Dec 25, 2019

Christmas Comes Not For Us - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Christmas Eve. As usual, our meeting spot in the business district was crowded with people. When I first visited this place, I was restless and full of tension, but now…

“After all these repeats, I stopped feeling even that.”

That said, if you asked me whether my tension completely disappeared, that was not the case. Especially because me and Rinka swore that we would end this incident today. Whenever I thought of that, I just couldn't settle down.

“Sorry, did you wait long?”

“No, I just came here.”

“Hehe, thanks.”


She wore a corset skirt that emphasized the chest area, and a thick, red coat on top of it; it was an appearance that I go too used to seeing.

“It looks good on you.”

I was already so used to this situation that I had no trouble saying lines like this.

“I didn’t expect you to say that.”

“Well, it’s Christmas Eve and all. Anyway, let’s go.”

Thus we began our walk.

The town was decorated in many colors, with merry christmas songs playing here and there. The people walking back and fro seemed quite lively despite the winter’s cold chilling their bodies. Meanwhile…

“Ah, hey, Riichi! Don’t take pictures so suddenly. Rather, why are you even carrying your camera.”

“Well, I just can’t calm down without taking it with me. Look here, I’m taking another one.”

“Wait, stop taking them without warning!”

We walked along the street in a lively mood that wouldn’t lose to the bustling around us. Me with a camera in hand, snapping her pictures, while Natsumi kept on complaining about it.

“Riichi, you feel a bit different.”

“How come.”

“Like, you started suddenly photographing me… You have never done that until now.”

“What, you wanted me to do it?”

“That’s not what I said!”

I made sure to snap a picture of her embarrassed face.

I knew that if I looped again, then all the pictures I took today would be erased.

But even so, I peeped through the finder, clicked the shutter and took her pictures.

Everything she saw, she felt, she heard, she touched.

I made sure to leave behind how she looked today, this instant where we were together.

I captured her anger, her laughter, and her embarrassment.

At times I took close-up pictures from the side, and at times it suddenly felt like taking a wide-angle photo with the townscape. Emphasizing Natsumi in a portrait and blurring her with the scenery as a snapshot were both new experiences for me.

“It sure feels quite embarrassing to be photographed.”

“But it is fun, right?”

“A little bit.”

I made sure to snap the picture of her current bashful face.

Ever since the time on the rooftop, I’ve never based my pictures on Natsumi.

Her pain of loneliness.

Her serenity that’s hard to disrupt.

Her intense stare.

Her pained look that affected me and her existence that embedded itself into my heart. I believed that I could never take a picture that would exceed the picture that managed to capture these things.

Making Shiranamise Natsumi the theme was something like a taboo for me.

She shouldn’t be touched, she shouldn’t be corrected...I cannot direct my lens at her without a valid reason.

Deep down, I always, constantly thought so.

Natsumi was always close to me.

But Shiranamise Natsumi remained somewhere far away.

As such, I kept running away from photographing a girl called Natsumi.

I’m still not able to express her world any better than that. I kept thinking that somewhere deep down.

But now, I could freely capture her figure in the finder.

After all, now I knew.

About the happiness she sought.

About the greedy happiness slumbering at the bottom of her heart.

Because I came in contact with something that made me despair and crushed my heart, I now became able to direct my lens at her.

Her loneliness was certainly not filled with silence alone.

Somewhere deep, far deeper, there was also the wish brought upon by her loneliness.

I should not be misled by her heartrending appearance alone.

She lived in a world of her own, and for that reason, her desire was stronger than anyone else’s and knew no bounds.

That was something only I knew.

And something she only showed me.

That meant that, in the entire world, there was no one but me qualified to express it.

If I was Natsumi’s one and only supporter in the world, then she too was my one and only subject.

“Quite self-righteous, huh.”

“Whatcha mean?”

“It’s a secret.”

I mean, it was embarrassing to say something like “I want to monopolise you”. Stuff like that should be… like, there should be a more appropriate setting for those lines, right?

At the very least, it was not something I should’ve said while walking downtown like this.

“Aah, my face feels hot.”

“It’s nothing to feel so embarrassed about.”

“Of course I will be embarrassed if you take so many pictures. Hey, show me the pictures you took.”

“Nope. They aren’t finished yet anyway.”

“No fair.”

I was about to take a picture of her pouting face, but a clear voice addressed me.

“Yes?”

“Um, could I request a picture too?”

As I knew who she was...no, exactly because I knew who she was, seeing her stiff attitude made me almost burst into laughter.

Rinka stood there in an admirable manner, suppressing her hypocritical courtesy. Along with her conspicuous white hair and fluorescent blue eyes, it seems that she even dressed for the occasion. Her clothes were a perfect fit with no faults, and they matched well with her appearance, making her look quite otherworldly.

“Wow, amazing!”

I could see the reason Natsumi felt so surprised. Just about anyone would’ve reacted the same way if the current Rinka called out to them.

“Um, did you hear me?”

“Ah, yeah. A picture, was it?”

I was just captivated for a second, was there a need for her to glare at me like that? It’s okay, I get it. I will properly fulfil my role, so you focus on yours.

“Yes. I came here on a trip, but I’m returning home tomorrow, so I was just looking around now. Then I noticed someone with a camera and wondered if they would be kind enough to take a commemorative picture of me. Um, did I do something I shouldn’t have?”

“No, nothing like that. Is there a place you have in mind?”

“Let’s see. In that case, is it alright with you if we walk a bit?”

Rinka started walking without wavering. She walked with her head held high downtown, but perhaps because of her unrealistic appearance…

“I feel like she’s getting a lot of attention.”

“Well, when they see that, I can understand why.”

As we walked behind her while whispering to each other, we looked like some plebs in her presence. As if she was a princess and we her servants.

“Let’s see, for now, would you mind taking one picture over there?” Without a moment's delay, Rinka headed to the place in question and took a pose. Rather, she looked quite used to all this. Was she a model or something in the future?

“Amazing. She is like a model.”

It apparead that Natsumi felt the same. But through the finder, Rinka looked so perfect in that pose that I felt like I had become a pro cameraman just by directing the lens at her.

“Excuse me, are you a model or something?”

“No, It’s nothing like that. One of my family members is a professional cameraman, so I kind of became a natural at stuff like how to stand and pose as I spent time with him.”

I understand that they are meeting for the first time, but isn’t she a bit too curt there? Is our plan for today going to be fine with her acting like that?

“To tell you the truth, I wanted for him to come with me to this country, but sadly it was not possible. He is quite a busy person, after all. So I want to at least bring back the memories with me. I want him to see that I truly had fun.”

“Is...that so. Um, could you tell me your name…?”

“Of course. I am Rinka. And you?”

“I’m Natsumi. Shiranamise Natsumi. The one with the camera is Kuroe Riichi.”

I gave a slight nod to Rinka who was stealing glances at my direction in a way that only she would see it. I was fully aware that from now on would be the decisive moment of today.

“Natsumi. Why not keep her company for a little longer? Having only one picture as a commemorative photo sounds too lonely. Plus she seems to be alone and no one to depend on.”

“Y-Yeah. But Riichi, Today is…”

“I know. But just for a little bit. I’ll just take a few more pictures and it’ll end with that.”

“...Okay then.”

Well, her dissatisfaction was quite natural. Anyone would react the same way if a guy said something like this in the middle of their Christmas Eve date. But sorry, Natsumi. Just for today, please do as I say. Otherwise, there will be no future for us.

“Are you sure? I thought you two were on a date?”

“Well, we can’t really leave you all alone now, can we?”

“Really…?”

Rinka intentionally acted apologetically and it became the final push Natsumi needed. In a situation like this, she would never refuse such a request. Above all, she wouldn’t be able to leave a lonesome girl all by herself.

After all, she herself knew all too well how loneliness felt.

“Yeah...right. Let’s go then...make some more memories.”

Her reply lacked in vigour but she still ended up nodding. Okay. With this, we now have an excuse for Rinka to tag along with us. From now on, we have to think about how to spend today having fun.

We had to make today so fun that she would forget about the confession and into a normal day where friends spent time together.

“Riichi-san, your expression looks kinda bad”

“Huh? What brought that on?”

“Oh, nothing, it just seemed like that. By the way, are you two dating, after all?”

“H-Huh? What brought that on!?”

“If you are acting that flustered, it seems still not. I mean, I was a bit hesitant to intrude on a dating couple.”

No well, it’s no different when two people are together on Christmas Eve...but let me just keep my mouth shut here. It is my intention to have her tag along, after all.

“I have some experience so I understand.”

“Huh? Huh?”


“It sure is tough, isn’t it? With an irresolute guy as a partner, although you keep waiting for him, he just keeps on worrying and worrying. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“A...ahaha. Yeah, I don’t know.”

Natsumi, please stop looking at me like that. I’m starting to feel like running away.

“I understand your troubles, Natsumi-san. Well then, how about we continue this topic as we walk? I leave the camera duty to you, Riichi-san.”

“Huh!? Wait, Rinka-san!?”

“Please just call me ‘Rinka’. Besides, I assume I am younger than you, so there’s no need for honorifics.”

Rinka grabbed her hand and half-forcefully dragged her along. Bewildered Natsumi kept looking in my direction, but sorry, Natsumi, for now I’m a simple cameramen.

But her bewilderment only lasted for a short while, and within thirty minutes, they became so close one would think they’ve been friends for a decade.

I don’t know what the cause of that is at all. Well, I’m lying. The cause is as clear as day. Me.

Rinka kept bringing up topics about indecisive men and wanting them to be frank, and before long, Natsumi also got into it.

Which reminds me, Rinka did tell me that yesterday.

“If I want to get close to Natsumi-san, all we need to have is some girl talk. Regardless of the time or place, love talks were what connected girls and deepened their bonds.”

But even so, I don’t recall giving you permission to badmouth me so one-sidedly!

Honestly, my stomach hurts just from listening to your conversation, so I wish you would stop. Hey, can I just go home?

Can’t you two just enjoy the day yourselves?

“Ah, look. He isn’t listening to people, that’s why he’s so hopeless.”

“Riichi sure does that quite often.”

“Hey, aren’t you being a little too cruel…?”

Why do I have to feel so miserable during the Christmas Eve?






“So this is the school you two attend. I feel excited for some reason.”

“We really snuck in huh… Will we be alright?”

“Don’t worry. I did try it out a few times, but they never told me off.”

“Riichi, I didn’t know you were such a bad boy.”

“Leave me alone.”

We snuck into the school while talking a bit more merrily compared to the previous loops. Because I’ve been through it so many times, if you asked me whether my conduct felt a little too light, you’d be quite right.

But, still, today was the final day.

After this, I would stop sneaking into the school on Christmas Eve.

“School feels quite strange at night.”

“Natsumi-san, you are studying here right? Is it hard?”

“A bit, I guess. But school is fun.”

“Riichi-san… I suppose there’s no need to even ask.”

“Hey, what was that supposed to mean.”

Who knows, Rinka smiled at me quite implicatively, but even I found the school fun. In fact, after meeting Natsumi, the school became incomparably more fun compared to before it.

Also, so far everything was going as planned. Our date plan was nowhere to be seen. Rinka had become so intimate with us that it felt as if the three of us had promised to spend this day together.

“So this is the classroom. Oh, it’s locked, huh.”

“Ah, you are right. And here I thought how fun it would be to go in.”

“At this point, I don’t even know what we came here for. Natsumi-san and Riichi-san’s date plan sure is full of holes, isn’t it?”

“Rinka, shut up already.”

“Oh wow, are you mad? You are sooo childish.”

We walked through the deserted night school while messing around. It seemed that we couldn’t anter any of the rooms, and even the toilets were closed, but the three of us just spending time like this made the experience plenty fun.

“So you can laugh like that, Riichi.”

“Huh?”

“I mean, usually you act like you are trying to be someone else. It’s like you are trying to look cool. But I see that you can show such honest smiles too.”

“Wait a second, what do you mean by that.”

“Eh, I don’t mean anything more than I said.”

Giggling at me from the side made me awfully embarrassed. Am I really that different from normal?

“But I like either side of you.”

“Well, thanks for that.”

“Ah, look. That’s what I meant. Putting on airs like that.”

Hearing their murmurs made me feel embarrassed and I instinctively hastened my pace. But I think Natsumi saw through even that… I feel quite embarrassed now.

No, that’s not it.

This pleasant feeling is something different. I wonder what this ticklish sensation is?

It feels embarrassing but not unpleasantly so.

“Ah, you two. Stop being so carefree and come at once.”

Rinka who walked a step ahead of us popped her head from the stairway and peeked at our direction.

“It’s boring, not being able to get into classrooms. What should we do about this, Riichi-san?”

“Well, my bad.”

Even as we ascended the stairs we didn’t cease our chatter. Our bustling, noisy and friendly chatter was in contrast to the night school’s serenity, yet for its daytime, it was quite a common sight.

“Rather, it just doesn’t make sense, does it? For a Christmas Eve date plan to have sneaking into school as a possible option. What kind of nerves do you have?”

“Shut up. It took my all to think of even this.”

“I’m not sure what to think of it when going to school is what comes to your mind in such a situation. Don’t you agree, Natsumi-san?”

Our stride naturally lightened too.

As we spend time enjoying the atmosphere together in frivolous spirits, Natsumi said things she would usually never be able to say.

“Eh, I think it’s fine. I know that also adds to his charm.”

“Wow, that’s quite a sweetheart bias. Oh, why do you look so embarrassed, Riichi-san? I feel quite sad with you two… it’s like I’m the only one single here.”

“T-That’s not-!? Even me and Riichi aren’t… right?”

“Ah, well. Right. We aren’t... yeah.”

“‘We aren’t...yeah’, you say? Pull the other one! That alone is giving me heartburn!”

Thus, our stroll led us in front of the gate leading to the rooftop. We were so engrossed in our talk that I didn’t notice it, but it seems we already reached so far.

What is this I’m feeling, I wonder? The strange exaltation, mixed with tension of the impending moment and relief from finally reaching it, was silently filling my heart. This is where the fight to escape this loop starts.

“I suppose this will be locked too…?”

As Natsumi was saying that, Rinka turned the knob of the door that was supposed to be tightly shut.

─creak!

“No way!?”

The door leading to the rooftop opened with a high-pitched metallic creak, betraying Natsumi’s expectations, yet according to mine and Rinka’s.

“Woah.”

Along with a lively shout, Rinka rushed out to the rooftop self first. Me and Natsumi followed behind her as we observed her back.

“So pretty!!”

Under the starry sky, Rinka bustled about on the rooftop with her hands opened wide as if dancing. The rooftop of our alma mater that stood in the dead center of the residential area, perhaps because there were no lights around, showed us a beautiful starry sky quite unlike what you’d expect in a city.

It was a clear starry sky, perfect for a winter's night sky, so clear even the words ‘spilling over’ couldn’t fully describe it.

“In the end, we stayed together until this late.”

“Right. I wish we could spend some time alone though.”

“C-Come on. Riichi, what are you saying all of a sudden.”

“Your face looks quite red.”

Ah, ouch. I just teased you a little, there was no need to hit me so hard.

“If you are trying to hide your embarrassment, at least choose a cuter method.”

“Wha-!? Riichi, you idiot. I hate you.”

Did I tease her a bit too much? Sullen Natsumi ran towards Rinka who was leaning on the fence, and they enjoyed the townscape spread before them together. I peeked through the finder and faced my lense towards them.

Thus, as I loosened the tension assaulting my entire body…

“Riichi, come here. It’s beautiful.”

Natsumi called out to me. She was acting sullen until a second ago, but her mood suddenly changed. I really don’t understand girls.



“Where is your house located at, Riichi-san?”

Me, Natsumi and Rinka side by side overlooked the dazzling townscape. In fact, the entire town was illuminated in Christmas colors so I was a little, no, very moved.

“My house is sandwiching the business district from the opposite side so it can’t be seen from here.”

“Ah, I see. Nevermind then.”

“Is that how you react after asking me yourself? At least show a bit more interest.”

“Eh, I mean, I don’t really care about your house.”

Then why the hell did you even ask! Rather, she has already been in my house.

“Natsumi-san, where’s yours?”

“Mine’s over there. Around the middle of this school and the station.”

We glanced at where she was pointing at. The townscape submerged in the black of night was dark everywhere you looked, and only the silhouettes of the houses were visible along with the faint light coming from their windows. I had no idea which one her house was however. Rather, when I think of what's about to come, I just can’t find in me to enjoy myself so simple-mindedly.

“Ah, is it that one? The triangle-roofed one three houses away from that square house?”

“Too bad, that’s not it. It’s really hard to tell when it’s so dark, in the end.”

“Mgh. Now that it’s come to this, we have no choice but to sneak in again at daytime.”

“Eeh, we can’t do that. There will be others here, and it’ll be bad if we get found out.”

“It’s alright. When that time comes, we can just use Riichi-san as a scapegoat.”

“You are using me!?”

“Is that a no?”

Rinka spoke such silly things, but looking closely, her joints seemed to have turned white seemingly from gripping the fence with too much strength. It seems that she was just as nervous as I was.

Even after this, we continued our silly chatter. We talked about the sights we saw today, the food we ate and things we enjoyed. Even though we have spent less than a day together, it felt like we could talk forever about it. The atmosphere made us forget that we were on the school rooftop, a place that was normally off-limits, and we kept on talking and talking.

Our bustling voices seemed unfit for the beautiful sky spread atop the silent rooftop. We kept exchanging words between the three of us. Rinka spoke, Natsumi answered. I teased, Rinka retorted. Natsumi played stupid, I acted the straight man.

The town’s bustling from the distance felt pleasant to our ears; this was truly a moment of blissful happiness for us.

Though it wasn't the same compared to the sweet, enchanting time the two of us spent during the previous loops. But that’s exactly why it filled my heart with such tenderness.

It felt less like the excited tension. It was a more boisterous, more enjoyable moment, the kind you might not even remember the next day.

But that made it all the more necessary for me to burn this moment into my heart.

I have to remember every second of it...so after a while, yes...even when I grow up, I could look back and be nostalgic about how good it felt back then.

18:29.

I stole a quick glance at the time, and it seems that it was already a suitable moment now. My eyes suddenly met Rinka’s and responded with a small nod.

I exhaled a faint but deep sigh.

I clutched my trembling hands with all I had.

I tried to convince my violently pounding heart that everything would be all right.

“Natsumi, let’s go somewhere a bit higher.”

And then, I said the decisive words that would connect us to our future.

At the same time, my heart started to fill with a feeling that was far beyond bitterness. This nauseous feeling was from remembering about the time I killed Natsumi 2 loops ago.

Back then, I said the same words and took her along.

To a place higher than this rooftop.

“Ah, that sounds good! Rinka-chan, come here. We can see an even better scenery from there.”

But Natsumi didn’t know about that, and after inviting Rinka with a lively voice, she merrily walked towards the pile of garbage and started climbing on it.

“Ah, no fair. Me too.”

Rinka quickly followed after her. As they climbed up on it almost as if contesting with each other, I observed them as if it was some distant event.

While I was glued into place by my trauma, the two girls called out to me.

“Riichi, come on!! Stop looking and climb up!!”

“That’s right. Don’t try acting cool all by yourself and lets have more fun.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Imitating the two, I stepped on one of the wreckage that was once a signboard. Half of it was hidden and only “yaki Stall” was visible, but it was probably either Takoyaki or Okonomiyaki. In any case, I stepped on some of those signs and started climbing up. Each of my steps pushed down the bitterness welling up in my heart.

“Ah, Riichi. Be careful there!”

“Woah!? Come on, at least remove the nails from them.”

Perhaps because they were used on cultural festival, the plywood had nails sticking out of it, and I proceeded towards the girls as I avoided them.

“Amazing...this is amazing, Riichi-san!!”

“Hurry up!”

As I reached the two that were hurrying me in high spirits, the scene that spread before me exposed my memories.

“It sure is vast.”

“It’s pretty.”

I was certainly not as happy about it as they were.

With Rinka between us, we stood on a place even higher than the rooftop. The scenery we saw from there was far more vast. Beyond the rows of houses, the business district looked dazzling even from this far away. However, only part of the buildings were tall, and the rest of the townscape spread far beyond that.

I killed Natsumi with a scene like this in the background.

“Riichi-san.”

I didn’t respond to her voice, and merely nodded instead. I know. Don’t worry. If I regretted killing the Natsumi of back then, if I regretted laying my hands on her, then I had to make the Natsumi standing by my side right now happy.

That was the only thing that could face my feelings of guilt. Besides,

“Hey, it’s amazing, isn’t it, Riichi.”

“Yeah, it is, Natsumi.”

Besides, I really do love her, in the end.

Because I didn’t want to let her die any more. That’s why, I will deny even the happiness that she herself desires, and face the future.

“You two really are close, huh? It’s a little unbelievable that you aren’t dating.”

“Wha-!? Rinka-chan!?”


“What’s the matter, Natsumi-san? Riichi-san, look, she’s red like a tomato. So cute~”

“H-Hey, stop. Stop teasing me so much!!”

For now, the plan was going smoothly. If we could end the day by enjoying ourselves like this, we would somehow be able to reach the next day.

And with that, we would finally escape this loop.

“Tomorrow will come.”

“Will it go so smoothly, I wonder?”

“What?”

Rinka, what are you saying? Weren’t you the one who said it? That as long as we could make the most of today, as long as we could get Natsumi to completely forget about confessing, we could open the path towards the future.






“Understood. Then, Riichi-san, please reject Natsumi-san.”

“I already tried that, but it didn’t go well. Besides, me rejecting her would not sit well with you either, right?”

I fixed my eyes on Rinka. On December 23rd after school, my chilly room was engulfed in dead silence.

“That’s because your method was wrong. ...If she still confesses to you even after learning about Diva, then this is the only way. Before she ends up confessing, please put an end to her love yourself.”

“Wait a minute. I just told you that didn’t go well, didn’t I…?”

Rinka remained irritatingly calm while I my mind was in a mess. How the hell can you say something like that without batting an eye.

“Besides, didn’t you say it yourself? That if we parted ways, Natsumi would become Diva’s ally and that would be the worst outcome? I remember it clearly!”

I put the feelings I wanted denied into words and bared them at Rinka. Because...because, I felt relieved after our previous conversation. Because she claimed that we would never part, regardless of what kind of situation we fell into.

“Why the hell are you suddenly going back on those words!”

“Riichi-san, calm down please. I did say that about you parting, but I never said a word about you rejecting her.”

“Isn’t that just a goddamn sophism!?”

“I’ll explain it all, so calm down. Even I want to avoid separating the two of you. If that happens, I won’t be able to protect the future I should be protecting. That is one thing that should be avoided at all costs.”

I was overpowered by her words who seemed to be trying to endure something, and sat back down after my emotional outburst.

“So what would rejecting her accomplish?”

“Please stop snapping at me like that. In short, the problem is how you reject her. For example, if I suddenly appear tomorrow and say I’m your girlfriend, that would lead to the worst kind of result. Depending on the situation, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of you getting stabbed.”

“Are you messing with me?”

Rinka’s joking attitude was pissing me off.

I was still irritated, so how come she was so calm now?

“Riichi-san, I’m happy.”

“What?”

As I asked suspiciously, she returned a big smile.

“Thank you for desiring the future. If you didn’t feel that way, and you chose to keep looping according to Natsumi-san’s wishes, there would be nothing else I could do.”

“W-What’s with you all of a sudden.”

“It’s nothing, I just felt that I had to mention this first. Otherwise, it didn’t seem like you’d be willing to listen to me. So, thank you very much. For desiring the future.”

“It’s not like I’m doing it for you…”

Right, I wasn’t doing it for someone. I was simply choosing the future where I would be together with Natsumi. Even if that would look like I was doing it for Rinka’s sake…

“Are you embarrassed?”

“Wha-!?”

“You really aren’t honest when it counts, Riichi-san. If you keep that up, Natsumi-san will fall out of love, you know?”

I was taken aback by her comments as she continued giggling, and I couldn’t find in me to keep objecting to each and every thing she said.

“So, what should I do tomorrow exacly?”

Now that it had come to this, I just had to let go and get back on topic.


““Let’s remain friends forever. That way, you’ll never be alone again”. You just have to say that.”


“So, please remain by my side, Riichi.”

That was something we once spoke about at school. 

“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?”

That was something she said in the previous loop.

Natsumi always feared parting with me. The thought of separating from her always made me anxious.

After all, if that did happen, there would be no one else left to understand her.

“So, I should reject her? I should tell her to remain friends forever and put an end to her love, is what you are saying?”

“Yes. Simple, right? You’ll reject her but you will still remain together.”

For a moment, I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say.

But the next moment, I finally grasped the meaning of those words and chills ran down my spine.

“You...are you really human…?”

“Well, yes, though I was born into the far future.”

She said that, but I just couldn’t believe that the same blood was flowing in our veins.

Or else, how would she be able to say those words?

After all, that was nothing but deception, you know?

To escape the loop, I would have to deceive my own heart, betray my love for Natsumi and continue doing that forever.

“I...I love Natsumi.”

“I know.”

“There’s no way I would be able to endure that.”

Keep lying to myself, betraying Natsumi, and continue being her friend and supporter...how could I possibly manage to do something so cruel?

Don’t joke with me!

There’s no way I’ll ever…

“Then are you going to keep on watching as she keeps dying? Are you going to give up? On the future with her.”

“Isn’t that just some lip service? If the future we are heading to is something so cruel, then I’d rather leave it as is!”

“But the future can be changed.”

“Kh!”

“It can be changed. I said it, didn’t I? That Natsumi-san would one day create the means to oppose Diva. And that the world would view her as a hero. At that point, everyone would know about Diva. At that point, everyone would understand her world. So…”

“So, you are telling me to keep enduring until then? That I should remain by her side as a friend and keep lying to her? Don’t fuck with me!!”

A loud thud could be heard.

“You...youuu!!”

“Rii...chi...san…”

Her painful voice suddenly brought me back to my senses. Before I realised it, I was sitting astride her and pushing her down on the bed. And my hands were grasping the collar of her hoodie.

“S-Sorry.”

“Cough...Cough…”

Her violent coughing filled me with feelings of guilt. What the heck was I doing? Regardless of how angry I was, how could I do something like this…

“Is there no other way? Is that really the only way…? Do I have no other choice but to keep on lying to her?”

To my bitter words, Rinka responded with a wordless nod.

“...I see.”

Why was my head filled with only those words.

Natsumi said it, didn’t she? That she wanted to be together at all costs.

She was someone who’d choose staying together over her life, you know?

If she learned that her love wouldn’t come true, just how much pain would that make her feel?

Imagining her in that moment crushed my heart.

“That’s the only way, huh…”

Just how hurt would this make Natsumi? I’m sure she’d cry, suffer and feel unimaginable pain.

“That is the method for the two of you to arrive at the future. Moreover, this method has been proven in the future.”

I processed her words.

I kept trying to get myself to accept them somehow.

I had to hurt Natsumi with the method she desired the least. Could I really do that…?

“I will also support you during that time. I’ll join up with you with the appropriate timing and we’ll act together after that. So that there’s no falsehood in your request to be friends forever, let’s make it the most enjoyable day spent as friends.”

It was a method that utilised the loneliness in her heart. It was a cowardly move that took advantage of her solitude. But, still…

“Will it… really lead us to the future?”

“Yes.”

“...Got it. Then, what exactly should I do tomorrow?”

It took my all to come to grips with the idea of hurting Natsumi, so I couldn’t think of what exactly I had to do during the appointed day.

Even now, I kept searching for another way in my head.

Even so, Rinka continued without minding that.

“I’ll make up the reason myself, so you just keep up with me. What’s important is for the two of you not to end up by yourselves. I’ll become a hindrance that disrupts your harmony. If it all goes well, we’ll be able to get out of this loop.”

“Got it. Let’s just get out of this loop somehow.”

“Okay. Also, I have one more request.”

“What is it?”

“Please make sure to head for the school rooftop at the very end. This is the most important part.”

Her expression was dead serious as she said that so I gave a firm nod. She was apparently putting on a bold front more than necessary as the moment she relaxed she started smiling jokingly.

“It’s okay, being shy to strangers is unknown to me.”

“...No one cares about that.”

“We might as well enjoy it. It’s still Christmas Eve, after all.”

“You are one heartless bastard, you know.”

At this point, a powerless laugh was all I could muster.






And thus, today, December 24th has been going very favourably so far. The mood hasn’t turned the slightest bit amorous, instead, the girls hit off so well it was hard to believe today was their first time meeting each other. Yet, Rinka was still doubting whether it would go well...why would you say that!


“The Abies Tower is about to be illuminated.”

“Is it really that pretty?”

“Yeah. It’s even featured in various magazines every year.”

While chatting, Rinka and Natsumi gazed at the Abies Tower far in the distance.

Checking the time, it was already 18:53. Only a little bit was left until the illumination at 19:00.

When I became aware of it, my tension grew all the more.

It was something we promised to view together, but never got to see no matter how many times we repeated it. That was now almost imminent.

It’s okay. It will be alright.

Rinka was saying something, but the current us had not the slightest mood going between us. If the three of us just viewed the illumination, and smiled at the beauty of it, it would be the end.

18:56.

Ah, shit. I can’t calm down at all.

Since earlier, my heart keeps accelerating along with the passage of time. What is it, why am I this nervous.

18:58.

“Riichi, it’s about to begin.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

Even my words towards her lively words was far too rigid. I started feeling restless around at my feet. But it couldn’t be helped, could it? It was about to happen. It looked like we would be able to finally reach that moment.

18:59.

The final minute started its countdown at least. But that single minute felt awfully long. Why? How? Is time really this slow to pass? There’s no way that’s true, is it? Hurry, hurry up. Ahh, damn it. Why am I being so impatient, I couldn’t even understand that now. But, at any rate, it was about to happen. In just a bit, we would reach the time we were never able to reach during the loops. So…

“It’s lit!!”

It came along with her shout. The Abies Tower in the distance, the long and tall tower standing at the center of Misono lit up.

“──!”

An indescribable excitement ran through my very being. It was different from the refreshing, uplifting feeling. At any rate, that feeling as if my blood was boiling ran through my body from the tips of my feet all the way to my head.

“E-Eh, wait, Riichi. Why are you crying!?”

For a second, I couldn’t understand what she meant. But the next moment, I finally noticed it...what these warm drops sliding down my cheeks were.

“Did it move you that much?”

“Yeah...yeah. That’s right. I was moved all right. I mean, look, it’s so pretty!”

Of course I would be moved. I was seeing this scenery for the first time, after all. I kept looping for all this time. The time period from December 22nd until just before 19:00 of 24th.

I saw the same sights and did the same things again and again, spending the days as if I was watching a movie I had long since grown tired of. In that time there was nothing new, and my views on it could be summed up in a single line - Same thing again, huh. And because of that…

“This is the first time I’ve seen something so beautiful.”

I had completely forgotten what it felt like to encounter something new.

Aah, I see. I’m happy now. That’s why I’m crying. I was seeing something I never did until now. And, and moreover…

“Natsumi, It makes me crazy happy that we get to see it together.”

“C-Come on, Riichi, what are you saying?”

There was a girl I could share my feelings with.

This was it, this is exactly it.

I wanted to feel this sensation many more times in the future, and during those times I wanted to have her by my side...that’s why I… I really did want to proceed to the future, in the end.

“That was quite an exaggerated reaction, Riichi-san. But well, it’s a rare moment so we might as well take a picture, right?”

Rinka said in exasperation but I finally reached this point. She could let me be at least this excited for a bit.

“Hey, Riichi. We are taking a picture so come here.”

And as we were about to take a picture with the illuminated Abies Tower behind us, just as we were about to move positions…



“Ah.”


Hearing Natsumi's monotone voice, I turned towards her only to be greeted by her floating figure with her eyes widened in surprise.

Her long hair spread out like wings, reflecting the dazzling city lights, and as I was captivated by her pretty figure,

“Natsumi!?”

I dashed towards her to catch her body.

When I realised that she had missed the footing, I caught the off-balance Natsumi in my hands and hugged her as tightly as I could so she would not get injured on the pile of trash.

“Riichi!?”

I started slamming into everything, so much that even her voice started sounding distant.

“Guh-!”

I felt heat travel through my right arm.

Pain like I’ve never felt before, as if the flesh was gouged out from me, started to paint my vision in deep red. I had no time to even understand what had happened as my head got slammed into something with a terrible sound.

“Riichi!? Riichi!?”

As I faintly opened my eyes to respond to the desperate pleas of Natsumi, I saw a white haired girl accompanied by the winter’s night sky looking down at me.



“With this, you will reach the future.”



The Rinka before me appeared so mystical and beautiful, as if she were an angel. As my consciousness was taken from me, I held on to such out-of-place emotions.

“Riichi! Hey, wake up, Riichi!!”

While listening to Natsumi’s grieving voice, my consciousness was suddenly cut.

What the, isn’t this basically the complete opposite of what happens during the loops?

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