Translated and Edited by: ynlucca.
-san: A polite suffix, but not excessively formal.
-kun: A common suffix among friends and younger people.
-chan: A common suffix among people you’re close with, mostly used for feminine nicknames and girls, since it’s cutesy and childlike.
-senpai: A common suffix and noun used to address or refer to one’s older or more senior colleagues in a school, workplace, dojo, or sports club.
Our pace was much slower than usual. The observation room was located at the top floor of the hotel. We took the elevator there.
Reika always tied her hair back, but now it was undone, free. That new look made her seem oddly mature. I was incredibly used to her usual hairdo, but this new one was nice and fresh.
“Toshiki… You’re looking at me a bit too much, don’tcha think?”
“Ah, sorry, it’s just… Your hair is beautiful, Reika.”
“Aw, you never say that.”
“A–haha, t–that’s not true.”
We were two childhood friends who’d been together for a long, long time. We played with each other every single day as kids. Though, after the incident with my father, Reika went traveling overseas with her dad due to his work, and we could only see each other once a year after that. My memories of that time were a bit fuzzy, too.
We got off the elevator and she skipped ahead, pulling me by the hand as I followed slightly behind her. The map of this place had long been memorized by us.
It’s just like when we were kids… She pulled the hand of that timid boy, stringing him around while they played together. Nostalgia swelled within my chest as I recalled those bygone days. Even though I now see her every day, why do I feel like this?
As we walked, she occasionally turned her head with a naughty smile. Her childish mischief was cute. Too cute.
…My daily life’s changed ever since she came back. Soon after my dad’s death and her moving away, my barren world could’ve only been colored by Eri.
I’ve been thinking it was such a waste. Even though we started to be together every day, I didn’t think anything special of that happiness. And day after day, I really was happy. Despite having a lot going on with Eri and those underground shenanigans, I was having loads of fun—
“Toshiki, we’re here. Wow! It’s so beautiful…”
We peered through the glass of the observation deck, and the view of the unlit darkness below was something to behold. Other than the rather nice and well-kept place, it was an empty country landscape.
“Mhm, beautiful indeed.”
I wanted to say something nice here, but I’m not that witty. If I was good at it in the first place, my relationship with Eri would’ve been wholly different. Interrupting my thoughts, Reika lightly poked my side.
“W–what are you doing?”
“Hmph hmph, nothing… I mean, you were thinking of another girl, weren’t you?”
“…How did you know?”
Reika gave me a nasty look. “You always had this look when talking about Eri-chan…”
“I see… What did that look like?”
“Hmm, you talked about her with this gentle look on your face, but what worried me is that I also noticed a bit of pain there… It’s nice you were able to make up with her in the end.”
“Yeah… I’ve been through a lot with her, but despite all she’s my childhood friend,” Reika sighed lightly when hearing me say that.
“You’ve always loved her, Toshiki. Haha, she’s incredibly cute, isn’t she? I can see why everyone loves her so much.”
As she said that, I felt a distance between us for the first time. I knew then I had to listen to her every word, to take this conversation seriously. Surprisingly, my mind is calm.
“Toshiki, can I have a word?”
“Eri-chan loves you… I’m sure it’s not something fake, either. It’s something pure that was hidden and attacked by my things, but she’s been thinking about you for a long time.”
Her smile, although peaceful, bore a tinge of pain. That small thorn was there because of me, and it’s always been there. Past and present, I’ve let that thorn stay there.
“Y’know, I heard a lot about her from you since we were kids… Ah, that girl is Toshiki’s beloved, I thought… You’ve loved her for years.”
“…Maybe it was true.”
“Seeing you with her makes me happy,” she said. “Hey, Toshiki… go out with her—”
Despite the serenity in my mind, I still felt as though I’ve been punched. No, it hurt more than any punch I’ve ever received. My chest aches and burns.
Reika and I have always been friends, and I used to tell her, whom I occasionally met, about Eri. If it’s true she’s liked me for so long, I caused her deep and constant torment for years. I was doing the same thing Eri did to me.
I never thought it’d be so painful to love someone, and I hate every inch of my being for making the one I love suffer.
We were sitting on one of the couches of the observatory, looking out at the almost pitch scenery past the window. Maybe she was looking outside, but I focused on our reflection through the glass. There, I saw my own image, sitting neatly beside Reika.
“I thought about something… You didn’t think much about me, right? Look back and remember.”
I wanted to deny her words, I mean, I’ve always thought about her.
Perusing my mind, I go back in time to when I reunited with Reika. It happened when I was dumped by Eri, and she’d taken me out on a date to help me fix my appearance. We also played games together at home after going out to the movies, and we spent a lot of time together during classes. I even ran to where she was just to see if she was okay… I thought I was thinking of her.
Meanwhile, I was tangled up with the mountain of problems with Eri and the underground organization. Was I really thinking of her during all of that?
“That’s right. Toshiki, you care about Eri and your friends. Of course, you care about me too, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as love… Maybe you’re comparing me to your deceased mother.”
“You’re wrong,” I told her so with the clearest words I could think of. Reika only smiled back.
“…You’ve been in love with Reika for a decade, haven’t you? If that’s the case, you should protect Eri, who’s hurting. Besides… I think I’m going abroad again, and you shouldn’t be around me anymore.”
And then she went silent. “I’m going abroad, so date Eri instead. I’m not gonna be by your side anymore,” I looked at it all from a third-person perspective, as if it wasn’t about me in the first place.
Despite what she was saying, I didn’t waste my time talking. I waited until she’d said everything she wanted to say, storing up every thought along the way.
After all that, I muttered a few words—
“—‘Toshiki, I’ll always be there for you, so don’t cry.’”
Those were the words she said when my dad died. My memory of that time was still vague, but it’s been slowly coming back ever since I broke out of my shell.
“Toshiki? C, could that be…”
“—‘I… will be strong someday and protect you, Reika.’ I remembered. I feel a bit nostalgic since I was so weak back then.”
Looking back, Eri moved in right after my father died. Reika couldn’t see me anymore due to her father’s circumstances, but from then on I was pushed around by Eri while, in reality, she was just ordered to be friendly with me.
In hindsight, her fondness for me itself was distorted. Now she’s different, showing me pure and proper affection. This new affection, however, isn’t love. It’s like a daughter showing love to her dad whom she loves so much.
“I understand what you want to say, Reika. I really do. I like Eri-chan.”
Reika’s expression didn’t change when I said that, but I could tell by the atmosphere. She was sad, anguished. Even if we were apart for years, we’ve always been there for each other.
I continued speaking. “I was worried, so worried about her. As a father is worried for his daughter… I now understand it all so clearly now. The affection I’ve harbored for her wasn’t romantic love. It was love you have for your family.”
“I’ll make it clear. I love you, Reika, as a man loves a woman.”
Reika froze stiff at my words. “T–that’s no good… I, I can’t date you because Eri-chan will break again and I’m g–going abroad…”
I’m an indecisive, useless idiot. What am I doing when the girl I love is struggling so much to step aside for a friend? I really feel like I understood what love is for the first time. Nothing else matters but the girl in front of me. That’s all there is to it.
“It doesn’t matter. If you’re going abroad, I’m going too. The feelings I hold for you are not a replacement for my mother. I’m in love with you, Reika. You’re the first girl I’ve ever properly loved.”
That love, which had been frozen in time, began to thaw once I met Reika again. If this blossoming feeling isn’t love, I don’t know what is. After these words fell from my mouth, I gently placed my hands on her shoulders, preventing her from running away. Her body quivered under my fingers.
“Y–you’re late, i–idiot… W–why didn’t you tell me earlier, dummy… It’s already too late. If I’m here, I’ll be in your way… You can’t have a peaceful life if you stay with me…”
“None of that matters, Reika. I will still protect you. As I promised.”
Reika knew the details of my father’s death. All I know is he killed someone in self-defense, dying later. Neither grandpa nor Reika has ever explained it to me.
“B–because… hic… Y–your father died p, protecting me…”
“That doesn’t matter. I still love you Reika, so please just answer me.”
I hugged her frightened body, so slender under my embrace. A soft smell enveloped my body as I closed my eyes. I’m sorry, Reika. You’ve suffered because of my weakness.
“S, such a question… O, of course, I love you, dummy… I’ve always, always, always loved you!”
I finally understood myself. The reason I was trying to be strong was for her sake.
T/N: Next chapter is the last one!
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