How to Spend the Days Off
IT WAS SUNDAY, the day after the meeting with Kanzaki and there was still some slight friction with Kei.
It was time to meet with Ichinose, whom I had promised to meet with the day before.
I went down to the lobby a little early, but I didn’t see Ichinose in the area.
I thought there was a possibility that we would’ve bumped into each other by chance, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
I turned around and looked at the elevator, but it didn't seem to be moving.
It’s unlikely that Kei will follow her.
Kei, who was worried about me meeting Ichinose, wouldn’t take such an action.
No, it was too early to say that she won't do anything. She could be on her way to Ichinose by now, or she could already be there ahead of Ichinose.
Or she may boldly join us while we were meeting. If I analyzed her past behavior patterns, there was a possibility.
If that happens, we'll just have to wait and see…
But I doubt that she’ll take any reckless actions, given the way she behaved yesterday. It takes courage to see something you don't want to see.
I left the dormitory. The sky was clear so far, but unfortunately, it was predicted to rain in the afternoon, so I brought an umbrella.
I wondered how Ichinose felt this morning.
What she wants, what she desires. Whatever it was, it was clear that there was more than one thing. To be a great leader, to be in a successful relationship, to have a strong spirit. We have more desires than fingers we can count on one or even both hands.
That night during the school trip wasn’t enough to cause any concrete change in our relationship. I had to see Ichinose in person to know what she was thinking, as she was currently still unstable.
I arrived a bit before the scheduled time and saw that Ichinose was already waiting for me with an umbrella in her hand.
She noticed me before I called out to her and slowly raised her hand.
“Good morning, Ayanokōji-kun.”
I didn’t sense a tense atmosphere. If anything, it felt fresh and innocent. Unlike the night of surprise on the trip, Ichinose has also come prepared with her outward emotions.
At first, she made eye contact with me, but when I continued to look into her eyes to find out her true intentions, she quickly turned her gaze away from me. I could tell that she had dropped her eyes to my mouth, nose, and neck to avoid being noticed.
“I'm sorry I had to ask you to free some time for this meeting.”
“It's no big deal. I didn't have any plans originally.”
If I was the one who invited others, I’d appreciate it if they said so, even if it was just a formality. There was still some time left before Keyaki Mall opened, and since we weren’t allowed to go inside yet, we stood in a line by the entrance.
We were standing next to each other, but not too close or too far apart. To an uninformed third party, it’d be difficult to determine whether we were waiting together or separately for the mall to open.
“It's not often that I come here before opening, but surprisingly there’s no one here yet.”
“It's especially cold today. I guess everyone is still relaxing in their rooms.”
That's for sure. Unless it's a special sale day, there's no need to wait in line for the mall to open early in the morning.
“It's really cold,” Ichinose muttered to herself, repeating the same words over and over again.
The conversation stopped there, as I had expected to wait until we were inside the mall to talk.
My daily routine consisted of spending more and more time with Kei, my girlfriend, which was not always full of conversation.
We would share the same time, but sometimes the silence lasted for 10 or 20 minutes. At first, I had the same awkward feeling as now, but it disappeared and I even began to feel comfortable with the silence.
This is not a matter of getting used to it, but rather a matter of feeling that the slightest moment of silence feels strangely heavy with a person with whom you are not yet close enough with.
It wasn't that I couldn't stand the silence, but rather, I wondered if I should approach the subject since I had invited her.
Maybe Ichinose was thinking the same thing. But neither of us could speak properly, and neither of us could take the first step.
A common topic… Once you start a common topic, you can contribute to the discussion two or three times.
When I thought about it, a boy came to my mind.
“I was in the same group with Watanabe on the school trip the other day.”
“I didn't know him before because we didn't have any contact, but Watanabe was friendly and easy to talk to. He’s a good guy.”
When I honestly told her what I thought, Ichinose was pleased as if he were her own family.
“Yes, he’s liked by his classmates, both male and female.”
He wasn’t as bossy as Ike, nor as sociable as Yōsuke, but he can read the situation reasonably well.
I only saw a part of Watanabe, but I was sure he would be the same in his class as well.
“I've been studying at the same place for almost two years, and with different classes. There's still so much I don't know.”
“It's the same for me. I don't know much about other classes, even though it seems like I do. It's totally different from elementary school or junior high school… I think that's what happens when you really compete with each other”.
In normal friendships, people show each other their weaknesses and help each other out.
However, this school was a place where this concept of normality didn’t apply. This is the common belief that Ichinose and other students had.
“Socializing is difficult. I can't say that I'm getting along with my classmates yet. In comparison, Ichinose, who was able to make friends with everyone at an early stage, is amazing.”
“Eh? I'm really not that great.”
Rather than being modest, she didn’t seem to realize how skilled she was.
“So, do you have any tips on how to get along with everyone?”
Friendship building, no matter how much we do it, there is still more to learn.
I haven’t acquired the skills of people like Ichinose and Kushida, yet.
I already know what I need to do.
I know what to say, I know the words.
Still, I can't be like them. The slightest difference in what I have accumulated, in my tone and in my body language can make a big difference in the outcome.
“I wonder if there’s such a thing. If there is, I don't know.”
It isn’t possible to break it down and talk about it theoretically because it’s an innate skill. Therefore, even if you were to watch and learn, you cannot easily understand, absorb, and use it. The conversation somehow continued.
Soon after, at the stroke of 10:00 a.m., the closed automatic door had opened.
“Shall we go in?”
Thus, we were the first to enter the Keyaki Mall and were enveloped by the warmth of the heated mall.
“How late are you able to stay today?”
“Any time is fine. I don't have any plans after this.”
This is a good opportunity as I wanted to ask Ichinose some questions today. If you have a time limit, then you would have to converse within that time limit. It’s especially important to know more about her reasons for leaving the student council, as it’s an important issue raised by Kanzaki and the others.
It is very convenient that we have time to fulfill Kanzaki's wishes but… on the other hand, there was something disturbing about the situation.
Putting the love aspect aside for the moment, Ichinose is not an insensitive person.
Even if she doesn’t always have good deduction skills, she is more perceptive than the average student.
She wasn’t the type of person who was insensitive, because otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to become a leader. It’s highly likely that she knows how her classmates perceived her, from their words, and from their feelings, even in her current state of mind.
If this is the case, it’s not a good idea to assume that you have been blessed with this opportunity by chance.
She may have at least guessed the intention of my invitation. Depending on the conditions, she may also be aware that her classmates are lurking behind my intentions.
I'd better go about my day with that in mind.
“What do you want to do now?”
The purpose of this meeting was to get information out of her, but the apparent purpose of the meeting had not yet been established. I'd been thinking about how to spend time with Ichinose today, and this was the conclusion I’d come to.
“I didn't have anything to do in mind but.. I suppose I could ask you to tell me how you spend your days off.”
“How do I spend my days off?”
“Yes, I'd like to find out what kind of daily life I should lead to get along with everyone.”
“What? Is that something you can just figure out?”
“I'm just saying what comes to mind…, is that okay?”
When she didn’t respond immediately, I thought about asking a different question, but Ichinose nodded her head without any displeasure.
“I don't know if I can help you, but if that's what you wanted, why don't we try it?”
She seemed to think positively and readily agreed.
It seems that the first topic of conversation was successful.
“So..., can we really do what I do on my days off?”
“Of course. Shopping, movies, cafes, etc., I'll go with you.”
“I might not be able to meet your expectations. Is that okay?”
Ichinose smiled, as if none of the above applied to her.
She had looked somewhat awkward since joining me in the morning, but I saw a natural smile on her face.
“Well, let's get going.”
Ichinose said and started walking as she headed for the second floor by the escalator, without hesitation.