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Ayase Koyuki

Birthday: August 28th
Horoscope Sign: Virgo
Blood Type: A

Souta’s classmate.
In the Gardening Club. Natsuki’s manga
friend. After changing his appearance recently,
he’s gathered attention from the girls.

—–

solution 4

’I wonder what’s up with Nacchan and Miou-chan….’

Having come back from changing classrooms, Akari let out a discreet sigh.

Although the end of summer vacation might be part of the reason, Akari had noticed off about the two of them.

She’d tried asking if they were worried about something, or were feeling unwell, but each time, they would shake their heads.

But, the fact that they weren’t walking beside Akari at the moment was definite proof that something had happened.
 

’They said they were stopping by the faculty room, but I wonder if it’s actually because they wanted to avoid Setoguchi-kun and Serizawa-kun after seeing them walking towards us in the hallway.’

She didn’t want to suspect anything, but Natsuki and Miou had been acting strange for a while now.

And it seemed like Yuu and Haruki were avoiding them, as well.

As soon as the lunch break started, the two of them would disappear into the Film Club room.
 

At first, Akari had thought that they were just busy with their club activities.

That was a possibility, but when she saw Natsuki talking with Souta as usual, that’s when she realized it.

Natsuki was trying to keep away from Yuu, and Miou was doing the same with Haruki.
 

’I wonder what could have happened. Isn’t there anything I can do for them?’

Having unintentionally clenched her fist, she heard a crumpling sound.

Returning to her senses, Akari was just about to straighten out the printout when she heard someone call out to her from behind.
 

“Hayasaka-san.”
 

The voice was familiar.

She had never heard him say her name up until now, but there was no mistaking it.

The owner of that kind, comforting voice was probably him.
 

“….Mochizuki-kun?”

When she turned around, she saw just who she had expected to see.

She wondered if he had a fever, seeing how he was slightly red in the face, all the way up to his ears.

She was just about to ask him what was wrong, but Souta spoke up before she could.
 

“Uh, umm….”

He seemed to be having trouble getting the words out, and had to pause again.

Somehow, even Akari was starting to feel nervous, and she clutched her textbook lightly.
 

“I have something to talk to you about. At 4:10 after school today, could you wait for me in this classroom?”
 

’It’s the second time we’ve talked.’

They had exchanged texts numerous times already, but talking face-to-face like this still made her nervous.

It took a lot of effort just for Akari to nod silently.
 

“G-good…. I’ll see you later, then.”

Having said what he wanted to say, Souta took off in a run.

Akari was left behind before she was even able to fully take in the situation, and simply stood there in a daze for a while.
 

’He’s going out of his way to meet me in person to talk about the picture for the Film Club, right….?’

Once she’d calmed down, the first thing that came to mind was the picture that the Film Club had asked her to draw.

Ever since she’d gotten stuck during summer vacation, Akari still hadn’t been able to finish it. The reason for this was that she couldn’t grasp the meaning of the theme: love.
 

’Hopefully I’ll come up with some kind of hint by the time school’s over….’

She heard another crumpling sound at her hand again and quickly loosened her grip.

If her shoulder were too tense, she wouldn’t be able to draw the way she wanted to.

Telling herself this, Akari reached out for the door of the classroom in front of her.
 

                                               ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

After SHR ended, the classroom became noisy all at once.

Akari finished gathering up her things, reached for her bag, and looked up at the clock on the wall.

There was about an hour left before the arranged time.

’Even if I head for the art room now, it’ll be time to go by the time I really get into it….’
 

“Akari-chan, let’s go to Art Club!”

“Eri-chan-sensei’s going to be here today too!”

Miou and Natsuki, who were already shouldering their bags, came over to her seat.

Akari nodded to them, but then shook her head.
 

“….There’s a book I want to finish reading, so why don’t you two go on ahead”

“Really?”

She knew that Natsuki didn’t sense any underlying meaning behind her words, but she still felt uneasy somehow. There really wasn’t any need to show them as proof, but Akari pulled out the paperback book from her bag.

“The due date is tomorrow.”

“Looks like you’d better hurry then.”

As Miou nodded with a serious expression on her face, Akari laughed weakly back.
 

’It’s not a lie, but I still feel kind of bad….’

For some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to tell them about her meeting with Souta.

It wasn’t because they would be talking about the picture for the Film Club that she, alone, had been chosen to draw.

But no matter how much Akari tried to think of why else she couldn’t tell them, she wasn’t able to find the answer.

 

After seeing off the other two to the art room, Akari started reading, just like she’d said she would.

The rest of her classmates left the classroom one after another, and by the time she’d reached the last chapter, she was alone.

’It feels like a waste, so I guess I’ll finish reading the rest at home.’
 

She shut the book, and noticed orange light coming in through the window.

The curtains had been left open, dying the classroom in soft, warm colors.

“….Ah, it’s already four.”
 

Standing up from her seat, Akari stretched out her stiff body.

Since she’d been so focused on her book, her mind was a lot clearer now.

’It was a good idea to stay in the classroom.’

Even if she had picked up a paintbrush, she probably wouldn’t have been able to concentrate, or even face the canvas in the first place.

On the contrary, right now, she would rather experience someone else’s work in order to find the inspiration to create something of her own.

Ding dong dang dong….

Hearing the chime, Akari looked up at the clock on the wall in alarm.

It was 4:05, five more minutes until the arranged time.
 

The moment she became conscious of this fact, her heart started pounding against her chest.

Akari pressed a hand lightly against her chest through her blazer to try and calm down.
 

“Eh?”

She heard the door open with a rattle, and there was Souta, standing there wide-eyed.

He seemed surprised to see Akari already waiting in the classroom despite having arrived early.

Should I say something first? She wondered.

Just as Akari was about to speak, Souta’s voice rang out.
 

“Am I not good enough?!”
 

Not good enough? For what?

Though she found his words strange, Akari answered reflectively.

“N-no, I think you’re fine….?”
 

Souta widened his eyes, as if in disbelief at what Akari had said.

In addition, he didn’t seem able to form proper words, either.

“H-huh?”

“Huh?”

Without knowing why Souta was so flustered, Akari could only tilt her head in confusion.

For some reason, Souta frowned a little at her reaction.
 

’I wonder what’s gotten into him. Is there something he’s having trouble saying….?’

As she looked over at him with a mixture of concern and confusion, Souta took a deep breath and said in almost a shout,
 

“I mean I like you!”

“Huh?!”

“Like I said, I like you!”
 

This time, it was Akari’s turn to fall silent.

’Like…. like like? Mochizuki-kun…. likes me?’

Because Akari had never even dreamed of being confessed to, she was shocked to the point of being breathless.
 

Souta clenched his fists tightly and looked down with his flushed face.

“I’d never make you feel sad, and I’ll make sure you’re smiling every day!”

Akari’s heart pounded even faster at the “promise” he made in a serious voice.
 

“And I’d love it if you made me a bento every day!”

“Wha….”

Her heart, which had been beating so fast she thought it might burst, suddenly dropped its pace.

’A bento…. every day?’
 

Souta had raised his face and was looking at Akari in expectation. After staring back at him for a couple seconds, she realized that nothing was going to happen until she replied.

Hesitantly, Akari told him her true feelings.
 

“It’s too much work to make one every single day, so no thank you.”

Seriously?!

Souta seemed rather shocked to hear this.

He looked as dejected as a puppy that had just been scolded.
 

’Isn’t there anything else I could give him besides a bento….?’

As she racked her brain, she suddenly came up with an idea.

Akari perked up and said in a tone she’s use when inviting Natsuki or Miou somewhere,
 

“Oh, come to think of it, a new cake shop’s opened across from the station! If you’d like, shall we go there together?”
 

Souta was frozen on the spot, doing nothing but blinking repeatedly.

’Maybe he doesn’t like sweets?’

Just as she was about to try and come up with a better idea, Souta’s eyes lit up.

“Yes! I’d love to!”
 

                                               ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

As the transition from summer to winter uniforms ended, the school filled with vivid colors.

Underneath their blazers, the girls could be seen wearing colored cardigans ranging from black, navy, beige, and gray, and the boys also sported colorful sweaters and hoodies.
 

‘I really like the color of Serizawa-kun’s sweater.’

Watching Haruki head for the Film Club room, Akari let out a sigh.

’The pink color goes really well with his blonde hair.’

While she had only seem them during school field trips, Haruki’s street clothes were fashionable, too.

Maybe it was the fact that he made movies that gave him a good sense for color.
 

“Aka…. Hayasaka-san?”

“Wah?!”
 

Akari flinched, surprised at being spoken to in the midst of spacing out.

Souta, who had been the one to call out to her, slumped his shoulders at her reaction, looking apologetic.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you….”

“N-no, it’s okay! Um, umm….”

She thought she’d better come up with something to talk about before he asked her what she was looking at, but she couldn’t think of anything. Although she tried to think fast, the only words she could come up with were “Well….” or “You see….”
 

However, Souta waited patiently for Akari without rushing her.

“It’s alright. Take your time.”

She felt relaxed seeing Souta’s genuine smile.

But at the same time, she started to feel a bit uneasy somehow.
 

’So Mochizuki-kun can make that kind of face….’

Come to think of it, this might be the first time that Souta had smiled at her so kindly.

He was relaxed when talking with Haruki, Yuu, and Natsuki, but he usually looked somewhat nervous in front of Akari. He was awkward during conversations, too, and they would end after just a couple replies.
 

’I end up getting nervous too, so I guess that makes two of us.’

Akari thought, but then she realized something.

She was shy, but she liked to talk, so once she got to know someone, she could talk more easily and even start conversations on her own.

So she wondered why she still felt nervous around Souta.

“Um, are you feeling unwell?”

“….Huh?”

Hearing a voice from beside her, Akari flinched in surprise again.

She worried about having shown an unpleasant reaction, but Souta only muttered, “I knew it.”

“You’re spacing out because you have a fever, right?”
 

Akari abruptly raised her voice at Souta pointing this out.
 

“Th-the movie! You’ll show it to me, right?”

“Huh? Oh, right. It hasn’t been edited yet, but I think it’ll help. But if you have a cold, should we do this another day?”

“It’s alright! I’m fine, really.”

Akari confidently brandished two fists, and though he looked reluctant,  Souta nodded.
 

’Mochizuki-kun is so kind.’

Having realized just now that such a kind person had told her they liked her, Akari became even more nervous.

But if she continued acting reserved like this, she wouldn’t be able to give him an answer.

Her reply to his confession was still up in the air, and right now, she was in the middle of something like a grace period. She had to make good use of this time to ensure she gave an answer that was sincere and honest to both of them.
 

’I never thought love was so complicated….’

Even though they were her own feelings, they felt just a little out of reach.

While struggling with her frustration, Akari walked down the stairs to the art room.
 

                                               ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

There were other people in the art room, so Akari borrowed the preparation room next door.

They placed the laptop that Souta had brought on top of the long desk, and together, they watched the in-production movie.
 

The movie told the fleeting love story of a high school girl.

The one that the girl had fallen in love with was a senpai who was two years older and a member of the same Art Club.

She does her best to paint pictures to get this senpai, who’s the president of the Art Club, to notice her, but she can’t draw the way she wants to at all.

Her slump drags on; although she used to always win awards during middle school, her works keep being rejected.
 

What’s happening? What am I doing wrong?

She thinks frantically, and gradually grows distant from the canvas.
 

And then, it’s March; her senpai’s graduation is just around the corner.

If she doesn’t tell him her feelings now, they might not be able to meet ever again.

Not wanting that to happen, the heroine picks up her brush again.

She pours out her overflowing feelings into the canvas, and and on the day before the graduation ceremony, she finishes a single painting——
 

“Huh? Is that it?”

The screen dimmed, and Akari looked over at Souta sitting beside her.

“The ending’s already been decided in the script, but Haruki didn’t want to film it yet until he saw picture first.”

“….I see, that makes sense. I’m sorry for holding everything up.”

“N-no, not at all! I wasn’t trying to rush you or anything, so, um….!”

With his face bright red, Souta frantically waved his hands.

Touched by his kindness, Akari felt even more apologetic.
 

“If you don’t have enough art supplies or anything, please let me know!”

Souta brought up, probably because he’d been worried about how Akari had gotten so quiet.

However, the topic was so sudden, it took a while for her to process it.

“….Um, I use the ones from the Art Club, so I’m fine.”

“Th-then, in that case, if the ones from the Art Club run out, I can go and help you buy more.”

“Alright then. Thank you very much.”
 

’Mochizuki-kun really is kind….’

Ever since the day that Souta had told her he liked her after school, they had started talking more.

They went to the cake shop together, and he would recommend ramen shops to her. Little by little, she felt them growing closer together, but they were both still keeping their distance from each other.
 

Since then, Souta had never said anything like “I like you” or “Go out with me” again.

She was even starting to think that it might not have been a confession at all.

’I want to ask, but it’d be weird to bring it up again….’
 

She glanced over at Souta, and as if he had felt her gaze, he turned to look back at her.

Their eyes met for a split second, and in that same moment, Souta fell out of his chair.

“M-Mochizuki-kun?! Are you okay?”

“S-sorry….!”

Souta quickly stood up and bowed deeply.

She didn’t know why he was apologizing, but thankfully, it didn’t look like he was hurt anywhere.

Her relief lasted only a moment, before Souta said something shocking again, “You won’t be able to focus with me here the entire time, right?”
 

“…..Huh?”

She wondered how he could have come to that conclusion.

While Akari had no idea what was going on, Souta seemed to have come up with his own understanding of this situation. His face and ears were red, seemingly from being agitated, and his swimming eyes showed no chance of looking straight at Akari.
 

’I don’t really get it, but I have to clear up this misunderstanding….’

As Akari started to get up from her chair as well, Souta gave a small shout and dashed for the door.

And then he took off in a run with signs of stopping.
 

“P-please excuse meeee—!”

Souta’s screaming voice echoed from down the hall, and Akari was left blinking in surprise.

“….Did I do something wrong?”
 

                                               ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

After replaying the movie several times, Akari felt like drawing very much.

But realizing that she’d forgotten her sketchpad in the classroom, she ran to go and get it.

’I want to put down these feelings on paper as soon as I can….!’
 

“Kyah?!”

In all her rush, she stumbled even though there was nothing to trip over.

Placing her hand on the wall to catch herself, her eyes met with Souta, who was coming down the stairs.
 

“M-Mochizuki-kun….”

’He saw that, how embarrassing.’

She turned her head down right away, but for some reason, Souta spoke up frantically.

“N-no, it’s not what you think! I wasn’t following you or anything, I was just looking for Haruki….!”

As he spoke words that were different than what she had expected, Akari raised her face to look up at Souta again.

Souta’s face was bright red, and he was waving both hands in front of him.
 

’He said he was looking for Serizawa-kun, right….?’

Remembering what Natsuki had told her once, Akari tried confirming it.

“Serizawa-kun disappeared again?”

“Y-yeah! Wait, ‘again’? Is Haruki that well-known for his wanderlust?”

“I don’t know if it’s well-known or not, but I heard about it from Nacchan. She told me that he way he goes walking around the school whenever he gets stuck while working on something is just like me.”

Although she laughed as she explained why she remembered this fact so well, Souta was now making an indescribable face.
 

“Mochizuki-kun….?”

Had she said accidentally something wrong again?

As she hesitantly called his name, Souta laughed and started speaking.

“You and Haruki really are similar in a lot of ways, Hayasaka-san. If you ever get the chance, it might be a good idea to have a nice, long chat with him. With both of you being geniuses, I think you two could really connect.”
 

Akari wasn’t sure how to respond, and simply nodded vaguely.

’I’d be happy to be able to have a creative conversation with Serizawa-kun, but….’

She understood what he wanted to say, but it was a bit off-putting to be called a genius.

And more importantly, she was bothered by the glimpse of loneliness that she saw in Souta’s smile. 
 

The silence continued, and before they knew it, they were in front of the classroom.

’Mochizuki-kun said he’d go to look somewhere else is Serizawa-kun isn’t here, right?’

Should she help him look?

She was about to call out to Souta, who walking a step ahead of her, but he had suddenly stopped.
 

“You might be misunderstanding something, but that girl’s not the one I like…”
 

There was no mistaking that voice.

That clear and imposing voice belonged to Haruki.

’I wonder who he’s talking to….?’

Overcome by curiosity, Akari peeked into the classroom.

 

’….Nacchan?!’

Akari unconsciously rubbed her eyes, but even after doing so, it was definitely Natsuki in there.

Right now, Haruki wasn’t standing in front of Miou like she had expected, but Natsuki.
 

After taking a deep breath, Haruki continued.

“I like you!”
 

At that moment, Akari’s legs gave out beneath her, and her shoulder banged against the door.

Her impact with the door made a loud thunk sound, and Natsuki and Haruki turned around in alarm.
 

“This way,”

Souta whispered in her ear.

Akari nodded, but she couldn’t even move an inch from where she was standing.

“….I’ll be taking your hand for just a minute.”

Souta seemed to have realized Akari’s dilemma, and gently took her hand, pulling her along.
 

They moved away from the door, backing up against the windowsill on the opposite side of the hallway.

Having apparently entered a blind spot for the view from inside the classroom, neither Haruki nor Natsuki seemed to have noticed them.
 

“….Guess it was just the wind.”

“Probably.”
 

Akari listened to them both laugh, her head feeling fuzzy.

“Let’s move away from here, slowly.”

Akari nodded silently, and followed after Souta as he pulled her along.

Souta’s hand was bonier than it looked, wrapping comfortably around Akari’s.

’He really does have a boy’s hand….’
 

After going down one floor, Souta’s slowly stopped walking.

“We’re probably safe now if we’ve made it this far.”

Instead of replying, Akari merely stared intently at Souta’s hand.

Seeing what she staring at, Souta gave a small shout, quickly released her hand.
 

“Um, I didn’t…. err…. Hayasaka-san?”

With her head down, Akari couldn’t see Souta’s expression.

But she could hear his voice filled with worry as he called her name.

’….If I stay quiet forever, I’ll just cause trouble for him….’
 

After taking a deep breath, Akari raised her head and tried smiling at Souta.

“That was surprising, seeing Serizawa-kun tell Nacchan that he….”

She tried to finish her sentence, but her voice gave out in the end.

If Natsuki was the one that Haruki liked, then what would happen to Miou?
 

“So I really did misunderstand things….”

“Huh?”
 

Souta looked in her direction, his face seeming to show that he was fighting something back.

But when his eyes met with Akari’s, he forced a smile.

’I wonder what Mochizuki-kun misunderstood?’

If it was about Natsuki being the one that Haruki had confessed to, then just like Akari, that would mean he had misunderstood who Haruki liked. But even then, why did he look so hurt by that?
 

“Um, what exactly did you misunderstand…?”

She tried asking, but Souta only smiled bitterly without giving her an answer.

If he didn’t want to say it, she wouldn’t force him to. But despite that, she still felt curious.

’I shouldn’t be too persistent about it, but….’

While she pondered over how to ask him, Souta turned his back towards her.

“….Sorry. I remembered that I have something I need to do, so I’ll be going home for today.”

He spoke quickly, and ran off without waiting for a reply.

Akari raised her hand half-heartedly, but it was felt hanging in the air and eventually dropped limply to her side.
 

Having been left alone, Akari slowly looked up at the ceiling.

The classroom that Natsuki and Haruki had been in was probably somewhere around here.
 

“….That’s weird. Why am I crying?”

 

With no one to hear those whispered words, they disappeared in the chilly hallway.

On the other side of the window, the sunset faded into the night sky.

Unlike the fresh air of summer, the scent of the autumn night was somehow melancholic.


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