Translated by Dawn
Edited by Dawn
After getting off the bus, Shiori and I decided to take shelter in a shaded area first due to the excessive heat.
It would be a little while before we could join Narumi and the others who were sitting in the back seats.
“After all this time, are you sure it was a good idea?”
“It’s nice since we’re going to a pool, but is it okay if you invited me and Inumaki, too?”
“I wanted to come with you, Shiori.”
She was one of my few friends and is an honor student who just recently became the student council president of Hoshimoto Gakuen High School.
Today she was dressed in a camisole, denim shorts, and sandals, looking a bit mature.
It was not unusual for people to call me a model because of my sister’s presence, but if you ask me, Shiori was more like a model.
Shiori was always so cool and dignified, and her expression was so perfect that she could easily be on the cover of a magazine.
“…And to be honest, I didn’t want to be alone with Narumi just for today, so I guess I’m rather thankful for it.”
In fact, last night I realized a fact.
Since I realized this fact, I had been avoiding Narumi because I couldn’t make eye contact with him.
This was also the reason why I took advantage of the crowded bus to sit in separate seats.
“Are you embarrassed about your swimsuit?”
“There’s that too, but it’s not the only thing…”
Shiori stared at me.
She observed me for a moment, and I guessed that she had come up with an answer in her head.
Could it be you…”
“Have gained some weight?”
She got right to the truth.
“Just a little, actually…”
Last night, as I was preparing my luggage, I was looking at a swimsuit that caught my eye and I got curious and decided to try it on.
Looking back, it was quite a mistake.
“I think that’s what happens when you go to a family restaurant that often.
And since you and Narumi-kun are always together, the amount of food you eat and drink has increased, hasn’t it?”
Don’t say it.”
Talking with Narumi was fun, and I ended up adding extra orders.
The number of desserts, in particular, had obviously increased.
Is it that obvious that I gained some weight?”
“No, I don’t think so.
I don’t think people could even tell.”
“Then how did you know?”
“I guess it’s the result of love.”
“Don’t joke around with such a cool face.”
“What if I told you I wasn’t joking?”
While I was frozen, unable to digest the meaning of those words, Shiori’s hand touched my cheek.
Shiori’s hand did not allow me to turn my face away from her.
“Why did you think I was joking? It hurts, you know? I love Kohaku so seriously.”
“When I heard about your running away from home, I was jealous of Narumi-kun.
I wondered why you didn’t come to my house…I also wanted to heal Kohaku who was hurt…”
I couldn’t escape her passionate gaze.
Our entwined hands didn’t let me escape.
“But it’s probably a good thing you went to Narumi-kun’s house.
If you had really come to my house…I probably couldn’t stand it.”
“Wait a minute, what do you mean…”
“I can tell you, but…let me explain it to you with my body rather than words.”
I don’t know what to do.
Or rather, Shiori, really? To me? I didn’t know about this… I totally don’t.
What should I do? Not good.
Shiori’s face is getting closer and closer…
“Really, you’re so cute, Kohaku—You’re so easy to fall for lies.”
The words whispered in my ear lifted my agitation as if a spell had been broken.
Sorry, okay? I didn’t see you much during the summer vacation.”
I fell for Shiori’s teasing again.
I always fall for it.
But Shiori was pretty good at acting, so I wanted to believe that I wasn’t the only cause of the problem…
“You really fool me every time.
Maybe you should try to be an actor in the future?”
“I’m considering it as a career.”
I doubt if that was true too.
“…but I’m relieved to hear that you’re doing better than I thought you would be.
I was honestly worried when I heard you ran away from home.”
To make you worried.”
But…I don’t know if I should say this, but I’m glad.
It would have been unthinkable a little while ago that Kohaku…who is still unhappy about your family, would be well enough to go out like this even though you were kicked out of the house.”
In fact, not long ago, I would surely have been helpless in a situation like this.
All I could do was cower somewhere, hold my knees, and just look down.
I probably would have gone back home to beg for forgiveness.
“I guess it’s thanks to Narumi-kun.”
I nodded as I chewed on Shiori’s words with many thoughts.
Come to think of it…there was something I hadn’t told Shiori yet.
It wasn’t that I was hiding anything, but I wanted to tell her because she was my best friend.
“…I like Narumi.”
I mean, it’s obvious.”
“I thought so, but just in case.
I wanted to tell Shiori that.
…Wait, is it that obvious that you could tell just by looking at me?”
“Quite a bit.”
“I see…I don’t think I’ll ever be an actor.”
I was very different from my sister, who worked in many movies.
I wonder if she was working now.
I had no doubt Mom would also be there.
(…Even if so, let’s try not to think about it now.)
I went out with the person I had a crush on, but I couldn’t enjoy it if I felt like this.
Let’s forget about reality.
At least for this moment.
“It’s so crowded.
As expected of summer vacation.
So many customers.”
Natsuki nodded his head in deep emotion as he put his hand on his forehead and made a gesture as if to look around.
In fact, when we finished getting changed and went out to the attraction area where the pool was located, it was crowded with many people, including families and students like us.
“I think this is still better because admission tickets are by reservation only.”
“If it weren’t for the reservation system, it would have been hell indeed.
But still, there sure are a lot of people…Can we find them, Kazemiya-san and Raimon-san, I wonder?”
The official website of this “Tategami Water City” allowed visitors to view the inside of the facility and its pathways in a street view format.
Based on this information, we designated the meeting place, so we would not get lost unless there was something wrong.
By the way, the meeting place was under the palm tree in the plaza.
“What is it?”
“What are you doing now?”
“I’m waiting for a girl with you.”
“Did you finish your homework?”
“Of course not.”
“Are you dating Kazemiya-san?”
“I’m not dat…wait, what was that question!?”
I thought you would tell me honestly.”
Natsuki smiled without a trace of malice as if he was just shaking off a casual chat and had no intention of hurling a bomb at me.
“You…don’t play these pranks on me.”
“I’m not asking it to play pranks on you.
You come here because I know the first semester is already over and you want to sort of enjoy it.
If you two were dating, I’d be more than happy to help out by giving you two some privacy.”
“It’s too bad.
Your concern is meaningless.
I and Kazemiya aren’t dating.”
“You’re not being honest, Kouta.
You don’t have to lie just because you are embarrassed.
Aren’t you and I close enough? You can’t trust your childhood friend that much?”
“……Huh? Are you serious? Are you two not dating?”
Natsuki’s smile froze.
He got a hell of a face.
Unusual for this guy.
“I’ve told you so many times.”
“Even after that!?”
“What do you mean?”
“You were so close to her! Sitting on the living room couch, almost shoulder to shoulder, watching videos and flirting together!”
“The living room couch…how the hell do you know that!? And also I wasn’t flirting with her!”
“Ah, I got that picture from Auntie.”
Apparently, my mother had taken hidden photos and sent them to Natsuki.
“Auntie also said that she got some educational materials from your stepsister.”
“What is she doing!?”
The culprit of the spying is Kotomi, huh!? It’s like a lie that we were fighting until the end of the first semester!
…Hm? Or rather…teaching materials? What does she mean? No, that’s not important right now.
“Besides, no matter the circumstances of running away from home, it’s different when you’re letting a girl from your class stay at your house all summer long.
I thought it was because you two had become lovers…”
“It’s not like that.
I’m Kazemiya’s friend…”
“Friend, huh…well, sure? I know better than anyone that you’re willing to help people in times of need no matter what, but…”
Natsuki made a thoughtful gesture and paused for a beat.
“…How is it actually?”
“…What do you mean?”
“What do you think of Kazemiya? Is she just a friend?”
The question asked by Natsuki was a common one.
If there were a reference book on life in high school, it would be listed in bold letters in the table of contents as a universal question.
Yet, for some reason, the question shook me to my core.
It was as if I had been confronted directly with a question that I had been pretending to ignore, with an answer sheet that I had dared to leave blank.
“…I don’t know.”
What does Kazemiya Kohaku mean to me?
That one word, which should have fit in only four words if I had just moved my mouth.
“You don’t know? Really?”
“…what are you trying to say?”
“I know that since what happened to your father, you have distanced yourself from other people.
You had a lot of friends in elementary school, but now I’m the only one you normally hang out with.
I guess you’re afraid of being disappointed by others.”
“As expected of a childhood friend.
You know everything.”
“I’ve been watching you for a long time, and you’re my hero.”
“You’ve always exaggerated things, you know.”
I wished I had been a stranger.
Then, I could have rebuked him and said, “Don’t talk to me like you know me.”
“The thing that you’re most afraid of right now is surely…being disappointed by Kazemiya-san.
So you wanted to remain friends with her.”
…As expected from Natsuki, he was always ready to accept anything.
He was as big and generous as the ocean.
When I talked to him, I felt like I was in my natural state, and even if he stepped in a little, I didn’t get angry.
“You can run away.
But you can’t run away from your feelings.
They will follow you for the rest of your life until the day you die.
That’s what real feelings are.
…But, well, you’re not good at facing your true feelings.
This time I’m going to help you.”
“It’s a magic spell to bring out your true feelings.”
This was the summer vacation season.
Even though it was by appointment only, this crowded plaza should be noisy, but my ears were so quiet that I almost thought I was wearing earphones with a noise-canceling function.
The only thing I could hear was the beating of my heart, which was probably beating faster than usual.
“『Give me Kazemiya-san.』”
I answered it with reflex.
I didn’t realize it.
At the moment when my ears caught Natsuki’s words and my brain recognized them, my mouth, which had not been able to turn smoothly until now, began to move smoothly, even to my surprise.
What did I blurt out? I wasn’t stupid enough to not understand that.
“That’s your true feelings, Kouta.”
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