A few minutes on the train from Iidabashi station, Mitobe and I arrived at Akihabara station.
It seemed that one of Mitobe’s favorite authors had just released a new novel, and she really wanted to buy it today.
Akihabara seemed like a chaotic place to visit for the first time.
“T-thank you. F-for accompanying me on my shopping trip ……”
“I would like to see how Mitobe’s novel will be sold when it comes out. Besides, we’re friends. –Don’t worry about it.”
“I-It’s kind of embarrassing to come to Akihabara with friends.……”
Akihabara in the evening was full of office workers and shoppers.
We walked through the back streets from the east exit, aiming for the anime store we wanted.
“And even then, do you absolutely need to buy it today?”
“…Yes, uhm, novels and manga …… are only good for a week after they are released. It’s …… a period of time that can’t be missed, especially for new, unknown writers.”
I pulled up various memories in my head, but none of them were similar.
It’s something I didn’t know.
Mitobe continued with a serious face.
“It’s because it will lead to further publications. …… The people in the sales department of the publisher make their decisions there. No matter how much the author or editor wishes for a follow-up book, the numbers are all that matter. …… –There are a lot of new writers who are cut off after one or two volumes.”
“……I see, now I understand why Mitobe is rushing to buy it. …… This is true for us as well, isn’t it?”
“Yeah…… the series has started, and we’ve been assured of a volume, but ……if it’s not popular…….”
The serious look on Mitobe’s face just now had fallen away and her eyebrows had turned into a c shape.
The smile that had been on her face was no longer visible.……
I hastily raised Mitobe’s eyebrows with both hands.
When she moved her eyebrows, they returned to their normal position.
Mitobe opened her mouth and looked embarrassed.
“Ka-Ka-Kagurazaka-kun?! D-don’t do that! T-Touching a girls face…..D-don’t get me wrong…. People normally would get the wrong idea!”
“—-You look prettier when you’re smiling. A happy face when you’re eating, I can feel the emotion on my face. They won’t get the wrong idea. …… Why don’t you worry about it after the manga is done? Let’s just enjoy it for now.”
Let’s have fun? Fun ……, well, I’m having fun with Mitobe-san, I think.
Mitobe-san suddenly stopped.
She covered her face with her hands.
She wasn’t crying. Her face was bright red.
This is in front of the police box under the bridge. …… I hope they don’t think I’m suspicious.
Mitobe took a deep breath.
“Suu, haaa….. suuu, haaa, yes, Kagurazaka-san, you should be aware of the fact that you are a handsome man. ……, I’m your collleague in creation, i-it’s okay. ……”
When I was told that I was good-looking, I remembered my junior high school days.
In junior high school, I thought I had stopped making some mistakes.
I thought I could talk to my classmates normally.
“Hayato, you draw manga all the time. Are you an otaku?”
“Hayato, I’m sorry, but can you do this homework for me?”
“Haha, you’re really tough! Your stomach is super hard. Can I really punch you?”
“Hato-kun, you’re an otaku and good-looking, why don’t you talk to that fat girl?”
“Pfft, Chihaya ……, new game? Sounds interesting…”
But now that I think about it, they weren’t my friends.
They were just using me as a toy to play with.
They were just making fun of me for saying and doing the wrong things.
At that time, I thought it was okay to draw at school.
But when I got to high school, Tetsuya told me that it was better to draw in secret.
My childhood friend, Kyoko, was in another class.
I spoke to Hanazono-san at the behest of one of my female classmates.
“Hanazono-san, haha, that’s a very nice drawing. I like the drawing too. …… Oh, can I sit here?”
Hanazono-san, who had the physique of a sumo wrestler, raised her glasses and glared at me.
“P-Please don’t …… talk to me. ……”
I didn’t know why she didn’t like it at the time.
I thought maybe she was just a rude person.
But now that I’ve read Mitobe’s novel and studied the intricacies of human relationships, I understand.
Hanazono-san didn’t want to get involved with me and be bullied.
She didn’t want to be interfered with when she was drawing her favorite pictures.
I didn’t understand Hanazono’s feelings at the time.
But I remember looking at her drawings and talking plainly to her.
“…… An original character? I’ve never seen this manga before. …… It is the first time I’ve seen someone outside of a Manga book who can draw better than me.”
That wasn’t bragging. My standard was a manga.
That’s why I had rarely seen anyone in my class who drew decent drawings.
Hanazono-san hid her drawings with a snort.
From that time on, I went to Hanazono’s place every day to talk with her.
“I told you not to come, didn’t I? Eh? Do you want to see the manga I drew?”
“P-please don’t draw directly on my desk! I-I’ll lend you my notebook.”
“…… I’m better at drawing? You’re kidding, right? Kagurazaka-kun’s drawings are special.”
I was not interested in Hanazono-san. However, I was interested in Hanazono-san’s drawings.
The characters were alive. She was drawing a manga that I couldn’t draw.
I wanted to know what that was.
But she rejected me.
“…I- I’m sorry ……, when I’m with Kagurazaka-kun, I’m ……, I’m …… being bullied …….”
It was at this point that I realized what bullying was. I didn’t understand that kids were cruel.
It didn’t bother me when I was being bullied.
I understood that being bullied because of me was not a good thing.
Before I could do anything about my classmates – Hanazono-san had moved away.
I didn’t know what it felt like to be lonely. I didn’t know what it felt like to be sad.
I just wanted to see her drawings one last time—-.
“Ka-Kagurazaka-kun? A-Are you okay? You looked so sad.”
“Sad? I see. ……, She was sad at that time. Is that how I feel right now?”
“That time? Wait, I don’t know what you’re talking about!?”
“…… I’ll tell you later. I want Mitobe to know everything about me.”
At that time, the classmates were not actually bullying Hanazono-san.
Hanazono-san was trying to distance herself from me for some reason.
Maybe it was moving away, maybe she thought her classmates would really bully her.
…… I only talked to Hanazono-san for a while. I’ve had girls complain to me about that. Did Hanazono-san also complain to them?
The truth can only be known if I ask her.
…… If Mitobe san was being bullied because of me–
” Mitobe, I have one request. — if you are bullied because you are with me, please stay away from me at school.”
“I won’t leave you.”
Mitobe answered immediately.
I couldn’t say a word.
“I’ll never leave you. Kagurazaka-kun and I are friends and fellow creators. –I’m not going to be intimidated by harassment! ……Eh. mou, by any chance, Kagurazaka-kun, did you get harassed after that incident?”
“No, I wasn’t harassed, I was just reminiscing a bit about the past. …… I see, because we are friends–“
If I had been empathetic at the time, would it have ended differently?
“—-hmm, let’s go!”
We moved from the back street to the middle street and went into a large anime store.
–Well, come to think of it, what’s an anime store for buying manga?
“There it is! This one, this one, it’s stacked flat! Hanayoshi-sensei, you did it!”
On the second floor of the anime store, in a corner dedicated to manga, there was the work I wanted.
The story is about an anxious classmate who falls in love with a desperate heroine. A sweet story about two people living together.
It was a new book by an author named Meguru Hanayoshi.
Apparently, this is the same publisher as us, and this was the first volume, so we were almost in sync.
I haven’t seen the inside of the book, but I heard that the web serialization was highly acclaimed.
There were quite a few copies in the store.
”Ehehe I’m friends with Hanayoshi-sensei on Twitter! We’re both gloomy and dark hearted, so we talk to each other very well.”
“Mitobe-san is not a dark-hearted person, hmm?”
I felt a strange presence.
Glancing at us from behind a bookshelf, watching our every move.
As I reached for Hanayoshi-sensei’s book, a shadow stretched out from the bookshelf.
She was looking at the book I was holding and nodding at me.
I put the book back in its place.
I heard a small voice.
It was a voice I knew.
A voice I hadn’t felt anything at the time.
I could understand the feeling of nostalgia.
“Ah! What’s wrong?”
I grabbed Mitobe-san’s hand and headed towards the voice.
Hanazono-san, who had changed her appearance quite a bit, was hunched over the bookshelf.
“–Long time no see. Hanazono-san.”
Hanazono-san raised her voice in surprise at those words.
“Heh? How do you know who I am? Because I’ve lost weight and my body shape is different from before—
Mitobe touched her stomach and let out a squeak.
“Uwa, you’re so beautiful ……, you’re like a legitimate beautiful girl …….”
“Eeh!? Y-you’re the one who’s super cute …….”
The tone of voice was very different from the past.
But it’s the real Hanazono. There is no way to mistake her even if her body shape has changed.
‘What is Hanazono-san doing here? I can understand from the situation, but ……, Mitobe, is that how it works?”
“So, it’s about the author coming to the bookstore and checking the shelves. How could I forget this pattern?”
Hanazono scratched her head in embarrassment.
‘He-heheh, are you curious? It’s my first book, you know.”
“Hoo? Eh, Hanayoshi-sensei?!”
Mitobe was surprised to hear Hanayoshi-sensei’s shrill voice.—
We decided to have tea at a cafe in the nearby cafe in UDX.
Of course I bought the new book. It was a rare act to buy a book in front of the author.
After introducing ourselves, Mitobe and Hanazono-san glanced at each other, embarrassed for some reason.
Hanazono-san held a fancy drink called a Frappuccino in her hand and said to me.
“…… I didn’t expect to meet Kagurazaka-kun. …… I mean, Hamusuke-san, you and Kagurazaka-kun–“
“Yeah, we’re friends.”
“So …… hey, Hamusuke-san, are you sure you’re okay? He is not forcing you to go out with him right?”
“Eh? What do you mean?”
Hanazono-san had a darker expression than before.
I wonder why? To be honest, I was happy to see her.
I wanted to see her drawings.
“…… Kagurazaka-kun…… talked to me when I was fat and ugly in junior high school. …… But that’s what his classmates forced him to do, right? Before I moved out, one of my classmates, a gal, found out and had a good laugh–“
Before I could say anything else, Mitobe spoke up.
“—You got it wrong. Kagurazaka-kun, can you tell me what happened?”
“Oh, okay. Me and Hanazono-san–“
Hanazono-san and Mitobe-san listened quietly to my explanation.
From time to time, Hanazono-san had a nostalgic expression on her face, or she looked sad.
I see, talking while explaining in this way helps me clear my mind.
When I finished telling her everything, Hanazono-san muttered in a small voice.
“…… I see, so Kagurazaka-kun has stopped hiding things. If I had been a little stronger in the past, I would have been able to …… be friends with Kagurazaka-kun? Haha, back then I had no confidence in myself and I doubted everything.”
Mitobe-san gently rubbed Hanazono-san, who was on the verge of tears.
I took the package off Hanazono-san’s manga that I had just bought and started looking at the contents.
“……This gives me a nostalgic feeling.”
I can’t explain it well.
This manga makes me remember the time I spent with Hanazono.
“… Higu …, Kagurazaka-kun … I’m sorry I moved without saying anything … I’m sorry I couldn’t believe you …, I … I finally became a manga artist…. Someday, I wanted to show Kagurazaka-kun my manga … I wanted to tell you that I did my best. ……”
I could feel something different from the time of Mitobe from the depths of my heart.
I don’t know what it is now.
But it was very warm.
It was something I couldn’t have said back then.
I was uninterested and unengaged in everything, but now I can say it.
Mitobe-san, who was rubbing Hanazono-san’s back, smiled gently at her.
That was enough to calm me down.
“Hanazono-san, would you like to be my friend?”
Hanazono looked at me with tears in her eyes.
” ……Yes, I’ve always wanted to be your friend. …… And I’ve always wanted to talk about manga at school. …… Ugh, it’s too late isn’t it? I, I, I’m only good for manga, you know? I’m fat and ugly. ……”
“Manga is my only motivation. We’re the same. Besides, I need to learn a lot of things from you as a senior manga artist, don’t I, Mitobe-san?”
“Yes, you have to learn from Hanayoshi-sensei! Hehe, I’m friends with Hanayoshi-sensei, too!”
Mitobe wiped Hanazono’s tears with her handkerchief.
I used to think I could live without understanding people’s minds, as long as I pretended to be normal. But I had unknowingly hurt someone.
I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore.
There are still a lot of things I don’t understand, but I’m sure there will come a day when I will understand everything.
Looking at Mitobe’s kind face, I can be sure of that.
I just want to hold hands with her.
…… I can’t believe I feel this way.
“–Mitobe, can I hold your hand?”
“Eh!? I-It’s too sudden! Y-you can’t! It would be embarrassing with Hanayoshi-sensei around!”
“Hooh, ……, are you guys dating?”
“N-no, we’re not!”
“No, Mitobe-san is an important friend and writer to me, a wonderful person who I think is very cute…”
I just said what I was thinking out loud. Then for some reason, I felt like a gap in my heart was being filled.
Mitobe’s face turned bright red and she hugged Hanazono-san–