And then, until the time of our appointment, I relaxed in my room.
Five minutes before seven o’clock, that was the timing that I left, heading towards Horikita’s room.
Almost at the same time, Ichinose emerged by the neighbouring elevator.
“Ah! Good evening, Ayanokouji-kun.”
I lightly raised my hand as a response to her greeting.
“Excuse me for the disturbance.”
“Ahaha! I am the one disturbing you, tonight, so it’s alright.”
After saying that, Ichinose took the initiative and rang the doorbell. Immediately, we heard the key turning from the inside, unlocking the door.
It was scheduled to wait for us at seven o’clock. It wasn’t strange to come at the same time, so Horikita invited us to her room without saying much.
I sat comfortably on the floor.
I had visited Horikita’s room before; since then not much had changed, it was pretty much the same as mine, an ordinary dull room.
“I am sorry for calling you to come here on a weekday night, Ichinose-san.”
“But you did this out of consideration for me, didn’t you? So, please, there’s no need to apologize.”
No matter how many times I have met her, I always get the feeling that she is the usual Ichinose.
“Well… If we spread our conversation too long we might reach tomorrow, I do not intend to engage in long talks so…. Right away, I am telling you that it’s about the many upsetting rumors that are going around, lately.”
“Yeah. Who is spreading these rumors?”
Horikita asked Ichinose-san quite frankly.
I was curious to see if Ichinose would answer the question with honesty.
“I cannot say that I am absolutely certain, but that might be Sakayanagi.”
Yes, that’s it. She answered more clearly than I had expected.
If she was less than half certain, Ichinose would not have mentioned the name of a particular person.
That’s because she is not the kind of person that suspects people randomly.
From these points, I was able to see the true facts.
At least Ichinose has a concrete sense of who is spreading these rumors.
“Sakayanagi-san… Why do you believe that it is most likely her?”
“To put it simply, it is because a war was declared. Isn’t that enough of a reason?”
Horikita already knows that Sakayanagi has a belligerent personality.
If you think about that, in order to defeat Katsuragi, she did not hesitate to deepen the conflict within her own class, then it is easy to imagine that, in order to defeat Class B, she would aim at Ichinose who is their leader.
“No. That’s more than enough.”
Because Horikita thinks the same way as I do, she did not need to listen any further.
“She is passing along these unfounded rumors so she can force you to accept the damage.”
“Uhm… How should I say it”
“You are not denying the rumors?”
“I’m sorry Horikita-san. I cannot answer you about this part. Horikita-san and Ayanokouji-kun, you’re friends of mine, but still, you are students from a different class. We may be in a cooperative relationship but aren’t we destined to fight each other sooner or later?”
Ichinose who seemed willing to answer any question at first, by saying this, refused to give us an answer.
But that’s a logical choice.
“I do not intend to get an answer out of you, forcibly. But your silence may be perceived the same as admitting that these rumors are true.”
“Horikita-san, you are free to listen and decide about the rumors, the same goes for everyone else. However, I am not going to overreact at all. Sakayanagi-san’s strategy is to disturb Class B. The only method to this game is silence.”
Ichinose showed us her smile. It was as natural as ever.
This type of harassment happens everywhere in everyday life and there is not a 100% solution to this. You may deny aggressively the rumors or you can stay silent. But in the end, the spectators will make a fuss however they like.
Thus, Ichinose chose to simply not do anything and just wait for the time to pass.
“I thought that I should meet you, Horikita-san today and talk about this because I want to tell you not to step into this matter carelessly. If I just continue with silence, the rumors around me will calm down, eventually. It just takes extra time. Above all, there is no need for Class C to investigate Sakayanagi-san in order to help me. I’m gonna be fine.”
Ichinose said that with a firm voice, her smile unchanged.
“I know that your heart is brave, but, no matter what the truth is, anyone who gets caught up in such awful rumors, will suffer damage. Moreover, you are doing this, not only about yourself, but for the people around you, as well.
“I’m not such a noble person.”
Looking a little embarrassed, Ichinose continued.
“That’s why Horikita-san and your team should continue as usual. I will clean my own mess!”
As soon as Ichinose said that, she stood up.
It seems that her sole purpose for coming to this meeting was to just warn Horikita to stay out of this matter.
“Have you got any idea what is going on with Kanzaki and the others?”
Although, it wasn’t the right moment, I decided to step in.
“The other day he confronted Hashimoto of Class A, he requested to stop spreading those rumors. No, it was way more than a request…”
“Kanzaki is such a kind guy. I see.. even though, I told him that I would be alright and that he should not do anything…”
“It is not only Kanzaki-kun. There must be a lot of your classmates who are trying to do something for your sake.”
Even though Horikita had just heard about Kanzaki’s incident her guess was most likely true.
“Then allow me to talk to my classmates once more.”
“If you do not mind, could we end this conversation, here?”
“Are you really okay with this?”
Horikita asked Ichinose one more time, just to reconfirm.
Ichinose answered without hesitation.
“I thank you for your concern. Also, Ayanokouji-kun, thank you for coming so late at night, just for me.”
“No need to thank me, I’m just tagging along.”
This time, Horikita didn’t try to stop her from leaving.
Ichinose wished us good night and left the room.
“I wonder if there is really nothing we can do.”
“Well, it is hard to say.”
Based on our latest encounter, nothing has changed in Ichinose’s stance.
Rather than try to act that she is strong, she is trying not to think about it. That is the impression I got from her.
“What do you think I should do?”
“Do you want my opinion?”
“Yes. I want your honest opinion.”
Horikita said without hesitation.
“Then, you should do nothing.”
“If the source of the rumor is really Sakayanagi, as Ichinose says, Class C will draw her attention because you will be involved in this matter.”
“Yes, but what if Ichinose-san loses to Sakayanagi-san? Won’t Class C be her next target, anyway?”
That’s a trivial point, of course. Whichever wins, our class will be targeted in the end.
“It might be sooner or later that our class will be targeted, but until that time, the annoying Class B leader will be crumbling down. We should be grateful for that, at least.”
“Are you saying that it doesn’t matter what will happen to Ichinose-san? That is really cold-hearted.”
“Cold-hearted? Isn’t this your stance from the very beginning? It is a different matter when it comes to helping one of our classmates, but Ichinose is from a different class. She is an opponent we have to fight and defeat, eventually. If she is defeated by someone else as long as there is no loss for us then, there’s no reason to worry about it.”
“We have created a relationship based on a united front with her. At least, until Sakayanagi’s Class A falls and brings them to the position of fighting Class B directly..”
“This is quite an idealistic plan, isn’t it?”
Conveniently, Class A falls into the position of Class C, allowing my class and Ichinose’s class to face each other for the positions of A Class and B Class. But, this is nothing more than a dream story.
I do not know if we are in a position to rely on her. Especially when Ichinose herself refuses any help offered.
If it was the Horikita of the earlier days of this semester, then she would not push further for this agreement.
How and why did she come up with this idea?
Well, my guess is, because she is aiming to improve her relationship with Kushida.
“You should leave it alone.”
Horikita also truly understands that this is the best thing to do.
That’s why I did not argue against her, strongly.
This time, we did our duty to our allies and showed our worry about their troubles, by being ready to help Ichinose. That should be good enough. Class C should be quietly trying to catch up to other classes without standing out. Moving slowly towards the top while the others are taking each other down is the most efficient strategy.
However, the most important thing is ‘to not offer help to anyone’.
I gave her my opinion because she asked me. It is Horikita who will decide what to do in the end.
Horikita probably won’t be involved with Class B any further.
That is mainly because she does not have the means to improve Ichinose’s situation until Ichinose herself decides to change her stance on the matter.
“I am heading back, too. It is not allowed for a guy to be alone with a girl in her room, this late at night.”
I would be in trouble if I stayed there after 8 in the afternoon.
Horikita, lost in her thoughts, said that without even looking at me.
Horikita has started to change, little by little.
However, in the midst of such extreme fluctuations, the tendency to lose sight of herself and be swept away by her surroundings has increased.
For the time being, the hard times will continue both for herself and others.
Can she reach her true self beyond that? That’s the important thing.
After leaving the room, I saw Ichinose standing in front of the elevator.
She looked at me and raised her hand with a smile as if she was waiting for me to come out of the room.
She called me in a low-pitched voice and as soon as I reached the elevator she dragged me in.
Ichinose pushed the button for the ground floor and we descended to the lobby.
“Could you keep me some company for a little?”
“I would not mind but…where are we going?”
“Hmmm. Let’s go outside for a little.”
We got off the lobby. There was no presence of anyone else around and we headed outside.
The sun was falling down already and as it was getting darker, Ichinose and I walked towards a sitting area in the middle of our school grounds.
“I know that it is cold but… I do not want to attract any attention.”
“I understand, but, are you really alright Ichinose?”
“I’m fine. Ah, well… How should I express this… I am really sorry.”
The first thing that came out of Ichinose’s mouth was words of apology.
“Why are you apologizing?”
“I have caused trouble for Class C as well as for you Ayanokouji-kun and also Horikita-san. Because of those rumors I’ve made you worry unnecessarily about me. Anyway, please forget about it.”
“Is this what you are telling to Kanzaki and the others, as well?”
“That’s the best response that I have. I won’t break this stance until the rumor disappears.”
As soon as she said that, she looked at me. Her gaze was full of determination. When she talks like that I can see why Kanzaki and the other students of Class B have no other option, but to follow her wish.
“That’s all I wanted to say. It’s getting cold. Let’s go back.”
We talked for just a little.
She urged me to go back first, so I returned to the dormitory earlier than her.
My everyday life became busier.
Without doing anything else, I spent my time surrounded by people.
It was somewhat difficult, but I guess that was the daily routine I wanted to obtain.
A presentiment of reaching an answer.
However, at that time a senseless thing happened.
It was at night-time. The phone that I left beside my pillow was quietly vibrating. The clock was showing past one in the morning.
When I checked the phone that was buzzing at such an absurd hour, I figured that it was a number I hadn’t registered on my contact list.
However, I didn’t think someone from outside of the school was contacting me.
Mobile phones used within the school could only call assigned phone numbers.
It was set in advance that you were unable to receive other calls and you couldn’t change that.
That was made so that an outside group couldn’t contact us indiscreetly. It’s not a particularly unusual function; it was a security system used even when children are given their own cell phones.
In other words, under a premise that I didn’t register this number, it could be anyone from here. I just wasn’t sure if it was a student or teacher.
While being somewhat on guard, or perhaps should I say while still being sleepy, I answered the call.
I pressed the phone by my left ear.
I couldn’t hear the voice from the other side.
The silence continued.
However, the sound of breathing slightly reached the tip of my ear. I waited for some move, but for about 30 seconds, we were both silent.
“Since you won’t speak, I’ll hang up,” I warned, being tired of bullshit.
The caller said my full name. A voice I couldn’t recognize at all.
But from the youthful voice, I wouldn’t say it was an adult. Therefore, it was highly possible that it was a student.
“Who are you?” I replied.
Once again the silence continued.
And then, the caller hung up.
“Don’t just say my name.”
It would be naive to just take this incident as a case of someone calling accidentally a wrong number.
“In other words, you might have finally made your move…”
It was a trivial question who this person was. His movements against me, as dictated by his plan, had begun to be revealed.
But the strange thing was, why did he decide to reveal himself to me in such an absurd way?
If he’s contemplating on forcing me to drop out of school, then he should have made more of a surprise attack, rather than threatening to intentionally crush me.
Somehow, there was an unattainable sense of authority in that guy …
Either way, there is no going back from what he had just started.