Extra Episode – III

Setsuna
“Ah…”

‘I just left the library.’

‘It’s nice and clear out today, so I’m going to take a stroll on my way home.’

‘Also, I think I’m going to be able to get back to work soon.’

‘I have my monthly meeting with my boss this weekend, so I’m planning to bring it up then.’

‘Seriously, thank you for everything, Setsuna. I know you’ve been busy with work, and I’m sorry I added so much more to your plate.’

‘You don’t have to come every week any more. You should relax at home this weekend.’

Setsuna
“Haruki-kun…”

Spring had passed, and summer had arrived on the calendar.

The mornings and evenings were still chilly, but the middle of the day was as sweaty as I remembered, and I found my mind turning to the heat and humidity to come.

‘That’s great. Be careful with yourself, though. If you’re in any pain, take a taxi.’

Haruki-kun had begun his rehabilitation.

Little by little, in consultation with his doctor.

To begin, once a week, he would spend a day at the library, quietly coming into contact with people, with society.

Of course, I was happy to hear that, but the best news for me was this.

‘Still, I can totally understand wanting to walk on a day like this. The air feels so nice!’

Haruki-kun had started messaging me again.

For a while, he couldn’t even turn his phone on. Even now, he couldn’t make or take calls.

But to me, just to me, he had started sending messages. I was ecstatic over it.

‘Oh, I’m in transit from the branch office, by the way. I’m not slacking off just to message you.’

His messages had been a support for me since long before.

Back when I waited eagerly for the single message he sent a day.

Back when, even though we had agreed to only one a day, I would keep sending replies, hoping for a second, a third, like today.

‘…Well, I don’t know, though. Sending personal messages while in transit seems like it could be a grey area on the slacking front… Ahaha’

When we were out of touch, when I rejected him, when our bond was damaged…

Every time, that single message reconnected us.

‘Anyway, you’re thinking about going back to work? That’s great! It sounds like you’re doing a whole lot better.’

‘But, there’s no need to rush. Like I said, you should take these steps slowly and steadily.’

‘We can look at the outcome of that meeting, your medicine, and the situation at your workplace, and think it over together before deciding.’

‘I’m going to come see you this weekend. There’s a lot I want to talk to you about.’

‘Come on, don’t take away this thing I only get to enjoy once a week! I’ll definitely be there!’

‘See you.’

Setsuna
“The weekend…”

But…

Even though I was happy, I couldn’t let myself bask in my own satisfaction.

The mail he’d sent me today was plainly optimistic. It exuded ambition.

However, precisely because of that, I felt anxious. I hoped I was worrying needlessly, but…

Suddenly returning to work was a bit too quick a decision.

He ought to talk with more people, decide more calmly.

That, and, this weekend…

Announcer
“And now, the weather forecast for the weekend.”
Announcer
“Starting tomorrow afternoon, a humid front will set in from the west.”
Announcer
“Continuing through Kyushu and Shikoku, it is predicted that the rainy season will begin all at once between Kinki and Kanto…”

……

Setsuna
“I’m back…”

And, on Friday…

Setsuna
“Haruki-kun?”

The apartment was dark and closed-off as always, though I could sense that someone was there.

However, that presence wasn’t coming from the bed, like it normally did…

Haruki
“I told you you didn’t have to come.”

It was in the corner of his room, on the opposite side of the bed.

As he leaned against the wall, staring up into space, his voice, which was even weaker than usual, finally reached me.

Setsuna
“How was the meeting?”
Haruki
“…I didn’t go.”
Setsuna
“Ah.”
Haruki
“The rain… The rain wouldn’t stop.”
Setsuna
“Yes, good call. It’s just as well that you didn’t go out. Look, I’m drenched…”
Haruki
“Dammit, why’d it have to come down so hard on an important day like this…!”

His tone, voice, and words contrasted sharply with his message from the day before.

These days, the smallest impetus was enough to shake Haruki-kun’s emotional state this severely.

Setsuna
“You can’t control the weather. You can just reschedule, right?”

I sat down next to him, keeping a little distance so I wouldn’t get him wet.

…So that I wouldn’t frighten him, so that I wouldn’t make it hard for him to breathe, I kept a little distance.

Haruki
“But I didn’t go to the meeting before this one, either. It’s been two months now since I showed my face at work.”
Setsuna
“I told you, you don’t have to rush. You’ve always been so hasty, Haruki-kun…”

I gently set my hand on his shoulder. Surely that tiny bit of contact wouldn’t be rejected.

…And so, just as always, I fumbled to gauge the sense of distance between us, which seemed to change every day.

Haruki
“Everyone’s going to forget about me. It’ll be like I was never there.”
Setsuna
“No, it won’t. Everyone is waiting for you.”
Haruki
“How do you know that…? What do you know about where I work…?”
Setsuna
“Well… I mean, I do similar work.”
Haruki
“Setsuna… You seem busy. Must be nice.”
Setsuna
“I’m just slow at it. Making more work for everyone around me, as usual…”
Haruki
“It must be nice, being needed by everyone.”
Setsuna
“You’re needed, too. They sent you that letter that they all signed, remember?”

Near his bed lay a square of colorful paper, sent to him by the Kaiou Graph editorial department.

Apparently, his former boss, who was now in America, went out of her way to get in touch and pull it all together.

Haruki
“That was… how they felt two months ago. Back when they thought I would get better soon.”
Setsuna
“No one assumed it would be ‘soon.’ They’re all just hoping you get better eventually.”

Yes—that was how much the company needed him now.

Haruki
“I don’t know how they feel now… I mean, maybe they don’t feel anything at all any more.”

He just wasn’t able to believe it, himself.

Setsuna
“They’re waiting for you… because you’ve contributed so much in your time there. I know they’ll keep waiting.”
Haruki
“How can you know? People’s feelings change all the time…”
Setsuna
“No, they don’t change.”
Haruki
“Yes, they do. Remember? You were with me two years ago, and I…”
Setsuna
“…”

Haruki-kun’s words, which even he himself couldn’t control, pierced me just slightly.

But that pain was probably a little different from what he intended.

Haruki
“I was supposed to love you forever, and I betrayed you…”

Exactly…

That was why I could believe that feelings that never changed, never faded, could exist.

Because I was here with him, even though he had never stopped thinking about Kazusa for the past five years…

Haruki
“It’s not right… How can you stay with me like this…?”
Setsuna
“Because I want to…”
Haruki
“I know I told you… that I couldn’t live without you.”
Setsuna
“I guess… you did…”
Haruki
“But that doesn’t mean you should be here with me. If I can’t live, then I should just die.”
Setsuna
“Haruki-kun… no. Don’t even joke about that…!”
Haruki
“I should die… I should let you go…!”
Setsuna
“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry for making you suffer like this…”
Haruki
“Don’t apologize… I’ll just get even more miserable…”
Setsuna
“Haruki-kun…”

As his body shivered, it looked smaller than it ever had.

I wanted to embrace that tiny body with all my strength. I wanted to relieve some part of his heavy, bitter pain.

But, right now, I couldn’t.

Because I knew that my embrace would trap and hurt him, like thorny vines.

Spring had passed, and summer had arrived on the calendar.

And…

With the heat came this dim, gloomy season.

……

.

Setsuna:
“…Ah.”

I opened my eyes to that all-too-familiar ceiling.

Not the one in his room, the one I saw every weekend for two years. But the one in my room, the one I had seen since I was born.

I turned off the alarm clock and opened the window, to find a sky that was the same color as yesterday’s.

It would rain again today…

Setsuna
“Hmm…”

A weekend morning, not met from Haruki-kun’s room.

Indeed, I had not stayed over the night before.

Because, yesterday, he had fallen into that rock-bottom state that he experienced every ten days or so, when merely having me there next to him made everything worse.

Because the sound of the rain, the darkness of the sky, the tepid air, had stolen away his energy and his nerve.

In my experience, on a day like that, no matter how comforting, encouraging, and gentle I was with him, there was no way for Haruki-kun to regain his strength.

So, my only option, the only way to bring him some ease… was to leave his presence.

Setsuna
“I have to get up…”

Battling the hypotension that always tried to keep me bound to my bed on mornings off, I slowly sat up.

Setsuna
“I have to go…”

So that I could spend today with Haruki-kun, in his apartment.

Had he slept decently after that? Had he recovered any of his vitality?

Had he eaten?

It had happened before that, once I took my eyes off of him, he had spent a number of days without taking in so much as a drop of water, so I had to make sure.

With all of these different worries on my mind, I took hold of my sleepwear, preparing to get changed…

Setsuna
“…Huh?”

Suddenly, I felt something unpleasantly out-of-place in my own words from moments before.

‘I have to go’? What was that…?

……

Setsuna
“I’m heading out.”
Setsuna’s mother
“Oh, Setsuna, what about dinner tonight?”

When I left on weekends, I never said where I was going.

And, at this point, my family didn’t ask.

Setsuna
“I don’t need it. I’ll eat over there.”
Setsuna’s mother
“…Will you be home today?”

That was how few options I had for where to be.

Setsuna
“…Not sure. I’ll call you to let you know, either way.”
Setsuna’s mother
“All right… Be careful not to slip in the rain.”
Setsuna
“Yeah, I will. See you later.”

This had been the routine with my family for the past two years.

Until about half a year ago, they had let it pass with a strained smile; now, it was with a sigh.

Setsuna’s father
“Wait, Setsuna.”
Setsuna
“Dad…”

But, today…

Setsuna’s father
“I need to talk to you. Your mother, too.”
Setsuna
“I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry today. Can we do it tonight, or tomorrow night, ideally?”
Setsuna’s father
“No, it has to be now. If you don’t have this conversation with us first, I won’t allow you to go out.”
Setsuna’s mother
“Dear…”
Setsuna
“Then…”

A damp wind blew into that usual, stagnated routine.

Just like today’s weather.

……

Setsuna
“You’re telling me not to go any more? You’re telling me to abandon him?!”
Setsuna’s father
“I never said that. Stop taking the discussion to extremes.”
Setsuna
“You’re already being extreme, Dad!”

I had been told not to go any more. I had been told to distance myself from him.

Really, I had been sensing something like this coming since a little while before. Today, it finally came out.

The damp air coiled all the more heavily around me.

Setsuna
“Haruki-kun is family, you know? And he’s just a bit sick! How can you be so insensitive about this?!”
Setsuna’s father
“He has a real family. Wouldn’t it be more reasonable for him to turn to them first?”

‘His problems should be solved by his family.’ That was Dad’s assertion.

Setsuna’s father
“In fact, wouldn’t you say that not asking his family’s opinion would be more insensitive?”
Setsuna
“How many times do I have to explain this? Haruki-kun isn’t on good terms with his mother…”

To be told to leave everything to someone he had barely spoken to in years…

Setsuna’s father
“Yes, you’ve told us a number of times, but we’ve never heard the details from Kitahara-kun himself.”
Setsuna
“Talking about it would be too painful for him right now… We can’t put that kind of emotional burden on him.”

He had only told to me… Me, and one other person…

No, he had only told her, and then me. The past that he had cast away.

Setsuna’s mother
“Maybe Kitahara-san’s condition could be partly due to his relationship with his family?”
Setsuna’s father
“In that case, it’s all the more reason that he ought to put in the work to remove the cause. Having a discussion with his family could be the perfect opportunity.”
Setsuna
“But it could also take things in a bad direction, you know?”

Mom’s modest helping hand was easily waved away by Dad’s forceful reasoning.

All I could do was handle this through my own effort.

Setsuna
“Yes, Dad, what you’re saying might be right, but just saying it sounds so cold!”
Setsuna’s father
“I’m not ‘just saying it.’ I’m worried for Kitahara-kun, myself.”
Setsuna
“Then…!”
Setsuna’s father
“Which is why I’m going to do whatever I can. …I’ll meet with his family and have a talk with them.”
Setsuna
“What…?”
Setsuna’s mother
“Dear, that’s…”

But Dad was formidable today.

He showed not his usual persuasive method, which was rooted only in being forceful and correct, but some compromise and consideration for me.

…Maybe he was troubled over how to handle his own, equally stubborn daughter.

Setsuna’s father
“It could be that things became this distorted between them out of a simple disagreement when he was a child. I think there’s a necessity to ask his mother’s opinion on the matter.”
Setsuna
“Dad…”

Dad’s suggestion was identical to something I had been thinking for a long while now.

Setsuna’s father
“If it was as simple as a misunderstanding, then it should be cleared up. However, if it is as deep-rooted as he says, then we’ll have to think about it from a greater variety of angles.”
Setsuna
“What do you mean, ‘a greater variety’?”

In other words, he weighed on Dad’s mind just as much as he did on mine.

Setsuna’s father
“I mean just what I said. For example, we could see about supporting him as a family, rather than leaving it all to you.”
Setsuna
“And what else?”
Setsuna’s father
“We can talk about that after I’ve had this conversation with them. We ought to think more seriously about what would be best.”
Setsuna
“…”

But…

Dad wasn’t as indecisive as I was. He felt no hesitation over his suggestion.

Setsuna’s father
“Setsuna, we’re here to help you. We’re ready to settle in and deal with this. So don’t get too absorbed in him.”
Setsuna’s father
“You’re only in your second year at your company. You’ve got enough work on your own plate, right?”

Whether bringing his family into it might actually make Haruki-kun take a turn for the worse.

Whether this discussion between our two families might go badly, and deepen the gap between us, independent of what the two of us intended.

He had no apprehensions whatsoever concerning what to do, should his decision turn out to be the incorrect one.

Setsuna
“Is that… all you wanted to talk about? It’s about time for me to go.”
Setsuna’s mother
“Setsuna…”

In other words, even if he went about it the wrong way, and Haruki-kun, and our relationship, were ruined as a result…

Setsuna
“I think what you said is correct, Dad… But only that.”

It would end with, ‘That’s just how it went.’ ‘We weren’t able to make a connection.’

Setsuna
“If it were possible to do anything with people’s feelings through reasoning like that, then we wouldn’t have that sort of sickness in the world in the first place.”
Setsuna’s father
“But, with things as they are, no progress will be made.”
Setsuna
“It will! He’ll get better! I’m going to get Haruki-kun back to how he used to be!”

I couldn’t possibly accept an option like that, slow, deliberate, and high-risk.

Setsuna
“Mom… You understand, right?”
Setsuna’s mother
“…”

And so, even though I knew it was a little unfair, I tried to win through numbers.

Setsuna
“Listen, Mom… Try to trust me a little more, okay?”

I tried to drag Mom into it, because she had been my ally for a while, even if she was low-key about it.

Setsuna’s mother
“A little… Just a little, I think we could let Setsuna do what she wants.”
Setsuna
“Mom…!”

My scheme had struck home perfectly.

Setsuna’s father
“But…”
Setsuna’s mother
“You could speak with his mother, but there’s no knowing whether Kitahara-san himself would want it.”
Setsuna
“You can’t do it right now. Haruki-kun isn’t in a place to make that call, and I don’t want to make him.”
Setsuna’s father
“But, if we are going to be relatives eventually, then sooner or later we should make this sort of thing clear…”
Setsuna’s mother
“I, um… I don’t completely agree with you, this time.”
Setsuna’s father
“What don’t you agree with? Aren’t you worried about Setsuna?”
Setsuna’s mother
“Yes, of course I’m thinking of Setsuna first and foremost.”
Setsuna
“I’m fine, seriously. Dad, you worry way too much.”
Setsuna’s mother
“But what I want to say is different. …Though, I don’t really want to say something like this…”

Or so I thought…

Setsuna’s mother
“If some problem were to arise between the two of you, and, um… things were to fall apart…”
Setsuna
“M-Mom…?”

It took several seconds for me to comprehend what Mom had said.

Setsuna’s mother
“In that case, thinking about the future, I think it might be better for our families not to be acquainted…”
Setsuna’s father
“Dear…?”
Setsuna
“What are you saying, Mom?!”

I was in shock.

I thought she was on my side. I believed that she would defend me from Dad.

But, after what she had just said…

Setsuna’s mother
“Listen, Setsuna. Even without Kitahara-san’s illness in the picture, I think you ought to give this some serious thought.”
Setsuna
“Wait…”

She supported my decision. She interrupted Dad’s suggestion.

But it wasn’t because she thought I was right, or Dad was wrong…

Our intentions just happened to coincide.

I was worried that the interference of my family might throw the two of us into a crisis.

But Mom was thinking about family obligations in the aftermath of a breakdown between us.

Setsuna’s mother
“You’re still only twenty-four. Even if this one case fails, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to start over…”
Setsuna
“It won’t fail! I’m not going to start anything over! I’m going to be happy with him!”
Setsuna’s mother
“Setsuna…”

My head went blank. My field of vision went dark. The back of my neck felt like it was burning.

Setsuna
“Why? Why would you say something like that now, Mom?!”

Mom’s advice and support were colder, sharper, than Dad’s orders and warnings.

……

Takahiro
“Sis, wait.”
Setsuna
“Leave me alone! I know Mom must have told you something!”
Takahiro
“You can’t be planning to go out in this rain without an umbrella… Here, take this.”
Setsuna
“…”

The moment I rushed out of the house in a fury, gripping my things, enormous raindrops from above battered mercilessly against my whole body.

I turned on my heel and returned to the entryway. …A heel that was wearing only a slip-on shoe.

Takahiro
“Mom has… started to realize something.”
Setsuna
“Realize what?”

I took the umbrella without meeting Takahiro’s eyes. While I was at it, I took a new pair of rain shoes from the shoe rack.

Takahiro
“She can tell there’s been some kind of trouble between you and Kitahara-san. Since the time you started talking about getting engaged, actually.”
Setsuna
“…”

I was glad not to be looking him in the eye. I was deeply glad not to be able to see his expression right now.

Takahiro
“She thinks that Kitahara-san’s condition might have something to do with that…”
Setsuna
“…No. There’s no trouble, so that’s not the cause.”
Takahiro
“Really?”
Setsuna
“Yes, really… We love other. Always have, always will!”
Takahiro
“…Hearing you say that so directly isn’t really making this feel any better.”
Setsuna
“It’s your fault for starting in on it.”

I told them there wasn’t a single problem. Why did my family have to worry this much?

Takahiro
“Look, sis. Are you really planning to marry Kitahara-san?”
Setsuna
“Why would you even ask something like that? First Mom, now you…”

And why was my family so suspicious of someone who wasn’t part of the family?

Setsuna
“Both of you have always treated him like a family member before!”

Until six months ago, he was unquestionably family.

And that fact was a happy thing for him.

He told me this during our pillow talk, with an embarrassed smile.

Takahiro
“I’m not saying I don’t like it. But, if you keep going on way, you’re gonna…”
Setsuna
“I’m gonna what?”
Takahiro
“…”

So why was this happening…?

Setsuna
“It’s okay… Haruki-kun will get better soon. In fact, everything will go back to how it was. For Haruki-kun, and for us.”
Takahiro
“It’s been four months, though, and nothing has changed.”
Setsuna
“This sort of thing takes time.”
Takahiro
“Then you’re lying about him getting better ‘soon.’”
Setsuna
“Why do you always have to nitpick like this?!”
Takahiro
“Ah, no, sorry… I just can’t feel happy with the situation right now. It’s like you keep pulling the short straw over and over and not getting anything out of it…”
Setsuna
“Well, if that’s how you feel, then wouldn’t the most familial thing be to support me without saying anything about it?”
Takahiro
“Well, maybe…”
Setsuna
“This is a crucial time. Neither Dad nor Mom seems to understand that at all.”

Dad had demoted him from “family member” to “prospective family member.” Mom had ceased to deny the possibility that we might split up. Takahiro had started to doubt his sincerity.

Setsuna
“Right now, I have to keep supporting Haruki-kun. Slowly, and carefully.”

It seemed as though… I was the only one left on Haruki-kun’s side.

Takahiro
“…”
Setsuna
“What? Is there something wrong with what I said?”
Takahiro
“No, it’s not that… I was just wondering about your wording.”
Setsuna
“My wording? What do you…”
Takahiro
“’I have to keep supporting him.’ It makes you sound like you’re reluctant about it.”
Setsuna
“Huh…?”
Takahiro
“Before, you would have said, ‘I want to support him.”
Setsuna
“Wh-What…?”

‘I have to go…’

‘I have to keep supporting him.’

Takahiro
“I’m an outsider here, so I can’t talk too much like I know everything, but…”

What was disappearing from my words?

Strength? Happiness? Positivity?

Takahiro
“You’re always absorbed in Kitahara-san, but… Be careful this time, okay? …Don’t get dragged in.”
Setsuna
“If that’s what you think, you could try being more considerate! Dad, and Mom, and you!”
Takahiro
“…”
Setsuna
“…Sorry.”
Takahiro
“No… I know I’m going too far.”
Setsuna
“I’m leaving. I won’t be back today.”

Then, what was finding its way into my words?

Fatigue? Obligation? Weakness?

Setsuna
“I’m gonna keep working at it!”

Come to think of it…

Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about “working at it”…


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