“There was a time when I was like that, you see.”
Mashima-kun held out one end of the microphone to me.
Finally, I realized that this was “karaoke”.
“I turned on the microphone, do you remember the lyrics?”
“Somehow …. no! Can we sing without permission!?”
Maybe, but this is a snack bar!
I don’t know if there’s any payment or anything…
“As long as no one finds out, it’s fine.”
I couldn’t believe my ears when Mashima-kun replied in such an uncharacteristic manner.
I couldn’t comprehend the meaning of his words and froze like an ornament.
“Look, the intro is almost over.”
And then I looked at him.
And then I looked at him.
And then I saw Mashima-kun looking back at me,
He looked back at me with a playfully mischievous smile,
A shy smile on his face,
I saw that face.
“Even I’m embarrassed to sing nursery rhymes by myself.”
It was the first time I saw this side of the person I had a secret crush on.
I was so shocked that I was in a daze for a while, and I started the duet with Mashima-kun from the second verse.
I am sure that Mashima-kun has many more aspects that I don’t know about him.
And every time I see one of them, I will like him more and more.
…By the way, this is an aside, but it seems that neither Mashima-kun nor I are very good singers…
I ended up chatting with Mashima-kun until 6:00 p.m., the opening time of “Leo”.
I didn’t notice it when I was inside the windowless bar, but when I went outside, the sky over Kamimura was tinged with a light purple color.
It was dusk, the magic hour, the so-called “twilight hour”.
“Thank you very much for your time today, Mashima-kun.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Mashima-kun, walking next to me on the sunset-colored road home, replied.
At first, I declined, saying, “I’m fine to go out of the bar alone.” but Mashima-kun said, “I’m concerned about you because you’re sick, so I’m going to walk you home.” so I took him up on his offer.
“I would appreciate it if you could pass on my thanks to Kaoru-san as well.”
“Okay, I’ll let her know.”
“I really enjoyed myself today…”
I can’t thank Mashima-kun enough.
After all, the worst day of my life turned into the best day of my life.
…It really was a dream come true.
“We just chit-chatted and sang one song, but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Speaking of which, your shopping trip?”
“Oh, uh, … it’s okay, I suddenly didn’t need … anything.”
The truth was, there was nothing I really wanted, and if I could go on a shopping date with Mashima-kun today, I was going to buy a lip balm that I saw at random,
I could never say that.
“Oh, well, that’s okay.”
… I look up at Mashima’s face, trying not to be noticed.
Strong-willed, narrow eyes.
The crease between the eyebrows.
The serious expression on his face.
The smooth forehead peeking out from the center parted bangs.
And up close, the eyelashes are surprisingly long.
I could list them one by one, and then I lost count again.
Today, I am convinced.
I like Mashima-kun.
More than anyone else in the world, I am sure.
“The days are getting much longer.”
“Eh…, yes, they are.”
I was so nervous; I was in a daze.
Because the words “twilight effect” had been dancing in my head for a long time.
The twilight twilight effect… human thinking and judgment are at their slowest around 6:00 p.m…
In other words, now is the time when confessions are most likely to succeed…
Do I confess…!? I am…!?
No, but Imamote said the best time to do it is at dinner on the third date! Today is only our first date! I doubt that it was even a date in the first place!
… But I don’t think I’ll ever have a better time than this again,… I feel like I’ve grown closer to Mashima-kun over the course of today, and I even greeted his aunt one step ahead of schedule…
And now… things are kind of going well!
I was walking next to Mashima-kun, and I’m sure from the outside I looked like my usual unsociable self, but on the inside I resembled a storm.
My head was like a boiling pot, my heart was beating fast, and my knees were shaking without control!
My heart would spill out of my mouth the moment I uttered a single word, let alone a confession!
As I was walking calmly, somehow trying not to be noticed, I caught sight of Mashima-kun’s left hand swinging like a pendulum.
It was a man’s hand, bony and veiny.
(TLN: Bony and veiny?? Hah???)
…Even I, timid and shy, can’t say a single word.
…If it was an action.
…Maybe I could do it…?
I clenched my fists once and then slowly extended my hand.
The sound of my heartbeat becomes so loud that I could hear it right next to me.
How would Mashima-kun react if I held his hand?
I am so scared. If he shakes me off, I am sure that I will never recover.
But even knowing that, I still mustered up the courage to do it,
Ignore Imamote’s teachings for once,
I reached out with my hand…,
“Oh, that’s one of our students in the jersey.”
I reflexively hid behind Mashima-kun as he said this just as our fingers were about to touch each other.
Fortunately, they were walking on the opposite sidewalk and didn’t notice us, but passed by while chatting and laughing…
The timing was too bad! I summoned all the courage I had!
“I-I was surprised…”
The words, which came out with a resigned sigh, did not mean anything more than that.
But I wonder why.
Mashima-kun took one look at me with a somewhat sad look in his eyes…
Once again, he turned his gaze in the direction he was going and said a few words.
“… You don’t want to be seen with me after all, do you?”
“Let’s meet and talk for the last time.”
I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t keep up.
My mind just went blank and I stopped right there.
The only words that came out were,
That was all.
Mashima-kun also stopped.
“…I’ve been thinking about it all day.”
But he doesn’t look at me.
“…I was worried about you until you showed up at the meeting place, so I contacted quite a few people, mainly students of Kamimura High School, to see if they knew anything about Saki Takane. Not only that, but I ran from the station carrying you on my back.”
That’s something I really … appreciate from the bottom of my heart,
Why do you sound so sad, Mashima-kun?
“Kamimura is small,… and in fact, several Kamimura High School students saw us while I was carrying you into Leo. By the end of the week, you might be the subject of rumors at school.”
Well, sure, that might be embarrassing.
If Mashima-kun says he doesn’t want such rumors to be spread, I will apologize to Mashima-kun as many times as I can, and I will correct the rumors that have been spread by talking to each of them personally.
But then, why?
Mashima-kun is so…
“You’re in love with someone else. You don’t want any rumors about us to get out.”
“Well, I don’t know who it is, but I’m sure you’ll be fine. You have a beautiful appearance, excellent grades, good character, warmth and softness, and a strong sense of compliance with the guidelines… I’m sure that your charm will be conveyed to the other person.”
“And I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never been in a relationship. There must be someone better qualified to consult with you.”
” If you still want to talk to me, please contact me…. Yes, on MINE. No, I can consult with you now if you want. I don’t think I can give you much advice…”
“Yes, that would be good. Just for reference I’d like to ask you.”
“What sort of person is the person that Takane Saki has feelings for?”
In a world that seemed endless and blank,
Something violently colorful,
“…16 years old.”
“Same age as us, then?”
“Standing 175 centimeters tall, weighing in at 62 kilograms.”
“? That’s a very specific number.”
“Blood type A. Birthday is May 3rd, Constitution Day.”
“He has center parted bangs that don’t reach her eyes, long lashes, straight eyebrows that are well groomed, deep creases between the eyebrows, a straight nose, and thin lips.”
” … Saki Takane? What are you…”
“…He carries his student handbook with him at all times and can recite the school rules and school anthem by heart. He also has the ability to memorize people’s names and birthdays in one go.”
“A conservative personality, he values discipline and tradition, but he is not a fan of the new and novel, and is reluctant to change. However, he is not negative, and is flexible enough to accept change if he finds it good.”
“Especially in Japanese tea, he holds the first level of the Japanese tea ceremony certification. His dream is to become a Japanese tea instructor in the future.”
“His favorite food is Niigata’s famous sweets, Bandai Taiko, and he only eats plain food. He doesn’t add any toppings to his beef bowl, and he takes a bath at exactly 40 degrees Celsius. He is not the adventurous type.”
“He only watches NHK TV and likes animal documentaries.”
“He punishes others harshly for their mistakes, but he never dismisses their character. Everyone knows this, but he has a twisted side that considers himself unlikable.”
“During lunch break, he usually eats his lunch alone on the staircase in front of the rooftop.”
“He’s a person who notices other people really well, but when it comes to himself, he’s devastatingly dull.”
“…If I didn’t go so far as to say…, wouldn’t you understand?”
“… It’s you.”
“You, you, you, you, you, you, you.”
“…How could there be anyone else but you!?!?”
My voice echoed through the gap between day and night in Kamimura.
There was no one else in the world but me and Mashima-kun.
“The reason I was late today was because I was so happy to be able to talk on MINE with Mashima-kun that I couldn’t sleep!”
“I went out of my way to find Mashima-kun because I wanted to have lunch with you!”
“I cried in front of Mashima-kun because I was worried that you might think I was weird!”
(Illustration: I like you!!”)
After I let out every single thing in my heart, a deep silence fell around us.
“Hah …… hah ……!”
I let my shoulders move up and down, turning the steam that was turning my head white inside out into a hot breath, and exhaled it onto the asphalt ground.
And after I repeated it a few times…,
Suddenly, I snapped back to myself.
I looked up and saw it.
I’ve never seen that expression on Mashima-kun’s face before…
” … Sorry…”
I don’t know what his intention was in saying those words.
But as soon as I heard those words, hot drops of water spilled from my eyes and hit the asphalt.
…From there, I don’t remember anymore. I ran home in a grueling way, not caring if anyone saw me…
I found myself crying under the covers.
And like a fool, I kept crying until dawn.
The young-leaf-colored one-piece dress I had gone to the trouble of buying became wrinkled in just one day.