Chapter 15: Nightmare
“Is it really okay?”
He said with his arms clutched on my shoulders.
He exuded a kind atmosphere. He had a handsome face, objectively speaking, but it wasn’t my type.
I’ve already forgotten his name.
I tried my best to show him a relaxed smile.
He nodded at my response, touched my body, and then connected us.
“Does it feel good?”
To be honest, it was painful.
But pain was good.
He called my name.
That wasn’t my actual name, but my current name.
“It feels good.”
I said with a cutesy voice as if that were true.
I know that that’s all it would take to satisfy him.
Does it feel good? Does it feel bad? I can’t tell.
All I could feel was a slight throbbing in my stomach and a numbness around the entrance.
Those two sensations gave me a sense of relief.
At least I have a body.
When I woke up, the room was already dark.
I hurriedly got up and looked at the clock. It was already 9pm.
My mind went blank seeing that. At this time, unless I prepared everything beforehand, I wouldn’t finish making dinner before Yoshida-san got back.
Ever since Yoshida-san assigned me to do the ‘household chores’, I’ve always prepared the food and bath before he returned from work. I’ve always thought of it as my duty.
I was about to send a message to Yoshida-san to tell him that dinner would be late when I noticed a notification on the smartphone that he had bought me.
It was from him.
‘I’ll be watching a movie with a colleague at the cinema of the nearest station, so I’ll be late. Have dinner without me.’
I was overcome with relief upon seeing that message.
That didn’t mean it was acceptable for me to sleep at such a weird time, but at least I didn’t bother Yoshida-san in the process.
Calming my nerves, I noticed that my skin was moist from cold sweat.
As the chilling sensation traversed through my body, I remembered the contents of the dream I awoke from a moment ago. Goosebumps immediately leaped from the surface of my skin.
I hadn’t had such a vivid recollection of those times since I’ve come to this home; I immediately understood why that was the case.
Yoshida-san’s mysterious kindness had given my heart a moment of reprieve. I was deeply aware of this.
Despite that, that the path to which I arrived here won’t disappear. That was reality.
My thoughts spilled from my mind.
That was when I came to the realisation that I was an incredibly foolish human being.
I should have resolved myself for this from the moment I stayed at the first stranger’s house. In exchange for running away from home, I would live out my life like this.
To escape from what was true hardship, I had to be prepared for another kind of hardship.
Immediately, I had become numb – as intended.
Though, to be honest, I think I really did feel it. Even if I felt uneasy about what I was doing, even if I felt repulsed about what I was doing, I just let it be and continued on my way.
And then, I met Yoshida-san.
He denied everything that I had become, yet accepted me as I was. He had made me feel troubled, confused, moved, and this time, he made me feel uneasy.
He thought that I was selfish, weak, foolish.
Yoshida-san was truly kind; moreso than any of the people I’d met thus far.
Although he was one to assess others strictly, it was only out of worry. As much as he acted as though he prioritised himself, he would always keep an eye out for others.
For someone like him to show me kindness, it must be out of pity.
It was strange.
Ever since I ran away… Ever since I ran away from the fate that I had been bound to, I had only ever concerned myself with ‘how much time I had left until I was going to be thrown away’.
How many more months, weeks, or – more often – days would it be? This question was always on my mind.
But it was different now.
I think that some part of me doesn’t want to be thrown away by him.
Rather, maybe that same part of wants him to like me.
It’s not that I want him to love me. I want to support his romantic pursuits, and I want him to be happy.
Even so, I want to have a place as ‘somebody’ he likes. That would be my wish.
That was why… his kindness had become my greatest fear.
If even he would throw me away, then how am I supposed to find any value in myself?
I still haven’t figured out what his requirement for not hating me is.
What does he want from me? Have I fulfilled what he requires from me?
The more I think about it, the more uneasy I get.
‘I’ll be watching a movie with a colleague at the cinema of the nearest station’.
Looking down from the phone, I deeply pondered the meaning behind this message that Yoshida-san had sent me.
By colleague, did he mean girl? Since Yoshida didn’t say superior instead, it probably wasn’t the Gotou-san who he was in love with.
However, Yoshida-san definitely wasn’t the type to take the initiative to play after work. Not to mention, he had gone to the movies.
As for who invited him, I had a gut feeling that it was probably a girl.
Was it the girl who invited him to go drinking the other day?
Yoshida-san liked Gotou-san, but what about that girl? Did he perhaps like her too? If so, what were they planning on doing after the movie?
These thoughts seemed to go on forever. Even though it should have nothing to do with me, I couldn’t help but get more and more anxious and time went on.
I peeked at the clock again. It was already past 9:30pm.
The message from Yoshida-san was received at around 7pm.
“The movie… should be ending soon.”
Usually, I don’t think I would’ve even considered doing such a thing.
Yet, knowing full well how stupid this was, I couldn’t contain myself.
Still wearing my indoor clothes, I put on socks, slipped on my loafers, and ran out the door of Yoshida-san’s home.
I’ll wait outside the cinema, take a look at Yoshida-san and the person who’s with him, and then go home. That’s all I plan on doing.
It would only be logical for me to be unable to find him. Since I don’t know what movie he was watching, I’d have to run into him by coincidence when he was leaving the cinema. Moreover, there would be a mass of people in the area in front of the station.
Finding him from such a crowd didn’t feel realistic at all.
Or at least it should’ve been.
Should I consider myself lucky or unlucky? The moment I arrived in front of the cinema, I spotted Yoshida-san.
Him, and the lovely suit-wearing girl who held him in a tight hug.
As if my body had turned into stone, I couldn’t move a muscle.
Yoshida-san showed an expression I haven’t seen before. He looked flustered, troubled, embarrassed.
The scene reminded me of the day that Yoshida-san had gone to the drinking get-together with Gotou-san. Back then, when I gave him a hug on hopes of encouraging him, he had showed a slightly troubled smile and patting my shoulder, saying ‘that’s enough’.
I was forced to realize it.
Yoshida-san really didn’t think of me as a woman in the slightest.
That, and that the same could not be said for the girl who currently held Yoshida-san tightly in her arms.
I could tell from his expression alone.
“That’s alright, I guess.”
I murmured in a voice unheard to anyone but myself.
“This isn’t something that I should be worried about.”
Finally, my body began to move again. I turned away from the station and began walking away.
Go back. Go back, don’t show anything, and greet him as though nothing had happened.
Apologize for not having prepared dinner and ask him to take a bath first.
One step, two steps. Then, I came to a halt.
Everything in my vision had become faded and blurry.
The trickling sensation rolling down my face told me everything. I was crying.
Noticing that the passersbys began casting their puzzled gazes towards me, I flusteredly fled the scene.
I wiped my eyes with the sleeves of my sweater, but tears kept gushing forth uncontrollably.
My mind flashed back to image of Yoshida-san being hugged by the unknown girl.
Why do I hate it so so much?
When that question surfaced from my heart, I finally noticed the feelings that had sprouted inside me.
“…Haha, it can’t be.”
Even though my eyes continued to flood with tears, a dry smile leaked onto my lips.
Towards a girl I knew nothing of.
Towards the girl who drew forth expressions from Yoshida-san that I hadn’t seen before.
Shameless as it may be, I had to admit it – I wanted to monopolize Yoshida-san.
“… I’m just so, so-”
The pain seemed to rend my chest apart.
It was a boundless, incorrigible pain.
“Foolish… aren’t I?”
Before I knew it, the thudding of my feet against the pavement had been woven between the cries of my sobbing.
If I continued to stay there, I would only be a burden to his happiness.
I can’t go back, I can’t go back.
It’s just that… I have nowhere else to go.
So I aimlessly ran off into the night, gushing and huffing, like the fool that I was.
After separating from Yoshida-senpai and passing through the toll gates, I came to a halt on the stairs heading towards platform.
“Going home like this… makes me feel a little peeved.”
The very thought of the expression that he bore when he saw me off made me feel a little annoyed. He had looked as though he were a parent sending his child off to kindergarten.
As exhilarating as it was to have made his heart jump before leaving, it was apparent from his attitude today that – despite him viewing me as a woman – he didn’t think of me as a potential romance at all.
I understood that, but I still couldn’t help but feel a little disheartened.
And that was probably why I felt a strong urge to stick around. ‘As if I would go home having done so little!?’ the thought refused to subside.
That being said though, it’s not like I felt an urge to chase after Yoshida-senpai. To start with, given the way he looked when he sent me off, he probably headed straight home without loitering around. Even if I were to go after him now, I hadn’t the slightest clue which direction he headed off to.
With that, I figured that I may as well take a stroll in the area around the station closest to Yoshida-senpai’s home.
To quickly turn my thoughts into action was one of my few strengths.
I exited the paid area and looked around the plaza in front of the station.
The station was bigger than I had expected. It had its own cinema, restaurants, and a department store to boot. Though, amusingly, I couldn’t imagine him frequenting any of these facilities.
My memory’s a little fuzzy, but I think I remember hearing that he lived over 10 minutes away from the station.
“Alright, let’s go this way then.”
Spotting a less busy and somewhat dimly lit avenue, so I figured that I may as well go that way.
It’s not that I hated the crowdedness of the station, but I liked the peculiar atmosphere that was found only in these open, quiet places.
He may have walked down this road before, or he may have not. Regardless, there was a mysterious vibe to walking through this place.
“Well, despite that…”
I mumbled to myself in a particularly deserted part of the road.
I never imagined that I would be so gripped by romance.
I always loved movies, love stories even more so, but as I viewer, I couldn’t help but think that such plots and settings were far departed from my life. I enjoyed such stories as an onlooker and nothing more.
Men in reality always seemed disheartening by comparison, either lackluster or self-centered. Perhaps it was because I thought I would never meet a wonderful man like those that always appeared in such stories.
To be completely honest, the reason I had my current job was almost certainly because I had an appearance that was ‘popular with older men’.
During the interview, the only person that attempted to pry out my true nature was Gotou-san. Had she had a larger role in my employment, I wouldn’t have been hired in the first place.
So, I joined the company due to the acceptance of older men, and soon became a subject of their fawning.
Immediately after that, I noticed that in such a workplace, it would be easier to get by slacking off when I could rather than working my butt off. I just had to pretend I didn’t know what to do, then after getting an incomprehensible explanation from one of the older men, I would show a bit off progress and say ‘it was all thanks to you senpai!’ with a smile on top. I would receive the least amount of stress while outputting the least amount of work. And so, I planned to keep this half-heartedness up until I had enough money saved up.
It was then that I was assigned to Yoshida-senpai’s project.
He really had a way of actually taking care of someone, as in, he wouldn’t accept ‘being unable’ as the way I was, nor would he feel a sense of superiority over a junior that could do her job. Rather, he would assess me strictly and unsparingly.
For the first time since entering this company, someone seemed to have seen me for what I was actually capable of. Although it was a blunder on my part, I couldn’t help but feel a little joyful.
Despite that, I further polished my act and continued playing to role of the ‘incapable’. Just how far would I press for him to crack? And so, with a mix of anticipation and uneasiness, I continued to poke at his shell like a child. Even so, he didn’t crack at all.
By the time I realized it, I had begun following him with my eyes during work. From there, it wasn’t hard to figure out that he had a crush on Gotou-san.
‘I see I see, he’s working hard to impress this girl’, so I had thought, but after a while, it didn’t seem to be the case. Even when she was out on assignments to affiliate companies, he was working the same as ever, if not even harder than when she was present. Though his neighbor Hashimoto-senpai would complain and grumble about it, he would continue to distribute workload to his project members. It seemed that he had always held a serious demeanor and a strong sense of responsibility.
I soon came to understand that I wasn’t the only one he was kind to either.
I felt that, carrying that sentiment, my feelings for him had at some time twisted into love.
The path branched from here. Downhill led to an even darker area, while going up the stairs felt as though it would lead to a somewhat spacious area.
Feeling as though the path was dark enough as it is, I decided to head up the stairs. I preferred the sensation of going upstairs to the downhill slope anyway. The conscious sense of going one stair at a time was somewhat enjoyable.
The street lights became more frequent as I went, making it a much brighter area than the last. Reaching the end of the staircase, I encountered a neat little park.
“Oooh, there’s a nice feeling to this place.”
Looking around, there was an area lined with several benches.
“It seems like the sort of place where kids can play on the lawn while the parents chat around.”
It was located directly next to an apartment building, so it must’ve been the residential district’s park.
That being said, a park with a lawn was quite to my taste. The place around where I lived was a little garish by comparison, so it wasn’t the sort of place where there would be such a park.
Taking in my surroundings, I walked towards the bench and took a seat.
On the concrete area a short distance away, it looked like a young boy was practicing on his skateboard. There didn’t seem to be anyone other than him around.
Having few people around was calming; it seemed like the perfect time to absentmindedly think about something.
As long as I made it back to the station before the last train, it felt as though I could stay here as long as I wanted. The lingering thoughts of my mini-date with senpai seemed to come flooding back.
Though, I was starting to feel a little hungry.
Now that I think about it, we came to the cinema without grabbing anything to eat first.
“I think I brought something earlier…”
I put my bag down beside me and started fishing in my bag for a few snacks I vaguely remember bringing along that might fill me up a little. While I was distracted doing that, I felt that there was something beside me that I didn’t see earlier.
I let out an inane shout as I stood to attention.
Behind the bench next to me was a person sitting on the floor with their arms wrapped around their knees.
“T-… That scared me.”
Judging by her long hair, it seemed to be a girl. Her body was wrapped in a rough looking sweater.
At my shout, she solemnly raised her head. Too young. It was clear that she was still a minor. Turning my eyes towards her feet, she wore a pair of loafers. As I first thought, she was something akin to a high-school girl.
We looked blankly at one another for a few seconds, before she hung her mouth and uttered.
“Ah… you’re the person from”
The girl shook her head and shut her mouth.
“You’re a high schooler, aren’t you? What are you doing out so late? If you’re out after 10 o’clock you’re going to be sent to the guidance counselor later you know?”
Hearing what I said, the girl showed a grim expression and turned her gaze towards the ground.
“I just don’t know… where to go back to.”
From that alone, I gained a rough understanding of her situation..
I see, so she ran away.
It’s a different story for a university student, but it would be rough for a high-schooler to do the same. For people who looked particularly young, a bit of bad luck would soon turn to finding themselves on the receiving end of guidance if they were to use the metro and the like. For people who wanted to avoid that, they had no choice but to wander aimlessly nearby.
“…Well, that wouldn’t happen if they were with their guardian.”
I uttered before I noticed.
There were times where one wanted to run away from home and indulge in doing what they never could’ve before, I understood that feeling.
As the girl gazed blankly at me, sat down on the bench once again and told her.
“Look, I’ll be here until the last train is about to leave, so take your time and think about whatever you need to think about, okay?”
Hearing what I said, the girl’s eyes seemed to grow wet, and she tightly bit her lower lip.
“…Thank you very much.”
“It’s nothing, really.”
Kids with manners were often good kids.
With such an antiquated thought, I began fishing through my bag once again. My hunger only got worse as time passed.
After a bit of mixing around the contents of my bag, I finally found what I was looking for. It was the packs of rice bran crackers that I kept on me for times like these.
As I opened the packet of crackers-
My stomach rang out.
Looking at the bench beside me, the girl’s face was still buried in her knees, not moving in the slightest. Though, the little of what I could see of her ears had turned a little red.
I chuckled to myself, and offered one of my two packs of crackers to the girl.
The girl raised her head. Though she briefly showed a worried expression as her gaze scrawled across the floor, after a long deliberation, she nodded.
“Alright then, take it. What’s your name?”
“Thank you very much… My name is… Aka-…”
The girl stopped. Only after a long breath did her expression slacken a little.
“My name is Sayu.”
“Sayu-chan. I see~, that’s a nice name, call me Yuzuha.”
It was probably a fake name. She had probably intended to give her actual name, but stopped in the middle.
She was cleverer than I expected, though, I like talking to clever kids.
I had meant to enjoy this time alone, but it was nice to enjoy these unexpected meetings too.
Taking a bite from a cracker, I thought of a topic to chat about.