[Hello X3 V2] Chapter 4

“Hey, you there—”

Two days ago I heard a cold voice, and looked over, seeing a girl with a touching smile.

This might be the most ordinary of all encounters. She’s not a girl who fell from the sky, and it’s not a body swap. She merely talked to me. I stopped.

Ah, yes. It’s the start of an ordinary encounter between the girl (her), and the ordinary boy (me).

 

“I really want him to bring me to the seaside.”

I heard her mutter with the same warmth as she did that day, and turned to look at her. She was enthusiastically picking away at the pebbles by the riverbank. “This shape is a little…” “this one’s a little too big.” So she picked the pebbles and tossed them out. Her posture the entire time encapsulated the term serious.

As she continued to remain crouched, I looked towards her, and called out the name I knew days ago.

“Yuki.”

“Hm~? What is it?”

“Did I mishear that just now?”

“Just now?”

“I heard you say you want to go to the seaside.”

“I think you definitely heard that wrong.”

Let’s use this, so Yuki nodded as she slowly got to her feet.

She was holding a small round pebble in her little hand.

With a really pretty form, she threw the pebble along the surface. It formed ripples on the water surface, once, twice, thrice, as it spun away.

Ta ta tatatatatatatata.

It bounced eight times in total, and finally sank slowly to the bottom.

Yuki said she never played stone skipping, and I was teaching her. It was a little vexing how she broke my best record on her first try.

“I said I want you to bring me to the seaside.”

Yuki finally turned towards me. The gleeful grin of succeeding at stone skipping diluted the mature vibe she had.

“Can I ask something?”

I raised my hand, and Yuki leisurely turned her palm towards me,

“Sure.”

“What month is it now?”

“February.”

In other words, it’s Winter.

We were shivering away in the frigid, blade-like winds.

The river was flowing before our eyes, dyed in the grey color of the sky, looking a little forlorn. The leisurely breezes blew by, causing ripples, headed towards us, pressing our uniforms down onto our chests.

It seemed Yuki wanted to go to a colder place in such weather.

“It’s Winter. Cold.”

Left with no choice, I could only say this.

“It’s fine, let’s go.”

“How about Summer? We think of the sea when it comes to Summer.”

“No, now is fine.”

“You’re really stubborn. We can’t go into the water when it’s winter, you know?”

“The feet alone should be fine.”

“Seriously, I think the cold’s unbearable. Besides, you’re scared of the cold anyway, Yuki.”

“Eh, how did you know?”

At that moment, there was a glint in Yuki’s large eyes, the glint small yet dazzling, ostensibly about to vanish on a single puff.

“Anyone can tell when you’re dressed in such thick clothing.”

Yuki’s dressed in a turtleneck coat, and the scarf was wrapped around her neck a few times. Beneath the coat wasn’t a sailor uniform, but a sweater. Also, she had her hands hidden inside the sleeves for protection against the cold. Whenever I saw the cute fingertips appear, I had to suppress my excitement with all I had. I actually like overly long sleeves, but there’s no way I can say that.

“Yoshi-kun, you’re giving a scary look.”

“You’re lying.”

I patted my face.

“You’re thinking of something pervy, aren’t you?”

“Not at all. No, I’m saying that I’m not thinking, of anything, at all.”

“Really~?”

Yuki narrowed her eyes, which were devoid of that glint from before. She called my name, her eyes giving a different look.

Argh. I had what could only be described as a bad feeling.

“Hey, Ha, ru, yo, shi, Se ga, wa, kun.”

“Wh-what?”

Yuki took a step that was two steps long.

The gentle fragrance entered my nose, and the first thing I saw was her reddened nose, followed by her blushing face, red as an apple, a stark contrast to her white skin. Then, I saw her somewhat dry lips, on the verge of bleeding anytime soon.

My head went white, and I reached my fingers towards her lips, only to stop. That’s not a place I could casually touch.

But, why?

Why did I reach my hand out?

The hand was dangling in the air, having lost its aim, wrapped up by something soft. It’s something as cold as my hand, a certain person’s hand. Yet there was warmth from where I touched, and some pain.

She grinned away, repeating,

“Bring me to the seaside.”

Shall we get back to that topic? Her wordless smile was conveying this intent.

Now what do you expect me to do?

Well, the answer’s obvious.

“As you wish.”

Was there any other option to begin with?

This happened in winter, during my second year of high school.

And just like that, Yuki Shiina and I decided to go to the seaside.

 

The town I lived in was completely landlocked amongst the mountains, and a trip to the seaside would require a train ride, or a bus. I checked the place Yuki wanted to visit, and discovered it would take almost four hours to reach there. One could say it’s a little trip by itself.

“I still can’t see the sea.”

We were shaking in the train for at least three hours. Yuki duly commented as she sat by the window, but the impression she gave was different from what she said. She seemed really happy.

“Sea, sea, see the sea~” She hummed a tune I had never heard, probably something she made up, “Sea, sea, see the sea~” Seemed like she’s in a good mood.

There’s a hard cover book on her knees, and a pink bookmark stuck in the middle of that book. It’s completely pink, and while it’s commonplace, she seemed to have really treasured it. For some reason, I was very curious about this.

“What is it?”

Yuki noticed my stare, and tilted her head in confusion. But naturally, I didn’t have the courage to ask her about that—

“It’s nothing. Is that book interesting?”

And I could only pass it off with an unrelated topic.

“Sort of, but I think I got some motion sickness, so I’m not reading it. Let’s have some snacks.”

And as she said, she put the book into the bag, taking out an ordinary bento box commonly found in a convenience store, taking out some roasted snacks. She popped them into her mouth with a blissful look, and enjoyed it well.

The train soon fell into darkness, the scenery outside swallowed in darkness—not that the sky turned dark, but that the train entered the tunnel. It continued to push forward, seeking the light.

Suddenly, Yuki pointed the skewer tip of the snacks at me, asking,

“Beyond the tunnel is—”

The answer appeared in my mind even though I wasn’t thinking of it. It happened as naturally as ‘1+1=2’. After all, it’s the slogan of the most famous anime movie in Japan.

“A mysterious town beyond the tunnel, is it?”

“Yes. Now that, what might await us there?”

The moment we finished saying so, the light filled our eyes.

The light shone through the glass, turning rectangular, adding charm to Yuki’s white skin. She narrowed her eyes because it was too bright, and smiled.

Our destination, the place Yuki was looking forward to, was beyond the window. Wahh, wahh, she squealed like a kid. I took the opportunity to take a munch off the snack pointed at my nose. Hm, enough saltiness.

“Wahh~Eh? Ah, ahhhh…”

Yuki realized I was eating her snack because of my chewing, looked at the snack in her hand, and exclaimed,

“Yoshi-kun, what did you just do!!”

She’s not expressing her emotions correctly, and it’s obvious how agitated she was.

She nimbly switched between two different emotions. Delight because she saw the vast scenery outside the window; sadness because her snack got eaten.

“Waaahhhhh!!!”

This is joy.

“Ah, ahhhh…”

This is sadness.

Yuki’s reaction could muster the guilt within anyone’s heart, so I couldn’t help but divert my attention out of the window..

I could see the thick clouds in the distant skies. A beam of light shone through the clouds. I remembered it was called ‘Angel’s Ladder’ or something. The light caused the water surface beneath it to whiten and dazzle.

Speaking of which, it’s the first time I saw the sea during winter. After all, I never went out of my way to do so. I realized I was acting a little emotional, and covered my smiling lips with my hand. Goodness me, I said I didn’t want to go, but my body was being so honest.

“Waahh, the sea’s so pretty. Ah, ahh, this snack’s limited for the period. I can’t buy it anymore.”

But as Yuki next to me let out an unexpectedly dejected sigh, I could only apologize to her.

We alighted at an empty station, and boarded a bus that so happened to arrive.

After another half an hour on the bus, an empty beach appeared before our eyes. Before we walked to the sea, I had a look at the bus schedule. It seemed the last bus would arrive at 7pm.

“Hm~feels like the sea. There’s the smell of the tide~”

A few months ago, or rather, a few months later, it would be a completely different season, and this place would be full of people. Right now, it’s a place belonging only to Yuki and me.

“I guess.”

Yuki stretched as she strolled down the beach, while I remained still, watching her back.

She made it halfway between me and the sea, and removed her boots and socks, walking barefooted on the beach. The porcelain-like white feet caused my heart to jolt.

She moved her hand away from her waist, and the boots fell into the sand with a thud. Like a bird, she stretched her empty hands, but she did not fly away. She walked to the sea.

The surging waves splashed at her feet, and her footprints were swallowed, as though her stroll had never happened. I had a feeling the white waves wanted to take Yuki away. Her feet was completely buried in the water. Run! The wind prompted me from behind. Once I took the first step, the second step was easier. Three steps, four, I accelerated, and ran towards where she was.

I got to Yuki, and she turned towards me.

“Eh,Yoshi-kun, what is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?”

“I don’t know why I suddenly thought of running.”

“What was that?” Yuki seemed bemused by that “That’s weird of you.”

The cold wind blew between us.

“It is.”

The words I said was lofted by the wind to a faraway place. We looked towards the direction of the voice, and a second or two passed, before the distant grey clouds were the only things left behind.

“…Hm, let’s get moving.”

Yuki suddenly declared as she rolled up her sleeves vigorously, scooping the seawater with her palms, and grinned away. I didn’t bother asking her what she was planning to do, and I all could do was to coax her,

“Yuki, don’t be crazy now.”

“I’m not, watch this!”

Yuki wouldn’t listen, and splashed water at me.

The water danced in the air, dazzling as it reflected the light. I scooted away in a panic, evading the frontal assault.

“Woah, what are you doing?”

“What do you mean? This is something we should do at the seaside.”

“It’s cold.”

“I know. Say, it really is. It’s freezing me to death.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“But we finally made it all the way here.”

“But you didn’t have to drag me into this—ahh!!”

Yuki splashed water at me again while I was talking, and I couldn’t dodge in time as I was ambushed. The water splashed onto my face, and it hurt a little. Felt like something melted too. I abandoned all caution thereafter, and removed my shoes and socks as Yuki did, stepped into the water. My knees were soaked, along with part of my shorts, but I guessed I didn’t care at that point

The chill rising from beneath my feet caused me to shiver, my teeth clattering away. I wasn’t just cold, I was in pain. Even so—

I scooped the seawater with my palm, and splashed it at Yuki.

“Kyaa, what are you doing!?.” The water hit her skirt, turning it a little black. The droplets were also black.

I burst out laughing, “Don’t splash on others if you’re not ready to get splashed.”

“Oh? So that means you’re ready to throw it down with me, Yoshi-kun?”

“Eh? Erm, Yuki, san? Isn’t that, too much water?”

“Of course not.”

“It’s freezing. My clothes are soaked.”

“Ahahahaha.”

“Hey, this isn’t a laughing matter. It’s freezing man.”

“What? It’s supposed to be cold in the winter, right?”

“No, I should be blaming you more than the winter.”

“Your fault for having poor aim.”

“So it’s all my fault?”

“Yes, it’s all your fault, Yoshi-kun.”

We yapped away happily, having fun as though we’re abandoning everything, running away from reality.

We’re the only two people at the seaside this winter. Yes, two of us. Not one.

That was why I could endure this freezing cold.

 

“What did we just do?”

“Who knows?”

“It’s stupid.”

“It really is.”

We calmed down after having much fun, and regretted our actions. Our feet were soaked, and we couldn’t move. We were soaked to our thighs, our clothes heavy like lead.

“Hm.”

I held Yuki’s outstretched hand, and we walked down the coast. Sand was stuck on my soles, and it hurt.. We left footprints on the beach, in the opposite direction from where we came from.

“We’ll use the sand to build a castle later.”

“Sure, a castle for Yoshi-kun and me.”

“Feels a bit weird.”

“Why? I’m the princess and you’re the chancellor.”

Yuki held my hand with hers, the other holding her boots.

“What, I’m the chancellor?”

“Yep. The chancellor who listens to all the selfish whims of the stubborn princess.”

“Sounds troublesome.”

“You don’t want to?”

“Not exactly.”

Right. It’s not something really annoying.

I was happy to go along with Yuki’s wishes. It’s not like I had some weird characteristic. In fact, I didn’t…probably.

It’s just that, whatever I did, Yuki’s happy. Whenever I called for her, she would give a happy look. Even when I was summoned by her, I didn’t feel annoyed. I just felt happy to be thanked by her.

I guess it’s something like instinct.

The creatures called men have no resistance to the smiles of women, moreso if it’s a cute girl.

“That’s fine. Are you really okay with being the chancellor?”

“Didn’t you say so?”

“Well, I said it, but you can say that you don’t want to do it. Just say if there’s any other role you want to play as.”

“Other, as in?”

“Never mind. You don’t have to understand. What I said isn’t important. It’s something you have to notice and work hard to achieve.”

Yuki said as she let go of the hand. She then pointed at the stone steps with the bags placed there.

“I think we should rest. Brought some hot tea and snacks.”

“Can I eat those?”

“What do you mean?”

“No, I just got the feeling that you’ll react like you did on the train. Sounds troublesome.”

The moment I said so, Yuki puffed her cheeks.

“I didn’t pout. It was a limited edition, that’s why. You just ate a bit without saying anything. I prepared some snacks and drinks for now, so it’s fine. Or are you saying that you can’t eat what I bought?”

“Well, it feels like you’re drunk, Yuki, like you can’t drink my wine.”

“I’m not drunk.”

“Hahaha. That’s something a drunk will say.”

“Hmph. I’m ignoring you.”

Yuki pouted again, but as she returned to the stairs, she took out all the snacks, and felt a lot better. It seemed she’s not the type to be angry for long.

I felt the warmth and sweetness flow into my body. After I finished it all at once, Yuki asked if I wanted another cup, so I graciously requested another.

I sniveled a little, sensing the warmth from my hands.

“Seems like this tea’s good for the body too.”

“I see. Oh yeah, Yuki.”

“Hm?”

“It’s warm. Very very warm.”

I put my warmed hands onto Yuki’s. She had been shivering the entire time, probably because she’s cold.

“My hands are still so cold.”

“Shall we keep it like this for now?”

Until you’re no longer cold. Until we share this warmth equally.

Yuki’s palms turned up, and this was her answer. But why was it that I was the one who suggested this, yet I couldn’t hold her hands? It’s embarrassing of me.

Yuki might have had enough, for she sternly pulled my hands and brought our palms together. The fingers were exerting lots of strength, and they were intertwined with mine. I gripped them back tentatively. After a long time, my fingers finally touched the back of her hands, and as I was embarrassed, I had my head lowered the entire time, never looking at Yuki’s pretty face.

The winter wind was really comfortable.

If only some of this suddenly rising body warmth could be shared with Yuki.

Once again, I looked towards the winter sea, thinking about such things.

 

The sun had set at the time we left the seaside. The thick clouds had parted slightly, and the stars could be seen as scattered lights in the sky.

We were the only two at the seaside for the entire day. Everything left there was proof that we were the only ones there, from the sandcastles to the hundreds of footprints to the words written with drifted branches. We hurried to the bus stop five minutes before it was time. All we had to do was to head back, take another 30 minutes to the train station, and another 3 hours ride back.

We sat at the faded, if not ugly looking seats of the bus stop. We were worn out, and were unable to say anything.

Five minutes later, the bus did not appear. “It’s a little late.” “Yeah”, so we muttered, and waited for another ten. The bus did not appear.

Yuki got up reluctantly, checked the schedule, Yoshi-kun, and called my name in shock.

“Wh-what is it?”

“Did you check the schedule properly?”

“Of course.”

”…Yoshi-kun, may I know what is the date today?”

“Why the sudden keigo?”

“Just answer.”

I had a bad feeling about this.

“Eh? Erm, 11th February.”

“Can I ask another question?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s the day today?”

Yuki’s question had me confused? Was it a special day? It seemed Yuki sensed my lack of awareness, and she pointed at the schedule like a school teacher.

“Look here.”

I did as told, and took a closer look. It was Saturday, and the last bus was noted to be at 7pm, as I remembered. Yuki then slid her fingers to the column regarding Sunday and public holidays. The last bus was 4pm.

She saw that I still did not get her, and revealed the correct answer,

“February 11th is the National Foundation Day, so it’s a holiday.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Yuki nodded.

I messed up. I never expected myself to make this mistake.

Was it because I was too excited? Well I was. It’s a big deal for me to go out with a cute girl.

Yuki, walking next to me, didn’t say a word. It was terrifying.

So we walked for another ten minutes or so, and returned to the convenience store we were at half an hour ago. Yuki then turned towards me, reaching her hand out,

“Yoshi-kun. The phone.”

…Right! The phone!

There’s that too. It’s too simple, I didn’t think about it. And in response to these revelation-like words, I hastily pulled the smartphone out from my pocket.

“Lend me.”

“Eh? Why?”

“Just do it. You don’t have the right to refuse me now.”

Yuki’s right. I didn’t have that right. So I handed the phone over obediently, and she nodded, looking pleased. She then switched it off.

“…Why?”

“Why you ask? You would have gone back if you had this, Yoshi-kun. Like, call your dad, or a taxi.”

That’s what I intended. Yuki however gave a troubled look, as though I was the one asking a weird question. Was I the weird one? No no no, that’s impossible. So she ignored this stunned me, and smiled,

“More importantly, let’s buy dinner.”

“Huh?”

“It’s cold out here, so I want something hot. Like Oden.”

“Huh?”

The automatic doors opened, and the warm air warmed many things. Yuki prompted me forward, pulling my hand into the shop.

The orange light looked comfortable, and like an insect attracted to the light, I wasn’t able to resist as I stumbled into the shop.

After that.

Yuki left the convenience store, holding the plastic bag leisurely, and we returned to the seaside leisurely.

Nothing happened aside from a few vehicles passing through. The headlights turned Yuki yellow, her shadow swaying aside at a right angle.

Yuki never got to buy Oden. The uncle, probably the shopkeeper, told her to return the next day as they probably were sold out. She had an increased urge to eat once she knew she couldn’t, and pestered the uncle about the next time the food would be available. It seemed the shop would close at 10, and there’s no point demanding for unavailable things. We bought meat buns and fried chicken and the like, and left the store.

We walked down the stone steps of the dike, and descended to the coast. The sea at night was a lot quieter than the day. It’s like the sounds of the waves were the only voices left in the world.

“Sorry for acting selfishly. I just wanted to stay outside with you a little longer.”

“No it’s fine. It’s my fault to begin with. I should be the one apologizing.”

“You don’t have to. Leave that until we return home. Your family should be angry now, right?”

“Who knows? My family doesn’t really care about that. They just close an eye if I stay out for too long.”

“You’ll get scolded.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“That’ll definitely happen.”

Yuki handed over the phone she confiscated.

“They’re definitely worried about you, so I allow you to send a message. Say that you’re with friends. Well, that makes you a liar, but you’re good at that, aren’t you?”

“I don’t usually lie. How am I good at that?”

Of course, I couldn’t say that I never lied before. This wasn’t really a lie to begin with. Yuki and I were friends, and we were together.

“Really?”

“Really.”

So she responded, looking completely skeptical. For some reason, I couldn’t put a finger to it, but I took the phone, and found that my mom sent me a message.

“Are you coming back for dinner?”

I pondered a little, and lied as Yuki told me to. I’ll be staying at a friend’s place, I don’t need dinner; so I responded. This kind of lie probably wouldn’t amount to much. I pressed the send button, and my lie became a message sent hundreds of kilometers away. Got it, so mom replied.

“You don’t have to contact anyone, Yuki?”

“Who?”

“Like, your parents?”

“…It’s fine.”

Yuki’s voice was soft, and I couldn’t determine the emotion she had. For some reason, I felt the girl next to me was as lonely as a lost kid, and the words she said just disappeared into the night air.

I saw the street light behind her slender shoulders. It’s probably 5km from here, or 10; might be longer, but still walkable.

Once we walked there, there would be a hotel, and probably an internet cafe and karaoke. Despite that, Yuki was holding the hand warmer from the convenience store as she walked down the coast, and seemed to have no intention of going to a place with light. So, we continued walking in the darkness.

“Ah, look. It’s pretty nice.”

Yuki finally stopped before an empty looking beach lounge. There’s no human presence to be sensed there. People probably only show up there in the summer.

The blue paint on the walls had been weathered away, but it appeared they could withstand the wind. There’s no door, but there’s a rest area at the back. If we cleared up the rubbish of empty cans and snacks here, we probably could spend the night here.

I found myself a little excited, just a little. It’s a scenario every man had hoped for at least once. It’s like we discovered a secret base.

While my emotions were running wild, Yuki turned the faucet at the back door, checking for water.

Girls really were lacking in the concept of romance, but if I said so, she would have refuted, saying that our definitions were different.

“The seawater’s making my face and hands sticky. Won’t feel good if I don’t wash it off.”

So Yuki said as she washed her face in the freezing weather, and I was impressed by that. I too washed my limbs and face, but not exactly thorough.

We finally entered the rest area, and ate the meat bun that was a little colder, fried chicken, and croquettes. We had the warmed corn tea, rested a little, and that thing showed up. The sleep demon opened its mouth wide, intending to swallow my consciousness. It’s no doubt a demon, as powerful as a demon lord in video games.

My eyelids got heavy, and the world began to turn hazy.

No matter how I tried to endure, I couldn’t stop yawning.

Despite that, I barely forced my way to a corner of the room, keeping my distance from Yuki. I was indicating that I wasn’t planning to do anything to her in my own way, but─

Yuki’s HP gauge was in the red, and she came to my side, bringing the thick blanket she had and draping it all over me. The world was swallowed in utter darkness, just like when evening turned to night.

My eyes immediately saw the crescent-like lips of Yuki, resembling the moon.

“Eh.”

She snuck under the blanket with a squeal. The distance between us was not even a millimeter. Typically, I wouldn’t notice my own breathing and heartbeat, but those sounds were ridiculously loud.

Also, I felt other things.

Yuki’s warmth.

Yuki’s softness.

Yuki’s breathing.

She was giving off the usual smell of spring, and the senses shooed away my sleep demons, just a little.

“E-er-erm, Yuki-san?”

“…Is something the matter?”

For some reason, both of us were speaking in keigo.

“What’s going on?”

“I-it’s cold.”

Yuki said as she buried her face into her thighs. Her usually white neck was obviously a little red, and her awkwardness too reached me.

I tried joking, or rather, if I didn’t do so, I wouldn’t last.

“Don’t do this if you’re going to be embarrassed.”

“I-I-I’m not embarrassed. You are, Yoshi-kun.”

“I can’t help it. It’s because you’re a beauty, Yuki. No, erm.”

Huh? What did I just blurt out? It was too late for me to retract my words though.

I didn’t know if my eyes got used to the darkness, or other reasons, but I found Yuki’s neck and years a lot redder than they were before. My mind emptied itself further as a result.

“Eh, erm, I didn’t mean that. No, you’re cute, Yuki, but what I want to say is, eh, how should I put it?”

“Uh huh?”

“So, yeah, I guess it’s no wonder I’m like this. Yeah, not that I want to do something guilty.”

Yuki lifted her head, still looking red as she stared at this anxious me.

“Hey, Yoshi-kun.”

Yes!”

“Thanks. Because of you, I know all the efforts I put in have not gone to waste.”

I thought she would be teasing me, but she thanked me for some reason.

“Efforts?”

“It’s fine that you don’t know about this. Hm, well. A swan can flap at the water all it wants, but it’ll still look like it’s just floating around. Boys just need to see girls doing that.”

I didn’t really get what she meant, but she probably meant that I shouldn’t look deeper into this.

“Anyway, back on topic. Seriously, Yuki, I may look like this, but I’m a guy.”

“I know.”

“Don’t you think this situation’s a little bad?”

“Not exactly. Not at all.”

“Why?”

“You’re a good boy, Yoshi-kun. You say you’ll be fine being a chancellor.”

I recalled building sandcastles with Yuki during the day. She’s a stubborn princess, and I was the chancellor fulfilling her wishes.

“But you know, if you keep being one, you won’t be able to fulfill a princess’ biggest wish. A princess is always waiting for a prince.”

So she said, and closed her eyes, leaning her head on her shoulder. A few seconds after I froze, she made a cute snoring sound. Typically, I wouldn’t be able to sleep in such circumstances, but because of the body warmth and the snoring, the distant sleep demons approached once again. My eyelids were twice as heavy as before, and my consciousness was quickly fading.

Everything was becoming empty, the rational mind and self-awareness to control myself weakened, and my desire couldn’t have missed out on this chance.

Sheepishly, I held Yuki’s hand firmly as she slept. And then, I fell asleep, satiated.

I had a dream.

In that dream, I was four, or five, in kindergarten.

I experienced this dream many times, and even in the dream, I knew it was one.

However, the dream world could only repeat the past over and over again, and the same ending happened every time, so it probably was the same this time. I was only able to observe the developments as a bystander and a first person.

Two friends were talking to me. I couldn’t remember their names and appearances. However, I could remember their voices. One of them often hung out with me, and the other was one I was on better terms with recently. They had high pitches, their voices prepubescent.

One of them said that we should go play soccer. Another said we should go catch some rhino beetles.

I actually preferred the latter, but if I did, the friend I was closer to would be angry. If I played soccer, I would have made the newer friend sad. This current me would probably have dealt with it better, but I couldn’t do so back then.

So I chose to remain silent.

Right. I chose neither.

And the dream ended. I chose neither, and didn’t grab anything before it ended.

But this dream was different.

There was a pretty girl I had never met. She reached her hand towards me.

For some reason, the moment I saw that new girl, I felt nothing else mattered. Not the soccer, not the rhino beetle, not the friends whose names I forgot.

The only important thing was the girl before me.

In this dream, I reached my hand out, and called the name I couldn’t have known of.

“Yu─”

I didn’t know if my voice reached her.

I woke up in the morning, and felt my body ache.

I moved my shoulders, which creaked away. I had been sleeping on the hard floor, my buttocks and neck aching away. My fatigue never faded away, and I couldn’t see very well.

After rubbing my eyes a few times, the world finally got clearer.

Only then did I realize Yuki was not around.

There was a void next to me, some warmth, and Yuki’s presence had vanished like snowflakes.

Some fear struck me, griping at my heart.

Suddenly, I recalled her silhouette as she stood at the seaside. The waves continued to reach its white, thin arms reaching for her feet. The unspeakable unease drove me out of the rest room.

A gust of cold wind suddenly struck my skin, bringing the cold into my body.

It was a winter morning.

Actually, was it morning? The world’s still dark, some white by the hill. It’s a divide between night and day. Morning was about to start.

The sun was slowly appearing in the sky, spreading its wings like a swan. Everything was engulfed in light, including her who had vanished next to me.

As expected, she was kneeling by the sea. For some reason, she had the pink bookmark she treasured in her hand, holding down the bottom with her fingers as she stared at the ending night. She was dazzling in the glimmer of the dawn.

That sight had me thoroughly mesmerized, captivated like a fool.

She then noticed me, lifted her head to say something, but because of the distance between us, I couldn’t hear too well. All I could make out was a grunt from her as she got up, and her calling my name.

It was the most beautiful scene I had ever seen. This time, I called her name in reality. She ran over to me.

“Good morning, Yuki.”

Just calling out this name had my heart in pain.

I was wondering what this first experience of an emotion was, one so painful and yet unable to let go of, so terrifying yet so warm. I couldn’t help but conclude that, yes─

It might be the first time I had fallen in love.

 

On our trip back, we bought lots of Oden at the convenience store, as revenge for missing out the previous day.

Large carrots, eggs, beef tendon skewers, and most importantly, the cabbage roll, thick fried tofu, and kinchaku mochi. There were only two cabbage rolls, and Yuki squealed in exaggeration.

Since we got the chance, we went to the seaside for the third time.

We sat on the dike, took out the Oden, and the moment we opened the lid, the hot air and smell inside caused our stomachs to rumble.

“Let’s eat.”

“Yep, let’s.”

Itadakimasu, we said, and enjoyed the boiling food and broth. The pepper was overwhelming, causing our eyes to water, but despite that─

“It’s really nice.”

“Yeah, it really is.”

“I told you we should have bought the cabbage roll.”

“This might be the best cabbage roll I’ve ever eaten.”

“That might be an exaggeration.”

“It’s not. It’s really great.”

I took the slightly large cabbage roll, and popped it into my mouth. The meat taste spread in my mouth, and the broth sipping out was really delicious, causing me to chew away.

“I’m so happy.”

Yuki put down her chopsticks, muttering. I was not done swallowing the cabbage roll in my mouth.

“I feel a little lonely. The sandcastles, the words we wrote with sticks, everything today and yesterday will vanish.”

“…They won’t.”

“Eh?”

I swallowed the cabbage roll, and said again,

“Even if we do vanish now, something definitely will remain behind.”

“Like?”

“Eh, I don’t know.”

I didn’t know what would be left behind─

“You aren’t serious about this.”

“Ugh, sorry.”

But I really was thinking that.

“Whatever.” Yuki nodded, “This is fine. If only something is left behind, but such a miracle can’t possibly happen.”

“What do you mean?”

Yuki merely gave a dumbfounded smile. For some reason, she seemed to be holding back her tears, and once I pointed that out,

“The mustard’s too strong.”

She lied, shaking her slender legs like a kid.

Once the Oden cup in my hands was empty, Yuki said,

“Actually, I,”

I had a feeling she wanted this opportunity to talk. Her hair was ruffled by the wind, and she pulled it behind her ears,

“Wanted to meet again.”

“With who?”

“Umi?”

“I don’t think people actually ‘meet’ the sea?”

Yuki didn’t look at me, Ah yes, people usually don’t understand, and muttered,

“Actually, this Umi I’m talking about refers to my little sister.”

“Your little sister? Is she born in the summer?”

“Why you ask?”

“No, well, if you say sea, like Umi, it gives the impression of summer.”

Yuki shook her head.

“She’s born in the winter. I think it’s because I said I wanted to see the sea soon before Umi was born.”

“Just because of that?”

“Haha. Yes. So later, papa brought me along with mama who was pregnant to the sea. To be honest, I didn’t really remember what happened that day, but even today, I can remember it was snowing on the sea. We saw the winter sea on a snowy day colder than it is today. It’s so dark, so lonely, but so pretty and captivating. It’s like my heart was captured.”

Yuki’s sidelong face looked so sad and grim, her eyes seemingly looking into the distance. Not at the vast seas, not at the islands afar, not the tetrapods, or the beach lounge we stayed at last night.

Yuki might have been looking at something more distant, something beautiful the naked eye couldn’t see.

“The snow and sea appearing together becomes a magical sight. Papa probably named her Umi hoping that we would be such sisters. Umi’s innocent and honest, a very cute girl. Back then, I had fun being together with Umi.”

This tone had me a little curious,

“Back then?”

“It’s been a while since I saw her. She went somewhere far. It’s been a while since we met.”

“Feeling lonely?”

“Very. But it’s fine. I believe it’s only a matter of time until we meet. I just need to do what I have to, and once it all ends, I’ll be able to meet her again. Right now, I’m just waiting.”

Yuki looked painful when she said these words, and didn’t look like she was enduring.

But I couldn’t tell her to just meet her that easily. Such was the grimness in her expression.

“The sea’s really pretty.”

That was the only thing I could say.”

“For sure. It really is.”

“Yep, very pretty.”

The winter sea was so dark, so lonely, so scary. Yet I was mesmerized by the light shining through the gaps of the clouds, the waves of the seas, and the vastness of the horizon stretching into the distance. I really found the sea to be pretty.

It didn’t matter whether it’s the sea before me, or the girl whose name sounded the same. I never saw her, but I could be sure, for I felt that the girl sitting next to me was an existence prettier than anything else.

“Let’s see the sea in winter again. A snowy day.”

My words finally had Yuki looking at me. She first gave a look of shock, and then a teary look. Finally, she showed a smile,

“You’re a liar after all, Yoshi-kun.”

Despite that, her expression was full of sadness.

I didn’t know if the future me could wipe away all her sadness.

A crisp sound echoed on the night streets.

It was the alarm signalling the end of the dream, and also, what sounded like applause to conclude the end of a fairy tale.

The clapping girl looked at her aching palms, seemingly lamenting the thing that were once upon them, yet no longer existing.

The past the girl recalled was that particular thing. It was ethereal like a dream, fleeting like a fairy tale, a thing that would melt and vanish, just as her name would imply.

Ahh, but despite that─

The fragment of that dazzling world remained in the girl’s heart. Something did remain, just as the boy had said that day.

The girl blushed when she was told that she was cute.

She pretended to be nonchalant, and shared the same blanket with the boy, even though she was so nervous, her heart was about to pop.

Thanks to that, she woke up earlier than the boy, and got to see his sleeping face. His eyebrows were long, his sleeping face somewhat resembling a kid’s.

And most importantly, the boy was holding the girl’s hand while sleeping.

Was there anything more blissful?

At this point, she could admit the feelings she had for the boy after 4 years, and the things she didn’t want to admit.

About him, I─

 

“Hey, Yoshi-kun. Thank you for finding me.”

 

The girl’s mutter vanished like the snow, never reaching his ears. She hurried towards his house.

The right hand was holding the very sweet ‘promise’ between the duo, though a little bitter.

The left hand was holding the girl’s pink ‘wish’ they had both looked up at.

She held these two things firmly, not allowing them to fall.

The night of February 14th ended.

The story no one knew of ended, and a new story began.

But despite that, so the boy (said) spoke up, and the girl (watashi) said.

 

 

It was the happiest love story in the world that belonged nowhere, but truly existed.

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