Dec 25, 2019

Christmas Comes Not For Us - Chapter 4

Chapter 4


“It’s okay. Everyone has days where they want to skip school. Just make sure you go tomorrow.”

“Yeah, true.”

In the end, I felt too afraid to face my sin of killing Natsumi and couldn’t go to school today. I secluded myself inside my room and continued talking with Rinka, and the day was already nearing its end.

“Even so, if it's possible, please properly show your face to Natsumi tomorrow.”

“I got it.”


I said that, but in the end, I still wondered whether I was qualified to meet her.”

Indeed, now that I’ve looped, Natsumi would not know what I did. But, even if that’s the case, I can’t just pretend that never happened, I’m not allowed to.

“If you feel guilty towards Natsumi-san, then make sure you get out of this loop, Riichi-san. Please make sure she doesn’t die any more than this.”

Her voice resounded heavily in the room filled with the rays of the setting sun. Her words were exactly on point, and exactly why they sounded so unforgiving. It was as if she was telling me not to run away from reality, and honestly speaking, I still didn’t have enough willpower in me to accept her heavy words.

“It’s so tiresome…”

That’s why my mutters sunk painfully low, as if invited by the shadows created by the setting sun.

In truth, I wanted to get out of the loop this very second.

How could I attain the future that I failed to reach even at the cost of killing Natsumi? Was it really possible at all?

“I don’t understand. Can I...really escape this loop…?”

This wasn’t the same as when I lashed out at Rinka this morning. This was my honest question after crossing all my limits.

Call me a coward, I’m fine with that.

Rebuke me for whining so much, I won’t complain.

I just...really didn’t know.

“Does the way to escape this loop really exist...?”

I tried everything I could.

I hurt Natsumi, betrayed her, and scorned her. I tried different places, different methods, but I still failed.

“I even killed Natsumi, you know…? I killed her so she would not die, and yet…”

Everything was no bueno.

“Indeed. You were driven to the wall to that point, and yet you still haven’t found a way out. But that’s exactly why I am here. It’s because the situation has reached this point that I can finally become your ally.”

“What do you mean…”

When I asked that, Rinka, who sat in a refined manner, opened her mouth with a serious look.

“Riichi-san. What was your thought when you saw my hair and eyes?”

“What, you ask…”

“It’s not normal. It’s strange - something along those lines, right?”

 Well, everyone would think that when they see such white hair and blue eyes. But…

“The fact that you didn’t straight up call it weird is the proof of your kindness. That kindness of yours was what saved Natsumi-san, you know? You are truly a wonderful person.”

“I’m not someone so praiseworthy…”

If I really was so kind, I would not have done something like that to Natsumi.

“Riichi-san. I don’t know how you think of yourself, but please don’t depreciate yourself. You did everything you could for Natsumi-san all this time. Even after hurting her so many times at the cost of deceiving your own heart, you never stopped thinking about her and kept trying your best. Calling someone like that unkind would be a lie.”

My chest felt hot. Behind my tightly shut lips, my teeth started to tremble. Tears were about to fall from my downcast eyes. I see, so that’s how it is. Rinka, you…

“Are you saying that what I did was not a mistake…?”

When I asked her with trembling voice…

“Yes.”

She returned an honest nod.

“I see. I see…”

With those words, I heaved a deep sigh. It was made intentionally intense, filled with my varied emotions. Because of that, because I exhaled everything I couldn’t put into words, I was able to regain a bit of my willpower to face forward.

“Riichi-san, would you believe me if I told you my hair and eyes were originally black?”

And since I managed to do that, my mind was able to focus on my conversation with Rinka.

“Well, I certainly did think that they weren’t natural, but if so, why are they like that?”

“It’s because I traveled through time.”

That said, I still wasn’t able to fully process those words.

“Time travelled… then, that means you weren’t joking when you said those words this morning?”

When she said she came from the future, I didn’t believe it at all.

“You sure are doubtful when it counts. Well then, here’s my proof. This is my student ID that proves my social position in the future.”

With those words, Rinka pulled out a terminal from her pocket, and as she operated it an image was projected in the air.

“Due to protecting personal information, my name, address and such are encrypted, but well, those aren’t important to the current you.”

She added that, but honestly, the scene I was seeing made the word “Future” float in my head. Like, it was being projected in the air, you know? It wasn’t projected on things like a wall or the ceiling like with projectors and 3d mappings, but in mid air, and in crazy high definition at that. And Rinka on the picture it displayed…

“So you really did have black hair.”

“Yes. I was aware that time traveling would cause some kind of change in my appearance, but I never expected it to be this much. Oh well, it can’t be helped.”

She dismissed it like it was nothing, but she clearly seemed to be even younger than me. And since a girl that young was dismissing a change so big so easily, it meant that she had a good reason for doing so.

“Rinka, just what is your objective?”

“It is to protect the future of year 2039.”

Those words that sounded like a joke carried such heaviness that you wouldn’t be able to laugh them off.

“Now, there are many things we have to talk about, but before that, Riichi-san. How much do you understand about this loop?”

“Even if you ask me, I don’t know anything about it, be it the cause or the countermeasure.”

“Even so, there should be things that you have noticed after all those repeats. Please tell me.”

Being stared at by those fluorescent blue eyes made my tension grow.

“What I noticed, huh… Well, there are two things. Those are, Natsumi’s death causes the loop and Natsumi always dies after she confesses.”

That’s right… that’s why I tried to avoid her confession in different ways. They ultimately all failed, though. Hmm? Wait, in that case…

“Is the fact that Natsumi’s confession is unavoidable also included in that?”

“Okay, let's see. Your understanding is mostly right. But regarding that last point, you should’ve confirmed it yourself in the last loop that it’s not absolutely impossible to avoid her confession.”

...Oh, right.

If I created a situation where she physically could not talk, then she naturally wouldn’t be able to confess. Still, she sure is merciless with her words to tell me that upfront.

“Hey, you aren’t suggesting that I escape the loop by means of that, right?”

“Please be at ease. I have no intention of suggesting plans that employ such inhuman means. Even if I did, that would not let me protect the year 2039.”

“Those words brought peace to my mind.”

Otherwise, if she suddenly said, “oh yes, that’s the plan,'' I would not know what to do anymore.

“By the way, it’s been on my mind all this time, but what exactly do you mean by protecting the year 2039? Is there some kind of enemy out there?”

When I asked that, Rinka wordlessly stood up and walked to the window, opening it with a clatter and letting the winter’s air flow into the room.

“Riichi-san, how does this sky look for you?”



My mind suddenly had a flashback.

Of the rooftop post 4PM.

Of the pile of scrap wood and the blue sky of spring.

And, of the picture of a girl with a smartphone in hand, enveloped by the pink-colored sky.

"This sky is being invaded by an enemy."

Natsumi of that time used to post various pictures and posts like that. But reflected in each and every one of those pictures was an ordinary sky.

But for her—

“Is it... Natsumi’s...sky…?”

“That’s right. It’s the pale-pink sky that Natsumi-san sees. That is both the cause of your looping and the definite enemy of humanity in the year 2039.”

……

“Your face is telling me you can’t make heads or tails of what I said.”

“Well, yeah.”

It was hard to believe that the cause of this ridiculous situation was in the sky, of all things. What the heck?

“I just thought that it would be better if it was some other, easier to understand enemy.”

“Even though you are already as lost as you could possibly be?”

“Kh!?”

Rinka stood before me, appearing so vivid that it stimulated my mind. I felt as if the cold room became even colder by a few degrees.

“You don’t have to be so on guard. I am your ally. Now—shall we finally talk then? About what is making you and Natsumi-san go through all this.”






“Both the reason for you getting stuck in a loop and Natsumi-san dying is up in this sky.”

With that, Rinka started her story. Her calm voice spread though the freezing room.

“They are called Diva. They are not organic lifeforms like humans, but instead, data-based ones made up of particles of information.”

“H-Hold it for a bit. That’s a bit too much information in one go. Diva? Data-based lifeform? Are you being serious?”

“I’m serious. There’s nothing for me to gain by telling jokes to you now.”

She had a point. But I couldn’t so readily accept such a SF-like story. Rinka however ignored my confusion and continued her speech.

“Diva had already sprung forth since 2010. However, there was no one who could notice them. Except Shiranamise Natsumi-san, that is.”

What did Natsumi have to do with this. Why did she show up in this crazy story…? I was so dumbfounded all I could do was nod.

“You’ve seen them too, right, Riichi-san? Those pictures she uploaded on SNS and the attached texts. She was trying to report Diva’s existence to other people though those pictures and words.”

"This sky is being invaded by an enemy."

Could you imagine how hard it was to believe that those posts that couldn’t be seen as anything but jokes were actually intended for such purpose?

“Let’s see. Haven’t you heard this from Natsumi-san? That her headache subsided when she put the headphones on?”

“She did, but what about it…?”

“That is also the proof that she can perceive Diva.”

Even if she was telling me that so confidently, I couldn’t possibly understand what she meant. Sure, Natsumi was using her headphones, but so what?

“Natsumi-san has synesthesia. It’s when people give colors to sounds and letters, have you heard of it?”

“No, I don’t think I have. So, assuming she has that, what does that change?”

“When Diva exchange information it transmits a peculiar sound wave. It’s a sound you usually wouldn’t even be able to hear, but because of synesthesia, Natsumi-san is able to capture it as a color. A pale pink sky. She mentioned it to you before, didn’t she?”

It was far from mentioning it to me.

The pale pink sky.

It was what served as the trigger for us to exchange words. That sky she talked about was the cause of us becoming closer.

“The sky that she saw are Diva. Most probably, she got those headaches during the moments they became active. And by using those highly soundproof headphones, she was able to soften it.”

If what she said was true, then I could see why drinking medicine would be useless. There didn’t exist a doctor who would be able to treat such nonsensical cause, after all.

“Natsumi-san is being killed by that Diva.”

“Wait. Why did it suddenly come to her being killed?”



“Because, In the future of 2039, Shiranamise Natsumi would develop the means of opposing Diva that are threatening humanity.”



“Huh, what?”

What? What did she just say?

“I can understand your shock. However, that is the reality for us. She will develop several technologies in the future. She was naturally connected to observing Diva, but it was also her who discovered the one and only means of opposition that we have against them—the “Interception Barrier Program”. In the near future, she would accomplish achievements that would be carved in history.”

The mood of the deathly silent room hurt my ears. What should I feel when hearing all that?

Future.

Diva.

Year 2039.

The “Interception Barrier Program”.

I didn’t know where to even begin to wrap my head around it.

“And as such, Diva found her existence unpleasant. They then started to synchronize with the past. Naturally, their objective was to eliminate Natsumi-san. When we noticed that, we also worked out a plan to follow it into the past and protect her. And that’s where I come from. I came from 2039 to protect Natsumi-san.”

A lie...it didn't seem to be. It didn’t appear that way, and assuming it was, there was no use in doing so. Well, it would be a different story if Rinka’s head was filled with cringy fantasies.

“Well, I’d like to delve deeper regarding Diva and the future, but for now, just let me hear all you have to say. Honestly, with only what you told me, I can’t understand what’s happening now. Why am I looping? Are Diva doing this too?”

That’s right, what was important now was not complicated things such as what was happening in the future. What I wanted to know was how to get out of this loop, nothing more and nothing less.

“Unfortunately the cause of looping are not Diva. I was the one who created it in order to protect you two.”

“Wha-!? Then are you saying it can be dealt with!?”

I asked back in excitement, but Rinka slowly shook her head sideways, quite insentiently.

“As long as the conditions aren’t met, it will never be released.”

Damn it. And here I thought I could finally be free from this madness.

“So, is the requirement that? Not letting Natsumi confess to me?”

“Yes. It’s as you say. It is to roll over the 24th December without Natsumi-san confessing to you. That is the only way to get out of this loop.”

“I see.”

That was more or less how I expected it to be. During all the previous loops, I always tried to avoid Natsumi’s confession. In other words,

“What I was trying to do was not a mistake. But, isn’t it weird? Why are Diva targeting the moment she confesses to me?”

Right. That was the strangest part in all this. Why was Natsumi always dying after the confession?

“Because that would mean Natsumi-san gaining a supporter - you. As I mentioned before, Natsumi-san developed the system to fight Diva in the future. And you always stood by her side. Whenever she felt discouraged or disheartened, you always held her close and cheered her up. That’s why, from the point of view of me who came from the future, you are an even more important existence than her in a way.”

“What do you mean? It was Natsumi who developed the “Interception Barrier Program”, not me, right? Then why are you speaking with such implications?”

“That’s because, in this time period, you are her only supporter. And it would continue to be that way for years to come. It took us until the year 2030 to finally perceive Diva’s existence. Until then, Natsumi-san continued living isolated in a world where no one understood her.”

...What?

“Are you serious? You mean she would stay as lonely as she is now?”

If so, I can’t just shrug it off as nothing.

“Yes. It’s sad but it’s the truth. Still, even as she was not being understood, she still continued her research on Diva, and just before they swallowed humanity, she made their existence known and established the means of opposing them. Those were all Natsumi-san’s achievements, but your existence is indispensable for them.”

“Rinka, you really aren’t joking right now, are you?”

“I could show you the proof of just how important an existence you are, but doing so would fall under the banned actions of the upstream time travel...”

Rinka started pondering with those words, but honestly, I don’t think I would be able to easily believe it even after seeing that proof. I mean, when someone suddenly appears and tells you, “you are a really important person for the future” you can’t just swallow those words like nothing.

“I’m sorry, but I can only ask you to trust me on that. And so, another turning point is the day after tomorrow, the 24th December. That’s when Natsumi-san confesses to you. And Diva also know this. And this is what they think: Shiranamise Natsumi was able to complete the “Interception Barrier Program” because she had you supporting her through every step of it.”

“Aren’t you exaggerating it a bit?”

“Even if you say that, that outcome has been proven in 2039. If this year you and Natsumi-san become a couple, that would mean humanity of 2039 will not be taken over by Diva, but if not, then they will be.”

Even if you tell me that the future lies on my shoulders, just what do you expect me to do?

“Then why aren’t Diva trying to kill either of us right this instant? Wouldn’t that be faster instead of waiting for the confession?”

“That’s simple. Even if Diva killed you now, that would only make Natsumi-san seek revenge against them. And in case you two part ways, then it would be the ideal situation for Diva, as Natsumi-san would decide to bare her fangs against humanity along with them.”

After saying all that, she paused and took a deep breath, and asked in a shaking voice.

“...Do you… believe me?”

Her serious expression was nowhere to be seen now. Instead, it was replaced by a look of unsease directed at me. Well, that was only natural. Even me, were I not involved in it, would find it unbelievable if someone told me all that.

But I was already involved.

The proof of that was painfully carved into my mind.

The repeating confession and death.

Thinking about all the times I was made to see those, her story doesn’t seem so unbelievable anymore. And above all, a single path finally opened up in a blind alley I was following until now. In that case, it wouldn’t hurt to believe her words, would it?

I took a deep breath. And then, I opened my mouth to announce my decision.

“I believe you.”

“Really!?”

I couldn’t even describe how happy she looked to hear those words. Her eyes shone, with her hands pressed to her chest in a praying position.

“I’m so glad you believe me. If I were to be honest, I wouldn’t have believed it if someone suddenly told me all that. You are quite generous, Riichi-san.”

“You…are indirectly telling me that I’m a dumbass, aren’t you?”

“No such thing. Why would I ever think that?”

“You’ve been spouting off quite a few rude remarks even before this.”

She puffed her cheeks in an upset manner. Seeing her like that made me realise once again that she was younger than me, but she was still quite hard to grasp.

“I see… Diva, huh…”

It all sounded so unreal. Even after I heard all that, just what could I possibly do now?

Diva, these mysterious existences, are killing Natsumi...what can I do against them?

“I would also like to hear your story.”

“My story?”

“Please tell me what you felt as you kept trying your best all this time. How hard was it, and what crazy things did you do during all this time?”

Saying those words, she closed the window and walked away from it. She then approached the bed, turned over the bed cover and sat on one side.

“Come sit next to me.”

“Huh?”

“This room is too chilly. If we don’t get under the covers, we’ll catch a cold, you know?”

“Well, you are the one who opened the window in winter.”

“Let’s not go there,” she answered indifferently. I sat down next to her as instructed, and she put the covers on my shoulders. “Hehe, it feels quite warm with the two of us inside.”

“...”

Being wrapped in the same blanket made me feel her warmth coming from right next to me. This morning it was still find since I was overcome with emotions, but it was a different story now, and I couldn’t calm down with her sitting so close to me.

I felt a weight on my shoulder. Rinka had leaned her head against it. Her conduct made it hard to grasp the sense of distance between us. But at the same time, I also felt my mind calming down with her cuddling so close to me. The heaviness in my heart started to soften.

“...This situation is full of things that I can’t understand.”

“Indeed.”

“Just as Natsumi confessed to me, she died, or so I thought, but then time got rewound. At first, I thought I was going insane. It was hard to believe that something straight out of SF like time travel could be happening in real life.”

Then I started talking. About all that has happened, and what it took to reach this point.

“I tried many things. I was trying to find a way to get out of this situation. But it was all useless. Even if I tried to keep my distance from her, even if I tried to get her to hate me, in the end, Natsumi still confessed to me, and still died...over...and over…”

It was painful.

It was tiring.

Being shown the dead body of a girl I loved over and over put me on the brink of collapse.

Every time I opened my eyes again, the realisation that I would be arriving at that unavoidable outcome wore down my mind and heart, and in the last few loops, I wasn’t even able to eat properly anymore.

“I felt truly helpless. I was scared to even leave my room. I didn’t feel like doing anything, but each time, Natsumi appeared before me and died…”

It was a nightmare.

It was like a living hell.

Seeing that whatever I did still ultimately lead to her death even made me lose my will to live.

Even when it came to the pictures I used to take daily, I feel like I haven’t taken any during the last few loops. Before this, I had my camera in hand whenever I found time, but I lost the drive to even do that.

Rather than devoting myself to my hobbies, I was wearing down my heart though all these nightmarish repeats.

“That’s how I was all this time, so it made me awfully glad when you showed up, Rinka.”

“...Is that so.”

“Yeah. You stopped me when I was about to kill myself, faced my anger, hugged me and let me cry in your arms. Letting out everything I was holding in for so long lifted a heavy burden from me. Thank you.”

“How should I put it, seeing you thank me so honesty is making me feel embarrassed. But, I’m glad. That I was able to bring your energy back.”

Rinka entrusted her body to me even more.

Perhaps because I felt her warmth, I could feel my eyelids loosen.

Which reminds me, I feel like I haven’t slept for so long.

“I feel so tired…”

“It’s okay, rest. I will be by your side.”

“I...see…”

Ah, I feel at ease.

Had closing your eyes always felt this good?

“Sleep well, Riichi-san.”

As my consciousness gradually faded, I felt someone’s gentle voice in my mind.






“That scared me…”

When I opened my eyes, I saw Rinka’s pretty face before me.

She had her pretty eyes closed and was in a deep sleep, her face revealing the innocence appropriate of a girl her age.

Rather, I’m a bit lost here. Why is she sleeping right next to me?

I quickly rose up to check my surroundings, which revealed that I was in my familiar room. Which meant...

“So she fell asleep in that posture, huh.”

I finally got a long needed rest yesterday. Even so, I’m not sure what to think of sleeping under the same blanket with a girl her age until morning…

“Mmm...cold.”

“Ah.”
Because I woke up and left the blanket open, Rinka started to stir in bed.

“Eh…?”

As I was hurriedly trying to put the blanket back on her, Rinka suddenly woke up and our eyes met.

“Mm, a bit longer…”

“Wh-, Hey!?”

I hurriedly held her as she tried to snuggle back in, still half-asleep. Her warmth and fragrance, different from Natsumi, made my feel hot all over. I mean, what should I do in this situation?

“Daddy…”

“Do I look like I’m your daddy!? Come on, wake up already!”

Rinka continued muttering indistinguishable words as I tried to shake her awake. I didn’t want to get any more rough, so I kept that up for some time and then, her eyes suddenly opened wide as if a switch had been flipped.

“Ah, there we go. Good morning?”

“...A...Ah…”

I suppose this is what they mean when they say jaw-dropping. Rinka started trembling and then instantly shot up from bed with a beet red face and rushed towards the washroom.

...Now then, how should I deal with this awkward mood.






“Please forget it please forget it. Please forget it once more.”

“I got it. I got it already, so just calm down and let's eat.”

After all that confusion settled down, the two of us decided to have breakfast.

“Oh god, that was the blunder of my lifetime. I can’t believe I showed you that messy state of mine.”

“Cool your head and let's just focus on eating for now.”

We’ve been like this for some time now. It seems that showing her sleepy face to me was too embarrassing for her, as she’s been avoiding eye contact ever since we sat down to eat.

“Thanks.”

“For what!?”

“No need to snap at me. I mean, for staying with me last night. I’m honestly grateful for it. I managed to get a good night's sleep for the first time in a while.”

When I honestly thanked her, her face turned beet red from embarrassment. Rather, so she can act shy and embarrassed too huh. She looks cute like that though.

“You don’t have to thank me. This is my duty.”

“Don’t say something so sad. Listen, I’ll be going to school today, but let’s have a talk once I’m back. About the things we have to do from now on.”

“Alright.”






“Riichi, are you sure you are alright?”

As was expected, I came across the worried Natsumi the moment I arrived at school. But that couldn’t be helped. After all, I ended the call after a few words yesterday, and ignored the messages she sent to me afterwards.

“Sorry to have worried you. I’m fine now.”

True to my words, my sanity had recovered so much it even surprised me. I thought the feelings of guilt would be weighing on me far more than this.

That too was due to Rinka’s help.

She accepted both my anger and sorrow and even told me the cause of the situation I was in. She managed to—albeit not completely—blow away the feeling of hopelessness that I was feeling.

“Well, your complexion does look good”

“Right? So there’s nothing to worry about.”

“You properly came to school even on the national holiday, after all.”

“Pretty much.”

But now that I had more or less cheered up, I felt a bit different about pretending the previous loop never happened.

But it was a fact that I had killed her. That was something I wasn’t allowed to forget.

“Hey, Natsumi.”

“What is it?”

“Let's make the best out of tomorrow.”

But, even so, it wouldn’t make sense to apologise to current Natsumi about it. Apologising here would be easy. But in the end, that would be nothing but self-satisfaction. From her point of view, there was no reason for me to apologise. That’s why, that was not the answer.

“Yup. I’m looking forward to it. I hope it will be sunny.”

“Yeah, me too.”

That’s why, since I couldn't make up for what I did to the Natsumi of that time, I had to make up for it by making this Natsumi before me happy.

That is my duty as someone who had, for one time, killed her.






After school, me and Rinka sat facing each other in my room just like yesterday.

“I thought this yesterday too, but this sure is a messy room.”

“Mind your own business.”

“You aren’t thinking of inviting Natsumi-san here, right? She’ll end up hating you.”

“Oh shut it. Leave me alone.”

While giving me an exasperated look, Rinka sat on my bed. I took a chair opposite from her and sat down.

“From yesterday’s conversation, I understood a few things about the cause. So next is how to deal with it.”

“You sound quite positive.”

“Well, the situation now is better than all those previous times where I was diving blindly.”

“So, what are you going to do? Do you have anything up your sleeve?”

“Nope.”

Her scornful gaze hurt me. I mean, even if you look at me like that, I can’t help it. Rather, is there anyone who could’ve come up with a solution so quickly after hearing all that yesterday?

“I’ll just keep on repeating as many times as it takes. That’s the only thing I can do, and fortunately, I have infinite time as long as I keep repeating it.

“Despite the fact that Natsumi-san would die each of those times?”

When Rinka asked that, I thought back to that moment.

Confession and fresh blood.

Happiness and despair.

A warm smile and a coat drenched in blood.

Indeed, if I can be saved from seeing that again, than I would gladly do so.

The girl I love was dying before my eyes. Just about anyone would think that. However…

“If that is connected to the future where Natsumi lives, then yes, that is the responsibility that I have to bear no matter what.”

“Understood. I will cooperate as much as I can.”

“That helps.”

Somehow, I felt the weight on my shoulders lighten a little.

I’ve been doing this all by myself until now. But from now on, I finally had an ally.

“The question is, how to make Natsumi not confess.”

“And that’s not just for 24th December, but even after that too.”

“I see. So even if Natsumi doesn’t confess on Christmas Eve, but a day later, Diva would still kill her, huh?”

“Yes, that’s how it is. That’s why you have to create a situation where she would not confess to you not just tomorrow, but in the future too.”

“I feel like the degree of difficulty suddenly skyrocketed.”

In fact, I had not the slightest idea what to do.

I mean, I tried to get her to hate me before, but it, too, ended in a failure.

“...”

“What?”

I noticed Rinka silently staring at me.

“No, I was just thinking that you seemed awfully calm despite the talk being about avoiding a confession from the girl you love.”

Oh, so that’s what it was.

“Well, even if she doesn’t confess to me, it’s not like that would continue forever. You said it yesterday, right? That I would continue to be by her side from now on.”

“Well, I did but…”

“Naturally, it makes me sad. I love her, and she loves me too. Not being able to convey those feelings is draining. But...But, the time will come when we will be together, right? In that case, I’m willing to hang on for a bit more.”

That’s right. It’s not like we will be separated by death. Compared to the outcome where one of us dies, being unable to confess for some time is nothing to be scared of.

“I see. You are strong, Riichi-san.”

That’s not the case. She could say that because she didn’t know the old me.

“I’m not strong at all.”

I am miserable and lame. I cried over and over so pathetically, and even snapped at her. I’m your average weakling you could find anywhere.

“But, what can I really do. I’ll say this in advance, but no rejecting her okay? I don’t wanna hurt her.”

The pain that would cause is already well known for me. Rather, I’m sure I won’t be able to reject her. That’s simply the extent of my love for her.

“I know. Besides, even if you reject her, that itself would cause the future to be taken over by Diva. It’s not something even I would welcome.”

“Glad to hear that.”

Which means, I have to think about what else I can do, huh.

A method that wouldn’t hurt her, yet would let me stay by her side without her confessing to me.

“...There’s only a single method like that, isn’t there?”

“And what could that be?”

“That is to get Natsumi to cooperate with us. I will tell everything I heard from you to her. If we get her to cooperate after that, that would solve everything, right? Even she should not confess if she knows that it would cause her death.”


As I proposed that, Rinka’s expression remained grim. There was simply no other option, but was there something wrong with this?

“...I understand. Then let’s first try and see how that goes. Please tell her about Diva during your date tomorrow.”

“Yeah, that’s the plan. Still...looks like I can finally get out of this loop tomorrow.”

Imagining that made me awfully relaxed.

I got caught up in something unbelievable. I was well aware of that fact. If you ask me whether I could handle it all, my answer would be a definite no.

But, even so, I finally found the thread connected to the solution. And tomorrow, I would finally reach that solution.

I felt like I could finally see hope.

“Now then, I suppose I’ll prepare food for the evening. You should eat too, Rinka.”

“Okay. Thank you. But one more thing, Riichi-san.”

“What the matter?”

“Please don’t be discouraged even if it fails, okay? Whatever happens, I will always be on your side.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Rinka sure was a worrywart. Tomorrow, all this will end. There will be no more loops.






Thus, the fateful December 24th.

As usual, I trolled the shopping district with Natsumi, doing some window-shopping and trying out various foods, and finally arrived at the school rooftop.

“It sure is pretty.”

“Yeah.”

It was already past 6PM. Even the Abies Tower seen afar was eagerly waiting to be lit up any moment now. I see, I never had a chance to see it before, but when this loop ends, I will finally be able to view it together with Natsumi.

“I never thought we’d manage to get to the rooftop.”

“We sure are lucky, huh. Ought to thank whoever forgot to lock the door.”

“Hehe.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. You just seem kinda lively today.”

“You think so?”

Though I said that, I was well aware of the reason for that. After all, I would be able to end everything right here. There would be no more time rewinds or loops. Surely, the next time I wake up, it will be the 25th of December, and I will head out to school while grumbling.

Then, after I spend the remaining two short semesters with Natsumi, winter vacation will surely come and bring with it a lot of fun.

Finally ...finally! I will be free from this nonsense.

But for that, I need to tell everything to her.

“Natsumi, I have something to tell you.”

“What is it? Becoming so serious all of a sudden.”

“Do you remember the time we first met?”

“Yeah. There’s no way I would ever forget that.”

As she firmly answered that, I could see some kind of longing desire in her eyes.

"This sky is being invaded by an enemy."

“Oh, stop it. That’s embarrassing.”

Unlike Natsumi, who started laughing bashfully, I continued talking with an extremely serious face.

“At first I also thought of it as a nonsense. Even if you told me it was being invaded by an enemy, I couldn’t picture it at all. But Natsumi...I’m going to tell you something unbelievable now. But please. I want you to believe me.”

“Riichi…?”

She probably sensed something unusual in my behaviour. I started explaining everything to her as she stood there quizzically. What Rinka told me yesterday, about the supernatural beings called Diva, about the year 2039, about us in that year, and about the loops.

At first she looked dubiously at me, but in the end she started listening to me properly. She listened to my nonsensical and crazy speech to the end, without treating it as a joke.

“That is all.”

By the time I was done the chilly wind uncomparable to the daytime made us cuddle our bodies together.

Warm.

Natsumi’s gentle body temperature made me remember.

This heat belonged to her.

This warmth belonged to her.

I had been hugging her growingly cold body for so long I had completely forgotten how it felt. But now she was alive and she was here.

“...It was tough, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“The scale is so grand that I can’t even begin to understand it.”

“Even I didn’t imagine the situation reaching this point.”

We secretly exchanged words.

It was not embarrassing or awkward.

It was just a quiet and relaxing conversation.

“Hey, Riichi. Have you ever wanted for a moment to last forever?”

“I have thought that before. How joyous would it be if we could remain like this. But now, I can no longer think that way. I want to quickly reach the future.”

I will never forget the expression she had when she heard those words.

It was forlorn and painful, as if frightened by the sin she was about to commit, and yet, in its depths, there was also delight blinking in and out of existence. It was a complicated expression with a mix of sorrow and joy.

Not minding my astonished expression, Natsumi spoke a single line.



“You know I...don’t want to escape this loop.”




……

………

My brain gave up on understanding those words.



“If we continue to loop permanently, then I can be with you forever. Come next year, our exams will finally get serious, and I was afraid that our careers would have separated us. But...you know, if we continued to loop like this, I can stay with you like this forever, right? In that case, why do we have to escape from such a blissful thing?”


Why are you...saying that?

“Because, Natsumi, you are going to die. When you confess to me you…”



“No, Riichi. We can’t do that. I just realised it, you know? I’m fine with dying. If we can be together like this for eternity, then something like dying is a trivial matter. So, Riichi—”



I’m sorry, she murmured, and once again, spoke those words.

Those words, that repeated over and over like a curse, and continued to trap me in this cage of time.



"I love you. I love you, Riichi."






"I love you. I love you, Riichi."



The moment I spoke those words, I heard something snap deep inside of me.

I see, so this is how it feels to die.

It’s nothing like what I expected.

Compared to how I imagined it, this is no big deal.

After all, I feel so happy right now.

Hey, the me of next time.

Be sure to confess again, okay?

Don’t hesitate, don’t fear, and convey your feelings to Riichi.

If you do that, I get to be with him forever and ever.

Riichi is making a face like that for my sake.

Ahh, Riichi.

You look so lovely right now.

I love you.






December 22.

The smartphone screen that I grew to hate seeing. Throwing it to the bedside, I saw the same old ceiling. Even if I tried to see whether at least a dot of stain was added to it, there was no way I could find it…

“Ha...haha. Hahaha…”

A dry laughter, mixed with desperation, leaked from my mouth.

The scream raised from my heart that grew to hate anything and everything started swirling inside the room.

Please tell me this is a joke.

It’s a lie, right?

If it’s not, what am I supposed to do?

“Natsumi, why did you…”

When I covered my eyes with my arm, her face floated up in my dark vision.

She had the finest smile… full of satisfaction, delight and happiness.

She smiled with a face I have never seen before, expressing how happy she was, and then vomited blood.

Even as she fell on the cold roof, she had an expression that said there was nothing she regretted.

The blood dripping from the raised corners of her mouth got burned into my eyes more than anything before.

“What do you mean you don’t want to get out of this loop.”

Natsumi said she was happy to be caught in this loop.

In this irrational, meaningless and hopeless suffering.

This is too much.

Just what I was trying so hard for all this time…!

“No, I see.”

For Natsumi, this loop is not misfortune but everything she desired.

“I don’t understand. What should I do now?”

I was trying to get out of the loop because she was dying.

But even that feeling was denied from me.

Are you telling me to keep on looping like this?

“Ha...hahaha. Ahahahahahaha.”

This is so ridiculous it’s unbearable. My heart screamed at this unreasonable situation.

As I impulsively opened my curtains, the familiar townscape spread before my eyes. I couldn’t even remember when was the last time I photographed it.

But strangely enough, when I checked my camera, the last photograph was apparently taken yesterday.

December 21.

Why, I wondered.

There should’ve been so many pictures of today, December 22, that I took.

And then, I realized.

The December 22nd had just started, and yesterday it was unmistakably the 21st.

Ahh, this really has grown so strange.

My perception had slipped off somewhere.

While thinking about that, I clicked the shutter.

One shot a day.

I should have taken them in the previous loops too, but the one this time felt somewhat different from the rest.

Even in terms of the composition, exposure and focus.

All of those were chaotically mingled together.

“Is it even worth taking a picture like this?”

The picture I took was so bad I unconsciously spit out those words. It was so bad that, I’d rather never pick up the camera again if I was going to take a picture like this.

“Yeah, I suck at this.”

Even those self-persuasive words had different emotions in them.

It was too crude of a shot. I didn’t even hold an image in mind and just snapped into the emptiness. It was by far the worst image among all that I have taken so far.

At this point, I didn’t even know what was the point in taking these pictures anymore.

“Riichi-san.”

“Rinka, huh…”

“Yes.”

Seriously, just how does she manage to sneak in like this. Are you telling me there are tools to sneak inside houses in the future?

“Riichi-san, um…”

“You saw it, right? You know about the last loop, right?”

“...Yes.”

She nodded with a pained expression.

“Hey, tell me. Isn’t it laughable? Those were Natsumi’s true feelings. She doesn’t want to escape this loop. She believes repeating the same time forever to be happiness. What the hell is that!?”

My angry voice caused her to twitch. But I couldn’t care less about that now.

“What the fuck was that!? What the fuck was I doing all this time!? I love her!? I didn’t want her to die!? It turns out that was all meaningless in the end!!!”

“Riichi-san, that’s not the—”

“Yes it is! That’s what Natsumi herself said. She said what I was doing was wrong. All of it was wrong. SHE said all that, you hear!?”

“Riichi-san, calm down. Please calm down. I’m sure you are just confused now, so—”

“So? So what!? Of course I’m confused. You thought I wasn’t!? My feelings were crushed underfoot, and you tell me to be fucking calm!!?”

I trembled and breathed heavily. My ears were ringing like crazy, and my eyes felt like they were burning.

“I’m sure Natsumi-san is also confused. She suddenly heard something so unbelievable, that’s why she said something like that.”

“Shut up.”

“...”

“Hey, please just shut up. Or I, I…”

But I couldn’t say anything more. All those raging emotions of mine suddenly calmed down, as if washed by the waves. Instead, it was replaced by deep emptiness and hopelessness. Everything suddenly started to look ridiculous.

“Fu...fufu...ahahahahahahahahaha!”

I laughed like a madman. Even I couldn't understand my own emotions anymore.

Anger, sadness, emptiness, helplessness, and many other emotions all mixed together, and I couldn’t help but laugh anymore.

“Wha-, Riichi-san!?”

While I was in that state, I swung my hand around. With a loud sound, all the books and pencils that were placed on the desk got scattered on the floor. When I was about to swing it once more, Rinka clung to me.

“Stop. You should not treat those like that.”

What are you being so desperate for? Looking at what she meant, I saw the camera placed there.

“Is that camera something you should be treating so insignificantly!? Wasn’t it what introduced you to Natsumi-san!?”

Hearing those words, I lost all my power like an uncorked bottle. I powerlessly sank down to the floor, with Rinka doing the same beside me.

Haha, what a disastrous scene…

“Riichi-san…”

Next to the worried-looking Rinka, I reached out my hand towards “that”.

“What is that…?”

“It’s my pride.”

It fell on the floor along with the textbooks. It had such a bad fold that it opened up even if you didn’t want it to.

"First Place - Kuroe Riichi"

Next to those words there was a single picture.

It was my best shot in all my short photography career. It was a picture I could throw out my chest and call my masterpiece.

“Her World”

It depicted a single girl with those words engraved on it.

Her spartphone was directed towards the sky, with a mountain of scrap wood under her feet and a slim tower in the background. With just that, it wouldn’t have won this first place. But for some reason, everything but the girl in the center was dyed in a light-pink color.

It was only that much difference.

Yet, it contained a sense of silence that couldn’t be sensed normally. It was the kind of painful, encroaching silence.

But that was the true nature of this picture. The loneliness a girl called Shiranamise Natsumi held inside moved the heart more than anything else, and at the same time, it looked beautiful.

What I felt at that moment when I met hear at the rooftop was perfectly portrayed in this picture.

“Natsumi, you know, she was bullied in middle school.”

“Oh really?”

Before I noticed I had started talking. Rinka didn’t say anything and simply kept me company.

“She saw the sky differently from other people, and it made her lonely. For that reason, she searched for someone like her… But, middle school is where kids are sensitive to unusual things, right? Just like that, Natsumi was singled out and became the target of bullying.”

Who knows how sad that felt. Alone, without being understood, she was called weird and ridiculed behind her back.

Just by imagining what she felt at that time makes my heart tighten up.

“And that’s probably why...when I first met her, she was fully alert like a hedgehog. She talked sharply and her sense of distance with people was bad, and she built walls around her.”

It was her way of dealing with life. She didn’t know when she would taste sorrow again. Whatever she did, she could not find a like-minded person. In that case, wasn’t it better to isolate herself from her surroundings from the start? That was the sad decision she had arrived at.

“But even so, she could not endure being all alone like that. She made posts on SNS to find a comrade that might have existed somewhere. "This sky is being invaded by an enemy." - she continued submitting such strange posts, endlessly so.”

She was always alone. She put on her large headphones and continued playing with her smartphone without saying a word to anyone, searching for someone who could understand her. She wanted to deny her loneliness and say that she wasn’t alone in the world.

“And then, that Natsumi finally stopped being a loner. Perhaps that someone wasn’t the kind of comrade she was looking for, but he reproduced the world she lived in with a camera and showed understanding.”

Back then, when I showed her the picture, she made a truly happy expression. She could finally think that she wasn’t alone in this world anymore.

“That’s why...that’s why it's not that strange for her to think like that… that she doesn’t want to get out of this loop, and to live inside it forever in happiness.”

“Riichi-san.”

“It does make sense though, doesn’t it? She finally obtained a supporter. And she was finally able to say it. “I’m glad I met you, Riichi”, “I’m happy to be like this”. I easily let those pass, but those were actually something really precious to her, weren’t they?”

“Perhaps...you are right.”

I patted her head as she cast her eyes down painfully. Thank you for making that face for Natsumi.

“So, first, I believe I ought to accept her feelings.”

Those words spilled out from me quite naturally. Thinking back about Natsumi, I think those are her most precious—

“You can’t!!”

I was interrupted by her sharp yell.

“You can’t do that. If you accept her feelings, then what would happen from now on? Are you saying you are going to keep on looping like this?”

That’s right. Rinka, that’s what makes you worried, huh. But, don’t worry. Even I wouldn’t accept that.

After all, my heart gets colder every time I loop.

I became more and more lost and in the end even killed Natsumi.

I never want to do that again.

“Don’t worry. I will escape this loop no matter what. I love Natsumi, after all. I’d like to spend not just this limited time, but much, much more with her.”

That’s right, I don’t want to keep repeating like this, but instead, spend even more time with her. As if I can just sacrifice all of it without doing anything.

“I love Natsumi. And I want to live to the future with her.”

That was my selfishness. It may be something opposite of Natsumi’s happiness. But...but that’s exactly what I  wish for. So..

“Rinka, lend me your hand. So that I can advance into the future with her.”

“Yes. Of course I will. That’s exactly why I am here.”

I was momentarily captivated by the commanding expression she showed. It didn’t look like the one a kid like me would make, but instead, one of an adult with a duty to fulfil.

“That’s why, please, resolve yourself. The method I’m about to suggest would keep both of you from attaining happiness. Even so, would you do it?”

Both her tone and attitude were unlike that of a child. It told me that her words were not some kind of joke and I took a deep breath.

Then, I closed my eyes and confirmed my feelings.

“Riichi.”

Natsumi always called my name with a soft smile on her face.

“Hey, Riichi.”

At times, she cuddled close to me asking to be spoiled.

“Riichii.”

Whenever she called me with that charming tone, my heart was unable to calm down.

And also...

"I love you. I love you, Riichi."

I heard it many times. Each time they brought me sorrow. Yet, there was not a single time when hearing her confession didn’t make me happy.

That’s why, I really do love Natsumi, in the end.

“Yeah, I don’t mind. If it means that I can face the future together with her, I’m ready for anything.”

Hearing my determined words, Rinka responded with a firm nod.

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