The Girls Who Traumatized Me Volume 4 Chapter 6

Chapter 6: “Festival Lights”

[…Yeah, thanks. ……See you later then, Yuuri-chan.]
I finish the call with my niece and hang up.
Sweat runs down my back as I turn on the air conditioner. I sit on the sofa and take a sip of black tea.
…It’s been hard on Yuuri-chan too.
My niece Yuuri-chan, my older sister’s daughter, seems to be struggling as well.
She went on a family trip to hot springs apparently, and some incident happened again it seems.
I didn’t expect that scumbag to show his face in front of my sister again, but Yukito-kun seems to have something in mind. sigh…He really is a troublesome boy.
The moment I take my eyes off him he gets caught up in weird things.
And by the time I find out, it’s usually already over.
I kind of dislike feeling like an outsider.
It seems Yuuri-chan has been making various approaches to Yukito-kun too but they don’t seem to be panning out. There’s hardly any progress really. Well, it’s not something that would change overnight I suppose.
Even so, up until now it had been difficult even getting this far, let alone hearing about him going on a family trip. The fact that their distance has shortened this much can be considered a stroke of good luck.
—This is it. Things will move forward from here.
There has been slight improvement. What had been hopelessly negative until now has just reached zero. It’s not like there’s been any kind of additional value whatsoever.
Don’t get complacent. Nothing’s even started yet. I need to love Yukito-kun more.
There must have been frustrations between my sister and Yukito-kun that no one else knows about.
It should be the same for Yuuri-chan. Yukito-kun wouldn’t tell someone about himself and wouldn’t talk about it even if asked. But their relationship has definitely improved. It was a good trend.
I don’t know what should be done from here. It’s quite difficult really.
The fact of the matter is Yukito-kun isn’t attached to other people.
He doesn’t desire nor seek anything from anyone.
The reason he tries to do everything by himself is merely the price to pay.
So he can’t move forward. A future walking alongside someone doesn’t exist in Yukito-kun’s daily life.
Whenever he tried to progress he failed, and was left alone time and time again, yet he didn’t break.
Even if I was the one who triggered it all, everything after went completely beyond expectations.
With no trust or faith placed in anyone—even if such things did exist they would be nothing like normal trust or faith anyway. Even if someone he trusted or had faith in betrayed him, Yukito-kun wouldn’t think anything of it or be hurt. Because from the start, he believes that’s just how things are.
It’s a kind of resignation resembling the idea that it’s always his own fault no matter what.
Be they his parents or siblings, or even his lover.
If things remain like this, then no matter if someone who won’t betray him stays by his side until he dies, Yukito-kun’s perception won’t change. That’s the rules of Yukito-kun’s world.
Yukito-kun’s “common sense” has become structured that way.
Yukito-kun’s world has been colored by such “common sense.”
Is it just misfortune? Just awful luck? I don’t know.
But Yukito-kun is a stranger living by different common sense.
What an awfully awful and violent coincidence—that’s the only way I can describe it.
But even so, the fact that he has now realized the feelings directed at him are not only “hostility” but also “good will” means he is moving forward. Because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance he had been waiting for.
“…I wonder if Galileo felt like this too?”
I give a wry smile at my own foolish delusion. Way too farfetched.
However, Galileo, who inherited Copernicus’ will and advocated the Heliocentric theory, was subjected to an inquisition by the church but still refused to recant his belief that the Earth moves.
“Common sense”, which forms people’s fundamental nature, is that resolutely stubborn.
To the point of obstinately refusing to acknowledge evidence presented before their eyes, turning it into a philosophical argument rather than a factual debate. As if, at times people will only believe what’s convenient for themselves.
Let alone for Yukito-kun, to whom it’s not even for convenience’s sake but an everyday norm. Overturning that extremely irrational “common sense” would be extremely difficult.
Just as Japanese people who no longer carry weapons after the Sword ban Edicts would be unable to comprehend the “common sense” of a firearm society.
We don’t know the “common sense” Yukito has cultivated so far.
Perhaps the only ones able to overcome such a fate would be those who can walk alongside him.
At any rate, Yukito-kun’s surroundings have been restless lately.
It’s almost as if…a major turning point in his destiny is approaching—.

The sound of taiko drums reverberates. The rhythmic beats of the festival music by the hayashi musicians sets the mood as some walk about the food stalls, some shoulder the mikoshi, and some dance in the bon odori. Truly people of all ages from children to the elderly, men and women alike. Everyone seems to be having fun, smiles brimming on all their faces.
That’s right—everyone except me that is.
I stand off to the side so as not to get in the way, blankly waiting at the meeting spot.
Checking my watch, it was six pm. The fireworks start at seven but the meeting time Hinagi specified was five thirty. It’s been over thirty minutes but there’s no sign of Hinagi appearing. Considering I had arrived by five, I’ve been waiting for almost an hour now.
I should try contacting her but unfortunately my smartphone is currently under repair and waiting the arrival of the latest model so I don’t have it on hand. I sent it out for repairs to retrieve the data and such from my smartphone that had completely shattered with a cracked screen and leaked LCD. When the goddess-sensei who said she would compensate me asked “Why not replace it with the newest model?” I left it all up to her. However, with the recent price inflation of devices and new models releasing every year, the shipment volume is low and I was told it would take about a week.
It’s summer break right now so communicating by PC email for a week or so at most should be fine I figured,
which is why I didn’t prepare a substitute device or anything in particular. And now I’m already troubled for lack of one.
I was invited to the summer festival by Hinagi but if I had known this would happen I should have made our meeting spot her house. But honestly, I reaaally don’t wanna go there… There’s still that restriction and her mom scares me.
Delicious aromas drift over from the food stalls. I haven’t eaten dinner either. My stomach was empty and growling. I buy and eat some takoyaki but with nothing in particular to see and enjoy at the stalls, it felt strangely unsatisfying just wasting time like that.
I wait longer still but Hinagi simply doesn’t show up. It finally occurs to me—
…Could it be that this was a prank?
Come to think of it, back in the day some classmates, boys and girls, invited me out to hang but I alone was told a different meeting place. No matter how long I waited there, no one came. I got a message only after getting back home.
They casually laughed it off as a joke when I went to school the next day. Assholes.
From then on until graduation I thoroughly ignored their existences but now I don’t even recall their faces or names anymore.
There were the usual excuses afterwards about how they didn’t intend that, it was really—etc. Somehow, they have suddenly changed their attitude later on, making a lot of silly excuses, but voices from non-existent people can’t be heard after all. It’s a complete afterthought, and today is also a festival.
It’s an extremely boring episode but it doesn’t seem like Hinagi has that kind of personality either.
Well whatever. Even Hinagi-chan might wanna prank me sometimes I guess.
Just as I’m thinking that however, after being scolded by family again and again, I understand—
—I’m the one mistaken. The tears Hinagi showed me and her smiles weren’t lies.
There must be reasons other than me being hated. It’s that kind of naively sweet thinking that is the right answer, now that I know the world can be kind. I was taught it’s okay to rely on that. So I’ll believe.
I want to look for a public phone but if I leave this spot we might miss each other and meeting back up would be hopeless.
Meanwhile, people usually don’t answer calls from public phones out of caution.
I wonder how people made meetups back before mobile phones existed?
My name gets called out. The one who spoke to me wasn’t Hinagi. Not a girl to begin with.
“Don’t forget, we’re classmates!”
“I’m kidding, it’s Kondo right.”
“Who the hell is that guy! I’m Takahashi! Takahashi Kazunari. It’s been like four months already…”
“C’mon now, I know you’re Takahashi Kazunari.”
“Do you really…”
“Takahashi Kazunari who excels at badminton club right? I know you.”
“I’m in the soccer club though…”
“Takahashi Kazunari who excels in the soccer club, right? I know you.”
“You’re just gathering info as I say things huh…”
He seems easygoing, sharp enough to see through my advanced technique, but unlike me Takahashi Kazunari isn’t alone since he has social skills. A pair consisting of a guy and girl. Uhh…who was it again? Extremely awkward.
“Renta Girlfriend?”
“Why would it be! That’d be bad. It’s my little sister Kikka. Go on, say hi?”
“…… Hello. “
The girl hiding herself behind Takahashi’s back peeks out at me.
The yukata looks good on her but they certainly don’t seem to be on a date. With a young girl like this, this formation would surely bring down anger from various places if they were dating. Somehow their facial features resembled each other as well.
“So Takahashi is her older brother huh…”
“Kikka’s in second grade. Mom’s just busy so, I brought her since it’s a festival and all.”
“I see I see. Here, have some candy then Kikka-chan.”
I take some candy from my pocket and hand it to Kikka-chan as a friendly gesture.
She timidly accepts it. She seems mildly shy but is an obedient good kid.
“Oh yeah, why are you loitering around in a place like this Yukito?”
“I was supposed to meet up with someone but that might be wrong.”
“A buncha people from our class came too. I saw Sakurai leading around Shakado and the others earlier.”
“Elizabeth? I can only pray the shut-in Shakado doesn’t melt away and disappear.”
“I think it every time but, who’s Elizabeth anyway…”
“Look Kikka-chan, pull this here. It’s a decorative banner flag.”
“Woah! Amazing!”
“What’s that!?”
As Kikka-chan pulls the string poking out of my pocket, the decorative banner smoothly unfurls.
On the way here I curiously bought this thing from a variety shop even though it’s useless but it unexpectedly came in handy now.
Kikka-chan’s eyes are sparkling. Heheh, when it comes to reactions from children I’m confident.
“Are the Takahashi duo heading back already?”
“Don’t make us sound like the red and green Akazukin brothers. Our apartment unit is high up so we can see the fireworks from the veranda. Was Yukito on some kinda date?”
“Wait. Takahashi-ani, are you a savior perhaps?”
If it’s Takahashi then he might know how to contact Hinagi. I’ll have him call her instead.
“What’s wrong all of a sudden? Oh, by the way, I saw Suzurikawa-san earlier, and she was with a guy… But, well, knowing Suzurikawa-san, I probably mistaken, right?”
“—It appears I was mistaken after all.”
“Ha? About wha—”
“My stomach is growling too so I’ll just head back quick. See you again Kikka-chan.”
No point sticking around here wasting time any longer. The fireworks will start soon but I don’t particularly feel like watching them alone either. I’ll just casually wander the stalls heading back.
If I think over Takahashi Kazunari’s words again, the answer becomes obvious.
I see I see, so it was a misfire was it?
Could it be that Hinagi’s message to me wasn’t meant for me from the start?
Hinagi did invite me to the summer festival when we went to the beach but perhaps she completely forgot about it afterwards, intending to invite someone else when she sent the message and accidentally sent it to me instead.
Not correcting it even when I replied is also puzzling but maybe she didn’t realize it was a reply from me? Nah nah, as if right?
Despite this being the only hypothesis, frankly it’s still hard to believe. No matter how you look at it, something that clumsy just wouldn’t happen right?—is what I think but Hinagi isn’t here while she’s supposedly out enjoying the summer festival with someone else. If that’s the factual reality, then no matter how unnatural, the facts right before my eyes themselves are the answer.
Come to think now, there were several occasions in the past when Hinagi sent me messages I didn’t comprehend the intent of either. —I should have noticed sooner.
It’s unbelievable that Hinagi, who shook my hand off that day, would invite me to a summer festival.
The lively coming and going of people now flows by like a pleasant melody amidst the hustle and bustle.
I hurriedly make my way towards him through the crowds. Having put on geta clogs I’m not used to, my unsure footing is annoying but it can’t be helped. Preparations took quite some time so my arrival will likely be just in the nick of time.
I hope he likes this yukata…
It’s nothing but a silly wish really. If anything, getting a disgusted look wouldn’t be surprising.
…But Yukito probably won’t make a face like that. I have complete trust in him.
It’s been a while since going to a festival together. It’s the same patterned yukata I wore when I rejected his hand that day. It might remind him of unpleasant things.
I haven’t had an opportunity to wear a yukata since that day either. Even my size has changed. At first I considered getting a new one in a different pattern but I chose this pattern again in the end.
Above all else…to overwrite it with more wonderful memories.
“I’ll move forward to the future too, Yukito…”
What I need is courage. To rouse myself.
Even wearing this pattern again took courage.
The unchanging me, and the changed me.
No matter if my looks change or I grow up, these feelings won’t change.
I probably wanted to prove that. My unchanging love I’ve harbored all this time.
As I entered middle school, those around me like my friends started changing more and more, and I myself started changing too.
I couldn’t remain a naive child forever. Yet I wasn’t an adult either. Amidst all those changes, I sought something unchanging. Those days were frightening I believe.
Around this time was when things started going poorly with Yukito. My emotions were disorderly, I didn’t know how interact anymore. The harsh treatment began around this period too.
I would get pissed and lash out at him like an idiot. I hated myself for doing that.
If we could have stayed childhood friends, things surely wouldn’t have become like this.
—But I wished for more than that.
In the hustle and bustle, he tried to take my hand as always so I wouldn’t get separated like in the past just the same.
I didn’t shake it off because I disliked it. I brushed his hand aside simply because my palm was sweaty and I secretly wanted to wipe it with a handkerchief so he would hold my hand again.
If only I had spoken up myself… I laugh at my own foolishness.
I had even lost the candor to be straightforward like that during those days.
After that, that hand I always held didn’t take mine again. Suspended in midair, I unjustly blamed him, spouting words I didn’t even mean—why don’t you hold my hand anymore? Our distance grew wider and wider even after the festival ended.
—We were supposed to go together next year for sure though.
Forgetting such a promise, I rejected him again as he tried to change for me.
If only I could have waited just a little longer, my wish would have come true.
He was trying to advance our relationship yet I wished for change.
It must have taken courage for Yukito as well. The courage to change. And I trampled all over that.
In an awfully pathetic way, doing nothing myself, and instead hurting him, always just demanding with endless shamelessness. An awful shitty woman.
I can’t just keep waiting around. I can no longer be just a princess who receives everything.
–I’ve done nothing but make the wrong choices all this time. So this time for sure!
The words I spewed, contrary to my feelings, as I stepped into inescapable darkness were the result of choices I made. Everything is my own doing, my own fault.
But he saved me, never abandoning me, always protecting me no matter how much of a villain I became, no matter how much I denigrated myself, no matter if I turned everything and everyone around me into enemies and was hated.
It’s my turn now.
From here on out, it will be my turn forever.
The glass slippers shattered long ago.
There is no carriage to take me to the castle, no fairy godmother to push my back.
There are plenty of rivals but that doesn’t matter.
I will simply walk to where he waits using my own feet.
With a spring in my step I head for our meeting spot.
The roads are closed off to cars just for tonight.
The festive mood, I can feel the fun atmosphere even from afar.
It’s almost time. I wonder if he’s waiting for me?
Apparently his smartphone broke down and is under repair. I didn’t ask why. No doubt he was up to some kind of mischief again. But with no way to immediately contact each other, I can’t help feeling this strangely romantic excitement well up inside.
I check the time. I’m quite late. Gotta apologize first thing when I get there.
I’ll be straightforward. No matter what, as long as I properly convey my feelings he’ll understand for sure. There’s no need to pretend. No need to make excuses. I tell myself that over and over.
—Farewell my past self. Pleased to meet you, my future self.
“Oi, are you Suzurikawa?”
That despicable voice I hear call out from behind crushes my determination.

“Geez, no need to be so cold with me. Technically I’m your senior y’know.”
It’s like having cold water dumped on me, my earlier elation freezes over. I can only dumbly murmur that shudder-inducing name I had avoided even recalling.
I wish with all my might that he had the wrong person but his build was bigger than middle school days yet that face was unmistakably the Yoshikawa in my memories.
“What’s up Yoshikawa, she an acquaintance?”
“My ex from middle school.”
Yoshikawa Toshiya. The person I dated in middle school. Strictly speaking we didn’t actually have that kind of relationship but facts are facts and they remain indelible no matter what.
Just hearing that stomach-churningly disgusting word makes me want to vomit.
“She’s a beauty ain’t she. Senpai, introduce us later ‘kay?”
Yoshikawa wasn’t alone. Along with him was a man much larger than Yoshikawa and a small man. Their rude gazes rake over me like scrutinizing goods or licking my figure.
“Long time no see, Suzurikawa.”
“—Wh, why the hell are you here!”
“What, I can be here can’t I? Right?”
“What’s up Yoshikawa, some kinda circumstance?”
“It’s old stuff, a bit…”
I try to force arrogance into my shaking body but it’s ineffective like I’m seen through. My mind that had been paralyzed in shock finally starts moving.
To begin with I shouldn’t have paid them any attention. It was too late once I noticed.
It’s a huge festival. Students are participating too. Bumping into acquaintances wouldn’t be that odd. I should have just ignored them and walked right by. Stopping here was my mistake.
“You alone? Wanna go ’round with us?”
The man who called Yoshikawa “senpai” casually calls out to me.
If Yoshikawa is a second-year then this man is probably a first-year like me.
“Perfect timing. Suzurikawa…come with us?”
“Don’t mess around! Why would I–“
“Don’t you want to avoid getting into a mess again?”
Nightmares flash back with the whispered words.
Every day was tough, crying endlessly, scratching at the seemingly endless swamp that I couldn’t escape. I thought I had finally moved forward. The sensation of being dragged back into the bottomless pit that I thought I had escaped.
The past, which I thought I had cut ties with after receiving help, is now interfering again.
“We’ll show you a fun time alright? C’mon, let’s get going?”
“Yeah, Suzurikawa… no, Hinagi, was it? Let’s let bygones be bygones and get along again.”
The three men start steadily closing the distance around me. A chill runs through my whole body.
Yoshikawa said “again”. So if I don’t take Yoshikawa’s hand here, will my daily life I had finally grasped be wrecked once more? Along with the days I wished to take back?
—And my bond with Yukito too.
I can’t endure that anymore. Like a frog stared down by a snake, I can’t move.
My earlier courage had pathetically evaporated away far too easily.

My voice won’t even come out properly. This man is trauma that corrodes me.
My neck goes limp powerlessly. In the end, nothing’s changed after all. No matter what, the past continues clutching onto my feet, never letting go. Like my feet are stuck in an antlion pit, I couldn’t escape the despair.
I’ve been weak all along forever.
Even though I was determined to become strong enough to stand beside him.
Tears welled in my eyes.
Yoshikawa grabs my hand.
It’s not him grabbing the hand I brushed off that day and grabbing my hand now either.
“That’s… that’s not right, that’s not right, That can’t be allowed!”
Compelled by the passions, I dashed out of there.
Fine, I admit it. I’m weak.
I keep pretending to be strong when really I can’t be straightforward. Unlike him.
—But I’m not alone.
I had almost forgotten again. Even though I must have repeated the same mistakes who knows how many times.
I might cause more trouble again. I’ve always only ever relied on him.
But even if it’s hopeless for me alone, if there’s two of us—
With him I feel like we can make anything happen no matter what. Let’s start over from the beginning.
And so I can become someone he relies on this time, an existence he needs.
It won’t be one-sided anymore. The two of us standing equal, me and him.
—Because we’re “childhood friends.”

“Damn, sorry ’bout that senpai, you got rejected huh.”
“What’s with her man. Yoshikawa, was she seriously your ex?”
“As irritating as ever.”
Yoshikawa’s group watched Suzurikawa’s back as she left. They had no intentions of causing a ruckus to begin with in a place with this many people. While picking up girls was a fact, various troubles happen at festivals and the police keep a close eye out too. They aren’t foolish enough to act without thinking.
“But she looked tasty.”
“You already screwed her?”
“Nah. But y’know, that doesn’t sound bad actually. Can’t just leave it at being made a fool of.”
“Obviously! Didja see her? She’ll definitely go down easy with that attitude. Girls like that are fragile y’see. Oh yeah, even in middle school Yoshikawa-senpai was pretty popular with girls right? Lucky bastard, able to do whoever ya want.”
“Shut it. I was pretty tame in middle school.”
“Really, for real. There was this absolutely insane kouhai from a lower grade so I didn’t stand out at all.”
“Some fight-crazy guy or something?”
“It’s not like…forget it, don’t wanna remember.”
As if recalling something very unpleasant he scowls. Best leave sleeping dogs lie as they say.
Getting involved with someone like that will lead to no good. Cutting off the conversation, Yoshikawa’s group starts walking as well.
“Well, we’ll look for other girls today. We’ll save the main dish for later good times.”
Laughing wryly at his kouhai’s words, Yoshikawa’s group begins girl hunting.

Tonight, the night sky is illuminated not only by the moonlight. The grand experiment of flame color reactions, set against the pitch-black canvas of the sky, blooms into a vivid spectacle for just a few seconds.
However, that doesn’t mean one should tactlessly start blathering how the red fireworks contain lithium, the purple ones potassium, the yellow ones sodium just because they’re looking at fireworks. Guys trying to show off by saying stuff like that is a bad habit. It makes girls go “Eew that’s creepy—!”
When girls say “It’s pretty” while watching fireworks, they aren’t seeking that kind of chemical reaction talk. This kind of temperature gap is probably an example of the differences between men and women. Just saying.
This too is something I learned from my sister long ago. My great elder sister. Very educational.
Leaving the summer festival venue fruitlessly, I change into jerseys when I get home and head out for my daily training run. I can’t neglect my daily training.
The fireworks started while I was still out but watching alone leaves a bad taste. Without even stopping to gaze up, I silently continue my run. The thunderous explosions shook the atmosphere violently.
When it comes down to it, festivals and such serve to form a kind of community and act as venues for communication.
There’s no meaning if you don’t have someone to enjoy it together with. It’s something to enjoy with others.
I wasn’t someone invited to the summer festival under a misunderstanding, so it wasn’t something I should have participated in alone.
There were no emails from Hinagi in my PC inbox either and it’s not like she got into an accident or anything.
As expected, I can’t find any reason other than my painfully mistaken assumptions. sigh…How vexing.
The history of humans and horses dates back several thousand years BC but I have little to do with zebras. Perhaps human relationships are unexpectedly similar.
So close yet so far. Seemingly similar yet different. Seemingly knowing yet actually not knowing anything. Seemingly understanding when really I don’t understand at all. Zebras are apparently more bad-tempered than horses despite appearances. Huh.
It’s still hot even though it’s night. To unwind my heated sweat-drenched body from the exercise I slowly exhale, switching to a gradual walk. Around then I could no longer hear the booming great volume so the fireworks show probably ended too.
Taking ample time, I return to my apartment building entrance where I find someone sitting curled up.
She looks terribly haggard. Judging from her yukata she seems to have come from the festival.
Why she’d be in a place like this then is a mystery though. Did she lose her keys or something?
While neighborly relations aren’t particularly close, I figured I should at least greet her in passing but then I realize it’s someone I know very well.
“What’re you doing in a place like this?”
Why is Hinagi here?
Her hair that should have been neatly styled is now tragically disheveled with her yukata loosely worn as well.
What I found there was a stray Hinagi collapsed as if she were an abandoned alley cat.
Unable to ignore her, I call out and she quickly lifts her drooping head to face me in surprise.
“Yukito…? Yukito!?—Ow!”
Hinagi, who tried to cling to me vigorously, loses her balance. I catch her reflexively and her moist eyes recognize me. The hand gripping me trembled slightly.
“I’m sorry!…I couldn’t contact you either! That guy—! But next time—!”
The words spill out like a muddy stream lacking coherence. If Hinagi is here does that mean Hinagi really invited me? Not a misfire? And then I realize.
I see, so it was double booking was it?
What if she already had two appointments from the beginning?
If the first ran late and she couldn’t make it on time, that would align. With no means of contacting me either, that would make sense. Perhaps smoke signals should also be considered for the future…
—Don’t be stupid. I shake off the inane delusions.

So what if it aligns? What double booking nonsense.
If this were in the past I might have settled for that convenient self-contained explanation but Hinagi’s unusual condition won’t permit it. I don’t believe in myself. The conclusions I draw must be mistaken.
Properly look at the other person. At her expression, attitude, condition. That can’t be the case right?
There must be some reason why Hinagi is here now.
Stroking her back soothingly, warmth transfers directly through the thin yukata fabric. Looking relieved, her expression loosens for an instant before distorting in pain.
Glancing down, I see the skin between her toes and ball of the foot has peeled and reddened.
“You’re injured.”
” …… Oh …… Um, …… “
“Get in.”
“What? “
“We’ll talk about it later.”
I carry Hinagi on my back and head towards the room.
It’s a desperate measure, but there’s no helping it. For some reason, the residents of my house, including my mom and sister, don’t like having outsiders in. Perhaps they see it as a kind of sanctuary.
Honestly, I’m scared of what’s to come, but there’s no time for that. It’s an emergency evacuation.
Mom and sister should forgive me… Please, forgive me!
“Welcome back. You’re late… Oh, Hinagi-chan?”
“S-Sorry, Ouka-san.”
“I found a stray childhood friend.”
“What? What’s going on with you…”
My sister shows up from the back. Instantly, wrinkles appear between her eyebrows, and her gaze turns stern. Uh-oh! She looks really angry. I need to somehow calm her down. Sacrifices, maybe.
“Wait! What’s this about a stray? Why is she here?”
“I’ll treat her injuries and send her home right away!”
“Injuries… If she did something weird inside the house, I won’t forgive her. What time is it now, anyway?”
“Is it okay if it’s outside the house?”
“Of course not!”
“….Then, what if it’s with you, sister?”
“That’s fine.”
“Alright, checkmate.”
I restrain the watchdog that looks like it’s about to attack and return to my room. I knew this would happen.
I don’t know the reason, but my sister really dislikes Hinagi.
It wasn’t like that in the past, so is there some kind of conflict between them?
Actually, my sister seems to dislike most people, but I worry if her relationships are okay. But in reality, my sister is incredibly popular at school, so it’s ridiculous for someone like me to worry. The charm of an archangel is extraordinary.
I sit Hinagi on my unnecessarily large bed and quickly take out the first aid kit. There’s no time to spare.
“Listen, Hinagi. We’ll talk about the details later. This is my room, but there’s no privacy. No locks or anything. Scary people will come soon, so let’s just finish the treatment.”
I take out disinfectant and bandages. The skin between the big toe and the index toe is peeled, red.
“Don’t force yourself with geta you’re not used to wearing.”
“I… I ran all the way here.”
Running in geta? Did Hinagi undergo some kind of training?
“Any other painful areas?”
“Just my legs… I guess. Sorry.”
I apply disinfectant. I try to treat it carefully to minimize the pain, but it might sting in some places. She lets out a groan of agony. However, she has to endure it.
I can’t help but inwardly smile at the actions that feel like a recreation of a past scene.
“You always seem to injure your feet.”
“…It’s the second time…getting helped by you like this.”
“Don’t be so depressed about it. Like I told you before your feet don’t smell. Have confidence.”
“What’s with saying they smell!? Hey, do my feet smell !?”
Trying a little jest to cheer her up backfires. Blushing crimson, she’s furious.
With her scrawny arms locked around my neck I can hardly breathe but proceed to nimbly wrap her foot without minding.
“That stuff about getting a prolapsed stomach from hopping is bullshit right. I’ve never heard of someone like that.”
“Don’t try brushing me off with some random trivia! Hey! They don’t smell right!? I was barefoot today and just got out of the bath before coming!”
“I also think stuff like getting intestinal twisting from hula hooping is doubtful.”
“It smells nice right!? I properly apply deodorant spray too! Want me to let ya get a whiff!? That what ya wanna do!?”
“That’s why I’m saying there’s no smell!”
“Then don’t say stuff to make me insecure!”
“Fine, fine, got it. If you’re gonna say it that much then I’ll properly sniff later.”
“I don’t like that either, That’s weird too!”
Isn’t she being completely unreasonable!? As far as I’m concerned, if that convinces Hinagi I don’t mind.
While Hinagi protests—coughs excuses herself, the treatment finishes. It only took ten minutes tops.
“There, done. I’ll take you home now.”
“W-Wait Yukito!”
Once again, I carry Hinagi on my back. The time has passed 9 PM. Her parents must be worried. Moreover, she’s already injured her leg. It’s not feasible for her to go home alone at this hour, and certainly not to stay overnight. I need to send her back immediately.
Hinagi probably didn’t intend to come like this. I don’t know how long she’s been in front of the house, but we can’t have a leisurely conversation here. What do you mean?
I’ll say it again; there is no privacy in my house!
Is that something to brag about ? Maybe…? When I build my own house, I’ll make privacy the top priority.
As I open the door with a bang, as expected, she was right there, pressed against it, listening intently. Scary!
“The treatment for the stray childhood friend is done, so I’ll release her like this.”
“Just abandon the stray, Throw her away!”
“Isn’t that too heartless?”
“Hinagi-chan, are you okay now?”
“Y-Yes… Sorry for bothering you at this late hour.”
“Why on earth are you here at this time? You do understand that if you come home late after doing something weird, you’ll wake up in a dreamy state tomorrow morning?”
“I wonder what will happen? Exciting.”
“Heh, I’m expecting something. Like a morning–“
“Whaaa! N-No, Yuurisan, that’s not allowed!”
“Let’s go before the wild beast goes berserk.”
We quickly escape from the chaotic scene. Truly like water and oil, incompatible.
But, I can’t help but wonder, do dogs and monkeys really hate each other that much? If so, I wonder if Momotaro was concerned about the strained relationships among his subordinates. Being a hero is tough in this world.
“…Um! I can walk by myself now.”
After leaving the apartment and walking for a while, Hinagi finally seems to have realized her own condition. I won’t mention what happened, but for me, there’s no problem with her staying in this state until I runs out of energy. She used to be a petite girl, but now she’s become a splendid woman.
“Be quiet and behave until I get tired.”
The lively atmosphere from a few hours ago is now replaced by a silence that seems unbelievable. Fireworks and summer festivals seem like they never happened. What I hear is only Hinagi’s murmuring voice over my shoulder.
“We couldn’t see the fireworks.”
“I wanted to go around the summer festival together… I ended up ruining it again by myself.”
I just accept the words she pours out without saying anything. I don’t feel the need to interject or say anything.
There’s no need to tell lies or make excuses. There’s no intention to deceive, no malice, only the truth being spoken. It’s genuinely, unmistakably, Hinagi Suzurikawa’s feelings.
–Hinagi Suzurikawa has changed.
She has become incredibly honest. Without embellishing or decorating her words excessively. It’s unbelievably different from her before. No, maybe she hasn’t changed; she has regained something. She has taken back the sincere and straightforward self she used to be.
In that case, can I also believe that I can regain something I lost once? Like her. Regain what I had in the past–
“…When I arrived at the meeting place, Yukito was already gone, and I couldn’t contact you. I didn’t know what to do, and before I knew it, I was running to Yukito’s house.”
The drawbacks of not having a smartphone were evident. The theory of “Yukito doesn’t need a smartphone” has been completely denied here. In the end, it seems to be an essential item for modern people.
“I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s not that. I’m the one who was late. I should have run to Yukito right away. But, thinking about things like destroying the yukata set, I hesitated… From when, I wonder. Everything I tried never worked out, and none of my wishes ever came true. I always wished for things that never reached me.”
Softly whispered in my ear.
Abrupt and exceedingly simple words.
At this close distance, misunderstandings and pretending not to hear are not going to work. It was impossible to deceive with non-existent slanted conclusions. Hinagi did say it. “I love you.”
“You were supposed to be right next to me, but somehow, I found myself chasing after your back. I thought I should give up? Even though I only became weaker, you kept getting stronger and stronger. Before I knew it, the distance between us had become so vast. I kept regretting that it was too late.”

scene transition


–Hinagi Suzurikawa has become stronger.
Incredibly dazzling, that she can’t help it..
Those words shape her current self like magic.
“I won’t let misunderstandings happen. I won’t let you say you don’t understand my feelings. No matter what answer Yukito chooses, as long as my feelings are conveyed straight, there should be no regrets.”
It felt like people can change; that’s what I learned.
Himiyama-san, Shiori, Hinagi, even Nee-san and Mother. Everyone is trying to change. The only one who may not have changed is me. A sense of exclusion, as if left behind.
“–Yukito has changed too.”
“I feel like you’ve been looking at me much more better than before.”
“Maybe it’s because I started eating blueberries.”
“It’s not about eyesight, idiot… But really, the idiot is me. I was about to make the same mistake again. Even though I decided not to make the same mistake again. I haven’t learned my lesson. I can’t do anything even if I try to bear it alone.”
–I realized.
I’ve realized something a bit too late.
I intended to keep my distance. Hinagi has the freedom to seek her own happiness. I thought I couldn’t take away that time from her.
But surely, I can’t persuade the current Hinagi. I understand that no matter what conclusion or words I give now, I won’t be able to convince her.
A myth created by countless predecessors.
[A childhood friend] is undeniably an absolute–heroine.
“I’ll talk about today properly. I want you to listen. There’s something I want to consult with you about. Even if I don’t know what to do on my own, if it’s the two of us, I won’t be afraid.”
I remember our elementary school days. There were no secrets between us. That’s how we moved forward. The relationship, like a phantom, that disappeared somewhere. Just memories of when we were childhood friends.
“Now that I’ve had already satisfied with the sensations, can you come down now? “
“An ex-boyfriend?”
Hinagi slowly squeezed out the words as if it were extremely painful for her.. Her voice is trembling.
No matter how much she doesn’t want to acknowledge it, that is reality. An unchangeable past.
The pale spheres of light quietly vanished with a crackling sound, falling to the ground.
It’s already close to midnight. Even if today was a fireworks festival, it’s not favorable for minors to be out at this hour. Especially Hinagi, being a girl. Even her parents must be worried.
Yet despite that, what are the two of us doing in a place like this? We were playing with fireworks. We’re delinquents for sure. We’ve gone astray.
I was thinking to promptly send her back immediately but Hinagi insisted she absolutely wanted to play with fireworks so I had no choice but to buy some at the convenience store and now we’re playing together at a nearby park.
I’m powerless before Yankee Hinagi. I’m sorry Hiori-chan.
Since we can’t kick up a big fuss so late, these are sparklers rather than actual fireworks. We just silently watch the twinkling lights fall in our crouching positions. Oh how fleeting, ’tis but a summer tradition.
“So, did anything happen?”
“Mm-mm. But it’s scary…I feel like something might happen again…”
Apparently the reason Hinagi was late to our meetup was because she got caught up with some senpai.
The senpai she mentions is a second-year named Yoshikawa who Hinagi dated in middle school.
Since we go to different high schools I haven’t encountered him until now but by chance they met up again.
Just that much wouldn’t be an issue but Hinagi sensed that it wouldn’t end simply. Even now she harbors vague anxiety.
Her middle school days must have been that much of a trauma for her.
From Hinagi’s attitude until now I can sufficiently infer that she had agonized in ways I’m unaware of. So much that even her personality changed completely. She had wandered in the depths of darkness.
“Then make more friends.”
“I ain’t got room to talk but, you don’t have many friends do ya?”
“Yukito’s have lots of friends huh.”
I have lots of friends? Who? Me? While I know a lot of people I hardly have anyone I’d call friends.
The first person that comes to mind is the refreshing pretty boy but come to think, the recent acquaintances would be Goddess-sensei and the novice onmyoji KKururu-san. I got an ofuda as a token of our friendship.
Both Hinagi and I tilted our heads unnaturally. An awkward atmosphere hangs in the air. Looks like our awareness differs greatly but that stuff doesn’t matter right now.
“Anyway, increase your allies. And you’re in high school now. I don’t know what they’re thinkin but I doubt they can do anything too forceful.”
“What do you mean?”
“It ain’t a joke. That applies to you too.”
“If you make the wrong choice again next time, there definitely won’t be any taking it back.”
“It’s the right choice for you to consult me like this now. Absolutely do not bottle it up alone. Get more people you can rely on. Even your family will cooperate. Don’t think you’ll just be causing trouble.”
“Y-Yeah. I understand.”
Hinagi responding with determination, has indeed changed. Not too long ago, she used to constantly deny my words. That’s why she was taken advantage of. And she narrowly managed to survive the bad experience.
But that’s no guarantee it will suffice next time. If she ends up being too late without realizing anything or noticing anything, it’ll be hopeless. Somewhere my hand can’t reach her.
But there’s countless ways to handle it if it’s before that happens.
“If you roughly know who the other person is, you can handle it in any way. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and as a wise psychic once said, ‘Fight monsters with monsters.'”
“Except the guy saying that failed and died.”

“Anyway. Don’t worry so much. You made the right choice. You’ve matured.”
I pat her back. Taking utmost care not to unhook anything.
“Back then too…if I had properly consulted Yukito maybe things wouldn’t have become like that…”
“Obviously. In the first place, if it were known you’re my childhood friend they definitely wouldn’t have even considered trying anything. After all, I was strangely avoided by upperclassmen.”
“Are you praising yourself?”
By the time middle school came around there was already some distance between Hinagi and me. Around then she started getting harsh with me, we were in separate classes, and there was practically no interaction at school. The only ones who know Hinagi and I are childhood friends are probably classmates who’ve been together since elementary school.
For some reason I was a student upperclassmen tended to avoid a lot. Despite being such a model student.
My gaze was turned away often too so if it were known the girl I was so close to was Hinagi, surely she would have been seen in a biased light but they at least wouldn’t think to meddle with her I’d bet.
While Hinagi is fretting, frankly I’m not worrying that much personally.
She didn’t repeat the same mistakes. She should be fine now. And now we’re high schoolers. If you do anything you’ll be held sufficiently responsible at this age. It’s not something that can be brushed off as a childish prank.
That’s what I mean they probably can’t easily take any drastic measures.
If they forcibly tried anything and failed, it would spell the end of the opponent’s life. In this day and age it’s easy to keep evidence like recording voices or taking video footage with a smartphone.
There’s often something called NTR video letters in fantasy works but stuff like that just turns into the extremely foolish suicidal act of providing evidence of the crime you committed to the other party.
It’s surprisingly difficult to conceal the things you’ve done. While I’m used to disposing of stuff from my excessively catastrophic life without any lingering attachments, that’s entirely different case.
Students cannot so easily do something that might lead to expulsion or suspension from school.
That’s what it means to be a high schooler. And the hurdles are high, making deviation difficult. Such are the morals rooted in society.
In that case, the opponent’s actions will naturally become restricted. Even so, if they still decide to take drastic measures despite the risks then conversely, you could say they become an easy mark to beat down. I’ll murder them.
Then I suddenly recall. Oh yeah, isn’t there a perfect person for times like this!?
“Oh right. Lemme introduce monster BBA with an ugly supernaturally cursed face that vomits and loses bowel control, the Goddess-sensei. She went through a crap ton of trouble for me so consulting’s probably free service.”
“A woman…who is she?”
“Sounds like she’s a pretty famous lawyer.”
“Hey. That woman, who is she?”
“Apparently her name is Kuon Kuzukata or something. Sparkly name heh, funny.”
“So. That woman, who is she?”
“I’m meeting her again next time so I’ll letcha know then ‘kay? I’ll give Hinagi’s contact info.”
“Thank you. Anyway, that woman, who is she?”
“Huh? Something’s weird. You’re not getting it.”
“Answer me. Who is that woman?”
Yo, Hinagi-san what’s wrong?
While muttering dissatisfactions, Hinagi was squinting at me emitting a subtle dark aura somehow resembling my sister’s.
I desperately try explaining but she’s not very convinced. Quite pushy. I mean if you’re this pushy doesn’t that mean you wouldn’t bother with such a trivial senpai? It’s only natural to feel anxious I guess.
Seeing off the last sparkler, I stand up. I properly clean up the trash making sure none remains. Cleaning up after fire is important after all. It’s eco-friendly times y’know, eco. Geez it’s gotten real late. I can’t keep leading her around so late.
“How’s your foot?”
“It’s fine. I can walk from here.”
Can’t just say bye-bye here so I head to Hinagi’s house together with her.
Amidst the silence Hinagi softly opens her mouth as we walk side-by-side.
“Do you want to stay at my house tonight…?”
“Wh, what the hell you sayin’! As if I could do something so terrifyinggg!”
“Why’re you getting so flustered…? Didn’t you stay over before…?”
Hinagi mutters dissatisfactions but I can’t help shuddering in fright from that horrifying suggestion.
If I did that I’d definitely get punished. Probably with like, a whip or stuff. We already took a detour and are late. Any later than this would be seriously bad.
Hinagi doesn’t know, but I have been banned from the Suzurikawa household by her mother, Akane-san.
Last time, I had no choice but to accept her invitation because of Hinagi’s desperate appearance. At that time, I didn’t directly meet Akane-san, and if I had, I might have been reprimanded.
I betrayed Akane-san’s expectations. If she says, “You should have saved Hinagi before it came to this,” I can’t argue. In that sense, for Akane-san, I am still one of the parties who hurt Hinagi. I couldn’t save her. I am–
“Hey. Actually, there was something I wanted to ask you. Why did you agree to my invitation?”
“Do you need a reason?”
” I wonder why, I got it. What Yukito is trying to say”
“I see, mind reading.”
“No, that’s not it, idiot.”
While things were getting awkward due to the unexpected incident, I had indeed intended to tell Hinagi something. The same goes for Shiori. For someone like me, falling in love with someone is–.
“Hinagi, I–“
“Earlier, you said I wasn’t wrong, right?”
She interrupts my words and continues. Her hand gently holds mine.
“I kept wandering and scratching. I thought I was a terrible person, not suitable for Yukito. But you illuminated the darkness. You gave me love. I won’t let go of this hand anymore.”
“You have your own life. Look around more. Surely someone–“
“Yukito. I have my own life. So I’ll decide.”
We arrive at Hinagi’s house. Directly, warmth is transmitted from her hand.
As if to cool her heated body with the night breeze, she gently kisses my cheek.
“I won’t give up. You always try to help me. Because you’re like that.”
A few hours ago, her face was pale, but now it’s dyed crimson with excitement.
A somewhat embarrassed smile. It’s the Hinagi from back then, the one I haven’t seen in a while.
“Thank you today. I’ll properly apologize and thank you next time.”
Hinagi’s figure disappears into the house. I called out to her back.
“–That yukata looks good on you.”
“Thank you.”
I felt that I had to say this. Hinagi doesn’t look back.
But I can somehow sense that she was smiling.
That’s the current distance between us. Farther than in elementary school, closer than in middle school.
Watching her completely disappear, I sighed deeply.
“How do I deal with this…”
The hostility and malice directed at me are incredibly strong, but I don’t know how to handle kindness.
Without finding an answer, I reluctantly turn back with heavy steps.
Deep down, I understood that I probably couldn’t find it alone.

“I’m sorryyyyyyyyy!”
Bowing deeply. Begging for forgiveness in a prostrate position in the living room. But the pressure keeps increasing.
Wawawawawa! It’s really something!
“I told you I wouldn’t forgive you if you were late, right?”
“I haven’t done anything to feel guilty about! I just had a stomachache on the way home and used the multipurpose toilet–“
“Huh? So you were doing “that” with that girl in the multipurpose toilet?”
“Absolutely not! The multipurpose toilet is not for that purpose!”
“It seems like you, too, are subject to family punishment (incest).”
“Wh- Family punishment?”
“Yes. For the time being, it’s a family punishment (incest).”
“Damn! I feel like the nuance is different, but I’m too scared to confirm it!”
“Well, shall we sleep together?”
“Why are you starting to take off your pajamas?”
“It’s hot.”
” I can’t even make a sound.”
“Come here, hug pillow.”
How outrageous! My hierarchy has degraded even to inanimate objects. But my mother is here in this situation, smiling with a full face. I sent a gaze seeking help.
“I’m glad you two are getting along like you used to.”
“Hehe… I thought I wasn’t at the age to age that much yet.”
“I just blurted it out; it’s not my true feelings, Mother!”
“Is this a bit late rebellion? But I feel relieved. Something childlike.”
“I can’t feel relieved at all! And why are you also in pajamas, Mother?”
“It’s hot today, isn’t it?”
” I can’t even make a sound.”
“Well then, shall we sleep together?”
“Yeah, yeah. You two are definitely parent and child. I feel like I’m the only one different.”
“Don’t say such sad things.”
I’m tightly held from both sides and escorted away. A splendid combination, indeed.
“I’ve said this many times, but do you know that this is my room?”
“One air conditioner is enough, and it saves on electricity, right?”
“When you say that, I really can’t say a word.”
I’ll be off the family register next year. I can’t stand up to my mother. Heatstroke is also scary.
“Confess what you were doing honestly. I won’t let you sleep until you tell me.”

“I’m innocent! I’m innocenttttttttttttttt!”

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