Chapter 6: Express Your Feelings Directly
■Chapter: Takane Saki■
Amidst the festival music, the sound of cicadas can be heard from somewhere.
Breaking the tradition, the Kamimura Summer Festival had turned into a grand celebration, with a bustling crowd.
People, people, people—
No matter where you looked, there was a sea of people. It was a breathtaking sight, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there had ever been so many people in Kamimura.
Amidst the lively shouts, rows of decorative lanterns swayed like ships through the sea of people, truly giving off a festival vibe.
“Excuse me… I’m sorry!”
The road lined with stalls seemed endless, packed with people.
It was a challenge just to move forward. In the midst of this, I pushed my way through the crowd.
—I’m searching for Mashima-kun.
“──Oh, isn’t that Takane-san?”
“Takane-san, you’re at the festival too, huh?”
“Are you here alone? How about joining us?”
I passed by several students along the way, and it seemed like they noticed me and said something, but I’m sorry; I couldn’t focus on that right now.
I want to meet Mashima-kun right now and talk to him again! I pushed through the crowd of people, my hair sticking to my forehead due to sweat, and moved forward without hesitation.
“Mashima-kun, Mashima-kun, Mashima-kun—”
If I meet Mashima-kun, there are so many things I want to say.
First, I should apologize. I’m sorry for avoiding you.
Then, since Mashima-kun might not remember, I’ll bring up memories from our middle school days.
After that, I want to hear his response to my confession again.
It’s okay if he rejects me.
It’s okay if he hates me.
Anything is better than not being able to talk to Mashima-kun again!
—However, contrary to my feelings, I still couldn’t find Mashima-kun.
I sat down on the stone steps of the shrine just a little away from the festival grounds, trying to catch my breath.
…The day was gradually turning into night.
Have I circled the venue three times already?
I took out my phone and checked the message I sent to Mashima-kun about an hour ago.
…No “read” mark.
I exhaled heavily and buried my face in my knees.
Because it’s Mashima-kun, if he’s on patrol duty as a member of the Discipline Committee, he probably turned off his phone. It makes sense that there’s no “read” mark.
…But is that really the case?
I can hear the sounds of festival music and the hustle and bustle in the distance… In the darkness of the evening, I peek out my timid face.
…Maybe he’s already done with his patrol and gone home?
The reason my message hasn’t been read is that he blocked me after what happened last time…
… He doesn’t want to see me.
The fading sound of cicadas intensified my restlessness, and my heart ached.
Unable to bear my vulnerability, I muttered softly.
…That’s when it happened.
Suddenly, someone grabbed my shoulder from behind.
…It couldn’t be, no, there’s no way.
But I couldn’t help but hope, like that day, for Mashima-kun to appear like a hero.
When I turned around…
“──Oh, it’s you, Saki-chan! Long time no see. Let’s take a picture for memory’s sake!”
“Oh, you remembered me! I’m so happy!”
Just moments ago, my body was flushed with heat as I ran around, but now, it suddenly turned cold, and it felt like my veins had frozen.
…Come to think of it, it was entirely possible.
Miyanoshita had enrolled in Nakayama High School, so I didn’t see him often. However, he was still a resident of Kamimura. That meant he could be at the Grand Festival.
…But why now, of all times?
“Actually, I’ve been thinking about you, Saki-chan. Destiny, perhaps? Today, I brought some new friends. May I introduce them?”
Behind Miyanoshita-kun’s cheerful smile, there were six men who looked rather intimidating.
As if sizing me up, they stared at me.
“Huh? Scared? Haha, don’t worry. They might get rough and lose their temper easily, even resort to violence, but… they’re fun people.”
──I had no choice but to run away.
I stood up in a panic and tried to escape from the spot…
Miyanoshita-kun forcefully pressed my shoulder and made me sit on the stone steps.
The fear from that day resurfaced and overwhelmed my thoughts.
“Well, isn’t it fine to go home after seeing this?”
Miyanoshita offered me his smartphone.
I looked at the screen, and…
I was speechless.
Why, because there was a picture of Mashima-kun carrying me unconscious on his back and running towards Leo.
“It’s a beautiful shot, right? Taken with the latest triple camera, perfect for portrait photography, facial recognition system included, and it has a whopping 1TB internal storage! Of course, it’s waterproof.”
“Why… Why would you have such a photo…”
“Kamimura is small, Saki-chan.”
My blood ran cold. I knew what would happen next.
“The Student Discipline Committee of Kamimura Highschool carrying an unconscious female student to a bar… What will everyone say when they see this? If you don’t want that, Saki-chan, just a small favor for us!”
Faster than Miyanoshita could finish his sentence, I stomped on his foot and snatched the smartphone from his hand.
“I’ll borrow this!”
And while Miyanoshita was writhing in pain, I took off running with his smartphone.
I had one goal: to delete this photo!
“Dammit!? That stupid girl is touching my brand-new smartphone…! Hey! You guys, don’t just stand there, chase her! We have to get it back, no matter what!!”
Footsteps from behind, multiple people.
Despite my mind being overwhelmed by fear, I kept running desperately.
“I have to delete it, I have to delete it, I have to delete it…”
I absolutely had to delete this photo.
I didn’t want to see Mashima-kun get hurt because of me anymore…!!
Desperately, just desperately.
Exhaling ragged breaths,
my lungs felt like they were tearing apart.
I stumbled and fell multiple times, scraping my knees.
I could no longer lift my feet, but I kept running through the streets of the nighttime Kamimura.
At some point, I couldn’t hear the festival music anymore,
and there was not a single soul in sight as I looked around.
I couldn’t hear the footsteps of those chasing me either.
I almost collapsed under a lamppost.
From beneath my feet, I heard the gentle sound of a flowing river.
“Here… Tomodachi Bridge?”
Tomodachi Bridge—nobody knew its official name.
It was a small bridge near East Middle School, and I had always crossed it on my way to and from school.
Certainly, on the other side of the bridge, you could faintly see my former school building in the evening darkness.
It seemed I had run quite a distance…
…No, that doesn’t matter now!
“I have to delete it!”
I quickly operated Miyanoshita’s smartphone.
My fingers trembled from tension and fatigue, and I made several mistakes in the process…
From both the photo folder and the trash folder.
I had completely deleted that photo.
“──Are you feeling better now?”
My heart felt like it was about to burst.
When did Miyanoshita-kun and his friends start overlooking me so closely?
“Ha—no, it’s just a running exercise for the club. How much do you like running, Saki-chan?”
Miyanoshita-kun forcibly took back his smartphone.
He looked at the smartphone he had recovered and made an obvious grimace.
“Ugh, the screen’s all sweaty. How much do you think this smartphone costs…? Oh, and you’ve carefully deleted the photos from the trash folder too, thanks for your effort, but it’s meaningless.”
“W-What do you mean…”
“──Because this photo isn’t taken by me. A friend sent it to me.”
Huh? My reaction must have been quite amusing because Miyanoshita-kun burst out laughing.
“I told you, right? Kamimura is small! Ahahaha! Saki-chan, you really ran for nothing! You should have just listened to me from the beginning!”
Their laughter echoed unpleasantly in my ears.
Was everything I did in vain…?
My body lost all strength, and resignation took over.
I couldn’t even speak anymore.
“Come on, Saki-chan, stand up.”
Miyanoshita grabbed my arm and forcefully pulled me up.
“To celebrate our reunion, let’s take a selfie! Come on, smile, smile…”
Even in this situation, I felt powerless and timid…
I couldn’t help but want his help…
“Strike a pose considering your best angle—let’s take a shot.”
“All right, say cheese!”
“According to Article 20-3 of the Niigata Prefecture Youth Healthy Development Ordinance, ‘Prohibition of Requesting self-portraits, etc.’ do you know about it, Haruto Miyanoshita?”
With a click, a sound came from Miyanoshita’s smartphone, and then we saw it.
And the demon-looking figure of the Discipline Committee President reflected in the background――
“Penalty for violators is a fine of up to 200,000 yen… more expensive than that smartphone.”
“Wh-what did you sayyyyyy!?”
Miyanoshita seemed to be triggered by past traumas and jumped back as if he had seen a ghost, still tightly clutching his latest-model smartphone.
It felt like I was in a dream.
He furrowed his brow, looking down at me, and then smiled gently.
“…You really do manage to attract a lot of attention.”
“As I was told by everyone at Kamimura High, ‘We saw Takane Saki running around the festival grounds’, and thanks to that, I was able to find you quickly.”
“…So you came to help me again?”
When I asked,
Mashima-kun, with a childlike, innocent, and mischievous smile, said
“── Do I need any reason to talk to a girl I’ve been interested in for a while?”
…………For a while…………,
…A girl I’ve been interested in……?
The western sky had turned a pale purple.
It was twilight, exactly three months after I had talked to Mashima-kun on Tanabata, July 7th.
My face must have been even redder than the sunset.
“──Mashima confessed ──────!!!!!”
Just as I couldn’t look directly at Mashima-kun’s face anymore, suddenly, there was an uproarious cheer from the surroundings.
I couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
──What on earth is happening?
Unbeknownst to us, a large group of students had surrounded us near Tomodachi Bridge!
“W-what’s going on with these people!?”
Miyanoshita and his friends seemed confused by this unusual situation, and for some reason, I looked around, and in the crowd, I spotted Yuka-chan.
Yuka-chan replied with a wry smile.
“You two just naturally stand out, you know.”
–The sensation of my face burning was exactly like what I was feeling right then.
In any case, Miyanoshita-kun was now helpless in the midst of all this attention.
He wore a frustrated expression, stowed his prized smartphone back in his b****t pocket, and then smiled coyly.
“Oh, what’s this? You two have that kind of relationship? Haha, I had no idea.”
Miyanoshita-kun, with a dishonest smile on his face, slowly approached us.
I felt like I was about to scream, but Mashima-kun protected me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder.
My face turned crimson again, and someone from Kamimura Highschool students whistled.
“Don’t get closer; she looks scared.”
“You told me not to get closer… Come on, it’s been a while since we met, we were just here to greet you; we weren’t planning to do anything.”
“Fine then, you don’t want to interfere, but let me tell you this: spreading that picture won’t accomplish anything.”
“Don’t underestimate the small world of Kamimura. Among the regulars at Snackbar ‘Leo’, there are even teachers from Kamimura Highschool. The fact that my guardian is Kaoru Mashima, the owner of Snackbar ‘Leo’, has been widely known for a long time.”
Miyanoshita-kun’s fake smile contorted for a moment as he stood in front of Mashima-kun, but he quickly corrected it.
“…No, that’s fine. I told you, just greetings. Oh, by the way, I haven’t greeted you yet.”
“I see, you’re right; greetings are important. I apologize for being so rude; you haven’t changed…”
Mashima-kun was about to make a very formal greeting, but something unexpected happened. Miyanoshita-kun’s smile turned menacing in an instant, and he raised his fist toward Mashima-kun.
I called his name in shock. However, his fist didn’t hit Mashima-kun’s face.
…It swished through the air harmlessly, and I had no idea what had just transpired.
Mashima-kun had grabbed Miyanoshita-kun’s attacking arm, and in the next moment, Miyanoshita-kun was pinned to the asphalt.
He appeared to have no understanding of what had just happened, staring up at Mashima-kun.
To this, Mashima-kun responded calmly.
“Thanks to you, I learned not to hit people, so I quit karate and have been waking up early every morning to practice Aikido at a nearby dojo. Anyway, have you finished your greetings?”
As Miyanoshita-kun was held down, there was an unpleasant “snap, crackle, and pop” sound from his b****t pocket and the asphalt.
Miyanoshita-kun began to cry quietly.