I visited that place on a whim. I knew he wouldn’t be there, and even if he were, I knew there was nothing I could say to him.
Yet, I still went there because I wanted to be sure. I wanted to convince myself that my feelings were not wrong.
“……Senpai is not here today?”
“I know, Sakakibara-san.”
Or maybe, I just wanted to have a conversation with her.
Surely, I was thinking about him, and surely, she was someone he trusted.
Around 6:00 PM, I sat down with her, knowing that it was already time for her to leave. I felt somewhat sorry for visiting her abruptly, but given that we attend different schools, there was no other way, so I half-heartedly justified it.
“Our relationship is quite strange, isn’t it, Fukumura Senpai?”
“Yeah, it is. Our first meeting was something else,”
She said and laughed a little. At that time, I wasn’t yet aware of my own feelings, but she must have felt that our encounter had a somewhat story-like quality to it.
Surely, even more so than I did.
“Actually, it feels like we’re acquaintances of acquaintances, right?”
“Yeah. Looking back, it’s been a series of heavy moments, which makes me feel disheartened.”
Most of the time we spent together involved dealing with various issues, and every time, I witnessed her supporting him.
“So, your purpose for coming is still about Senpai, right?”
“Yeah. If I want to discuss something, I’d rather do it with you.”
Honestly, it was just an excuse to talk to her, but it was also a genuine thought.
“I wonder what Kitami is planning to do.”
Various problems surrounding Emi. What choices will he make, and what kind of conclusion will he reach?
“Well, this is just my speculation.”
“Sure, I’d like to hear it.”
She understands him well. So her speculations should not be easily dismissed as mere guesswork.
However, the following words puzzled me greatly.
“Honestly, I think Senpai won’t do anything. He probably thinks it’s all irrelevant and doesn’t care about anything.”
“Irrelevant? Does he really?”
I was about to deny it, but I stopped. There were far too many instances that made me think otherwise.
“In the end, Senpai doesn’t really show any interest in that person named Sonoda, or anyone else, for that matter.”
“Yeah, that’s right. So he doesn’t hold any grudge against Sonoda either. It’s because he has no interest in that person’s life.”
“B-But Emi has a history with Kitami, or rather, she is one of the causes of Kitami’s harm.……”
At the very least, she should be a person associated with unpleasant memories, so how could someone show no interest in such a person?
“Let me just say this, Senpai is different in that regard, right? At least I think it’s weird!”
Then she continued.
“In the end, being bullied and betrayed by someone named Sonoda didn’t hurt Senpai’s feelings.”
“It might be true that he wasn’t hurt” she added as a clarification.
Although it may sound like a jumble of words at first, I found myself accepting her words.
“In the end, Senpai said he became a truant because his family didn’t believe in him. I think that’s the reason why he doesn’t take any proactive actions towards Sonoda. It’s because he truly doesn’t care. To him, that person has always been just a stranger.”
I don’t think it’s healthy, she muttered with a hint of complaint.
“Moreover, Senpai is unconditionally kind. Despite being so sensitive to malice, he’s rather insensitive to his own pain. You could even say he lacks awareness in that regard. Though it seems he has improved quite a bit lately.”
She was probably the one who prompted that change, but she didn’t touch upon that fact. I thought she resembled him in that aspect as well—unspoken but understanding.
“Whether he starts saying he won’t go to school or suddenly decides to attend, it all proves that his thoughts are fixated on ‘family matters.’ He doesn’t value school at all.”
“Because of that”, she continued.
“For Senpai, maintaining the status quo was the best option. I can’t understand it at all, though!”
What she was saying was probably right. It perfectly matched the image of Shuya Kitami, the person I vaguely perceived.
But there were still things that I couldn’t accept.
“But if that’s the case, why does Kitami care about me, worrying about my current situation?”
He told me that he couldn’t leave my current situation as it is. He gave me the words I needed, the words I wanted.
But I am still a part of the school community. Aren’t I just a trivial part of those “irrelevant” matters to him?
“Besides, if it’s all so irrelevant, why not just reveal the evidence now? If he does that, he can sever ties with Emi at least.”
Surely, he will be treated as an outcast, but I’m sure he won’t mind. He might even wear a serene expression.
“Are you seriously saying that, Fukumura Senpai?”
I felt pressure coming from her directly, and my words faltered.
“Of course it’s because you’re not a ‘stranger’ to him anymore.”
“Regardless of school or any other factors, it’s just about being present as a person, isn’t it? Do you need any more reasons than that?”
“I don’t know what your relationship with him is like, but I don’t think it’s a difficult matter. It’s just him caring for you as a friend, as a person.”
“That’s… Yeah. That’s okay, right? Yeah! That’s it, it’s just that simple.”
That fact alone was enough. At the same time, I felt self-reproach for questioning this in the first place. I must have used her for my own concerns.
The second question has an answer too.
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?”
The reason Kitami hasn’t settled things quickly with his past is probably because of me.
He fears that his actions may involve me, his friend Emi, in trouble.
The possibility is high because I am involved. Not only the fallout with Emi but also our classmates have noticed. They can see that I might become a source of trouble in this situation.
“Well, it’s easy to say that in hindsight.”
“Yes. From my point of view, it’s better to have an ally who thinks so, no matter how you think about it.”
“It’s not a fetter. No matter how far you go, your allies will always support you. Then what is it? Can you leave Senpai alone now?”
“Exactly, right? Even though it may seem like you’re currently causing a bit of trouble, it’s never a bad thing to have someone who cares about him.”
As long as they don’t betray you. She muttered it with a hint of implication. Perhaps it was a word directed at someone specific.
“Being a bit of a nuisance isn’t evil. It’s just a mistake, and making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person. Reflecting on it is necessary, though. So, I’m sure Shuya-senpai doesn’t mind you worrying about him.”
I think that’s probably true. And by understanding that and confirming it with her, I could find solace.
It’s really pitiful, and the more I think that way, the more dazzling she appears to me.
But that’s precisely why I could reassure myself.
What I was feeling wasn’t love.
I didn’t want to call it love in front of her.
“I was worried about Kitami. Well, it’s strange to say this to you, but I’ve always thought that I was able to save a child who committed suicide a long time ago.”
I wanted to resolve that regret with Kitami. I thought about it to no end.
“So, I’m glad there’s a kind person like you by Kitami’s side.”
That was the truth. It was because of her that I became aware of my own dark motives.
“Thank you for that.”
She seemed a bit shy as she expressed her gratitude.
However, she didn’t forgive me. She didn’t let my hidden true feelings go unnoticed.
“So you’re saying you’re giving up Kitami-kun, is that what you’re saying?”
“That’s fine. Because I’m the one who likes Senpai.”
Even though her words might sound arrogant, I couldn’t bring myself to deny them.
I’m sure that’s the case, and that’s why Iーーーー
“I love Senpai so much, so naturally, I won’t give up. I’ll definitely make him mine.”
But she continued.
“You may let me have him, and you may give up, but please let the reason be ‘me.’ Can you stop with that attitude of ‘it’s just me’?”
Do I really think that way…?
“You’re thinking about it, senpai. Don’t you hate yourself for taking advantage of Shuya-senpai, thinking that you’re not worthy, and just looking for reasons to give up?”
I don’t know about that…
“That won’t do. I won’t accept that. Because Senpai, you like Shuya-senpai, don’t you? It’s troublesome to overthink it, so it’s okay to just like him because you like him.”
“Whether you used him or not, or whether you feel worthy or not, it’s up to the other person to decide, isn’t it? Did you actually scheme something against Shuya-senpai? If not, then I don’t think it’s right to decide how the other person feels. I won’t forgive that. My beloved person, the person I want to be by my side, is not that shallow!!”
“You can give up only when Shuya-senpai clearly hates you, or when you confess and get rejected, or when Shuya-senpai chooses me.”
“Anything else is not allowed. Properly lose to me. Lose, and then, finally, give up.”
This is not for my sake. It’s for her to be satisfied.
I measured him by my own standards, and she didn’t like that. Hence, this was her anger.
I know I can’t compare to her. However, I couldn’t ignore the tiny, but certain, spark that ignited within me.
“I’ll make you regret it.”
“Yes, that’s what I hope for. Though there’s no need to think about it, I’ll easily defeat you.”
I wanted to disrupt her confident expression. Finding my own emotions somewhat peculiar, I smiled defiantly.
Respect and animosity. Ah, so this is what it means to have a rival. Strangely, I didn’t feel weary of these emotions, almost like I was the protagonist of a story.
Malice and animosity are different, and I’m sure I can become serious.
That day, I experienced my first love.
Though I know the outcome, this impulse was undoubtedly my true feelings.
I absolutely don’t want to lose to her!!