A scary person lying in wait? What a thing to say!
I’d been awkwardly standing still until Urino-kun left, leaning on a tree with my arms and legs crossed as the two of them had their conversation on the other side. Though they were only a few meters away, I was surprisingly unnoticed, probably because I kept silent the entire time. In the middle of that, I received an email which caused my phone to make a sound, but I was still unnoticed. Naturally, I panicked a little when Osanai-san mentioned the possibility of a person being behind the tree, but perhaps thanks to the power of assumption, I was not spotted.
In my heart, I kept repeating the question, “Can I come out now?” At any rate, the conversation had taken on a dangerous direction. I brazenly peeked out from my hiding spot, only to see that Osanai-san and Urino-kun were still looking away whenever their gazes met. I couldn’t exactly reveal myself and say something like, “Well, I’ll just leave it to you young ‘uns, then.”1
After asking that question numerous times in my heart, I finally got a reply.
“Kobato-kun, you can come out now.”
Even so, I cautiously got out of my hiding spot behind the tree. Urino-kun was no longer around. Osanai-san looked really small from behind. I spoke even though her back was still facing me.
“It’s unfair to talk about ‘the fox’. Urino-kun won’t understand what it means. To be honest, I didn’t immediately realize that you were referring to me, either.”
“He doesn’t need to understand.”
Osanai-san still had her back turned towards me.
“So, what happened?”
“It’s over. Kengo did it.”
That earlier email was from Kengo, and it read, “The culprit has been arrested. A passerby called the police.” I’d been worried that Kengo would take pity on the arsonist and let them go if he had caught them alone, and perhaps that would have been fine as well, but… well, in the end, the culprit was unlucky.
“The police siren was mixed in with the firetruck siren just now. Did you notice?”
“No. It was a difficult conversation, after all.”
Ah, of course.
“With that, I think the arsonist should have been taken away.”
“I see… Was that by your deduction, Kobato-kun?”
In my first year of high school, I would have said no, because as someone who aspired to become a petite bourgeois, I’d sworn to never reveal any secrets.
In my second year of high school, I would have said yes, because I couldn’t deny that my aspirations had slackened and I had become negligent in my behavior.
But today, I said this:
“I helped a little, but it’s thanks to everyone’s strength!”
Osanai-san slowly turned around and laughed. It was dry, as if she was just forcing herself to laugh along at a corny joke.
I looked up at the sky to see that the color of flames had disappeared. The sirens had also stopped, and the calm of a typical summer night had returned before I knew it.
Osanai-san asked a question.
“So, who was the arsonist?”
Her tone was like that of someone asking a friend, “How was the concert yesterday?” out of social obligation. Her lack of interest was on full display. I smiled wryly.
“It’s still too early to say who exactly the culprit is. Kengo was probably in a hurry, so his email was incomplete. I do have an idea, though.”
“You’ve narrowed down the possible suspects?”
“Down to about forty. I managed to narrow that down further, but it was mainly thanks to the information broker, I suppose.”
“Tell me, Kobato-kun. What did you do?”
I glanced at her.
I’d been thinking that I would eventually reveal the full circumstances surrounding this case. I didn’t feel like keeping it a secret, and there was no need to. However, I’d imagined it to be a leisurely conversation about past events, held in school after class or some other suitable location, and probably with a cheerful classmate or two.
I’d never expected to talk about it here, tonight, with Osanai-san. We hadn’t had a proper talk in a year, and now here we were talking about an arsonist. She probably wasn’t that keen to know, either. I scratched my cheek.
“Well, perhaps some other time. It’s hard to talk while we’re both standing, so much has happened tonight, and we should get back home soon.”
Her words were unexpectedly forceful.
“Please. I want to get this over with tonight.”
…I see. If she was pleading with me to do it, then I had no choice.
I would have liked to at least sit on a bench, but the benches in this park were shaped like dachshunds. Their tongues drooped loosely from their mouths, making me ever so reluctant to sit on them. Thus, I decided to talk while standing.
Now, where should I begin?
“Right. How much do you know?”
“Nothing at all.”
That was probably untrue, but I was fine with that. If she wanted to know from the beginning, it was obvious where to start.
“I’ll be brief, then. In February this year, there was an arson attack near my house. A cream-colored light van was set on fire and abandoned by the embankment. When I went over to have a look, I felt that I’d seen it somewhere before. I made an inquiry to Kengo, and it turned out that the burnt vehicle belonged to Hojo-san… You remember her, right? She was part of the group that abducted you in summer last year.”
Osanai-san let out an interjection, as if she had been caught off guard.
“You’re starting from there?”
“Ah, so you knew about that already.”
I never had much interest in the case of serial arson. Last year, Osanai-san characterized me as a moth who would be easily attracted towards the flames of any mystery I see, but she was apparently mistaken. I certainly didn’t find everything in this world to be interesting. Even when the arson attacks continued, all I did was frown and bemoan the danger and tumult they would cause.
If that van hadn’t belonged to Hojo-san, this case would have passed without my involvement.
However, after doing some investigation afterwards, it turned out that Hojo-san was not involved at all, and many other factors started appearing. Thus I immediately discarded my theory that this serial arson case was related to last year’s abduction. Not checking if it was really a coincidence was out of the question, but always clinging to a possible cause for the coincidence would be even more foolish.
“Basically, it was targeted because it was abandoned, and had nothing to do with its owner.”
“I was shocked at the time as well, but only a little. I thought that these things do happen.”
There was actually a reason as to why that particular vehicle was chosen.
Hojo-san was 16 or 17 years old at the time, so she was probably taking her parent’s car out for a spin without their permission. It had probably been left there since the incident last year, and with prolonged exposure to the elements, it became a decrepit mess. The dilapidated atmosphere it gave off then attracted some shady individual.
“So, I talked about that with Kengo since I was a little interested, and I found out that you were meddling with the Newspaper Club.”
“Well, putting aside that word choice, I received materials and information from Kengo. I asked if Urino was the Newspaper Club member investigating the series of arson attacks, and if he thought the Disaster Prevention Plan was related to it. I thought it to be a little strange. It seemed quite far-fetched that the arsonist would be cognizant of the Fire Department’s areas of jurisdiction, yet that was how it appeared in reality. I felt suspicious just by listening to that, so I checked at the library… and I laughed.”
Thinking back to that moment, I put on a wry smile.
“The Koyubi precinct didn’t exist seven years ago. Also, starting from five years ago, the areas of jurisdiction were no longer written in the Disaster Prevention Plan. Going by Urino’s theory, the arsonist was limited to using the Disaster Prevention Plan from six years ago as a reference.
“It was already quite an impossible-sounding process, yet another limit was added. At that point, the Disaster Prevention Plan theory should have been abandoned. Of course, I considered if it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
I probably didn’t have to add anything else given that I was talking to Osanai-san, but I rephrased my words anyway.
“Basically, that the culprit was deciding on their next location by reading the article in Funado Monthly.”
I peeked at her countenance, but Osanai-san was simply listening silently. Was it as she’d expected? In any case, she didn’t seem very impacted by the revelation.
“However, the self-fulfilling prophecy theory also had its problems. The first arson attack was in October, and it was only in February that the incidents were recorded in Funado Monthly for the first time. The article was released on the 1st of February, and the arson attack occurred ten days later as the article had predicted… so how could the first four attacks from October to January be explained? Here, the information I heard from Kengo played a really big part.”
I couldn’t remember precisely what he said, but I could remember Urino-kun’s strenuous efforts. He’d apparently worked hard to gather information regarding the four incidents from October to January, trying to find a common point between them. Then, he noticed the keyword “precincts’ areas of jurisdiction”, and it fit exactly with the Fire Department’s list of precincts. Kengo must have mentioned things like telephone books, hazard maps and the Citizen’s Living Guide2, for they were materials that later became supportive evidence for my theory.
“Urino-kun was looking for a common point between the arson attacks. And he found it, unfortunately for him. At that time, I didn’t know about Urino-kun, but I did think that the underclassman who wrote the article probably hadn’t noticed the trap of pointing out those commonalities.”
He’d put in much effort in his search, and was rewarded with materials that matched his prediction. At that moment, he probably stopped doubting if his theory was correct.
Osanai nodded slightly. She knew what Urino-kun’s personality was like, after all.
“If the sample size is small, it becomes easy to find commonalities. For example, you can say that the common point between peaches, kabosu3 and pineapples is that they grow from trees.”
“Pineapples don’t grow from trees, though…”
That was beside the point.
“To put it bluntly, you could have forced a pattern in any way. The four arson attacks at Hamae, Nishimori, Koyubi and Akanebe actually had no intended common point in the first place. He was the one who accidentally created it. That’s the thing with finding a common point, but Urino-kun never had the doubt that he was simply forcing a pattern to fit his theory.
“Well, he might have, but when he wrote articles based on that theory, the incidents occurred as predicted. Urino-kun probably felt that his theory was backed by reality.”
I could defend Urino-kun.
If Funado Monthly had predicted the arson attacks from the very beginning, even he would have to question if the culprit was following those predictions. Also, if there were more attacks in succession, if the commonality was drawn from ten or so incidents, it would be more fine, and he would probably have considered the possibility that he was forcing a pattern.
Instead, Urino-kun had found the common point relatively easily, and reality had confirmed his theory as soon as he came up with it. He didn’t notice the double-layered psychological trap he’d fallen into.
Although I could, I decided not to defend him. He was a stranger to me, after all.
“I was a little troubled when I realized that the Newspaper Club was the problem. According to Kengo, the column in Funado Monthly could be stopped. But would that stop the crimes?
“Starting from February, the arsonist committed their crimes by following Funado Monthly. But they were already setting fires from October last year. Even if the column is shut down, the attacks would probably still continue. If so…”
It would be better to keep them at large and reel them in when they make a move.
“So we made some necessary arrangements, and brought a club member to our side. I think you should know Itsukaichi-kun. We worked together with him. As expected, Kengo is well-liked by his juniors. That really helped in convincing Itsukaichi-kun.”
“Monchi-kun acted as my information source until April. To think that you also had a spy… I never noticed.”
For some reason, she seemed a little frustrated. Also, calling Itsukaichi-kun a spy is disreputable. He was merely an internal collaborator.
“We asked Itsukaichi-kun about the atmosphere within the Newspaper Club, especially regarding what kind of work Urino-kun was doing. Apparently, he was completely devoted to the case, and stopped doing all sorts of basic tasks, like deciding on the layouts for articles, scanning for mistakes, printing, distributing newspapers early in the morning…”
When I heard that, I instantly thought that Urino-kun probably wasn’t a match for Kengo in terms of popularity. Then again, as someone who also avoids menial tasks, I didn’t have the right to speak ill of him.
“Thus, I formulated a plan. A plan to smoke the culprit out. We switched out copies of Funado Monthly and secretly added some words to the column. In the June issue, at the end of the exaggerated sentence predicting the next location, we pointed to more detailed locations. We made a few variations of that.”
I only realized while talking about it, but Itsukaichi-kun had had an immense amount of work to do for this plan. Well, since the entire process had gone swimmingly, Kengo must have secretly helped him.
“The contents of the June issue were different depending on the class that received it. For example, the newspaper would say that the arson would occur near some intersection for class 2A, near some historic site for class 2B and near some park for class 2C. We set it up such that if there was an arson attack, we would be able to identify the culprit’s class. Of course, we didn’t pull such a trick for the first years’ newspapers, because the culprit should have been a student of Funa High last year.”
My voice turned dark.
“…Actually, I wanted to find the culprit in one go. I was thinking of writing that the next location would be at some cafe, and we could lie in wait there. That way, we would be able to resolve the situation once and for all. However, there are a thousand students in Funa High. Even if you exclude the first-years, there are still about six hundred people. I felt that it wouldn’t be a good idea to set up an ambush with the list of suspects not being narrowed down yet. I wanted some information to show that only the culprit would definitely fall for the trap.”
With the June issue, we would identify the culprit’s class, and with the July issue, we would lure them in and deal the finishing blow. That was the plan. Basically, we had to let the arson attack in June happen, causing me a great deal of displeasure.
I should have already accepted it long ago, but did it show on my face? Osanai-san spoke in a small voice.
“I don’t think you had a choice, Kobato-kun. Preventing fires and crimes is not your job, so don’t feel responsible for it.”
It wasn’t about responsibility. I was probably dissatisfied because I couldn’t put together a more perfect strategy… Even so, I replied.
Osanai-san nodded. She wasn’t smiling.
In reality, no damage was done in June. No arson attack occurred thanks to the heavy rain, but that didn’t change anything. All it did was set the plan back by a month. Because Urino-kun wrote that “the arsonist will still target Kitaura Town”, that was exactly what the culprit did.
“So, the culprit fell into the trap. In July, the arson attack happened near Taishido4 at Kitaura Town. That was written in the newspaper distributed to class 2G, so we knew that the culprit had to be someone from that class.”
“So that’s how you narrowed it down to forty.”
To be precise, someone outside of school could have gotten that information from one of the forty students. For example, if a student brought a copy of Funado Monthly back home, their family could read it as well.
However, with Urino-kun’s efforts seemingly in vain, copies of Funado Monthly continued to fill the trashcans each month. Even if there were students who brought every issue back home, including the February issue which was distributed before the serial arson case became a hot topic, there would be way too few of them, making them just a minute consideration that could be safely ignored.
“After that, we wondered if there was anyone particularly close to Urino-kun in class 2G. There’s someone who’s well-versed in the relationships between people in school, and we had them check for that.”
Osanai-san gently pointed out an omission I’d made.
“Someone close to Urino-kun? Why?”
I scratched my cheek.
“It’s simple. Urino-kun based the Disaster Prevention Plan theory on the four incidents from October to January, and announced it in the February issue of Funado Monthly. The arson attack in February, which occurred right after the article, followed Urino-kun’s theory.
“Not many people would have paid attention to Funado Monthly in February. The trashcans were always filled with copies of the newspaper on distribution day every month, after all. Yet the culprit consulted Funado Monthly so quickly.
“I did think that it could be just a coincidence, but the most likely explanation is that the arsonist already knew about Urino-kun’s theory in January. If so, the arsonist would be someone who could listen to Urino-kun’s thoughts in private.”
“Now I understand.”
Osanai-san’s words were devoid of emotion.
“I understand why you tried to skip over that point.”
Did she really understand? Perhaps that was to be expected.
It was because of that one point that I couldn’t quite eliminate the possibility of Osanai-san being the arsonist, until much later. It made me unable to forget the fact that Hojo’s vehicle was targeted in February, and caused me to be misled by quite a bit. I knew that fire was not one of Osanai-san’s methods, and yet…
Actually, the strategy of distributing a different article to each class would have been a lot more certain if we’d gotten Urino-kun’s help. But we didn’t, so Itsukaichi-kun had to secretly make those different variations of Funado Monthly without Urino-kun noticing. While it may have been inconvenient, that was a necessary safety precaution, since we suspected the culprit to have a personal connection to Urino-kun.
Not to mention that Osanai-san could be the culprit as well, so we had to be even more careful. Keeping all this quiet from Urino-kun had no meaning beyond the safety precaution, so if he found out about it midway and got angry, Kengo would go over and explain it to him. That might damage their relationship, but the plan would not be hindered.
…But he never noticed, even at the end of it all. He might have noticed if he’d helped with the distribution of newspapers, though.
I didn’t think that suspecting Osanai-san was wrong. It was unavoidable at that point of time, when I didn’t have enough information. In fact, I’d even considered the possibility of Doujima Kengo or that teacher from the Student Counseling Department being the arsonist.
However, I just didn’t think that it was worth speaking about a suspicion that had already been cleared. After clearing my throat, I continued.
“Anyway, the investigation showed that there was indeed a friend of Urino-kun in class 2G. They were also in the same class in their first year. With that student as our main suspect, we set another trap in the copies of Funado Monthly distributed to class 2G. We wrote that the area near Children Park 1 in Harimi Town would be targeted in August, and in this very park…”
I spread my hands out. Some insect chirps could be heard from the park. With its tall fence and shrubbery, visibility was poor. I would be hard pressed to say that it was the best location for observation, but it was perfect for an ambush.
“I had Kengo lie in wait.”
Osanai-san shot me a meaningful glance.
I knew what she wanted to say. Why didn’t I lie in wait here myself?
Because this place seemed like it would be rife with mosquitoes.
…Well, I’d planned to hide somewhere else later in the night, but I couldn’t make it due to the crime occurring earlier than expected. That was the excuse I’d told myself.
Whether she knew my inner conflict or not, Osanai-san asked about a different matter.
“Now, there isn’t much meaning in asking this, but what’s the name of the suspect?”
“Right, there isn’t much meaning in answering, but it’s Hiya Yuuto-kun.”
It seemed that she didn’t know him. After hearing the name of the person who was probably the culprit of ten consecutive arson attacks, her only response was, “Hmm.”
The night wind stroked my cheeks.
I could hear a buzzing noise that was grating on the ears. A winged insect flew up between the two of us. Raising both my hands, I aimed at the insect and clapped. I thought I’d killed it, but the buzzing continued. Now it looked like I was just reaching out and clapping my hands in prayer.
Osanai-san’s gaze started moving. With her face still directed at me, her eyes followed the insect. She bent her arm in an instant, lunged forward and grabbed the air. After exerting a great deal of strength in her fist, she opened her hand.
Bzzz, the noise continued. Osanai-san’s eyes shifted around.
“Let it live.”
Perhaps Buddha would extend a thread from Heaven when we go to Hell, for that act of kindness.
Osanai-san, who had been staring at her hand, eventually put it down in resignation, and spoke.
“That was brilliant, Kobato-kun.”
The insect had flown off somewhere.
“I couldn’t get rid of it, though.”
“Yup, and me neither. But that wasn’t what I was referring to.”
“When we met at the fire just now, I somehow had a hunch that you’d pretty much caught the arsonist already. I knew that you aren’t good at cases like these, which have many hundreds or thousands of suspects. Yet I presumed that you’d already caught the culprit. Why is that?”
“Well, can’t say I know why.”
“Did I have that much trust in you, Kobato-kun?”
I replied in a small voice.
“The plan took quite a lot of time, and caused some damage as well. I shouldn’t be in the position to receive compliments.”
“Did you know? This case was quite the talk of the town. Neighborhood watch groups were created at locations where a fire would lead to disaster, like the train station and the old residential area. The police also stepped up their patrols, and it was written in the newspapers that some towns were holding training sessions for disaster prevention. And you solved such a case, Kobato-kun. Even though you’re just a high school student.”
Hearing those words, a scary thought crossed my mind.
I’d reached the conclusion early on that the culprit was basing his actions on Funado Monthly. That was why I had a strong image of this series of arson attacks being just an incident within Funado High School.
Of course, that was wrong. The case occurred in Kira City, and arson is a felony.
“Good deduction, and good execution.”
I frowned a little in response.
To me, that phrase was another way to say that I was meddling in others’ affairs. While I certainly hadn’t been enthusiastic from the beginning, I’d started enjoying this around the time we roped Itsukaichi-kun in. Gathering information may have been troublesome, but it didn’t bother me that much if I thought of it as rewarding. Also, when the culprit fell for our trap hook, line, and sinker, exposing his identity, I was smirking so much that I couldn’t sleep.
I never thought about playing a part to increase the public’s well-being. I was simply enjoying myself. Osanai-san should have known this, yet she chose a slightly mean-spirited way of expression.
At that moment, something occurred to me.
“So, how much did you actually know, Osanai-san?”
“When I found out that you were involved in this case, the first thought in my mind was who exactly you were seeking revenge on. I was convinced that if the arson attacks were by your hand, they had to be retaliation for something.”
Osanai-san pouted, probably on purpose.
“…It’s as I said earlier. I didn’t know anything. I can’t put it in words as clearly as you can, but I was thinking that the culprit knew about the Newspaper Club’s plans, and used that knowledge to outwit them. That was why I stood guard at areas that the Newspaper Club didn’t cover. Last month, I spotted someone who seemed to be the arsonist, but they were too far away for me to catch. That’s all I could do.”
I kept silent. Osanai-san was a girl of many lies. I couldn’t imagine that simple story to be the truth.
Having noticed my suspicion, she changed the subject in a forced bright voice.
“So, Kobato-kun, what happened with your girlfriend?”
Taken aback by the sudden question, I was momentarily unable to process it.
“I’m talking about Nakamaru-san.”
With her prompt, I finally remembered. We had so many fun memories. I laughed.
“We broke up. Or to be precise, I was dumped, and it was quite a one-sided affair. Nakamaru-san had a main boyfriend, and she somehow got mad at me, as if I was a failure of a human being, for continuing as per normal even though I found out about it.”
“Yeah, that does sound like what a failure of a human being would do.”
With her hands behind her back, Osanai-san lightly kicked the ground.
“I wonder if I’ll end up breaking up after tonight.”
Anyone who had all that said about him and still considered calmly carrying on with the relationship would have to be a masochist, and Urino-kun did not seem to be that type of person. Of course, that was only if nothing awakened within him as a result of tonight’s events.
In fact, didn’t his words sound like a farewell declaration? Kicking the soil once again, Osanai-san put on a troubled face.
“I don’t think you’ll believe me, but I really tried to be helpful to Urino-kun.”
My reaction must have been obvious, for I was instantly met with an ice-cold stare.
A small sigh escaped from Osanai-san’s lips.
“It’s really true. I was happy when he confessed to me. Urino-kun is quite cool and self-confident, you know? I immediately decided to go out with him, because I wanted to know. I wanted to know what love is.”
“Wanting to try out love, I gave my all for Urino-kun’s sake. I thought that was what a lover would do, nurturing feelings by actions. I think I did reasonably well.
“But as for how Urino-kun saw my actions… it’s as you’ve witnessed just now. My wishes were in vain. I haven’t changed at all, you know.”
So that was why Osanai-san was flickering in the shadows of the Newspaper Club, huh.
I would like to believe that Osanai-san gave her all for the sake of a boy, but not if she did things like secretly pulling the strings to secure space for an article and secretly standing guard at weak spots of the encirclement to catch the arsonist. No matter how you thought about it, those were not for the sake of love.
…Ah, did I understand so well because it was about someone else?
Well, I was confident that I’d been properly controlling myself in that aspect.
“I was also happy when Nakamaru-san asked me out. The last time I dated a girl was in middle school, as you know. Nakamaru-san’s actually an impeccable girl. In fact, she’s wasted on a guy like me.”
She was lively, able to discuss the latest topics, and most importantly, full of emotion. While she was usually smiling, she would sometimes sulk, and that was somewhat endearing. She also had a mischievous side, like when she said to my face that she liked weird boys. However…
“We talked about all sorts of things. And the troubling thing is, I could always tell where the stories were going. She brought up “mysterious incidents”, but I couldn’t see them as particularly mysterious. I kept holding myself back from saying that aloud, because I thought she would hate me if I did.”
“So, you became unable to hold back any longer?”
As I mentioned, even if you read ahead of the conversation, you’re not supposed to say it aloud like that.
“I made some remarks that were quite witty, if I may say so myself, but fortunately she didn’t hate me for that… No matter how much I showed off my wisdom, to my joy, she never seemed to notice.”
I could summarize the fun days I spent with Nakamaru-san with an idiom.
“How did that feel?”
Thankfully Osanai-san asked the question, and I was able to smoothly respond.
“Like nailing bran to a wall6, I suppose.”
While predicting the truth of the matter ahead of others was fun, it was also intrusive and could invite backlash. Afraid of the unexpected strength of such backlash, I’d decided to keep my head down. To me, Nakamaru-san should have been an easygoing person to be with.
I was happy to be praised and sad to be hated, but…
What about not being noticed at all? I always had the impulse to say to Nakamaru-san, “Wait a moment. I just solved a mystery, so what do you think of that?” In the end, I never said that to her, but that sense of frustration piled up with time.
Even so, I might have gotten used to that if nothing happened. No matter how hard I had to rack my brains to reveal a secret, if I could get used to hearing a simple “Ah, I see” in response, my vanity could possibly tire and wear away, and eventually disappear.
That could have been a good conclusion.
However, the case of serial arson occurred right before my very eyes. On the other hand, Nakamaru-san being Nakamaru-san, she was getting dissatisfied with me. If I was illuminated by her outlook on life, I would have gone mad with jealousy. It was all impossible.
But perhaps it did indeed give a slight hint of failing as a human being.
“Like nailing bran to a wall? I probably felt the same way when I was dating Urino-kun.”
She put on a stiff grin.
“I always thought that boy to be foolish.”
I don’t think even I thought that badly of Nakamaru-san.
“Kobato-chan, do you remember? Last year, we decided to go our separate ways.”
“Of course. We didn’t say that we would never see each other again, though.”
“Yes… but I wasn’t talking about that. You remember why we separated, right?”
I nodded. There was no way I could forget that.
Calling ourselves petit bourgeois was inherently a thing of excessive self-consciousness. It would hit too close to home when alone, but with Osanai-san, the pain would be lightened. My impudence would be forgiven by her, as hers would be forgiven by me. However, that lack of self-reliance, or the symbiotic relationship as we called it, came into conflict with our supposed aim of becoming petit bourgeois, and we could no longer be together.
“What I said at that time wasn’t a lie, and wasn’t just something I said on a whim. But after a year, I’ve started to think a little differently.”
I could hear the sound of Osanai-san’s shoes scraping the dirt. She was moving slightly closer.
“We’re not very wise. If we were actually wise, we would have made way fewer mistakes. We would have been able to effectively control ourselves. And most importantly, no one would have been hurt.”
“You’re right. I think so too.”
“But even so, we’re not completely incapable, either. Even if we weren’t as wise as we thought… it would definitely be a lie to say that we’re people who can’t achieve anything.
“When I witnessed Urino-kun’s indecisive actions, I thought to myself that Kobato-kun would have been able to handle it a little more effectively. And you showed tonight that I wasn’t overestimating you.”
“Dating Nakamaru-san was fun. Girl’s shopping is actually quite strategic. It was also really fun choosing movies and choosing topics to talk about. But what I really like is this. Conversations, or denouements like what we had tonight, are multiple times more exciting. Thank you for letting me talk. As I thought, things like this…”
I took a moment to choose my words.
“Warm my soul.”
The moon was dazzling.
It seemed that the conclusion I’d vaguely reached and the conclusion that Osanai-san was trying to put into words were similar, despite us spending a year apart from each other.
“Petit bourgeois” was just a slogan to compromise with our surroundings, a public stance to avoid being isolated again, a white flag saying, “We won’t become useful, so please just leave us alone.”
After carrying that slogan for three years, I finally understood. If I really wanted to compromise, I didn’t need such a thing to suppress my ego at the last minute. The longer I waved that white flag, the more I hated the deviation between my actions and my inner thoughts. The feeling of treating others as idiots just kept piling up in my heart, and ended up rotting.
That wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t need a “petit bourgeois” costume.
All I needed was someone by my side who could understand me.
“It took a year for us to finally come full circle.”
“Even though I was waiting for someone to crush my self-consciousness to bits, for someone to look down at me and say, ‘Don’t get carried away.’ But it’s over now. I’ve been waiting for so long, but I’m out of time.”
I raised my head. While it looked natural, Osanai-san’s face seemed to have turned stiff.
“I don’t think you’re the best, Kobato-kun. In the future, I’ll surely have the chance to meet someone wiser, yet kinder. I believe that day will come.
“But while I’m still in this town, while I’m still in Funa High, before that prince on a white horse appears before me… I think you’re the next best option. That’s why…”
Even as a failure of a human being, having the girl do all the talking would be absolutely spineless. Playing it cool while clearly showing a slight lack of composure, I opened my palms and interrupted Osanai-san.
“Hold on a moment.”
She was now looking at me.
“I have the same opinion. It would be perfect if you feel the same way about me and we could be a pair again, but even if you don’t, for now…”
“You are necessary to me.”
It was really hot tonight. In fact, it felt hotter than it was earlier.
Bzzz, the annoying insect flew up again.
Osanai-san covered her mouth.
And a stifled chuckle reached my ears.
Laughter also welled up within me. Once it started, it wouldn’t stop, and the park at night was filled by the sound of our mirth.
Still laughing, Osanai-san wiped the corner of her eye.
“How many words did we have to pile up to say what Urino-kun managed with one line, ‘Please go out with me’? In the end, are we people who can do nothing but think?”
While I was still laughing and nodding, I couldn’t entirely agree with that opinion.
If we were deciding to be a pair simply for the sake of thinking and finding out via trial and error how we could complement our deficiencies and supply each others’ demands…
“Yes, Kobato-kun, let’s get together again, though it’ll probably be just for a short time.”
…If that was all, I probably wouldn’t have felt this way now.
Something was apparently happening in the distance, for I could hear a siren carried by the wind. It would be eleven o’clock soon.
Should I say that we should go home since it was getting late, or should I let Osanai-san bring me to a shop selling delicious cake that was still open at this hour?
Now was the time to think. Seriously, what a difficult question.
Assistants (Tier 1) : Rolando Sanchez
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- What a traditional matchmaker would say before leaving a couple alone in a room.
- A book distributed in Japanese cities that provide information about laws, taxes, facilities, etc. specific to that city.
- A citrus fruit closely related to yuzu that is rich in sourness and usually harvested when still green. Looks a lot like a lime.
- Probably a shrine or temple for Prince Shotoku, renowned for modernizing the government administration and promoting Buddhism in Japan during the Asuka period (592-710).
- Osanai’s last line is similar to Voi che sapete che cosa è amor, meaning “You ladies who know what love is, is it what I’m suffering from?”, which is a song in The Marriage of Figaro, an opera by Mozart.
- Meaning “a waste of effort”. A similar saying in English is “water off a duck’s back”.