"You now have the Hikigerms!"
"Nuh-uh! I used block!"
"You can't block Hikigerms! Run!"
All I wanted to do was ask where my missing lunch was. Then I was standing still, alone in the classroom with no traces of said missing lunch. Could I truly have harboured such an infectious disease that it couldn't be blocked? My hand wasn't green or purple and my veins were barely visible. Perhaps I received it from someone else. Hikigerms… Almost as if it was fated to infect me.
No, that was me trying to create a reality where such things existed and I was not a subject of elementary bullying; where no one stands by your side and the moment you are seen walking down the hallway by yourself the leashes are cut. They hunt you down and bite your skin with their words, tearing you into pieces in order to satiate their hunger.
And what do you do when your skin is ripped off with the sharp tongues of the pre-youth? The only thing you can when you scrape your knee or stub your toe against your dresser: cry.
Of course, crying in front of anyone makes you look weak, pathetic. A teacher will find you, comfort you, ask you for some names which you supply, and then you confront them. They give their apologies. And then they attack again, but even fiercer. A baby that cries; a crybaby. A kid who can't handle the tough words; a wimp. A person who can't handle reality; a loner.
Here's a trick I learned: keep your gaze down. Don't have them sneak up on you. If they don't make eye contact, they keep walking; not wanting to waste their time on you. The moment they catch you from behind, unable to see your expression, they attack. They give you a push and it will be the one time your shoe laces are magically untied. You trip, your manga scattered, your reading interests available for the whole pack to see.
No one even tries to be subtle and they will laugh and snort. They're only kids, some adults say. The ones who do take it seriously will repeat what other teachers have done and reprimand them. Then they will think it's been settled.
Kids, is not what we were.
Victim, is not what I was.
The devil, is what they were.
A loner, is what I am.
The signs were in the air. The summer breeze brushed my hair out of my eyes. The birds flew and landed near me, not afraid of my loud footsteps for some reason. The sun was high and scorching the sidewalk; the breeze not strong enough to null the heat. I saw a child, younger than my sister, crying because they decided to walk on their driveway barefoot. Their mother picks them up, giving them soothing words that were carried in the wind, and they were inside the house.
I couldn't tell you the last time my own mother did that. Not because she was a terrible parent, or that she coddles my sister more than me, no. It was because my pain became non-existent. If you were to ask them how I'm doing in school, they would say things are normal. No longer was I being antagonized.
They would be wrong.
Getting my parents involved in the mess that was my childish social life was a disaster. Once the pack gets a face to attach to the parent insults, they do not hold back. You defend your mother; you aren't seen as sweet or anything of the sort.
So, what better way to survive than to absorb like a sponge in overdrive, and I will retain the pain. I would react willingly and accordingly. Give them the reaction that will end the interaction.
That's right: I wasn't living; I was surviving. An exaggeration perhaps, however it was true. What else do you call hiding the corner of the hallway in order to avoid confrontation? Strategically entering the class in the middle of everyone to avoid getting the last seat in front of the person who likes throwing eraser shavings at the back of your head? Tactically waiting for every student to leave the classroom before leaving yourself?
I definitely wouldn't call that living a peaceful, harmonious school life.
But summer in the city would make you believe otherwise. The signs would lead everyone in this beautiful town think that the perfect day had arrived. Not much of a rush on the streets and dogs walking about with their owners.
And the odd girl stepping out of a car with a slight sheen that made it look grander than it actually was.
The way she walked was too proper for any ordinary elementary school student. She walked with a purpose, an aura of determination.
But I knew better. And the way the students around shuffled awkwardly; girls shooting her some of the fiercest glares I had ever seen.
Yet she took it in stride, doing the opposite any sensible loner would do. She kept her head up high, looking straight ahead.
Oh, but don't think I didn't notice the way her gaze would flicker to the ground. Perhaps she had an image to keep. Quite hilarious, for an elementary student. If you asked me, the more mature you tried to act, the more childish you appeared.
And who was that guy? The guy who just waved to her; the guy who made Miss Prim and Proper turn red and look away, embarrassed?
Bright blonde hair, energetic eyes, and a smile of comfort. I wonder if he's one of the alleged "perfect boys" in society. But for one to exist among children was practically unheard of.
He walked beside her, their steps in unison. Or perhaps the girl was simply trying to match his steps. They talked and I don't think the guy's smile faltered even once. And I don't think the girl's eyes met his even once.
Nice guys and nice girls… I wonder how different they are?
"Again?" I heard Mr. Perfect say with an exasperated tone. "That's the sixth time this week." I crouched to reach my shoe locker that was at the very bottom. Fitting, considering the caste this world seemed to have, even in elementary school.
"It's not a big deal."
The voice of an angel. My time to die has arrived already? Very well. Come! Take me to a place beyond this awful realm of-
"We should let the teachers know. There's no shame in getting help, you know."
I couldn't help but snort. I don't know about Mr. Perfect, but it was clear as day that Miss Prim and Proper was similar to me in the sense that she was a loner. And the first thing you learn is that you can't rely on adults to solve your problems. They make things worse, make you look weak. You become easy picking once an adult enters the fray.
"No." The solid determination backing up her refusal made me nod slightly as I grab my pair of indoor shoes. "Neesan wouldn't ask for help. She'd take care of it herself."
That was unexpected. Perhaps there were more differences between us after all. I refused to have a role model. That meant being inspired by someone who wasn't you, meaning you want to escape yourself. If I wasn't me, my sister would be devastated. So, I refused to change.
"…She would, wouldn't she? But I can't see Haruno-san getting picked on like this." The girl flinched and I narrowed my eyes. This guy knew where exactly to push it seemed. "But if she were to, I'm sure she would settle it with a nice, quiet discussion over some tea, don't you think so?"
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to laugh so badly it hurt. I stood up and began to walk away.
"Yes… yes she would."
Her shoes were there. It was the end of the day and there they were. It didn't take me more than a fraction of a second to realize the scheme the packs have devised, after all I saw the girl leaving the main office during lunch.
Steal her shoes, get her in trouble for not wearing her indoor shoes, and then place them back giving her no chance to use any excuse such as "I left them at home". And they knew the girl wouldn't say anything.
It was a plan created to ruin people like us. People who were unable stand up for themselves. People who couldn't rely on anyone. I didn't clench my fist in anger or irritation because I had already accepted that was the way things were in this world.
"Excuse me." I half-turned to see who was standing behind me. To my surprise, it was Mr. Perfect, his brilliant smile and all. "I was wondering if you would like to talk for a bit?"
I took a glance at his extended hand. How peculiar. Behind him, standing by the wall were some other kids staring at us with intense, curious expressions.
So that's how it was. "A dare, huh? Not interested."
He visibly recoiled before chuckling awkwardly. "Well, being honest, yes. But, I accepted because I know you're a good person."
I raised a brow and couldn't help but feel my irritation grow. If this was the kind of guy that girl likes, then I'm afraid there was no way in the depths of the coldest underworld we would have gotten along. "I don't like pity. Just leave me alone, or you might catch the Hikigerms," I spat. I didn't get a chance to see his reaction because I turned and left immediately. What does he know about me?
The distant murmurs echoing the school only amplified as I climbed the stairs to my classroom. I was reminded of flies, with their loud, annoying buzzing. And you just can't seem to get rid of them.
A classroom across from mine had a bunch of students huddled in front of the door. I glanced at my wristwatch. It was still lunch and I could probably grab something else from the cafeteria while everyone was up here.
But as someone who was always on the outside, watching strife occur somewhere else, particularly inside the pack, made me curious. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and positioned myself at the back of the large student group to try and see if I could hear anything, let alone see anything.
And it was then I saw a most spectacular sight. The girl, a tea set, and some vain hyenas. It was a sight from a comedy skit. I would have laughed if the tension wasn't so thick.
The girl was staring down at the desk in front of her, her hair covering her face. She was trembling, with her fists clenched tight. Her skin whiter than snow and her hair blacker than the night sky. I could see her head tilt slightly in the direction of us, the mob, but quickly returned to its original hanging position. In front of her was a tea pot and several tea cups, some spilled and broken. I couldn't hear anything the hyenas were saying, because they couldn't speak Japanese. No, they spoke in barks, not caring about anything they were saying.
I wondered. What should I do?
I looked for the guy, Mr. Perfect. I found him quickly. It was pretty easy. He's pretty tall with only the upperclassmen beating him in height and it's hard to miss that bright blonde hair.
I waited three seconds and yet he just stood there, watching everything from his throne, akin to a corrupted king.
I knew what I had to do.
If the great Mr. Perfect was unable to handle this situation, then no one could.
At least, peacefully.
I rubbed my hands together and took a deep breath. My eyes narrowed and my brow furrowed. I could feel my heart quicken as I prepared to do what no one else could.
"What the HELL are you all doing!?"
"...Coarse language and disrupted the student body. We expect more from our honour students. They are meant to be role models for the other students, not be a source of disorder."
"You're being way too obnoxious and noisy. I don't think my dog barks as loud!"
"…If they were causing you problems you should have sought a staff member. They would have been able to put an end to the whole affair."
"Huh, there's a broken cup. What'd you do? Sit on it?"
"…You cannot fight fire with fire. I know there's an urge to fight back, but the responsible thing to do is to stop and seek an adult. You'll get farther in life that way. You need to stay above bullies."
"Can you please stop talking? Your voice is grating on my ears. Huh? You don't know what 'grating' means? I guess your vocabulary is as small as your boobs."
"You're still young. Think of this as a learning experience. You must not provoke and fight if you want to make it. Isn't that why you came all the way out here? To get somewhere your local elementary school couldn't take you?"
"You're all so annoying, thinking you're so high and mighty by picking on someone who doesn't give a… shit."
"This won't hurt your chances or anything. You did nothing that warrants a suspension. However, please do not do this again. Not if you want to fit in with society someday. I'm saying this not for myself, but for you and your future."
"Get lost already."
"Yes, sensei…" I mumbled.
"Yes." I spoke louder and clearer.
The vice principal stood up and gestured towards the door. I exited; my head hung low. Not out of shame, but because of pride. I managed to do something, save someone, when no one else can. Because I was a loner.
Every single thing the head teacher said, was complete and utter nonsense. And I am living proof of that.
I looked up when a shadow cast over me. I raised my head and found myself staring into eyes containing the colour and vastness of the sea. It was the girl. Yukinoshita Yukino.
I was shoved to the side by the retreating girls who exited the classroom. They were in a rush. I didn't give them a chance to speak and before they knew it, they became too emotional that they couldn't properly defend themselves.
Quickly, I was alone in the classroom once the door slammed shut. I stared vacantly at the window across from me. The bright sky conflicted with the dark clouds of my mind. I felt myself going down a path. A path I wondered if I'd be able to leave.
As long as I remained simultaneously a nice guy and a loner, perhaps it was inevitable.
"Um…" I turned to see the girl. Miss Prim and Proper. I wasn't alone like I believed. She was silent, and her expression was one of shock. I couldn't tell if she was disgusted with me or grateful. I returned her stare and she recoiled. My eyes have been growing weary as I grow up. One day they will hold nothing but darkness and evil. My smile will no longer match them and it will be considered gross. That was my fate. But I had finally accepted it.
I couldn't stare at the girl for too long. She was a bit too cute. I turned my head. "Just to be clear, I didn't do it for you. They were just really annoying."
I hear her breathing calm down. It was erratic, as if she was being threatened at gun point. But now it's calm. I wonder just how bad have things gotten for this girl? "Is that so?" She whispered. "I agree. They are quite infuriating."
A vocabulary that matched mine. Not bad. I glanced down at one of the tea cups. It looked untouched. I never had tea before, but if she could have tea, then so could I.
I grab the cup without asking and raise it to my lips. It was a soothing taste unlike any other beverage. Punch has nothing on this. I placed the teacup back on its plate. "…That was pretty good."
She blinked. She moved a strand of hair in front of her face behind her ear. "Thank you. I… brewed it myself."
"Really?" I scratched the back of my head. She began putting the tea away in the small bag by the desk leg. "Um, do you need help?" I offered, sincerely. I know all-too-well the type of people who offers help but genuinely hope they do not actually require help. It happened far too often everywhere and I'll admit, I was guilty of it. But now, I only offer help if I'm serious.
"Take this cloth and wipe the spilled tea. Gather any broken glass shards but be careful. They can be dangerous."
I nodded and felt the urge to salute. I accepted the pink and white cloth and quickly cleaned up the mess those hyenas made. The cloth was soft and excellent at absorbing liquid, making my job much easier. I also picked up any glass shards I came across and placed them in a small plastic bag the girl had.
In no time we were finished. I dusted my hands then placed them on my hips. "Not bad if I do say so myself."
"Hm." She mumbled and turned to face me. "I…wish I could thank you with a gracious heart. However, I'm afraid you're going to be hurt because of this."
I shook my head and gave her a wry smile. "I'm already an outcast…This just makes me the talk of the school for a bit. And they'll stop bothering you. And we'll still be considered loners. It's a win-win if you ask me."
"Even so," she protested, her fists balled up. "I do not want you or anyone sacrificing themselves for me."
"I said it wasn't for you. Besides, I doubt I'll have to do it again. Just, stop worrying about me." Please. It was weird having someone who wasn't my sister worrying about my well-being.
She sighed. "If you insist. I know not to argue with stubborn people."
Aren't you the stubborn one?
She flicked her hair and smiled softly. "My name is Yukinoshita Yukino."
The way she announced herself was akin to royalty. I could feel the pressure from her name. It took me a second to digest each syllable. "Hikigaya Hachiman."
"I suppose we should-"
"What is the meaning of this!?"
"Uh…" I didn't know what to say. Yukinoshita was waiting for me for some reason. "Do you need something?"
She paused before nodding slightly. "I was wondering...you mentioned you're also an outcast?" I nodded, unsure of where she was going with this. "Then, by chance where do you eat lunch?"
I jabbed my thumb in the direction of the back-parking lot. It was quiet and nobody was there during lunch. "Back-parking lot. Why?"
"Morbid curiosity," she replied, smiling cheekily. She quickly turned around and strode out of the room.
"Morbid is right," I muttered, rubbing my face with my hand.
As soon as I stepped into the hallway, I could feel the air thicken. Even though nobody was looking at me, I could tell that from now on, things were going to be different for me.
As soon as I stepped out of the school into the back-parking lot, I let out a breath I seemed to have been holding. Things weren't as different as I expected. I was still a loner and no one approached me. The only difference was the quick glares and stares people would send my way. I would respond with one of my own and they would look away. I became a predator it seemed. No one knew when I would strike next and they couldn't do anything but wait in anticipation.
I've created a different world from the ordinary loner's, and I didn't mind.
"I see why you come here for lunch." I physically jumped to my feet at the voice. Behind me was Yukinoshita, who blinked in surprise at my surprise. "I apologize. I thought you knew I was here."
"What do you think I am? Psychic?" I grumbled, sitting back down before noticing she carried two lunch bags. "How much lunch do you eat?"
Her face reddened and cleared her throat, also clearing her blush. She abruptly handed me one of the lunch bags. "As thanks for yesterday…"
"Huh? Uh, you didn't have to go this far…"
"Think of it as compensation then."
If I get free food for tearing people apart, I might do that more often. I opened the lunch bag and saw a standard black bento box. The scent failed to contain itself inside the box, and I could feel my eyes begin to water in happiness.
Yukinoshita sat down on her knees. "Do you consume with your eyes, or are you going to open it?"
"I'm appreciating it! It's not everyday someone makes you lunch." I stated, hastily opening the box and in a matter of seconds I was already digging in with the supplied chopsticks. The food wasn't heavenly, nowhere near my mother's level, but for some reason it tastes better than it should. Perhaps the thought behind it and the effort put into it does affect the taste. "This is pretty good. I'm surprised you made it yourself."
"And I'm surprised you knew I made it. Have you been stalking me?"
I gave her an extremely dissatisfied expression. "No, I could just tell that a lot of effort was put into it."
She looked down at her own bento. "You're right. I'm still learning, but I'll get better someday."
"Of course. If you keep working, your efforts are bound to amount to something. Just don't be too upset if they don't. It's just as likely you'll get nowhere in life no matter how hard you try."
"Or maybe it's that mindset that leads to such results."
"Could be," I conceded. "However, everyone thinks that way."
"You're right. Doubts cloud everyone's minds and they end up despising those who are better than them. They target the more talented without putting any effort into bettering themselves. It's quite disgusting."
I put down my bottle of water and gave her a confused glance. "With that tongue, you could have ruined those bullies."
"And furthered myself from not just my fellow students but also the teachers? I need to keep my reputation as calm and collected. It's the only way to get to Tokyo University."
"We're only in elementary, you know. That kind of thing only matters in middle school."
She shook her head. "Elementary education may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things; however, I disagree. Some things your childhood sets as a precedent. Haven't your parents ever said something along the lines of 'ever since I was a kid'? Relationships and how you deal with social situations become a big part of who you are in the future. I want to be seen as reliable, calm, collected, and quite frankly… perfect."
Her words echoed in the air, or maybe just my mind. Her hair fluttered in the quiet breeze as she stared into the distance with determined eyes. I stared in the same direction but I couldn't say I had that same resolve.
A loner with a purpose. A loner stuck to one path. We were similar, but different. Is it possible then, for a loner to contract with someone like her?
"Yukinoshita. I feel like I understand you. I don't empathize with you, but I understand. That is why…I wouldn't mind being your friend." I gulped and waited with baited breath. I didn't look at her once but I could hear her body shifting.
I turned slowly to see her facing me, slightly surprised before smiling softly. "Yes, I wouldn't mind."
"I…don't know how friends are. Never had any. But…You can be perfect for the whole world. However, you don't have to be perfect for me."
"That sounds really-"
"Please don't ruin the moment for me," I quickly interrupted. It had been my dream to say something along those lines. She giggled before closing her bento.
"Yukino-chan!" I blinked at the sudden address and I could see Yukinoshita stiffen like a statue. She stood up and I followed. Jogging up to us was Mr. Perfect, smiling awkwardly as he stopped in front of Yukinoshita. "I was looking for you. The bell is about to ring and you're usually there right before the bell rings so I was worried and-"
"That's enough, Hayama-kun." Hayama's smile dropped and his eyes widened. I could only assume that was not a normal way of being addressed for him. "I am well aware what time the lunch bell rings. I can handle myself. You don't have to be looking out for me anymore."
Cold. Her words froze Hayama in place and sent shivers down my spine. I could feel the frostiness in her words, the spite. Days ago, she had a crush on the boy and now it was replaced with animosity.
I recalled Hayama standing outside the door, unmoving as the harassment continued. Why did Hayama, Yukinoshita's dear friend, stand by?
Betrayed. That must have been what Yukinoshita felt in that moment. The one person she could trust completely betrayed that trust.
Yes, if Hayama intervened everyone would think Yukinoshita was simply desiring attention from him. However, Hayama had the ability to stop that in attempt of making peace. A nice, popular guy like him would have no trouble doing that.
The two of us watched Yukinoshita open the door to the school, but not before turning around and giving me a blank stare. She was gone in seconds, leaving Hayama and me alone.
I was startled by the sudden question. "Why what?" I responded cautiously.
"Why did you do that? Ruin yourself to save her…What possible reason could you have?" I was surprised. He seemed desperate if anything. As if he simply could not accept the idea of sacrifice. Of course, could it be considered a sacrifice if I had nothing to lose?
"In case you didn't notice, my reputation's already down the drain. And when I see something like that happening, I don't just stand by. Not when I can do something."
I gave him a glare before leaving myself. I could only hope I never have to see him again.
The following day I found myself in a very similar situation. I stared at the bag being held in front of me. "What is this?"
I slowly took the bag from her hands and raised it to eye level. "Yeah, but why? You already repaid me, didn't you?"
She shuffled and her hands fidgeted. "Well, I want to improve my culinary skills and you need a taste tester for that. That and… since we're friends, I figured it was all right."
I was surprised at her bluntness and logic. I decided to just shrug and move on. "All right, not like I'm complaining."
"It sounded like you were."
"Well, you have to be cautious in this world. Always be ready for the unexpected!" I nodded wisely, and I could see her eyes roll.
"I'm quite envious of your carefree nature. Are your grades meeting the average?"
"Higher," I stated proudly, only to be disappointed when she hummed instead of stare at me in awe.
"That's good to hear. I suppose when you have lots of free time you study."
"Well…yeah." I attempted to refute the 'lots of free time' statement, only for no counters to come to mind. "What about you? Do you also study on your free time?"
Yukinoshita shook her head. "Of course not. I don't have free time. I study during my dedicated study time."
I winced at the mere concept of lack of free time. No video games? No reading? No anime? "That sounds terrible."
"On the contrary, it is only because I strive to be like…I mean, to become perfect. I've already mastered the arts of piano, dramatic arts, kendo, foosball, tenor and alto saxophone, ninjutsu, baseball, tennis-"
"Okay, that's enough bragging," I cut her off before she could keep going. Besides, could you even master some of that stuff at our age? Is she even my age? And foosball? Why not actual, physical North American soccer?
"Bragging? I suppose someone with inferior talents would think that," she scoffed before smiling.
"That's a bit rude, don't you think?" I sighed. Thinking back to her words, she aspired to be someone. In that aspect, we didn't see eye-to-eye.
"I don't think I'm wrong."
"…No, you're not. But now I'm starting to understand why everyone hates you."
"I… see. I suppose people see me as pretentious." Ignoring the big word, I nodded. "Is it truly unbearable? Perhaps it is. After all, my sister has so many friends…" She trailed off and her discomfort was visible all over her face. For acting all high and mighty, she sure has an inferiority complex.
"I don't really understand why you want to be someone you're not. In the end you'll realize you should just be your own person. So just skip the character development part." The way she was looking at me, her eyes wide and head slightly tilted reminded me of a kitten. That's a compliment, right? Kittens are cute and mischievous and resourceful and manipulative.
"Skip… I think I get what you're saying. But I refuse to take shortcuts. All my achievements I've earned through hard work." She stood up, dusting off her skirt. "Um, bye. See you tomorrow."
Wait, I was going to have to see her again?
The umbrella is an invention created to help deflect the cold tears of the clouds in the skies. Even under the force of a lot of water, the umbrella will stand strong and protect you from getting soaked. It doesn't take a talented individual on the level of Leonardo da Vinci to know when to use one.
Yet, watching my classmates rush down the sidewalk to the school, their strange clothes soaked, I couldn't contain my smirk. What, did they think Halloween was going to be bright and sunny? This is why you check the weather channel, for as inaccurate as it can be, it holds some sort of truth. If it says it's going to rain, it doesn't hurt to bring an umbrella even if it doesn't. If it says it won't rain… well still bring an umbrella. That's what you get for wanting to dress up as someone else.
I was suddenly shoved from behind. I panicked; did a stray dog from the pack sneak up on me? But that couldn't be the case: I just looked around me.
I turned around and to my surprise, it was Yukinoshita. I looked her up and down. She was wearing a pair of aviator sunglasses while clad in a blue shirtwaist dress with a large black belt across her waist. On her hip was a large device. A walkie-talkie, I assumed. On the other side was an empty holster for a handgun, which was nowhere to be found, and a pair of handcuffs attached. Her breast pocket had a badge clipped with the words 'Officer Police' engraved on it. And I couldn't forget about the police hat. Blue to match her dress with a badge that was an exact copy of the one on her dress.
I also noticed she was standing unusually close to me. "…Uh, what do you want?"
"I don't have an umbrella in case you didn't notice."
Ignoring her sarcastic response, I raised a brow. "Then why didn't you just get a ride?"
She blushed and turned away. "I didn't want my family to see…this."
I looked her up and down once again. She was soaked, so her clothes were dark and damp. "...I didn't think you were the costume type."
She cleared her throat. "Teachers appreciate it when students dress up. It makes them loosen up around you. So, if you combine that with a mature costume, they will still take you more seriously. Hence my police officer costume."
Huh. That wasn't a bad way of thinking. I then noticed something on her waist. "Is that a…price tag? Did you buy it just now?"
"I had to," she quickly said. "I couldn't bring a costume home for my sister to see. This was the only time I could go out on my own."
I could feel her gaze on me as I ripped the price tag off her dress. I handed her my umbrella and took her hat to check for any more price tags, and indeed there was another one. Wait a second, these were cheap! What were my parents talking about when they said costumes were expensive and they could only by one pair for my sister!?
I placed the hat back on her head and grabbed her handcuffs. It looked like she got rid of the price tag on this one already. I clipped it back on her waist and take my umbrella back. "Then why don't you have an umbrella?"
"I don't have one."
"…Eh?" I knew she always got a ride to school whenever the weather looked untrustworthy, which was quite frequent unfortunately, but the fact that she of all kids didn't have an umbrella was unusual. "Then you should have bought one at the mall."
"Does it matter?" She asked sharply, making my lips zip. "What matters now is that I don't have an umbrella and you do. So, let's be on our way before I'm late."
"Aren't you grateful?" I grumbled, slouching slightly as we walked to school. An odd sight we were. A slouching looking delinquent and Miss Prim and Proper. If it hadn't been a few months since we became friends it would have been awkward.
Nah, it was still awkward.
"By the way, what are you supposed to be? I can't tell if you're supposed to be a zombie or a Hachiman."
"Oi, what's a Hachiman supposed to look like?" She laughed, but I just grumbled even more and kept my eyes ahead of me. I noticed her laughter cease abruptly and gave her a glance. She was walking and looking to the right of us, straight at a fellow student. But not just any student, no Yukinoshita wouldn't waste her time with anyone else. She was looking at Hayama Hayato. I stopped but was suddenly pushed.
"Don't stop. Keep going."
I looked back at Hayama. "Awfully big umbrella he has."
"If I ever had to walk in the rain, he walked with me."
"Huh…" The only thing I knew about the two's relationship was that their parents were friends. And that Hayama and Yukinoshita were close before the incident. "So, why does he have a big umbrella today?"
"My mother probably contacted him, telling him I was going to walk to school today. My mother still thinks we're close, despite how I haven't talked to him since."
I nodded in understanding. If she told her mother that she and Hayama had a falling out, it would lead to Yukinoshita having to explain what happened that day months ago. Her mother seemed strict and full of expectations. Yukinoshita thinks her mother would tell her she should have stood up for herself or simply bear it. And she wasn't wrong, but at the same time you never get a chance to speak up for yourself when cornered. Yukinoshita invited them to a cup of tea. She invited them. She invited her harassers. People she knew hated her, people who knew she knew they hated her. If she even attempted to stand up for herself, it would lead to an even worst result.
In the end, what I did was the best-case scenario. No one got in trouble and the student body practically forgot the entire event happened. I'm back to being a forgotten loner. The only difference is that Yukinoshita's bullies stopped stealing her shoes, which definitely isn't a negative.
"What if he tells your family about me?"
She gave me a glance before growing an amused smirk. "Oh? What, that I have a friend? I don't see what's wrong with that. Hayama… he's a respectable person. He only wishes for everyone's happiness. If by chance he tells my parent's a lie about us, I'll sort it out. And besides…"
I gulped when she frowned and narrowed her eyes. I was witnessing the scariest monster on this spooky holiday.
"I don't think he's ever going to forgive himself."
It was even quieter than usual in the school halls. I suppose that's only natural, considering it was the first day back from the winter break. The heavy snow from last week filled the streets and as soon as I exited the building, I could hear the loud car horns from the distance.
I shut my eyes as soon as a cold breeze hit me in the face. Having lunch out here was not smart; it was nonsensical and plain dumb. But I refused to eat lunch in my classroom full of…people. Even if a surprising amount of them were absent.
I step forward, feeling the crunch of the snow beneath me. With my foot, I traced an outline of the characters 一匹狼. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best way to describe my status.
"A lone wolf, hm?"
I tripped forward, unwillingly erasing my writing. Behind me stood Yukinoshita, once again. I hadn't seen her since before the break and she looked even more proper. "I didn't think you'd come, in this weather."
"I could say the same for you."
"Well I happen to like snow."
We reached a pause. There was some sort of expectancy in the air. We were waiting for the other to make a move, say something.
I reached into my coat pocket and grasped a small trinket. I wrapped my hand around it, making sure I had firmly clasped it. I held it out in front of me and she instinctively placed her hand out. Gently, I placed the trinket in her hand. Her hands were soft, a lot softer than mine.
"Um, Merry Christmas."
She raised the small keychain up to her face, examining it at eye level. There was one conversation we had where she mentioned a series she 'liked'. And it was a design on her bento boxes. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any keychains of the mascot that were affordable so I settled with the next best thing: a cat. It was a small, white cat in a resting position. She mentioned once, that if she were to have a pet it would be a cat. The way she stated her preference without hesitation gave away her fondness for the animal.
I stuffed my hand in the same pocket, grasping something else. She noticed I wasn't finished and placed her hand out again, staring at my hand with a curious expression on her face.
I pulled out a tiny figurine. It was bigger than my thumb, but that didn't mean much. So, I placed it in her hand. "And happy birthday. Or belated."
My birthday is on the eighth month of the year, not close to any particular holiday. Yukinoshita had the unfortunate case of being born just over a week after Christmas. No doubt does her family join the two events together, meaning she gets half the presents anyone like me gets.
"A-ah…" Her hands were trembling as she held the two tokens with respect. It was something else, seeing her smile so big. I don't think she's ever smiled like that before.
I don't think I'll tell her the little figure was originally mine. I think it came with a special edition of the movie for its series. It has a little twig in its mouth and was holding a bottle. That's right, I gave her my Pan-san figurine. Though it's really small, I have a feeling Yukinoshita won't be losing it anytime soon. Not like me, where I ended up finding it under my bed with a lot of lost treasures.
"I…I really appreciate it, Hikigaya-kun."
I gulped as she carefully placed them in a pocket of her own jacket. From a larger pocket in her jacket, she pulled out a wrapped box. I quickly raise my hands to accept it before she dropped it. "Uh, can I open it?" She nodded but not before giving me a blank stare. One saying 'of course you can you dimwit'.
With care, I tugged on the bow and carefully ripped off the tape. I managed to save the wrapping paper!
"Wait, this is…"
She chuckled, not making eye contact with me. "It seems we had the same idea."
I beheld the item closely. It was a small picture frame. It was Pan-san themed and had line art of Pan-san around the placeholder picture. "Where did you get this?" I couldn't say I've ever seen this before. I trace Pan-san's lines with my finger.
"Destinyland," Yukinoshita answered with a troubled smile.
I quickly glanced at her before looking back at the item. "Well, thanks." I said lamely. I wasn't worried because Yukinoshita was well aware of my attitude.
"I hope you manage to put a worthwhile picture in there. It would disgrace Pan-san if you have anything else."
"Yeah." I'm not very photogenic though. I place it in my jacket's inside pocket and I bow in gratitude. She followed, although hers was much more elegant and pronounced. "To a new year, then."
"Yes. Let's make this new year a good one."
Love is a truth of the harsh world we live in. People love each other enough to die for their loved ones. The only love I'm familiar with is familial love, and this time I don't have to blame my loner status. I can blame my age and lack of maturity.
So why is my elementary school all crazy over this day that should be insignificant for people our age?
Everywhere I look, a girl's arm linked to a guy's arm, both carrying gifts or eating dark chocolate or sucking on a heart-shaped lollipop.
There was even one couple that were doing the traditional pocky cliché.
So, when school ended, I shuffled as best I could to get out, which was difficult. I wasn't the only one too. There were plenty of people uncomfortable with the sudden shift in the atmosphere for this day.
I reached my shoe locker before noticing a small crowd blocking the main entrance. I groaned inwardly and walked around the group, reaching the side to see what was going on.
Facing away from me was some non-memorable guy who wasn't from my class. Directly in front of him and facing my direction was Yukinoshita.
"Y-Y-Yukino! Please! Be my Valentine!"
I winced and my back straightened as a result. It was harsh and cruel. But understandably so.
There were several things wrong with his confession: he was way too forward, considering I doubt he's ever spoken to her, he referred to her by her given name, something not even I, her only friend, has done, the stuttering didn't help, and 'be my valentine'? First off, why was he doing the confessing? Was he American or what? What kind of fantasy world did he live in?
I looked around at the other couples who were beginning to leave. This kind of fantasy world, apparently.
Yukinoshita and I made brief eye contact and she turned around, leaving the building. I could tell she wanted me to follow her but if I do now, rumours will spread and the last thing Yukinoshita needs is rumours associating her to me.
I decided to take my time, slowly taking off my indoor shoes, slowly putting on my snow boots, and slowly putting my indoor shoes into the shoe locker. At this time, the number of students left were far and in between. I walk out the building before a sudden jolt of pain erupted in my side.
"Oi!" I rubbed my side. Yukinoshita had appeared out of nowhere like a ninja and elbowed me.
"What took you so long?"
"I was waiting for the crowd to disperse. Rumours and stuff," I hastily explained, still rubbing my side. I wondered if she learned some new fighting tactic that allows her to strike an opponent's critical point.
Yukinoshita frowned and grabbed my arm. She dragged me to the side of the school building. No one was here and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't anxious.
It was fast. Yukinoshita forcibly placed a clear, plastic bag in my hand before turning around swiftly and leaving.
I blinked and she was gone. In my hand was a bag of chocolate. I couldn't tell you if I've seen the brand before.
Unless it was handmade.
In that case, is this courtesy chocolate or…?
And then, how do you determine the value of something handmade?
I couldn't help but rub my palms against my pants. Over. And over. They were sweaty, and I didn't know why. I was nervous. I don't know if I've ever been more anxious. I just need to never put my hand into my pocket.
I had observed other males around, and like me, they were all just as nervous. The tension was suffocating. Everyone knew what day it was, even the younger grades. Thankfully, they just returned the favour without any serious feelings behind their actions. While us older students were actually expecting something.
Whatever the case, it didn't matter to me. I just needed to give it to her and leave as soon as possible. A true strategic tactic among loners: attack and retreat immediately.
I listened closely to the howling winds that carried snow. I couldn't do this outside but doing this in this weather wasn't exactly smart either.
I heard her footsteps and I turned around. Yukinoshita stood in front of me, in her black coat that went down to her knees. It was already being covered in snow.
She sighed and shook her head. "I cannot believe you can have lunch in this weather."
"Well, anywhere is better than my classroom," I chuckled awkwardly. She must have noticed a difference in my attitude because she walked towards me and I gulped.
My hands weren't sweaty thanks to the cold. I pulled out the bag and attempted to make a run for it.
Her grip was unlike any I've ever experienced. I could not move my arm in the slightest. I could feel her nails dig into my arm any time I tried to struggle, so I stopped resisting.
"Why did you try to run?"
She didn't release me. Using my free arm, I rubbed the back of my head. "You did the same a month ago."
"That was because I had to go. My ride was waiting and if someone didn't take so long to receive my…" She coughed. "…Then I wouldn't have had to leave so abruptly. You don't have an excuse."
"I'm just repaying you… Today is the fourteenth, you know."
"I know. If I let you go, will you not run away like a scared puppy?" I nodded, not before scowling which heightened her amusement. Her grip loosened and I quickly began rubbing my sore arm.
"That's one heck of a grip…"
"Useful for catching my prey," she teased.
"Just like a kitten," I mumbled.
"Anyways, thank you. Did you make these yourself?" She was genuinely curious it seemed.
"Yeah. Had to make something that was worth more than yours, you know? But you can't really make something worth more than homemade." That and I had no money to buy any. It was also helpful that I was the only person she gave chocolate a month ago, because that meant no other guy had any reason to return the favour.
She hummed. "I didn't know you were so sentimental."
"Hey, I'm the most emotional guy there is. So how about you stop insulting my eyes, since I'm so emotional?"
"I can't recall the last time I insulted your rotten eyes."
She giggled and smiled. Maybe it was the sun rays that were present, but my face began to burn.
I knew this meant I was growing an attachment for her. But it would never work out. She wanted to become like her sister… and I don't want to change. She wanted to make a difference… I just want to survive.
How can two people like us even match?
Yet… we get along pretty well.
I give my own smile to match hers.
I looked up from the ground and there she was, as usual. Standing in front of me with grace. She's been smiling more lately. She said I was less depressing.
"Here." I accepted the plastic cup carefully. Every now and then Yukinoshita would brew some green tea and I would happily accept it. A free beverage is free after all.
"It's surprisingly hot, isn't it?" I nodded. I was trying to gather my thoughts, then form proper sentences with them. Then articulate them. "I guess it's all over hm? Middle school is approaching..."
"Three more years... and then another three more years... It's a strange system, that's for sure." I sip my tea, taking a large gulp. "Yukinoshita, I-"
"Hikigaya-kun, are we friends?" She interrupted me with a question that shocked me to my core. My heart began to beat faster.
"Huh?" Was all I could muster.
"I just can't help but feel… no never mind."
"Never mind, huh? Will you ever bring it up again?"
She closed her eyes. "Yes. If we stay as friends, it will come up again. In a more certain future."
I wanted to nod, to say I understood, but she had her own complex thoughts running through her head right now. And she had the courage to say part of it.
"Hikigaya-kun, I'm leaving."
"…What?" She was so quiet I almost mistook her for a squirrel.
"I'm going overseas on an exchange. It's what I've been working towards." I waited two minutes until she spoke again. It was difficult understanding what this meant. "I will be back. I don't know when, but I will be."
"It's for the best, I get it." I did. To get a better position in society, this would secure it. I couldn't manage to look at her, in fear of her discovering my bottled feelings. "It's just… unfortunate." I wouldn't try and convince her because I know better than anyone how parents have the only say. And it's not like either of our parents are aware of each other's existence. "Let me guess, tomorrow?"
"Don't apologize. If you were sorry you wouldn't have waited until the last minute." She lowered her gaze and I could see her expression breaking. I lowered my own gaze, trying to sort out my own feelings. When I heard her shuffling in her bag, I looked up and saw her holding something rare for any kid my age.
"Is that a ph-"
Yukinoshita put a finger to her lips and I stop. She walked over to me stood by my side, our shoulders touching. She handed me the cell phone. "Can you take a picture of us?"
I didn't say anything but raise the phone in front of us. "Uh, now what?"
"Click the middle button."
It was silent, but the preview appeared and I coughed at the extremely awkward sight. It was fitting, for two loners under different circumstances.
My head was tilted slightly and my eyes were wider than usual. I was wearing a broken smile. I was just glad I didn't blush.
Yukinoshita looked more poise, standing straight staring straight into the camera ready to consume your soul.
"I wouldn't call that perfect…"
She pocketed her phone and smiled. "I disagree."
"You can't disagree with facts," I state to which she shook her head.
"Is water wet?"
She didn't respond and I attempted to rack my brain around her question. I snapped out of it hearing her sigh. "I suppose this will be the last time I see you?"
"Unless you decide to come back to Chiba, then yeah."
"Chiba…" she muttered, a tiny smile growing on her face. I couldn't tell you what that meant. She shook her head and gave me a bigger smile. "Thank you so much, Hachiman." I recoiled visibly from the use of my given name as something that wasn't an insult.
"Huh? I don't think I did anything worthwhile."
She closed her eyes and released a satisfied hum. "Sometimes…having somebody to talk to is more than enough. Wouldn't you agree?"
Her eyes opened and she stared at me with a familiar determined expression, as if daring me to refute her. I wanted to refute her and proclaim my status as a loner. Someone who doesn't need social interaction. And yet…
My second story for Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatteiru. I love this series.
So I decided to give my own take on Hayama's lovely suggestion of Hikigaya going to Yukinoshita's elementary school.
Personally, I'm quite happy with this.
They definitely don't speak to each other like normal elementary students but that wouldn't be very interesting, now would it? I tried to make Hikigaya more carefree since this was the beginning of his loner days. He's definitely not as cynical as he is in the main story of Oregairu. Yukinoshita was difficult since she relied on people when she was young, but then stopped. So, having Hikigaya there made her move on to him from Hayama. And yeah, I know their interactions were really short but I tried! I didn't want to mess them up too bad.
Oh, and just so people know: this is a one-shot, like the last story. If people really like it and demand a sequel, then maybe but this is a one-shot. There were a lot of people who followed my last story.
I really, really want to know what you guys think. I would love to know where I went wrong with their characterizations for the next time I write an Oregairu story. Let me know what you guys think.
I hope you enjoyed this!
EDIT - 28.06.18
- Removed the fact that they were at an American elementary school. Don't trust the Oregairu wiki! Instead, trust RalphZiggy! Seriously, they know their stuff and have proof.
- Some typos/grammar issues fixed