After that, I didn’t have any more ups and downs at school, and I could spend my days satisfyingly along with Hou-kun and Ei-kun. Strangely, Mizushima started to hang out with us more and more, it was annoying and strange how she tried to talk with me in a friendly manner lately. I could only assume Mizushima was trying to make up with me for how she had treated me because I saved her. She even stopped calling me cyclops, so it wasn’t that unpleasant.
It was nothing like my time at the orphanage. When I was outside my room, everyone jeered at me, they taunted me, daring me to go against all of them; when I foolishly did find the courage to rebel, I was beaten until I fainted or until a random Sister or Father got bored of watching the spectacle, or maybe, worried about possible medical bills, stopped them.
When I was inside my room, they would randomly hit and kick my door, shout various insults, and then go away. But I endured it. I had Hou-kun and Ei-kun supporting my back. Even if they didn’t know about the excessive bullying I received at the orphanage.
In the end, nothing particularly different from that routine happened until a particular day, the 7th of July. Tanabata¹. I was standing alone in a tiny clearing inside the small-scale forest of a park not so distant from the orphanage. I stared at the bamboo tree in front of me as I considered my conflicting emotions, sadness and happiness.
I was sad, because every single time the other kids tear up my tanzaku² as they tell me, “A monster doesn’t have the right to make wishes!” The first time that had happened, I ran away and then cried all night long in my room. At the same time, I was happy because for a while now, I couldn’t care less about what they said as some years ago I found this place, where no one comes, to safely put up my tanzaku.
“This year too… my only wish is…”
“Eeh~ …So this is where you went, bitch.”
As I strongly held on my tanzaku in front of my chest, Kazumo exited from the forest to my right. I was so surprised I dropped my precious wish, but I instantly noticed in what kind of situation I was, thus I prepared to break into a run. However, I was too late and Kazumo kicked me in my stomach. I fell on the ground and he stared at me as he spoke in a cold voice
“Don’t even think about it.”
“Cough! …Ugh… uh…”
My stomach hurt so much I had difficulty comprehending his words. I tried to ignore the pain and get up, but it was in vain. It seemed like he knew I wouldn’t be able to move, so he calmly went to pick up my tanzaku. He scoffed, making me feel even more miserable.
“Let’s see, what do we have here? Hah! What kind of joke is this? ‘I want to be normal’? You? Normal? Are you serious? You are a fucking monster. You don’t have the right to be normal!”
“That’s… not true…”
I started crying. The pain he caused me, both mentally and physically, was too much. My mind became a mess: I could hear his words repeat countless times how worthless I was, while I could only pitifully shout ‘That’s not true!’ in a weak voice lacking confidence.
He kicked toward my stomach again, but fortunately I had already moved my arms there to lessen the impact. It still hurt like hell. ‘Maybe it actually is hell…’
Kazumo sighed as he once again took on an icy calm attitude. It scared me how fickle his emotions were, and at that moment I lost any hope of reigning in my tears. ‘What if he wants to kill me because I angered him?’ I sobbed while I tried to answer to him.
“Plea… se… sto…p…”
“Aah… you still don’t know your place, uh? I’m lucky to have brought my lighter with me. But first…”
I wanted to ask him why me, but as he had just started ripping up my tanzaku, he probably thought I was asking why was he doing such a thing. However, his reply froze my mind for a different reason
“Because if it’s like this, it’s easier for you to eat.”
As I was stunned, I couldn’t stop him from straddling me. He put his legs on either part of my body while also effectively blocking my arms from moving around too much. He smiled and looked down on me, with his left hand, he gently caressed my right cheek, terrifying me. He used his thumb to open my lips and at the same time his right hand, which carried the remains of my tanzaku, moved near my mouth. In a strangely cheerful tone he told me,
“N… o… please…”
He slapped me with his left hand, waited a few seconds and then used the same hand to properly re-adjust my head, which had turned sideways because of his hit. He stared at me and I, under the peer pressure he seemed to unleash on me, opened my mouth with a whimper
“Good… now eat.”
‘Why? Why me? What did I do wrong? How did I offend him?’ I did as he asked. He sat on me until I first started to swallow the paper in my mouth, then he got up and approached the bamboo tree with a lighter in his hand. Alarmed, I tried to get up and stop him, I couldn’t so I tried to beg him. I couldn’t let him destroy it. I couldn’t let him destroy one of my few places I loved and cared for.
“Ah? …Wha… t… are you… doing? …No! Don’t! Please, don’t light it up! I… I won’t be able to make a wish anymore! So, please! I’ll do anything!”
“That’s exactly why it has to burn.”
I cried out loud as the bamboo tree caught on fire…
In the blink of an eye, another year went by and we all advanced a grade. Now our group consisted of me, Hou-kun, Ei-kun and Mida-chan. Ei-kun didn’t talk much with her, but he had accepted her presence around the end of second grade, so there was hope for more progress.
Unlike the year before last, this time we had our christmas party at Hide-kun’s house. Hide-kun’s house was slightly smaller than Hou-kun’s, but his parents were away for work and Hou-kun was staying at Ei-kun’s home, so we couldn’t host the party at his house.
It was during the end of April that Mida-chan started acting strange. Well, she always acted strangely, but around that time it felt like a different kind of strange, but since I didn’t think it was my problem, I ignored it. I was also busy with concealing the fact that my busted lip was Kazumo’s fault and not an accident.
“Ame, are you sure you don’t need to put a band-aid on it? Also, it sure looks painful…”
“It is but, no thanks Hou-kun, I don’t even think I can put a band-aid on it. Anyway, I just hope the others won’t misunderstand…”
“What can you do about it, it sure looks like you were hit by someone…”
Hou-kun believed me when I first told all three of them about my little wound, while Ei-kun just made a strange face as his eyes narrowed and Mida-chan stayed silent. I had to try my best at deceiving them.
“And I said I just fell, Ei-kun… Anyway, it’s time to go, recess is over.”
He said he just fell, but I saw! It was a boy from another school! He hit Notsuki-kun, who didn’t even try to resist! If I see him again, I’ll fuckin’ kill him! How dare he hurt him! Damn it… I’m really worried for Notsuki-kun… Why did he lie about it? Perhaps it was because he didn’t want to involve his friends… but still…
After the bell rang and school was over, Io-kun called me, asking to meet up near the gym. As I observed his still reddening face, I knew what he wanted to talk about, mom had already talked about this with me. She also reminded me that people have feelings, and that I couldn’t act like I normally did. In this situations, I had to behave like a good girl. Io-kun started to speak loudly as I thought about I could reject him without hurting him more than necessary.
“Mi… Mida-chan, I wa… wanted to tell you that I… I REALLY LIKE YOU! WON’T YOU PLEASE GO OUT WITH ME?”
He closed his eyes and bowed a little as his entire body trembled, probably in anticipation. I felt a little sorry, but I couldn’t accept his feelings.
“… …I’m sorry. I already have someone I like…”
“Ah… I see…”
He bowed his head even lower, and even if he tried to hide it, I could still notice that he was crying. I felt bad, so I decided to leave him alone and go back home.
During recess the next day, the topic was Io-kun’s confession. It seemed like the news spread fast and all my friends were gossiping about it.
“Hey Mida-chan, so, who’s the one like?”
“U-uh? I… I don’t like anyone! Why would I be interested in a bunch of kids!?”
I was startled. If they already knew about me and Io-kun, then, if I told them who I liked, wouldn’t that person come to know of this before I even had a chance to confess? Thus, in panic, I lied.
“That’s not true~ Io-kun told me that you turned him down because you have someone you like, fufu.”
“So it’s true that Io-kun confessed to Mida-chan yesterday?”
“Wow! To turn him down, the boy Mida-chan likes must be handsome!”
“N-no… I… don’t really…”
I felt overwhelmed. Why were they going so far when I told them I didn’t like anyone?
“Hey hey, do you think he is in this class?”
“Impossible… the only decent one here would be Eichirou-kun, but he is…”
“Yeah, he is always with him…”
“So the one Mida-chan likes is a senpai, right?”
“N… no… I… he’s… uuh…”
I tried to speak, I tried to retort them but the words wouldn’t come out. Should I really tell them? Or should I not, in fear of them telling this to others?
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Ooh~ Mida-chan is so mature~”
I was overwhelmed by them. It was the first time I felt like this, it made me cry in anguish. Since when was I so indecisive? Wasn’t it me the leader of this group?
“Ah! Sorry Mida-chan! We didn’t want to make you cry, we were just curious!”
“That’s right! We didn’t!”
“Forgive us, ok? I’ll let you copy my homework, okay?”
I got more than I asked for. As I thought ‘Jackpot!’ I told them I forgave them.
“… Hic… Okay… I forgive you… but stop teasing me! I… I told you I don’t have someone I like!”
As I said that the girls looked at me and smiled, reassuring me that they believed my words.
“Okay, okay, we’ll stop, we promise!”
“I promise, too! And good luck, Mida-chan!”
‘They didn’t believe me at all!’
The bell rung, signaling the beginning of lunch. I got up and took out my bento, but, being bigger than normal, it attracted my friends’ attention; exactly what I didn’t want.
“Oh, why is your bento so big, Mida-chan?”
“Ehm… I… accidentally made too much lunch…”
I tried to look away, I couldn’t come up with anything better and it was blatantly obvious that it wasn’t an accident.
“If it’s just that, then you can give it t– mmmhg!”
“Go on Mida-chan, see you later!”
‘Or maybe, it wasn’t really that obvious?’ I certainly hoped so as I watched one of my friends cover the mouth of another, but I knew in my heart it was just in vain. As I went out of the class to go and meet Notsuki-kun I heard their conversation.
“Oi, what was that for!”
“Are you stupid?! Obviously she made more lunch on purpose to give it to the boy she likes!”
“Ah… I almost said something I shouldn’t have, uh… Go for it Mida-chan!”
‘You certainly change your attitude fast.’ Her temperament made me chuckle a bit as I opened the door, which was usually kept open.
“What’s the point of saying it now that she’s already gone?”
‘I’m still here!’
I looked with trepidation toward Notsuki-kun, who had just finished eating his part of my bento. He made a wry smile as he turned his head to meet my eyes, and spoke
“Ah~ it was truly delicious, thanks!”
“Re- really? It was my first time cooking…”
“Yeah, it was very good; you surely have talent in cooking.”
“Thank you, I’m happy…”
His praises made me feel good from the bottom of my heart. I felt my face becoming hot, so, thinking it had probably become red, I looked down as he answered me.
“Ahah, what are you saying! I’m the one whose happy! Here, take this, it’s my favorite food.”
He passed me a piece of the food he took out of a wrapper he kept in his backpack, which he always brought around with him, lately. The food was seemed to be flattened bread which had been sliced open to insert some kind of dark brown cream in-between, probably chocolate.
“O- okay… It’s a bit salty, but it’s also sweet… it’s strange, but it’s quite good.”
The cream was in fact chocolate, and it was the one giving the sweet taste to the food, but the salty part came from the flattened bread. It was a strange mix.
“That’s right! And, that’s exactly what I like about it! I buy it sometimes at the bakery near the park where I live.”
He smiled as he talked about this curious food, it made me happy again and I thought about searching for that bakery to ask them the recipe. Surely, it was no secret, and at most, I’ll search on the Internet.
“Ehm… yeah… Ei-kun and I will go now… See you after school, then!”
“Uh? Why do I have to go with–”
“Shut up and come.”
‘Wha… what do I do? We’re alone…’ Eichirou-kun and Houtarou-kun suddenly went away, leaving us alone. I panicked inside as I didn’t know what I had to do at that point. As I was summoning my courage to confess to him, Notsuki-kun also got up and talked to me
“What are you waiting there for? Come on Mida-chan, we should get going too.”
“E- eh? …Wait!”
I felt like it was a now or never situation, so I bit my lower lip and spoke out.
“Say… C- could you wait for me behind the gym a- after school?”
‘Uuh… As expected, confessing here in a hurry might be too much, but now that I asked to meet up, I will really have to confess, else it will be too awkward between us two! …I think.’
“Oh? Uhm.. Okay.”
‘YES!’ I screamed in joy inside me. I wouldn’t know what to do or say, had he refused. Still, he didn’t refuse, so there’s no need to worry so much… for now.
Notsuki-kun gave me an inquisitive look before he started to walk toward the classroom, but I didn’t pay much attention to everything. Well, it was better to say that I couldn’t, my heart beat so much I thought it was going to explode.
¹ Tanabata: a Japanese star festival taking place around the 7th of July, it celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi.
² Tanzaku: small piece of coloured paper used for Tanabata, in which one writes his/her wish before hanging it a on bamboo tree.