Maybe it was someone’s laughter echoing from another classroom somewhere, maybe it was the sound of the engine of the mini-truck that had entered the campus…
Haruki, who had been dead to the world this whole time, nodded his head, and slowly opened his eyes.
After that, he looked blearily around the whole of the classroom, probably because what he was seeing now was a bit different from his recollection just before he fell asleep.
For example, the light in Music Room #2 had been redder, the room filled with a gentle melody…
“Guess she left…”
And she had been with him…
What emotion was it that led her to speak up, disrupting his distant, dreamy gaze, as he pondered?
“Good morning, Haruki-kun. And nice work today.”
Even Setsuna herself didn’t really know.
All she knew was that she wasn’t reflected in his eyes right now.
All she knew was that her heart, or maybe her body, had responded automatically, not wanting to acknowledge that fact.
“Oh, uhh… What about class?”
“Class is over. It’s almost six o’clock.”
…In other words, she actually knew full well.
“…Already? Wow, I slept a while.”
“Yeah. I got here half an hour ago.”
Yes, thirty minutes had passed since Setsuna arrived here.
“Why didn’t you wake me up…?”
“I didn’t want to.”
In that time, she had managed to keep herself from rubbing her reddened eyes, pressing them instead with her handkerchief, to get them back to normal.
…She’d had no reason to wake him up.
“You don’t have to be that considerate. I know you’re tired, too…”
“But I wouldn’t be able to enjoy watching you sleep that way! It would have been a waste.”
The beaming smile she was giving Haruki right now was nothing more than a performance, a desperate attempt to keep him from sensing the face she had been making just before.
“…You’re kidding, right?”
“Tell me you’re kidding.”
“Hey! Tell me you’re just messing with me!”
“Aha… Nope, nope!”
But Setsuna’s gamble was more than sufficient to fool the groggy Haruki.
And so, behind her impish grin and devilish words, she fell into a storm of violent self-loathing.
“Ahhhhh… Man, my body hurts all over.”
“You worked really hard today. This whole week, I mean.”
For lying to Haruki.
For the fact that she might end up lying to Kazusa, too.
…For acting frankly according to her own desires.
“Well, you also… Huh?”
The coat lying across Haruki’s shoulders right now was an emblem of that.
“Did… you put this here?”
“Mom brought it. She said it was a change of clothes, since I didn’t go home yesterday.”
“…Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.”
Haruki must have thought that she put it on him half an hour before.
But that wasn’t true. She had actually only just done it.
“Here, you can have it back. Sorry, this is what the guy is supposed to do…”
Because, after Setsuna got here, she couldn’t pay Haruki that much mind for a little while.
She was crying, going to pieces, burning, and she completely forgot to sense the chill in the room.
“No, Haruki-kun, you’ve already done what the boy is supposed to do.”
The coat was just one part of her strategy.
To make him feel indebted to her.
To fool him into thinking she was a nice girl.
After all, what she was about to do might well amount to an incredible breach of trust, not “nice” in the least.
…Just for a split second, that dark thought flickered through her head.
“You helped me be brave. Brave enough to stand up on that stage, facing all those people, and still enjoy myself singing.”
“I didn’t… do all that.”
After she slowly turned her back, she felt Haruki’s hands on her shoulders, just as expected, slipping the coat onto her.
Even as she rejoiced in things going according to plan, she felt all the more hatred of her own darkness.
“That was sooo much fun!”
“It really was.”
But, no matter how she might curse herself for being underhanded, curse herself for being cowardly, she couldn’t stop playing this role, a girl still in a state of elation in the afterglow of the performance.
“I was so nervous about singing in front of people, but now that I’ve crossed that line once, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop.”
Because if she cried right now, it would ruin everything.
“Yeah, I still remember how you looked, singing in the spotlight.”
But, even if she gave up now… everything would have to break sooner or later.
She pictured a dazzling light before her eyes, but couldn’t see any light beyond it.
“…Come to think of it, I didn’t do any choreography or anything.”
“That’s trivial. No one cared.”
“Ah… I can still hear them cheering. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it sounded. If I shut my eyes, it’s like I’m still dreaming.”
She wanted to remember the voices of praise, but all that came to her were Kazusa’s voice, full of grief and wonder, and her own voice… full of deep resentment.
“Think you want to do it again, then? I’m nothing big, but with you and Touma, we could probably play an even bigger event…”
“You’ll stay with me forever, right?”
So, in order to escape from the light and sound that cornered her, Setsuna strayed down the path that she knew was worst.
“…If you want me to.”
“You’re going to Houjou University? Humanities, right? Which department are you thinking about?”
“Huh? Oh, well, I’m planning on Politics and Economics right now…”
“Hmph… Why not English Lit?”
“No, I’m bad at English. Relatively.”
“Well, I’m bad at both politics and economics. Absolutely.”
It was a girl’s special spoiled selfishness, with exactly the wrong timing.
“I mean, we don’t have to force ourselves to be in the same department. We’ll still be at the same school, so we can see each other every day.”
“Every day is good, but isn’t the amount of time each day also important?”
It was a boundary to exclude a certain person, as though he and she were the only two people in the world.
“We’ll already have plenty of lectures together in the general education course. Why rush that decision?”
“That’s… a good point, I guess.”
She knew that she was going entirely too fast.
That she was being incoherent.
“Instead of thinking that far ahead, we should make a promise for the immediate future. Once we’ve graduated, I want the three of us to do something together again. You, me, and Touma…”
“Stay with me, Haruki-kun. Okay?”
She had known from the start that she was acting differently from usual.
Even so, she felt irritated with Haruki’s inability to understand her incoherency.
“After we’ve started college, into our second year, third year, even if our departments are different…”
“Even if I have to repeat a year, and end up under you…”
“I don’t think you’re going to have to repeat a year…”
Why did he insist upon taking such a vague attitude?
Why couldn’t he scold her for being ridiculous?
And if that were impossible, why couldn’t he just reject her?
“Well, um, well… If, um…”
Really, she knew from the start that Haruki couldn’t possibly do anything like that, and agonized over what on earth must be wrong with her, seeking something so unreasonable…
“Hey, it’s okay. I’m going to go turn the lights on…”
In the midst of all that agonizing, Setsuna’s hands grabbed Haruki before she had realized it.
“Don’t… We’ll wake up from the dream.”
Her heart was running back and forth and back and forth, but she couldn’t keep her body from pushing ahead.
Setsuna’s fingers wrapped around Haruki’s fingers, one by one.
Mobilizing all her passion, tenderness, and warmth, taking him in.
The woman within Setsuna’s body…
“Today, I want to keep dreaming.”
I can’t dream.
“Standing under the spotlight, hearing their cheers, singing a song I love, loving every moment of it.”
I can’t think about the future I want.
I can’t allow myself to do that.
“Everyone being happy for us…”
I can’t betray a friend. I can’t.
It’s only been half a day.
She could finally be the best friend I’ve always wanted.
“Being praised by the one I like… Getting carried away, begging for a reward…”
The girl in Setsuna’s head adamantly resisted.
“And that person would laugh a little bit, and shake his head at how spoiled I am, and then wrap me up in his arms…”
But, as her body moved in accordance with its desires, it refused to listen.
“…But, this is a little different from what I pictured.”
She held their entwined hands in front of her chest, buried her forehead in Haruki’s chest.
“Being the one who made the move wasn’t part of my plan.”
…Having deliberately dropped her coat, of course.
Because she figured that her looking a little bit cold would lessen whatever guilt Haruki might feel in embracing her.
What if I don’t move now?
What if Touma-san’s feelings reach Haruki-kun?
Would she be able to stand having me near the two of them?
“I’m usually completely passive, so I surprised myself a little, but… I’ve been waiting for so long that I think I’m allowed…”
No. I know she would be hurt.
Because she’s so pure, because she loves him so earnestly.
Having me near them would be painful for her.
And she would hate herself for feeling that way.
…Just like I do, right now.
“…You know, it all just went smoothly like that. You know how dreams are…”
Haruki-kun will have to be the one to move first.
As Touma-san’s boy, and as my friend.
So he can accept her confession, and keep his promise not to leave me.
…I’m sure he’ll start keeping a little distance from me.
…Move away, so that he doesn’t leave entirely.
“Oh, well… That’s my fault for not managing to understand my own heart completely.”
No. No, I don’t want that.
I don’t know why I don’t, but.
No, there are a million reasons. I just don’t know which is the biggest.
At last, the actions of her body ate all the way into her heart.
“You can move away, you know…”
She abandoned everything to instinct, affirming only the desire welling up inside her…
And, with precisely calculated timing, she closed her eyes.
…Timing so exquisite that she astonished herself, leaving him nowhere to run.
“Are you… sure?”
Feeling viciously jealous of the one within him, who caused him to hesitate.
Together with that cruel jealousy, she felt loathing for herself, for the third time.
“You really want me to…?”
If I want the three of us to stay together, I have to do this.
She shut her eyes, blocked her ears, and yielded her heart to this logic, which truly was how she felt, though she still wasn’t confident in the result those feelings would bring.
…Her lips parted, just slightly.
I… did it. I did it…
“Mm, mm… mm!”
How awful can I be?
I’m so egotistical.
“Hah, ah… mph… ah, mm…”
Even though I know how Touma-san feels…
No, it’s because I know how strong her feelings are that I’m doing this.
My own feelings swelled up as soon as I witnessed my rival’s feelings…
I’m so awful, it’s unbelievable.
“Mm… ah, hah…”
The one who snuck ahead first, the one who lied first…
“Hah, hah, haah… Aha…”
Ah, ah, ah…
I can feel it on me.
It’s gathering in my mouth.
Together with the sensation of his lips.
Setsuna’s first taste of this forbidden fruit was sweeter than she had ever imagined.
Sweet, slippery, and pleasant.
The sweetness brought a pleasure to the depths of her heart, to the innermost part of her body, such that she would never criticize or laugh at Kazusa’s sweet tooth again.
His breathing… I wasn’t expecting this.
I’m getting excited just from feeling his breath on me.
Is it because he’s excited, too?
Or because my own excitement transferred to him? Which is it…?
Was it because the fruit that had entered her mouth was forbidden?
Or was it because she had truly, deeply wanted it…?
What have I done?
I’ve betrayed Kazusa.
I forced these wicked feelings on Haruki-kun.
“Haah… Hff, mm, aha… ahaha…”
“Why are you… apologizing?”
Even though I didn’t just kiss him out of pure feeling for him…
“Well… it was my first kiss.”
Why am I this happy?
Happy that he’s my first?
Happy that, as far as he knows, I’m his first?
She was shivering with delight.
Her heart was burning with intense emotion.
I swallowed some of Haruki-kun’s spit.
I did something that he hasn’t done with Touma-san yet…
She gave her body up to her feelings both positive and negative, genuinely liking him, not wanting to let him go, strength and greed together.
My heart is throbbing. I like it.
My head is hot.
The moisture on my lips feels nice.
…I’m his first.
At that moment, Setsuna was in the same state of mind as Kazusa…
At last, she had reached the same strength of feeling as Kazusa’s.
Setsuna couldn’t even curse herself any more.
Because that would be the same as negating Kazusa, who bore the same feelings.
So, for the moment, all that she could let fall from her mouth…
Was a roar of dark victory, words of the devil wrapped in an apology.