“Good work, Senpai!”
Sakakibara responded, interrupting the manager’s reply to my greeting.
After settling in a bit from my mini-move, I decided to drop by my part-time job. I hadn’t been scheduled to work, but I had some things I wanted to report in person, so that’s why I showed up.
“I was just about to leave, so please wait a moment!”
It seemed like the store was closing soon, and the manager was already flipping the sign at the entrance.
Sakakibara, now changed into casual clothes, took a seat across from me.
I reported what had happened over the weekend and the progress with my family. I hadn’t originally planned to share every detail about my family, but I felt it was necessary to let her know.
“I see. That’s great news, Senpai.”
“Yeah, it really is. Thanks for everything.”
She didn’t ask for specific details, which made me a little relieved, so I genuinely appreciated that.
“Now, it’s about school.”
“Yeah, well, honestly…”
As long as Fukumura doesn’t do anything, I don’t plan to do anything either. According to Fukumura herself, the current situation is just a quarrel with Sonoda (which still worries me), but I thought it might just fade away if I don’t do anything. If I don’t take any action, they probably won’t either.
But that might still be unsatisfactory from her perspective.
“Well, I guess you have no intention of doing anything, right?”
“Oh, um, well, that’s… “
It seemed she saw through me, and my words got stuck. It felt a bit embarrassing to be caught off guard by my junior.
“I’m not really mad, you know? If that’s what you want to do, it’s fine with me. My opinion isn’t absolute, you know.”
“Are you really okay with that?”
“Yes, I really am.”
It seemed there was something she truly thought about. Well, since she said she’s not mad, I changed the subject for now.
“By the way, I’m thinking of reducing the number of shifts I take.”
Sakakibara looked surprised by my words, but it’s not that big of a deal.
“I’ve decided to go to college. I used to work quite a lot here, but now it’s the time for exams, and there have been various changes in my life. If I’m going to college, I want to get into a good one, and it’s also a way to have some flexibility in my choices.”
“True, you used to work here almost every day. And yeah, I guess it’s already that time, the exams… I don’t really want to think about them yet.”
Sakakibara looked at me with a difficult expression.
“Well, if that’s the case, it’s not weird to stop. It’s not like I’m quitting or anything.”
Since it’s something I need to discuss with the manager, I’ll leave the conversation here for now.
While I was thinking about that, an unexpected visitor arrived.
“Shion-chan!! You came!!”
“Wow! Sac-chan!! Thanks for coming!”
I turned to the closed door of the shop and saw my little sister standing there.
“Eh, Sachi? What are you doing here?”
“Shion-chan invited me! Since Onii-chan is here, I thought it’d be a good opportunity.”
Ah, I see. I get it now. But wait, when did these two become friends?
“When did you two meet? I remember you said you asked Sakakibara when you made plans for the spa.”
“Back when I secretly visited my Onii-chan’s workplace, Shion-chan brilliantly figured out my true identity.”
“Yeah, you showed me a picture of your little sister before, so I recognized her. Sac-chan is cute, so I noticed right away.”
Sakakibara said that, hugging my sister. It feels a bit awkward, but I can’t really complain if they get along.
“Listen to this, Shion-chan! On the hot spring trip, Onii-chan—”
“Oi! Don’t say embarrassing stuff!”
As I suspected, this could be troublesome. But I can’t tell them not to get along, so I’ll just grumble to myself.
“The shop is still open, so you can relax and stay as long as you like.”
“Thank you, Manager.”
The manager, now in casual clothes, said that. It seems there’s still work to be done, so I’ll gladly take up his offer.
“I’m glad things have settled down a bit. I’m happy for you, Sac-chan, that you’ll be living with him again.”
“Yeah, thank you! I’m really happy about it!”
My sister expressed her gratitude with a heartfelt tone. I felt the same way. It truly is a relief.
“Did you have fun on your date?”
“Well~ Onii-chan’s escort could use some work~”
“Senpai, she says this, but—”
“Give me a break.”
They teased me with grins on their faces. What kind of punishment game is this…
“I’m not blushing.”
Such a silly conversation continued. Even so, it’s been a while since I had a relaxed conversation with someone other than family, and I’m feeling comfortable in these moments.
(Have I changed a bit?)
There’s no doubt my way of thinking has changed. At first, I disliked and denied this change.
But now, I can accept this change as something to be happy about.
They were the ones who gave me this chance—Sachi, Sakakibara, and…
It was Fukumura. Her voice was desperate as she called out.
“Fukumura… Huh? Why are you here?”
I turned to the voice and saw Fukumura, breathing heavily.
Fukumura apologized. I wondered why she had to apologize, but before I could ask, the other unwanted visitor spoke up.
The peaceful time we had just experienced seemed like the calm before the storm.
With a nasty smile on his face, Shinohara approached.
“That’s why!! I’m saying if we can just shut up Kitami, we’ll win!!”
“What will you do if you can’t?! What good will it do to escalate things further?! We’re already screwed! There’s no way out!”
I happened to notice them by chance. Passing through the school gate, I headed towards Kitami’s part-time job, and there, at the edge of the park on the way, Shirakawa and Shinohara were having a heated argument. I quickly hid and eavesdropped. Their voices were loud enough that I could easily hear the content without getting too close.
“It’ll be fine! You know what kind of guy he is, right!?”
“Even if I do, it doesn’t matter anymore! Doing anything more won’t change a thing! It’s hopeless! There’s nothing we can do!”
I could easily understand the conversation even from the middle. In essence, Shinohara is trying to do something about Kitami, and Shirakawa is objecting.
Shirakawa’s argument is correct. They have no escape route.
That’s probably why Shinohara made up his mind.
“I know where his part-time job is. You saw it too, right? That photo of Kitami making a girl cry. I’ve been there; it’s not that far from here.”
“What?! Are you planning to rush there right now?! Even if he’s there?!”
“He’ll be there. It’s just a hunch, but you know my hunches are usually spot on, right? And if he’s not there, I’ll just wait for him tomorrow morning. Whether it’s today or tomorrow doesn’t change anything. Sooner is better, that’s all.”
I have to stop it. I can’t let him meet Kitami.
I started running. Of all days, I didn’t have my bike.
Next to Shinohara, there was a bicycle. I had to hurry; otherwise, he might get there first.
In hindsight, I could have just called someone. That way, I would have had enough time to hide.
But maybe I didn’t do that because deep down, I had a premonition.
This might be the decisive event. The problem revolving around him might finally reach a conclusion.
Perhaps I unconsciously hoped for that.
“Hey, the store is already closed.”
Internally, I was scared. I was scared, but when I saw Fukumura-senpai rushing in and panting, I knew something serious must have happened. It’s okay, senpai is here. This must be a dangerous situation. Since I don’t know how things will turn out for Shuya senpai if this escalates further, my first priority should be to mediate.
Judging from Fukumura-senpai’s condition, this seems to be a sudden event. I need to gather the situation for now.
“Fukumura-senpai, come over here! Come on, hurry!”
“Y-Yeah! Thanks, Shion-chan.”
I kept Fukumura-senpai away from the man who seemed dangerous. If only she could calmly go home now…
“So, you know what this is about, right?”
It seems it won’t be that easy. Ignoring the surroundings, the man asks Shuya-senpai.
“I don’t know.”
Shuya-senpai responds to his question. It seems a discussion can’t be avoided, and he has no intention of avoiding it.
The manager is unfortunate enough to have gone shopping, and he’ll definitely give us a lecture when he comes back.
“Sachi, go home… please…”
The brother and sister are showing off how close they are. Oh no, please stop the violence!
“I’m sorry, Kitami. A lot happened at school, and I should have reported it right away…”
“Before that, you barged in here, didn’t you? Well, it’s not Fukumura’s fault.”
A lot happened at school. I wonder what exactly happened.
“Don’t play dumb! You’re the one spreading false rumors about us bullying you!!”
“I don’t know if that’s true. Is that what’s happening at school?”
I can’t really say that’s impossible. But making such a retort would be pointless with senpai, so I just swallow it. In any case, senpai hasn’t done anything like that.
“Don’t lie! Then who else would be spreading such lies?!”
“Sonoda, probably. No one else.”
Huh, this is unexpected. Senpai rarely makes such a straightforward assertion. Well, even just listening to the conversation, I think the same.
“…Is that really the case?”
“Probably. Well, who else could it be?”
I think so too. Or rather, despite aggressively pressing him, he admitted it easily.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
What am I witnessing? The man who barged in suddenly seems deflated and disheartened, easily persuaded by Shuya senpai. What is senpai thinking? Even though he was so confrontational, why doesn’t he say something back to him?
Thinking that way, I gauged Shuya senpai’s expression.
(I see, that’s how it is.)
I sensed it from his facial expression. He feels sympathy for him, even against a man like this.
Excessive kindness. Honestly, I want to give him a scolding right now. But I endure it. It’s not too late for that after everything is over.
That’s what I thought.
“But in the end, it all comes down to Kitami being convinced, right?”
As a result, Shuya-senpai fell prey to his own kindness.
The man in front of us was despicable, with a rotten character to the core.
“If Kitami just keeps quiet, then it’s only Sonoda who told the lies, right!?”
I wish I had realized at this point. If I had, maybe I could have stopped that threat.
“Hey, Kitami, if things go on like this, our soccer club might face suspension, you know?”
“!! Shut up!! There’s no way that would happen!!”
I noticed the worst idea. So I tried to stop it, but it was already too late. This guy intends to betray Sonoda as well. He no longer cares about the means and is prepared to do anything.
“Listen, if things continue like this, it might drag in people who have nothing to do with it. You get it, right? So, Kitami…”
That’s a devil’s whisper. One-sided, selfish, and the worst plea that would leave a big scar on someone like Shuya senpai.