It was ten days after I left school earlier when I started going to school again.
To be honest, going to school was hard, but leaving school was even worse.
My homeroom teacher seemed to be quite concerned about me, and she worried a lot about my health.
I felt a little guilty for using a temporary illness because it was actually a matter of the heart.
Quite simply, nothing really changed.
I felt a few stares for coming to school for the first time in a while, but that soon disappeared.
It’s a way of showing your normal presence. It doesn’t make much difference whether I’m here or not.
Anyway, it was a relief. At least it seems that the fact that I behaved like that to Sonoda has not spread.
(I should apologize after all.)
I was thinking about this during lunch break while having lunch alone.
What if she didn’t remember me? It would be a bad impression.
However, she was the one who took my hand and stopped me. Should I assume that she remembers me?
Yes, I don’t know.
(Well, as long as I don’t get involved, I guess.)
The story eventually went back to the drawing board. This time, I will not let my guard down. Even coincidences will be avoided.
After all, that’s what happened. I could have avoided it by my own actions.
I will never make mistakes again.
I was right after I made up my mind to do so.
”Why don’t you accompany me for a while?”
After entering the classroom, she came to me in a straight line.
As soon as she reached the seat where I was sitting, she told me so.
She was the girl who was standing next to Sonoda that day.
”I am Maika Fukumura. You know who I am, don’t you?”
I couldn’t bear the unforgiving stare, so I had no choice but to do as I was told.
“You, what was your plan that day?”
Fukumura and I moved to an unpopular part of the courtyard, and she asked me that first.
Apparently, Fukumura is in the same class as Sonoda.
(Now, how to answer)
From the way she talks, she doesn’t know me.
If she does know me and this is the case, there is nothing more I can do. I’m out of ideas.
”Emi was so hurt. After what you did to her, you didn’t even offer an apology?”
Well, that’s what happens if you don’t know what’s going on. Maybe this girl really cares about Sonoda.
“I will listen to your reasons. If it’s not too serious, I’ll definitely make you apologize.”
If I eliminate the premise, she is the one who is right. Of course, after something like that, it is normal to apologize, regardless of the reason.
Besides, she is willing to listen to my reasons.
“—-I’m a germophobe.” [TL: fear of germs]
”I especially don’t like being touched by people. That time, she suddenly grabbed my hand and startled me.”
”I see. I’m sorry, but that’s no reason not to apologize.”
I knew she would come to that. But I’m not backing down here.
”—-I want to ask you, why did Sonoda-san hold me back?”
”I-I don’t know either.”
(I knew it.)
Surely, I thought, it must be so. Because if she knew why Sonoda had held me back, she wouldn’t have been able to come on so strong.
“Even though I don’t know the circumstances, she did something unpleasant to me, too. So I guess it’s a mutual thing. At least, I don’t want to apologize as long as I don’t know why she held me back.”
“Oh, I see. I’ve got to go.”
More easily than I expected, she gave up and left.
This is fine. I’ve had enough of that and I want to pretend that it never happened.
Maybe Sonoda has noticed me. It must be a bad memory for her too, that she was bullied.
Non-interference. If I don’t get involved, it’s all good. It’s that simple.
”What a pain in the a**.”
The honest feelings that spilled out never reached anyone.
＜From Maika Fukumura’s point of view>
Shuya Kitami is lying.
I felt so sure of it when I talked to him.
“I-It was really just an accidental grab.”
The reason is that she, Emi, reacted so strangely.
Of course, there is also the fact that the way Kitami spoke was somehow (perhaps I am biased) false.
Still, there was something about Emi’s reaction that stuck with me.
(Then why did she look so sad.)
Emi and I had been friends since elementary school. We were very close back then, and although we drifted apart a bit in middle school, we reconnected in high school and quickly became friends again.
She is a terrible liar. It shows on her face. I could tell right away.
(She has obviously not been well since that day.)
That day, of course, was when Emi was shaken off.
Since that day, she has been in a low spirits. She has been somewhat absent-minded, or perhaps lacking in her natural vigor.
It was obvious that she was not in her best form.
Besides, how often does one grab a hand by accident?
And Kitami seemed to be concerned about that, too.
(There’s definitely something going on between the two of them.)
It was after school that day, rather than in the not-too-distant future, that she would learn of the incident.
＜Shuya’s point of view>
A voice with a tone that is not usually used announces the arrival of a visitor in the quiet store.
I am currently working part-time.
My part-time job is at a café near my house.
Although it is quiet, the cakes here have a core fan base, and on weekends, the place is quite lively.
I’m just afraid of getting close to people, not that I’m not good at talking to people. Therefore, I have no problem working in the customer service industry.
The manager is a nice guy. And by “nice,” I mean “convenient” for me.
Simply put, he is unsociable. There is one other part-timer besides me, but I have never seen them talking to each other in a casual manner.
I don’t mean to say he’s unfriendly, but he’s not mean to me. It’s just that we don’t talk much.
For my part, I appreciate that kind of distance. To be honest, as long as I get paid, that’s all that matters.
I basically earn my own living except for tuition fees. Therefore, I have to have a part-time job.
I honestly consider myself quite lucky to have found a job that works for me. I don’t think there is any workplace where socializing is this easy.
Even in a workplace like that, there is no such thing as manipulation, only visitors.
For the second time today, I was troubled by my misfortune.
”Why are you here, Kitami?”
Of course it’s a part-time job. I don’t say it out loud, but I say it back in my heart.
The customer is Fukumura.
”Are you alone?”
Instead of answering Fukumura’s question, I serve the customer as per the instructions.
“One will come later. So please table of two.”
She did not pursue me in any strange way. Although Fukumura did ask, I guess she had the answer in her mind.
I did as she requested and guided Fukumura to a seat for two.
“Since the restaurant is empty at the moment, you may order with your companion.”
I serve her water and inform her so. Of course, it is as per the instructions.
“I see. Thanks.”
It seemed like an implied phrase, but I tried not to pay attention to it.
About 10 minutes passed. There was a visitor in the store.
She was wearing a uniform, so she was probably a high school student. She was scurrying around the store.
In all probability, she was Fukumura’s companion.
“Oh, I’m meeting some–one?”
I approach to show her the way.
However, I noticed something strange about the customer.
Something on my face, I wondered.
”Oh, Mizuki! This way!”
It seems she was with Fukumura after all, and beckons a child called Mizuki.
”Ah! Maika! Can I talk to you for a second?”
”Eh? Yeah. What’s wrong?”
She went toward Fukumura and overheard something.
But then, the name Mizuki…something sounded familiar….
”Yeah. I get it.”
Fukumura looked somewhat convinced, stood up and said.
“I’m sorry, but I’m leaving.”
“Oh, yes? That’s fine.”
I don’t know what’s going on, but there is absolutely no reason to hold them back.
If I had to worry about it, I would say that the girl called Mizuki seemed to be staring at me for some reason.
”I look forward to seeing you again.”
I said something I didn’t even think about, with a smile that stuck to my face.
＜From Maika Fukumura’s point of view
”And? What’s the matter? Suddenly you want to change the place?”
Mizuki took me out and I was walking around town, asking her why.
Mizuki is a mutual friend of mine and Emi. We’ve been close ever since elementary school, only I moved away in middle school and we’ve been somewhat estranged, but we hadn’t seen each other in a long time and decided to meet up. I invited Emi to join us, but it wasn’t convenient. Well, maybe the three of us can get together sometime.
So, the reason I left the restaurant was probably because of him.
”I’m sorry, okay? But I don’t like to be around people like that.”
I knew it. For some reason, she was staring at him when we left the restaurant, and I knew she must have been right.
And then there was that guy.
”And? What kind of relationship does Mizuki have with that guy?”
”We went to junior high school together. We don’t know each other directly, though.”
Heeh, that’s a surprise. I knew Emi and Mizuki went to school together.
”Eh? Emi and that guy went to school together!”
”Could it be… Emi didn’t tell you?”
“Is there something going on after all?”
”That idiot Emi…she said she had told you about it when we were in middle school.”
What are you talking about? Apparently, Emi is hiding something from me.
”I mean, how could Maika know about him?”
”Why? We are going the same school, after all. But in different classes.”
”Ha-haa! Emi and that guy are in the same school!”
Eh, with Emi, not me?
“I knew it. Is there something going on?”
“What do you mean, “I knew it”?”
“Oh, at that time—“
I told Mizuki about that time Emi shook my hand off.
“What the hell, it’s really unforgivable.”
Mizuki, who heard the story, muttered with eyes that clearly contained anger.
“It’s certainly a repulsive reaction, but if you’re a germophobe, it’s still possible.”
Not that I’m taking sides or anything, but saying that.
”—I’m sorry, I have to go home first.”
”Eh? Wait, Mizuki!”
Mizuki started back the way she came. Then she started walking quickly straight to that store.
”Hey! What are you doing?”
”I don’t know. But I want to complain.”
I could see that the blood was completely rushing to her head. He didn’t even seem to have time to tell me why.
I tried to calm her down somehow, but that didn’t happen.
At last I came to the front of the store.
There was a sign hanging on the door of the restaurant that said “Closed.”
I looked at my watch and saw that the last order had passed. There were no other customers, so the restaurant must have closed for the day.
Unfortunately, he had just left the restaurant.
“Do you remember me?”
”I’m sorry. I don’t remember…?”
He looked surprised at Mizuki’s sudden question. That’s probably true. As soon as he left the restaurant, she was talking to him.
“I went to junior high school with you, remember?”
Kitami glanced at me and showed a sign of concern.
”I’m a friend of Emi. —You know that, don’t you? What I mean.”
He had a batty look on his face at Mizuki’s words.
”Say something! You bully!”
I get all kooky at that unexpected word.
”Yes! This is the guy who bullied Emi! Of course, he even lied about saving Emi’s life!”
”Are you going to shut up again? You didn’t even apologize to Emi, and now you’re not going to school! I will never forgive a scumbag like you!”
”Wait, Mizuki, what’s going on?”
Not heeding my protests, Mizuki continued.
I heard you did something terrible to Emi again recently. Hey, what are you trying to do?”
He remained silent and did not move at all. I sensed something akin to resignation in his appearance.
“Don’t you ever come near Emi again! You loser!”
With those last words, Mizuki walked off in the opposite direction. I hurried after her.
When I looked back, Kitami was still standing there.
At least, for a long, long time, until I couldn’t see him anymore.
Alone for a long time.