Date written: 30/04/13 – 15/02/14
Posted on FanFiction: 16/02/14
Revised and Included a longer A/N: 24/02/14
–– CHAPTER 14 ––
An Unforgettable Summer Night (I)
My watch told me that it was nearing seven in the evening. The sun had long since sunk under the horizon, bathing the skies of Tohya city with midnight blue. The moon was as whole as the sun, but, as always and as it should be, not as bright. The streetlights lining the street across each side of the bookstore were lit on, but they were like afterthoughts compared to the summer light banners adorning the whole shopping district. It definitely emphasized the feel of summer, and though we were still far from the festival proper, it felt as if I could smell the takoyaki from here.
"Neh, neh, senpai," Rika called, grabbing my attention away from the festival's general direction, "what do you think of the outfit Rika is wearing?"
A rare sight was in front of me. Out of the baggy lab coat she had worn ever since I had met her and into a cute purple yukata with an old-fashioned artistic rendition of flowers decorating about the fabric and held together by a yellow obi, she really stood out among her clubmates because this was such a drastic change. Not to mention how she let her hair down.
"Does Rika look good?" she asked, touching her cheek.
I nodded. "Yeah. You can actually pull it off when you try!"
Her eye twitched. "Well . . . Rika will just consider that a compliment," she deadpanned. "Should've expected that. Really should have."
"Hmm? What was that?"
"Hmph!" She crossed her arms. "Nothing at all."
"It's a little frustrating how uninterested you are."
Her words were too quiet to really hear, so I decided to drop whatever curiosity I had and turn my attention to the others. My eyes widened when I saw Yukimura. A maid outfit, I could understand, because Yozora tricked him into wearing it. A two-piece, I could also understand, because it was also a suggestion from Yozora, and the alternative would've been a fundoshi. But a female yukata?! And not only that, it looked so damn good on him that nobody—and I mean nobody—would think of him as a man. I was in the middle of a conundrum due to this: the Yukimura I know is a guy, a guy, a guy, a guy, a guy, a guy, a guy, yet the Yukimura I was seeing looked like a girl, a girl, a girl, a girl—
That was close. My brain almost overloaded.
"Uh, Yukimura," I said, regaining my bearings, and pointed at his outfit, "why are you wearing that?"
He blushed and looked down. Goddammit, why does this trap have to be so irresistible?!
"Does it look horrendous on me, Aniki?"
"Actually no." I scratched the back of my head, eyeing him up and down. "I'm more surprised that it looks so natural on you. Almost as good as Rika."
The two people in question blushed harder, Rika giving a tiny squeak as she turned away from me again. From the corner of my eye, I could see Yozora scowling. Was she perhaps jealous . . . that she wasn't wearing a yukata as well?
"Well," she said, looking at all of us, "now that everyone's here, let's go."
"Yozora-senpai, Sena-senpai isn't here yet."
"So? I already said everyone's here."
Ouch. The enmity was almost tangible. Rika wisely dropped the question.
Yozora headed towards the festival proper and we were still unsure whether or not she was just kidding about earlier, but somehow understood in our heart of hearts that, yes, she was completely serious about leaving Sena in the dust. Unfortunately for her, the busty blonde of our group arrived just in time to hear what was said.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean, stupid Yozora?"
Sena was also garbed in a yukata, a dark bluish flower-laden ensemble held together with a red obi. Her hair was done up in a high ponytail with her trademark blue butterfly ornament acting as the tie. Her face held a scowl, its annoyance directed solely on Yozora, and if this were an anime you could see, rather than just sense, the lightning glare radiating between them. But other than that, my observation of Sena's whole outfit was . . . was . . . gah, it was impossible for me to think straight. She was just so dazzling, and though she had the look of a foreigner, she fit into the traditional Japanese clothes so well that blood was gushing up my cheeks. And my eyes wanted to keep looking at her.
I was hit in the head a moment later by Yozora.
"What the hell was that for?"
"Nothing at all," she replied and then walked away.
She ignored me.
"What's up with her?"
"Senpai no baka," Rika drawled before following Yozora.
"Eh? You too, Rika?" I stood there, stunned, watching the two girls' backs going farther into the distance. "What did I do?"
"Who knows," Sena said nonchalantly, but I spotted the quiver in her lips, as if she were doing her best to not smirk. "Let's go."
Feeling like I'd just missed something very important, I followed the others without a word or a complaint while rubbing my aching head.
I never thought I'd end up wearing a yukata of all things to the festival. When was the last time did I wear one anyway? Hmm, was it when I was four?
Well, failed recollections aside, the mirror in front of me showed a slightly intimidating figure, and it was not the kind of aura I had intended in the first place. This was the best-looking yukata I saw in this rental shop's collection—I liked it the most too—but what I expected to make me look my best clashed with cruel reality. I almost wanted to cry.
But it was not all bad; Kobato got into her own yukata and she really liked it. Now if only the pedo-lezzy girl cooing and drooling all over her would stop creeping the both of us out. The store clerk, an all-smiles brunette in her twenties, seemed to have experience with strange customers like us, looking not at all fazed by a blonde foreigner with an obsessive fixation on who looked to be her little sister (except Kobato was not her but my little sister) and a, what Sena termed, "someone who looks like a certain guy on the news who went crazy at a coming-of-age ceremony." Kobato looked to be the most normal of us, despite her pseudo-heterochromia still in place.
"An-chan," Kobato called, gazing down at her clothes and doubling her efforts to ignore the 'Kawaii!' mantra Sena began to spout, "how do I look?"
I smiled and patted her head affectionately. "It looks great."
"Really. Most definitely." I tried my best to ignore Sena's creepy giggles in the background.
"By the way, Kodaka," Sena said, somehow converting from crazy to sane in an instant, "you . . . never really thought of dyeing that hair of yours, do you?"
My voice turned solemn as I put my hand on my hair. "It's not a question of whether I thought about it or not. You already know why I never dared to dye it black."
On that night at her mansion, we talked the night away. At some point, she ended up asking me why I persisted with the color of my hair if I was so desperate (her words) in finding a friend. It would have been better, she advised, that I dye it so I wouldn't be mistaken as a delinquent so frequently. I answered that question as best as I could and she never brought it up again. This hair of mine was the only thing I inherited from Mom, unlike Kobato, who took after her a whole lot. My memory of her was already fading—and the only thing really keeping it alive were the few pictures we had of her . . . and my hair.
Every time I look in the mirror, I see those strands of blond on my head, and I immediately think, 'This was from my mother.' Before she died, she was my and Dad's whole world. Kobato was too young to really understand much, but even she was affected by it somewhat, because whenever Mom was there, she never cried. We revolved around her; she was the sun of our solar system. Everything felt great when she was around, and though all I could remember were hazy images, the feelings captured in those moments never really disappear. They resonated like a machine activating its reserve battery. My feelings then were of insurmountable happiness. Happy to be alive, happy to be there, happy to see her smile, happy to have her hug me, happy to have her love me. To destroy the only link between us was impossible for me to consider. I would think of it, yes, but never consider. Never at all. I'd concede if I end up going bald, because that situation is out of my hands, but willingly covering up the blond hair with black was a different story.
She stayed silent for a moment before saying, "Yes. She must've been a great mother."
"Yeah, she was," I murmured, absently noting Kobato sliding her hand on mine, trying to provide comfort whichever way she could. "How about your mother?"
"What about her?" Her eyes darted to the side.
"Come on, now, you know what I mean. You never really talk about your mother at all, other than the bare essentials anyway."
"And what else is there to ask?" she retorted, her tone going defensive all of a sudden.
"You could at least tell me a story about you and her."
"But what if there's no story at all? What then?"
". . . never mind." She turned her back to me, facing the exit. "The others are waiting. Let's go."
Her tone had taken a drastic turn, emanating a sort of arctic chill that left me stunned, rooted to where I stood, but only for a second. Instincts somehow took in and I followed Sena out, still holding onto Kobato's hand but she had to tell me that my grip was getting too tight and painful.
The others had already gone ahead, so the rest of the way—from the crowded streets to the long stairways leading to the shrine and the festival proper—was just the three of us, but we were all quiet. A barrier had been erected where it shouldn't have been in before, and any attempts I tried to make were swept back into the drawing board before they could see the light of day. I opened my mouth during our walk dozens of times to ask some questions, but the more it lingered in my head, the less I felt inclined to vocalize it. There was just something in Sena's gaze that made me hesitate. She was being elusive about the topic, I knew that much, and my curiosity was peaked, but did I really want to risk the shaky relationship I was in with her for a simple question I could ask later on when she was comfortable about the subject with me?
I forced some answers out of Jun, though, my mind had the gall to opine, right when I was about to come to a decision. If it worked on her, then shouldn't it also work on Sena?
It sure could. But then again, it could also end up blowing up in my face . . .
I took the coward's route and kept my silence, in the end.
I kept telling myself that I'd eventually come to it once Sena was more comfortable with the topic, but with the way things were going I doubt I'd be able to wring some answers out of her within the year. It was not feeling at all, it was a fact, and it was a fact I had to contend with for the rest of the night. Thankfully, my mind found recycling the same thought over and over, while easily the kind of torturous thing it would do because of some unwritten rule that the more you want to not think of it is the time when you think more of it, to be irrelevant once we as a group started on the reason why we were here in the first place.
Everyone except Maria had unanimously decided to wait for us before delving into the takoyaki stands this festival boasted with shoulders high and chest out. Why Maria was excluded was because of the many things she had already consumed from the time they got here to when we got here. Fried squid, hotdog on a stick, choco banana, okonomiyaki, toffee apple, the list went on, so it was most likely a safe bet to include takoyaki in the list. I didn't really mind; the girl was young and a glutton, but her metabolism tends to work on overdrive—now there's a reason why she's so fixated on poop at times—that it might be impossible for her to actually get fat.
Still, I felt like a worried parent witnessing his daughter eating a banquet of what was akin to carny food, and that did wonders to her malnutrition intake. Well, I could at least let her splurge on these things every once in a while. She looked happy and excited after all, though I had to wonder where she was able to put it all because her stomach wasn't at all bloating up like a balloon.
"Well," I said, scouting the stands erected on either side of the path leading to the main shrine temple, "time to look for some good takoyaki."
"I shall accompany you on this endeavor, Aniki."
The others opted to stay, so it was just me and Yukimura going from stall to stall, buying a few packs of takoyaki. I was eager to try them out now, but such eagerness would mean opening these boxes prematurely and gobbling up the delectable squid balls before the others got a chance to even see and smell them. Yukimura was already familiar with where each and every takoyaki stall was, so it was only a matter of following his lead and buying the food.
The festival was in full swing, and though it was easy enough for us to worm our way through the crowd, the smell, noise, and lighting was close to overwhelming. You could even hear the shouts and cheers from store vendors on the other side of the shrine, although my logical side insisted that I was exaggerating. There were people from all around celebrating and being merry in this happy-laden atmosphere, from young children running around and playing the festival games to old couples enjoying the activities of the young and feeling the nostalgia that they were once like the upbeat, loud, and excited young'uns they see before them. It was a festival that attracted people and it was a festival that made them happy and alive.
I tried not to smile too visibly, lest I scare away someone who chanced upon seeing it, but the enthusiastic aura of the place was contagious. Two kids even bumped at my side, saying sorry over their shoulders, and disappeared into the crowd, but that did not put away my smile at the least.
Yukimura stopped in front of another stall and informed me that this was the last one he saw selling takoyaki before the group returned to the top of the stairs in wait for the three of us. I looked down at the haul he and I gathered and deemed that it was adequate enough for our purpose here. Better to eat these things ASAP than scour the festival end-to-end for every takoyaki we could get. Besides, I bet Sena and the others were already hungry for some of the delicious treats.
"So this will be our last stop before returning?" Yukimura asked, adjusting the half-dozen boxes in his hands.
"Yeah," I replied simply, and stepped in front of the vendor even when he was still in the middle of thanking his previous customer for their patronage and whatnot. He looked at me and didn't bat an eye. Just smiled and did his opening spiel for buying customers.
"What'll ya have, sonny?"
"The best takoyaki you have, Ossan."
He grinned. "Gotcha." Then he hollered to someone in the back. "Oi, Jun-chan! We still 'ave some o' that special takoyaki ya made?"
Jun-chan . . .? Don't tell me—
No, don't jump to conclusions, I thought to myself. Jun is a common enough name. Yeah! I mean, what're the chances of 'Jun-chan' being the same Jun I know? A very slim chance, that's what!
Someone emerged from the back—
"We still have this last box of it, but I was kinda saving it for—"
—and our respective jaws dropped.
Probability. Why do you hate me so?
"Hahaha! So ya two know each other, eh? Who woulda thunk it?"
"Yeah," I replied, almost murmuring the words, too busy gaping at the yukata Jun was wearing, "who would . . ."
Growing self-conscious, she tried to fold herself inward—a slouched back, head bowed with vibrant rosy cheeks and ears, and arms forming a V, the hands intertwining at waist-level—but only managed to make her look shy and humble. The yukata was a vibrant red with orange flower silhouettes spreading around and over the cloth as if the sewer did not want to be outdone with the amount of flowers they could include. The yellow obi was well made and wrapped her waist quite nicely. This wasn't the first time I'd seen Jun in a yukata, but that had been when we were in middle school and still in the early stages of development to maturity, so the one particular aspect that was small back then had now looked to have gone through several growth spurts since I had left. They were covered modestly and though they weren't as big as Sena's, they were bigger than the average Japanese teen. I barely noticed it on our little get-together a few days ago because her clothes never really tried that hard to accentuate them, but in this red yukata, where the fabric seemed to have been provided a challenge not unlike Sena's own, the chest part of her left nothing to the imagination. She even put her raven hair up into a high ponytail not unlike how Rika wears it.
"Fancy meeting you here, huh, Kodaka?" Jun said, gathering her courage to say it all straight and optimistic, but the higher pitch in her voice belied her confidence and proved that she was as nervous as me, maybe even twice over. I knew her enough to realize that she was again shy of being out and about wearing a yukata of all things.
"Y-Yeah." I tried to hide my own nervousness, but it seemed Jun was doing a better job than me. "You're helping out?"
"Right, she is," the takoyaki vendor said. "But her shift is al'dy over, so she's free tah enjoy the festival for the rest of the night."
"Eh?! But Yusuke-ooji-san—"
"I'll be fine on mah own, Jun-chan. Hahaha! These ol' bones can still whip up a good takoyaki cuisine that I'd be arrested for makin' it so darn good."
Her surprise formed into a frown of bewilderment. "Are you sure? Remember the last time you strained yourself?"
He flinched, but put up a brave smile. "Learned mah lesson there, I did, Jun-chan. I may not be as young as I used tah be, but that don't mean yah can't teach an ol' dog new tricks."
She looked torn between wanting to continue helping out and wanting to explore the festival had in store for tonight. And then there was me in the equation as well. While I would've liked to spend this night with my clubmates and the takoyaki we'd eat, I wasn't about to just leave Jun high and dry, going around the shrine without a companion. It kind of hit home where it hurts for me, seeing an old friend spending her time in the festivities alone, so I decided to just man up and pitch in. I mean, what's the worst that could happen?
"You don't mind tagging along with us, do you, Jun?"
She turned to me, still looking shy and maybe a little edgy. "I don't know. I mean, I don't want to ruin the night for your girlfriend."
"Girlfriend?" I arched an eyebrow. "What do you . . . mean?" Realization slowly sank in, and my head turned to Yukimura, who was a boy but looked and dressed like a girl. "Uh, you misunderstand. She's—I mean he—is not my girlfriend."
Note to self: Traps are dangerous for your sanity.
"Kodaka," Jun said, darting her eyes between me and Yukimura, "you do realize what you're saying, right? No matter how you look at it—"
"He looks like a girl," I finished, and massaged my forehead. "Believe me, I'm well aware of that."
"And if he is a guy, then why is he wearing—"
"I ask myself the same question, and the answer I came with is probably because he wants to bring out his manliness." I turned to Yukimura. "Right?"
He nodded. "As expected, Aniki. Nothing escapes your notice."
"Manliness?" The look in her face screamed 'What manliness? I don't see it anywhere . . . if at all.' Of course, wanting to be polite, Jun wisely decided to keep that in her thoughts, but I noticed and deduced it right away.
Whether or not Yukimura noticed that or even cared, he didn't say a thing. "Aniki," he said finally as an awkward silence began to permeate our vicinity, a silence ignorant of the happy smiles and laughs surrounding us, "what about the takoyaki?"
"Oh, right." I pulled out my wallet, turned to the vendor, who remained grinning, and asked how much the food would cost.
"Well, not totally free, if yah get what I'm sayin', sonny boy. Yah just 'ave to escort the little missy 'round the festival, is all. Hahaha!"
That was my intention from the start, though.
"Yusuke-ooji-san!" From my peripheral vision, I could make out a slight blush on Jun's cheeks.
"Spring comes and goes fer the youth, Jun-chan." He patted her head like how a father would to his daughter. "Be sure tah treasure it all; nevuh waste 'em."
Conceding, Jun nodded under his giant hand before he let go. The package Jun had been holding when she emerged from the back was in his other hand, and he gave it to me with that ever-present grin on his face. I had to wonder whether he was optimistic to a fault or there were maybe a few screws loose in his head. Either way, I accepted the box and gave a nod at Jun, who bowed and said her farewells to Yusuke before joining us back to where the rest of the Neighbors Club were waiting for the food.
"Oh, right, introductions," I murmured. "Yukimura, this is Jun Kasugano, by the way, an old acquaintance from middle school. And Jun, this is Yukimura Kusunoki, a fellow member of the club I joined in my school."
"A pleasure to meet you, Kasugano-dono." He bowed.
"Me too. Nice to meet you, Kusunoki-kun." And then she bowed.
"You don't mind if we meet up with a few others as well?" I asked her.
"Not at all." Her face turned thoughtful. "Though this is a surprise. You're making friends easily now, Kodaka?"
"I don't think you can really call us friends."
"But isn't it natural for club members to grow closer? I mean, you all have at least one mutual interest. It's a good place to start as any."
"It's not exactly . . . a good topic of conversation." In likelihood, talking about how we were friendless or how we'd find ways to make friends would be too depressing. And we of the Neighbors Club were not the social types to begin with. To break the ice would be a challenge in and of itself. Unless one had something good to say, something that could pique the interest of the unlikely band of misfits this club had garnered, then it was better to keep one's mouth shut than be faced with a firing squad of either confused or flat looks. Sometimes that could be much worse than an outright rejection.
"What is this club, anyway, if you don't mind me asking?"
"We call it the Neighbors Club."
"Okay. So what do you do in the Neighbors Club?"
"Well, we . . . uh, uhm . . . we . . ." I tried fishing for an explanation, but I was reeling in nothing. I remembered Yozora telling the purpose of the Neighbors Club in a roundabout way with that silver tongue of hers. That was as far as my memory went, though; her explanation had been too long and confusing to have even one of my brain cells bother recording it properly.
The look on Jun's face—how it exuded such blinding curiosity—made me squirm a little.
"Kodaka," Jun said, a hint of resigned exasperation in her tone, "don't tell me you joined a club without knowing what it does?"
"All right, then I won't tell you."
She sighed. "The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess."
I didn't get another word in because we arrived to where the rest were. During our absence, Maria looked to have gone through a few more food stalls; her stack of empty containers was two feet taller since the last I checked. The rest were trying out the few takoyaki I had gathered before we left. There weren't any blissful looks from the gang, which diminished some of my hopes of finally tasting an equivalent of the best takoyaki I had in years, but seeing such joviality in their smiles, the way the girls' faces lit up as we approached, was enough to dissuade me from pessimistic thoughts.
"Kodaka." Yozora suddenly appeared in front of me, arms crossed and the once jovial smile had instantly morphed into a frown compounded by her scrutinizing scowl. And they were not directed at me. "Who is this?"
"I am Jun Kasugano," the girl behind me answered. The rustle of plastic might imply that she complemented her introduction with the necessary bow. "I'm an old friend of Kodaka's. Pleasure to meet you."
"I was not talking to you," Yozora retorted. I was surprised at her viciousness. Her expression did not change, but her voice contained an edge of sharpened steel, ready to cut Jun down for even the slightest provocation.
I never realized she could project this much hostility into one person, and I inadvertently led Jun right into the fire, so to speak. And the night was still young, too.
I just hoped that the situation could get better as they softened up to Jun.
I mean, what's the worst that could happen?
I know that it's been a long time since my last update, but it was not as if I decided to lay this off for a year then come back to it when I felt like it. I already stated before that my interest in this story is waning, especially with the end of Season 2 and the very, very, very slow updates on the translations for the latest LN volume (although the team at guhehe Translations is doing their best to quickly roll out the chapters, which I'm quite happy for) last year.
Despite that, and while I was busying myself with other fanfiction projects, this story never really left my mind. It has an ending and it needs to be said. So in the interim of the previous and latest chapter, I was brainstorming a whole lot, because there was a lot of wrong things that keep popping up as I went along with the chapter. This chapter alone went through 3 rewrites. The original was about the festival, the second was me scrapping the festival episode and going onto the aftermath, the third was me taking a different approach on the aftermath. And, as you can see, I rolled back to the original idea anyway. Yeah, it was that hectic for me to be satisfied about everything.
Well, not everything because there are still a few more kinks I need to work out in the next chapter (you will notice that this is just Part 1due to the enclosed I in the chapter title). If this new and fresh idea I have just a few days ago gets pushed green-lit, so to speak, expect next chapter to be double the word length compared to this one.
But it won't be till March. Because I have this job, and this job demands me to work 6 days a week, and more recently, it's demanding me to work without a day off for 4 weeks because business politics is such a fucking pain in the ass for the little guy AND I HOPE TO FUCKING GOD I GET COMPENSATED GREATLY FOR THIS BULLSHIT!
In other news, though, this may or may not be the last time I'll be delving into Haganai. I have two other ideas that are still percolating in my head. One of them was a draft of the first chapter posted in the AnimeSuki forums (you can check it out if you wish; it's in the Haganai Fanfiction Discussion thread), the other was a summarized idea shared in one of the threads in The Mechanics of In Flight forum here in FF (on that note, if you like Fate/stay Night, I recommend you read two crossover stories made by gabriel blessing, "Hill of Swords" and "In Flight"). The former has no definitive ending yet, but the latter most definitely does (the middle, however . . .). So there's a very likely chance that by the time I finish this story, I'll be tackling either of the two story ideas right away. We'll talk more about this once I come close to the end.
And with that, enjoy the chapter, guys, and I will see you again in the next few weeks.