“Morning Akane.”

My friends began to greet me.

It’s a morning greeting that had never changed for a long while, but the impression I had of others would change just because of the way people would speak. It’s interesting.

Some were vigorous, some were lifeless; some were sleepy, and some were energetic.

If the colorless, transparent voices were dyed with color, they would make the world a lot more vibrant.

“Morning everyone~!”

I raised my chest proudly, shouting with a booming voice from deep within my lungs. This voice wasn’t dyed any other color, but with my own distinct color to the ‘morning’. It blended into the refreshing air of the morning, gradually vanishing afar.

I felt exceptionally happy, as though I was accepted by the world. Most importantly, being able to yell out loud had me feeling really relieved.

Huu. I exhaled some white air, folded my arms, and looked towards the familiar road before me.

The light shone from the sun, turning from orange to yellow, and then to white, before blending into a faint blue. It reached into the surrounding air, the divide between light and darkness dispersed by it, finally becoming one with the horizon. The unknown grass growing by the roadside was swaying with the wind, the night dew glittering under the sunlight.

This scene could only be seen for another month or so. Next Spring, the sakura would flutter, and I, no, we would graduate from this school.

And while I was feeling just a little sad, huuuuaaaahhh, I heard a yawn from somewhere.

“Akane. You’re too loud man.”

I stopped to turn towards the voice. My classmate Takuma Midou was walking towards me.

I wasn’t exactly angry at him for deliberately covering his ears, but it did seem he wanted me to be angry, so I glared back intently, pouting and intending to say a few words.

Well, this is the ‘usual custom’ for us.

“It’s 10 people’s worth of greetings. Not my fault that I’m a little louder.”

“No, you don’t have to yell 10 times louder just because…”

“It’s not ten times louder. What are you talking about?”

“No no no, it’s about that loud. Look, the first years are scared of you.”

“Huh? Not at all.”

I looked in the direction Takuma spoke of, and looked into the eyes of a boy wearing a uniform with an ‘I’ on the collar. He’s almost done with his first year of high school, but his uniform was still brand new, his face stilled filled with some youthfulness.

Appearing on that youthful face was some skepticism. It was a pity, but it was as Takuma said.

I tried passing it off with a dumb smile, but the boy’s face turned red, and he scampered off towards the school. It’s adorable how he bowed politely and ran off, but I was increasingly guilty for scaring off such a good kid.

“Heh heh, someone’s avoiding you.”

And in contrast, this Takuma was really, really annoying.

“Shut up.”

It would hurt to punch him from the front and hit the button, so I punched at his flank.

Of course, I didn’t do it for real. I merely tapped him softly. Any ordinary boy tanking this punch would groan and cup his stomach. My fist felt a similar touch, “Ow.” but Takuma merely responded. It seemed the abs he got from basketball training remained there even after he had left the club for a long time.

Back when he was in the basketball team, he would bring along a shoe bag and a large lunch box. Not so much nowadays. Like most of the going-home club, he was holding a large sling bag with some stationery and notebooks.

The palms that were born to grab basketballs were used to carrying school bags. It might seem like overkill.

“That looks rather light on you..”

He grinned as he brought the sling bag dangling on his fingers to me.

“You get it, don’t you? It’s like half a year has passed, I’m still not used to it.”

“Of course. I’m the same too.”

My bag no longer contained the swimsuit, goggles and towel, and no snacks which I would secretly eat whenever I was hungry.

Once I retired from the swimming club, I became an ordinary student preparing for her finals, and those things were unnecessary to me.

“Yeah. We finally don’t have to wake up early anymore.”

“We can rest during the holidays too.”

We started to talk about the stuff that got easier after retiring from our clubs as we continued on to school. This road to school was actually very short, even though it seemed very long, and before we knew it, we arrived.

“We’re no longer hungry all the time.”

“We don’t have to keep running on cold days like this.”

“Our bags are lighter.”

“We aren’t getting scolded by our captains. Not so sleepy in class, not called up so often.”

“Not at all. We don’t have to stay back and clean the clubrooms too, don’t need to buy snacks, don’t have to spend much on food. We aren’t getting injured because of club activities, which is all good, but…”

“But…yeah.”

“Yep.”

“Ah.”

Having said this much, we stopped. We continued walking forward, not consoling each other. The difference in height between Takuma and me was at least 10cm, but we saw the same thing.

We weren’t sad, but our nostrils were stinging, and we almost shed tears. Why’s that?

—And right at this moment, I found a familiar figure amongst the students dressed in the same uniform. My chest started to ring. This simple I immediately cast aside all the loneliness and sadness, along with the cold air of winter.

“Morning Haru.”

I was the first to spot him, but Takuma was the first to speak.

“Ah, morning, Takuma.”

“Hey Haru, listen man. Some first year just ran from her.”

I had a feeling Takuma was about to say something unnecessary, so I kicked him in the calf for real. He yapped in pain, jumping around like a frog. He glared at me, wanting to say something, but he’s the one at fault. There’s no need for him to report this to Haru.

Naturally, I ignored Takuma’s glare and smiled at Haru.

Haru. Haruyoshi Segawa. He’s a friend of Takuma and me. And also, my—

“Morning Haru.”

“Morning Akane. What’s up with Takuma?”

“Who knows? Probably crazy now that he’s studying too much.”

“But he’s glaring at you.”

“He’s always like this. More importantly, let’s go to school.”

I showed a little more enthusiasm in grabbing the hem of Haru’s shirt. Actually, I wanted to grab his hand, but I couldn’t muster my courage. However—

“Hey, Akane, what happened?”

Haru looked confused as he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I don’t know what’s going on. That’s why I’m asking.”

“Nothing happened.”

“Really? Guess it’s just me. Looks like you aren’t really energetic.”

Haru gently placed his hand on my head, as a repeat of a certain moment in the past.

Ahh ohh. Whenever I spoke to Haru, there would be a response moving away, something I wouldn’t get from talking with Takuma.

I burst out laughing. Why did he say such things out of a sudden.

That Haru’s too sleazy.

I like him.

I really, really do.

I mustered my courage to reach my hand to him, but I ended up looking at a leering Takuma. Uh oh, I forgot about his existence completely.

My face turned red immediately, probably to my ears.

I knew it was unreasonable, but I kicked the leering Takuma in the calf. A little softer this time, since I was doing so to hide my embarrassment.

“Ow.”

But as expected, he was jumping around like a frog.

“What are you two doing?”

Haru chuckled dumbfoundedly.

“Eh, the entire time, Akane’s been,”

“What about me?”

I shook my right foot, glaring at Takuma.

“Nothing.”

“Really? Then good.”

I grinned back too.

Takuma was scowling away, but he seemed to be enjoying this. After all, he was smirking.

Well, it didn’t matter that Haru never noticed it at this point. This relationship was unexpectedly enjoyable.

It was the last month of our third year in high school.

I fell for my friend, Haruyoshi Segawa.

I joined the swimming club back in middle school.

There wasn’t any special reason why I chose swimming, of all the many sports clubs. Or rather, it’s for the simple, most important reason, that I liked swimming.

The swimming club basically trained in school and the pool starting from the end of spring to the start of autumn, but our training for the next half year was the same as the track team. Swimming’s really draining, so we had to train our stamina and muscles.

The second and third years would share the field with the track team, and as a first year, I had to run outside the school, along with the first year of the track team.

After the hot summer days were over, the skies of autumn were clear and vast, even though my hands could not reach there.

It was back then that Haru spoke to me. To be honest, I had a bad first impression of him.

Haru’s been running with an unhappy look, and he’s from the track team, but he was slower than me. No, it’s definitely because he wasn’t focused on running, but thinking of something else.

I was running the fifth round when I passed by the slowpokes of the pool team, including Haru.

“You’re slow, Sone-san.”

“You’re too fast, Akane. You might be faster than the track team.”

“Heh heh. I haven’t gone all out yet.”

I gave a V pose to my swimming teammates, and picked up the pace.

“I’m going off then.”

I immediately left them far behind, and had a sense of superiority. In my glee, I got cocky in thinking I had the talent for long distance running.

My right knee ached immediately. At first, I felt something was amiss, that I could keep running as long as I slowed a little.

But the pain worsened, so I had to walk instead. I hated losing, and I hated stopping. I would push myself to the limit until I could no longer move.

I would continue to stand up, unless my body fell forward like this. I knew it’s stupid, but this was my personality.

“Eh, Akane, what now? You’re tired?”

And soon after, the group I had passed overtook me instead.

“You guys are so slow, Sone-san, so I just waited around. I’ll catch up anyway.”

“Damn it. I’ll show you.”

“Ohh, I’ll be waiting.”

Sone-san’s voice and silhouette became distant, and vanished around the corner of the roasted meat shop. Nobody noticed my leg was hurting. RIght when I heaved a sigh of relief, someone spoke to me, which shocked me, and caused my heart to race.

“H-hyaiii!?”

“You alright? Is your knee hurting now?”

The one who spoke to me was the boy running last with an unhappy look. I coughed hard to hide the awkwardness of the strange sound I made.”

“…That’s not it. Erm.”

“Haruyoshi Segawa of Class 4. Everyone calls me Haru.”

“Haru, is it? I get it. I’m.”

“I knew you. Rindou-san of Class 1, right?”

“Akane is fine. Guess I’ll just call you Haru then.”

“Got it. Say, Akane, your knee is hurting, right?”

“Not at all.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“…You’re really stubborn.”

I didn’t mishear what he just muttered.

“Hm? You said anything.”

“No, it’s nothing. It’s troublesome now. Such people won’t listen to reason. Ow, what are you doing?”

“You’re making it loud for me to hear now, aren’t you?”

In response to that grumble, I merely hit him on the shoulder. Even I wasn’t brazen enough to hit a guy I met for the first time with all my might.

“Huh, I don’t get what you’re talking about.”

Haru played dumb as he knelt down, picking up a red leag, saying,

“Looks pretty, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

I nodded unwittingly, because it was. He smiled, and pointed above my head. Naturally, my eyes followed the red leaf in his hand, looking up at the sky.

I had lowered my head while running due to the pain, without realizing it. He showed me why it was a pity I did so, for,

If I had lifted my head, I would have seen such a pretty world.

The leaves were dancing in the sky, every single one of them red, as though they were cutting through the sunset, and I marveled at how they contrasted the faint blue sky.

I had stopped before I realized it, and I ended up talking with that boy called Haruyoshi Segawa, until the club activities ended for the day. We didn’t talk about anything big, just about how pretty the red leaves were, our complaints about the club, or rumors about the teachers, but we really enjoyed ourselves.

Just as I had chatted with Sone-san. No, I might be happier. I forgot about my knee pain without realizing it.

“Make sure you run at your pace tomorrow.”

I noticed his clumsy kindness as he said these words and vanished into the sunset.

 

The seasons changed, and time passed.

Before I knew it, I started looking around for Haru.

He’s kind of a weird guy.

Not that his actions, speech or appearance were weird. It’s just that even with everyone around, he would keep his distance from others. He would look happy, make a fake smile nobody would care about. He thought nobody noticed it, so he never noticed that I did.

Haru changed though.

The fake smile appeared less often, and he was willing to say what he thought.

He started showing the kindness and honesty he already had.

It was at this moment that I found myself hopeless. I would admit that I had fallen for Haru.

Well, there’s only one thing I didn’t like though. It was harder for me to contact him during vacation, or after school.

What’s he doing alone?

As a student preparing for the finals, most of my day was spent studying.

I wanted to ask Haru if he would like to walk home with me, but he was staring at the textbook with a serious look even though the school bell rang, so I said goodbye to him before leaving.

The school building itself was quiet, but one could hear the juniors yelling from the grounds. They sounded a little lazy, though still passionate, and stung at my heart for some strange reason.

The twigs growing on the bare trees were swaying in fear of the cold. They would have to wait a little longer until the leaves and flowers would grow and bloom. Surely, I had to do the same.

I tightened the muffler acting as my safeguard against the cold, and went to the front gates. There were a few students stopped there, discussing something, it seemed. What’s going on? They’re all talking, but their voices were jumbled up, and I couldn’t hear clearly.

“What’s going on?”

I had to ask one of the junior boys closest to me. “Rin-Rindou-senpai!?” He exclaimed in shock. It seemed he recognized me.

“Yeah I’m RIndou-senpai. Good afternoon. What happened, an accident?”

“No, erm, it’s because of that.”

He probably determined it was faster to point with his eyes, so he look over to that ‘person’. I too followed his eyes to look over. Well, one could tell what was going on just by looking over.

There was a girl standing a little farther away from the main gate. She was holding a pink bookmark and a hardcover book, the slender fingers hidden slightly within the sleeves flipping the pages.

The girl had fluffy long hair, and a perfect looking face, irregardless of size and position. The slightly large coat made her smaller than she really was.

The face, earlobes and nose were reddened by the chilly winds, indicating she had been around for quite some time. She might have been alone the entire time.

The proof’s that everyone, including me, dared only to watch her from afar. It’s the first time I learned that exceeding beauty could intimidate people from approaching. A lot of courage would be needed to talk to her, or, a reason to inspire oneself.

So as I continued to stare at that girl.

“Ahh, isn’t this Akane-senpai? Hello there.”

Someone called my name. The voice came from behind the gates, the direction I came from, so I turned my face over. It’s the current captain of the swimming club, Miya. I showed a friendly smile, waving at her.

“Oh, Miya? It’s been a while.”

“Why’s everyone gathered here?”

“Well, I just asked the same question.”

“Eh?”

Miya opened her mouth in shock, tilting her head in confusion.

Standing next to her was a weak looking girl. I had some impression of the hair with inner curls and droopy eyes. She’s probably in her first year. As for her name, erm, yeah, Matsumae-chan.

“Good work.”

I smiled as I talked to Matsumae-chan.

“Ah, yes. Good work, Rindou-senpai.”

“Akane-senpai, are you going home now?”

“Yep.”

“Let’s go together then. We’re going to Aria next. That place should be on the way, right?

Aria Sports Club was a multi-purpose sports facility with a gym, a sauna, and even an onsen. During winter, our swimming club members would use the warm water pool.

It seemed these two would be using the pool.

“I guess that’s fine. Matsumae-chan, you don’t mind coming along, right?”

Matsumae-chan nodded with her face still blushing. She really resembled a cute little animal.

“Okay, let’s go.”

FInally, I glanced aside at that beauty.

She was beaming away, probably because the person she was waiting for had arrived. I was thinking that if I, a fellow female, was mesmerized by her beauty, the boy would be overwhelmed immediately.

And I never noticed who she was looking at.

 

I followed the girls to Aria, wanting to change my mood for a bit.

It’s been a while since I showed up, so that uncle called Watarai was happily welcoming me.

I came here often ever since I joined the swimming club, so I had known him for six years, and we didn’t have to be courteous to each other, for good or for bad.

“Ahh, it’s been a while, isn’t it. Come by often. This uncle isn’t motivated without seeing you in swimsuit, Aka-chan.”

“That’s sexual harassment, uncle!”

My response had the uncle guffawing.

“That cold look on your face is really something. Every time I say this to Matsu-chan, she would just blush and lower her head. Now that’s really sexual harassment?”

“Matsu-chan, as in Matsumae-chan? She comes here often?”

“Yep, every day recently. If it’s not her turn in the club, she would show up a little later. Just like a certain person back then.”

“Heh. Is she fast?”

“Very. No, faster. I guess this is the period when she enjoys it most though. Even Miya-chan isn’t a match for her in the butterfly and freestyle.”

“I see.”

“Do you want to race her?”

“Eh?”

“That’s the look you’re giving.”

“Hm, yeah.”

I decided to answer honestly.

“Go swim then.”

“I’m preparing for my finals though. And I quit the club.”

I took the ball point pen placed next to the sign-in book, twirling it in my hand. It was a reflection of my heart, just swaying by the side of my hand.

“You’re not the kind to be satisfied with just that. And it’s important to relax a little right? If you want to do it, go all the way.”

Gahahaha, the uncle guffawed away, and I sighed hard.

“Seriously, uncle, that might be misconstrued as sexual harassment.”

But I really did relax my shoulders. I stopped twirling the pen, and gripped it hard.

 

There was a unique atmosphere to the pool.

First of all, it just felt like there’s a lot of moisture in the air. The moisture sticking on the skin might make it sticky. Also, there’s a heavy chlorine smell. It’s said some people couldn’t take the smell, but at least for me, I didn’t hate it.

I changed into the rented swimsuit, and was feeling excited. All, this was it, this was the feeling. I really loved swimming. After that, I spent time warming up for real, stretching, checking on my condition. Right, I was fine.

Once I was done warming up, Miya-chan poked her head out from the pool. The ripples she caused hit my toes.

“Huh, Akane-senpai, you’re swimming?”

“Yep. I heard Matsumae-chan’s really fast. You lost to her, didn’t you, Miya?”

I asked, and Miya simply nodded, as though she had accepted it as fast, neither denying it hastily, nor ashamed.

It’s because of her personality that I nominated her as the next captain.

“Yes, I lost. Matsuu’s really fast.”

“Faster than me?”

“I don’t think she’s faster than you at your best. But over the past few months, It’s Matsuu who’s worked harder and showed more progress.”

“Yes.”

“You haven’t entered the pool for months, have you, Akane-senpai?”

“Yes.”

“And you said that we can’t tell who’ll win until the contest is over, Akane-senpai?”

“Yes.”

“So I can’t answer this question.”

“I see.”

That’s enough.

The junior who had followed me for two years said so, so at the very least, I could be sure that Matsumae-chan’s the real deal.

Miya and I looked towards Matsumae-chan, who was swimming alone. The beautiful, textbook-like swimming pose showcased her serious personality.

Soon after, her hand touched the edge of the pool. She shook away the water on her body, removed her goggles, and noticed our stares, looking very confused.

“S-senpais, what is it?”

“Hey, Matsumae-chan, race against me.”

“Eh?”

“Don’t eh me now. Race me now. Race.”

I pointed a raised fist at Matsumae-chan, who shook her head in an increasingly exaggerated manner. She looked like a puppy who had finished showering.

“No I can’t. No no no no no no no.”

Matsumae-chan probably said no about a hundred times at least as I dragged her out from the pool and forced her onto the starting block. It was a little cruel, especially when she looked like she’s about to cry, but she couldn’t run as Miya had played her power card, ‘captain orders’.

But speaking of which. Even when I stood next to her, she was just a weak-willed junior.

Those amazing ones would give off a unique presence. Reality’s not a battle manga, so there’s no aura or power levels to be seen. If the opponent had self-confidence based on ability however, that could be sensed through the skin.

Matsumae-chan did not have any of that.

“Sorry to force you into this.”

“Eh, erm.”

“But I’m going all out.”

“Erm, Rindou-senpai?”

“What?”

It seemed Matsumae-chan had made up her mind, her expression more determined than before.

“No, errm, I’ll do my best too.”

Ready, Miya shouted.

Matsumae-chan and I arched down in unison.

It was at this moment that I realized the nature of my upcoming opponent. She’s still lacking in self-confidence, but was earnest about swimming, and very focused. Her eyes probably ignored my presence completely. I thought of the opponents in the past I wasn’t able to beat, remembering that some of them had similar eyes to her.

Uh oh, I was about to be swallowed up.

Right when I had this thought, Miya shouted,

“Start!”

The long years of experience got my body moving, but I wasn’t focused, and lost the best moment. My angle entering the water was poor. The air bubbles formed as I jumped in, clinging onto my body, but immediately left and floated atop.

200m freestyle.

It’s two times, back and forth, down the 50 meters pool. I hurriedly gave chase after Matsumae-chan. The gap between us never increased, but it wasn’t shrinking. I twirled my body around at the first turn, kicking off the wall. There was a stinging pain beneath my feet.

It seemed she wasn’t used to turning around, so the gap had shortened a little.

100m. 150m.

I stroked through the water, moving my feet.

Once the last turn ended, I was shoulder to shoulder with her.

It hurt. My body was yearning for oxygen. I was not giving way in the slightest.

I said I was going all out, but I never expected myself to be this serious. It’s because I was serious that I wanted to win.

I could see the end. Another 15, no, 10 meters.

We’re neck and neck. The result wasn’t obvious.

I took a larger gasp of air, and began to sprint, reaching my hand out with utmost effort. At that moment, I met Matsumate-chan in the eyes while we were both in the water. No, we were looking at each other. She had noticed that there were others swimming in the pool.

That alone called Matsumae-chan to become that old weak-willed girl.

“Goal!”

Miya called out.

I lifted my head from the water, removed the cap and goggles. The yellow light of the ceiling was swirling in my eyes.

I was the one who won, but I didn’t feel like I won.

She definitely let up at that last moment.

 

I climbed out of the pool, and before I could catch my breath, I lowered my head to Matsumae-chan in apology.

“Sorry.”

As I had just apologized to my junior, Miya panicked, not knowing what to do. It seemed my intent had reached Matsumae-chan however, who too apologized to me.

“Don’t say that. I should be the one apologizing.”

Large water droplets fell from our hair, forming black spots on the poolside. We maintained the same position the entire time, and the water dropped at the same places. The black spots were expanding, just like my feelings.

I was ashamed, and furious. Of course, I was furious at Matsumae-chan for giving leeway at the end, but I was more furious at myself for forcing my junior to do such a thing. It was horrible of me.

So after a while, I lifted my head, saying,

“Give me a week. We’ll race again.”

“Eh? Eh? But senpai, you’re preparing for the exams, right? It’s less than a month until the second phase…”

Miya was the only one panicking away.

“Please.”

“I could only lower my head again.”

This time however, I could not order her, since I was the one asking.

I didn’t know how long it took.

Probably not more than a minute.

“Please lift your head.”

I did as Matsumae-chan said, lifted my head, and looked up at her.

“I should be the one asking of you.”

Matsumae-chan looked a little sad as she lowered her head, and this rekindled my passion.

 

In any case, I reworked on my muscle training.

It’s the time when students were free to report to school as and when they wanted to, so on that morning, I went to the pool.

It seemed uncle was worried this would affect my exams.

“Didn’t you say you’re going to go all out? There’s no way you can focus in this situation.”

He grimaced as he handed over the locker key. Of course, even without his reminder, I would prioritize my studies, and never forgot to take care of my long hair ever since I left the club.

Takuma once said Haru liked girls with long hair.

I didn’t want to lose in any way, whether it’s sports, exams, or love.

And just like that, a week passed.

I had a proper nap that morning, just as I had planned, and slept for almost 12 hours.

I had mom make fried pork cutlet for lunch, had two additional servings of rice, and went to school.

During this period, the third year classrooms were only about a third filled. The third floor was unlike the noisy first and second floors, and one could sense the tense atmosphere in the room.

On this day, I saw that the person usually sitting before Haru hadn’t arrived, and took that seat.

“Morning Haru.”

“It’s not morning anymore. It’s afternoon, Akane.”

“Hey, you’re being too nitpicky, Haru.”

“I think you’re just too lax about it.”

Haru answered without looking away from the book of English words. Hmm, he’s a boy, but why did he have longer eyelashes than me? I stared at the face of the one I liked. Ahh, he yawned. It’s a little ugly, but my feelings didn’t falter.

“Are you sleepy?”

“A little. What about you, Akane? You look a little busy recently.”

“I’m fine today. Had a nice sleep.”

Haru finally lifted his head. He stared right at me.

It was too sudden, and I was shocked.

“Wh-what is it?”

“Do your best.”

“…You know what I’m doing?”

“Nope. But you haven’t said anything, Akane, so that means I don’t have to you.”

“Why say that?’

“Well, we have known each other for so long, I just got a feeling that you intend to do something on this day. You said that you’re a simple person, just a single line can get you to work hard. That’s why I say this. This is all I can do after all.”

Haru smiled at me gently.

My chest was burning.

He saw all of my hard work, and was willing to cheer me on.

Most importantly, I was glad he remembered the summer day I fell for Haru.

This made me a little greedy, so I pestered him to say the same words again.

“…One more time.”

“Do your best.”

“One~ more time.”
“Do your best. Do your best, Akane.”

“Yep, leave it to me.”

I slammed my chest.

Yep.

With Haru cheering me on, I won’t lose. Wasn’t that always the case?

A girl in love is always invincible.

 

There were few people at the pool on this day, either because it’s evening, or it’s winter. There’s only two grannies I knew of wading through the pool, chatting away. I watched them as I did my usual warm up, starting from my arms, shoulders, neck and waist, to my thighs and ankles. I twisted and bent various parts of my body. This caused my blood to boil in anticipation.

It’s still not enough. Just wait a little more. So I suppressed my feelings.

“Good work.”

Miya noticed me, and went to the poolside. The water droplets fell down her bodyline to the floor, the black footprints far away starting to dry and disappear.

“Sorry to make you drop me.”

“Don’t worry. I’m a fan of yours, senpai. Just tell me what you need.”

This junior of mine’s terrifyingly cute, and I patted her on the shoulder. Seriously, these words were embarrassing even for me.

“How’s the situation?”

“Think I’m back to form. Guess I can move well.”

I poked the water surface with my toe. A ripple spread from where I touched.

The ripple spread at regular intervals, forming a ring, and vanishing. Once it vanished, I turned to the girl standing behind Miya, greeting her.

“Yo, Matsumae-chan.”

Like usual, she was giving a stiff look. And she did not seem to be any more confident than usual.

The only thing different was that she never averted my eyes, and looked right back at me.

“Well, I joined the swimming club because I admire you, Rindou-senpai.”

“Yep. I know.”

I nodded unabashedly. There’s always a few of these people who joined the club, and I had always answered their wishes. This had been the case all the time, so this time, I intended to do the same.

“Sorry to disappoint you the last time.”

I deliberately spoke in a definite tone,

“But today’s different. Relax. I’m amazing today. You don’t have to worry. I’m going to show you that you admired the right person.”

Smile.

Smile confidently.

Be filled with confidence, just as you faced the opponents at the Nationals/

I stood on the slightly wet starting block.

My blood was still cold.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Not yet, just a little more.

“Ready!”

Miya’s voice rang, and it echoed just like that day, dispersing away.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Not yet.

“Start!”

At that moment, Miya’s voice rang along with Haru’s voice in my mind. “Do your best, Akane.”

Now!

The circuits in my mind were opened at once.

My blood boiled immediately.

I started off at the perfect moment.

After that─

We gathered at an okonomiyaki store near Aria, and ordered the ‘traditional club set’. It was a customary moment for us. Sauce and mayonnaise added onto the batter with lots of pork, beef and seafood, and a fragrance came along with the sizzling sound Ahh, it’s great.

I munched down the okonomiyaki in large mouthfuls, while Matsumae-chan, who actually ordered an extra large portion, ate more than me. Miya’s the only one who trained normally, and ordered pork.

“Got to hand it to you there, senpai.”

I won, overwhelmingly. There was about a 10 meters gap.

“It’s okay, I guess.”

Matsumae-chan kept moving her chopsticks. She continued to eat and chew, and began to chomp on the next mouthful before she was done swallowing. She chewed, chewed, chewed, drinking water from time to time, and chewed. It felt as though she refused to talk to us.

Surely she could not accept this outcome.

She couldn’t accept the fact that she lost despite going all out, and the first time she felt regret.

So I felt this was fine. Ah, I finally got some reward for my hard work this week.

I could accept it, but Miya probably couldn’t. She sighed, grabbed the back of Matsumae-chan’s head, which startled her. Then─

Both of them lowered their heads in unison.

Matsumae-chan’s mouth was still stuffed with okonomiyaki, a spatula in one hand and chopsticks in the other as she blinked in shock, looking a little stunned.

“Thank you for the lesson.”

Miya said, and lifted her head. Having known me for so long, it seemed she understood my intent.

I guess it’s not easy trying to act cool.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

But I played dumb, like a certain person in the past, stuffing the cut okonomiyaki into my mouth.

Miya didn’t say anything more.

 

I went to swim on this day, partially for Matsumae-chan’s sake. But I had to really emphasize that part of it was for my own sake, to swim for myself…it’s true.

If Matsumae-chan just loved swimming and never intended to compete, I wouldn’t have needed to do this. But I knew this wasn’t the case.

When I first stood next to her, I mistook her purpose. She joined because she admired me however, and was the tolerant type who would compete just to gauge herself against others.

She’s lonely, but not remotely arrogant to begin with.

In that case, it’s only a matter of time until she joined the competitive side (ours). If I let her be, she would quit the club activities and swimming in a short time.

This contest might have hardened her resolve.

People are content as long as they have approached their goals to a certain extent. Matsumae-chan was content with nearly beating me a week ago, on that day, at that moment, but she didn’t want that to happen, so she subconsciously slowed down, resulting in that outcome.

I could understand how she felt.

Training’s difficult.

If she wanted to work hard, she needed something to support herself.

Like, to approach someone she admired, or to win a competition.

Or to have a crush cheer for oneself.

People can continue to progress just like this. I had personally experienced this.

All I did on this day was to create an opportunity for her.

The goal she admired was still far away, and she had to work hard to catch up.

She had to go further and beyond.

It was the goal a middle school boy once had for a girl.

And as a senior, I too entrusted the same wishes to my junior.

 

I bade farewell to the other two in front of the okonomiyaki shop.

The sun had set, but I didn’t want to go home right away, so I went in the direction of the train station.

To be honest, I had been lost the entire time.

I wanted to tell Haru what happened.

But was it fine telling Haru when he didn’t know what’s going on? But but, it should be fine if I just told him, I did my best, right? But but but, if he’s still studying, it’s not good to distract him.

My mind was in a mess.

My heart was filled with much conflict as I continued walking. There were the yellow lights of the beef bowl restaurant chain, the high school students gathered at the parking lots of the convenience stores while on the way home, the crowds packed outside the windows of the burger shop.

I grabbed the lime green phone in my hand firmly, and walked for another 30 minutes or so.

I’m an indecisive maiden hopelessly in love─that’s how it is, y-you got a problem─so after much frustration, I made up my mind.

Argh, I really wasn’t being myself. Over the entire time, I had been opening and closing the contact list, finding the name I was thinking of.

“Haruyoshi Segawa.”

It was the name of the only special person to me on this world. Whenever I touched his name, my heart would race. I switched the switch, and called out an eleven digit number. One click, Haru and I would be connected.

Well, here I go.

My heart was racing as I made the call, but nobody picked up, and all I could hear was the droning tone ringing away. It felt like a pity, but I was seemingly relieved.

What was the conflict in my heart about? Eh, but I couldn’t do anything when he didn’t pick up.

The feelings I could not vent were resolved, and I felt a lot better. Hm, better report to mom.

I would have her cook my favorite curry. There was a curry smell from somewhere, and though I had just eaten okonomiyaki, my mouth was filled with curry flavor. Curry~curry~if there’s still some of that pork cutlet, let’s have pork curry, so I hummed to myself for some reason.

I was feeling really good.

But the cruel world showed me reality.

I stopped once I saw a silhouette.

Even amongst dozens of people, I could spot him immediately. Yes, this too was the case.

Haru was there, but he wasn’t alone.

He was together with the prettiest girl I saw.

That girl had the flowing long hair Haru liked.

She pretended to be pouty as she spoke to Haru, who might have been pretending before her as he clapped his hands together in apology. The girl continued to frown, but her pouting lips broke into a smile. They were smiling. Yep, they looked really happy.

It’s like they were in a miracle. There was something I hoped for.

I didn’t know at all; that Haru had this side to him.

I felt tragic, like someone dosed me with cold water from above. My heart was sad and angry.

Lots of complex emotions were mixed together, and I couldn’t eke out a voice. Ah, but despite that, I should be able to make it in time. As long as I did something, my hands and my voice should be able to reach Haru.

I placed my hands on my chest pocket.

It contained the ‘special photo’ (my smile) Haru took this autumn, and that photo was throbbed violently. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.

I made up my mind, and changed directions.

They arrived at the station, said a few words, and went their separate ways.

Haru and the girl.

Who should I follow?

My body instinctively told me the answer. I hastened my steps, reached my hand out, and spoke to that person.

“Who are you?”

She was shocked, and glared back, just as I did.

And then, that girl and I had our only conversation.

But that was enough.

We fell for the same boy, neither of us would give way.

It was a competition beyond the scale I had against Matsumae-chan.

Yeah, that’s right.

We couldn’t understand each other, and couldn’t get along with each other. There’s one thing that we both understood, that we were sworn enemies.

My love rival had a name as pretty as her appearance─

It sounded like the white sparkles descending from the sky.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *