“…… It’s been a long time since Hayato brought a classmate. Would you wait a moment, I’ll go make some tea now.”
“Y-yes, don’t mind me, ……. H-huh? You’ve never had a friend before. ……”
My mom looked a bit tired somehow as she headed to the kitchen. …… Are you not welcoming Mitobe-san?
I feel an unusual atmosphere.
“There was the time Kyoko and the others rolled into our house. That was uninvited, it was sudden, …… and I didn’t recognize them as friends.”
Right, I didn’t recognize her then, but she had this look on her face when Kyoko and the others left.
She looked at me with a sad face, like she didn’t know what to do–
Mitobe-san had a troubled look on her face.
“Is that so….”
“Well, they left the house in a mess then. It was hard to clean up.”
–I had thought so until now. But at that time, Kyoko and her friends were playing with me. They were making fun of me. Didn’t …… mother feel bad …… when she saw that?
I’ve never felt that way before —- I felt like I understood a little bit of what my mom was feeling—
Mom came back into the living room with a cup of tea.
I stared at her.
“—-You don’t look too happy? …… I wonder why? Is it….. because I’m not smiling? It’s okay, she’s not making fun of me. Mitobe-san is–“
“Eh, Hayato ……, you’re not using the honorific ……. And ……, H-how do you know how I feel?”
I thought it was a strange question. I’ve been pretending to be normal my whole life. I had been acting like I was guessing how my mom felt. So–, it should have been okay–
“…… After all, your mother was aware of it, Kagurazaka-kun.”
“What do you mean she noticed? That I was pretending to be …… normal? Is that true? Then why didn’t you tell me?”
Mom had tears in her eyes.
I made her cry again, I thought.
But the words that came out were different.
“……, I already knew. You are my precious son. I’ve been waiting …… for you to tell me that one day. Your first …… friend …… to bring me here, right? Is it because of that girl? …… I’m a mother, and I can’t do anything about it – ugh …… ugh ……. Hayato understood …… my feelings ……, ugh …….”
Mizutobe-san said to me.
“She’s happy, I’m sure of it. You told her the truth, Kagurazaka-kun, and you’re worried about your mother.”
“I see, ……, then I’ll tell you everything… Mom, I–“
I told her that I had been hiding things from her and pretending to be normal.
She listens to me quietly. I don’t know what it is, but just having Mitobe beside me makes it easier to talk.
I told her that I didn’t have any friends, that I was bullied in junior high school, and that after I met Mitobe, I could understand people’s feelings a little better.
My mother stood up and hugged Mitobe softly.
“Thank you ……, no one was able to heal Hayato, but …… you ……, thank you so much–you’re a benefactor …….”
“N-not because of me, but because of my novel.”
“Ara, you write novels. ……, If you go to Hayato’s room. You’ll be surprised.”
Mother turned to me, away from Mitobe-san.
“The truth is, I’ve been worried about you for a long time. Because you …… always had dirty uniforms, and yet you were smiling …… and I saw you being made fun of …… by your classmates. I was so frustrated and sad ……. I was wondering if I should get involved. I didn’t know what to do. But you were able to face yourself. –I’m going to support you all the way.”
” Yeah, Mizutobe is a cute and a lovely woman. …… Mm? This is the first time I’ve ever thought of a woman as pretty, right?”
“Ara, what about your childhood friend Kyoko-chan?”
Mom said with a frown. I sense that she doesn’t like Kyoko very much.
“—-I’m not interested.”
My mom was laughing for some reason. To be honest, I don’t know what was so funny, but when I see my mom laughing…… my heart rate stabilizes.
“H-Hey, I’m embarrassed, hurry up and go to Kagurazaka-kun’s room!”
“Ah, it’s on the second floor. Is mother coming too?”
Mom laughed and shook her head, urging us to go quickly.
“Uwaaa! Amazing! So many manga!”
When Mitobe-san arrived in my room, her big eyes sparkled.
My room is filled with bookshelves and art supplies. Lately I’ve been drawing a lot with my dad’s old pen tablet.
The walls are covered with my drawings.
” Yeah, my dad is a designer, so we’ve had a lot of manga and illustration books in the house since I was a kid.”
“A-Amazing, M-my dad can only make sweets ……. Oh, he runs a candy shop.
Mitobe-san was looking at my drawing intently as I said this.
“…… This is a copy, right? …… Amazing, it’s drawn exactly like that. Eh, this notebook …….”
I liked to copy manga.
Mitobe-san picked up one of the notebooks in which I had copied the manga.
She flipped through the pages.
“…… U-uhm, I don’t know what to say? Did you copy all these manga?”
“Yeah, it’s a routine I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I used to study the emotions of the scene while copying the manga.”
I’ve probably copied thousands of manga.
Sometimes I’d copy an entire volume, other times I’d copy a scene I liked.
“The one there is from grade school. …… I couldn’t draw an original picture. Until I came across Mitobe-san’s novel–look at this.”
I booted up my computer and showed Mitobe-san the illustration I was working on.
It was the first original manga I had ever drawn.
It was only a few pages long, but I had drawn it out of instinct.
When Mitobe-san saw it, she froze.
“Ah ……, what the hell ……, amazing, my character is alive ……, haha, the heroine looks just like I imagined. I didn’t describe …… this character at all–“
“…… To be honest, there wasn’t a manga or novel that I found the story interesting. –but Mitobe’s novel was the only one that resonated with me in some way. I’m sorry–“
Mitobe-san said to me, sniffing.
“Gusu …… No, I’m very happy ……, oh, I can update my latest story already ……, hey, why don’t we revise it together and see?
It was a strange time.
I’m not supposed to be empathetic, but I could sense that Mitobe-san was enjoying herself.
Surely I look like I’m having fun?
Mitobe-san talked a lot, laughed a lot, and taught me how to write a novel by typing at a very fast pace.
I thought my world was normal, but it’s not.
Today, I felt like my world had been colored—.
“Ara ……, It’s …… possibly the first time I’ve seen Hayato smile.”
It was dinner time and my mom came to my room.
“Mitobe-san do you want dinner with us? His father will be home soon, and you’re welcome.”
“N-No I can’t, I’m sorry ……, it’s late and I’m going home.”
Mitobe-san started to get ready to go home, and my mom told me to walk her home.
She smiled and waved Mitobe off again and again.
It was only a short walk to Mitobe’s house, but the streets were dangerous at night. If a guy like Kakeru shows up, I’ll have to turn him in to the police.
We walked along the street together at night.
Mitobe was silent. She seemed to be thinking about something.
What is it? Should I ask her?
” Mitobe san–“
Our two words overlapped.
Mitobe-san became silent again.
“What’s the matter? Did you remember something bad? Is it about Kyoko?”
“Ah, n-no t-that’s not it. ….I’m really conflicted. …… I’ve been able to make friends with Kagurazaka-kun, but …… I’ve been thinking I was using you…”
I tilted my head.
“Use”? You’re using me? Use you for what?”
Mitobe took a deep breath.
The expression on her face was determined to do something. That kind of face of Mitobe’s is something……, how do I say it? It was beautiful – No, pretty, no – I don’t know, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
“C-C-C-C-Could you draw a …… manga of my novel ……?”
“What, that’s it? That’s no problem. In the meantime, can I draw 100 pages of whatever I want? If I have a month–“
Mitobe-san shook her head.
No, that’s not it. When I was graduating from junior high school, I was contacted by a publisher and asked to do a …… manga adaptation of my novel.”
It sounds like you’re a pro at getting requests from publishers. However, the middle school was about six months ago.
You haven’t found a manga artist for six months?
And I’m an amateur. And me?
“I want to make a manga with you, Kagurazaka-kun. I know it’s very selfish of me, but when I saw that picture, Kagurazaka-kun was the only one who could do it.”
“……Mitobe-san, why would that be a using me? Explain it to—-.”
“B-because I’ve been able to make friends with you, but it seems as if I’ m just after your drawing. …… I- I think Kagurazaka-kun is …… a very nice person, and I want to be friends with you without that. …… I don’t know what to think. ……”
I answered immediately.
“—Okay, I’m not sure how this is going to work, but from now on we’re friends and fellow creators. So don’t be shy. I want to draw your work, Mitobe-san. An offer like that would be both a blessing and a curse.”
“Kagurazaka-kun ……, T-thank you ……, hehe.”
Finally, Mitobe-san smiled at me.
I’m so relieved. ……? Do I feel relieved? It’s a strange feeling–
As we were talking about this, we soon arrived in front of Mitobe-san’s house.
A little girl who looked like Mitobe was standing in front of the front door, as if she had been informed beforehand.
“Ah! Sis, you’re late! Today’s meal is Sukiyaki, your favorite! –Wawawa? Dad! sister is with a man! Call the police!”
“What! That guy who’s stalking Kaede! I’ll beat him to death!”
Mitobe-san said, “No, no! Kagurazaka-kun is a very important friend of mine! father you idiot!” She began to explain.
Mitobe-san’s family apologized to me several times and tried to drag me to the dining table …….
The quirky mother is preparing the meal. We made an appointment for next time and I parted way with a smiling Mitobe-san.
As I walked home alone, I felt a hole in my heart again.
…… It’s a strange feeling. Is this normal for everyone?
I don’t know how to deal with this feeling. However, it was not a bad feeling.
When I remembered the smile on Mitobe-san’s face when we parted, it filled a little hole in my heart.
–After all, she is an important person to me.
Mitobe-san, you said you were using me, but I’m the one who’s using you.
Thanks to Mitobe-san, I was able to hear my mother’s true feelings.
I’ll take my time to talk to my family today.
I saw a shadow.
I thought I’d just walk by and not worry about it, but then I was approached.
“Hey Hayato, are you dating that ugly girl? It’s really funny—-.”
There is Kyoko’s house near here. Tetsuya must have walked Kyoko home after playing with her.
Tetsuya had an irritated look on his face for some reason.
“Ha? It’s Tetsuya-kun, you know? Kyoko is always talking about you. …… Misuzu is also crying because she wants to talk to you. Damn.”
“Tetsuya, stop talking behind my back. You’re making yourself look small.”
“Heck, you’ve been lying to me all this time, huh? You’re a freak pretending to be normal. ……. You hurt Kyoko’s feelings. ……”
I couldn’t understand.
Why is Tetsuya so angry? I’m not talking about Kyoko right now.
Rather, ……, what have I ever talked about with Tetsuya?
When we were in the classroom, we’ve only talked about other things.
–The incident in the classroom was a dispute between me and Kyoko. There is …… no room for Tetsuya to get into it.
The bookshelf in my head selected a book.
“–Oh, so you do like Kyoko, huh? So …… this is a feeling called jealousy?”
“Ha! Y-You got it wrong! I don’t …… like Kyoko. I don’t …… like Kyoko. What the hell is wrong with you,……, I thought you were lower than me! Why can’t I look you in the eye? You’re freaking me out. ……, why do you look so nonchalant? I’m trying to complain to you, but I can’t. ……”
“You’re complaining …… now, aren’t you? And there are two words I’d like you to take back. –I’m starting to understand a little bit more about how people feel. I’m still learning, but if you call me a freak, …… mother will be sad. –Also, Mitobe-san is not an ugly person. She’s very pretty and full of humanity.”
Tetsuya made a drawn out face. Why are you frightened?
“Hii, I-I don’t know … -Aren’t you scared, you might be bullied by your classmates at school, right? You might be harassed, right? Why are you looking at that !! Don’t act like you’re the only adult here. Haa haa…damn it”
I didn’t want to be late for dinner, so I tried to head home.
“…… Oi, wait. Take this, ……. ……Oh, it’s from not me, but Misuzu, she insisted. ……”
I took the envelope from Tetsuya. The sense of money is in the air.
It’s probably the payment she has been making.
“—I got it. See you tomorrow.
“Hey, why don’t you get mad ……, we collect money from you and make fun of you–“
For some reason, I remembered Mitobe-san’s smile. It makes me feel at ease.
I analyzed Tetsuya so far and opened my mouth to give him my honest opinion.
The Tetsuya I observed was the one who was good-natured, who liked girls, who was mean to the girls he liked, who was cheerful, who wanted to make himself look strong, who pretended to be normal but was somehow crazy. He was the one who took me out to karaoke and play. — So I’m convinced, Tetsuya really doesn’t do anything that people don’t like, he’s just a mouth–“
He dropped the bag in his hand to the ground.
“—-W-what the hell…..I-It was my fault and Kyoko’s. …… I want to apologize, but I can’t. …… I’m an idiot, but I can’t. …… U-uuugh…..”
I don’t know why he was crying, but I could feel a little bit of humanity in Tetsuya.
I left the sobbing Tetsuya behind and headed for home where my family was waiting for me.