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Not passing people nor cars, Banri ran as if struggling through the quiet pre-dawn streets.
The sky was still dark.
Clouds covering half the sky, the shadows were jet black. The wind was blowing steadily, and from the other direction a pale blue light was just starting to spread. Clearly, the night seemed to be ending, he thought.
When Banri got on the first train, it was just after five in the morning.
NANA-senpai, Linda and Mitsuo were still at the live house, and were probably taking part in the after-party.
Umm, about the circumstances with Kouko.
...As for unpleasantness with Linda afterwards, there was none. Linda was frantically apologizing, saying "Sorry, sorry, sorry. I was a little drunk. I'm really sorry." She lowered her head to her junior, the still silent, paralyzed Kouko. To Banri, dressed in women's clothing, covering his cheeks like a girl drenched in sake and slapped. To the amused-seeming guests passing by.
NANA-senpai, who sensed trouble on the way, imposed herself and scattered the guests, pulled Linda over by the arm, and took her over by the counter.
Banri, seeing that quick action and seeing Kouko, returned to his senses. Taking the still standing Kouko's hand and pulling her into the back room, he somehow passed his room key to her.
I'm working right now, so there's nothing I can do, but because I really want to talk with you, I'd like you to wait at my place, he asked her calmly, begging her. Kouko didn't say anything; she just looked at the key clasped in her hand. The way she's looking at it, thought Banri, shivering.
But he couldn't wait for her answer, and Banri returned out to the hall once more, and yet going into the wet heat from before... no, the party had gotten yet more intense.
But now he seemed to have been unbound from the spell that had held him earlier.
In uproar just now, he had actually swallowed the gum, and the one here now was just Tada Banri. He was no longer the cool cross-dresser, on his everyday off-campus job. He was an ordinary student.
The mood and the excitement lost, silver tray in one hand, he returned to the simple work of getting people their drinks. Unable to talk with Linda after that, he was just waiting for quitting time. When Kouko had slapped him, it had struck him right on the wound on his lip, and his mouth tingled the whole time, giving him real pain.
His thoughts were only "What shall I do?"
He wondered what she thought of it all. His lie had been exposed. He'd been seen flirting with Linda. He'd given her his key. What should he do...
If Kouko went home in disgust of him, he would not be able to return to his own place.
But, being in disgust, being hated, being dumped even, was perhaps to be expected.
...Simply thinking of such matters made him depressed. Even being paid in cash under the table for the job, as the boss had promised, he thought that he may no longer even have a purpose for it.
And so, alone, without asking his friends to return with him, he changed his clothes in a hurry, washed his face roughly, and left the place. He headed off for the station running. The other people who got on the first train with him didn't pay special attention to the one young person riding with remnants of heavy makeup on his face.
Seating himself, he looked at his phone. There were more than sixty messages on it. Where are you now? Why aren't you answering? What are you doing? Are you okay...? He couldn't open any more of them. The incoming call log was filled to capacity, entirely by Kouko. Banri covered his face with both hands. He couldn't breathe out. He couldn't breathe at all.
Unable to contact him, Kouko was searching for him constantly from about ten o'clock onwards.
She left her house at midnight.
She arrived and found nobody home. That was at one in the morning.
Going around to Banri's usual haunts, from the area convenience stores, to the family restaurants, bars, Mitsuo's place, around school... she went here and there, searching all over, and having went everywhere once she arrived at the live house a bit after three thirty in the morning.
In high heels and a one piece dress, in a state of total panic, alone, Kouko was running around the center of Tokyo. Searching for signs of the vanished liar Banri.
She seemed to have thought he might have had an accident, or he'd suddenly gotten sick, and was fallen somewhere. Her messages got really choppy. Because I'm coming now! Because you will be fine! Because I will absolutely find you! ---Pushing back his forelocks, Banri had nothing to say.
He was to blame.
Kouko had been clinging to him, not giving him the impression she was strong, and while he knew she was a person who would jump to conclusions, he had lied to her, and made as if to break contact with her.
And having done that, he was discovered at last, working hard in a fun job with Linda. Even though Kouko had hated him doing such a thing.
And then, what he had done with Linda...
He felt there was no excuse for what he said, nor for what he thought. He simply accepted all that Kouko felt and wished for.
Finally arriving at his own station, exiting the ticket gate, Banri ran once more. Bursting into his own apartment room, which he might have left unlocked,
Kouko was sitting there by herself in the quiet, pre-dawn darkness.
Not fiddling with her cell-phone, truly vacantly, without even crying.
"Kaga-san, err... really..."
While Banri frantically searched for the words to say, he removed his shoes, as if kicking them off. Coming into the room, he sat down at Kouko's side as if collapsing. Calming his heaving breath, squeezing his gasping throat, somehow trying to utter a single word of apology,
"I'm sorry for tossing sake at you. For hitting you too. Even though your wound wasn't healed yet. I'm sorry."
Kouko beat him to the punch.
"...Even though I wanted to be a 'good girl' and not do such things, I messed up. Of course I did. ...Whatever I've done, I've messed up."
Kouko had blamed herself.
As if his guts were being caught hold of, Banri couldn't say anything, still gasping for air. Though he should have been prepared, the dread of the situation suddenly clogged his throat.
He saw it clearly.
The beloved person he had thought to gain, he was in the process of losing. Now.
Already, that person didn't like him. She would never show him a smile again. She wouldn't search him out. She wouldn't ask for him.
He was no longer to be found inside of her.
I have disappeared. No matter where you look, I've vanished.
"...I'm very sorry! Really, I am! ...Sorry...!"
In a poze as if prostrating himself, Banri, still seated by Kouko's side, bowed his head over and over again.
"I wanted to take you to the beach. No matter what. I wanted to look like a proper boyfriend, not be treated, but to look cool. No matter what, no matter what, I wanted to have money. And so, I lied to you and worked a job in secret. I didn't know I'd be with Linda-senpai. But together, acting as if we were a couple, things got exciting and strange, and we stuck together for the sake of the guests. That's all it was, really. I'm sorry for making you worry. And for lying. Really, truly, I am sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry..."
Over and over again, he desperately bowed his head. Over and over again, the sound of his forehead against the floor lifted into the air.
About to lose her in reality, he was more desperate than he thought. He didn't feel there was no way. He couldn't just give up. It was like his brain had caught on fire, thinking about whether there was any way things could work out, or there was any way he could be forgiven. If he could be forgiven, what should he do, his voice shook. His hands, flat on the floor, shook too.
After all that had happened.
He understood it.
But, he was scared of it.
He had no choice but to be scared, really scared. It was more than he could bear.
If he could be relied on, he wanted to be relied on. He didn't want to think about vanishing from Kouko's life. It was as if he himself had disappeared. It was as if it had all come to nothing. Doing so, becoming empty, everything, everything would be lost completely. Again. So somehow, because I'll do anything, I'll say anything, so I'm asking you, please, please...
Kouko stayed quiet for a while longer, and then finally,
He understood it to be a sign she was trying to say something. Banri, like an animal, lifted his eyes quickly and looked at Kouko's face. Kouko, opening her mouth once,
Saying that much she closed her mouth again, once more silent. She made a strange face, as if testing the flavor of something held in her mouth, twice, three times, tilting her head to the side, trying to smile,
A small noise sounding from her throat, she fell silent again.
She closed her eyes.
She took a couple of breaths of if counting, and opened her eyes. She looked at Banri. And then,
"That much, you said."
She formed her lips into the shape of a smile, but they trembled slightly.
"...I hate it... when you lie...!"
Before Banri's eyes, Kouko's white finger pointed to one corner of the room.
Understanding what she meant, Banri gasped.
What Kouko was pointing at: the cheap box that did duty as his bookshelf. The place from which the picture had suddenly disappeared.
Kouko had seen it, of course.
And then she'd kept quiet the whole time.
She'd waited the whole time, quietly, for Banri to say something.
Banri was practically dumbfounded, his eyes opened wide, as he enumerated the things he had given to Kouko: betrayals, disappointments, lies, deceptions... He so wanted her to be happy, so wanted her to smile, that he could say anything.
But what in the world would she do? Would it be at all right to have confidence in him, in such a lowlife saying such things to her?
"...About, Linda, sempai,"
He squeezed it out of his throat.
As she listened to Banri's voice, Kouko didn't even move.
"Before I lost my memories, we were classmates. Of the same high school, in the same class, in the same running club, we were friends. ...I had completely forgotten her, and didn't know her at all, encountering her purely by chance. Linda, of course, recognized me at once, but she pretended for a long time not to, and played the part of senpai toward me."
His voice betrayed the state of his heart, and it wasn't a pretty sight.
Nevertheless, he spoke. He couldn't help it.
Kouko, her body not moving,
"Didn't you tell me...?"
She asked, as if whispering.
"...Because I didn't want you to know. Before I lost my memories, I loved Linda. I didn't want you to realize that."
Not turning on the lights, amidst the darkness, Kouko remained in a seated posture. Sitting cross-legged, she looked vacantly at Banri's face.
Her eyes blinked slowly.
"...That, in other words, is because... I am an annoying kind of woman...? Or at any rate because you thought I was noisy, fussy and bothersome...?"
"No. It was because I felt guilty."
He could no longer lie to this person.
He could not have secrets.
If there was anything he could offer her, it was honesty. Only that, Banri thought. Already, he had nothing but that left to give. And so, he kept on talking.
"There was a moment when my memories returned."
"...Eh...? Wha, what...?"
"Suddenly, like a flashback, there was nothing I could do about it. There was a moment like a storm, where my soul, my very life shouted out, crying 'I want to return to where Linda is.'"
Banri realized that for the first time, she was lost for words.
For several seconds Kouko was speechless, her body curved backwards as if she were taken aback, and then,
"...Why, did... you tell me about that...!?"
Crack, her head snapped forward like that of a doll whose head had been pulled backwards.
Her beautiful face all mussed up, tears flowed from beneath her eyelashes and down her cheeks. From lips twisted as if her teeth were clenched, they fell to the floor.
"But I wanted to become a good girlfriend...! Even when I saw the picture, I thought I should wait for you to say something to me! I already thought I should stop pushing you for an answer, and stop acting insecure! I thought I should try to calm myself down, see things in a good way and become less annoying! I really tried hard...! I did! I did my best! But, but, if you told me about it, wha, what should I do!? And look already, everything's no good, everything turned out bad, it's like this...! It's turned out like this! Now what am I going to do? I hate this, I hate it! I can't stand it anymore!"
Striking the floor with both her hands, Kouko's crying voice, gone hoarse, had become practically a shriek.
Even though Banri was quivering to be able to jump over and touch her shoulder, he could not. Not even though he was shaking violently up and down. Already, he could not even apologize.
"Wh, why!? Why'd you say it!? Hey, why, why!? Why, why did you tell me that!?"
"...I want to be,"
Unable to draw closer to her as things were, Banri could do no more than speak the truth.
"honest with you."
"I didn't want to know!"
She threw her words, like a scream, sharp and pointed.
He wondered what would come of this, of those last words.
He prepared for Kouko to stand up, for this to be their last time together. She would leave his room as things were, leave altogether and never return again. So he thought.
Instead, the standing Kouko fell to her knees as if she'd thrown herself down, bumping quite harshly, and clung to the still seated Banri's neck.
Leaning her entire weight against the shocked Banri's body, she pressed her sobbing face against his neck.
Banri could not say anything to the heat of her cheeks, and closed both his eyes tightly.
Her tear moistened, trembling lips,
"Tada-kun, you are a storm... like a storm, you stir up my heart."
So murmuring, her tears falling once more, she heaved with sobs, but never once let go of him. The hands that encircled Banri's head held tightly to the back of his T-shirt.
He wondered whether it was okay to touch her slender body. In spite of his hesitation, Banri wrapped both his arms around Kouko's back. As if she were relieved, Kouko's crying voice, like that of a child's, became less shrill.
"Can you forgive me...?"
"I've already forgotten it."
Raising her tear-dampened face, Kouko gazed back at Banri's eyes. Letting a sigh escape from her half-opened lips,
"...Please. Forget about the past. I am good with that much. I only wish one thing from you, only that. ...So... please..."
She was waiting for Banri's answer.
Kouko's wet eyes shook forlornly, blinking, sparkling like two stars in the evening sky.
"...I understand. I will do that."
He promised her.
On Kouko's crying face, her makeup running, at last, slowly, a soft smile spread out. Kouko's stars twinkled and gently whispered that she believed in such a man, somebody like Tada Banri.
---Even though she knew that it was not something he had any control over. Even though again, up to this point, he had been a man accumulating lies, and promises that he could not keep.
He held Kouko tightly, over his shoulder. Only Banri kept his eyes open in the dark. He could not see anything moving, anything living from there. Nobody else, nothing but the empty room was reflected in his eyes.
The day of their first encounter. Mitsuo had pointed at Kouko and called her "a disaster." And now, Banri thought.
As far as Kouko was concerned, he himself was a disaster. In truth, he was an outrageous trouble-maker. Bringing people troubles, causing them pain, he was plainly a spirit of misfortune.
Finding a woman, drawing closer to her, and then, like this, catching her and wounding her...
"...Tada-kun, from now on, may I call you 'Banri'?"
"Yes, that's okay."
"Tada-ku... Banri, could you call me 'Kouko'?"
"Yes, that's okay, ...Kouko."
"I love you. ...How it turned out like this, I have no idea. But, I love you. I really do."
Somebody like me.
It was something he wanted to ask, but he kept his mouth shut. Asking it would have no meaning. However sweet the answer he might get from Kouko, there was no way he could believe it.
Because he more than anybody knew his own value, the harm his own existance was doing and the weight of his evil influence.
"...And I love you too. I'm truly sorry. ...Completely. Sorry. I am very sorry."
Hmph, smiling gently, Kouko moved her body away, holding on to Banri's hand.
She wrapped her own cheek with Banri's hand.
"...My face looks awful, doesn't it? Don't I look ugly?"
"No, you're fine. Look at me: I just realized I didn't clean off my makeup very well. It looks like the foundation smeared. There's a lot of color around my eyes."
"You're right. It's gotten dark under your eyes."
"Oh, me too? It's been itching strangely since a little while ago..."
He could just feel her kiss.
Kouko had had to lean forward in order to kiss him.
Her cheek still wrapped in Banri's hand, Kouko looked downwards. Eyes closed, she softly held her breath. And then, her eyes, hidden by her eyelashes, shook, and unable to look into Banri's eyes still,
"...When morning comes, couldn't we go buy some makeup remover? I'm thinking, maybe... it's something we can do... while I'm staying here in this room..."
That's what she's thinking.
She is saying she wants to be here until the morning.
By staying here in my room, she's saying she wants us to have a relationship from now on.
Without stirring, she waited. Her long eyelashes, the mascara melted by her tears, trembled at Banri's movement.
Banri, almost by reflex, pulled his hand away from the soft feeling wrapped about its back.
As if in shock, Kouko's eyes opened wide,
(Look, Tada Banri. Your hands...)
Banri could not look at the back of his hand, nor even breathe.
(Just from hiding what you've done in hurting Kaga Kouko, your hands must be filthy.)
...Oh, that's right.
Her voice choking up, Kouko once more clasped Banri's hand tightly. She entwined her fingers with his, squeezing them hard.
"Hey, I've been worried. ...Do you understand? Will you, understand me?"
Raising her face and looking into Banri's eyes, her voice shook once more as if she were crying.
"No matter what, I worry... there is nothing else but you and me. The time we have together is not enough. What we experience doesn't suffice. Not the memories. ...Not even the pictures."
Once, she took his fingers back and held them tight, but Banri softly separated her hands from his.
Doing so, he gently returned Kouko's hands to her lap, overlapping each other. As if it were clearly and easily understood that he did not wish to touch her more than this, he pulled back just a little from her.
With a sad looking face, like an abandoned child, Kouko stared at Banri in blank amazement,
"In that case, let's go take a picture. Now. Right away, even. Any time. A picture of you and me; I want that. Let's start over from there, the two of us."
Banri smiled at her. He intended to vow to her that he would put all he had into it.
He, Tada Banri, would never hurt Kaga Kouko again. For that reason, he would move on, shredding all of his doubts and past with these hands.
Past, present, future, everything for the sake of Kaga Kouko's happiness rather than his own.
"So there's no need to hurry. Because I've disappointed you, I don't want to push you unreasonably."
In a little bit, Kouko nodded.
On the other side of the curtains a pale blue light was showing. It must be dawn, thought Banri.
This night was ended and once more morning was arriving.
* * *
While waiting for Linda in the early afternoon by the station's ticket gate, Banri looked at a picture.
You could say it was certain proof that his high-school self and Linda had lived at the same moment.
With his thumb, he gently traced his own smile. The laughing Linda next to him, this time, was loved to death. ...That, by me.
I feel sure. That was me, he said to himself.
Gently putting the photo away in his bag's pocket, he raised his healed face and,
It was Linda herself, running up the steps and waving towards him. Indeed, dressed like back home in a simple T-shirt and cargo pants, her sandals clacking,
"You waited? I mean... I mean... really! Sorry! Sorry about that!"
As she approached, out of breath, she brought both hands together in front of her where he could see them. And then,
"I was drunk last night, really! What am I going to do already... I got Kouko-chan mad, and I can't blame her... really, I'm seriously... the worst..."
Still looking down as hard as she could, she hung her head as if heartbroken. Shaking his head as he stepped towards her, the flustered Banri,
"No! Please don't worry like that! Kouko's already okay!"
Playing around, he gave her the thumbs up. But Linda neither saw it nor smiled for him.
"If she's okay, then why this talk...?"
"Well, umm, well... lots of stuff."
This morning he'd sent a message to Linda: "About yesterday, there are a few things I'd like to talk about, so would it be all right if I met you at your place?" And then Banri, by himself, had gone to the town where Linda lived.
Transfering at the first station, he took the first train. And then, he went inside the first station. He was meeting Linda in a place he wasn't familiar with, with only one lonely little shop there.
All he'd said to Kouko was that Linda-senpai was going to talk with him. So he'd asked, "Would you return the photo to me?" All he asked of her was the photo she had brought with her. Right now she was in Banri's room, waiting for Banri to return.
"For now, why don't we go into a store?"
"There aren't any stores around here. ...It can't be helped, shall we walk?"
Linda turned towards the sign for the north entrance. She went down the stairs and Banri followed behind. Descending from the raised structure and exiting the turnstiles, he got his first view of the town.
The small station was alongside a private rail line.
Thinking back on when he was in the train, it was very much the countryside. It was really hard for him to believe that this, too, was Tokyo. Banri wondered if it was because it was much further from the city center than where he lived, with the ‘hustle and bustle' of an impersonal residential area, but then there was that faintly manure smell that hung in the air. Perhaps he was close to some farm fields. Banri found it surprising, but he missed that a little. Even by himself like this, it felt like something he missed: Shimada Town and home, the smell of tea plantations stretching all the way to the forests on the mountain slopes, faintly mixed with that of gasoline and machine oil, just like back home.
While they looked around restlessly, they came out from under the eaves of the station. Suddenly and spontaneously they both shouted out loud. The intense, violent sunlight of full summer rushed down over their entire bodies like a flame.
Without tall buildings, the sky was broad, and right in front of the station was a row of single houses. They certainly didn't seem adequate to be stores.
Banri followed behind Linda as they walked down a sidewalk. A row of unusually wide-spaced and large trees went along the road as far as he could see. As if picking a path under the shadow of the broad and thick trees, they finally came out by the riverside.
Undergrowth hiding its banks, the river flowed full.
The water smelled of summer, with a slight fishy aroma.
At the riverbank in the middle of the day, there were the shapes of people scattered here and there. People walking their dogs. People taking their kids for a walk. There were people jogging, and old people deep in conversation. Every last one of them was wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella, protecting themselves from the July sunlight.
Linda too, wearing a raw cotton hat,
"...Well then. Shall we hear your story? What's going on? Did anything happen?"
She turned towards Banri.
On pavement so hot you'd be burnt if you touched it, there were two sharp black shadows.
He wondered if what they planted there on the wide riverbank was cherry trees. A strong wind raised a great rustling noise, sliding over the water's surface and through the thick branches and leaves.
As if they were scared, or stirred up with a strange anxiety, the creaking of the branches and trunks reached even to Banri's ears.
"It's like the old days."
Linda's brown eyes were dazzling, but seemed to be narrowed.
"...You said that in the old days, we weren't dating each other."
"Yes, that's right."
"I loved you. But, senpai, ...Linda, you didn't love me. That's what it looks like."
Linda held down her hat with one hand to ensure it wouldn't fly away, but she quite clearly nodded.
"That's right. In the emotional sense, so it seems. You were a friend, but there wasn't love. I, did not, love you."
He pulled the photo out from the pocket of his bag.
Speaking inside himself, Banri asked 'Did you hear that right?' to his smiling self in the picture. 'That's what I wanted you to hear clearly.'
However strongly you feel about it, however much you want to go back, there's no turning back.
Linda said she "doesn't like" you.
So give it up already.
Do me the favor of dying.
He tried to tear apart the photo in one go, but no matter what he did, his fingers didn't have the strength. He grasped it in both hands like an idiot, took several deep breaths, and yet those hands wouldn't move for him.
In front of Linda, Banri hung his head, powerless.
...I'm asking you, so disappear for me. No way, no way, no way. Somehow, I'm begging you. No way, no way, no way. Please cease to exist. No way. Make the pain in my heart go away.
I love Linda.
He wanted to be by Linda's side. He wanted to be laughing with her always. He would be glad to be with Linda only. Without Linda there, he didn't want to do anything. Living without joy, without happiness, nor anything else, Banri simply continued searching for Linda. Always. Truly, always, a long time. However far away they were separated. Even if his voice could no longer reach her. He was always searching for her. He wanted to go back. He wanted to find her.
But, he couldn't help that they were only one-sided feelings.
Then he even hurt Kaga Kouko.
The strength fled from his shaking hands. The picture slipped from them, the wind on the verge of carrying it away, when Linda's white fingers grabbed it in mid-air.
"...Tada, Banri... you, are you okay?"
"...I owe you a lot for all you have done. Thank you very much for up to now."
Desperately, Banri looked up.
Having lost the photo, his two hands were not yet motionless, shaking but steadying up. Even so, he thought he should be able to smile.
But there was nothing to be seen. There was nothing to be heard. Neither did his head have what he should say.
"From now on, say that in the past we were acquaintances, that we never had a relationship. Of course, if this or that is said, it will be from stress. I don't want us talking about my amnesia. After all, those are things I can't even remember. And so, thank you for the attention you have paid to me. I would like to say farewell to my past. I want to make it entirely not there. And so,"
'No way, no way!' screamed his emotions, as if they were coiling about him.
As the words exploded in his thoughts, Banri tore at them. So tossing them away, he was determined not to look back again.
"So, from now on we are simply senpai and kouhai over in the club. No don't need to pay any attention to me at all. As for me, of course, after all, will not think any different."
Standing up like this, continuing to flap his jaws, was the best he could do.
He could not look at Linda's expression. He could not think about his emotions. Banri was doing nothing less than tearing off and throwing away part of his heart.
It's bleeding, he thought.
It was his own flesh, certainly.
The remnants of his feelings towards Linda that were brought back to life that night, they really were of the substance that formed the human called Tada Banri. It was clearly part of himself. It was flesh.
Naturally, it was torn, and hurt. Not uttering his pain, Banri thought of Kouko. The face of the lover which he must not hurt.
Before his eyes, the face of the person he loved before.
Though he had been rude, he should not have hurt her. Clinging to such thoughts, Banri continued to move his mouth in a daze.
...But, Linda did not love him. And because of that,
"I mean, the truth, frankly, is that Kouko is a little concerned about you. I want to take proper care of her, and set a clear distance between us. I'm sorry an idiotic remark I made has turned into such an incredible misunderstanding..."
While the blood that nobody could see gushed from his heart, Banri laughed for show. The wound on his still unhealed lip hurt.
"...It's all right."
"It's okay. I understand."
Holding the photo one-handed in the wind, holding down her hat with that hand, under the mid-summer brightness, she listened to Banri's words.
Hidden by the hat's visor, her eyes could not be seen.
Only her lips, smiling.
"I understand perfectly. And so, yes. You're right. I think you need not worry about Kouko-chan worrying, nor I. And I think that's the way it should be."
Banri's was the voice that rose.
Forcefully, Linda ripped the photo in her hand in half.
And then in half again, and again.
More and more torn, into smaller and smaller pieces, the pieces of the photo began to flutter, dancing up from Linda's hand. And just like that, they were scattered in the wind.
The pieces disappeared just like that, flying somewhere far away. It was already impossible to recover them. Never again.
"It is better this way, Banri."
* * *
Startling him, those lips moved,
"I'm always backwards, Banri."
Still unable to even hand her the umbrella, he listened to Linda's voice.
She was probably cold, thoroughly chilled. That voice was shaking horribly.
The mid-winter's night raindrops wetting Linda's coat were half frozen, sparkling on the green cloth.
While he'd finished his duties as "Last Act", Linda had been freezing like this, waiting the whole time under the eaves by the door.
And then, now, she was squeezing the words out.
"...I don't fully understand why, but every now and then I am incredible idiot. Why is it that what I think and what I say are two different things entirely? ...I do it without thinking, headlong."
Those white cheeks,
"...Please forgive my idiot self."
Just like tears, the freezing rain drops followed them, falling.
When he saw that, it was at that moment.
His feet stepped out of their own volition, nothing to do with his own will. They broke into a run. Even though he had decided he should never forgive her, nor talk to her ever again, his body moved on its own. And then these hands,
"...I cannot forgive you. I will never, never like somebody like Linda."
He held out the umbrella over Linda.
Only the words that left his mouth were in accord with his intentions, but they were already a worthless structure even to himself, and probably even Linda knew that.
"I'm sorry. Really, I'm sorry, Banri...!"
Looking up at him from under the umbrella, Linda murmured with a desperate expression. Her mouth open as if gasping, she shivered, looking pale.
It was at that moment that the flames were kindled.
A fire caught within his heart.
"...Jeez. What kind of face are you making!?"
Joking as usual, he gave Linda a soft punch in the side. Acting as if they were going back to messing around, he said, "Enough! Let's go home!"
She doesn't love me.
If those words were a hasty reaction, then Linda, to me...
Jeez, he thought, shaking his head from side to side as he walked. There's no way. You can't take it that far. Even he knew the difference in nuance between "It's not that I don't like you" and "I like you".
But, there just might be, a little bit there.
...He might have a hope, a possibility, or something like it.
We might, after this, may one way or another come to be. With Linda by my side, under a single umbrella, looking down at her face, bearing the heat of the fire in his heart.
In that way, Linda and I had escaped the danger of their friendship breaking, and had managed make peace with each other.
As for me, I was horribly regretting that space of ten days.
If you knew perfectly when your days would end, if you knew the limit of your time, then you wouldn't do such stubborn things. Even though one's time is limited, and though his own was getting smaller and smaller, he had completely wasted ten precious days.
Tada Banri is walking by himself.
I follow behind, silent.
I want to tell him, 'Look back at the shape of this me.' I know that this voice will not reach him when I try to speak anyhow. Even so, I want to tell him.
I'm covered with blood.
And then look back at yourself.
You're blood-stained too.
You're picking at your wounds with all your might, that's what you're doing. If you don't want to notice your wounds, then you should simply leave them alone. Just walk forward, not looking behind you, not seeing my standing self.
In the end, the day will come when you remember.
That day, of the time when it was lifted up from the riverbed, blood-stained, your own body. You lost everything, everything but a body wounded all over.
Then, and now too, you will see just how blood-stained you are.
* * *
"...You're posing again! I told you not to do it, it doesn't look natural!"
Banri burst into laughter spontaneously, and lowered the camera he'd gotten ready. His hands were shaking from the laughter, and in any case he wasn't the best at taking pictures.
"What? I wasn't posing, was I?"
"Yes you were!"
"I was not."
That said, once he'd gotten the camera ready, Kouko, of course, had one hand on her hip. And her legs crossed, her head tilted to one side, smiling for the camera. She had clearly decided to show herself too perfectly, like a model. Finding it funny, Banri, of course, had burst into laughter. Kouko seemed to be caught too, saying "What the...?" as she also broke into laughter.
In things like this, for quite a while now, even forever, it was as if Kouko didn't really want him to snap anything that felt natural, or indeed everyday.
The two of them were in Banri's apartment.
Kouko had brought the digital camera.
"I mean, it's because I know you're trying to make me, just me, the subject of the photos."
Kouko, who had been over by the wall, stepped over towards Banri, grabbed him by the arm, reached out to the hand that held the camera and pointed the lens towards the two of them. Setting their cheeks together,
"I want to take one of the two of us together. Look, ...there, smile!"
Because he wasn't used to it, he couldn't take a good self-portrait. Banri had gotten all nervous, gone shy, and in the end had laughed awkwardly.
Ready once more, the flash went off. Perhaps two smiling faces were finally captured.
Trying to be sure she was happy, nudging Kouko a little on the back, Banri,
"Hey, Kouko, why don't we take some outside? It looks hot, but the weather's nice."
He pointed out the window.
A summer's afternoon.
In the white sunlight there were lines of tree leaves, sparkling vividly. They brightened this moment, this now, with all their might.
I want to be in that scenery, laughing with Kouko, thought Banri.
Laughing, nodding like a child, Kouko headed for the door without even getting her bag. In the entrance, their shoes had been carelessly left behind, not having been set in order.
Amongst the scattered shoes, there was even a pair of flourescent yellow Nikes.
Scattered left and right facing the entrance, even now looking ready to fly out the door, they seemed like they wanted to go running.
Stepping carefully over all that, he stuffed his feet into his sandals.
"Banriii! Hurryyy!" He could hear the voice calling him by name.
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