Birthday: December 3rd
Horoscope Sign: Sagittarius
Blood Type: O
President of the Art Club. A regular art contest prizewinner.
She’s popular with the guys,
but in reality, she’s shy,
and still doesn’t know what “love” is.
“Oh, Hayasaka-san, are you here by yourself today?”
“Hayasaka-saaan? Your phone’s been ringing for a while now, you know?”
Feeling someone suddenly tap her on the shoulder from behind, Akari accidentally dropped her brush on the floor.
Matsukawa-sensei, the one who had been trying to get her attention, also widened her eyes in surprise.
“S-sorry! Are you alright? Did any paint get on your skirt?”
“No, I’m fine…. I’m sorry, I guess I was spacing off….”
As Akari apologized while picking up the brush, Matsukawa-sensei forced a smile and continued,
“Could it be that you didn’t hear me until I tapped on your shoulder?”
Akari asked in genuine confusion.
Seeing her react this way, Matsukawa-sensei’s smile grew even more forced.
“It’s good that you’re so focused, but I’d worry about leaving you alone. Where are Enomoto-san and Aida-san today? Didn’t I hear their voices earlier?”
“Nacchan had a dentist appointment, and Miou-chan went home with Serizawa-kun.”
As she spoke, she felt her chest being struck by an aching sensation.
She should have been happy to see Miou and Haruki talking again for the first time in a while. She was supposed to feel relieved knowing they’d only been avoiding each other because they’d been busy with their respective club activities.
But Akari had witnessed a crucial scene.
‘I didn’t hear Nacchan’s reply, but as for Serizawa-kun….’
“….Is this the painting that the Film Club asked you for?”
Somewhere along the line, Matsukawa-sensei had switched her gaze from Akari to the canvas in front of her.
Akari followed her gaze and looked at the painting that had progressed from the sketching stage.
In a world brimming with layers of color, a male student wearing a gakuran stared out the window.
When she’d first started drawing, it had been a young girl gazing at cherry blossoms in full bloom, but immediately after Souta had shown her the film footage, Akari had ignored her initial sketch and drawn the boy, instead.
’After all, if I were her, I would probably do the same.’
The heroine would soon be parting ways with the person she liked.
In that situation, she’d probably paint a picture of she person she liked in her favorite place, because strong feelings are necessary to finish a single painting.
“What a sad painting,”
After staring at it for some time, Matsukawa-sensei quietly voiced her opinion.
Although Akari usually never talked much about her works, owing to the fact that none of the club members were here today, she found it easier to talk today.
“What I really wanted to draw here was hope, too.”
Surprised that Akari had responded for once, Matsukawa-sensei widened her eyes slightly.
But she didn’t reply with anything more than a simple, “I see.”
“In that case, you just need to find it.”
Akari didn’t know how to respond to that.
But, encouraged by Matsukawa-sensei’s warm gaze, she asked in a faint voice,
“Do you think that I’ll be able to find it?”
The words of a teacher had a definite weight.
She had lived longer than Akari, and had surely seen countless works of art done by students that she had taught over the years.
“….Well then, I’ll be going back to the preparation room now. Try not to stay too late, alright?”
“I know. Thank you.”
After watching Matsukawa-sensei go into the adjoining room through the inner door, Akari picked up her cell phone that she’d left on the wood table.
The light at the top was flashing repeatedly.
There had been an incoming call, and a voice mail.
“It’s from Mom. I wonder what’s up….?”
As soon as Akari pressed the button to replay the voice mail message, Akari gave a shout of joy.
“Wah, she bought me a cake from Hoshiya!”
It had only just opened at the end of summer vacation, but it already a big hit, probably due to it being conveniently located across from the train station.
And the cakes themselves, in both presentation and taste, were the best, hands down. When she had gone there with Souta, Akari had instantly become a fan.
“Al~right, I’ll do a little more and then head home!”
“Yuki-chaaan, where’d you go~?”
“What about over there~? Did you find him~?”
The moment she got all fired up and pumped her fist in the air, she heard the sound of running and shouting girls from the hallway.
‘Yuki-chan? That’s Ayase-kun, right….?’
She always heard Natsuki call him “Koyuki-kun,” but she knew that some of his classmates, both the boys and the girls, would call him “Yuki-chan”.
Each time, Koyuki would correct them, so it was obvious that he didn’t like being called that.
Those girls probably knew that too, but they continued to call him by that nickname.
’Maybe they only see what’s on the outside when they look at Ayase-kun….’
“Maybe he already went home for today?”
“What should we do? Go and check the flower beds one more time?”
“No way, that’d be a pain….”
The girls seemed to have stopped right in front of the art room, and she could hear their voices clearly.
’I see. So they don’t want to have to help out with the Gardening Club….’
Koyuki, who was in the Gardening Club, would always go to take care of the plants in the courtyard and schoolyard once school was over.
On several occasions, Akari had seen those girls from the art room window, and how they would rush towards him during those times in hopes of a chance to talk to him.
Before summer vacation, they would sometimes help him with his work, but lately, it was different.
’Rather than helping out, they just want to talk with him.’
Koyuki probably realized this as well, and seemed to have hidden himself. The last time this had happened, she had seen him quietly go back to work only once the girls’ voices were completely out of earshot.
He probably didn’t plan on starting his club activities today, either, until after the girls had stopped chasing after him.
After the pursuers had apparently given up, she heard the sound of their footsteps going down the hallway one after another.
Akari watched them go through the glass window on the door.
‘….I wonder if it’s not love that those girls have for Ayase-kun.’
Compared to Natsuki or Miou, their friendliness seemed more superficial.
Koyuki probably sensed that too, which was why he was hiding like this.
Just as she was about to turn her back to the door, she saw something flicker into the corner of her vision.
’Huh? Isn’t that….?’
She saw a tuft of soft-looking hair peeking out from behind a pillar in the hallway.
After looking around and making sure that the group of girls had left, he finally emerged from his hiding place.
’I knew it, it’s Ayase-kun!’
Koyuki had changed into a track suit and seemed to be heading for his club activities now.
’That’s amazing. No matter what happens, he never misses a day to go take care of the flower beds….’
Watching him from afar, Akari felt a warmth in her chest.
‘Somehow, it’s kind of encouraging…. Hm?’
After taking a deep breath, Koyuki swiftly changed directions and came towards the art room.
Their eyes met through the glass window on the door, and Akari couldn’t stop herself from giving a small shout of surprise.
“I apologize for startling you.”
“N-no, it’s fine….”
Their conversation ended there, and Koyuki turned away.
’Didn’t he come to the art room for a reason….?’
Finding this strange, Akari opened the door and called out to Koyuki, who had already started walking away.
“Wait, Ayase-kun! Were you looking for someone?”
“….I forgot to give back the manga that Enomoto-san lent to me, but it doesn’t look like she’s here today.”
’Ah, so that’s why he was looking in through the door.’
The paper bag that Koyuki was holding close to him probably contained the manga that he had mentioned.
Akari hesitated for a moment, and decided to offer her help.
“If you’d like, I can pass it on to her for you.”
She knew that since summer vacation had ended, things between Natsuki and Koyuki had been awkward.
It looked like they were still lending manga to each other as they did before, but there was something standoffish between the two of them.
’Nacchan doesn’t seem to be getting along well with Setoguchi-kun, either, plus she was confessed to by Serizawa-kun….’
And now that something seemed to have happened with Koyuki, she must be having a rough time right now.
“There was something I wanted to talk to her about as well, so I’d like to give it back to her directly.”
Something he wanted to talk to about?
She was overcome by an urge to ask, but it was probably something between just the two of them.
Seeing the unyielding resolve reflected in Koyuki’s eyes, Akari held back her question.
“….I see. Sorry for taking up your time.”
“No, it’s fine. Thank you, though.”
Koyuki bowed politely, and went back down the way he’d come.
She heard someone whisper.
Turning to see who it was, Akari saw a young girl had come down from the stairs and was watching Koyuki go.
’Where did she come from….?’
She wasn’t wearing her indoor shoes, so it wasn’t clear what grade she was in, but she gave off a feeling of being a bit younger than them.
She must have come running here, as each time the girl breathed heavily, her loosely-tied pigtails would quiver.
‘I wonder if she’s in love….’
There was both sadness and passion in the gaze that the girl watched Koyuki with.
Like Natsuki and Miou, they were the eyes of someone looking at the person they liked.
“….Ah, I’ve got it!”
Shouting out loud at the “answer” that had suddenly come to her, Akari faced the canvas and started moving her brush,
In order to redraw the hairstyle of the boy in the painting.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
After finding a good place to stop, Akari finished her work and walked down the slope to the station.
Now that it had gotten so schilly, a scarf was a necessity. She had it wrapped around her neck in a way to bring out the most volume, even burying her nose behind the knitted wool.
’….Isn’t she cold?’
For some reason, the girl walking in front of her was holding her scarf in her hand.
Her shoulders were heaving up and down, so she must have been running not too long ago.
Akari was walking at a faster pace than the girl, and would soon catch up to her.
When she was just a few meters away, she realized that it was Miou.
Miou’s shoulders shook, startled by Akari’s voice.
However, that was her only reaction; she didn’t say anything in reply, nor show any signs of stopping or turning around.
Feeling that something was off, Akari ran up to her.
“Miou-chan, let’s go home toge–”
When Akari peered into her face from the side, her words trailed off.
Tears were flowing from Miou’s eyes, streaming down her reddened cheeks.
“It isn’t…. m-me….”
Mious stuttered out between sobs.
Akari gently wrapped an arm around her friend who seemed about to break down crying.
“He said that he has someone he likes already….”
She had an intuitive feeling that she was talking about Haruki.
For Mious to be so shocked she was crying, it could only be because of him.
’Did she say he has someone he likes….?’
She was reminded of the day she’d seen Haruki confess to Natsuki in the classroom after school.
While feeling a stabbing sensation in her chest, Akari nodded.
“I was the only who thought….”
Akari really wanted to tell her, “That’s not true,” but Miou probably wouldn’t looking for that kind of half-hearted reassurance.
Akari bit down on her lip.
“But I don’t want to give up.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Akari hadn’t said that to comfort her or just to show she was listening. She felt that Miou was probably firm about her feelings, which was why Akari voiced her agreement.
She hadn’t said, “I can’t give up,” but “I don’t want to give up.”
Her words showed her unwavering will.
‘All I can do is cheer her on….’
Akari took a deep breath, and said as cheerfully as she could,
“Come to think of it, I’ve got cake at home!”
Miou, who had lifted her face, still had tears shimmering in her eyes.
Akari pretended not to notice, and continued with a smile,
“It’s a new menu item from the Hoshiya across the station! Do you want to try some?”
As if deciding there was no point in crying anymore, Miou balled both of her hands into fists.
“I can allow myself to eat sweets just for today, can’t I?”
When Miou turned her back towards her, Akari suddenly felt her vision blur.
Feeling a faint heat at the corner of her eyes, she turned her head down so that Miou wouldn’t see.
’Not again…. Why do I keep crying….?’
Hearing Miou, who had already gone ahead, call out to her, Akari hurriedly rubbed her eyes dry.
She looked up just as Miou had turned back to look at her.
’She didn’t see anything, right?’
“C’mon, let’s hurry! The cakes aren’t going to wait, you know?”
“….Ahaha! Looks like we’ll have to race to the station, then.”
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The following day, Akari sprinted at full-speed down the hill road that led to the station.
Natsuki hadn’t left the art room that long ago. If she ran after her now, she should be able to catch up.
Akari called out to Natsuki with a voice that she couldn’t vocalize.
Even /she found it strange, but right now, she just felt like that she had to catch up to her.
Natsuki had left the classroom immediately after the results of the art contest has been announced.
Unlike the day before, the clubroom had been full of members, waiting along with Akari and the others for Matsukawa-sensei’s arrival. At that time, they had still shared a mutual feeling of anxiety.
The cause of their positions being separated was–
’No matter how many times I experience it, this moment is always so unnerving….’
Akari let out a soft sigh amidst all the chattering around her.
She was aware of the others calling her a regular prizewinner, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still nervous. On the contrary, it felt like she was being crushed under the pressure.
Having said that, she couldn’t let her feelings of unease show on the outside.
Because, even if it was never her intention, people would take it as sarcasm.
After failing several times during middle school, once she entered high school, she would overcome her failures, pretending they were no big deal. If she just kept quiet and laughed it off, no one would blame her for anything.
The door opened with a clatter, and Matsukawa-sensei peeked into the room.
She had a wide smile on her face, and everyone could already tell who had won.
“Hayasaka-san, Aida-san, congratulations!”
Akari’s entry had been chosen for the Grand Prize, and Miou’s entry had been given an Honorable Mention.
The written notice with the contest results was hung up on the blackboard, and all the club members gathered around excitedly.
“Senpai, congratulations. I knew that you would get picked!”
“Looks like you were able to keep your winning streak~”
“Come to think of, wasn’t there also a time when the President and Vice President took 1st and 2nd place together?”
Their cute underclassmen offered words of congratulations one after another.
As Akari thanked them, she noticed Natsuki suddenly getting up from her seat.
She was staring at the paper with the contest results a couple steps back from the circle of people crowded around it.
Finally, she looked up at the ceiling, and then turned her back on the blackboard.
She thought that Natsuki was just going back to her seat, but she had instead started gathering up her things.
She shouldered her bag, and stumbling to the door, she started to leave.
“Nacchan? Where’re you going?”
She called out to her out of innocent confusion, but it was possible the other only saw her actions as a nuisance.
After an awkward silence, Natsuki answered without turning around,
“Huh? But yesterday, didn’t you already….?”
She should have realized her mistake by now, but she still ended up saying something unnecessary again.
Still, she found herself unable to finish her question.
“Sorry, I gotta go!”
Natsuki shouted, and as if trying to escape, quickly left the art room.
She called out to Natsuki once more, but she didn’t stop.
After hesitating briefly, Akari ran after Natsuki as fast as she could.
’I wonder if Nacchan took the bus today….’
Should she get onto the next bus, as well?
But it seemed a little persistent to follow her all the way to her house.
Just as Akari had stopped running to think of what to do, she said a familiar figure up ahead.
’That bag, and that hairstyle….’
Seeing that huge, round bun, Akari confirmed that it was Natsuki.
Although her legs that were screaming from exhaustion, she forced them to move, and shouted at the top of her lungs,
This time, Natsuki couldn’t run after Akari had called out to her.
But she still wouldn’t turn around to face her.
“I’m so glad… I caught up to you…. I thought I’d go home with you.”
Akari said, out of breath, to which Natsuki muttered in reply,
“….Just you? Where’s Miou?”
“Serizawa-kun came looking for her, and she went to go help out the Film Club.”
’Hey, Nacchan, why won’t you look at me….?’
Wanting to see Natsuki’s face, Akari moved to stand in front of her.
Perhaps due to how sudden the action had been, Natsuki didn’t try to hide her face from view.
“Nacchan, when are you going to confess to Setoguchi-kun?”
Even Akari hadn’t expected the words that had ended up coming out of her mouth.
Natsuki seemed shocked as well, and unable to say a word, could only stare back at her.
She considered taking back what she’d said, or trying to change the subject, but she stopped herself at the last moment.
’It’s time to stop avoiding things. Haven’t you been waiting for a chance to ask this?’
In order to work up the resolve to ask an even more conclusive question, Akari strengthened her stance.
“Hm? Did you start going out with Ayase-kun?”
“….Akari, why would you ask something like that? What does that have to do with anything?”
Natsuki widened her eyes slightly, and then narrowed them as if glaring at Akari.
She had every right to be angry. If Akari were in Natsuki’s shoes, she’d feel annoyed, too.
‘But, I think there’re things that Nacchan can’t see, but I can.’
Akari slowly closed her eyes, and said while holding back her emotions as best as she could.
“I don’t really understand you, Nacchan.… You like Setoguchi-kun, and even though you said you’d confess to him for real instead of doing more rehearsals, didn’t you go on a date with Ayase-kun?”
“I already said before, that wasn’t a date!”
“Miou-chan told me that Ayase-kun probably intended it as a date.”
In the heat of the moment, even Miou’s name slipped out.
Natsuki seemed rather shocked, her eyes widening.
Tears seemed to have gathered in her eyes as well, and she quickly averted her gaze.
“….I don’t know anything about that. Honestly, Koyuki-kun didn’t say anything….”
“Nacchan, that’s not fair! Are you going to pretend you don’t care about Serizawa-kun either?”
This must have been the first time she’d ever interrupted someone as they were speaking.
Fueled by a burst of emotion, Akari couldn’t help yelling.
Her voice shook, and her vision quickly became blurry.
Natsuki had turned her face away, but she was now looking at her with confusion.
Having never seen her like this before, she seemed at a loss with what to do.
’That’s right. Whenever I was around Nacchan, and Miou-chan…. I always held back somehow….’
That was the lighter way to put it, but it was probably more like she kept herself on guard.
She made sure to always smile, and was careful to never let them see her angry or cry.
That way, they would always just laugh things off as her being overly optimistic.
’But.… this wasn’t what I wanted….’
She’d only wanted to hear Natsuki’s true feelings, not make her upset.
And now that she’d ended up crying, knowing how kind Natsuki was, she’d probably blame herself.
“I’ll admit that I acted unfairly about some things,”
Just as she had feared, Natsuki started to speak, though with difficulty.
Akari hurriedly tried to deny what she’d said, but she didn’t speak quickly enough.
“But, what did you mean about Haruki…?”
With the words that Natsuki spoke next, she was no longer blaming herself.
Feeling relieved, Akari sniffed and mumbled,
“Natsuki-chan, you were the only one that he said he liked.”
It appeared that Natsuki had no idea what she was talking about.
Seeing Natsuki’s eyes dart around, as if tracing back her memories, Akari quickly blurted out,
“Nacchan, just be honest and tell me the truth. Because in the end, he never said he liked my drawings, or Miou-chan’s either, you know?”
From Akari’s point of view, she had stated very clearly what had been on her mind, but Natsuki just seemed to grow even more confused.
At this point, perhaps it would be best to put a stop to it now.
That thought passed through her head, but now that she’d gotten into it, she couldn’t stop herself from continuing.
“As I was drawing the pictures to be used in the movie, I thought about a lot of things. I wondered, what is love? What kind of feeling is it? And then I realized that, for me, it’s the same as when I’m drawing, or when I’m looking at a drawing that I like.”
Because she’d blurted everything out so quickly, it wasn’t until a moment later before her face started to heat up.
’Nacchan, just say something already….!’
Hoping, almost angrily, that she would hurry up and speak, Natsuki held her head in confusion, muttering “Huh? Huh?” repeatedly.
And then, pointing at Akari, she said slowly, as if making sure of something.
“From your point of view, because Haruki said that he liked my drawings, you think that….”
“He likes you, right?”
“S-so that’s what it was…..”
As she said this, Natsuki sunk down weakly into a crouching position.
’Is she thinking what I’m thinking….?’
Natsuki must have thought that Akari had happened to see Haruki confess to her.
Even though that was exactly what had happened, Akari had no intention of blaming her.
Because there were other secrets that she needed to keep.
“Hm? Was there something else?”
Akari bent down to peer into Natsuki’s face.
She looked like she wanted to say something, but suddenly, a smile came onto her face.
“….Hey, Akari, what do you think about my drawings?”
“I like them. A lot.”
After answering, Akari blinked in surprise at herself with a, “Huh?!”
Come to think of it, Haruki had complimented Natsuki’s drawings, too.
Then, when Haruki had said he “liked” her, did he actually mean her drawings rather than Natsuki herself?
’Nacchan…. Is she trying to get me off the topic….?’
As Akari stared at her, Natsuki smiled sheepishly.
“….I like your drawings too, Akari. I admire that unique atmosphere it has. And I like Miou’s delicate, and detailed drawings, too. I want to look at them forever.”
’I’m so embarrassed…. Why did I ever doubt her?’
It was true that Haruki had confessed to Natsuki.
But she didn’t know whether Natsuki had accepted it at face value or not.
Knowing that Miou had feelings for Haruki, Natsuki’s behavior hasn’t changed until today.
That meant that there wasn’t anything else to hold against her.
Unable to stand it any longer, Akari clung onto Natsuki.
“Wahh?! Hey, Akari, I can’t breathe….!”
“….I’m sorry for saying things like I did.”
The tears just kept on coming, and her voice shook at the end when she spoke.
Regardless of the fact that her shoulder would get wet, Natsuki hugged Akari back tightly.
“No, I’m the one that’s really sorry.”
’But you did nothing wrong, Nacchan….’
Then who was in the wrong?
As they tried to figure out who liked who, important feelings were just passing by them, unnoticed.
Akari was no exception.
Every time she thought about Haruki now, her chest would start to hurt.
She didn’t know what name to call them by, but the feelings she had towards him were pure.
’That’s why it’s painful, and sad…. But still so hard to run away from.’
Miou had said that she didn’t want to give up.
Haruki had told Natsuki his feelings, and even now, Natsuki still had feelings for Yuu.
No one knew where these entangled threads ended.
’I need to give Mochizuki-kun a proper answer, too….’
Even if Souta was no longer waiting on one, Akari was starting to feel like she wanted to answer him.
Above the hill road was a clear, autumn sky without a single cloud to be seen.
It was a beautiful blue color, such that it seemed to take in all of their worries.