[Hello X3] Chapter 3 – Contact 12

Contact. 12 – Haru’s Smell

 

“Can I trouble you for a moment?”

I was approached by a girl I never met.

It happened when I was at the bookstore by the station, looking for new works of my favorite author.

Her voice sounded a little sharp and forceful, probably because she was a little nervous.

“I want that book over there. Can you get it for me, please?”

Her slender finger was pointing at the top shelf on the bookcase crammed with books. Unfortunately, it was a multicoloured mess of covers and I couldn’t tell which book she was pointing at.

“Which one?”

“The one with the blue cover.”

“Ah.”

The moment I saw the book, I blurted out.

It was the very book I was looking for myself. There was only one such book there, just as she had pointed out. For some reason it ended up in this bookcase instead of the new publications corner.

“There’s a stool there.”

She didn’t notice my reaction at all and just moved her finger to point at the stool next to me. My eyes followed its tip all the way.

And then, I looked at the girl again.

She’s a cutie, her short hair just over her eye. She’s of similar height to me, maybe a little taller. She should be able to pick the book herself if she wanted to.

The reason she wasn’t willing to was her clothes.

She was wearing a miniskirt.

If she went up on the stool dressed like this, she would expose herself to upskirting attempts. It was obvious now. It struck me that girls had lots of things to take note of.

So I did what she told me to. I moved the stool over and reached for the blue book. I wasn’t quite tall enough, so I had to tiptoe, just barely managing to reach the shiny new cover. It was the author’s first new work after a two year hiatus. It was in my hands. Still…

Despite the internal conflict, I handed that book obtained with much difficulty to the girl.

“Thank you,” she said, embracing the book dotingly.

“Ah, it’s okay. Do you like this author’s works?”

“Yep.”

“I like them too.”

I was trying not to sound too downhearted, but it seemed that the girl got a hint of my feelings from my tone because her expression turned a little gloomy.

“Are you looking for this book too?”

“I never thought it would be at this shelf.”

“I couldn’t find it myself either, so I went to ask the clerk. I was told that this should be the only one left.”

“I see. The only one left? Too bad for me then. Guess I’ll go look elsewhere.”

I lied with a smile.

I had searched through all the other stores before coming here.

Nada.

In this rural town I lived in, no store would hold books unless they were prize-winning works, adapted into movies, or chart-topping bestsellers. Didn’t matter if the book in question was new or not. It was my fault for naïvely thinking that I could get it on the release date and failing to pre-order due to laziness.

It looked like I would have to give up.

I dropped my shoulders dejectedly and headed towards the exit.

“Wait!”

For some reason, the girl called out to me.

“Eh?”

“I could lend you this book if you don’t mind? Once I finish it myself, that is.”

“Why do that?”

“Because I like to read and I know the feeling of wanting to read a book as soon as possible.”

While I was wondering how to answer her, she lowered her head awkwardly for some reason. “Erm, if I’m being too much of a busybody here, my apologies,” she said and her quiet voice made me realize how much courage she needed to call out to me.

My chest suddenly became hot and I naturally looked down.

“It’s alright. Thanks. I’m really grateful. My name’s Segawa Haruyoshi. Please take care of me.”

My words made her sigh with relief and smile a bright smile.

“Nice to meet you, Segawa-kun. I’m Shiina Yuki.”

All this happened in Spring, at the end of my second year of Middle School.

That was how I met Yuki Shiina.

Once we left the bookstore, we went to a café Shiina-san wanted to visit.

The bell inside chimed twice as we cautiously opened the wooden door. Jazz music, something I never heard before, chimed in the background, giving the shop and air of calmness, and the fragrance of coffee was everywhere.

It felt like a place for adults.

One where the time passed by slowly and gracefully.

“Welcome. Oh my, what cute guests we have here.”

There was one, young and pretty, big sister working in the shop and we were the only customers. She beamed a smile at us and said, “Choose any seat you like.”

While I was looking around the shop, Shiina-san without hesitation chose the table with the brightest lighting. I hurried over and sat across from her.

The March sunlight coming from outside through the window was really warm.

I had a sudden urge to yawn, but I gritted my teeth and stifled the impulse. Shiina-san noticed, though, and giggled. “You’re like a cat,” she said.

“We should be ordering something,” she then added. “What do you want, Segawa-kun?”

I looked at the menu laid out on the table and gulped in shock.

The menu itself was limited, but each item was shockingly pricey. Cool 450 yen for a can of coke. A thousand for black tea… Who would order such stuff? A company boss of some sort, maybe. I couldn’t tell.

Shiina-san seemed very familiar with this place as she ordered a cup of black coffee, so I ordered the same. I never once drank coffee.

“Here, for you. This is the book I just talked about.”

Once we placed our orders, Shiina-san took out two books from her bag and gave me one of them.

It was a book she had owned already, not the one she had just bought.

We had talked about books in general while on our way here and Shiina-san had recommended me a title during that discussion.

Apparently, she had a copy of it on her and she lent it to me now. This way I had something to read myself while she pored over her new purchase.

“I think you’ll like it.”

“I’m certainly looking forward to reading it.”

I flipped through a few pages at random before starting to read properly. That was when the coffee was served.

The steam leisurely drifting from the cups carried a unique, rich aroma.

“Please enjoy,” said the big sister with a bow. As she made her way back to the counter, her braids danced merrily from side to side.

That scene had drawn me in unwittingly. For some reason, that made Shiina-san pout. What followed felt as though she was reproaching me.

“Are you ogling that big sister?”

“Eh?”

“She’s your type then?”

“No. But, well, I find her pretty. Long hair’s nice, and she’s pretty feminine.”

“Hmm, so you like long hair.”

Shiina-san touched her hair and sighed. Then she lifted the cup with her hands in a well-practiced manner and brought it to her lips. She had added neither milk nor sugar. Even the way she drank coffee felt like it was taken straight out of a painting, elegant and refined. Until then.

Shiina-san slowly brought the coffee to her lips. She gulped it down. At the very same moment, she groaned, making me wonder what was that all about.

“It’s bitter. What’s up with this? So bitter.”

“Eh? You don’t normally drink this?”

“It’s the first time I’m drinking this, actually.”

“Jumping straight to black coffee, huh?”

“All women reading here at the café seem to be drinking black coffee though.”

Shiina-san groaned again, as if suffering from poisoning, and reached out for the little bottle at the edge of the table. She took out two cubes of sugar and dropped them into the black liquid. Then she stirred it with a spoon, and took a sip. There was one more wince and another sugar cube.

She cautiously took another sip. “Yep,” she said, nodding happily. “Now it’s drinkable.”

To be honest, until now Shiina-san had come across as very adult, making me a little nervous in my interactions with her so far. After seeing this, though, I heaved a sigh of relief. “It’s really bitter,” she kept complaining and adding sugar into the coffee. The girl across the table from me was clearly a girl my age. There was no reason to be apprehensive.

“What about you, Segawa-kun? Do you often drink coffee?”

“It’s my first time having one too, actually,” I replied honestly. Shina-san laughed.

“Then you’re like me. Do you want sugar? Or are you going to challenge this black coffee?”

“Well, it’s a rare chance, so I’ll face the challenge.”

Like Shiina-san a moment ago, I brought the coffee to my mouth without adding anything to it. The hot liquid and bitter taste stung the insides of my mouth. I couldn’t help but frown. My tongue was aching. It seemed that I had scalded myself in the process, so I hurriedly took a gulp of water, and put ice on the tip of my tongue.

“How is it? Very bitter?”

“I burned, my tongue.”

“You’re unexpectedly careless, Segawa-kun.”

Shiina-san took another sip of the coffee, only to frown again. After some hesitation, she too cooled her tongue. I was sure I knew what had happened to her. Surely her tongue was feeling as mine did.

“So are you, it seems,” I commented with glee. Shiina-san looked a little awkward as she fumbled with the ice in her mouth.

The sound of pages being flipped was the only thing that echoed inside the shop. The big sister had switched off the music, when we had begun to read, and then she had drifted off into dreamland. She looked pretty comfortable and, judging by the smile, probably had a nice dream too.

“Hey,”

I was called, and lifted my head. I saw Shiina-san close the book and look towards me. I tucked the bookmark in the book, and closed it as she did. The coffee cups on the table were empty, and the glasses of water next to us were half empty.

“What is it?”

“How do you write the kanji for ‘Haru Yoshi’?”

“Why ask this all of a sudden?”

“Well, just a little curious. It’s a rare name, after all.”

“Is this about some novel? A trick question related to the name, or something like that?”

Shiina-san’s shuddered noticeably. “I-it’s nothing like that at all,” she denied flatly. That was a terribly transparent lie, really. Her voice even went up a register at the very end.

After thinking about it for a moment, I gathered a drops of water off the glass with my finger, and used them to write on the table. The droplets formed lines on the surface, and these lines came together to form symbols. Soon after, the crooked words ‘Haruyoshi, 春由’ were assembled.

“This is the kanji.”

“Ehh. Ah, what a coincidence.”

Shiina-san drew the word ‘ki, 希’ behind the ‘Yoshi, 由’. ‘Yuki由希‘, I muttered. “We share a word, it seems.”

“How nice.” So Shiina-san replied.

We kept reading, chatted from time to time, and ordered cake. Before we knew it, almost five hours passed. No other customers visited this shop.

It was night outside. The temperature dropped drastically and the colourful lights formed a blurry glow in town.

I could see the stars in the sky.

Shiina-san mentioned the names of a few of them, so I asked her to point them out for me. Sadly, it seemed she only knew what they were called, not where to find them.

While I sent Shiina-san back to the station, she gave me the blue book, as promised. “Thanks.” I bowed gratefully. The heaviness of the hard cover left me elated.

“Anyway… Are you busy tomorrow, Segawa-kun? It’s Spring break now, isn’t it?

“I got track practice in the morning, but I’m free in the afternoon.”

Having no plans, I figured I’d just spend the afternoon reading this book.

“In that case, can we meet in the afternoon? I would like to talk about this book, and hear your thoughts about it.”

This made me realize that we had just spent the entire day simply reading and chatting. And we had a good time anyway. My silence as I mulled over this revelation caused Shiina-san to panic.

“Ah, but I don’t need you to finish it by tomorrow, Segawa-kun. You can talk about the book you read too. Well, I really enjoyed myself today.”

Hearing that Shiina-san shared my feelings on today made me really happy. Ah. Why’s that? I wondered.

“Alright. See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.”

The moment we bade farewell to each other, Shiina-san exclaimed and pointed towards the sky. The white haze that had hung about while we talked was gone, heralding the arrival of Spring, the season of all beginnings. Right now, Winter was as far away as it could possibly be.

“I know that star though,” she said, pointing at a bright, orange light in the sky. “That is Arcturus. The Hawaiians call it Hōkūleʻa, the Star of Gladness.”

Once club activities ended, I walked down the corridor. At this moment, a round white object scampered by me. Time passed slowly during Spring vacation, especially in the side block with clubrooms. Thus, that fast speed really caught my attention. So, what was that?

I walked as I thought about the real identity of the object that caught my attention, only to be smacked in the back of the head.

“Ow. What the…?”

“Hey, Haru,” I heard in a familiar voice.

“Akane, can you stop smacking people out of a sudden?”

I turned around and saw the culprit, my peer Akane Rindou puffing her cheeks angrily in a ‘and-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it’ pose. She was holding a white shopping bag in her right hand. That was the white thing I had seen earlier, then. Seemed like there was lots of juice inside.

Probably a reward of some sort for her juniors.

She had been made the captain of the swimming team during the previous summer.

“No, it’s your fault, Haru.”

“So tell me what I just did?”

“Nothing at all, which is where the fault lies. You should at least greet a classmate who passes you by. Seriously, you’re always like this, Haru, acting like nothing happened. This isn’t good, you know.”

All this was quite unreasonable, but this was Akane so, being the acquiescent person I was, I chose to lower my head in apology, preferring to just get this done and over with.

“My bad then. Really didn’t notice you there, Akane. I was spacing out.”

“So you’re saying that I’ve no presence? Return my maiden heart for hoping even a little that you’ll talk to me.”

“I’m shocked.”

“Shocked about what?”

“Shocked that you have such a thing, Akane.”

*Snap*

For some reason, I was sure I had heard a sound I should not be hearing.

“What do you think I am?”

Akane’s sharp, fierce eyes narrowed into slits. She raised the blunt weapons she held in her two hands. She was pretty thin but, due to her swimming training, packed with muscle. I had no illusions. I knew that when it came to arm strength, she had the upper hand. This made the current predicament very dangerous. I dodged like a madman fighting to preserve my young life.

“Wai— It’s dangerous! Stop!”

“Shut up!”

“I get it. My bad.”

“Oh? What exactly do you ‘get’?”

“Eh, well.”

“So you don’t understand anything!”

“No, erm. Yeah. I get that you’re a really charming girl.”

The moment I shouted that, the blunt weapon grazed the tip of my nose. My heart was pounding wildly and loudly. My body was shaking all over. I felt a shiver crawl along my skin and felt cold sweat on its surface.

I didn’t know if my desperation had convinced her, but Akane finally stopped her attacks.

“For some reason, it feels like you just said that without putting your heart into it. It’s annoying.”

“Then what am I supposed to say?”

“What—ever. I’m at fault too for having hopes on you, Haru. Both sides lost out here.”

I was pretty sure I was the only one to suffer, but I barely managed to swallow words to that extent that fumed at the tip of my tongue. That would have been pouring petrol on the fire and I was not about to repeat the same mistake.

“So, what are you up to, Haru?” she asked.

“Me? Practice’s over, so I’m returning to the clubroom. What about you?”

“Well, I’m cleaning the clubroom with everyone else. Want to do that before the new members come in. You can help out if you want. You’ll get some nice juice for your trouble.”

“Sorry. Got an appointment here.”

When I said that, Akane’s shapely eyebrows moved together in a frown.

“Again? Feels like you’re being terribly antisocial recently. Is it like the last time when you said that you got something on, and went off alone in the end?”

“No no no. I really have an appointment with someone today.”

“Hmm. Guess there’s no helping it. It’s a pity. But well, spend some time with me.”

“I said I got something on.”

“I’m not asking you to clean the clubroom with me. I’m taking a break. I won’t take up that much of your time. I’ll have to deliver juice over anyway. Since you’re spacing out and walking, that means you have lots of time, right?”

She was right. There was still some 40 minutes until the meeting with Shiina-san.

“Well, that, I don’t mind.”

“It’s decided then.”

Akane snapped her fingers and put the pile of juice away by the pillar. She then started to open the corridor windows one by one.

Whenever she opened one of the transparent glass panes, her short hair would dance with the wind. Her face was flushed and steaming in the hot air, probably due to all the work.

“Ahh—the wind really feels good.”

“Yeah.”

I poked my head from the same window as hers, and for some reason, she showed a weird face. “Hiee” she shrieked, “How rude.” She pulled some distance from me, and I really felt emotionally hurt.

To heal my fresh emotional wounds, I looked towards the hills instead. The weather was fine, allowing for good visibility of the distant places. I thought that the lingering pink on the horizon might be cherry blossoms, or maybe plum flowers.

“The club seniors have all graduated, haven’t they?” she asked, pointing at a window nearby.

Her voice lacked its previous vigor.

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you find it scary when so many things happen all of a sudden? Like, next year, and the stuff after that. I often wonder, can I really handle them all?”

Ah, so this was why Akane called me over.

But unfortunately, Akane called for the wrong person.

It was true that both Akane and I would be the seniors next year, and likely the club presidents too.

But Akane also had to bear the expectations of the entire school on her shoulders. In the previous year, she had just barely missed out on the Nationals. That kind of pressure was unlike anything I myself faced.

I turned around and leaned on the railing for a moment, before pulling myself back and looking up again. I caught the sight of the sun half-hidden behind the roof. That caused me to narrow my eyes.

It’s so bright. So I thought. Not to me, but to Akane.

For me, the natural reaction after a defeat was regret.

After all, those that had no such thoughts when losing would never make it as an athlete. Akane was terrified of that prospect because the pressure was in equilibrium with the relentless effort she had put in diligently.

And I had none of that.

My mind was simply filled with the passive clichés like ‘it’s fine’, ‘you can do it’. These useless words were something she would most likely find devoid of meaning.

Even if I did try to seriously think about it…

Ah, it’s useless after all.

The half-obscured sun was burning my skin. I opened my mouth, and for some reason, I felt parched, probably because the dark, rotten words I was about to say did not survive the contact with the light.

I had nothing else to say.

So, in the end, I chose to escape by changing the topic.

“Have you heard? The maths teacher Matsue-chan’s getting married soon.”

Akane didn’t say anything, clearly forgiving this dishonesty that was so typical of me.

“That’s a lie. Who is it? The PE teacher, Jimi-sensei? The language teacher Yone-sensei? There’s lots of rumors about her. Did she finally settle on one?”

“Eh? There are that many rumors around Matsue-chan?”

I was a little shocked. I always had her for a pure, pretty teacher.

“You’re too naïve, Haru. If you’re not careful, you’ll be led astray by a bad girl, you know?”

Akane laughed.

I laughed too.

The pointless time trickled away quietly.

One day…will I too be able to find something I will give my utmost for? So I wondered idly in a corner of my mind.

I bade farewell to Akane, and met up with Shiina-san as promised. She came to a place near school to pick me up. When I noticed her leaning on the telephone phone, “Good afternoon.” She greeted me.

“Since you’re here already, why not observe my club activities?”

“I’d love to, but you aren’t running by yourself, are you, Segawa-kun?”

“Of course. It’s a club activity after all. I was running with the others.”

“Hm, in that case, I’d rather not. Your school is not a place I can enter.”

“I don’t think you’d be found out.”

“That’s not the problem. It’s just a rule I set for myself.”

We chit-chatted, and went to the beach area near the school, as Shiina-san suggested. The butterflies with pure white wings fluttered around the golden Nanohanas, as though dancing around.

Shiina-san happily reached out for a flower not currently occupied by a winged visitor and touched one of them with her fingertip.

Without looking at me, she asked, “Hey, Segawa-kun, why did you help me pick that book at the bookstore?”

She pulled back her finger, and the petal shook. The tremor reached the other petals, and the butterflies reacted as they flew towards the sky. Till the very end, Shiina-san watched the butterflies rise with the wind, fluttering gracefully.

“You asked me to pick it for you, right?”

“Sure did. But you were looking for that book too, Segawa-kun. You wanted it too. So why did you give me the book?”

“Well, you were the one who found it first, Shiina-san. You had the right to buy it.”

“You don’t feel reluctant about it?”

Now that I thought about it, I probably hadn’t felt any actually, just some regret. I said nothing, however.

She might have taken that lack of an answer for a yes, because she replied “I see…”

Her eyes, due to our similar height, looked straight into mine.

“Things you really want can’t be obtained if you don’t reach out for them yourself,” she said.

“What’s that? Who came up with that saying?”

“Nobody in particular. Just some wise woman’s words.”

Saying that, Shiina-san reached with her hand towards me. Her clenched fist opened up like a flower.

“Can you hold my hand?”

“Eh?”

“Please?”

“…Well, okay.”

Just as she touched the Nanohana, I gently touched her fingertips, and my fingers reached hers. Finally, our palms matched.

At that moment, we exerted strength, and our hands were firmly linked together.

“Yep. This is what I’m talking about. Do you understand?”

I could only shake my head.

I understood nothing.

“If only you’d understand this one day, Segawa-kun…”

I didn’t manage to hear clearly what she was muttering under her breath at that moment. When I asked about it, she just laughed off the question.

“It was nothing. More importantly, where are we going today?”

After that, we went to various places.

A game center, a bowling alley, a cinema. The hour hand of the clock passed six and it was time to walk Shiina-san back to the train station. I met a familiar face on the way there.

It was my classmate, Takuma Midou.

Seemed like he was hanging out with his buddies from the basketball team.

“Yo, ain’t it Haru? Whatcha doing here?”

Takuma gestured for the others to head off first.

“Nothing much, well, just hanging out. Just ended club activities, Takuma?”

“Same sorta. We’re going for karaoke later. You coming along?”

“Nah. I’m not too familiar with the guys from the basketball team and besides, I’m not alone.”

“You’re together with your club guys?”

“No, not them.”

Once I was asked this question, I suddenly thought of something.

What was my relationship with Shiina-san? Were we acquaintances? Friends? While I fumbled for an answer in my mind, she poked her head out over my shoulder.

“Good evening. Are you Segawa-kun’s friend?”

“Eh?”

Seeing Shiina-san caused the time to freeze solid for Takuma and it only restarted good five seconds later. Well, I couldn’t say that I didn’t understand. If it were me, I would have reacted in the exact same way.

“Hah? Ehhhhhh!? Wait, wait, wait. Who’s this pretty girl? She’s not from our school, right? Anyway, eh, eh, you, have you…?”

Truly a rare sight.

Takuma was smart, athletic, and normally a lot more mature than his peers from our school year. He was always able to deal with problems calmly when they came. And now, that very same Takuma stood there with his mouth wide open, looking back and forth between Shiina-san and me.

“Wait, Takuma. You’re mistaken.”

“What am I mistaken about, you traitor.”

“Hold up there. I’m telling you it’s not like this. I didn’t betray you or anything.”

While I was trying to coax some sense into Takuma, Shiina-san suddenly tugged at the hem of my shirt. “What now?” I thought, but at that exact moment, she cupped her hand around my ear and exhaled into it. The feeling was nerve-wracking and I exclaimed wildly, covering my ear with my hand. A chill traveled down my spine and I could feel my cheeks heating up. What was she playing at?

Takuma glared at me as if I was a mortal enemy who killed his relatives.

“Hey, whatcha mean you’re not betraying me? What did she just whisper to you? That she likes you? Aren’t you two just flirting!?”

“No, it’s not what you say, you know. Shiina-san, speak up for me.”

“Ehh? Have my feelings not reached you, Segawa-kun?”

Having said that, she theatrically turned away from me, delivering a lethal sucker-punch in the process.

That perfect, and fatal, hit left me completely speechless.

“Damnit!!!” Takuma yelled.

Then, he gently tapped my head and ran off into the night streets. “Haru, you traitor!!! Explode already!!” echoed his booming voice in his wake. When he vanished from my sight, I turned to Shiina-san who had been laughing the entire time.

“That was on purpose, right?” I asked.

“What are you saying?”

She put her hand under her chin, playing the fool.

“You’re really a criminal who believes she’s in the right.”

“Fine, fine. You don’t like that, Segawa-kun?”

“Eh?”

“The idea that people may think you’re in that kind of relationship with me? Do you hate it?”

“…Not really.”

“I see. Then no harm was done, no? More importantly, I’m a little shocked that you’d address a classmate by name directly, Segawa-kun. You don’t give that sort of impression at all…”

“I call those I’m on good terms with by name.”

“I see. In that case, call me ‘Yuki’, Segawa-kun. And I’ll start calling you ’Yoshi-kun’.”

“You’re not calling me Haru?”

“Well, I hate the Spring for ‘Haru’, but I like the ‘Yoshi’. We both have the same kanji, so I’ll call you Yoshi-kun.”

“You hate spring? Why?”

“…When Spring comes, the air warms, and the snow ( Yuki ) melts away, disappearing. Everyone then forgets the snow, right? It’s still there, but everyone ignores it. I just really don’t like that.”

Though the kanji was different, her name did sound like ‘Snow’ in Japanese.

Shiina-san had probably experienced the feeling of being forgotten.

It was just a hunch, though, not something I could easily deny or affirm. After all, I knew nothing about her.

All I knew was that when I heard “I hate the Haru ( the Spring )”, my heart ached.

For I had the feeling she was saying that the snow and the spring could never be together.

“Hey, Yoshi-kun. Call me Yuki.”

But even so, if she wished for it, I would call her Yuki.

“Got it, Yuki.”

At that moment, her face turned red.

“Woah, being called by name is a lot more amazing than I thought. This might be the first time a guy other than my dad called me that.”

I watched Yuki point her face with her finger, and found it a little funny. However, her words repeated themselves countless times in a corner of my mind, echoing deep within my heart.

——I hate the Spring.

On the only rest day in spring vacation for club activities, I went to Yairo Park with Yuki.

The park built around the lake was 5km in perimeter, and it was said that different scenes could be seen from eight different points, thus the name Yairo Park.

The park was built around a lake. It boasted of a perimeter 5km long and it was said that each of its eight sides offered a different view, hence the name.

It was a working day, meaning the place was a lot quieter than usual. Later, at night, it would probably be bustling, full of adults eager to admire the flowers. But now, in the daytime, that was not the case.

Somehow, Yuki was a lot happier than I had expected, though.

“Wow, there’s such a place too.”

She was looking all around her with much curiosity while I followed behind with hands in the pockets of my coat. I fumbled for the feel of the little item in my pocket, checking if it was there. It was something I could easily fit in my palm, but I just felt that it was weighing a ton. Not in a physical sense, though. There was an additional emotional weight to this particular item.

I brought Yuki here was because I wanted to gift her something I had bought yesterday at a place where nobody would disturb us.

The other conditions were fulfilled.

All I needed now was the right mood and timing. It was frustratingly difficult to get them to align though.

We had made it halfway around the park already and the gift was still bouncing in my pocket.

Ever since I met Yuki, I found myself to be curiously useless. I thought I could have handled many more things perfectly, only to end up fumbling in front of her. I wasn’t sure why that was the case.

The light of the sun shone on the leaves and filtered through them. The resulting pattern of shadows formed a stark contrasting interplay of black and white on my face.

Under the gentle sunlight, I waited for a moment to talk. Instead, I was approached by someone instead.

The voice was deeper, different from Yuki’s.

“Ah, the two of you there. Hold on a moment.”

“Eh?”

We turned around to see who was calling for us and found a large, bear-like uncle sprinting in our direction. I could almost hear a rumbling sound effect straight out of an anime. He had a look of such panic on his face that we just stopped in our tracks… A very wrong choice.

That man was huffing so hard, he was almost dying. He went behind me, and suddenly grabbed me by the elbow.

“Ahh… I’m saved. Please come along.”

“Wh-what’s going on?

“We’re filming a movie, but at the last moment we find ourselves short on actors. It’s causing us lots of trouble.”

“Nonono, hold on. I don’t get what you mean.”

“Don’t get… what I mean?”

The uncle turned towards me in clear bewilderment. This gave me a close up look of his face, and I found him to be still somewhat young. Probably in his twenties actually, at the age when I could still call him a big brother at a stretch.

His eyes were fixed upon Yuki behind me, and those round eyes hidden behind a fringe of hair were on fire.

It was obvious what he was thinking. To be honest, I wanted to run immediately, but my arm was in his vise-like grip and I couldn’t break free. After about three seconds or so of spacing out, he spoke to me again.

“Boy.”

“Don’t wanna.”

If I had been alone, I might have been overwhelmed by this guy’s force of personality and throw in the white towel. However, since Yuki was behind me, the situation was different.

“But I haven’t said anything?”

“I know what you want to say. You want Yuki to appear in the movie.”

“Please reconsider.”

“Not happening.”

And at this point, Yuki, who had been watching the entire development quietly thus far, raised her hand.

“Why are you deciding for me, Yoshi-kun?” she asked.

Both of us looked towards Yuki.

“…You want to act?”

“It sounds fun. It’s a great way to commemorate today too.”

The man didn’t let the chance slip him by and immediately chimed in loudly.

“Yes. Yes! Don’t decide on what the girl wants, boy.”

If he believed that, he should have asked Yuki instead of me. Speaking of which, it seemed like this guy never intended to negotiate with her to begin with. I was confused.

“Hey, let’s go, Yoshi-kun.”

The whole process was a little unpleasant, but in the end I was forced to go along. All that I could say was “Understood.”

“Really? Yosh! It’s decided then. Both of you shall perform then. Thank goodness.”

And so, the guy forced the conclusion, probably to stop us from changing our minds.

I lost.

But since I wasn’t happy with this conclusion, I decided to struggle for a little longer.

“Mind letting go for my arm now?” I asked.

The filming ‘set’ was located by a bench in the park.

I wasn’t very sure of the plot before and after, but it seemed we were going to film a scene of a quarreling couple reconciling.

The guy who had called us over was apparently the director of this movie, judging by the fact that when someone called “Yo, director!” he responded and the aura around him instantly changed into something completely unlike what we had witnessed before.

Calling for him was a slightly plump big sister. She approached us, looked back and forth between Yuki and me, and finally fixed her eyes on Yuki.

“What’s with this girl? Isn’t she a real cutie?”

“Yeah. I want to get her in our movie.”

“Nice, nice. In the next one?”

“Nope, right now.”

“Huh?”

Suddenly, the atmosphere turned frigid. “Nononononononono”, started the big sister and she kept repeating those words for a while. “No, no, no, no, no, no, and no!”

Eventually, she managed a coherent question. “What are you thinking? This won’t work.”

“Really? I want to see how she performs though.”

“Look, I get how you feel. I want to see her act too. But think of this movie maybe? I don’t know what role you want her to appear as, but the moment you put her on set, you may as well scrap the whole thing.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll get this film done properly. But well, I might have to cause you guys some trouble…your efforts won’t be wasted. Trust me.”

The director slapped his chest without hesitation.

“…Is that so?”

“Absolutely.”

The big sister gave up and sighed, probably because this short conversation allowed for them to exchange more than these few words.

“Haa. I got it. It’s pointless for me to say anything for. Anyway, I’ll leave you to do the follow shot with Kazuha-chan. She’s a sharp one, and she’ll know when we aren’t taking this seriously enough. If that happens, she’ll kick up a fuss, and there won’t be any other scenes to film. We can’t allow this to happen.”

“Got it. I’ll do that. Sorry, but I’ll leave guiding these two in your hands.”

After saying that, the director hurried off.

We watched his back as he went along with the big sister that still wasn’t introduced to us.

Once he was gone, the tense atmosphere vanished in an instant. There was just the big sister smiling as happily as the director had before, and the two of us, completely out of the loop in regards to the conversation that had just taken place.

“Erm, just now, what you two just talked about,”

“Ahh, don’t worry about it. You’ll understand. But well, I’ll say this first. That guy’s really selfish and stubborn, so just say what you want to him.”

Yuki and I exchanged looks, tilting our heads.

In the end, we were imprisoned for almost four hours.

It was just a single scene, but there were multiple retakes.

It seemed these would be edited into the finished movie later on.

The roles we were assigned were passers-by A and B with me being the former. The reason being that if Yuki walked in front, she would attract too much attention, so the director instructed that I be a shield to obscure her.

But even so, when he saw the freshly completed short, he just went “Hmm…”

“I guess she attracts too much attention anyway. My eyes just end up being drawn towards her,” he muttered, making sure the lead actors couldn’t hear him. Yuki and I were close by though, so we could understand him clearly. Then it struck us that he wanted us to hear that.

“Wanna look?”

He waved us over and we did as he said, looking at the laptop screen. He replayed the 10 minutes of footage.

A college couple took the center screen.

And behind them were two passers-by.

Those two extras had no lines, no introduction, and they were just talking. But before we knew it, we found that the scene had changed in our eyes. Suddenly I couldn’t remember what the protagonists were talking about and Yuki’s face was the only thing left in my memory. All that I could recall from the scene was Yuki smiling and chatting with me. And this little thing on its own was like a miracle.

If this were to make it into a completed movie, surely I would not want to spend time watching any other scenes. Even after seeing entire such movie, in the end, what would remain in my mind might only be Yuki’s smile.

As the big sister had said, the story was all wasted.

“Hey, boy. Don’t you find it a pity? It’s rare to see such a pretty human around. You’d want to see more stories involving the girl, right?”

I finally understood the full meaning of the conversation between the director and the big sister.

The director knew this movie would be a write-off, but he spent the time and effort anyway just to get Yuki as the actress.

But Yuki just shook her head.

“Ah, it’s fine. Don’t worry, it will turn out okay.”

“Nonono, girl, you don’t understand. We can’t use this material. Everyone watching it will just look at you.”

The director seemed taken aback by Yuki’s response. Honestly, he panicked. Before I knew it, he was talking to Yuki directly. Either out of extreme anxiety or, maybe, succumbing to his nature as a director.

“Shall we have a bet then?” proposed Yuki, her face looking as if she was set on something.

“If this scene causes the movie to be scrapped, I’ll listen to anything you’ll say, director.”

“So that means you’ll agree if I say that I want you to appear in a movie?”

“Yup. But that will be impossible without a miracle. A miracle is not something that just happens every day.”

“What do you mean?”

“…If you think about it, a miracle that occurs once is pure luck, and there won’t be a second time. No, it’s not even down to luck, because for every miracle, an equivalent price has to be paid… ”

I couldn’t get what Yuki was saying.

The director too probably felt the same. After some thinking, he just replied with a simple “I see.” He was probably content just to have Yuki appear in the movie.

The remainder of the day was gone before we noticed, and the night loomed large.

The director and the others began to pack up hastily.

I stared at all that blankly. The director noticed me, and approached.

“Good work there.”

“It’s been a long day.”

“You really helped me out. Well, you only appeared for like 10 seconds or so though. Acting’s fun, right?”

“Guess not. I had enough of it. I’m not too suited to standing out.”

We talked at a place some distance from Yuki while looking at her.

An old adage said: three women make a market. We had five here, making for no end of words. Girls were creatures evolutionarily predisposed to talking. I had grown up with my mother and little sister talking my ear off until they got their way, so I had no choice but to wait for the conversation here to end.

“Say… Be honest, though. Can the scene from today be actually be used?”

“Well, to be honest, it’s impossible to use it as is. I made a bet with the girl, so I’ll try to edit it, but if our internal critical review turns out bad regardless, we’ll just have to scrap the whole thing, bow down to those guys, and get them to replay it.”

“I see…”

That was all I could say. Everything left was up to the director to decide, since the bet was between him and Yuki.

“Oh, yeah, here. These tickets are for you. There’ll be a public screening of the movie during the culture festival next Autumn, so do come by to watch. I’ll deliver the best story possible for everyone to watch.”

“Next year? Not this one?”

“The production’s probably won’t be finished in time. Once this is done next year, I’ll be graduating.”

I received two tickets from the director’s hands.

They were crumpled, probably because he just shoved them into my pocket and the red words ‘Yasaka University’ were a little worn out. When I tried to flatten them in my hands, I couldn’t even straighten them up.

“Eh? Why two?”

“Invite the girl to go with you. I’m dumb at such things, but I can understand a little through the camera. Do your best. Normally, it’s the guy who asks the girl out, right?”

Having said these vague words, he patted my back hard with a smile.

My organs were hurting.

We bade farewell to the director and the others. Our steps eventually took us to a large cherry blossom tree.

Unfortunately, the sakuras had finished blooming a long time ago, and the tree looked a little forlorn. The white flowers had scattered to four sides of the world leaving only lush leaves on the branches. The next season was coming fast.

“What did you talk about with the director?”

“A few words about nothing in particular. What about you, Yuki? What did you chat about with the big sisters?”

“Secrets.”

“Secrets, huh?”

“Secrets are absolutely important to a girl, you know?” She said demurely, and ran towards the sakura trees. The breeze rustled, and the petals danced. The skirt fluttered. Her fluffy hair shook.

Suddenly, I felt my back flare up with heat and pain. The director’s large hand shoved me onwards.

I made up my mind.

“Yuki!” I shouted over the not-so-great distance that separated us.

“What… is… it?”

“I got something for you!”

I pulled out the thing that was inside my pocket the entire time. There was no turning back. I approached Yuki. It was barely a few meters, but I found myself gasping for breath. My heart was beating faster than after a 100m sprint.

“If you don’t mind, will you accept this?”

I handed over the finely wrapped box to her. My pocket was finally a little lighter. It was the first time I gave a gift to a girl that wasn’t a member of my family and I was really nervous.

I gulped hard, and said, “Open it.”

Hearing that, Yuki opened the box and retrieved a little pink bottle from within.

“A sakura perfume?”

“Yep. You said that you hate the spring because everyone forgets the snow. If there’s the smell of sakura around you, maybe people will think of snow as well.”

Yuki had said that she hated the Spring.

So I had been thinking.

I had been thinking hard about how to make her feel like the snow would not be forgotten after it melted, when winter ended and spring came. This was the answer I had arrived at after much deliberation.

“I see. So this is the smell of spring.”

“Yes, and that’s why…”

“…I hope that you won’t say that you hate the spring again,” But even though I swallowed the second part of my answer, even though I didn’t say anything like that, my thoughts probably reached her anyway.

After waiting for a while, Yuki knew that I wouldn’t continue to talk, so she asked a question instead.

“But will it be as you say?”

“I guess…”

“Ah… You aren’t confident then.”

“I will remember, of course. Or rather, I definitely won’t forget. I can’t say the same for others though.”

“That is enough then,” said Yuki. “If you can remember, then it’ll be good enough, Yoshi-kun.”

We looked up at the rows of sakura trees. We inhaled their sweet smell. I figured that whenever I would encounter that smell in the future, I would think about Yuki. Honestly, how could I even forget?

“I guess there’s something else you want to give me too, right?”

I was momentarily confused. Something else?

While I scrambled to recall what could it be, Yuki sighed deeply with impatience.

“You’re not giving me what the director gave you?”

“So you know?”

I reached my hand into my other pocket, and took out the two tickets. I wanted to invite her out another day, but well, might as well do it now. I handed one of the rather crumpled bits of cardboard to Yuki.

“It’s a movie ticket. If you can, do you mind watching it with me?”

“Not at all,” she said with a nod. “But,” she then added, “I want you to invite me again in a year.”

“What?”

“I’m trying to see if you will remember me. Next year, I’ll come by wearing this sakura perfume, and I want you to invite me to the movie again then. You should hold on to these two tickets until that time.”

“Okay.”

“Make sure you do it, Yoshi-kun.”

“Yeah, it’s a promise.”

My words made Yuki really elated but, at the same time, she seemed to mutter something. The words were icy cold and completely unlike the expression on her face.

“…Liar.”

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