“She’s… not here.”
“Nothing, I just thought she might be lying in wait for me here. The girl I told you about yesterday.”
Yasuo was surveying the surroundings of his prep school from a nearby parking lot, but he couldn’t see Tatewaki Shouko anywhere as of now.
“Really, do you think anyone would go out of their way to talk to a cold-hearted ex-classmate who didn’t even remember their name, the day after that person’s friend attempted to attack them in the street?”
This must be what it meant to rub salt onto a wound.
“Well, the only thing you can do is to apologise profusely the next time you see her, and request her not to make an issue out of it at the prep school. I do feel sorry that this incident was caused due the troubles belonging to me and your father, though.”
After saying that, his mother continued to speak.
“If it has already become a problem at the prep school, give me a call. I’ll take the responsibility.”
“Mom, I thought you came with me to protect me from the Shii?”
“As a mother, I think it’s more appropriate for me to protect you from a scandal, instead of otherworld monsters.”
That was certainly true, but she still had the nerve to say something like that after all that had happened?
“Neither I nor your father want your future, or Nodoka’s, to be affected due to the stuff we did all those years ago. I will protect your good name, even if I have to summon Diana-chan’s guardians, Erize and Alex, to apologize to the teachers at the prep school and that person called Tatewaki-san.”
Could there ever be a more prosaic summoning than that?
Yasuo couldn’t imagine a magician and knight who had helped to save a world, bowing their heads and apologizing to the teachers and parents.
“They’re trying to rely on your father after all this time, so asking them to do at least that much should be okay.”
“I’m not sure it works that way.”
“To a certain extent, parents are responsible for the blunders of their children, after all.”
“…Just to make things clear, I just couldn’t recall who Tatewaki-san was at that time. I didn’t do anything else, okay?”
Yasuo wasn’t sure if his mother was saying that to lighten his burden or make him anxious, so he shot a sharp glance at her, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“You should understand by now that the people who fought beside the undefeatable hero and saved a world in the past are now prepared to protect you with all their might, so hurry up and go.”
After saying that, his mother got back in the driver’s seat of the car, and spoke to him with a serious expression.
“I don’t have any right to tell you this, but still…”
His mother spoke while looking in the direction of the prep school.
“I want to keep the number of casualties as low as possible. The fewer the people who know about your father and Ante Lande, the better. I already told Diana-chan about this last night, so I’m counting on you as well. Do your best to explain away Dina-chan’s presence and the ‘Gas Explosion’ incident, and if anything strange happens, run away at once and give me a call, okay?”
After remaining silent for a while, Yasuo gave a small nod.
“I’m not going to tell anyone about all of this, and no one would believe me if I did. Besides, I’m scared of that shadow as well, if it appears again, I’ll be sure to run away immediately.”
“…You’re right. I’m sorry.”
After being sent off by his mother who had a slightly sad expression on her face, Yasuo headed straight for the prep school. He hesitantly entered, but the teacher in charge of him didn’t appear to confront him, and he also didn’t see Tatewaki Shouko in the lounge space.
After finishing one of the lessons, he again came to take a look in the lounge space, but he still didn’t see her anywhere.
“Maybe she didn’t come to school today? Well, maybe she just didn’t have any lessons today.”
While musing about that, he looked outside the school, and saw the car with his mother waiting in the darkness.
After being somewhat reassured by that sight, Yasuo berated himself.
“Feeling safe after seeing my mother, what am I, a kid?”
Apparently, Yasuo was the type of child who could not go alone to the toilet at night until the second year of elementary school. Although he didn’t remember such an embarrassing experience, he did remember that he was afraid of darkness.
Just what had he been afraid of in those days? He got the impression that it was not something concrete like the demons and evil spirits that appeared in horror stories.
The fear of the unknown.
You could see things during the day, but it was different at night.
When he was little, he rarely felt the sensation of “night” when he was at home. The Kenzaki family did not have any strict rules, but he would hardly ever stay awake beyond 10:00 PM.
When was it that he stopped feeling an unexplainable fear of the darkness?
When was it that he began to fear that something was lurking in the shadows?
“You’re spacing off again in such a place.”
That girl spoke as if she was waiting for this moment, and Yasuo heard a familiar voice, but he still couldn’t link that to her appearance.
He was a little startled, but indeed, the voice belonged to the girl called Tatewaki Shouko.
“Yes, I am. What, were you trying to hide from me?”
She said that in a slightly teasing manner, but then smiled and pointed in a particular direction.
“I was talking to Kobayashi-sensei until now. I wanted to change my curriculum.”
“Is that related to your plans for your future studies?”
What Shouko was pointing to was a booth used for interviews. There are cases when a student, for whatever reason, is unable to progress satisfactorily in their lessons. In such cases, forcing them to continue with the curriculum is a waste of time. In order to prevent that, the student counselling room was often used to talk to the student alone, or along with their parents, about their plans for the future.
Although it was called “private”, the interview was not carried out in a private room. Instead, the space was divided into several partitions like you’d see with the tellers at a bank, and it’s not an environment where the students and teachers are alone together.
In any case, there was no wonder he didn’t see her around the booths used for studying.
Looking towards that room, Yasuo saw that Kobayashi was looking out of the door and waving at Yasuo as well, but maybe he had another appointment, so he beckoned to another student who was waiting and went back inside.
“So, were you looking for me?”
At Shouko’s question, Yasuo nodded while looking a little embarrassed.
“Ah, yes. I wanted to apologize for yesterday.”
“Regarding that girl?”
“About that, and also the fact that I wasn’t able to remember who you were, Tatewaki-san.”
“Ah, I don’t really mind about that. Like I said yesterday, I’m aware that I have changed a lot compared to when I was in middle school.”
“I-I see… speaking of which, you were in casual clothes yesterday as well. Tatewaki-san, do you go to Sayamazawa High School, by any chance? ”
Sayamazawa High School was a school with a general education curriculum, but unlike the other public high schools in the neighborhood, it did not have a uniform. Most of the students attended prep school right after school was over, so a person who was in their casual clothes either went home to change before coming to prep school, or was from Sayamazawa High School.
“Yeah, I am. What about it?”
He didn’t have any particular answer to her question, as he assumed that she had waved away his apology and he was just trying to continue the conversation.
“Ah, it’s nothing. I was just thinking, Sayamazawa doesn’t have a uniform, right? I thought girls attached a lot of importance to their school uniforms.”
When he said that, Shouko immediately pointed a finger at him, and exclaimed:
“That’s exactly it!”
She nodded with a serious expression on her face.
“I picked that school because it doesn’t have a uniform. Also, it’s pretty close to my house.”
The thing about uniforms being important to girls was just Yasuo’s impression, and after hearing her say that so empathetically, he realized that it must be nice to wear whatever clothes you liked to school.
“You go to Takeoka, right? I’ve heard.”
If she had just said “I know”, he would have understood, but he felt compelled to ask since she had said she had heard about it from someone.
Although it made him recall his aloof personality, he didn’t have any contact with Tatewaki Shouko except for the time in middle school when they were in the same class, and even then, he didn’t think that they weren’t particularly close.
It was not possible that they had been close friends with shared interests, and in fact, Yasuo could not remember sharing any interests with her.
His experiences during his second year of middle school had been comparatively good, so there was the possibility that she had heard about him from one of their old classmates, or maybe even their class teacher, but even so, Yasuo could not think of any situation where Shouko would find out about Yasuo’s choice of school.
However, Shouko replied while also being slightly surprised,
“Even if you ask me that…”
She reacted as if wondering why she wouldn’t know about it. However, maybe she remembered something, so she said to Yasuo as if trying to confirm something,
“Yasu-kun, are you the type of person who doesn’t really talk to their parents at home?”
A few days ago, he might have denied it. However, judging by the fact that he had only found out about his parents’ important past three days ago, he could not deny that there was a lack of communication among members of the Kenzaki family.
Even if he had found out when he was younger that his father was hailed as a Hero in another world, that might have caused it’s own set of problems.
Taking his silence as affirmation, Shouko nodded as if understanding something.
“Well, I guess it can’t be helped. There are even guys in my class who call their mother ‘old hag’. We’re at that age in life when we don’t see eye-to-eye with our parents at all.”
There was a big difference between Yasuo and other people when it came to not seeing eye-to-eye with their parents, but he couldn’t deny that her statement was true.
So he gave a vague answer.
“I mean, even if I didn’t know, I would realize as soon as I saw this. Yasu-kun, are you possibly an airhead?”
Shoko was pointing all over Yasuo’s body with her finger, and at that point, Yasuo finally realized that he had come here directly from school.
He had left his bag in his booth, but his school’s name was sewn into the school’s crest on his blazer. Besides, a lot of students from Takeoka High School pass through Tokorozawa, so it wasn’t strange if people could identify the school just looking at the design of the uniform.
“…I feel like I keep embarrassing myself lately.”
Was he so unused to talking to girls, that he’d get flustered and even forget what he was wearing when he actually did talk to one? His embarrassment over a mistake that he would have never made under normal circumstances caused him to break out into an unpleasant sweat.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to be that depressed. It’s fine, you’re just being how you always were.”
A number of retorts flew through Yasuo’s mind, and maybe because Shouko sensed that, she returned to the original topic of the conversation.
“I first found out about your choice of school quite a long time ago. Maybe it was around the time when we graduated from middle school?”
That made sense. If it was around that time, maybe because of the tenuous connection they still had through the other students in school, she could have found out about what school he had selected.
“From my mother.”
Oh, come on. There’s no way that could happen. If it was from someone in the same grade, he could have still believed it, but why would Shouko’s mother know what school Yasuo had picked?
It was not even a case of their parents being friends. Even after the incident yesterday, when Diana was enduring her kneeling punishment, his mother only seemed to vaguely remember the last name ‘Tatewaki’, and didn’t act like she actually knew anyone by that name.
“You look like you have no idea what I’m talking about.”
It appeared that Shouko had the bad habit of enjoying his discomfort.
“Let’s see. I guess the easiest way to make you understand would be by bringing you over to my house.”
A girl’s house. That was a dimension that felt even farther away than Ante Lande.
Besides, since he had forgotten about her until yesterday, Yasuo felt like he was basically meeting Shouko for the first time. Going over to her house didn’t seem like a good idea, in more ways than one, and considering the situation with Diana and the Shii, it was not a good idea to move about randomly.
“But you know what, I feel like we’re meeting for the first time, so I don’t feel comfortable doing that either. Well, maybe we can save the rest of the ‘clearing the mystery episode’ for next week?”
So basically, he didn’t have to visit her house right now. However, Yasuo realized that there was a small part of him that had wanted to go, and he felt like holding his head in his hands at how shallow that part of him was. Was he actually an idiot?
“Judging by how you seem to be doing at Takeoka, you can pretty much pick whatever course you want in your future, right? I’ve heard that the deviation value has been rising lately.”
“Ah, I don’t really know. My grades at school aren’t all that great, so it depends on my efforts from now, I guess.”
It was true that in recent years, Takeoka High School had been gradually increasing their grade deviation and number of students who got accepted into college. However, that didn’t mean that all the students who enrolled there became exemplary.
In Yasuo’s case, he was still at the same position that he was during middle school. There was no fear of him failing, but there was probably no chance of him coming out on top either. In that way, he felt like his answer matched his current circumstances, but maybe Shouko took it as him being modest, so she just said, “I see”, and moved on to the next topic.
“So, Yasu-kun, is there anything you want to do after getting into college?”
“Something I want to do in college?”
He had just answered that he had yet to decide on his future course, so why was she asking about the same thing again?
“Like I said, I haven’t decided what college I want to join, and what course I should get into…”
While he was trying to repeat his earlier answer in a more clear way, Shouko shook her head for some reason.
“College and course? That’s not what I’m asking about. I’m asking what you want to do after getting into college.”
Weren’t they the same thing?
“Ahh, well, maybe you’re thinking about something like getting into law school and working towards becoming a lawyer, or getting into medical school and becoming a doctor. So, haven’t you considered anything else?”
“Like, drinking too much at a party and getting sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.”
“What kind of place do you think college is?”
Shouko’s example came so far out of left field that Yasuo unintentionally retorted to her statement.
However, he understood that she was asking about something that he couldn’t do while he was still a high school student who was preparing to take exams.
However, he didn’t even know what college he would be joining, so he had no idea what kind of things he would do once he enrolled there. That’s why. Yasuo said,
“As of now, I…”
He wanted to say “I have nothing I want to do”, but…
He wasn’t able to say it. Shouko kept staring at his face without changing her expression. For some reason, Yasuo felt like he saw a hint of concern in her gaze.
Why was he not able to say that there was nothing he wanted to do right now? He became a third-year student, joined prep school, and began to prepare for his college entrance exams only recently. Although he had undergone guidance counselling at school before, he only recently came to see it as something that would affect his life in the future.
And so, he was already in the spring of his third-year at high school. Before he realized it, he was already at the time when he couldn’t pick whatever college he wanted, but had to decide based on his results in the mock examinations. “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” was a phrase that was often repeated in his class. Yasuo had said it several times as well, and he had also heard it several times from his friends. However, at this moment, Yasuo didn’t know what the criteria to select that “best college” was.
Some college close to home? A college with a high standard of education? A college that had a high rate of its students getting employed? A college that was known for preparing students for any kind of difficult exams? A college where special research was carried out? A college that would let him live by himself?
He could select any option and give whatever reason he wanted, but if he did that, he felt like it would not be something he really wanted. It would just be something he heard about from someone else, and would just be an empty reason devoid of anything that he actually wanted to do.
It’s not that saying “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” made you a bad person, or one devoid of dreams.
However, Yasuo realized that saying those words now would mean that he could no longer convince himself otherwise about the things he wanted to hold dear.
He did not want to say that there was nothing he wanted to do right now.
However, even if he managed to hide his feelings and impress Shouko with a lie, it would not change the underlying issue.
Even though he had thought that college examinations were one of the biggest events of his life, he was shocked to realize that he had fallen into the pattern of thinking, “As long as I study, some college or another will accept me by next March.”
As long as he studied, he would pass the exam. In that case, why did he select a reason as flimsy as ‘exams’ to oppose his father going to Ante Lande?
His father and mother were currently faced with a decision where they had to weigh their family against Ante Lande, and that decision would affect the rest of their lives. Just how inconsequential were his feelings when he was giving his opinion to those people who were risking their very lives?
The way he was right now, he couldn’t even give a concrete opinion about his own future. Maybe his father had sensed that, and that’s why he refused to reconsider going to Ante Lande no matter how much Yasuo was against it?
Diana had experienced battles against the Shii where she had risked her life. Asking for Yasuo to hold the same level of resolve as her is frankly impossible, and also unfair. However, on one hand there’s Yasuo, who lives in a peaceful country, and can get into college as long as he studies. On the other hand there’s Diana, who might lose her home country if the Hero doesn’t lend his strength to her cause. If you asked a hundred people to pick between those two choices, all hundred of them would definitely pick Diana.
What’s more, their father was also saying proudly that he would pay for Yasuo and Nodoka’s education until they graduated from college, and even pay for their marriage ceremonies. Yasuo had no idea how a white collar worker could have that much money in savings.
If that was the case, though, even if his father quit his job and went to Ante Lande, there would be no danger of his family starving due to lack of money. If required, his mother had the option of finding work as well.
What’s more, since Yasuo would be graduating from high school soon, he also had the option of not going to college. He could find a job instead, and become independent financially.
The sole reason why Hideo and Madoka were hesitating to choose Ante Lande, was because they didn’t want to hurt Yasuo and Nodoka.
“….Thank you so much! For believing in me!”
Could he ever match the level of resolve Diana had demonstrated with her small voice?
Thinking in that way, Yasuo felt depressed.
As he imagined Diana’s face, a small light appeared in the depths of the darkness within Yasuo’s heart. That light was like the leftover heat at the tip of lamp’s wick after the flame had gone out, and was a small, unreliable energy.
“Thank you very much. That was the first time anyone other than my parents complimented my singing, so… well…”
“Yasuo, do you know a lot about singing?”
“That’s fantastic! I never had any formal training in singing, so I’m a bit jealous.”
He remembered how his heart had trembled when he heard that beautiful requiem, sung by the beautiful Magitech Knight from another world.
“Yasu-kun, are you still into singing?”
It wasn’t strange for Shouko, who was once his classmate in middle school, to know that he used to be in the Choral Club. However, her impeccable timing in asking this question now caused Yasuo to be unable to hide his surprise.
“…Yeah. Actually, I joined the Choral Club in high school because I wanted to continue singing, but…”
“I see. But you didn’t keep singing?”
“I wasn’t able to. Due to a lack of members, and our advisor transferring to another school, our club was disbanded. On paper, I’m the last president of the club.”
“When did that happen?”
“During the summer of my second year. Basically, once the upperclassmen retired, our fate was sealed. It wasn’t a popular club that had a lot of achievements, so not many people cared that we had to disband.”
“I see. What about it?”
“Yeah, well, Right now, I… I… want to keep singing.”
As this was an answer he arrived at while thinking about it, at some point, his gaze had moved downwards and he was now looking at his own shoes.
Due to that, he missed the fact that his heartfelt answer had caused Shouko’s blank expression to change into a small smile that seemed like she was about to cry, and yet was happy in some way.
The song from another world that he had heard from the living room the other day still resonated within Yasuo’s ears.
Now that he thought about it, the first song that he had learned at the Choral Club in middle school was a prayer as well, although it differed in purpose.
The Doxology, “Gloria in excelsis Deo”, composed by C.Stein.
In his middle school music textbook, it was abbreviated as “Gloria”, and was a four-part harmony that was sung in a foreign language.
Since it was used as a prayer at Mass, there was a version with simplified lyrics and melody, so that young children could sing it as well. To Yasuo, this song only held the significance of being the first song that he had learned to sing in a mixed choir. Although he had known the word ‘Hymn’, he didn’t know that the song “Gloria in excelsis Deo” was written in a language called Latin, and also didn’t understand the significance of what that meant.
For Yasuo, the first song where he had experienced the elation of being perfectly in sync with the other people singing beside him, having their sound, ears, mouths and even the deepest parts of their brains working in unison, was a song called “Glory”. It was something only a person who was standing there could understand, the feeling of being perfectly in sync with the person standing beside you, and Yasuo desperately wanted to pursue that feeling once again.
Even Yasuo did not think that having such a feeling meant that he had matched his father’s and Diana’s resolve. However, he understood in this moment that this was the bare minimum level of resolve that he needed, that would allow him to stand on the same level as them.
Just like how his father wanted to save Ante Lande, and how Diana wanted to take his father back to Ante Lande, he firmly established what it was that he truly wanted in his mind.
In Yasuo’s case, that was singing.
“It doesn’t have to be a college dedicated to studying music, as long as they have a regular club or a association where they practice singing… Hmm?”
“Haah, so it was like that… I feel like the mystery has been cleared, somewhat.”
Shouko gave him the most gentle smile he had seen from her to date.
“You’ve had a rough time, right?”
“…I think it’s slightly different from having a ‘rough time’”.
Of course, he had not wanted the Choral Club to be shut down, and had struggled quite a bit to prevent that. However, had he truly done everything in his power to prevent it, even putting the rest of his life in high school at risk? Definitely not. Although he had felt a sense of loss when it had happened, it was not at the level where his personality had changed due to feeling despair.
Besides, he wasn’t the kind of person who dedicated their life to their club activities, like you’d see in some teenage dramas. That’s what he had thought at the time, and even now, he still felt the same.
“You know, the first time I saw you at prep school, Yasu-kun, I barely recognized you.”
It didn’t seem like Shouko was saying that she had forgotten what he looked like.
“You were a very energetic person in middle school, but now you look as though you wish that everyone who is happy with their life would stub their little toe on the corner of a chest of drawers or something.”
“I don’t remember ever cursing someone with that level of detail, but maybe you’re right to some extent.”
It wasn’t at the level where it would be remarked upon, but ever since his club had been shut down, he had certainly lost some of his “drive” in daily life. And before he noticed it, he began to resent those people who still had that “drive”, and got into the habit of comparing himself to them and getting an inferiority complex.
“I don’t think I really stood out that much in middle school, though.”
“Sure, you were never as popular as the kids who were good at sports. But that’s not what I was talking about.”
After saying that, Shouko continued,
“Singing. That’s nice. Very nice, actually.”
“Well, to only realize after being told by someone else, there should be a limit to being dense, I guess.”
When Yasuo said that with a wry smile because he felt embarrassed at being praised all of a sudden, Shouko suddenly made a stern expression.
“Saying things like ‘dense’ only serves to deny your own efforts and the efforts of everyone else. People who do their best at what they like would never compare themselves to others in such a worthless fashion.”
Shouko’s statement was so empathetic that Yasuo suddenly felt ashamed of himself. Maybe because Shouko herself realized that her tone which had been gentle until now suddenly changed into one of anger, she looked embarrassed and let out a large sigh.
“It just means that people have different methods of doing their best at something. Having someone you want to catch up to, or someone you want to win against is one thing; however, if you compare yourself on a minute scale against vague standards like the society’s standards and average levels, you won’t understand anything, nothing will change, and nothing will be resolved. All it will achieve is to make you feel bad, so it actually acts against you.”
Maybe the reason why Shouko had changed so much compared to when she was in middle school was hidden behind those words that she blurted out so quickly. However, they hadn’t shared enough time together for Yasuo to ask about that.
“Yasu-kun, you were like that in middle school, right? You would have never done something like ridiculing yourself while comparing yourself to others.”
“I-Is that right? I don’t really remember.”
Certainly, he wasn’t the type of person to stand at the top of the class even in middle school. His didn’t have exceptionally good grades, and while he wasn’t bad at sports, he wasn’t anything special either. Just like in high school, the Choral Club that he was a part of in middle school was not particularly famous, and he didn’t stand in a position where he caught attention, like the members of the student council.
“Do you really not remember?”
Was his life in middle school really just a waste of effort?
“Even the fact that you were the person who told me this, Yasu-kun?”
“You asked me, ‘Ridiculing yourself, putting yourself down, is that really what you want to do? Aren’t you just forcing yourself to go along with the situation while being sad?’ …….You don’t remember? Did you even forget about that? Yasu-kun, don’t you think that’s strange?”
“…Could that be…”
“Grown-up… I’m not really sure what that means, but I won’t say something like that anymore.”
“……During that exercise when we had to do research about our relatives’ professions?”
Yasuo said that after having another repressed memory dug out by her words, and Shouko looked like she was about to cry, but still gave him a small smile.
“My dad runs a pub, and I didn’t have anyone else I could interview… Well, I thought that running the shop seemed interesting, and when I gave my presentation about that…”
“…Ah, I remember. There was some guy in class who made fun of you, saying stupid stuff about serving alcohol, and running a shady business at night.”
That incident took place during the second year of middle school, when Yasuo gave a presentation about his uncle’s work as a policeman. At that time, Shouko had given an extremely brief explanation of her family’s pub, putting down their daily tasks in an itemized list.
However, after that lesson, some of the mean kids in class latched onto some fragments of her presentation like how they served alcohol to customers, and they did business at night, and made her family’s business out to be some some kind of indecent enterprise and began to make fun of her. Although there were plenty of shops in the current generation that served alcohol and were still family-friendly, and it was common knowledge that those shops also opened in the evening, those kids had just wanted to have fun while teasing Shouko because she would not fight back.
“Well, that is just a part of my dark past that is hard to believe. Right now, I feel like going back in time to punch my younger self for being so scared and timid all the time.”
However, in those days, Shouko had just accepted all of the teasing. She would just give a vague smile each time the teasing began, agree with the comments, and try to ride it out.
“I-I know, right? Shops are supposed to open in the morning, right…?”
“W-Well, since it’s pretty late when people come to the shop, some of them might be s-scary people like you said…”
“W-We’re not part of a big restaurant chain or anything, so, umm, I guess the shop can sometimes get a little dirty…”
Of course, not considering Yasuo, even Shouko didn’t remember all the bad things that were said, but it was not hard to imagine that they were all things that lowered the estimate of her family’s business.
Yasuo, who had always been hearing such comments while sitting behind her, spoke out against it one day. Perhaps the fact that he was always being teased by the same people, who said stuff like “Only sissies join the Choral Club”, “Only boys who are terrible at sports join that club”, and “He’s always singing the songs from some boring textbook” had something to do with it.
“If it’s indecent to work at night, my uncle sometimes works at night too, is that weird?”
When he said that, the kids who had been making fun of Shouko looked threateningly at Yasuo, who had disturbed their fun.
Yasuo was scared for a moment, but he remembered that he held the advantageous card of having a policeman for an uncle, so he continued to speak at a fast pace.
“Policemen often walk about the streets at night. Well, I guess the scary people would think that policemen are scary too.”
“Police boxes and police stations run on tax money and are rarely rebuilt, so they look pretty beat up and dirty. Does that mean that the policemen who work inside are dirty as well?”
After saying this much, he was pretty much in the state of the fox that had borrowed the tiger’s image, but the kids who had been making fun of Shouko unexpectedly withdrew without making a fuss, and didn’t bother her her anymore in the future as well.
“Yasu-kun, you don’t think that it’s strange?”
Shouko, who had been completely dispirited by all the teasing, asked him that question, and Yasuo had shook his head.
“I think that running a shop is pretty awesome. It means your father is earning money while relying on his own strength, right? I think it’s a lot more amazing than being a regular salaryman.”
If a regular salaryman heard that, he might get angry, but Yasuo at that time truly felt that way. That’s because, most of the men that a middle-school boy like Yasuo saw were people who put on a suit and went to work at a company, the so-called ‘salarymen’. The middle school boy, who had no idea of how the world worked, believed that anyone could put on a suit, work for a company, and therefore become a salaryman in the course of their life. That’s why he felt a lot of respect for someone who did something different for a living.
“You know, my dad can’t cook anything besides instant ramen. He only puts in some effort when we have a barbecue, but anyways, I think it’s pretty awesome that your dad can cook all kinds of food. It’s like, being a chef really gives off the impression that he’s a professional!”
“Yeah. That’s why…”
As a middle schooler, Yasuo, had definitely said that.
“Stop doing stuff like putting yourself down, making fun of yourself and trying to ride it out. You might have been smiling, but I bet you didn’t feel good at all. I understand how that feels. There are people who make fun of me for joining the Choral Club, they even go so far as to post demeaning comments on online forums. At the beginning, I too laughed while thinking they were right, but ever since the prefectural contest last year when I won a silver medal, I decided that I wouldn’t stand for it anymore. Most of those guys who made fun of me weren’t regulars on a sports team or anything, they just like to poke their nose in other people’s business.”
He must have been nervous, because he spoke so rarely with girls.
“That’s why, let’s make sure to become fine grown-ups who don’t enjoy themselves by making fun of others, okay?”
Even thinking back now, he wasn’t sure what exactly he was trying to say at that time.
“Grown-up… I’m not really sure what that means, but I won’t say something like that anymore.”
Shouko had said that while smiling, and looked so cute that Yasuo wondered why he had forgotten about it until now.
“Thank you, Yasu-kun.”
“We were in different classes during our third year, but a few days after our graduation, there was a party for the parents at our store. At that time, my mother heard that you had joined Takeoka High School from your mother, Yasu-kun.”
That’s right, when he was in his third year, his mother had been one of the members of the PTSA council. She must have had a reaction to the name ‘Tatewaki’ because of her memories from that time.
“I don’t know anything about you right now, Yasu-kun, but I’m sure you’re still giving it your all.”
The version of him in Shouko’s memories was frighteningly idealized. At the very least, Yasuo did not remember saving Shouko after giving it such deep thought, and he had not lived such a life where he could boast about having given all his effort either.
The way he had lived his life until now was the proof of that.
When he tried to say that to her, she interrupted him.
“Doing your best is different from giving all your effort.”
Shouko’s words accurately targeted Yasuo’s misgivings.
“You’re making a face as though you wish that everyone who is living a happy life would slam the main door of their house on their fingers.”
“Why are all my curses such petty things in your imagination?”
“I’m sure a lot of stuff happened, but I can tell that you’re trying your best to overcome something difficult right now, Yasu-kun. You’re making that kind of face.”
Since Shouko was looking right at him, Yasuo felt a little embarrassed, but,
“How would you know something like that?”
He still said that. He had actually wanted to ask why she understood so much about him, but he wasn’t able to. And then, Shouko went back to having her previous gentle expression, and gave a small smile.
“You forgot about me, Yasu-kun, but I didn’t forget about you. That’s all there is to it.”
Yasuo didn’t think that answered his question at all, and tilted his head to one side, but for some reason that made Shouko wrinkle her brows in frustration again, and she let out a small sigh.
“…Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?”
“No, it’s nothing. By the way, I have to complete another lesson now. What about you, Yasu-kun?”
“Ah, me too.”
“Then let’s meet again some other time, when we’re both free.”
Saying that, Shouko turned on her heel and started walking towards the studying booths without waiting for Yasuo’s answer, just like she did yesterday.
Today, he didn’t go after her.
There was no need to do that.
She had said that they could meet again when they both had free time, after all.
For now, at least she had agreed not to make the incident from yesterday into a larger issue. Even that was more than he had hoped for, but Shouko had unexpectedly even helped him resolve the large problem that he was currently facing.
No, maybe it was too soon to say that the problem was resolved, but at least he was now able to understand why his words at that time failed to move his father.
Until now, Yasuo had not even tried to understand his father’s position.
Even though Shouko had said such great things about how he was in his second year of middle school, now, as a third year student in high school, he could not even carry out a proper conversation with his friends about his father’s work.
He was just using exams and his life after that as an excuse to escape from his current stifling life. He was not doing his best at anything.
“…Doing my best, that’s something I don’t like to think about.”
To him, it was a phrase that was wrapped in bitter memories. He had avoided it so much that it could be said that he was unconsciously rejecting it, and perhaps that was what had lead to this situation.
Back when he was taking exams to get into high school, he had gotten into a rage after speaking to his father over the phone.
However, looking from the perspective of his father who had literally fought with his life on the line, Yasuo’s efforts at that time, and even now, probably didn’t look like he was doing his best.
Of course, Yasuo was not the same as his father, and because he didn’t know about his father’s past, he couldn’t be expected to hold the same level of resolve.
However, things were different now.
He had found out the truth.
Right now, he had a problem in front of him that would take his best efforts and then some, to solve. What was required for that, was…
“Right now, I need to study.”
He got his spirits up and walked towards the hall with the studying booths.