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Setoguchi Yuu

Birthday: July 11th
Horoscope Sign: Cancer
Blood Type: AB

Souta’s childhood friend.
In the Film Club.
Something seems to have between him and Koyuki involving Natsuki….?

—–

solution 3

Sweat dripped onto the back of his hand.

As if that had acted as a signal, all other sensations gradually returned to him.

His throat felt dry, and his entire body felt hot from the sun.

As he raised a hand to his forehand, his bangs, which were drenched with sweat, tangled with his fingers.
 

’Crap, I totally zoned out….’

Souta shook his weary head, careful not to make himself dizzy, and looked around at his surroundings.

There was no one left from the soccer club at the grounds, and the tennis courts were empty as well. Realizing that he couldn’t hear the Brass Band playing from the music room anymore, he checked his wristwatch, which had also become hot under the sun.

’I was wondering why it was so quiet. Already lunchtime, huh.’
 

He had come to school at seven in the morning to film the additional scenes.

By the time they’d finished the meeting, fiddling around with the camera settings, and finally gone out to the schoolyard, it was around ten o’clock.

After that, they had spent all their time filming the footage that Haruki wanted.
 

As for Haruki himself, he had been completely engrossed in looking into the camera.

It was as if time had stopped only for the area around him, and when Souta watched him, he was so entranced that he forgot about even calling out to him.

‘I’ve heard that if one week feels like only a second for someone, then they’ll only age when all those seconds add up to a year…. When I look at Haruki, I feel like that might actually be true.’

Ever since they’d been little kids, Haruki’s brightness had been the only one that hadn’t changed out of the four childhood friends.

He had the power to pursue the things that appealed to him, or moved him.

‘Could I also run at full speed like that at a moment’s notice….?’
 

Summer vacation for third-years is the last chance to prepare before the college entrance exams.

Yuu was aiming for a national university, and was even going to bootcamp at a prep school. Although he came back next week, he had another course waiting for him afterwards, so it was practically the same as having no summer vacation at all.

Even just hearing that kind of schedule freaked Souta out a bit, but at the same time, it showed that Yuu was sure about his goals. It was probably because he sought to have that same kind of strong resolve that made him notice this.

’Though it’s not like I haven’t put any thought into it myself….’

He had a pretty good idea as to why he was so unsure.

Half-heartedness. Because the teacher recommended it. Because he wanted a guarantee.

The reason he’d wanted a designated school recommendation for a certain university was because of those vague reasons.

The people around him weren’t very intent on asking about his goals, either; he just felt the time passing by, nothing more and nothing less.
 

‘….Well, Akechi-sensei’s different.’

When Souta had gone to the faculty room to get the documents for the school recommendation first, the first thing that he had said was,

”You know, Mochizuki, why’re you like such an old man?”

He spoke in his usual lazy tone, but Souta could tell that he wasn’t teasing him.

He didn’t laugh much, was careless when it came to the strangest things, and was, all in all, a not-very-serious person. But he was always straight to the point when asking questions. He was a bit like Haruki in that aspect.

’Though their personalities are completely different….’

He was the advisor for the Film Club, and since he’d also been classmates with Haruki’s brother, that made him easier to speak honestly with, although he wasn’t as attentive as the other teachers.

He was particularly close with Haruki, and Souta would sometimes see the two talking about something in the faculty room or in the hallway.

’In a way, Akechi-sensei’s actually pretty caring.’

Haruki was always complaining, “I’m the one! that’s forced to take care of him!” when Akechi-sensei made him do odd jobs, but as for Souta, he often gave him advice about screenplays.

He would phrase his advice in way that seemed to imply something else; like now, he seemed to be saying, “At this rate, you won’t be able to get a recommendation,” which made Souta hurriedly ask in reply,
 

“Is that a bad thing? No, I mean, I’m like an old man?”

“I mean, you seem like the type to only think about retirement. It’s fine to get a designated school recommendation, but have you even looked up information about courses and classes yet?”

The interview might’ve already started.

Although tense, Souta pursed his lips before answering to try and look serious.

“….W-well, a bit.”

“Oh, really?”

Akechi-sensei muttered with disinterest, and searched the pocket of his lab coat for something. His taught classic literature, but for some reason, he wore it as part of his uniform.

The thing he’d taken out of his pocket was a lollipop.

He took off the wrapping paper with a practiced hand, and without warning, stuck it in Souta’s mouth.

”Wh-wha’re you….?!”

”I gave you candy, so think it over a little more. If you only choose your course based on what’s going to be useful for when you’re job hunting, it’s going to be tough for you later on.”
 

The moment he said this to him, Souta was struck with the feeling that he’d been seen through.

It would be a different story if Akechi-sensei would still be there to look out for him later, but in regards to Souta’s life after high school, he was no more than an outsider. In the first place, it would be a real nuisance if he came back later and blamed him by saying something like, “I went to pursue my dreams as you told me and I failed. Please take responsibility for giving me that kind of advice.”
 

As he thought about this, something dawned on him suddenly.

Akechi-sensei had told him that for that very reason.

’You have to take responsibility for your own life.’

That was why he had urged him to choose a path that wouldn’t cause him regrets.
 

‘I haven’t asked Haruki about what course he’s taking, but I’m sure he’s already made up his mind, too.’

He’d seen Haruki in the faculty room on several occasions talking for a long time with Akechi-sensei and the other teachers.

Haruki had been laughing absently while all the teachers looked a bit worried, so he must have chosen a path that wasn’t the norm, but the kind of path that only he would choose.
 

Even if someone was against it, even if there wasn’t anyone to support him.…

If it was Haruki, he would definitely walk the path that he had chosen for himself.

Yuu had the power to persuade those around him, meaning that he probably had plenty of self-confidence.

’Then…. what about me? When I chose to get a designated school recommendation, and even when I chose to go into national literature, can I say that I didn’t pay attention to how my teachers and parents felt about it?’
 

“Crap!”

As if to drown out the sound of the cicadas, Haruki’s voice rang out.

Souta, who was taken aback by Haruki’s sudden outburst, could only make wordless sounds like, “Eh? Huh?”

’What? What happened?’

While trying to calm down his pounding heart, Souta looked at Haruki, who was facing him fiercely.
 

“Mochita, aren’t you hungry?”

“…….Oh, yeah. I mean, it is almost lunchtime.”

“Seriously?! No wonder.”

Even when he was tired, or hot, he would never say a word while he was looking out at the world through the camera, but it seemed that having an empty stomach was an exception. Souta felt laughter start to well up at how extremely typical his response had been for a high school boy.

He was just overthinking it by feeling inferior to him; Haruki wasn’t some kind of superman.
 

“Your stomach clock sure is accurate, Haruki.”

“Right? Hey, let’s go eat ramen. I got a discount coupon from Yuu.”

“Really? Man, Yuu’s such a nice guy!”

“He probably wouldn’t be too happy about being liked by us, though.”

“But it’d be funny to tease him about that, right?”

“There he is, the bully, Mochita…. You look all innocent, but you can say some pretty nasty things.”

“Did I always have that kind of nickname? At least make it sound a little cooler.”

“Who cares!”

“Ahaha! Pushing me away because you’re too hungry, huh~?”
 

Souta laughed so naturally, it was hard to believe that just a moment ago, he’d been stuck in a swamp of dark thoughts.

Feeling relieved at that fact, he ran nimbly towards the equipment.

The ground around the tripod holding the camera was wet, as if it had just rained.

‘Ah, it’s from Haruki’s sweat….’
 

They didn’t communicate with their fists like the characters in a movie.

Instead, Souta was encouraged by Haruki and Yuu’s presences, and he could feel himself slowly rising up.
 

                                                ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

“Just the fact that we had Yuu’s discount coupon made that ramen taste amazing.”

On their way home from the ramen shop, Haruki and Souta felt more than stuffed.

They both loved ramen, but they couldn’t beat Yuu’s passion.

He was always well-informed about the opening of a new ramen shop, or searching for secret, well-known stores; of all the shops they he’d recommended them before, not a single one of them had been a miss. And of those, this one had been among the best.

“I wonder if you can only get that coupon if you’re a frequent customer….?”

Souta hadn’t seen any mention of it anywhere in the shop, and the employees didn’t explain much about it either.

When they’d gone to pay the bill, they weren’t offered any kind of point or stamp card either, so he was curious as to how Yuu had gotten the coupon.

Seeing that Souta was confused, Haruki gave a nod and explained it to him.
 

“Seems that way. Yuu told them that he wanted to introduce the shop to his friends, so they gave him two coupons just for that.”

“That’s pretty impressive, considering how stingy the manager looked.”

“Well, Yuu’s a real con-artist.”

As Haruki shrugged his shoulders and gave a toothy grin, Souta burst out laughing as well.

“That’s true. It’s an amazing talent in its own way.”

Being a bit shy himself, Souta was envious of that skill.

’Haruki isn’t timid either, so it’d probably be easy for him to win over people like that manager….’ 
 

“Ah,”
 

Haruki started suddenly, as if remembering something.

Souta had a bad feeling, and thought about bringing up a topic first, but the other beat him to it.

“Have you already texted Hayasaka this week?”

Having been asked what he’d feared, Souta mumbled his reply.

“….N-not yet….”

“Oh, is that so? Didn’t you say you’d be checking on her progress once a week?”
 

’Hold on, it was you and Yuu that just went and decided that on your own, wasn’t it?’

Souta mentally stuck his tongue out at the planner that laughed at other’s bad sides.

The day after the meeting, he’d been surprised that Yuu had passed along Akari’s email address to him that he’d gotten from Natsuki, only to be ordered soon after to contact her.

Yuu had told him that he’d talked about this with Haruki as well, so he was sure that this was something that the two had conspired on together.
 

’Well, I guess it’s true that it’s a lot easier this way compared to talking face-to-face. Though we’ve only talked one time so far….’

Thanks to their meddling, or their support, to phrase it in a more positive way, Souta’s relationship with Akari had certainly taken a step forward.

If they continued to grow closer through texting like this, by the time summer vacation was over, he might be able to talk cheerfully with her. Or at the very least, his mind wouldn’t go completely blank every time they had a conversation.
 

‘….is what I thought for a while.’

In reality, his conversations with Akari were continuing peacefully.

Other than asking about her progress on the drawings, he was able to bring up meaningless topics like “What’d you eat today?” or “Where’d you go today?” now.

But in the end, it was still only through texts.
 

“I’ll watch you do it, so hurry up and text her.”

“It’s fine, I’ll do it later.”

Although his smile was forced, Souta tried saying so with firmness.

“….Whatever you say. Well, let’s hurry back and start filming again.”

Souta nodded vaguely, and snuck a sideways glance at Haruki. He didn’t seem suspicious of the reply he’d given just now, rather, he almost seemed in the mood to start whistling.

But Souta had seen it.

For just a second, a flicker of doubt had come across Haruki’s face.
 

’Haruki has good intuition, after all….’

He still hadn’t told the two of them, but actually, Akari’s wasn’t doing very well with her drawings.

Right as summer vacation began, things had been going smoothly up until she’d finished the sketch. It was just as she’d began adding color that she’d suddenly come to a stop.

At first, Souta had assumed that she’d been too busy focusing on her piece for the art contest to work on the Film Club’s request. They were the ones that had interrupted them while they were busy, after all, so he’d told her not to worry without asking for the details, and kept from rushing her or anything.

However, the previous night, he had learned that the situation was more serious than he had imagined.

For once, it had been Akari that had texted him first, and Souta had been elated before even reading the contents.

But as soon as he opened it up, he immediately snapped out of that dreamy state of mind.
 

”What is love, anyway?”
 

The text had consisted of only one line: that single, mysterious question.

Souta didn’t know the details of Akari’s situation, but in the back of his mind, Haruki’s face had drifted up. Whenever his childhood friend got stuck while making something, he would say things similar to that.
 

”What do you think it means to love someone? How is it different from being in love with someone?”

”Hey, did you know? When you’re in love, the brain gives off different hormones like dopamine and adrenaline. Then, logically, wouldn’t that mean that ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction?”

”In the first place, does the brain even fall in love? Or is it somewhere with the heart?”

Was he asking them those questions, or himself?

At first, both Souta and Yuu had a tough time deciding, and were only able to make vague noises of consent. But by the end of their second year, they learned to keep quiet and just watch over him.

’That’s probably just him thinking out loud.’
 

Was Akari also not expecting Souta to give her an “answer”?

Of course, since she’d texted him, she probably wanted some kind of reply.

But in reality, it really had been like talking to herself in the mirror, and not a question directed at him. It just so happened that Souta had been the one she’d sent it to.
 

’It was written in the manga that I borrowed from Natsuki, too….’

Those that are called geniuses worry about things on their own and find answers on their own.

No matter how much ordinary people try to help, they’ll only get in the way.
 

’Then Haruki might be the only one that can give Akarin any advice….’

Since the two shared similar views, that was also a possibility.

It would probably give much better results than if Souta tried meddling, anyway.

’I know that. I know, but I still want to do something.’

After thinking it over for a night, he decided to recommend the title of a romance movie, along with a short summary.

He didn’t know what it was about love that Akari wanted to know, but he thought it might help her somehow.
 

‘Good luck, Akarin….!’

Souta looked up at the cloudy sky, and shouted this in his mind.
 

                                                ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

By the time they’d finished shooting the additional scenes and began compiling them together, summer vacation had come to an end.

To Souta, it had felt like a blink of an eye.

With how terrible the lingering summer heat had been this year, that probably made it feel like it had gone by even quicker. Although it was still fairly hot, as soon as September came along, the thoughts of upcoming tests and interviews made summer seem far off.
 

’It’s hard to believe that we’ll be graduating in a little more than half a year, too.’

He was sure that now would be the only time they’d have free time to work on the movie.

His plans after high school were different from Haruki and the others, and they might even end up living far away from each other. If that happened, it would be hard to meet up as easily as they did now.

’We’ve been fooling around together for all these years, and now we’re suddenly going our separate ways….’
 

As Souta let out a sigh, Yuu, who was sitting beside him, shook his shoulder slightly.

“Mochita, we’re on the next scene now.”

“….Huh? Oh, sorry.”

In the room where the three had gathered together for the first time in a while, Souta hurriedly flipped through the pages of the script covered in sticky notes.
 

’Ah, shoot. I went back to the last scene.’

Since he was lacking sleep, his body wasn’t moving the way he wanted it to.

Glancing up at Haruki, who was sitting in front of him, he saw him flipping through the pages of the script at weird timings.

They’d received the text about discussing the editing last night, or rather, just this morning, so Haruki had most likely gotten even less sleep than he had. Upon closer inspection, there were dark circles underneath his eyes.
 

A movie isn’t completed as soon as the filming is done; the editing that comes afterwards has a huge effect on the final product.

Even when it came to editing, it was the producer, Haruki, that took command, but Souta, who was in charge of the script, and Yuu, who was something like the producer, would also pitch in with feedback during the process.

Since Yuu had been away due to his prep school’s boot camp, he was more distant from the film, but in a good way. Being closer to the position of the viewers, he was able to give opinions from various points of view. Essentially, Yuu was probably the only one that could grasp the big picture of the movie production’s progress.
 

“So basically, we’ve filmed all the scenes that we’re able to at the moment. I’ll help check them over for now.”

“….Yeah, thanks,”

Haruki answered in a slightly hoarse voice, and beside him, Souta nodded limply.

Yuu opened up the note-taking memo, and as if remembering something, muttered, “Oh, right.”

’Yeah, yeah, and now he’s going to ask me a question.’

Haruki also tended to start off the same way whenever he was about to bring up a difficult topic.

It was probably because of the fact that they were childhood friends that they similar in these trivial aspects, or picked up on each other’s habits.
 

“Mochita, how are Hayasaka’s drawings coming along?”

“….Um, well, about that….”

“Don’t tell me you’ve lost contact with her?”

“Have you even been texting her like you’re supposed to?”

Yuu and Haruki came onto him with rapid-fire questions.

Carried on by that momentum, Souta interrupted them to defend himself.

“What?! Come on, of course I have!”
 

Souta furrowed his brow in exasperation, but Yuu and Haruki continued to crack jokes at him regardless.

“Even so, weren’t you about to pass out during the meeting last time?”

“If I hadn’t acted quickly enough and taken over when I did, he would’ve fainted right then and there.”

“Th-Thanks a lot for saving me that time…! But really, I’ve been doing fine on my own now. I even go to see see how much she’s done once a week.”

Souta pounded his chest in triumph, but inside, he was worried that his voice had been unsteady.

His gaze kept wavering as well, causing Yuu to see through him right away.

“If it’s going so well, what are you making that face for?”

“That’s because, um, well….”

As Souta started fidgeting again, Haruki suddenly snapped his fingers.

“I know. It’s because Hayasaka’s the problem, right?”

Ugh, so he figured it out, after all….’

There was no point in trying to hide it anymore. Souta reluctantly began to explain the situation.
 

“She finished the sketch, and has already started coloring it, but…. She said that there was still ‘something’ missing, and hasn’t made any progress since then to finish it.”

As if this was all very familiar to him, Yuu held his head while muttering, “Yeah, that’s not good.”

“That always seems to happen when you’re making something, huh.”

“And what’re more, suggestions from other people don’t help at all. It’s something you just have to figure out for yourself….”

He knew right away that Yuu was indirectly talking about Haruki.

However, whether the person in question realized this or not, he made a sour face and simply added, “The pains of creativity.”
 

“I tried asking her what she was stuck on, but even she didn’t seem to know how to respond. She started getting all philosophically, and saying things like, ‘What is love, anyway?’”

“Ughhh, this seriously isn’t good.…”

As Yuu furrowed his brow and Souta was about to voice his agreement, Haruki asked in genuine confusion,

“Why’s that?”

Yuu seemed to find the question unexpected, and stared blankly at Haruki.

Souta was also too surprised to do anything but stare with wide eyes.
 

Even with two people staring him down, Haruki didn’t seem particularly fazed, and spoke absently,

“Look, it’s not like Hayasaka was saying ‘What is love?’ in a really philosophical way, like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ or anything. She just doesn’t really get it, that’s all.”

“….I-I still don’t understand. Can you say that one more time?”

“Mochita, you’re just thinking too hard. Listen, it basically means that Hayasaka’s never had any experience with dating anyone. That’s it.”
 

Souta swallowed loudly.

If Haruki’s explanation was right, it would mean that he didn’t have any kind of ultimate rival.

There were a lot of guys that liked Akari, but in a way, those guys and Souta were on equal standing. However, if Akari had someone that she liked, it would become a disadvantageous battle.

None of them would have any hope, making the chance of winning go up slightly.

’Wait, but she really hasn’t even gotten a crush anyone since becoming a high schooler….? Nn? Nnn?!’
 

“Come to think of it, Akarin was my first love….”

Souta blurted out before he could stop himself.

’But what if, what if….’

He could feel his face heating up from the possibility that had just dawned on him.
 

“Mochita, quit blushing when you’re the one saying that…. You’ll make me feel embarrassed too.”

As Yuu fanned his face with his hand, Haruki teased him,

“Like you’re one to talk when you can’t even face your first love.”

“Speaking of which.… Haruki, how are things between you and Aida?”
 

“Same as usual? Or, well actually, she said she can’t walk home with me for a while.”

Due to how casually he’d said it, both Yuu and Souta were late in reacting.

She can’t walk home with me for a while――

Repeating the words a couple times in his head, he went pale when the meaning finally clicked.

“….What? Wait, hold on a minute, doesn’t that mean she’s trying to distance herself from you?”

“Yeah, something’s definitely wrong here!”

“Wow, you guys sure have some fiery reactions!”

He wasn’t sure if Haruki really meant that or was just trying to hide his embarrassment, but the way he said it made it seem like it didn’t particularly concern him.

Souta, on the other hand, found himself unable to keep calm, and asked one question after another.
 

“You’re the one that’s too cold, Haruki! Are you really fine with that? Did you ask her why?”

“Hm? Well.… She said something about being busy with the art contest.”

“So it’s not because of you or anything, then. That’s good.”

“Geez, don’t worry us like that.…”

Yuu also breathed a sigh of relief, but after a moment, tilted his head curiously.
 

“Hmmm….”

Haruki muttered in a bored fashion, and then threw a sharp stare in Yuu’s direction.

“And what would be the point in asking? If I told you that I was going out with Aida…. No, that’s not right. If I said that I liked anyone other than Natsuki, would you feel relieved? And then what?”
 

At first, he had simply thought that a hard ball had been thrown again.

He thought that Haruki was angry at them for asking out Aida out of half-curiosity.

However, the questions that Haruki asked took an unthinkable turn.

’If Haruki liked anyone other than Natsuki, Yuu would feel relieved….?’

Perhaps Yuu had intended to provoke Haruki, but instead, it had come right back at him like a boomerang.

Yuu was at a loss for words, and could only stare blankly back at Haruki.
 

’Would it be okay for me to butt in here?’

From how he interpreted the atmosphere between the two, it felt like no matter what was said, it would just be adding fuel to the flame.

But unable to stand leaving things be, either, Souta took a deep breath. 
 

“Hey, Yuu.”

Once Souta called out to him lightly, Yuu’s shoulders shook as if snapping out of a daze.

“I don’t really get what’s going on, but aren’t you hungry?”

“Huh….?”

Already gathering his things together, it was Haruki who agreed instead of Yuu, who still seemed too bewildered.

“It feels like a hole could open up in my stomach from how empty it is. I haven’t eaten anything since last night.”
 

’Good. Haruki realized it was time to back off, too.’

It was easy to make Haruki laugh as well as angry, but he never kept it up for long.

Unlike Yuu, who was still reacting stiffly, Haruki had already completely shifted gears.

Haruki stared at Yuu again, but his gaze wasn’t sharp like before, and he was smiling, too.

“Let’s go get ramen!”

“….Let’s go to that newly-opened place. It’s behind the supermarket.”

Yuu finally rose from his seat as well, sharing info on his new favorite place.

“Huh? You already found a new one? You sure do love ramen a lot, Yuu.”

Souta replied, trying to ask like normal again, but there was still something that didn’t quite sit right with him.
 

“And what would be the point in asking? If I told you that I was going out with Aida…. No, that’s not right. If I said that I liked anyone other than Natsuki, would you feel relieved? And then what?”
 

He knew that that hadn’t been Haruki’s usual retaliation, but a question meant to provoke Yuu.

If Haruki really did like Natsuki, it would have been in his nature to clearly acknowledge that.

’Then, assuming that he doesn’t like her…. Why did he bring up her name? And same goes for Yuu. He seemed like he wanted to bring the topic back to Haruki and Aida, but…. H-huh?!’
 

Why hadn’t Yuu said anything when Haruki had avoided the topic?

No, maybe it was because he couldn’t say anything. 
 

’….Dammit, the curiosity is killing me.’

Souta shook his head, chasing out the thoughts running through his head.

Perhaps there really was some invisible trench opening up between the two of them, but the most Souta could do was quietly stay close to them.
 

’I don’t really want to think about it, but…. If they really do end up getting into a fight, that’s when I’ll get between them.’

Declaring this firmly to himself, Souta ran out into the hallway where Yuu and Haruki were waiting.
 

                                                ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

Surrounding the brand-new table, they all slurped their own ramen.

It was evident that this shop was a hit, as everyone was digging in.

Even Souta was swallowing his wonton ramen with ease, forgetting all about his stomach feeling heavy since that morning. He’d ordered it after hearing it was the one that had the lightest soup, but it was so much more delicious than he’d imagined.
 

’Yuu’s shouyu ramen smells good too.’

Sitting across from Souta was Haruki with his shio and green onions, and next to him, Yuu had ordered the classic shouyu ramen.
 

It had all started roughly thirty minutes ago.

Souta has recognized Koyuki from afar in front of the train station and run up to him.
 

“Yukki! Wait no, I mean, Ayase-kun! Are you free right now? Wanna come eat ramen with us?”

“Ahaha, you can call me Yukki if you’d like. Ramen? Sure, I’d love to.”
 

Even though they weren’t even close enough to use nicknames or walk home together, Koyuki has answered Souta with a smile.

Just as he was feeling overjoyed that Koyuki had accepted his sudden invitation, he caught sight of Yuu standing off to the side with a complicated smile on his face.

Souta did a double-take at Yuu’s behavior, which was so different from his usual, friendly demeanor.
 

While it was true that Koyuki held the position of being a guy close with Natsuki, that was it. It seemed to him that Koyuki clearly had romantic feelings for her, but it didn’t look like anything special had happened between them.
 

’On the contrary, ever since summer vacation ended, things seem kind of…. awkward?’

Natsuki and Koyuki often traded manga with each other, but even then, things felt stiff between them.

Even Yuu, who watched the two from afar, had been keeping a slight distance from Natsuki.

‘He won’t say he’s going to leave now just because Yukki’s joining us, right….?’

Becoming worried, Souta turned around and heard a sharp, clear sound.

Haruki had patted Yuu smartly on the back, who had fallen silent with a sour look on his face.

“Well isn’t this a great opportunity? To have a nice man-to-man talk, that is.”

Since he was saying it like that, it looked like something really had happened between Yuu and Koyuki.

Although he seemed reluctant, Yuu nodded in reply to Haruki’s words.
 

‘Well, they’re separate matters, I guess.’

The reason that Souta hadn’t been told was probably Yuu didn’t want him to know.

It was probably best not to pry or bug him about it.

Regardless of the the fact that they were in the same club, were close friends, or even childhood friends, that didn’t mean that they had to tell each other about every little thing.

‘Though I can’t helping feeling, just a little bit, that Haruki knows something I don’t….’
 

After seeing that they’d mostly finished eating, Souta started bombarding Koyuki with questions.

The topic was, of course, Koyuki’s recent transformation.
 

“Wow! So you got your hair done at a salon in Aoyama that you read about in a magazine?”

“I thought I’d start changing how I looked, first.”

“That’s true. It really depends on which hairdresser you go to. You look really good with that style.”

“I’m still the same on the inside, though, so change can only go so far….”

As Koyuki laughed weakly in embarrassment, Souta shook his fists and tried to encourage him.

“Yukki, you should have more self-confidence. It’s amazing that you can just transform yourself like this, you know!”

“….R-right….”
 

’Ah, did I overdo it? I wonder if he thinks I’m weird now for blurting that out all of a sudden.’

Koyuki looked taken aback by Souta’s outburst, but he seemed to realize that his admiration was genuine.

Like snow thawing, a smile slowly made its way onto his face.

’Yukki really has changed….’

It’s difficult to accept a compliment directly. You wind up feeling embarrassed and try to dismiss it, or you can’t help suspecting some underlying meaning behind it. Either way, it’s probably due to lack of self-confidence.

’When people tell him he’s talented, Haruki never denies it.’
 

“Whatever the reason is, it’s amazing he could completely transform himself like that.”

Right before summer vacation, Souta had seen Koyuki outside from the window and said while squinting, as if the sight of him was blinding, and Yuu had told him, “You’re fine the way you are, Mochita.”

He’d been happy to hear that, but he knew he couldn’t let himself be spoiled by his friend’s kind words.
 

“Want to change, huh….”

’Right, right, I was just thinking the same….. Hm?’
 

Yuu hadn’t been talking to him, but to himself.

Everyone’s eyes focused on Yuu after he’d suddenly muttered those words.
 

Yuu noticed that everyone was staring at him, and asked in confusion,

“….Wh-What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Well, I mean, you just said, ‘I want to change,’ didn’t you?”

He looked around for agreement and Haruki also nodded.

“Yeah, you did.”

Yuu looked visually shocked at their reactions.

’Crap, maybe we should have pretended we didn’t hear him…..’

As he searched for the words to smooth it over, Koyuki suddenly spoke up.

“So even you can feel that way, Setoguchi-kun?”

Koyuki sounded surprised, like what Yuu had said was something unusual.
 

“….Is there a problem with that?”

“Ah, I didn’t mean it in a bad way…. From how I see it, you’re very lucky to have what you do now.”

It was probably intentional that Koyuki hadn’t specified what exactly Yuu “had”.

But when Yuu didn’t ask for clarification on it, Souta felt like butting in.
 

’No, it’s not the time for that! It’s not like Yuu’s going to pick a fight now, is he….?’

He was usually gentle like an older brother, but once Natsuki came into the picture, it was an entirely different story.

Souta could tell that with Natsuki caught in the middle, things had gotten complicated between the two.

Considering the situation, would Yuu be able to  answer in his usual manner after hearing Koyuki’s vague reply?
 

As Souta panicked over how things would turn out, Yuu suddenly forced a laugh.

“Thanks. I’ll share some chashu with you for that.”

’Phew! Nice save, Yuu!’

Rather than speaking those thoughts out loud, Souta decided to go along with the change in topic.

“Ah, no fair! I want some too!”

“Don’t worry, it’s not hard to win Yuu over with flattery.”

Haruki added, and the table soon became lively again.
 

“Come on, man…. quit saying things that make me look bad.”

“All things aside, I don’t it’d hurt anyone if you were a bit nicer to us, Yuu.”

“Because his name’s written with the character for ‘kindness’?”

As Souta fooled around along with Haruki, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Koyuki sitting there with a smile.

He almost seemed a bit blinded, like he was looking up at a bright, clear sky.
 

Yuu seemed to have noticed as well, and when he looked over, Koyuki whispered something to him.

Souta felt bad for eavesdropping, but still, he listened in on their conversation.

“You really are lucky to have them, Setoguchi-kun.”

“Most of the time, they’re just really annoying.”

“….Even so, I envy you.”
 

’Ah, so that’s what he meant….’

It was a short exchange, but he figured about what it was that Koyuki felt Yuu “had”.

He was saying that Yuu “had” friends.

And at the same time, implying that it was different in his case.

’That’s not true. Don’t you have them too, Yukki?’

Souta felt like retorting, but stopped himself at the last minute.

He realized that he knew nothing about Koyuki, much less what kind of friends he had.

Koyuki had changed drastically like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, and Souta had merely been watching him from afar in one-sided admiration. Although he felt a closeness to him, he’d never conveyed that to him.

’….When it comes to Yukki, it’s like I’m just part of an audience watching a movie.’

Because he was able to do things that he couldn’t, and because he didn’t want to compare himself to him, Souta must of unconsciously thought of Koyuki as some person on the other side of a screen.

’That’s probably the same with Akarin.’

He’d only come to know about her through hearing her conversations with Natsuki and Miou.

He was always watching her, so it only felt like they were close.

Everything was just one-sided for him.
 

As his heart began to hurt unexpectedly, Souta silently said to Koyuki,

’Yukki, I wish I could become friends with you.’

It wasn’t just because he was the one that had given him the courage to talk to Akari, or because he felt a smug sense of camaraderie with him; he just wanted to talk with him like a normal person.

 

But that day, Souta never got the chance to tell Koyuki his feelings.

As soon as they left the ramen shop, Koyuki called out solely to Yuu.
 

“Setoguchi-kun, could I have a bit more of your time?”

He added that he wanted it to be just the two of them, if possible, so Souta and Haruki had no other choice but to leave the scene.

He had no idea what Yuu talked about with Koyuki once they left.
 

But judging from the way they acted the following day, he could tell that something must have happened.

It would seem that in just one day, the trench that had opened up between Yuu and Koyuki had deepened even further.

Perhaps it meant that the love triangle revolving around Natsuki was reaching its crucial stage.


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