—Time seemed to flow a lot slower than usual today.
The Sanjou Shopping Street was bustling with people, but no one stopped at the antique store Kura.
It wasn’t the type of shop for people to casually drop in, and especially so during an event.
With no customers entering the shop, time passed really, really slowly.
Izumi-san also didn’t seem to be coming.
Since there was the festival, Kura would close at 7.
(It usually closes at 8, but I suppose there aren’t any customers today.)
However, Izumi-san still hadn’t showed up even at 6:50.
…Why isn’t she coming?
Did she change her mind?
While I restlessly wondered if Izumi-san would appear, Holmes-san had his usual expression.
Could it be that they’d already contacted each other through email, or something like that?
Feeling distressed, I shook my head without thinking.
It was already 7.
“Ah, I… I should change out of my yukata soon.”
I said after taking a short breath, causing Holmes-san to look up at the clock.
“Ah, would you look at the time. Aoi-san, since it’s the Gion Festival, how about going there in your yukata?”
“Your friends are here for the ‘Gion Festival experience’, so they’ll probably be all wearing yukata.”
“Ah… you’re right.”
“And most importantly, you look great in it,” Holmes-san said with a grin, causing my face to reach boiling point.
“I-I see. In that case, I’ll go off like this. I have my purse, anyway.”
At that moment, the door bell rang — and Izumi-san appeared.
After she bowed hesitatingly, Holmes-san received her with a first-rate smile. Upon seeing that, my heart felt as if it had been stabbed right in the middle.
“Please, come in.”
“It’s really crowded outside, right?”
The two of them exchanged pleasant laughter.
Unlike the previous meeting, there was no tension between them… in fact, there was a good atmosphere about them.
I wonder if Izumi-san knew that the shop would be closing at 7, and aimed to reach just in time?
Perhaps she thought of enjoying the festival together with Holmes-san.
They might have even arranged to meet at this particular time.
In any case, I was not involved in this, and I had to leave.
“Ah, I… I’ll go off, then. See you.”
I nodded politely and escaped from the shop.
As soon as I left, my eyes narrowed in reaction to the hot summer air.
A huge crowd of festival-goers were strolling under the dim night sky.
There was still 30 minutes to the meeting time.
With a slow gait, I moved towards the hotel.
Was I feeling this heavy-hearted because I would soon have to meet with my former best friend and ex-boyfriend?
Or was it because I was bothered about Holmes-san and Izumi-san?
I was just unhappy with a lot of things… and I had no idea what I wanted to do, or what I desired.
Since I’m like this, I suppose it can’t be helped that I can’t find happiness.
With that thought, a self-depreciating smile appeared on my face.
The ohayashi went “♪ konchikichin, konchikichin ♪”.
Meanwhile, the brilliant yamaboko floated in the gradually darkening night sky, which was lit up by a multitude of paper lanterns.
That was typical Japanese scenery, but at the same time, it felt like so surreal, as if I had accidentally wondered into an alternate universe.
Thanks to my slow pace that was brought about by being unaccustomed to the yukata, it took me almost twenty minutes to reach the hotel which was not far away at all.
Checking that the name on the signboard was “ryokuen”, I entered the lobby.
It was a small hotel reminiscent of the Showa era, though it wasn’t especially Japanese.
As soon as I stepped into the lobby,
“Hey! It’s Aoi!” Jubilant cries reached my ears.
I raised my head in surprise, as my old group of friends came into view.
I searched for my best friend, Sanae, who had suddenly stolen my boyfriend, but failed to spot her.
While I felt relieved, I also felt nostalgic upon seeing the faces of my old friends. I relaxed.
As Holmes-san had said, they were all wearing yukata. It was really great that I was also in one.
“Long time no see, everyone!”
“You seem to be doing well here, Aoi!”
“Aoi, you look so cute in your yukata!”
They welcomed me with bright smiles.
I’m glad that all of them didn’t change. I’m glad that I mustered the courage to come here, I thought in my heart.
“Actually, Sanae and Takahashi really wanted to talk with you, no matter what.”
My heart leapt as my friend suddenly turned serious.
The next moment, my ex-boyfriend, Takahashi and former best friend, Sanae, appeared from behind a pillar, as if they’d rehearsed beforehand.
The two of them also had pained expressions on their faces.
Shocked by this sudden development, all I could do was listen as my heart thumped quickly and noisily. In fact, it was quite a feat that I was still standing.
The two of them approached me bitterly.
“I’m really sorry.”
They lowered their heads.
“…You might have heard about it, but we’re dating right now.”
As I thought, the fact that I didn’t want to hear caused pain in my heart.
“After you left, Takahashi and I felt really lonely, so we thought, ‘since we’ve both lost our precious Aoi, let us distract ourselves from our loneliness,’ and we started hanging out together.”
“No, it’s fine, I’ll say it. Aoi, I’m really sorry. I seriously loved you and Sanae, so when you were gone, I felt a great sense of loss… so to forget that loneliness, the two of us went out to places like karaoke…”
“I-It’s my fault. During that time, I fell for Takahashi…”
“No, I’m in the wrong here. I started being unable to leave Sanae…”
“I’m seriously sorry!”
As if in a competition for penitence, they bowed repeatedly.
“Aoi, at first we thought that their actions were awful, but we noticed that Sanae was becoming a little anorexic from thinking about you too much.”
“Yes, and Takahashi only started dating Sanae after drawing the line with you.”
Those other friends defended the two of them.
…What is this?
—Ah, I understand now.
That’s what it is.
They said they wanted to meet with me, but not because they wanted to see me…
But because they wanted to clear their own guilt.
There were no longer any “friends” here who were still thinking about me.
If I said, “It’s fine,” after seeing them bow and repent, they would be able to date without any reservations, right?
What should I do now?
The only way… is to forgive them with a smile on my face, right?
What would happen if I said, “That’s just your one-sided excuses! Think about how I feel after receiving such arbitrary apologies!”
This is just a farce, with the premise that I would forgive them.
Hiding the fact that I was trembling, I clenched my fists tightly.
I resisted the temptation to break down and cry, and instead put a smile on my face.
“I-It’s fine. It was impossible for us once we were separated, after all…”
I wasn’t saying this for their sakes.
This was for my sake, so that I would no longer be so miserable about all this.
“It’s honestly quite a complicated feeling to see my boyfriend and best friend go out, but… there’s no helping it if you two really like each other.”
I’ll give you the words that you want the most, so please, get out of my sight.
“Don’t worry about me, and have fun together.”
I probably said all that from start to finish with a smile on my face.
Those friends went “Wow” in admiration.
“Thank you,” Sanae murmured as tears formed in her eyes, while Takahashi stroked her head.
My interior of my mouth started feeling painful, and my nose started feeling blocked.
What should I do? I really feel like I’ll cry at any moment. That’d be so mortifying, so pitiable, so wretched…
“Aoi, you’re seriously cool.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve fallen for you.”
“Hey, shall we all go to the festival together, then?”
Someone suggested, probably influenced by the excited atmosphere.
Please… stop. I just want to get out of this place.
It was taking all my effort to hold back my tears, too.
“Come on, let’s go.”
It was at that moment when a friend held out her hand.
Holmes-san voice rang out in the hotel lobby.
I whirled around to see that Holmes-san was indeed there in his yukata, causing my face to turn as white as a sheet.
Why is Holmes-san here?
In my confusion, I could only hear the strong thumping of my heart.
“Wait, who’s that? He’s such a handsome guy, isn’t he?”
“A man in yukata is so cool!”
“An acquaintance of yours, Aoi-san?”
At the appearance of Holmes-san, my friends chattered excitedly.
“Ah… yeah, that’s right.”
I hesitatingly nodded, as Holmes-san quickly stood by my side and displayed a cheerful grin.
“Nice to meet you. My name is Yagashira Kiyotaka. You have my utmost gratitude for coming all the way from Saitama to see the Gion Festival.”
Holmes-san spoke exactly like an ambassador of tourism.
I wonder why he’s always shouldering the city of Kyoto and artwork.
“Er, are you someone related to the Gion Festival?”
Naturally, my friends asked a naïve question. In response, Holmes-san let out a short laugh.
“No, I’m actually a student studying ‘Philology and Cultural Studies’ in university. You all are high school students, right? If you’re interested in Kyoto University, please come over. I’ll show you around.”
Upon hearing those words, everyone placed their hands on their mouths, went, “Wait, a Kyoto University student?” “Amazing!” and looked at each other.
As I stood there dumbfounded, Holmes-san quietly looked at me.
He looked firmly into my eyes, as if reading into the depths of my heart.
“Have you all finished talking?”
“Shall we go to see the festival together, then?”
Seeing Holmes-san hold out his hand to me, I almost cried.
While the rest didn’t understand, Holmes-san…
He realized that I wanted to leave this place immediately.
The tears were seeping out, but I couldn’t let them fall here.
With a strong nod, I accepted Holmes-san’s hand, causing everyone to exclaim, “Woww!” with sparkles in their eyes.
“Wait, is that what it is, Aoi? So that’s why you were in a yukata!”
“I can’t believe you have a super hot Kyoto University student as a boyfriend! I’m so jealous!”
“And you’ll be all lovey-dovey in the festival! Tell us how it went next time!”
Everyone raised their voices in excitement.
While Sanae and Takahashi looked relieved, the somewhat complicated emotion that has risen up on their faces gave me a strong impression.
“Y-Yeah. Well, see you all next time, then!”
“Shall we go, Aoi-san?”
I took his hand and we started walking off together.
Takahashi, who had been silent up till now, vigorously stepped forward and grabbed my wrist.
“What is this? Why are you dating a Kyoto University student right after we broke up?”
Upon hearing Takahashi’s outburst, all of us, myself included, went “Huh?”
“What… are you saying?” I was about to ask.
“Hey, Takahashi, what are you talking about? You already have Sanae, don’t you?”
“You’re the one who backstabbed Sanae, too.”
“Exactly, and you’re regretting now that Aoi’s with a really hot Kyoto University student? What’s with you? I seriously can’t believe you.”
My friends gave Takahashi a reproachful look, causing Sanae to run away.
“Ah, wait, Sanae!” Takahashi hurriedly chased after her.
—What’s with this afternoon drama that’s continuing after that farce?
Having overcome my shock, a wry smile appeared on my face where an exasperated look had been.
At that moment, I could feel all the pent-up feelings within me vanish silently.
…Is this what they call an instant cool down?
But this is good.
With this, I can truly, truly say that… I’ve settled my past love issues without having to act tough about it.
Holmes-san firmly held my hand and pulled me out of the hotel.
We walked out to the main street which was bustling with festivities.
While still holding hands.
The light of the floating paper lanterns gently lit up the night sky.
“It’s too crowded here. If we go this way, we’ll be able to walk smoothly.”
Holmes-san said as he steeped into an alley.
It was indeed just like Kyoto. The small road, which was so narrow that only one person could pass through at a time, was a quiet, peaceful, emotional space, as if the throngs of people earlier was just an illusion.
“…H-Holmes-san, I’m surprised that you came for me.”
There was actually a lot more that I wanted to ask.
Like what happened with Izumi-san, and so on.
But that was the first thing that came out of my mouth.
Holmes-san quietly stopped moving.
“I was just curious. I thought that… you were crying.”
Those words pierced through my heart. He really… saw through everything.
“A-As expected of Holmes-san.”
I muttered. In response, he turned around wordlessly and looked down at me gently.
“I-I was at my limit. The two of them were arbitrarily repenting, and my friends were taking their side, so I felt like no one was giving a thought for my feelings… and that was when you came in, so I was really surprised.”
I was really saved by him.
“I-I gave them my blessings, but I said it while thinking, ‘This is not for their sakes, but for mine.’
“…This isn’t good, right? If I’m going to give them my blessings, I should say them from my heart, but I just couldn’t do it… But it’s fine. While I was effeminate and indecisive, it’s finally over. Thank you so much for being worried about me and taking the trouble to come over here and help me.”
As I looked down while trying to produce a smile on my face, Holmes-san took a deep breath.
“Ya don’t have to force yerself to smile. It’s impossible after something like that.”
Seemingly upset, he chided me in Kyoto dialect.
Surprised, I looked up to see Holmes-san’s frowning face.
“If they’d felt truly guilty towards ya and wanted to properly apologize, they wouldn’t have needed their friends with them. What they did was seriously disgusting.”
It was a really strong expression for usually calm and elegant Holmes-san.
From those words, I understood that even he could get angry.
—He got mad for my sake…
My gloomy heart lightened, and I felt a happy, warm feeling in my chest.
It was really great that Holmes-san came here…
I looked down for a moment, and a big hand softly stroked my head.
“…That must have taken a lot out of ya, Aoi-san.”
He kindly said. At that moment…
As if the floodgates had been breached, my tears flowed and flowed.
“Ya worked really hard, so it’s good to cry it all out.”
Holmes-san said as he gently patted my back.
Before I knew it, I was already sobbing into his chest.
It was really… really good to cry it out.
It felt really painful that the guy that I loved, my best friend and other friends were getting further away from me.
I couldn’t cry there. I definitely didn’t want to cry there.
But now, it’s okay to cry.
I could feel his gentle stroking hand, his warm chest.
I could smell a sweet fragrance from his yukata. I could see red lanterns, but they were blurred by my tears.
I could hear the ohayashi were playing a graceful tune, a small distance away from us.
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Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Steven Baltakatei Sandoval
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