Chapter 14: Fate
“The realization of a fated encounter comes after the fact.”
So says the professor as he hands a handkerchief to the crying heroine.
“A meeting that changed the course of a life cannot be known until all has come to pass. Only when everything has changed, only when everything has ended, can one begin to notice.”
“Then… What do I do about these feelings?”
The young girl had made every effort to make the most out of her feelings for a young man who belonged to the same year at the same university, which she herself described as a ‘fated love’. Having learned that the young man would be going overseas, she had broken out into tears, proclaiming that ‘the love she was fated to, had ended this day’. Now, in this scene, she was conversing with her professor.
“Does it truly matter whether your love is fated or not?”
The professor took a hearty gulp from his coffee mug, and waited briefly before continuing.
“Fated or not, your love is genuine. Is that not good enough as is?”
Hearing the professor’s profound words, the main character opened her teary eyes.
“Go and tell him what you must. That is all you can do at the very moment, is it not?”
The professor said with a cheery smile.
Though her eyes still flowed with tears, the heroine nodded resolutely and stood up from her seat.
“I’ll be going.”
The heroine declared as she ran out of the room. The professor’s gaze followed the heroine as if looking at a blinding light.
I took a fleeting glance at Mishima, who was seated beside me, and found her bearing an expression unlike any I’ve seen from her thus far.
Her profile displayed more than just sadness and anger, but more importantly, it bore a degree of ‘seriousness’ surpassing any of the expressions I’ve seen from her at work.
‘Why don’t you ever make such a face at work?’, so I thought, but to be honest, I was impressed by how seriously she was taking this movie.
Personally, I was uninvested in this movie at best. Taking a look at the person on the other side of me, they too had their eyes glued to the screen.
It was probably just not in my nature to be able to enjoy a movie to the fullest. Although the screen depicted the events of a fellow person’s life, I just couldn’t accept it as something that could happen in reality. Thus, I was unable to comprehend it at an emotional level.
Yet, the words of the professor reverberated in my mind.
“The realization of a fated encounter comes after the fact.”
It was a rather fitting way to put it. In truth, meetings that change the course of life happen regardless of intention, and in the moment, these encounters seem insignificant if not mundane. Yet, when looking back, such moments often seem to be of the contrary.
One such example was my meeting with Gotou-san.
I had met her at an industry panel targeting job-seeking fresh graduates.
I had just finished listening to the panel hosted by the company I had my eyes on, and I figured that since I was here, I might as well take a look at the other companies. That was when Gotou-san called out to me.
“You have a rather earnest expression” She said with a smile.
I still remember that moment even to this day.
If I hadn’t met her that day, I probably wouldn’t be working for this company; nor would I have been blessed with such a suitable job, and perhaps I wouldn’t have built up such a career either.
Though, if I had to ask myself what fated encounters I have had since then…
One face in particular comes to mind.
That slack and relaxed smile.
Now that I think about it, my life really has taken a turn since her arrival.
That being said, I can’t really call it an encounter that has changed the course of my life. In truth, Sayu had coincidentally appeared before me, desiring a place to stay. I provided her a place to stay in return for doing household chores and whatnot, making my life easier. That’s all there is to it.
“You might not realize it-”
Startled by the shout of the heroine on-screen, I pulled my attention away from my thoughts and back on the screen.
During the time that I had been lost in thought, the scene had shifted. The heroine was trying to express her feelings to the young man from a distance away.
“When we first met, you helped me so, so much that it’s hard to put into words!”
Though her voice was shaky and her eyes were teary, the heroine tried her utmost to express her mind.
The young man continued to listen with a somewhat uneasy expression.
“Back then, when you reached your hand out to me… You might not have thought much of it, and I know this might sound ridiculous, but in that moment, you really saved me!”
Flashbacks were mixed in with the heroine’s monologue, show how the story had begun. It was a scene where the heroine had just graduated from high school and entered a university in the big city. In the crowd of the bustling campus, she quickly found herself isolated from the people she knew, and, feeling the relative insignificance of her existence, came to an abrupt halt. That was when the young man, who had been looking around whilst walking, crashed into her, causing her to fall on her behind. The young man flusteredly apologized, and extended a hand whilst asking ‘Are you okay?’. That was when the heroine had fallen in love.
“The thought that even someone like myself could be noticed… gave me peace of mind!”
The heroine confessed as tears flowed from her eyes.
“You’ve been on my mind ever since then!!”
‘To be noticed by someone’. This line seemed to strangely echo in my mind.
My mind rewinded to a certain scene.
It was when I drunkenly stumbled my way home, having just been rejected by Gotou-san. Sayu sat beneath the lamppost, her arms around her knees. She had seemed as though she was clad in an air devoid of anything.
What had she been thinking about in that moment?
Had she hoped that someone… anyone would notice her?
As for me-
“I know that it was just a coincidence when you bumped into me, but even so-”
Had I been the one to notice her?
“It… made me happy.”
As I gazed at the crying figure of the heroine reflected on the screen, the image of Sayu’s relaxed smile surfaced in my mind.
Mishima stretched in a flamboyant manner outside the cinema.
Her shirt was pressed out of the opening of her jacket, and from it, I could roughly see her body lines.
How… wholesome. That’s not to say that it was small.
It’s just that, with the knowledge of a greater force like Gotou-san’s weighing on my mind, those of most other women became a source of calm and relief instead. That’s really all there is to it.
Mishima murmured after she finished stretching.
“I feel like I’ve gained a lot.”
“Gained a lot of?”
“On a whim, I thought: ‘why not go watch a love story with Yoshida senpai or something~’”
“But it was a way better experience than I thought it would be…”
Mishima hummed with a grin.
“So how was it, Yoshida-senpai?”
“How was what?”
“The movie. What did you think of it?”
“Hmmm, what did I think of it? Even if you ask me that…”
It would be incredibly awkward to admit that I had something else on my mind the entire time.
Plus, since Mishima seemed to have enjoyed the movie quite a lot, it wouldn’t be right to avoid the question. If I had to voice my thoughts on the movie, which part should I talk about?
The professor’s words immediately came to mind.
“Oh right, do you remember when the professor said ‘The realization of a fated encounter comes after the fact’? That really… resonated with me in a way.
As I said that, Mishima’s eyes seemed to light up in excitement.
“Right!? Right!? I also really felt the impact of those words… I see, so Yoshida-senpai also felt that way.”
After nodding in a satisfied manner, Mishima suddenly grimaced.
“That’s not right.”
Mishima put a hand on her chin and muttered.
“I was wondering if it’s really okay to understand that.”
“Huh, but I thought you understood it?”
“Uhuh, I do, but is that really a good thing?”
As I tilted my head in bemusement, Mishima seemed to hesitate while elaborating.
“It’s sort of, like… Umm… kind of boring in a way isn’t it?”
“That’s right. I mean, in the future, I’ll be having all sorts of incredible meetings that will have a great impact on my life won’t I? All these meetings will happen in the present. It’s not what comes after or before, but what’s in the moment.”
“I see what you mean.”
As I nodded, Mishima allowed her gaze to wander across the floor and let out a light sigh.
“Won’t you notice such important things in the moment? That this is a fated encounter?”
Although her eyes grew moist, I could still see a stubborn light within.
The playful mood that she always carried about was replaced with something else entirely. Surely, this was how she truly felt.
“By the time you notice a fated encounter, anything and everything is already over and in a place far beyond your reach… It’s moving to see it played out in a story, but I would rather not be a part of it.”
She added and then smiled.
“I’m fine with just the present. Who cares about yesterday or tomorrow? It’s not like I can live in any time but now.”
The smile Mishima bore now was levels more mature than the one she usually bore. I never thought that she was one to carry such an expression.
I asked before I had any time to give it any thought.
“Have you perhaps… had a fated encounter?
As I asked that, Mishima’s expression grew blank in surprise, and then-
She lost it.
“AHAHAHA! That’s right, that’s so like you, Yoshida-san! Well, that was refreshing~”
“Huh? What are you on about?”
“Mmpf-ack-hmm.. Okay that’s enough, that’s enough already.”
Mishima had laughed so hard that tears had formed in her eyes. She nodded a few times as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Yup, I’m having one. A fated encounter that is.”
Saying that, she looked me straight in the eye and continued.
“That’s why, I don’t want to let that meeting get away.”
I could feel a burning determination coming from beyond her gaze.
Feeling a strange sense of pressure, I turned my gaze away from her and nodded.
“I see. Well, do your best.”
“Yes, I will!”
Mishima gave an unnatural bow and cheerfully smilled. Seeing that expression, I felt overcome by a sense of relief.
Now that’s the usual Mishima.
I’ve only noticed this recently, but seeing a ‘unknown expression’ from someone I knew made me feel rather uncomfortable.
The same applied be it Sayu or Gotou-san.
Seeing these unknown expressions, I would feel a sense of helplessness, not knowing what to do.
As for Mishima in particular, I honestly think that the playful way in which she usually smiled suited her really well.
At that thought though, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy.
Back when she had first become my subordinate, that ‘playful smile’ of hers had been a source of further frustration. Despite that, how was it now? I now felt that that aspect of hers was considerably charming instead.
Taken aback by the change in my thoughts, I let out a bitter smile.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll be fine, Mishima.”
Hearing me say that, Mishima tilted her head in puzzlement and looked at me wide-eyed.
“I’m talking about your fated encounter. If it’s you, I’m sure that you’ll be able to make something out of it.”
Mishima head tilted further as she looked at me with a complicated expression.
“What do you mean by that?”
The straightforward manner in which she pressed for answers made me feel a little embarrassed.
“I mean… Mishima, you’re a pretty quick-witted person and you’ve got a great smile. I’m sure that fated person of yours will fall for you eventually, at least, that’s what I think.”
In the silence that followed, I could feel the embarrassment slowly getting to my head as I awkwardly scratched the back of my head. I’m really just not used to praising someone. It’s honestly nothing to write home about, but it made me feel oddly embarrassed.
Noticing that Mishima seemed unresponsive, I turned my eyes towards her and found her gaze drifting restlessly about.
For someone who I would expect to take this all in with a frivolous smile, she seemed strangely uncomposed.
“W-, Well… That would be-”
Mishima mumbled with a mixed expression.
Then, she showed a pained smile.
“A little hard.”
I had never seen such a smile from her before.
It was different from the ‘deceitful smile’ that she would show at work; it was as if she was hiding away something important behind that smile.
I had blanked out for a moment think that I had stepped on some sort of emotional landmine, but by the time I came to my senses, Mishima’s expression looked as though nothing had happened.
“Well, that being said, I’m really happy to be praised! I mean, it’s not everyday that Yoshida-senpai of all people praises me!”
“I wish you’d give me something to praise you about at work though…”
“Ahaha, I’ll try my best in moderation~”
Mishima giggled and showed her usual mischievous smile.
“That aside, Yoshida-senpai.”
I recognize that expression of hers.
It’s the expression she carries when teasing me.
Feeling a sense of impending danger, I instinctively shifted backwards, but before I could complete my retreat, Mishima rushed up to me.
In the next moment, she pulled me in with a tight embrace. Since I was about a head taller than Mishima, it was as though she was burying her face in my chest.
“Hey, what are you…”
As the sudden sweet scent of shampoo lightly slipped into my nostrils, I could feel a tingling sensation running across my body.
“Oi, let go already…”
Mustering my wits, I grabbed Mishima’s shoulders, readying myself to peel her off of me. It was then that Mishima suddenly raised her head, gazing directly at me with upturned eyes and a teasing smile.
“…Did I make your heart skip a beat?”
“…-! Like hell you did, just let go already!”
Finally wrenching Mishima off of me, she broke out into a fit of shrill comical giggling as looked me straight in the eye and said.
“So you can make that kind of face as well, Yoshida-senpai.”
“That kind of face…? What do you mean by that?”
Hearing me ask that, Mishima showed a toothy grin, as if she were celebrating a great victory.
“The face of someone whose heart skipped a beat, of course.”
Having been unable to hide my unrest, I was now being subjected to the relentless teasing from behind a triumphant smirk.
Without voicing my irritation, I turned my gaze away from Mishima.
“It’s not nice to tease a guy like this.”
“I wasn’t teasing you though.”
Mishima plainly declared.
“I wasn’t wondering if even I could make your heart skip a beat.”
“…As if I won’t if a woman decided to embrace me so closely.”
“Oh, so that means you think of me as a woman! Ahaha~”
She giggled, though I’m not sure what she found so funny. Then, she exhaled loudly as if trying to empty all the air from her stomach.
Just what was she scheming now? I thought to myself with an exasperated sigh.
Curious as to what time is what, I took a look at my wristwatch, which showed that it was nearly 10pm. I’m a little worried about Sayu, so I should probably head home soon.
Raising my head, my gaze locked in with Mishima’s, who had started staring me right in the eye as I was lost in my thoughts.
“You look like you want to go home.”
“Well… it’s about time I guess.”
“Alright, then let’s call it a day.”
Mishima said briskly then quickly bowed her head.
“Well then, thanks for everything today.”
“It was my pleasure…?”
I don’t think that I’ve done anything worth thanking me for. She’s conscientious in the strangest ways.
With a gleeful smile and the turn of the heel, Mishima paced towards the station.
As I saw her off, she suddenly turned around.
“What would you if my fated person-”
“Was you! Yoshida-senpai-!”
“Hey cut it out already! Just go home!”
At my reply, Mishima let out another amused laugh and waved her arms high in the air towards me. Finally, without turn around this time, she headed into the station.
“…Time to head back.”
I murmured to myself as I walked away from the station.
A fated person.
As that saying traversed across my mind, the image that flickered within was that of Sayu’s face.
I looked at my wristwatch again. It was now 10pm.
Would Sayu still be awaiting my return? Or would she have gotten tired of waiting and gone to sleep?
Regardless of which, I can’t help but feel a little guilty.
I did contact her before going to the movies, but by that time she had surely started making dinner already.
I’ll make sure to eat today’s leftovers for tomorrow’s breakfast.
With that in mind, I hastened my pace and arrived home before long. It definitely feels faster to walk home with something in mind rather than absentmindedly trotting home.
As I turned my key in the lock, I didn’t hear the usual clack
“Huh… I guess she forgot to lock it.”
Tilting my head a little, I opened the door.
“Sorry I’m late. Sayu, you forgot to lock the door.”
As I walked in, I could immediately tell that something was off. Though, I couldn’t tell what that something was.
Usually, she’d pop her head out and greet me, but today there was no reply.
“Is she sleeping…?”
I took my shoes off and walked into the living room, but she wasn’t there.”
I knocked on the door of the wash and changing room and opened the door, but the bathroom heater wasn’t on. I could feel the cold sweat forming on the surface of my skin.
I opened the bathroom door just to make sure, but Sayu wasn’t inside either.
“…Maybe she went to the convenience store?”
It would be good if that was the case, but she never goes out to buy anything beyond basic necessities, so it’s hard to believe.
I took out my smartphone and opened the messaging apps
‘Hey, where are you right now?’
After sending that messaging, I heard a light electronic beep from the direction of the living room.
Rushing to the living room, I found the phone that I had left Sayu on the table.
Cold sweat began to trickle.
She left the house on her own but left her phone behind?
Well, maybe she’s the type to not always have her phone on her, maybe I was just overthinking it…
But I couldn’t shake off this uneasy feeling.
What if someone had entered this place and dragged Sayu away by force?
When that thought surfaced in my mind, my body bounced like a spring.
I hurriedly slipped on my shoes and ran out the door.
The dull and ordinary streets of the residential district seemed darker than ever.