my mother, Shu-kun and his family …… was a very small one.
I didn’t mind taking care of Shu-kun myself, and if I had no particular plans, it had become the norm, so I didn’t mind – however, if it didn’t go on forever.
[Where are you going? You can’t, I’ve already talked to Shu-kun’s mother about you going to him.]
[Eh? But I promised to play with my friends. ……]
[You’ll have to do that next time. Your childhood friend Shu-kun is more important, right?]
[Do you understand?]
I had nothing planned, which is why I had made plans to hang out with my friends.
But my mother told me to cancel it and go to Shu-kun, and in the end I couldn’t disobey her.
Fortunately, my friends laughed at me and said it couldn’t be helped, but I was really sorry.
[….. What is a childhood friend?]
Even though I was in elementary school, I had such a question.
People around me had said many things about me growing up faster than normal kids, and I thought to myself, now that I think about it, that may indeed be true.
And it was here …… that I began to question the existence of childhood friends.
[Ayana is Shu-kun’s childhood friend, so put him first.]
[Shu-kun is a good boy, right? That’s why Ayana should get along with him.]
Every day I go to Shu-kun’s house to spend time with him and his sister and return home to finish the day.
On days when school is in session, I head home to wake him up and we head to school together, side by side.
If I think about it, all of these things were just me doing what my mother told me to do, without thinking about it.
[I’m glad you’re here, Ayana-san. Will you become Shu’s wife?]
[Ayana, let’s do it! Onii-chan’s wife!]
[Don’t you two talk nonsense!]
I watched with a somewhat cold heart the scene of their group happy-dancing unfolding before my eyes, in which my mother joined in and happily talked about the future.
I was fed up with my mother who always said “Shu-kun, Shu-kun” in everything she did.
I was also depressed that his mother and sister would praise me for taking care of Shu-kun, lifting him up in a way that was unimportant to me. …… And above all, I began to think that even Shu-kun, whom I had thought was cute not so long ago, was a bother to me.
Yes, I began to think that all of them around me were unpleasant.
[Who am I…… What am I?]
What am I? I wanted to shout that to someone.
I wanted someone to tell me,…… I wanted to ask anyone who would listen about the existence of Ayana Otonashi.
But as a young girl, I could only keep them bottled up inside, and before I knew it, I was putting on a masked smile for them.
[Ayana and I have a lot of fun together.]
[I see. Me too.]
[Hey, hey, Ayana-chan. Come play with me, too!]
[Yes. What shall we do?]
[Ayana, are you already learning to cook? That’s amazing.]
When I was dealing with them, I felt comfortable when I started thinking of myself as if I were a stranger.
I am not an individual, and I can simply play the role of Ayana Otonashi that they want me to play without thinking about anything else.
If I nodded my head in agreement with what they said and did nothing to disobey them, they would not complain.
Only I know what I really think, and if I build a wall inside and outside myself like this, no one can step inside me …… and my world was protected in that way.
[You love that manga, I see!]
[Yes, yes! It’s so funny!]
[I wish I had a cool boy like that by my side!]
[You call them childhood friends? I think it’s great!]
At the time, there was a popular girls’ manga, the title of which I don’t remember.
My friend used to tell me that she couldn’t get enough of the sweet and sour, exciting, and sometimes painful experiences they went through to get together with their childhood boy friend.
[Is that so? Sounds interesting]
In the end, I didn’t borrow any manga from my friends after that, but it was more convenient for me —- I didn’t feel anything about the manga they talked about.
[…… Childhood friends are not a nice thing.]
I disliked manga that depicted romance with childhood friends.
The only thing I could see about the opposite sex who were devoted to their childhood friends was that they were just dolls without wills performing prescribed actions, and I never felt any good about the cool childhood friend guy that everyone liked.
When I read those kinds of stories, I even think twistedly that she was brainwashed at an early age to like her childhood friend.
[What is a childhood friend?]
That has always been my life’s question.
And if there is one thing I can say about my days, it is that my childhood friend was a “curse” for me. ……
However, there was one day when I reached the limit of my patience.
[Ayana, today, too, at Shu-kun’s house—]
[No! I won’t listen to you anymore!]
I tried to remain indifferent and thought I could live with the walls in my heart.
But my heart was not as strong as I thought it was, and I resisted for the first time, not even caring that my mother would be angry with me.
The reason why I ran away while crying to a nearby park is probably because I was afraid to go far away by myself.
[Gusu,…… I …… don’t want to do this,…… I …… don’t want to do this!]
I sat on the swing and just kept crying, alone.
Even if I continue to cry like this, the tears will soon dry up and I will return to those people of my own accord. …… My little resistance is only for this moment, and my heart still grows cold when I think that I will give up and accept that the days will return as usual again.
[What are you doing alone? Your eyes are really red, are you crying ……?!]
But that day was different.
That day was a turning point in my life that changed everything for me, a day I will never forget.
[Uhm, …… what am I supposed to do in a case like this?]
A dazzling light shone on my world that I thought nothing would ever change.
Yes, it was him ……Towa-kun appeared in front of me.
[I should not cry! Uhm…… Ukaaaaaaa!!]
This was the first contact between me and Towa-kun, and I’m sure I embarrassed him to no end.
I was in a park where no one was there except for me, and from Towa-kun’s point of view, he must have been in trouble because he was concerned about a girl who was crying alone there and started crying even more when he approached her.
[Uhm, …… this is what I do in these situations!’
As I continued to cry, Towa-kun clumsily patted my head.
I didn’t know what to do, but I could tell that he was trying to cheer me up in a way that somehow came to mind, so I naturally stopped crying, even though I was surprised.
[What’s happened to you?]
I told him honestly what had happened.
It must have been a very difficult story for Towa-kun. It was a terrible thing to discuss such a thing with a man of his age in the first place.
When Towa-kun heard what I had to say, he crossed his arms and groaned, as if it were already difficult for him to do so.
[….You have had it hard]
I would have laughed now, but I was still a small child at the time, so I was about to cry again.
Towa-kun became very panicked when he saw me teary-eyed again and scurried around to see what he could do about it.
And then he looked at the thing that made him yell out, and that was the soccer ball he was rolling around with his foot as he walked into the park.
[Hey, look what I found.]
Towa-kun said and started lifting the ball.
I also watched TV, so I knew that what he was doing was a technique to control the ball without dropping it on the ground.
But I had only seen celebrities do it on TV, and I had never seen it up close like this.
[Yotoh! Ho! That’s it!]
[Waa! Amazing, amazing]
I don’t know much about soccer, but what Towa-kun was doing seemed amazing to me, and I knew that he was desperately trying to cheer me up, so I was very happy.
Towa-kun never dropped the ball on the ground for a while after that, and when he finished with a cool pose at the end of the game, I involuntarily applauded.
[So cool! That was awesome!]
[Haha, thank you! But it’s not as big a deal as it is with adults in general.]
[No, it’s not! It was really cool!]
[…..Hehe, thank you!]
Thinking back, this was the first time I had talked like this with a boy other than Shu-kun.
The freshness of a different world spread through my chest, and something inexpressible filled my heart.
[I have a place to go now, do you want to join me?]
[Yes! I want to go!]
With a nod of my head at Towa-kun’s suggestion, I was no longer thinking about Shu-kun or my mother.
Towa-kun held my hand and took me to many places, but the one that left the biggest impression on me was the game center.
[Uncle, I’m interrupting!] [TL: This is the Uncle she was referring to]
[S-sorry for interrupting….!]
[Hey, Towa buddy, is this your girlfriend?]
I wondered if the man in charge of the arcade was an acquaintance of Towa’s, and from the moment I met him, I could sense that they got along so well that they were even exchanging light banter like that.
The atmosphere was friendly, as if they were father and son, and their stories were funnier than I had imagined, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
[She laughed at you because you’re an idiot.]
[I don’t want to be called an idiot by a toe-wagging boy, now?”]
[My mom called you an idiot too.]
[Mimi-chan, how terrible of her!]
It was a really breathtaking exchange.
Towa-kun made fun of him, and he reacted, and I laughed at him, and he blushed as if he were embarrassed,…… and it was really fun.
[…….There’s all kinds of stuff out there.]
The game arcade was an unknown place for me.
Perhaps, but I believe that not many elementary school students, and girls, come to these places.
There were many things I did not understand, but I played with all my might for about an hour while Towa-kun taught me many things.
But the time of fun comes to an end.
When I saw the clock on the wall, I thought it was time for me to go, so I told Towa-kun that I had to go home.
I was so happy to see him, and he said he would take me home as an apology for taking me around.
The warmth of Towa-kun’s hand that held mine again, I selfishly did not want to let go of his hand.
I also noticed at this time that the warmth coming from his hand was making me nervous.
My house will soon be in sight, and at that time, Towa-kun took something out of his pocket and handed it to me.
It was a bear keychain …… that, let me put it this way, looked pretty ugly.
[I took this earlier when Ayana was absorbed in a game. You can throw it away if you don’t want it.]
[I’m not throwing it away!]
I accepted the key chain and held it to my chest.
This is not the first time I have received a gift like this, but even so, the gift I received from Towa-kun was warmer than anything I have ever received before.
[Thank you, Towa-kun!]
Towa-kun was very cute and shy as he scratched his cheeks, and I was very thrilled to see him like that.
It was very sad to think that my time with him, whom I met for the first time today, would soon come to an end, and although I wished that this time would last longer, it was impossible.
My and Shu’s mothers were panicking in front of my house.
I’m sure she was looking for me, but she would definitely get angry if I headed over there now. ……Towa-kun gently held my hand again, as I couldn’t take a step forward.
[It will be fine. Let’s go]
I nodded to Towa-kun, who smiled at me and said it would be all right, and headed for my mothers.
Shu-kun and Kotone-chan ran up to me when they saw me, and the mothers who had been watching them followed suit.
[I am sorry. I took Ayana around unintentionally. We had so much fun playing together.]
Towa explained the situation.
It really should have been all my fault, but these words from Towa-kun were like saying it was his fault, and my mothers glared at him as if they thought it was Towa-kun’s fault that I was gone.
I tried to say in a loud voice that I was wrong, but Towa-kun stopped me.
He whispered to me again that it was okay, and then looked back at the mothers, who were much bigger adults than he was.
As expected, the mothers did not want to yell at Towa-kun, who was in elementary school, and nothing was said at the time, but after returning home, they nagged me to never see Towa-kun or play with him again.
[Towa kun…..was cool]
When Towa-kun defended me in front of my mothers, I thought it was really cool.
I was about to end my day with a different feeling than usual as I touched the key chain given to me by Towa-kun and thought back to today’s encounter.
Shu-kun and Kotone-chan seemed to be saying something to me, but it didn’t cool my heart.
[Towa-kun, when can I see you again?]
I left Towa-kun without deciding how we could meet or where we could meet, or even where we could meet.
I was wondering if we would ever see each other again, but it turned out to be a groundless fear.
I had no idea that we had gone to the same elementary school.
So, the story of Towa-kun and I began from this point, and we would spend a lot of time together.
Shu-kun would join us, and the three of us would always spend time together.