Golden Time

By TAKEMIYA Yuyuko

Golden Time Volume 3 Prologue

Golden Time Volume 3 Prologue

Prologue[]

The eldest son of the Hayashida family, who Banri only knew of as "Ani", was already gone by the time he entered high school.

The Hayashida-san in his class who joined the running club with him was Linda, for short.

"Actually, that's my big brother," she said, pointing before her with a strangely sour looking face.

He was a volunteer who was subbing in for the coach of the soccer club which practises on the same field as the running club.

A graduate of Banri's high school, and an old member of the soccer club too, Ani was in those days a third-year student at a local college. It was unexpected that he was Linda's older brother, but even Banri has heard of him before. That coach, his voice strangely loud, shouted "Go Big!" and on that occasion seemed to be all seeing.

Faster than the rest, he came into sight around the dusty track dressed in an old jersey. Standing imposingly, he lay in wait as the soccer team, running double-time, gathered to him.

"Uvoi!"

He shouted at them one by one, as if his voice were bolts of lightning cast off by a sky-god. While he nodded, his chin drawn back, his eyes burning hotly, he clapped loudly with the palms of his big hands. The team members dutifully shouting back, "Avoi!", the group now slowly taking shape and running off as light-footed as ever. There was certainly a reason the soccer club had a tendency to be forever hoarse.

In that place, if there were girls calling out "My Boy!" (average fan-girls), there were also those saying "My Ball!" (the noisy ones), and there were even those shouting "Move it!" (the demon coach's fans). There were even a few who seemed to have fired themselves up so they could just shout "Oi! Oi!" (the punk rocker types).

His muscular silhouette was altogether Donkey Kong. All of Ani's body brought about the impression: his athletic body build, the thick feet characteristic of an experienced soccer player, even a certain monkey-like friendliness towards others. You couldn't say those looks were flattering, as if he were descended from gorillas. His slender younger sister Linda was almost exactly the opposite, the two of them never having resembled each other.

Eventually, Ani seemed to notice the gazes directed at him. While easily waving in our direction and showing a friendly smile, he deliberately shouted "Uvoi!", like a gun going off.

But Linda, not cutting him any slack for being her brother, frowned and complained "Hey, cut it out! It's embarrassing," flipping her long hair (done in a ponytail), and quickly turning the other way.

Without answering, he turned his "Uvoi!" gun to vainly fill the entire grounds with its roar. Not the giant, glove-like back of his hand, nor a covering smile, entirely got rid of that sad place.

Unable to sit still, Banri rushed in by himself, belatedly reacting to him. Flying before Ani, imitating, no, mimicking the members of the soccer club, he shouted "Avoi!" at the top of his lungs.

Ani took what he was hearing with a happy-looking face. He looked as happy as a gorilla spotting a banana in the forest. Banri knew that by the standards of wild animals, he was a lonely one. In the natural world, to be isolated from the herd was life threatening.

From then on, it got to where every time Ani and Banri ran into each other, they'd greet each other with shouts. Sometimes, punching each other in the shoulder, nearly smashing them, they'd call out in good-humor, "Hey, howya doing!?" and "Whatcha up to?", not really expecting an answer. Before long, it got to where Ani even shouted to Linda.

One day, Ani decided to find a job, and quit the coaching he'd done for two whole years.

---Well, that was all.

If he said so, then it really was all there was.

"Your brother is such a nice guy, I can't just watch and see him betrayed like this!"

It was a summer day, in their third year of high school.

Banri spoke forcefully, looking at Linda's profile crouched down next to him. Whether it was righteous indignation, or an equivalent feeling, Banri's voice was going high and hysterical. Even though he was merely acquainted with the matter, for Banri it was something he could not be quiet about.

On the road in the blazing sun, the two were playing detective like kids.

They were making themselves small, hiding in the gap between a telephone pole and some bushes. The hot rays of sunlight were shining down on their heads, putting at risk the preparations they had done for their college entrance exams. Nearly an hour had passed already.

Drops of sweat flowed steadily down from Linda's temples to her suntanned cheeks. Eyes wavering in concern, they fell to the shadows at her feet, not looking at Banri's face. Her lips moved slowly.

"I understand. But, calm down a little."

"What's with this?" Banri muttered to himself, quickly and roughly.

At first, it was Linda who suggested that there was something important they had to talk about. She said she might need his help.

That person is cheating on him. She's betrayed Ani. I won't allow it. Linda went on like that, her lips trembling.

He'd heard from Linda that they'd decided to get married after Ani had been working for a year. It was around the time of the summer rains, if he wasn't mistaken. He remembered standing next to Linda, talking while watching the raindrops paint arteries across the glass and the pale hydrangea blooming all over the schoolyard.

At that time, Banri blessed Ani from the bottom of his heart. He felt that she must have been quite the woman, to fall in love with and understand the goodness in that Ani. He heard the ceremony would be in the fall, when the colors were at their best, and he imagined that it would have surely been a magnificent day. Dancing on the brightly colored leaves under a deep blue sky, the couple would have celebrated a sort of youthful happiness. Thinking along those lines, even the chill of that day's rainfall was forgotten.

But this summer, Ani's fiancée betrayed him.

At another guy's suggestion, he had gone out to a part of town he didn't know so he could take the mock exam for a big-name college prep school when by chance he'd spotted Linda.

Linda said the photo she'd taken was proof. Jabbing the irrefutable evidence towards him, she said that she was going to tell everything to Ani and all their relatives on both sides, and get them to own up to their mistake. She said she had to stop a trainwreck. The engagement would be called off, of course. She said she wanted her to fall apart, living alone, branded as "a woman of questionable virtue" forevermore, unable to earn a living yet made to pay a settlement. Even speaking of wanting to brand a  on her forehead, it didn't sound like she was joking. Frankly, she's a little scary, Banri thought.

In spite of carrying on so much, Linda made Banri come along with her to the apartment where the cheating occurred. When Ani's fiancée, arm in arm with her boyfriend, was about to enter, she suddenly lowered her voice and aimed her cell-phone camera at them. They waited a bit, crouched down once more, unmoving.

At Banri's side, an aggravated Linda witnessed the scene of the crime. Indeed, the two who'd done it, this disgusting pair, had walked all over Ani and made a fool of him. The more he thought about it, the more he lost control over his anger. This is horrible, he thought. Isn't this a bit too much? Rather, Banri thought, if they were to somehow break into the apartment, certainly they'd be able to get pictures showing even more evidence of their infidelity. Would this be enough, he wondered, with only the photo of the filthy couple entering the apartment hand in hand?

In spite of that,

"...Hey. When they were walking arm-in-arm just now, did you take a shot with your cell-phone too?"

"I took one. I took it, but even so, somehow a more definitive shot..."

"Would you delete it for me?"

His mouth hanging open like an idiot, Banri looked back at Linda's face. Verifying that his hearing was fine, Linda opened up his cell-phone.

"Hold on!? Huh!? What're you doing!?"

Before he could stop her, she deleted the pictures they'd finally taken at the end of their stakeout.

"Sorry. I've changed my mind."

Linda finally looked up. She was so pale, her suntan seems to have faded,

"I will put on my 'adult mask'!"

Banri swallowed his retort at once.

He could not imagine what kind of changes had awakened in Linda's mind in these last few minutes. He couldn't understand at all, except that her expression looking back at him seemed cold.

'Adult mask'? What did that mean, specifically? He couldn't even ask her.

When the sound of heels descending the iron steps from the apartment reached their ears, Banri and Linda both gasped. Ani's fiancée was coming out alone. Her car was sitting right there in the parking space. Flashing, her keyholder swayed and jingled. As Banri sighed and thought about what to do, Linda stood up on her own.

"I'm going to go talk with her."

You wait here, she told him.

"Eh!? T-Talk about what!?"

"To tell her to stop doing these things already."

"Telling her... that she is living with a scarlet letter!?"

Without answering, Linda spun around in her summer uniform skirt and ran by herself over to the parking spot in front of the apartment. The fiancée, trying to get into her shiny silver Suzuki Wagon R, must have realized that Linda was getting closer to her. Who knows what she was feeling, frozen in place for a few seconds, expressionless, then giving an exaggerated laugh, "Whaat!? Ehehe!" When Linda said, "I'd like to talk with you inside the car," her face suddenly became frightened. Saying "Eh, you're wrong, your quite wrong! I can't right now!" she tried to return to the apartment. If Banri had not run up and stood in her way as if he were meditating, she would surely have gotten away then.

Carrying a large tote-bag, a beige cotton cap on her head, her arms covered by long driving gloves to protect against sunburn while driving, she was a rather ordinary woman.

She got into the car with Linda, and even Banri could see she was upset and had begun to cry. As if she were trying to get on Linda's good side, she was pushing playfully with both hands against Linda's shoulder in the passenger seat, leaning her body and drawing her face close, desperately arguing about something.

Banri turned his back to the situation, setting his butt against the hood of the car. He flinched from the burning hot metal plate, but dealing with it, stuffed his hands into his pants pockets.

In the apartment, on the second floor. The up until now tightly shut curtain moved, and he noticed that from an opening of a few centimeters, a guy was looking down on them.

It was the other guy they'd seen earlier. Banri could not tell his expression from the single eye peeking through the curtain.

Scary, he thought.

Besides that, the women in the car were scary. Though she was crying sorrowfully right now, could her personality suddenly change completely, into a fit of rage? He didn't know what would happen to him, nor to Linda. Because these people could casually do horrible things, what was common sense to most people might not apply here.

While under such fear, Banri nevertheless squared his shoulders firmly, sitting on his hot pockets. Exaggerating his movements on purpose, he crossed his legs, unconsciously tapping his feet, scowling, glaring, trying to seem a bit larger and adult-like, stronger, bracing himself to look more dangerous.

He was acting as Linda's bodyguard. Though it wasn't easy, for the time being. At the least, he needed to place himself between her and danger. Because of that, even though he was as nervous as could be, Banri desperately acted the tough guy.

As he was doing so, he thought, 'We condemn you.' We are blaming the woman completely, beyond any hope of redemption. You are the worst. We will be your ruin, will never forgive you, and are resolved to so condemn, rebuke, and sentence you to being tattooed with the scarlet letter.

However, going against Banri's thoughts, what he heard leaking out to him of Linda's voice retained its composure to the very last.

If you are still thinking you want to get married, then please don't do this kind of thing again. Because I forget. I beg of you, please stop already.

Trying repeatedly to ascertain if Ani's fiancée was only sobbing and nodding,

"Please calm down a little more before you drive. Be careful so you don't get in an accident."

In the end, she even got worried like that.

Linda having come down from the car, Banri rushed over to her in long strides and half-forced his arm around her shoulder. While they walked like that, snuggled up as if they were a pair of lovers,

"Absolutely don't look behind you. ...That guy was watching us the whole time."

"...Really? Sca..."

For some reason, Linda was laughing softly.

The shoulder he held was shaking.

Stiffening and going pale, Linda's face was like something out of a painting he'd seen in an art history textbook in middle school--- perhaps of Joanna the Mad. That one had been completely broken, a woman with the lights on but nobody home. He remembered it because it was a popular one to imitate for a while. To Banri it seemed just like that.

Just before leaving the parking spot, Banri carefully looked back over his shoulder. Inside the car Ani's fiancée was still crying, and the guy who had been looking down at them could no longer be seen. Even so, he was still scared, and until Banri had turned two corners, he kept his arm around Linda's shoulder.

Still keeping quiet, the two of them continued walking down the twilit street.

They wanted to get as far as away as they could from the place. Though she didn't say anything, he thought Linda must have been thinking the same thing. They kept moving along at a brisk pace, not looking back.

The asphalt released its heat to their feet, and from the distant mountains the cicadas cried. You couldn't compare it with mid-summer, when the wind was like a hair-dryer blowing on you, perhaps due to the angle of the sun. It was maybe even a little refreshing... maybe. In the warmth, the smell of the green grass of summer filled the air.

Nothing more was heard still as the two entered a convenience store, bought some drinks and sat down side by side on a parking lot bumper block.

Moistening their parched throats, they remained seated like that for a bit, and Linda finally spoke.

"...If I tell you to, stop it. Understood?"

Understood.

Not knowing right away whether he should go there, Banri simply looked over at Linda's face. Linda, bending her head back took another drink of her sparkling water, and, playing with the bottle in both hands and bursting the bubbles,

"...It was better than total destruction. I was pretending I didn't know anything about what was going on, and until now, things had been going along smoothly. I would have preferred that nothing had happened."

She gave something like an excuse.

Drinking down some of the cold uulong tea, gulping audibly, at long last Banri's voice came out.

"Was it, right?"

In the orange-tinted setting sun, dazzling her half-shut eyes, Linda was looking at the bubbles in her water. Why she was looking down and around at the ground as if she had dropped her sports bag, he had no idea. Answering that way, she put her drink bottle by her feet. She put her chin on her raised knees.

"...Because, but, I had thought I didn't want Ani to be wounded. In that place, I was ready to ‘put an end to all that' and then I... I was really afraid to make Ani sad..."

"That was for Ani's sake!?"

Clutching his plastic bottle so tightly it was collapsing, Banri, looking down at his own shoes, raised his voice.

"You thought that leaving it as it was and pretending not to know would really work out in Ani's favor!? After this, forever!? Would she become family!? Maybe even have kids!? That person as a sister, seeing her as your own older sister!? If your father or mother even saw,"

"Stop it!"

Letting out a cry, Linda put her face between her knees. Quite upset, she covered her hair and ears at the same time with her hands. The way you're told to brace yourself to survive the crash landing of an airplane. The position your body must take in order to survive being slapped down to the ground from however high it had climbed.

"Now, it's like what you said, I agree with you completely! I know! I might have made a mistake! But, it can't be helped, can it! What's done is done!"

Her body shaking as if in denial, Linda was messing up her long hair with her fingers.

"Be... besides, would it have done any good to be so strong...!?"

For certain, nothing would be accomplished by blaming Linda.

Returning to himself, Banri licked his lips. He drank another mouthful of uulong tea. He had not the right to say she had no choice. Linda chose her own course of action, and carried it out. Banri could not take responsibility for the results. It wasn't for him to judge.

Hmph, he thought. ---Speaking of wearing the mask of adult, in short, he wondered what he should say. It was not for him to judge. Having gone along, he had to hold his tongue.

However, underneath that so-called mask, a real face is hidden beneath. He wondered if beneath the mask Linda, after all, still had the face that cried "Tattoo her!" The face she decided to show to no-one.

"...Sorry. I've said too much."

Linda might be crying. A single person carrying the burden of guilt, she may be stricken with grief. Once more calling her, he repeated over and over 'Linda, I'm really sorry', yet she didn't so much as twitch. Almost as if she were moaning, she answered in a feeble voice.

"I've... really made a mess. From now on, I wonder, will I be able to stand it? Ani will live under a deception. And now I am a lying collaborator. I've become a perpetrator. What will I do? What should I do? This is bad. I made a mistake, I did. What will I do? What will I do...?"

"I,"

Banri breathed in, staring at the tense muscles of the back of Linda's neck as he spoke.

"...As for me, I saw... all that. And so, you need not suffer by yourself. Though I may not be reliable, though there may be nothing I can do, but I am there too. I will always be by your side."

He watched constantly. He watched closely. What Linda thought and what she did, what she mourned, what she did wrong, what she took upon herself. Unable to even share it,

"I absolutely will, because I won't forget."

I will be by your side.

That muttered, the next instant, Linda reached out her hand for the bag Banri had under his arm. Taking it and sticking her face in the bag where his dirty jersey had been stuffed,

"Aaa~~~~~~~~!"

Linda shouted.

Her voice loud and tight, her body shaking, she was screaming. Banri's jersey, dirty with dust and sweat, swallowed up the outcry.

It's okay, said Banri, watching.

What you did is okay.

Shouting is okay. Crying is okay. Linda, you are not alone. I'm right there. Right there, always watching, listening, reacting, remembering for you. Banri again took a deep breath, and squeezed out his voice.

"When you want to shout, when you want to cry, I will always be there by your side. I'll be there with you, sharing the same feelings. Even if it's troublesome, wherever it might be, I will absolutely find you."

"...How will you do that?"

"'How will I do it'... that, I will do whatever it takes. I will always be listening carefully for your voice. When the rain is falling, the wind blowing, the flowers petals fluttering or the shadows looming... whatever may be happening, I will search out your voice. That I will do, I promise you."

You aren't alone. Nobody else knows your hidden grief, your doubts nor your faults. I am here. I know. That is how I want it to be. So felt Banri from the bottom of his heart.

Banri's hand was unexpectedly touched by Linda's little finger as she slowly lowered it. Unable yet to take hold of it, Banri simply, quietly stayed where the fingertip could touch.

It seemed pretty clear that he really loved Linda.

His chest suddenly grew heavy, as if his hot consciousness were seeping down into it.

It would be fun to be together. It wasn't simply that, there were so many more things he wanted to share. Having wished for that, already he could not stop himself. Linda's fingertip still touched him. If she had noticed, if she moved even a little, it seemed as if all would be broken. Even breathing was scary.

"...Really?"

Where they touched, was becoming like a heart itself. Aching hotly, it throbbed painfully.

Linda's voice repeated 'Really? Really? Really?', trembling without knowing it, her sighs ending.

"...Should I believe you?"

Linda raised her face. Not looking at her face, his voice still not coming out, Banri nodded nervously. To be honest, at that moment he still thought he wanted to ensure an escape route, so that if it wouldn't work, then they could return to being 'ordinary friends'.

He should have looked beforehand. He should have said something. He should have thought about such security.

He should have looked into her eyes and answered her perfectly. If he had done like that, at that time, it might have later developed into something different.

However, it was somewhat later when Banri had those thoughts.

Because her hand had gone beyond reach. Because Ani's problems, the blue and purple hydrangea flowers the two of them saw, the oppressive smells of mid-summer and the dreamily beautiful blue skies of autumn... all was forgotten completely. Because the two of them were separated, and there was nothing they could do about it.