In the middle of the street leading to Keyaki Mall, a man and a woman were facing each other. The preliminary preparations for the festival had already begun and there were no students to be seen in this vicinity at all.
“We can finally talk, Yagami-kun.”
“I didn't think you would barge in on us while we were preparing for the festival.”
“I wouldn't have caught you otherwise. It seemed as if you were avoiding me.”
Even after making contact, Yagami forced Kushida to move to this location, refusing to discuss the situation on the spot.
“It's just a coincidence that we didn't meet. By the way, it seems you visited my room several times. Sorry, I was away.”
Both continued their dialogue without losing their smiles. If someone were to witness the two of them from the sidelines, the scene would appear to be one of friendly banter.
“Were you really away? Or were you using the answering machine to harass me?”
“Staying away? Why would I do that? There seems to be some kind of misunderstanding.”
“There’s no misunderstanding.”
Irritated by Yagami's refusal to let her grasp the reality of the situation, Kushida stepped forward on her own.
“You cut me off because I was useless. That's all, isn't it?”
In a unanimous special examination, Yagami expected Kushida to expel Horikita and Ayanokōji. Since she failed to live up to that expectation, and since there was no contact between them, it wasn’t surprising for Kushida to judge as such.
“Do you remember that I contacted you on the night of the unanimous special exam?”
“Yes. Of course, I remember.”
On the night the exam ended, Yagami called and learned from Kushida's mouth that Horikita and Ayanokōji had not dropped out. Shortly after that, the phone was disconnected, and Kushida had not been able to talk to Yagami since then.
“I will be honest with you. I thought Kushida-senpai hated me. That's why I haven't had the courage to face you lately, and maybe I've been unconsciously avoiding you.”
“Stop it. It's no use lying to me like that now. Pretending to be a junior who has a liking for me only gives me the chills after I learned part of your true nature.”
“Excuse me. Now, could you tell me again how that day happened?”
Kushida was beginning to understand. The freshman in front of her was just having fun playing with her. He knew all about the unanimous special exam, and he was about to open his playful hands again.
“I won't answer.”
“Why not? At least we know that Kushida-senpai acted to expel one of those two students. But as a result, Sakura-senpai was expelled instead of Kushida-senpai. What I want to know are the details of it.”
“I did nothing in that special exam. So, Sakura-san, who was the lowest in OAA, was inevitably cut. That's it.”
The class details in the unanimous special exam were not leaked to outsiders. So, Yagami wanted to know the details. She tried to push the story forward with the idea that Sakura Airi was only selected due to a lack of ability. But Yagami kept smiling and gently placed his hand on Kushida's shoulder.
“You shouldn't lie.”
“Since after the unanimous special exam, Kushida-senpai's behavior routine had changed significantly. I have already investigated and understood that you have distanced yourself from your classmates, although you seemed to be getting along with students in other classes as usual. In other words, that unanimous special exam exposed a certain degree of your own true nature.”
Externally, Kushida had been smiling at her classmates. But there were limits since her classmates were more distant than ever. A small group of girls used to hang out a couple of times a week, but now it's down to zero.
“I don't know what you're talking about. I'm still getting along with my classmates as usual.”
Kushida implied that Yagami just so happened to miss the times she was hanging out with her classmates. Kushida tried to push it that way, but Yagami kept smiling.
“It's no use trying to hide it; Kushida-senpai allowed her class to discover all about her past. And it was definitely Ayanokōji-senpai who pushed her into that corner.”
Yagami spoke eloquently, as if he had been watching Kushida and the others fight in class. The fact that he mentioned Ayanokōji instead of Horikita's name was clearly unusual.
“You're imagining things on your own. It doesn't fit at all.”
“You're free to misrepresent it, but... What on earth do you want from me if you have nothing to say? I have to help with the festival, so I'd like to get back as soon as possible.”
“I'm tired of hanging out with you, Yagami-kun.”
“You’re tired of...?”
“I'm tired of being your friend, Yagami-kun. That's all I wanted to say today.”
Kushida abruptly offered to end her relationship with Yagami.
“You want to end your relationship with me. I understand that feeling. Since Kushida-senpai's past and character are now known in the class, there is no point in pressing Horikita-senpai or Ayanokōji-senpai to be expelled now.”
“I'm not going to correct every single thing anymore. If you want to interpret it as you see fit, go ahead.”
“You're an interesting person, Kushida-senpai. What you just said was the truth. Besides, Kushida-senpai herself is beginning to think that it's okay to throw herself into this environment. So, she wants to end her backwards relationship with me and look forward.”
She wanted to look forward. Those words stuck in her mind.
“Aside from Ayanokōji-senpai, have you made peace with Horikita-senpai?”
“I won't answer that either.”
“By the looks of it, you've been heartbroken. I'm a little disappointed, Kushida-senpai.”
Kushida resisted the urge to retort, but anger welled up within her, and she continued hating Horikita as much as ever.
“Oh, that's okay. You don't have to say anything else. I can tell by looking at you.”
His dismissive attitude lacked some of his former politeness. Kushida couldn't help but feel a little creeped out by this, but she couldn't afford to show any weakness here. Rather, she was clearly more tolerant than the average student, perhaps due to her repeated contact with unusual people like Ayanokōji, Ryūen, and Amasawa.
She was surprised and felt a sense of realization when acting tough.
“This is the end of us, Yagami-kun. We have nothing to do with each other, right?”
“Rest assured. You're worried that I might go around exposing Kushida-senpai's past, right? That's why you came to check on me while giving me a warning, right?”
“That's right, if Yagami-kun exposes me, rumors about me will go around the school.”
“Then will you listen to what I have to say?”
“I'll tell them everything about Yagami-kun, about how you used me to get Ayanokōji and Horikita expelled from school, about how you’re a devil with a kind face.”
Yagami didn't know if this was a threat. Still, using the weapons she has now is the only way Kushida can defend herself.
“You have threatened back. Then I will keep that in mind. Are we done?” Whether it works or not, Yagami broke off the conversation and walked away.
“I'm the leader of the 1st year Class B. I'm busy with various cultural festival stalls, so I'll see you then.”
“Don't forget, Yagami-kun, that as long as you keep your promise, I will keep mine.”
Yagami smiled at last and disappeared out of sight with light steps.
“I hope this is the end of it.”
While she held such wistful thinking, she also realized that it wasn't the end. So what should she do?
Should I just wait with my hand in my mouth, or should I set up and strike?
“No. I can't stop Yagami...”
Up until now, Kushida had challenged and lost to various opponents, including Horikita.
She now realized that she was painfully alone.
I realize that I am alone. But even so, the situation has changed drastically.
The other side is definitely licking Kushida's chops. Not just on the surface, but from the bottom of their hearts.
Even so, she prided herself on being able to read such things.
“Before I fight that guy, I have something to do.”
She knew that the problem that needed to be solved goes above just Yagami. She had no desire to go back to being a gentle honor student, but she must show a solid contribution to maintain a firm position in the class.
Kushida Kikyo knew how to survive by herself.