I’m getting nervous. My throat is unusually dry, and my breathing becomes erratic even though I haven’t done anything. Normally, I wouldn’t get out of breath without running ten kilometers…
[Come on, Aoi-chan, let’s do our best!]
[If anything happens, let us know.]
[We’re looking forward to it!]
Everyone is expecting something from me. I don’t think I can deliver, and as the performance approaches, I feel more and more anxious. I’ve improved my facial expressions somewhat, but the anxiety about not doing well is reaching its peak.
There are so many people here. I’m afraid they might look at me strangely. What if they start whispering that I’m scary again? What should I do?
Tick-tock, tick-tock. Time feels like it’s passing quickly. Panic, panic, panic, panic. The anxiety is growing stronger and stronger. I’m so afraid of people’s stares.
“It’s your turn.”
My turn has come. I’ll start with the scene where I’m being bullied. Can I do it? I’m terrified of the stares, the eyes of the people, the evaluations. What if I can’t do anything? That’s what I’m thinking as I approach the stage. I can’t see it yet, but when the curtain rises…
There’s still a little time left. In the audience, there are students, teachers, and regular people. Hundreds of them. I need to calm down. Let’s drink the clear water he took from the other world…… it’s delicious.
My grandmother used to say, “If you get nervous in front of people, imagine they’re a potato, a pumpkin, or a yam.” I peek my head out and look at the audience… Um, it might be impossible, Grandma…
“Five minutes until showtime.”
Five minutes, 300 seconds… 298, 297… Oh, what should I do? What should I do?
“Are you okay?”
It felt like a huge rock had been thrown into a pond, disturbing the ripples of anxiety. I had heard that voice many times.
“Why are you here? This is the waiting area for second-year students.”
“I got worried… about you…”
“I see… Thanks.”
“Uhm, you’re nervous, right?”
“Well, yeah, to some extent…”
It’s not just to some extent. I’m so nervous that my legs are shaking.
“…We always worry about how we’re perceived by others, don’t we? Especially with so many people around, there’s a unique atmosphere… and the fear of what might happen if we fail can be overwhelming, right?”
I listened silently to his words. Maybe he knows everything about me.
“Uhm, sorry… I can’t really say much…”
“No, even that much is appreciated…”
He seemed to hesitate a bit, as if struggling with something. After a moment, he took something out of his pocket. It was a container with liquid, like a contact lens.
“You’ll understand when you try it on…”
I put it on as he instructed. There was no time, so I hurriedly put it in. Then, I looked at him… and his face turned into a potato. Huh? What’s going on?
When I peeked my head out and looked towards the audience, it had turned into a field of vegetables. There were taro, Chinese yam, potatoes, pumpkins… a whole bunch of them.
Fufu, that really hit the spot.
“Is this some kind of magic item?”
“Yes… it is. Please use it. Mel-san made contact lenses that make everyone look like potatoes.”
“I see… Thanks.”
Something about his expression seemed clouded, but the performance was about to begin. I left him behind and went onto the stage.
As the curtain rose, there was nothing but potatoes in sight, so I couldn’t feel anyone’s gaze. I had a bit of composure because I found it funny. Plus, I had practiced so much that, even though it might look awkward, I thought it came together quite well. In my mind, I felt like I had done a good job.
But this success wasn’t solely due to my efforts. It was thanks to everyone. After it was all over, I went to greet the audience. Even though I was still wearing the contact lenses and saw everyone as potatoes, I could still recognize someone.
However, he was nowhere to be found. I wandered around the school, searching.
“Are you Aoi-senpai?”
It was a girl I didn’t recognize, and I hadn’t heard her voice before.
“I watched the play. It was amazing. You looked cute and cool, and your smile was brilliant.”
Crap, I thought, she’s seeing my social awkwardness. I always added “um” or something like that before speaking, and it was something I couldn’t seem to stop doing.
“Um, about that guy… Kuroda Izayoi. Do you know where he is?” (Aoi)
“Oh, the guy with lots of nicknames, right?”
“I saw him sitting on the rooftop.”
“Ah, I see.”
Following the girl’s directions, I went up the stairs. The school was still bustling with people. As I made my way to the rooftop, I found myself beneath a vast blue sky. There, he was sitting cross-legged, looking down at everything below.
“What are you doing?”
“Um… just watching people.”
“I see… the play was a success. Thanks… Thanks to you and everyone.”
“Is that so…”
He seemed to be struggling to find the right words.
“What’s wrong? I want you to talk to me.”
“Uhm… nothing, really.”
“Talk to me.”
“Talk to me.”
“Uh, okay… Well, today was a success, and I think that’s great. But, I couldn’t help but wonder if, maybe, if I hadn’t given you the contact lenses, and if the play had still succeeded, it might have been a better experience for you. Like, it would have been a bigger plus for your future life in this world where you’ll have to keep living, rather than just a temporary fix. I thought there must be a better way to support you… So I was wondering if that was really the best thing for you, and I… I felt like I messed up…”
“You were worrying about that for my sake?”
“Well, yeah, I guess you could say that?”
“That’s the only way to put it…”
He chuckled awkwardly, not from the heart but from a sense of consideration not to worry me. He had been supporting me all along. He had been thinking only of me. And he was still worrying about me…
“…I’m really happy and had a lot of fun. Practicing together every day, training to smile every day… This wasn’t just a facade. I think that if I hadn’t had the contact lenses that day, I might have failed. I can’t put it into words very well, but it all came together and succeeded because of everyone, including you. So, uhm, I hope you don’t get down on yourself, thinking it was a mistake or not the best choice…”
“………… ugh, what a good girl …… to be able to say something like those inspiring words at a graduation ceremony with no strings attached… …ugh, I’m crying ……”
“Ah, uhm, please don’t cry? Uhm, tissues…”
He shed tears of emotion… Had I said something good? I wasn’t quite sure, but I handed him some tissues.
“Feeling a bit better now?”
“Yeah… If everything is connected, and it’s a treasure… No, this is like a famous quote.”
“It’s a bit embarrassing…”
“I want it as my smartphone ringtone…”
He showed a slight smile, and his usual atmosphere started to return, making me feel a bit happier.
“Well then, I have some work to do in my own class, so I’ll do my best, just like Senpai!”
“Yeah… Have a good day…”
He hurried off with quick steps. I was left alone on the rooftop, with the sun shining on me and the wind blowing through. The wind seemed to awaken memories of him.
As I traced those memories, connecting them from the beginning to the end…
They were treasures. Our meeting had been sudden, unexpected, warm, and cool.
He had appeared so gallantly, almost like a prince.
When I realized that, my heart raced. Strangely, I wasn’t surprised. I had been feeling this way all along; I just hadn’t understood it. I had liked him, liked him immensely.
From that festival day until today, my feelings hadn’t faded. If anything, they had continued to grow stronger.
But what was the right thing to do in a situation like this? Should I confess my feelings straightforwardly? I didn’t know. However, I didn’t want to give up on these feelings. If that were the case, then we could start dating normally… Oh, but wait, Karen and Kohaku were there…
…What would those two say if I told them I wanted to date him? They were always bickering about him. If I entered the picture, it might turn into a three-way showdown.
I wanted to avoid that.
So, if that were the case…
“Party, party, looking forward to it! Pizza, fried chicken, Mont Blanc!”
“Kohaku-chan seems excited.”
“Yes, I may not look like it, but I love parties. Eating delicious food, playing cards, enjoying snacks…”
“Um, weren’t you concerned about your weight?”
“Today is my once-a-week cheat day, you know?”
“Oh, I see! Wait, didn’t we have one two days ago?”
…I won’t say anything about this. If they’re enjoying themselves, that’s what matters. A minor detail like having a cheat day two days ago doesn’t really matter.
Speaking of which, his mother and her exchanged contact information. I did too, but…
[Oh, you’re the Lightning Girl, right? I saw through it on our first meeting!]
I was quite surprised by that sudden revelation. Well, we exchanged contact information afterward, but… I don’t know, it’s just really surprising. It’s been a while since I was this surprised… Well, maybe not, considering I get surprised quite often these days.
With those thoughts, I set the dishes on the dining table, for Kohaku-chan, Aoi-chan, and him.
“Culture festivals tend to end quite quickly, don’t they? No progress on anything… Maybe reality is just different after all. Haa~ Lately, I feel like my character is too one-dimensional… Should I try wearing glasses, maybe? No, that would be too cliché for character development… But then again, there’s also the possibility that Izayoi has a thing for girls in glasses…”
She seems to be troubled… As preparations were finishing, everyone took their seats. Mel-chan had put up a sign on her door saying not to wake her, and she was sleeping.
Sumptuous dishes were laid out on the table, and it made our mouths water involuntarily. Just as we were about to start eating, Aoi-chan stopped us.
“Before we eat, there’s something I want to tell Kohaku and Karen.”
“What is it?”
Everyone had questions. She took a deep breath and dropped a bombshell.
“I like Kuro. So, I want both of you to give up on him.”
Kuro? Who’s that? Well, I have a pretty good idea… The culture festival may have ended peacefully, but our relationships were far from calm. They were about to undergo a dramatic change.