“… Satou, got a minute?”
Over break time, the representative of the normal girls, Ozaki-san called me out.
I faltered somewhat with someone I thought I’d never have another conversation with talking to me. Granted, she seemed to be talking somewhat reluctantly.
That was the second time I visited the landing between the third floor, and the fourth floor penthouse.
As the roof was sealed off, this place was a dead end. A place no one would come without a destination in mind, but the time Ozaki-san led me, that’s where Ooshima was.
What a peculiar lineup, I felt at first.
This was because, as of late, Ooshima was often paired up with Imawano showing no signs of acting in a larger group. Yet now, the queen bee with her back against the wall was with Enomoto, Ogino, and Kano (Four people, including Ozaki). Apart from Ooshima, it was the four normal girls.
My half-dead intuition immediately worked out that rather than the “Close to equal existence, yet free-spirited” Imawano, she had chosen the group that “Respected the heck out of her and were easy to use”.
While being called out by the queen was a bit of an enthralling experience, a dark feeling swiftly filled my body to the brim.
The triumphant face Ooshima carried from the very beginning was a source of anxiety.
I was about to run for the hills, but unless this conversation would be forceful enough to lead to Plan EXPULSION, I knew that wouldn’t resolve anything. A hopeless do or die.
Ooshima’s hand carried a cell-phone left open like a deceased shellfish. Crap, I inferred. This isn’t going to go well. It was rare for a mere object to emit an aura of its own.
“Satou, I’m sure you have no idea why I called you here.”
“How could I?”
Extreme mental strain brought a rush to my words. Perhaps my intonation had been interesting, as it warranted some giggles from the girls.
“I’m not here to complain to you, you can be sure about that.”
Ooshima said in a strangely gentle voice. Oh, I see, I could breathe a sigh of… despair, my degree of wariness only spiked in strength.
“But you think they’re creepy, don’t you?”
“The crazy folks in our class. You know who I’m talking about.”
“… That’s why you quarantined them all in one place during seat changes, right?”
“I mean, they’re impossible to hold a conversation with. Not only are they unpleasant, they’re impossible to deal with. It’s not even a difference of opinion, it’s not like our side did anything wrong. The other side’s just off in la-la land.”
In essence, I shared her opinion, so I couldn’t say anything clever back. I almost found myself nodding, “my thoughts exactly”. Whether she had seen through my intentions or not, Ooshima continued on.
“But you’re different, Mens. As far as I’ve seen you’ve got a proper brain.”
“Well, I sure hope so. That’s why, if you bully me, you should expect some proper countermeasures. You’re barking up the wrong tree here, could you find a better use of your time?”
Oh perish the thought, Ooshima shook her hand.
“The thing is, there’s something I wanted that supposedly-decent Satou to see.”
She turned her cellphone towards me. The scent of death lingered around that dead-clam-like husk. It was at that moment that my impulse to run reached its max. Something severe was about to happen.
The crystal display depicted a photo.
I let out a scream words failed to describe.
She immediately closed the phone.
“Did you see? Did you understand?”
“I asked a friend to search out someone who went to the same middle school,” Shimizu’s warning echoed coinciding with a hallucination of the ground below me collapsing.
“And I heard it aaaall. Once I knew, I searched for a good girl who had the right picture. Amazing, right? This?”
I couldn’t move at all. The shock that had struck my heart was far too great even my body was shot. For how much I had always feared this moment. For all the scrupulous caution I had paid. For how deeply I understood how much dust would fly if they struck me.
I was finally outed.
The carelessness, the bad luck, the malice, no matter how many curses flew, it wouldn’t be enough.
“If this gets out, I’m sure there are some people around you who would leave.” She wasn’t just looking down on me; those were the eyes of a tyrant with my continued existence on the palm of her hand. “Like Kobato.”
I was startled. I’d been seen through. I hadn’t interacted with her enough to assert with confidence that would never be the case. Rather, I didn’t want to know in the first place. Didn’t want to try considering it.
Ooshima casually circled behind me, lowering the tone of her voice. It was a whisper of the devil.
“… Don’t get in the way of what I do. You got that?”
The conditions she lay rung lighter than anticipated. I didn’t really have any interest in Ooshima to begin with.
“… I couldn’t care less what you do, as long as it doesn’t involve Ryouko…”
“Are you an idiot?” The destructive force of a blunt weapon returned to her voice. “I’m telling you not to follow through for her in any way, shape or form.
“In the first place, quit it with the double-Satou. Don’t cover for her. Go to the teacher, and get dismissed from your position.”
“There’s no way I’d comply.”
“Then I’ll just spread this?”
What if I stole her cellular phone and smashed it?
Of course, that was a no-go. She could just buy a new one, and she could reclaim the data from that friend of hers however many times she wanted. I’m sure someone in her friend group had it saved on a computer.
“Let’s see. Stop hanging around with her. Get in a fight or something, and go your separate ways.”
“Do you… really hate Ryouko that much……”
“It is only natural for Satou Ryouko to be done in.”
Ooshima’s voice came with the snap of a whip.
“It’s stranger for someone to cover for her. That cosplay… it’s crazy her private clothes are permitted. She’s the only one allowed to break a rule everyone has to oblige. It’s unfair, and you know as well as I do that no one accepts it. Apart from that loony bin of yours. Are you telling me I won’t be punished if I took out a cigarette and smoked it? You think that’d happen? You screwin’ with me?”
I’d made several suggestions to Ryouko about her uniform as well. But never once did she lend an ear. As long as her appearance changed, no matter how cringy she was inside, I’d be able to tentatively play it off. But Ryouko would never give any ground on the most important part of all.
And her searching. I spent so much time with her and completely failed to sprout mutual understanding. We were unmeshing gears.
Hey, what do you think about me, anyway? Do you ever feel like actually ‘conversing’ with me? I don’t know how many times I felt like asking.
That’s why, in the truest sense, I couldn’t stand by her side. We had no common language.
“If you don’t get in our way, I won’t spread the pic. Your choice.”
“You one of those guys who’s fine with being shunned?”
“I’m not telling you to bully her. I’m just telling you to stay out.”
I did a search of what was in my heart. Whether there was just enough cause to protect Ryouko, even if it meant my secret getting out… there wasn’t. The search came up with zero results. Nothing of the sort existed, not even a fragment. I couldn’t sympathize, I couldn’t concede, I couldn’t fall back to ethics. Ryouko had done whatever she wanted, and she hadn’t paid her dues. That was the injustice.
I had to pay them. I received the recompense of folly. Over the course of three years.
Wasn’t Ryouko obligated to pay them once? At the moment that logic established itself, something was collapsing inside of me. What had frozen solid by Dorisen’s order dissolved, a sense of loss, and a sense of release, a sense of guilt and resignation surfaced.
That’s why, Ooshima had the finest of timing.
“You got that, Koga-kun?”
The moment she emphasized that, “… Yeah,” I pathetically replied. I even held a feeling I had been saved.