White Album 2 Omake/Story04/Chapter 2/All
 Chapter 2 - That Snow, Two Years Later
"I think this place would be great for skiing!"
"Hey, let's go diving at Okinawa!"
"Swimming at Okinawa would be after April. It's impossible to do that during the spring, no?"
"Then what about at Guam or Saipan?"
"... you do know your seniors' budget here, don't you?"
"Hmm~, what a pain. Damned if you do, and damned if you don't..."
"That's why I'm telling you to just go with skiing."
"Hey, hey, where do you wanna go, Setsuna-chan?"
"You know, where we're going for the seminar training camp... rather, that's why we gathered here, isn't it?"
"Ah, I'm sorry... umm......... let me think about it a bit more..."
Even today was filled with the clamor of adolescence, as the social science students gathered at the farthest table in the cafeteria of Building 6.
"But you know, why is it that we're the ones organizing even though we've never gone to a single seminar?"
"The seniors asked us because they're in their final exams though..."
"Even though we're in the same program?"
Outside was so gloomy it might snow, let alone cold and cloudy. However, the students' were so knee-deep in their conversation, as if the spring holidays had come and the winter had long passed.
"Generally though, the second years didn't get to come up until last year, so it's fine, right?"
"Well, it can't be helped this year. The seniors were all in a riot when the regional seminars were decided."
"... so then, it's like that?"
"So what we should look for is..."
Though, at that moment, when she realized that their conversation had come to a screeching halt, everyone had their eyes on her.
"Eh? Eh? Ah, yeah... well, what about going to an onsen?"
"S, seems like what an old lady would do, no?"
"Eh? W, what...?"
And the moment she had such a hysterical reaction, being the girl whose fate was to always attract the attention of others...
"Ah~, forget it, I give up, I give up. Someone else do this."
"What's with that magnificently slow boke of yours? Was it on purpose? Well, was it?"
"Oh god, Setsuna really is so cute! I know she's right in front of me, and I know she rejected me long ago but I have to say it!"
"Wait right there! That's not something I'm going to let go of so easily!"
"It's okay, Setsuna. You don't need to hold back or be worried, just being here is fine."
"Yeah, yeah, that alone gets the seniors and professors going, compared to us."
Even though the evening sidewalk cafe had just regained its peace, the unforgiving noise from a while ago had compeltely returned.
But, they didn't know.
They didn't know that Setsuna's magnificent boke wasn't some calculated mischief of hers, even considering how naturally beautiful she was.
They didn't know that she was just concentrating on not hearing anything at all.
At least for this moment, as the sidewalk cafe speakers had been blasting "The Love That Will Not Reach"...
It'd been about two years since Setsuna enrolled in Houjou University...
A year had passed, and the famous song once concealed to hundreds of people had become a standard number to thousands during the winter.
"The Love That Will Not Reach" had its first broadcast on the Houjou campus during the school festival last year, in the evening. But even after that, the radio channel kept vigorously playing it. There wasn't a single soul within Houjou University who hadn't known of the song now, as there were those from the attached school who knew of it, and new listeners who were taken in by it.
However, as always, people around those who knew were on the offensive. And this didn't stop at recruiting to bands, entry requests into the Miss Houjou contest, or even confessions in all the chaos.
And as always, with Setsuna in the center of it all, she'd just give a vague smile while never actually getting into any of these.
Even so, if there was something that had changed in her even just a little...
"Well then, this makes up who's responsible for what. You heard that loud and clear, Setsuna?"
"I'll be fine. Contacting the seniors, right? Leave it to me."
It was how she could form friendships with people other than the "group of four".
Stage performances, beauty pageants, and dates were off limits.
However, she'd be more likely to go to gatherings or tea ceremonies. Holding high hopes for herself, she wouldn't forget the faces of the organizers or students.
She was moderately close to people, moderately polite, not being haughty or vulgar, and she would never be emotional.
"The charm of a fleeting dream".
She'd polished up on this point of hers she'd gained since being in the attached school.
But Setsuna had no idea if this was a progression or a regression of hers.
Because after all...
"By the way, Tomochika-kun... is Kitahara-kun going to be in this? Or not?"
"He was still a maybe on it since yesterday... maybe it's a tough choice for him?"
Like this, she'd hear how Haruki was doing through other people for the time.
Like this, she'd confirm how Haruki was doing through people other than herself.
It was a sign of the things Setsuna gained in a year, and what she lost in return.
"Besides, if Kitahara-kun never took control in the first place, we wouldn't be able to gather like this."
"Don't be pushing everything on Kitahara. He'll be in part-time jobs even when the spring holidays hit."
A little less than a year ago "on the day", Setsuna had come to a halt.
She should have taken Haruki's hand, clung to his chest, and buried herself in all the lonely, painful, yet beautiful moments up until then.
She should have, but thanks to a single song that rode the airwaves, the overflowing emotions and courage that Setsuna built up had been snatched away.
"But you know, the main thing about being a student is..."
"Studying. Could you say he's neglecting his studies given his grades?"
"I'm telling you, that's not really the whole story..."
"Don't criticize us low-income students. Even I'm planning to do part-time jobs in the spring, but if you ask Haruki whether or not to pass on this..."
Since then, the two had grown emotionally distant, yet they were so physically close.
However, Setsuna mourned her failure so much that she blamed herself for the whole thing, not going the whole mile like she'd given up.
It was as if her heart had been finally sliced into pieces...
"... Tomochika, I've been always wondering about this, but why do you get so serious and cover for Kitahara like that?"
"What are you two up to...?"
"Oh yeah, you're both doing the same part-time job, right? Two of them, in fact?"
"... you guys are dating?"
"They're pals with similar tastes, and they both don't have an interest in girls... just maybe?"
It was around when winter just started, when Setsuna began making new friends. Perhaps it was to hide the loneliness of not being able to reach Haruki.
Perhaps it was an automatic balancing mechanism with Setsuna so that she could live on.
... but doing so would trap her in a vicious cycle of building up guilt for "running away" from Haruki.
"Ridiculous. You guys have no idea. Kitahara's quite popular with people out there."
"Besides, some girl forcibly approached him in his last job..."
"You're joking! Someone approached Mr. Class President!?"
At that moment, Setsuna's gulping down her voice had luckily stopped her from letting out a cry.
"What's with calling him class president even though he's a university student now... even though it's accurate..."
"So, so, how'd it go? Did Kitahara-kun go out with her?"
"What happened, Tomochika-kun!?"
"If you're so interested, just ask him personally..."
"Well, not really..."
"Certainly he's smart, tends to people, makes a lot of money, looks good, and if you consider his prospects I'm sure he's quite something!"
"Well he'd be on the right track if he got used to showing himself off a litle."
"What's that? You saying Kitahara's a hot item?"
"But he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd get close to others."
"That's right, he has this unbalance where he tends to people yet he forces them away."
"... well let's just leave it at that. Anyways, I'm not trying to sell my best friend or anything like that... actually, I've said too much. Forget about it."
Murmuring that at the end, he didn't say any more since claiming to be Haruki's "best friend".
"Ogiso? Huh? Your home is this way?"
After the meeting had finished, she called out in a clear and thorough voice that wasn't too loud, to a male student who seemed to be hurrying through the school gates.
"I have something to do in Onjuku... are you going to your part-time job, Tomochika-kun?"
"Yeah, and then Goodies afterward."
And the reality of Setsuna calling out to a guy must have been devastating to those who recognized her as "Ogiso Setsuna, the Houjou University idol".
But the man who she called to had only seen her as "a female friend in the same program", keeping a natural attitude.
"Really, seems pretty close by."
"Thanks to all this though, it's been awkward encountering so many people."
"Heheh... I also go there sometimes."
Though it was a normal reaction, it wasn't normal at all. Though it was comfortable for her, unfortunately she had no room to recognize that.
"Speaking of which, the school uniform for the girls is quite cute over there."
"I suppose. The same goes for the male customers and the men working there."
"Ahaha... perhaps you're one of them, Tomochika-kun?"
After all, Setsuna already knew that Tomochika Hiroki had been working there in the first place, and calling him from behind like this was no coincidence.
"Cut that out... I was simply introduced there."
"This guy knew that I had trouble with living expenses, so he got all involved and forcibly had this story spread to the store..."
"Quite a meddling guy, isn't he...?"
Setsuna knew that it wasn't a lie for him to say that he had "trouble with living expenses".
Tomochika Hiroki was an older student who happened to be in the same year, failing the entrance exams and retaking them a year later.
He was a prodigy in high school, and he should have gotten in on the first try, but as luck would have it, his family situation kept him from doing so.
Because three years ago in the winter when he graduated from high school, his mother who was his only family had fallen ill.
And he devoted a year to nursing her as well as making enough money to pay for tuition. Two years ago, he finally managed to enter in the same year as Setsuna and her classmates through a scholarship.
... she heard Takeya grumbling about this at some ponit.
Io had joked "It's too bad Haruki got taken by another guy", but the truth is it wasn't just Takeya that noticed people close to Haruki. Setsuna also almost felt the same way.
"So, I'm guessing it's Haru... Kitahara-kun, right?"
"Heh, you sure know him."
Indeed, the reason why Setsuna called out to him was not to learn about how Tomochika was working so hard.
"Because see, you said he was working with you at that store a while ago..."
It was to learn about the "meddling guy" who'd gotten involved in his situation and supported him.
"He was, yeah. Even though it was part-time, he spoke like he was the manager... well, he did work at that level anyway, so no one complained."
"R, really, is that so?"
"Haruki took care of deciding shifts and training the new guys. Anyone else would think he was a manager-in-training."
"I see, that's why..."
"One of the girls working at that store... confessed to him, right?"
She desperately tried to make it sound casual.
Though it was all while desperately hiding her throbbing heart and that she seemed like she'd break a sweat.
"Well... I said it before, but I don't really want to talk about it."
"Ah, I'm sorry. Did I offend you?"
"No, not really."
"I'm really sorry. I was just curious, yet I said something rather rude."
"I'm telling you, I don't really mind..."
All while being obliged to apologize.
All while blaming herself.
"I'm not a decent person... maybe everyone'll end up hating me..."
... however, it was definitely not to put an end to this topic. Setsuna stubbornly continued.
As everyone else kept doing so to her, at some point she came up with this kind of strategy.
She knew people would feel irritated when she did this to them. But Setsuna right now could only do this.
Because she'd been chasing him that much.
Because she was starving for information about Haruki that much.
"... well, I could tell you."
And, Setsuna wondered if it was a bad idea, or maybe that he blinked. Loosening him his shoulders, he gave a light smile.
"Or rather, maybe you have a right to know about this, Ogiso?"
Along with a light riddle.
"This is just something I heard from the other girls working at the restaurant..."
And he then pressed forward quickly, as if he wasn't as talkative as he seemed to be.
"She confessed to him, but he rejected her."
"In a really cruel way, I hear."
At that moment, Setsuna had a very strange look on her face.
Understanding, tense, relieved, doubting, and bitter... she went through each of these in succession, and although the emotions were there, her expression hadn't shown it at all.
"And, since then she hadn't come to work... so supposedly it's been causing the other employees some trouble."
Haruki had refused the good intentions of a girl...
The pain in Setsuna's heart built up one by one. She didn't want to believe that "Haruki-kun wasn't that sort of person", but she could end up believing "But that's how Haruki-kun is right now".
Because, if Haruki did end up being that sort of person, to "those" that herded him into a corner, it would be harsh and painful .
"... maybe he might get fired?"
"Because it's causing trouble for the other employees, so normally..."
"Like hell it would. It's not like he caused problems with his work, and romance in the workplace would have a bad effect on the restaurant."
"And besides, I don't believe it one bit... though that's just me talking."
However, this new "best friend" of Haruki's had laughed at Setsuna's worries.
"Haruki's not that sort of person. Besides, he meddles in people's affairs, runs everything, and talks too much. Sometimes he's a bit heavy-handed..."
The expression and words he gave came from the overwhelming trust he had in someone who was flexible, who had an unyielding sincerity, and was an earnest person.
"Even so, I guess I should say he's got leadership for tending to people so well... I can't think of anyone else who works so hard."
"T, thank you..."
"Why are you being grateful, Ogiso?"
"Eh, ah, well..."
Setsuna looked at the older classmate with a bit of a radiant expression, as he was one who should have shouldered his own burden, and had that role pulled away from him.
"... speaking of which, you were with Haruki in the attached school, right? Did you know him from that far back?"
"Well... umm, not really, we weren't in the same class at all..."
"......... I'm pulling your leg. Sorry. That was also mean of me."
"You're going out with him, aren't you?"
And, that expression Tomochika had right there somehow seemed to bring back some hazy, distant memories.
It was an expression that was a little shy, apologetic, and troubled.
"Just so you know, I didn't hear it from Haruki. He seems to keep his mouth shut whenever it's about you, Ogiso."
An expression that told he had secrets he wanted to keep hidden, even though they'd been exposed.
"... well, I don't know if that's a good or bad thing in your case, Ogiso."
An expression that pretended to be thoughtful, but was actually being far more attentive and kind than anyone...
"I'm guessing, you still can't forget about him?"
It was painful for him to ask that question with that look on his face.
Even though he should know.
Even though he should know that expression of his wasn't fake, but real, and not aimed towards himself.
"Well, I'm going this way so..."
"Ah... T, Tomochika-kun..."
"Come to the shop every once in a while. Maybe Haruki'll also be glad to see you?"
And, in the end he was rather shy, apologetic, and troubled as he ended the discussion. Tomochika disappeared quickly from Setsuna's field of view.
She could only watch him off from behind, dumbfounded, as his figure grew smaller and smaller.
Edit this section And for a time afterward, there was a bit of a rumor that spread amongst the social science students.
They'd gossip with such vulgar things like, "The famous university idol voice who's one of our students, "that" Ogiso Setsuna, finally got a boyfriend".
But because it was vulgar, it also had a bit of ambiguity that should be of note...
- "They walk around campus with their arms linked together!"
- "Seems like the girl's the one who's so in love!"
- "I saw them from behind as they disappeared into the station hotel!"
- "At a glance, the guy looks rather normal, disappointingly."
- "I heard they broke up, but the girl was crying so the guy was in a bind."
This was the small part of the rumor that had been spreading for a week...
"Plus, he's so fickle of a guy. That's Takeya for you."
"You can't even complain without picking me out of the lot, can you?"
Takeya and IoThose who didn't believe the accuracy of it all in the first place could only sit here taking in some dull alcohol.
They were at an underground pub close to the university station.
She'd been drinking peacefully in the middle of the night with two people she'd known for eight years.
... though those two were not going to miss the last train nor drink coffee at dawn. That's the kind of relationship those two had.
"So, how do you feel about it?"
"99% of it is an exaggeration or a lie."
"Though 1% of it seems a bit in-line with reality... I guess the one who spread it was..."
"Yeah, it was Tomochika."
Actually, Takeya happened to catch him as he was doing it.
It was in a lounge where a line had formed for the photocopier, during the last segment of finals.
There he saw two people talking at a round table, with a laptop open and discussing various things.
Setsuna and Tomochika Hiroki were taking the same seminars, plus they were organizing the seminar training camp, and they happened to be sharing the same allotment. When Takeya came across this, common sense dictated to him that this was a simple arrangement.
Even so, seeing as "the impregnable" Ogiso Setsuna happened to have a man alone with her in her company, it was probably a big event for the guys who she'd keep rejecting.
"You know, I keep getting phone calls from Setsuna recently."
"Heh, ain't that great? She's been rather reserved for some time now."
"Well, there is that..."
"Somehow you don't seem too clear. Not into this topic?"
"No, things have been nice compared to before. Feels like I got a bit of my past self back."
"... hey, you can't be serious about Tomochika could you, Setsuna-chan?"
"No, we've always just talked about Haruki-kun. Looks like he's going to be recognized at that cram school he's been tutoring at."
"Something about all of his students having good grades, compared to those who took the regular tutors' classes."
"Even the students are all like, "Haruki-kun will definitely be a good teacher"..."
"You sure seem happy about it."
"... well, the one who mentioned it was..."
"......... I kinda pity Tomochika-kun..."
To the two who'd get down to the bottom of everything, what she'd learned was rather small. And to a particular someone, one could only call it bogus information.
"W, well, he's stubborn just like Haruki. And even if they weren't guys, maybe he's just being real kind..."
"Maybe he could be..."
And as Io gulped down the remaining ice in her glass, she wearily looked up at the ceiling.
"I've just been wondering. Maybe it's about time you went and found someone else, Setsuna?"
"... what do you mean?"
And, Takeya followed suit, looking down with what seemed to be sullen face.
"I'm sure it'll be better for the two of you. It's gotten this complicated, you know."
Actually, he looked rather sullen altogether.
"What do you think, Takeya? Maybe those two should break up?"
"That's not for us to decide."
"Still, as friends isn't it better to give our view on it? We've been hanging out for that long, so it's not a bad idea, is it?"
After all, these two shouldn't have brought up the idea at this time.
And, it wasn't like they didn't know what would come out of it.
... or rather, it wasn't like anything would come of it.
"So, you want this new guy of hers to be Tomochika? Haruki Unit 0?"
"Though it sounds so much better than Takeya Unit 1."
"Because they're similar? Because he'd make a good substitute for Setsuna-chan?"
Takeya again had to throw that out at her, gulping down his drink.
"That's not what I mean. Just chill and think about it for a bit..."
"Sorry, but I can't cool off and make judgment on that. Rather, I don't want to."
"If you want to put it that way, then what about Haruki's feelings?"
... though it was true that they weren't really trying to escape this pointless discussion.
"You're not hiding that you've been trying to reach out to Haruki, are you, Setsuna?"
Since entering university, these two had been meeting each other plenty of times.
"But Haruki's... is he really thinking about Setsuna even now?"
"That's......... I don't know."
"Even you don't know?"
But there weren't moments when they talked about themselves.
"He's too aware of the sin he committed back then."
"Well... that's certainly because Haruki feels guilty about it."
"He'd understand that better than any of us."
They'd drink without giving a toast, talking about things that didn't really go anywhere, and when things got pointless, they'd wrap things up.
"That's why, even if he still likes Setsuna-chan, he wouldn't have the balls to confess. He just doesn't want to go through with it."
"What a bother..."
"That goes for both of them."
Really, it went both ways.
Having this kind of pointless relationship.
Spending time with each other for so long like it was natural.
... these two who were both so bothersome, drinking alcohol even tonight.
"Exams are finally over!"
"Yeah, this time was cutting it close."
The last days of the final exams came on a Saturday in the middle of February.
Unaware of the rumors that continued to spread, a particular couple happened to be in the familiar sidewalk cafe in Building 6.
With exams over, a relieving atmosphere spread through the university. The two felt a great sense of freedom, joking about the exams.
"Really? I heard you kept getting A grades."
"That's because I've been studying hard. This time around, I didn't even get a break from my part-time jobs."
"Eh, why's tha... ah..."
"Besides, even if I go to next year, I don't really have the money..."
He spared some words that were self-demeaning with his slightly cloudy expression. Setsuna realized that she was the only one who was really set free.
She realized that his fight wasn't with the social science program in Houjou University, but with his finances in the Tomochika residence.
"Well... I can't really say much in my case. I do pray that you'll be able to safely move onto the next year."
"You seem to be at ease."
"Eh, what's that?"
He was different from other guys, and happened to resemble a certain somone with his slightly off-key praise. Setsuna gazed right at him with a natural look on her face.
"Somehow I don't think things go well when other people sympathize with this sort of thing. It feels like it's just too much."
Tomochika sincerely reflected on the continuing words, "In the end, it's really my fault for bringing up something no one would like."
"This isn't special or anything you know."
Indeed this did resemble a certain someone, to which Setsuna gave him a natural, light smile.
"Well it's good that you think in such a clear way about it."
"Because, since I don't get involved in this sort of thing, I can't sympathize with you on those grounds, Tomochika-kun."
"What do you mean by that...?"
"What I can sympathize with, is someone that seriously plans to clear up their situation."
"Ah, I see... certainly someone like that is around here."
"Yup, certainly... heheh..."
And Setsuna naturally expressed her true feelings.
Because Setsuna recognized the feelings toward Haruki she was wrapped in. Anyone would.
And, because anyone would accept Haruki, this was just perfect for Setsuna.
Setsuna'd been hearing from Tomochika about Haruki for the past several days.
Stuff like what job he was at, what he was doing, and what he said.
And how he got involved in other people's affairs, his lecturing, and his kindness.
Though at no point did Haruki's feelings for Setsuna come up at all, even so it was enough to comfort her through her loneliness.
In addition, since he too idolized him, he could sympathize with her situation.
"Well then, spring break starts tomorrow. Guess the main camp event's finally here."
"It'll get real hectic... let's get on with the meeting, shall we?"
Which was why Setsuna was at ease in this union she had with him.
Because it was nothing more than lodging together as organizers of the seminar camp.
Because they were friends who gossiped about the same thing.
"Though the remaining thing today is just to follow up with those who were absent."
"How many do we have?"
"We have twenty-five attending and three not attending. So that leaves sixteen..."
And Setsuna figured their relationship wouldn't change from someone normal like him looking at her. She didn't feel guilty at all about Tomochika.
Because he was different from other male students, and didn't hide his true character.
Because he was quite at ease when the topic was about Haruki.
And because Setsuna had this stunningly crazy theory that if she asked other people, they'd be all "Haruki-kun doesn't have anyone that hates who likes him".
"Eh? The count's off. Wasn't it seventeen?"
"Huh? That can't be..."
"Because look, We had forty-five people in the seminar for second year, right? And twenty-eight people replied back, yes?"
"See, it should be seventeen. Can I see the list of attendees?"
"Ah, wait a second, Ogiso..."
Which was why, at that moment, Setsuna had completely missed his swayed expression.
"We left one person out. It'd be sad if we didn't contact them, right?"
Because she fullyt rusted him.
That she was his friend.
That he didn't have anything else other than being a friend.
And because he was her friend, that he wouldn't have anything to hide...
Setsuna's gaze stopped on the display that showed the checked list of names.
And her gaze didn't stop at where she wanted to look, but the exact opposite...
"......... it's not here..."
It stopped at the reality of the fact that forty-five students had dropped to forty-four for the seminar...
Because that was the first name Setsuna would have checked from the list to see if it had disappeared.
"Y, yeah... about that..."
"!? About that... what?"
"W, well, you see..."
"What? What's going on?"
Her voice was frantic.
Her tongue was tied up.
Her pulse sped up so much she hated it.
"Haruki's not going to be in our seminar."
Like all the pores in her skin would open up...
She felt as if she'd break out in a cold sweat.
"See......... he's changing programs starting from April. To literature."
Setsuna's face froze in an instant.
Her emotions cut off from her expression.
... because if she didn't, she'd show a face she wouldn't show anyone else.
"You have, one new message. 20:32."
"Setsuna? It's me, Io."
"Haruki just came back from work. I talked to him a bit."
"... sorry, we didn't know until today that he was changing programs."
"Just until now he was in a bit... well, an argument, I guess."
"Takeya was pretty pissed off actually..."
"I suppose he was a bit shocked that Haruki didn't ask for his advice."
"He's been bitter even after heading home... quite a pain to get him to cool off."
"Well, besides what's happening with us..."
"We told Haruki to try to talk with you once more."
"Setsuna, did you tell him something like "I'll do my best here too"?"
"What are you gonna do forcing yourself like that...? You need to be angry at him."
"You can't just let him do things like this you know?"
"Listen. Be sure to talk to him once more, okay?"
"No, not just once more. Keep talking to him until you're fine with it, okay?"
"You're a good girl, Setsuna, so Takeya and I'll follow up with you."
"Anyways, I'll call you later. See ya."
"......... ah, one more thing."
"You're twenty today... happy birthday."
Setsuna was about to throw her cellphone the moment the voicemail finished its playback... giving up, she left it on top of the bed.
Perhaps she happened to cool down a bit, realizing that taking it out on her cellphone or at Io was wrong.
She remained this way, with her eyes wide open.
She shut herself inside her bedroom and locked the door, despite the fact her family was preparing for her birthday party. She hadn't answered them calling for her, as she remained knelt down on the floor...
Her stomach turned when she reflected on the circumstances she put herself in.
She'd taken in such huge amounts of coffee at the sidewalk cafe before coming back home.
Because, at that time, "Harukithat person" had been in front of her, snatching away all of her strength...
Once she heard from Tomochika that Haruki would be changing programs, she immediately started searching around the university for him.
Since she figured it wouldn't end with just a call to his cellphone, or that he might not pick up at all, she didn't have the courage to call him.
Was it because he didn't want to let go? Was it because talking about changing programs was awkward? Or was it because he finally decided to just not talk with her in any manner...
As she drew up these possibilities in her head, her mind wore down more and more.
She'd just taken back such a good balance with her emotions. She was afraid it was going to be all for nothing.
She finally found him, thirty minutes later.
... at the campus gates, waiting for Setsuna.
It seemed that Haruki had been prepared for this as well.
But it also seemed that he didn't have the courage to call her cellphone either.
Afterward, they returned to the sidewalk cafe to talk.
At the same table where Tomochika was thirty minutes ago.
At the same table from thirty minutes ago, where the classmates had such puzzled faces that she didn't have time to care for.
Because it'd been such a while since she got to talk to him...
- "I see. You want to become a publisher, so..."
Setsuna couldn't actually convey almost any of her feelings to him at all. Like that she should have heard about this, about the feelings she had up until now, and the fury she had right now.
- "Eh? Ah, not at all. I think literature'll fit you. You're a good wordsmith after all, Haruki-kun."
Instead she desperately tried hard to seem as if she was understanding, being indifferent to the reason behind Haruki changing programs.
- "I see... you've already figured out all the details. I really can't match up to you."
While, keeping a smile...
- "We'll see each other, won't we?"
They hadn't seen each other recently.
- "H, hey... is it okay if I call you from now on?"
They hadn't called each other recently.
xactly how did they plan to connect to each other since they'd been set apart?
- "It'll be fine, right?"
What'll be fine?
- "W, what am I saying, anyway? Aha, ahaha...!"
Really, what was it that she was saying...?
The words she had at that moment disappeared in fragments.
However, she no longer remembered if she even followed up in such a thoughtless way.
The only thing she remembered, was the smile she put on as they parted.
And that she turned away to leave the cafe, as if she were running away. To keep that smile from falling apart perhaps several seconds later.
- Why did it turn out this way...?
She'd asked herself countless times now.
A trial that would never give an answer. A labyrinth that would never have an exit.
- ――Why now?
- I hate this.
- I really hate this.
- Because, because, it'll soon be my...
――My birthday, you know?
To the world it was Valentine's Day. To the Ogiso residence, it was Setsuna's birthday.
And this year was far more special...
The snow came falling down.
She looked up at the window from her cold room that seemed like it'd freeze up.. She looked at the white mark of betrayal in the sky, like what happened two years ago...
......... no, that was an illusion.
Even back then, Haruki didn't come.
Even back then, he betrayed Setsuna.
Those snowflakes were afterimages coming from memories that wouldn't go away.
Because Setsuna didn't see anything right now.
She buried her face in the darkness, from outside the window, from the clouds, from the snow, and from reality, and just about everything...
"Setsuna! Come down this instant!"
The voice of her mother from downstairs grew even louder.
But, it was useless.
She didn't want to eat anything right now.
She didn't want to see her family either. She didn't want to talk to them.
Because right now, if someone talked to her in a kind voice...
She couldn't imagine how she would lose it and go on a rage, and how she'd end up depending on them.
"At least show your face! You have a visitor!"
- "Listen. Be sure to talk to him once more, okay?"
Those words fired off in her brain, coming from someone just a short while ago.
Which was why Setsuna got up in a hurry...
She found it was too hard to get around, as she hadn't moved for the whole day.
She desperately gathered up her strength, only being able to move in a rather stiff fashion.
Her mind was in a rush, but she had to come down the stairs slowly.
Bracing herself, she opened up the entranceway, and opened up the gate doors...
Setsuna once again stiffened up, in that clear, dark, and cold weather.
Because a visitor she hadn't expected had been standing there.
"Sorry for visiting you this late."
"Tomochika... kun? What's wrong?"
"What's wrong...? Well..."
Other people would figure she'd be mad just by hearing him answer like this.
Normally she would have expected who would visit.
After all, out of all the classmates, he was the one she saw the most recently...
"You seemed really out of it at the time... and I was wondering why..."
Even so, Setsuna couldn't wipe away the malaise in her entire body.
Because after all, he didn't have the "status" of the person who should have appeared before her.
That was the pride of how she thought from the depths of her heart. Of how the changed Setsuna was now.
But that way of thinking wasn't to look down on her popularity or reputation.
Because Setsuna had grown up.
That's not how she would think at all.
... in comparison to a certain best friend who was on the verge of leaving.
"For not really bringing up Haruki changing programs."
"That's... not Tomochika-kun's fault."
"Even so, let me aplogize... I'm sorry."
She really didn't mind.
Because he wasn't a factor in the decision Haruki had come to.
"Even so... what'll you do from here on out, Ogiso?"
"What'll I do...? That's..."
She wanted him to leave her be.
She wanted to be alone.
She had no time to worry about other people right now.
"Even if he changes programs, I still want things to be the same between the two of us."
"Remaining as best friends... is what I mean."
She was envious of him saying "best friends". And she was envious of him having a dazzling expression, doing so.
She envied him, from the bottom of her heart...
"I'll still see him at work anyway... well, since we're taking different classes, we won't be preparing for exams together, I think."
Setsuna remained captive of this jealousy, hearing these optimistic words coming from him...
"So you can use me like you've always done up until now."
And for a while, she didn't really understand the meaning behind the wrods he just spouted.
"Ah, well, I don't want you to get the wrong idea out of that..."
"How should I put it? Certainly, I'm happy that you like Haruki."
"And, I like how you fuss over him so much as well."
Setsuna realized one thing about the true nature of the malaise she felt.
That he went from using the name "Ogiso" to "you"...
"What attracted me to you wasn't how cute you were, or how you brought about such a great atmosphere... ah, well, of course, I do also like those parts." "!?"
And it was mixed in with words that other guys woul dsay.
If this continued, at some point he might start calling him "Setsuna"...
"But what attracted me to you was your true nature far more than how you look on the outside, see."
- ――He said it!
- He said, he was attracted to me.
- He said... he liked me.
- ......... I've been fooled!
There wasn't a single mistake Tomochika had made.
The mistake most certainly came from Setsuna's resentment...
The resentment she had towards her "real" "true nature".
"Like how it was you understood Haruki's merits far more quickly than anyone."
- ――That's wrong, that's wrong...
- I'm not faster than... anyone.
- I'm the second person to do so.
Tomochika's words glided by Setsuna's skin as it took it in.
And the moment it did, she got goosebumps.
"Like how you didn't look at other people as they approached you, falling in love with him out of uyour own will, and proactively approaching him..."
- ――That's wrong, that's wrong...
- I didn't do it out of my own will.
- It was because it felt the "strongest", that I just had to.
"Which is why, even though one would normally figure you two didn't match up, Haruki fell in love with you as well."
- ――What? What do you mean?
- Why does someone who knows nothing talk about just me and Haruki-kun?
- Why does someone who doesn't know about us three talk about us two?
"So, you can be like you've always been."
Tomochika's words didn't lie, trap, or scheme against her.
"So, you can use me like you've always had."
A sincere and honest confession, aimed only at her heart.
"You can talk about Haruki's secrets, or anything. I'll try to be that one friend you can talk to."
... just that, if there was one thing he had gotten wrong, it's that he didn't nkow these righteous words and feelings were never going to reach Setsuna in the first place.
Was it sincere, or just convenient?
Was it honest, or just thoughtless?
Because to Setsuna right now, none of that had any meaning to her.
"And, and you know..."
- ――Stop it.
"If it turns out you two can't bring yourselves together again..."
- ――Stop it.
- Stop it, stop it, stop it!
"I can take Haruki's place instead..."
- ――He said it.
"Happy birthday, Ogiso..."
- ――He, confessed.
- I, let my guard down.
"I hope you can accept this."
- ――I'm sorry, Haruki-kun.
- The man who betrayed me two years ago.
- The man who kept his distance a year ago.
- And the man who right now wouldn't even dare come close...
- ――I'm sorry.
Even so, Harukithe one who betrayed her was the only person in her mind.
- "I can understand how Haruki's trying to runa way from you."
- "He's a good guy. He's serious, and he's honest."
- "Which is why he can't forgive himself for having betrayed you even once."
- "I want to root for you guys as well."
- "But I think one of you might not be able to take it anymore."
- "So, I think it's better you let him go."
- "You really do understand, don't you?"
- "The fact that you can never let him go is putting Haruki through hell."
- "That's right, Haruki's suffering. And you're suffering."
- "If so, then couldn't I put an end to that suffering?"
Setsuna didn't move from that spot, even when Tomochika left.
No, even if he were here, she would never have moved an inch.
She didn't have the usual worried expression she would with his confession.
She wasn't able to do anything... not even reject him, accept him, laugh, nor cry...
He left a present on the ground in front of her.
She didn't even say thanks.
She didn't even give him anything for Valentine's Daythe day to give something back.
And somewhere along the way, she couldn't accept anything.
She could only stare out dumbfounded, not looking at him, at the sky, or anything.
And even Tomochika, who gave her something, had perplexed her as she didn't respond.
... no, he had definitely hurt her.
But Setsuna didn't have time to think about Tomochika.
Because her mind was so messed up, she couldn't think about anything.
Because someone other than him was hurting her.
Because he wasn't aware... that his actions had committed a sin.
And, because of one more thing...
"You're here, aren't you..."
Because she had noticed.
Because when Tomochika had left, and turned a corner, she saw something extraordinary...
Setsuna eyed another silhouette in the convex mirror.
He'd taken three deep breaths since she called him, and then finally revealed himself from the corner.
The same Haruki she'd met yesterday.
The same Haruki she'd parted with yesterday.
The same Haruki, that told her, he'd be changing programs.
"You saw... didn't you?"
"It's okay, already..."
She could tell from the look on his face.
That he had heard pretty much everything.
Or rather, it was an expression he'd had for a year now.
As someone who always lectured with the idea of "look them in the eye when you're talking to them", he didn't even try to make eye contact, looking downward.
And the expression he had was pretty much the same; an awkwardness, a feeling of guilt.
"Why didn't you come out?"
And surely, for a period of time, Haruki didn't see the look on her face.
She had upturned eyes, laying low as she peered into Haruki's face with a mischievous smile. And a thin, fleeting smile that couldn't be seen, but she was indeed smiling.
"You held back from Tomochika-kun?"
It was painful.
It was awkward.
And, because he'd seen it.
He'd seen the one scene he shouldn't have. He'd seen the one person he shouldn't have.
"He's... really, worried I think. He's worried about you, and he's worried about me."
"Ah, yeah... I suppose..."
Which was why she wanted to apologize.
For making Haruki best friend suffer. Someone who was important to him.
For making Tomochika misunderstand while he hadn't noticed. For hurting him.
And... though these were things that Setsuna had hoped for...
She wanted to apologize for making Haruki suffer.
And perhaps, for making him jealous.
"You and Tomochika-kun... get along pretty well..."
And if so, then perhaps she really did need to apologize from the bottom of her heart.
To cling desperately to him, to throw everything at him, and even let out her tears.
"He's... doing his best. Far more than what I could ever do, so..."
"Yeah, you're right, I think so too. He really is someone I can respect."
And this time, this was a chance for their hearts to reach out for one another.
This time, if they managed to reconcile...
"So that's why you're giving me to him? You're yielding me, to him?"
But it was far too late.
Setsuna's mind was far too worn out.
"It's fine if it's him? He'd take care of me? He'd only look at me? He'd always be with me?"
The dark feelings that swirled within her all gathered up like a river.
"So he's going to relieve you, then? So you can just forget about me? So you don't have to suffer anymore?"
Just about everything polluted and hung over her; Haruki, Setsuna, the history they had, and the past the three had.
"That's great... that's really great, you know...!!"
She desperately tried hard to keep her heart afloat, but it was violently boiling over at the tip.
"What do you mean giving you to him, or yielding you to him... you own yourself, Setsuna. You're not anyone's thing, right?"
"You think that's what I wanted to hear!?"
Haruki finally looked at her directly.
But the look he had on his face was already colored in despair, overshadowing what he had when he looked down.
- ――T, that's, that's not it...
- I just, wanted to apologize.
"I'm really, really sorry..."
And when he'd realized it, it was too late.
Haruki had hurt her far more than he'd known, and hurt her even more over this.
He'd fallen into this negative spiral again, like he always had.
"I know that I've been making you suffer like this so much, Setsuna..."
- ――That's not it!
- I'm the one who's at fault!
"But I've never been able to do anything."
- ――I'm sorry for making you suffer so.
- I'm sorry for letting my guard down.
"Not even take a step forward, or backward."
- ――I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry! Even though you're the only one I have...!
"Please let me say it one more time."
- ――So please, be angry with me...
"I'm sorry, Setsuna..."
- ――Please, just snap at me. Yell at me.
- ... I don't mind if you slap me.
"I know this has happened so much you couldn't forgive me, but really, I'm sorry."
- ――Give us a chance.
- Give us a chance to once again clash with one another.
- ――If you can, then this time, I...
- This, time...
"No matter what happens, I wanted to settle this."
The snow came falling down.
Falling to a place where only Setsuna remained.
In this cold weather that seemed like it'd freeze up.
She looked at the white mark of betrayal in the sky, like what happened two years ago...
......... this time the snow was real.
Even back then, Haruki didn't come.
And even now, Haruki left.
Even back then, he betrayed Setsuna.
And even now, he ran away, not having made up.
Just like that, the past that wouldn't disappear would again create the same reality.
"Ahahahaha... hahaha... aaaaggghhhhh...!!"
Worn out, Setsuna no longer had the willpower to stop this reality.
- ――This time, I'll forget about him.
- I don't want to be near him if it's going to make me suffer so.
- He also thinks the same way. That's why he left me here.
- ――Then, I'll forget about him.
- I'll build up things that I hate about him, and forget about him.
- I'll just hate him. I'll just seriously hate him.
- I've already found, the first thing, I hate about him.
- I hate how he remains silent, and keeps his distance from me...
- ――Hey, Haruki-kun. This time, things are over between us, aren't they?
- Isn't that great...? And, farewell.
- Reference to Manzai comedy
- The translation actually says that Tomochika went from using "Ogiso" (小木曽) to "kimi" (君), which also means "you". Though this isn't a hard rule, in some cases "kimi" could be used to indicate intimacy.
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