Part 14: Lost Things, Found ThingsPart 14 - Lost Things, Found Things
It was about time for the season to start changing to autumn in earnest.
The trees in Shoutou Park were gradually becoming more colorful, and short sleeves were starting to get a little chilly. Since I typically stayed indoors all the time, the changing of the seasons only perplexed me.
I still felt like it was supposed to be summer.
I'd played ESO all weekend. Grim kept asking me about Yua, but I ignored him from start to finish.
Yua hadn't mailed me once since then. She might have finally given up, since I didn't send a reply. That'd be a huge relief.
I got all mixed up when I talked to Yua. I seemed to be on the verge of discovering some hope for myself.
Please don't make me expect anything. Please don't expect anything of me.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind. Thinking it would be Nanami or Misumi-kun, I turned around and was surprised.
OST: Tender Hearts
Yua smiled at me, her cheeks slightly flushed. For some reason, she was out of breath.
"I saw you from way back there.... I thought it might be you.... And so I ran to catch up...."
Could this possibly mean she hadn't given up yet....? She still had expectations for me?
"Ah, ye, yeah...."
"Haa, I finally got to say it. Although it took four days, including Saturday."
"Ah, I sent you an email last week. Di, did you.... read it?"
Without meaning to, I nodded reflexively.
"Thank goodness. Since there was no reply, I was convinced it hadn't reached you, and there were so many times when I was about to re-send it, but I guess I was right to hold back."
What on earth did Yua expect from me?
Should I fall in love with you? Should I become your boyfriend? And should we then live out our lovey-dovey lives as a couple?
Besides, I didn't understand how Yua had come to think so well of me. I couldn't have faith in her.
That's what made it impossible....
"Um, Nishijou-kun, is something wrong?"
"Er, you've been standing there all this time...."
I hastily walked off, leaving Yua behind. But she caught up by trotting.
"But I'm glad you seem fine."
"I, I don't...."
"I don't often.... come to school...."
"Everyone thinks.... I'm a hikikomori...."
Surely I'd disillusioned her. Surely, knowing what I was really like, she'd have lost all friendly thoughts toward me.
I didn't mind. Because I hadn't expected anything from the start.
Go on, think of me as being creepy and gross. And from now on, please stay away from me.
"I see. But I'm glad I got to see you today."
I was floored.
Without thinking, I scrutinized Yua's smile intently. Our eyes met, and I was forced to hastily turn my face away.
Why is it that I don't weird you out....
"Rather, since you do come to school, even if it's only once in a while, I don't think you're a hikikomori...."
"I, I'm sorry, acting like I know what I'm talking about...."
"....It's.... re, really tough...."
I couldn't have so much as imagined that she would reply with such words. What could possibly be admirable about a useless human being like me?
Yua smiled tenderly. I honestly thought, It was a smile that could heal people.
"Because, even though it's hard for you, you try your best to come to school."
"Normally, if it were that painful, you wouldn't be able to come at all."
"I'm an otaku, and I'm disgusting...."
"I like listening to what you have to say."
What....? What on earth was it, this affirmation of my whole being.... Why did it feel so comforting....
I had the feeling that Yua would be able to embrace everything about me.
I had the feeling that Yua would tell me it was all right for me to be here. If I were with Yua, I might be able to go back to being a regular person.
Without my noticing it, our surroundings had become empty of students. Everyone was already inside the school building.
"Well then, Nishijou-kun, I have to go."
"Ah, are you free after school today?"
She murmured shyly, blushing a bit.
"I, I'll wait for you in the courtyard after school.... If you feel like it.... please come."
"Ah, but you don't have to push yourself, I'll be fine...."
Yua gave me a courteous bow and ran off toward the building where the seniors' classrooms were located.
Watching her go, I pinched my cheek again.
It really wasn't a dream or a delusion....
Or rather, I didn't pay the least attention to what was going on in my classes. Propping my chin up with one hand, I gazed on and on at the autumn sky beyond the window.
Neither my classmates nor my teachers took any heed of me.
But Yua looked at me. Yua was different from the rest of those assholes.
As I went on thinking along those lines and having all sorts of daydreams, classes suddenly came to an end.
"You're going with the four-eyes from before, right?"
"Hey, hey, don't hesitate cause you're a slacker. Setting aside going out with her or not going out with her, if she likes you, it's only proper to do her--"
"H, hey, don't shout all of a sudden...."
"I won't do stuff like that with Yua."
"I, I'm not a hiki, hikikomori...."
He shouldn't have said that kind of thing in the first place.
I didn't understand Misumi-kun, who lived through his nether regions.
Misumi-kun looked puzzled, but I ignored him and hurried out of the classroom.
Since I didn't come to school much, I wasn't very knowledgeable about which parts of the school building were connected to where. I wasn't sure of where all the specialized classrooms were, either.
So I felt a tad insecure as I went down the corridor.
Though she was clearly getting in the way of whoever might try to pass, she didn't budge an inch.
She must have heard my footsteps. I'm in a hurry, please move out of the way....
Something about her gave off the smell of one of those delinquent types. I'd better be careful to stay as far away from her as possible, and to avoid meeting her eyes.
With that in mind, I swiftly tried to skirt around behind "Girl B."
Shit, she was calling me!
Was she going to try to squeeze some money out of me? Or say she didn't like the way I looked, drag me off to a delinquent hangout and have me lynched there!?
Gi, gi, give me a goddamn break.... I haven't done anything wrong....
"Who are you?"
Even if she asks me who....
I'm Nishijou Takumi. Not that she had any way of knowing my name, of course, given that we'd never met before.
She was planning on doing something horrible to me, no doubt about it....!
"E, excuse me...."
Bowing my head so as to avoid looking at Girl B, I sprinted off at top speed.
Thank God.... I hated the third dimension for having traps at every turn.
I looked around the courtyard as I collected my wild breathing.
Sandwiched between the pool and the school building, it was so long and narrow that it might have been more fitting to call it a pathway.
There were flowerbeds at regular intervals, and right now the purple flowers particularly stood out. What were those flowers called? I didn't really know.
She was really there.... She'd waited for me....
She'd waited for me and none other....
Yua wouldn't betray me. It might be all right for me to believe in her. Yua might be able to save me.
Raising her face, Yua noticed I was there.
As I watched, her eyes grew wider and wider.
Embarrassed, I shifted my gaze away and stood in place. I didn't know whether it was okay for me to walk up to her.
Why was she surprised?
Maybe I shouldn't have come....
As I wavered, Yua came running up to me.
"You really came...."
"I'd given up, thinking you wouldn't show...."
"But I'm glad I waited...."
Maybe Yua actually tended to think along much the same lines as I did. Viewing everything pessimistically, and so on.
But one thing about us was radically different.
I honestly respected her for her ability to be so proactive. I wanted to be more like her.
"Er, w, will you.... Walk back with me....?"
I answered her hesitant question with a nod.
Somehow, it was kind of embarrassing. I also started to have the feeling that the other students leaving school were watching us enviously.
The more conscious I became of it, the jerkier I got. Going on home with a girl, just the two of us, was impossible after all.
Was there really such a young teacher around here....?
Since I rarely came to school, I had no memory of the teachers' faces. There were even times when I'd forgotten what my homeroom teacher looked like.
Glancing around all the while, the suit-clad teacher went toward the school building.
"What's the matter?"
Flustered, I shook my head and resumed walking at Yua's side.
Out of habit, I entered Shoutou Park. We could take a shortcut by cutting through here diagonally, though it would only save us a minute or so.
How did she know?
"I thought so. I often spotted you. But sometimes you were there, and sometimes you weren't."
"Today that mystery has finally been solved for me. It's because you only come to school once in a while."
"Ah, but I'm not saying that's bad or anything, it's just something I wondered about, pure and simple...."
Yua suddenly stopped and looked over at the bench where I usually sat to have breakfast. It was currently empty.
"Somehow, whenever you sat here, you always looked, um, like you were really hurting...."
Leaning forward, Yua sent the tips of her fingers gliding along the bench's backrest.
"As I spotted you over and over, I started to become concerned about you...."
This bench was set right in front of the fence around the pond. Moreover, because sitting in it meant facing the bank of the pond, I didn't have to tremble in fear of anyone's gaze.
The reason I'd taken a liking to it was because the water mill nearby acted as a form of cover, keeping me from standing out.
"Lately, on the days when I didn't see you, it made me so worried, I could hardly get any food down my throat...."
W, was that so. I'd had no idea she was watching me.
"It was silly of me, getting worried about someone I'd never spoken to...."
"But I didn't have the courage to start a conversation, so...."
"May I sit down for a bit?"
"I, um, want to know what kind of scenery you've been looking at...."
I had no particular reason to say no. Facing the pond, I nodded.
Very quietly, And very serenely, Yua was close beside me.
A tender breeze stirred her hair and made ripples on the pond.
Was this what it meant to really live?
Though it was such normal, casual scenery, and we were in such a casual situation, why did it seem as if tears would start flowing out of me at any moment....
"It must be pleasant to have breakfast here."
Yua murmured. I took a peek at the side of her face.
"Maybe I'll try it sometime, too...."
Yua turned her head to look up at me. Unable to say anything, I dropped my gaze to her bag.
Just now, something at edge of my sight had nagged at me--
What I'd spied just now--
Gero-froggy. The mascot character that was all the rage among high school girls.
Time to pull the Trigger! Positive, Negative or Neutral?