Extra Episode – VII

Summer continued. The heat grew even more intense.

Intense enough that I stopped caring about the blue of the sky, how high it soared, everything.

Setsuna’s mother
“Setsuna?”

The days that made me pour rivers of sweat just by standing outside, the nights that wouldn’t let me sleep no matter how much I tossed and turned, sapped mercilessly at my stamina.

No…

Was that really all I was losing…?

Setsuna’s mother
“Setsuna! I’m coming in!”
Setsuna
“Nn…”
Setsuna’s mother
“…What’s going on with you? Why would you cover yourself completely when it’s this hot? You’ll get heatstroke.”
Setsuna
“Yawwwn… I guess. Good morning.”
Setsuna’s mother
“’Morning’? Do you have any idea what time it is? Don’t you have work today?”
Setsuna
“Oh… Sorry, I forgot to tell you. I put in a request yesterday and got the day off.”
Setsuna’s mother
“Really?”
Setsuna
“Yeah, it started last night. It’s a little heavy this month…”
Setsuna’s mother
“Why didn’t you tell me yesterday, then? Your breakfast got cold!”
Setsuna
“Sorry… I don’t need it today. You don’t have to make me lunch, either.”
Setsuna’s mother
“Setsuna…?”
Setsuna
“The pain is really bad… I don’t have any appetite at all right now.”
Setsuna’s mother
“Are you okay?”
Setsuna
“I’m fine. If I can just get through today…”
Setsuna’s mother
“…It’s really just menstrual cramps?”
Setsuna
“…Yes, it is. You don’t have to say it so bluntly.”
Setsuna’s mother
“…”
Setsuna
“Give me a day and I’ll be fine. I’ll go to work tomorrow. Just let me be for today, okay?”
Setsuna’s mother
“If you say so, I believe you, but…”
Setsuna
“That’s the situation right now. Good night!”
Setsuna’s mother
“But, if there’s anything actually wrong… Actually, if there’s even any small sign or symptom, tell me, okay?”
Setsuna
“I know, I know…”

I couldn’t tell her…

Setsuna’s mother
“Sleep well, then. I’m going to be out today…”
Setsuna
“See you later. Really, I’ll be fine. I can handle this much.”

If I did that, Mom would tell Dad.

And Dad would get overly worried about me.

Setsuna’s mother
“…All right. You’d better stay still today. No popping up and saying, ‘Oh, I’m all better now,’ and running off to the usual place.”
Setsuna
“Yes, I know…”

He wouldn’t let me go to “the usual place” any more.

Setsuna
“…”
Setsuna
“…”
Setsuna
“…! Huff, huff, huff…”

Once I was sure that Mom had made it all the way downstairs, I finally crawled out of the covers I had buried myself under.

My pajamas were sweaty and disgusting. How strange. Was the AC not working well enough…?

Everything would become obvious on laundry day, at this rate. I would have to wash them myself while Mom was out.

Setsuna
“Phew…”

Last night…

I had been assailed the entire night by an unpleasant sensation, as though all the fluid in my body were pouring out.

In fact, it still hadn’t stopped.

…No, it wasn’t just last night. Every night for the past few days had been like this.

Setsuna
“It’s… hot…”

I tried to raise my body up slightly, but I fell right back down into bed.

My head was dizzy. My vision was blurry. Above all, I couldn’t find any energy.

Even so, I had managed to get up until yesterday. That morning, I had managed to get dressed and go to work, just like always.

…Though my efficiency in the work I did was scattered at best.

Setsuna
“I have to… call the office.”

What I’d said about making a request at work was, of course, an on-the-spot lie. I simply hadn’t been able to get up.

Why…? What was going on with me…?

Setsuna
“I’m… fine.”

No… it was just summer fatigue. If I rested for a day, I’d get back to normal.

After all, tomorrow was Friday. I just needed to go to work for one day, and then it would be the weekend… Something would work out…

Once the weekend came, I would see him. If I made it through one more day, I would see Haruki-kun again. I knew he must be waiting for me.

I had to make it through this…

……

Station announcer
“The train bound for Onjuku will be arriving at Track 1 shortly. Please remain behind the white line.”

And…

The weekend that I had awaited so anxiously arrived just a little late… half a day late.

Normally, I would go straight to his apartment after leaving work on Friday. Right now, however, it was 11 a.m., on Saturday morning.

After I spent Thursday resting because I wasn’t well, my family wasn’t going to let me stay over somewhere else on Friday night.

And so, I was forced to convalesce at home that night.

And, as it happened, I felt well this morning. I wasn’t sweating, my head wasn’t hurting, and, above all else, I slept well.

Because I had nothing to worry about any more.

Right… Before I got to his apartment, I had some shopping to take care of.

Food and necessities enough for the upcoming week. Come to think of it, the laundry detergent had just run out, too.

So, once I got to his apartment, I would make lunch, eat it together with him, then do the laundry and clean, and then it would be time for dinner.

After that, I was hoping to have a talk with him, if possible.

About what I had done this week. About how he had felt this week.

Chatting, listening, communicating, nice and leisurely…

Station announcer
“The train at Track 1 is departing. Please stand clear of the closing doors.”

Yes, just like that. We might only have a little bit of time to spend together this week, but if we could make it through the next one, we had the Bon holidays waiting for us.

Then, we could spend an even longer time together.

The start of a happy, peaceful time, when the heat of the summer and the restlessness of my work would all be dispelled.

My heart leapt.

……

Setsuna
“…Huff, huff, huff…”

My heart was… supposed to leap…

Setsuna
“Huh…?”

Something was… wrong.

It was hard to breathe. I wouldn’t stop sweating.

How strange… I had been fine this morning.

I had enough stamina to shake Mom off when she tried to stop me leaving the house.

When I burst out in sweat as I neared the station, I assumed it was just from being under this blazing sun.

Once I got under the shade of the platform… once I got onto the air-conditioned train… the sweat ought to have gone away.

And yet, as I sat here, shivering because the sweat all over my body had taken the heat away, I couldn’t get onto the train that I would be getting off a single station later.

Setsuna
“…Huff, huff, huff…”

The train arrived, I tried to stand up, and suddenly I had a horrible feeling, as though my whole body had gone numb.

As my body sat tied to the bench, my head alone frantically yelled, ‘Move! Move!’

Wait… What? Was I misunderstanding something?

The sweating, the shortness of breath, the fear of the crowds, my inability to board the train…

Was it…

My own body, rejecting the place I was trying to go…?

Setsuna
“…”

My own impossible guess now summoned a wave of nausea.

It couldn’t be. I had looked forward to this for the entire week. My greatest happiness was being with Haruki-kun.

Looking at his sleeping face, etching his few words into my head, gazing at the small changes in his expression, watching over his recovery from right beside him.

…But was all of that my ego?

Haruki-kun always seemed to be in pain with me there.

His sleeping face was full of anguish, his words piercing into himself, his expression always full of sadness…

I always observed his despair, from right beside him.

Of course… With this plague appearing to him every week, he couldn’t possibly get better…

Was God trying to keep me away from him, then? Because that would bring him greater relief? Because I was a burden on him…?

Was God trying to protect him…?

Setsuna
“No…”

No… Thinking like that was just an ugly excuse.

A foolish justification for my body’s refusal to go along with my emotions.

Setsuna
“No…”

But, it was so hot…

And what would happen, if I did go…?

To that apartment where I didn’t belong, where being next to him wouldn’t make him whisper words of love to me, embrace me…

Setsuna
“Help me…”

What was the meaning of unrewarded love…?

Were you the only one who knew…?

Setsuna
“Help me, Kazusa…”

……

.

Setsuna
“I’m back!”

I opened the front door to the usual silence.

A silence in which only my own voice rang out, quite loudly.

Setsuna
“Ah, the AC feels so nice! I never want to go outside again!”

However, the cool air wrapped around the apartment faintly asserted the existence of its owner.

Setsuna
“It is really scorching out there. Just unbearable…”
Haruki
“Yeah…”

That owner was sitting at the table today, fiddling with his laptop.

I glanced at his face just to check. He looked pale, but not pallid. Nothing too serious.

Yes, maybe he was doing decently today.

Setsuna
“What do you want for lunch? I know I ran a little late, so would some simple somen be okay? Or should I throw my back into it?”
Haruki
“I’m really fine with anything.”
Setsuna
“That’s no fun! Well, okay. I’ll do something simple for lunch, and then whip up something amazing tonight. Pork was cheap, so I bought plenty of it.”
Haruki
“…?”
Setsuna
“Actually, since I do have all this pork, maybe I’ll slice some of it up cold on this somen. Yeah, that sounds great!”
Haruki
“Setsuna…”
Setsuna
“Oh, but that would mean meat for both lunch and dinner. Maybe I should come up with something different for tonight, then…”
Haruki
“Hey, Setsuna…”
Setsuna
“What do you think, Haruki-kun? For lunch…”
Haruki
“What’s going on with you today?”
Setsuna
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry I wasn’t able to come yesterday. I’ve been working overtime all week… I mean, work has been starting to pile up a little…”
Haruki
“No, that’s not what I’m…”
Setsuna
“I’ll have it finished soon. I hope you don’t mind a little wait.”
Haruki
“…”

Wait, no… Now that I thought about it, showing off how busy I was would only alienate him.

No matter how excited my heart might be, I couldn’t get carried away.

……

Setsuna
“Phew, all done!”
Haruki
“…Is that all you want?”
Setsuna
“Yeah, I’m stuffed.”
Haruki
“You’ve barely eaten anything.”
Setsuna
“I overate a little this morning. Sorry, I’ll have to let you take the rest.”
Haruki
“I don’t know if I can eat all this…”
Setsuna
“You can leave some of it. I’ll probably use it in tonight’s miso soup. Ahaha…”
Haruki
“…”
Setsuna
“Are you going to leave it?”
Haruki
“No… I’ll eat it. Although, eating this much when I barely move at all will probably make me gain some weight…”
Setsuna
“Oh, I know! Why don’t we go for a stroll, as a bit of after-meal exercise?”
Haruki
“A stroll… Sure, I’d be good with that.”
Setsuna
“Oh, but running out in this heat would be asking for heatstroke. Forget what I just said!”
Haruki
“…”

What a careless mistake. What was I talking about, going outside right now?

……

Setsuna
“Really? That’s amazing!”
Haruki
“Yeah, I’ve started getting up most mornings, and I feel like my sleep patterns are stabilizing.”
Setsuna
“Nice, nice… Then, you really are on the verge of getting back to work, I imagine!”

What Haruki-kun had just told me was enormously positive news.

The results of his examination last week had been surprisingly good, and the medication he received from the doctor had decreased.

Haruki
“Well, with everything that’s happened, I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back that easily, but…”
Setsuna
“Oh, no, this is definitely it! Everything is going to go back to normal…!”
Haruki
“Setsuna…”
Setsuna
“Yep, yep! Aha, ahahaha…”

Yes… this was good. It was wonderful that he was recovering this quickly.

Before long, Haruki-kun would make his full comeback. Everyone would be freed from their burdens and hardships.

Yes, everything was going to go well…

Haruki
“Hey, Setsuna? Do you want to come over here and talk?”
Setsuna
“Mm, I’m okay. I’m not done vacuuming yet.”
Haruki
“You’ve been working nonstop since you got here today. You should take a break.”
Setsuna
“After that happy news you gave me, I feel like I have to keep moving or I’ll get antsy.”
Haruki
“…”

Because I knew…

I knew that moving around so much that I didn’t have time to think was the best thing for me right now.

……

Setsuna
“Hey, what do you want to do for summer break?”

I had continued moving around this whole time.

Setsuna
“It might be a bit early to take any trips, but you might be able to go out for a little bit, right? If things keep on at this rate.”

After I finished the laundry and cleaning his room, it was time to clean the bath. Then, while Haruki-kun took a bath, I made dinner. After that, of course, there was tidying up to be done.

Setsuna
“You could go to the library like you usually do. Or do a little bit of shopping, or go to a movie…”

And, finally, night came.

Setsuna
“Although, we should probably try to avoid crowds if we can. Well, but it’s summer break. Downtown will be full of crowds. What am I even talking about? Ahahahaha…”

…It seemed as though the day were about to end with no problems.

Setsuna
“I’m excited, though. Getting to spend a whole week together… I don’t think we’ve done that since summer break in our fourth year of college.”

Today had been fun, and I was happy.

Haruki
“Setsuna.”
Setsuna
“Although, you were always going on about work or your thesis that year, so you barely actually spent any time with me!”

I could see the signs of his recovery. He was chattier with me than usual. He ate plenty of the food I made for him.

Setsuna
“You were so stubborn about it… I actually found myself wondering whether you might be avoiding me again! Ahaha…”

So, it was only natural that I would talk more, too. That I would get excited.

Haruki
“Listen, Setsuna…”
Setsuna
“Then, there was the summer before that… Actually, no, we don’t need to talk about that, do we! Never mind, sorry.”

Why wouldn’t I get like this? Today was so full of joy…

Haruki
“Setsuna!”
Setsuna
“Huh…?”

There was power in his voice. This was probably the first time in half a year that I had heard such a strong voice out of him.

Haruki
“Setsuna… Listen. I want to thank you again. Thank you for supporting me for so long.”

And the words that followed were full of strength, kindness, and peace.

Setsuna
“C-Come on, why are you being so formal? I just did the obvious thing to do… as your girlfriend.”

Was he, indeed, recovering…?

That hope made my heart pound even harder.

Haruki
“It wasn’t the obvious thing… It wasn’t obvious at all. I betrayed you. I betrayed you, ran away, and after all that, I broke down…”
Setsuna
“Oh, really… I’d forgotten all about that.”
Haruki
“And still, for some reason, you kept devoting yourself to me.”
Setsuna
“Well, of course I did. I mean, I…”

‘I love you.’

Could I say that now? Would he accept it?

Haruki
“If I hadn’t had you… I would have kept running away from everything, until I had nowhere left to run, and my whole life might have fallen to pieces.”
Setsuna
“Don’t say that…”
Haruki
“I’m going to be indebted to you for the rest of my life, Setsuna. I’ll never be able to pay you back for all of it. I’m sorry.”

I had been rewarded…

I had, I had, I had!

Setsuna
“Don’t worry about it… Something will come of it sooner or later. Our future together is forever.”

My heart was pounding. My body was hot. It was hard to breathe…

Now, there was nothing more to… I had nothing to…

Haruki
“Setsuna… Calm down and listen to what I’m going to ask of you, okay?”
Setsuna
“O-Okay…!”
Haruki
“Go home now. You don’t have to come back tomorrow, or for summer break.”

……

.

Haruki
“…”
Setsuna
“…Huh?”

It was…

Haruki
“Sorry…”
Setsuna
“…What?”

A bolt from the blue, befitting this season.

Haruki
“I’m sorry all I can say is horrible stuff like this.”
Setsuna
“Haruki-kun…?”
Haruki
“I’m so sorry, Setsuna… Forgive me for being so weak…!”

What? What was…?

Why? How? Why why why?

…How?!

Haruki
“Forgive me, forgive me… I… Ah…!”

What was going on? Haruki-kun hadn’t gotten better at all…

Haruki
“When you showed up, I should have just made you leave immediately.”

He hadn’t recovered? I hadn’t been rewarded?

Haruki
“But I couldn’t stand the idea of letting you go, so I didn’t say anything. I’m sorry for being so spineless and cowardly.”

So, why? Why why why?!

He got better, so he didn’t need me any more?

Setsuna
“H-Haruki-kun…? Haruki-kun…! Ah, ah, ah…”

No, no, of course not… I knew better than anyone that he wasn’t that kind of person.

Or, maybe… I was being dropped, because I was the kind of person to have such awful thoughts?

Setsuna
“Why? Why…? What’s wrong with me?!”

Then, was there no point? Was I never going to get through?

Setsuna
“What did I do wrong? I’ll fix it, I’ll change… So don’t say such sad things…!”

My heart was pounding. My body was hot. It was hard to breathe…

My whole body refused to move, as though it had gone to sleep. My throat was parched, but a wave of nausea came up from inside.

Haruki
“I could tell from a single look…”

And, the next moment… Haruki-kun softly touched my forehead.

No…

Haruki
“That you were starting to break, too…”

What he was touching wasn’t really my forehead, but the sweat pouring out of it…

……

Setsuna
“Wh… What…”

After turning off the faucet that had been left running, Haruki-kun crouched down on the floor and started picking up the fragments of the broken dish.

Haruki
“It’s getting hard to get up in the morning, right? You didn’t make it here yesterday, and you were late today, too.”
Setsuna
“That was… I mean, I have low blood pressure.”

But I couldn’t even help with it. I just kept staring at the spot where his eyes had been until shortly before.

Haruki
“Sometimes you suddenly break out in sweat, and it gets hard to breathe, right?”
Setsuna
“It’s summer. It’s hot out…”
Haruki
“Your legs won’t move. You can’t go forward.”
Setsuna
“…”

The nausea that I had driven back started to rise up again.

Haruki
“So, the only way you can find of hiding it is to keep your energy high. You have to act cheerful all the time.”
Setsuna
“What are you… saying?”
Haruki
“You make these attempts to act like your usual self, and you don’t realize that, in fact, you’re doing things differently.”
Setsuna
“Doing things… differently?”
Haruki
“Setsuna, you always took the attitude opposite of mine. If I was depressed, you were bright and strong. When I got excited, you were careful and controlled.”
Setsuna
“Ah…”

He had been turning a blind eye to everything.

Haruki
“Now, I know that all of that was something you worked hard to build up, to bring some relief to my heart.”

My desperate, shallow actions could never get by someone as smart as he was.

Haruki
“But, today…”

I got caught up in his words, his demonstrations that he was doing well, and took my own spirits to an exaggerated height…

There was no way he wouldn’t catch it…

Haruki
“I know that, right now, you’re probably throwing everything into deceiving yourself, because that’s how far you’ve been driven…”
Setsuna
“No, I’m not… You’ve got the wrong idea…”
Haruki
“I think… right now, I understand you better than you do yourself.”
Setsuna
“Why?! What do you know about me…?!”
Haruki
“Of course I know… I couldn’t possibly not notice the state you’re in right now…”
Setsuna
“Ah…”

In that instant, I knew what Haruki-kun was trying to say, even better than he did.

Haruki
“Because, right now… you’re just like I was, half a year ago.”

And that certainty, which was nothing more than an assumption, carved itself into my ears, word-for-word, unmistaken.

Haruki
“But, for me, I was getting what I deserved. You just got dragged into this because of me…”

Together with his self-mutilating words, words I had no desire to hear.

Haruki
“Ah, ah… aaaaah!”

Haruki-kun was crying again…

Things were going so well, he was finally recovering, and now…

It was because I had thrown cold water over everything. Everything was my fault.

Haruki
“Go home, Setsuna… and take care of yourself.”

Then… That meant…

Setsuna
“N-No… No!”

Whether I was with him or apart from him… I was just a burden on him, nothing more?

Haruki
“…There’s still time. If you do it now, you won’t end up like me.”
Setsuna
“B-But, but… If I do that, what will you…?”
Haruki
“I’ll… be okay. I told you, I’m really starting to do pretty well now.”
Setsuna
“You’re crying right now! You’re going to pieces again because of me!”
Haruki
“Only a bit… With some rest, I’ll be fine again.”
Setsuna
“No, that’s no good… Your doctor told you! The start of recovery is the most dangerous time!”
Haruki
“My doctor also said that when you’re starting to get sick is the most important time to pay attention.”
Setsuna
“…”
Haruki
“Please, Setsuna… Just listen to what I have to say.”

His shaky voice set off my own tear ducts. I suddenly found myself wanting to cry and scream and cling to him.

Haruki
“If we make the wrong move here, something irreversible will happen.”
Setsuna
“H-Haruki-kun…”

But I didn’t cry or scream, or cling.

If I did that, I would break him. I would truly be a burden, a plague.

Haruki
“I’ll say it as many times as I have to, Setsuna.”

And…

Haruki-kun mustered up the little bit of fraying courage he had… and cut me loose.

Haruki
“Go home.”

He chose to fall into the abyss alone, so that we wouldn’t both fall.

Haruki
“And don’t come back for a while. Got it?”

Without hesitating, without balking at his own collapse, he made the choice to protect me.

Haruki
“No… don’t come back at all.”

Even after he had tried to fall with Kazusa.


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