Prologue – Too Long When Simply Running

1. Present: 0 km

It ended up not raining after all. To think I prayed as much as I had, too.

My prayers weren’t answered last year either. This can only mean that praying for rain is a completely useless endeavor. Now that I understand this, I suppose I’ll be able to peacefully come to terms with the inevitable when this happens again next year. If I don’t need to do something, I won’t. If I absolutely have to, I’ll make it quick. Today, I, Houtarou Oreki, learned that praying for rain was something I didn’t need to do.

Of the thousand or so Kamiyama High School students that were initially spread out around the school grounds, a third had already disappeared. They had set off on a journey to the far reaches of the distant horizon. I knew that what they were doing was nothing more than profitless toil, but I felt no sympathy. After all, I would soon be following after them in their suffering.

With an ear-grating howl, the megaphone was switched on again, and from it came a command:

“That concludes the third-years. Class 2-A, come forward.”1

Fellow students filed into their set positions as if being dragged along by an invisible something. Among them were those whose faces brimmed with spirited passion; however, most of the students had such a look of resignation on their faces that the tranquility they radiated seemed almost saintly. I probably have the same exact expression on mine.

There was a line drawn in chalk on the ground. Alongside it stood a general committee member, pistol in hand. He didn’t exude any of the usual no-nonsense severity often found in cold enforcers of cruel judgment like himself. Considering his markedly middle school face, he’s probably a first-year. He stared intently at his stopwatch, itself looking as if it wouldn’t tolerate disorder for even a second. At the end of the day, he’s just following orders. He probably wasn’t even thinking about the significance of his actions. Even if he were to consider it, at most it would be something along the lines of:

“I wasn’t the one who made this decision. My superiors gave me this task, and I have to do what they tell me. It’s not like I want to do it either, so you can’t hold me responsible.”

It was this precise thought process that allowed him to be so capable of such incalculable cruelty, not even a hint of pity in his expression. Slowly, he raised the pistol in his hand.

Perhaps even now at this very moment, we will see a torrential rain so violent and so sudden that it will forever change the field of meteorology as we know it. Of course, the May sky remained refreshingly, infuriatingly clear. Not even foxes would get married on a day like this.2

“Ready.”

Ah, that’s right. Didn’t I learn this lesson only seconds ago? Heaven doesn’t respond to our prayers. If I want a solution, I’ll have to find it myself.

Even until the very end, the committee member didn’t look up from his stopwatch. With a thin finger, he pulled the trigger.

An explosive noise rang out, and white smoke rose from the barrel.

This was Kamiyama High School’s Hoshigaya Cup. At last, Class 2-A was ordered to start running.

 

Kamiyama High School is well known for the sheer amount of clubs on campus, to the extent that even counting just how many there were was a pain in and of itself. This year, there were over fifty of them, from what I remember hearing. The autumn culture festival takes place over the span of three days, and the passion surrounding it is intense—so much so that it inspires second thoughts in anyone with a level head.

This means that there’s an overabundance of sports events as well. Although there weren’t any athletes in the school who were able to make it to last year’s prefectural tournaments, apparently some the martial arts clubs have a fairly impressive history behind them. Though things finally start to quiet down after the culture festival ends, preparations for the sports festival begin almost immediately after. In addition to that, a lot of major sports tournaments also take place right after the start of a new academic year. That said, I didn’t find it all that grueling. It’s not like I was bursting at the seams with the desire to participate, but I could at least agree to something like playing as a volleyball receiver or running in a 200 meter relay. If I absolutely had to, I could find it in me to work up a little sweat and show everyone a smile.

Even smiling was out of the question, however, when I was told to run further.

—specifically, when I was told to run 20,000 meters.

The Kamiyama High School long-distance running event takes place every year at the end of May. Apparently, its actual name is the “Hoshigaya Cup.” Even though the event was supposedly named after a graduate who previously established himself in Japan as a skilled long-distance runner, no one called it that. In contrast to how the culture festival was called something enigmatic like the “Kanya Festival” even though it had no proper name, the “Hoshigaya Cup” was usually known simply as the “Marathon Event.” In my case, however, because my friend, Satoshi Fukube, only ever called it the Hoshigaya Cup, the name ended up sticking for me as well.

Now, one could say I should be happy considering the Marathon Event is shorter than an actual marathon, but in the end, I really wish it would have rained today. According to Satoshi, the notice concerning the use of public roads indicated that, in the event of rain, the marathon was to be stopped immediately and without resumption for the rest of the day.

However, he then also added, “But it’s strange, isn’t it? As far as I can tell from the records, the Hoshigaya Cup hasn’t been canceled once to-date.”

There must be a god out there looking out for the athletes in the Hoshigaya Cup.

That god is undeniably rotten to the core.

I wore a white short-sleeved shirt and shorts that were somewhere in-between red and purple, something like a crimson. The girls wore short tights in the same color. The school’s emblem was embroidered on the shirt’s chest-area, and below that was sewn a paper bib displaying the student’s class and name. The string holding my “Class 2-A / Oreki” bib in place was already beginning to turn ragged. Sewing it on was a pain, and I ended up doing a half-baked job on it to boot. It wasn’t looking good.

It was currently the end of May, so it wouldn’t be raining as much as it might in the upcoming rainy season.3 Considering the school wouldn’t be able to hold it tomorrow on the weekend if it had to be canceled, it seemed like minimal consideration was given to the whole thing, really. Due to the 9:00 AM start, it was still unpleasantly cold. As the sun rises, I’ll almost certainly break out into an uncomfortable sweat.

There was another entrance into the campus aside from the front gates, and all of Class 2-A exited from it as they started to run. Goodbye, Kamiyama High School. May we meet again in 20 kilometers.

The Hoshigaya Cup course was not very clearly defined in that the only real instructions were: Do a lap around the back of the school. The thing was, however, the mountainous area behind the school continued all the way to the distant, snowy Kamikakiuchi range, so in reality, the “long-distance run” was something more along the lines of long-distance mountain trek.

I know the exact course.

You run for a bit alongside the river that flows in front of the school and then go up the hilly road to the right at the first intersection. The slope starts off gently at first but quickly ramps up in steepness. As you approach the very top, it turns into a slope that mercilessly breaks the body.

Once you’ve finished climbing it, the road immediately drops. Just like the upward slope, the decline is much longer and more violent than one might expect, and your overworked knees will surely cry out in pain.

The end of the decline opens up a bit into a large expanse of countryside. You should be able to see the occasional house here and there. While there’s little inclination in the road at this point, it continues in a straight line for what seems like eternity, so this stretch tends to do the most mental damage.

Once you reach the end of the flat section, you’ll have to overcome another hill, but unlike the previous slope, the climb on this one isn’t as extreme. The thing is, however, the road becomes extremely windy at this point. The never-ending barrage of hairpin turns tends to ruin one’s rhythm.

Ahead of that is an area in the north-eastern section of Kamiyama City called Jinde, the place where Chitanda’s house is located. At this point, you follow a thin river downhill.

Continue making your way through the valley like this, and you will eventually return to the town area. Though, in saying this, it’s not exactly like we can run down the middle of a street full of cars, so you use a back road. Once you pass in front of Arekusa Shrine and look past the stereotypically white Rengou Hospital, you will begin to see Kamiyama High School once more.

How do I know this? Well, you see, I ran it last year as well. I know every length of the track from start to finish. But that knowledge wouldn’t shorten the distance one bit. While I understood where it was we had to go, I felt it was necessary to omit the process in getting there. Even though it was probably impossible, it was likely the most optimal strategy at the same time. In other words, when needing to cover a 20 km distance, one should at least be allowed to choose between using a bus or a bike. Unfortunately, however, this extremely rational thought process of mine didn’t seem like it would be given much consideration.

 

Up first was the river in front of the campus, and already issues began to crop up. The majority of the course took place in areas that had little traffic, however this section alone was connected to a city bypass, so there were a considerable number of passing cars. Additionally, there wasn’t anything like a curb separating the pedestrian and motor roads—only a single white line. The only reason we had to start running this early in the morning was so we didn’t cause any congestion in the streets.

The students of Class 2-A ran single-file inside the area marked off by a white line. This was the only point in the entire 20 km during which both the fast students and the slow students had to run at the exact same pace. If they didn’t, they would end up poking out into the roadway. Last year we were more-or-less allowed to expand out from the single-file line; however this year, it was strictly prohibited. It was a measure that the school took to prevent any accidents as a third-year was hit by a car in this area yesterday. Thanks to that, we were allowed the immense pleasure of being packed into a line difficult to move in.

So I guess I won’t be walking this kilometer stretch. The line was jogging at a light, easy pace. The road ahead of me was long. If I imagine the jogging to be next-level walking instead, I suppose I can tolerate it.

We finished the kilometer section before too long, and the course swung a wide right. We veered away from the main road leading into town and approached the school’s rear. Thus began the upward slope.

The single-file line crumbled away. As if they were propelled by the building frustration of not being allowed to run at their own pace, those in the class who were more physically oriented immediately broke away from the group. Several groups of girls, most likely motivated by some promise to happily run alongside each other, also began to move up.

And as for me, I slowed down.

…and slowed down even more.

I was essentially walking at that point, but I continued to make it look like I was running regardless.

Sorry to the Hoshigaya athletes out there, but I can’t afford to be all happy-go-lucky like you. In the span of these 20 kilometers, there’s something I absolutely have to find out, and I only have 19 left to do it. Roughly 100 meters into the upward slope, I heard a voice call out from behind me.

“Ah, there he is.”

I didn’t turn around. The owner of the voice popped out in front of me anyways.

He, Satoshi Fukube, then got off the bicycle he had been riding.

From a distance, he looked like some sort of androgynous gentleman, but if you were to compare his appearance with the photos from our old middle school yearbook, the difference would be shocking. Of course, that’s not to say his appearance had actually changed much, but rather, that over the course of the previous year, his expression had become less wild and intense. I didn’t notice it myself, though, because we’d been around each other seemingly every other day for the past year.

This year around, Satoshi became the general committee vice-president. As the general committee was organizing the Hoshigaya Cup, its members didn’t need to run. They set things up before the race started, after all, and were expected to be distributed around the course. He wore a yellow helmet and pushed his usual mountain bike. I looked at him with a sidewards glance and asked, “You sure it’s fine to be slacking off like this?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I already made sure the race started without a hitch, and I’m not going to be coming back until the last runner passes the finish line, anyways.”

“Must be tough.”

The general committee didn’t have to run as thanks for their efforts in supervising every aspect of the Hoshigaya Cup, but even then, this guy ended up having to zoom all over the 20 kilometer course on his mountain bike to report if any unforeseen situations ever occur. Satoshi dropped his shoulders.

“Well, I don’t hate cycling, so it’s not all that bad, but I wouldn’t need to do this if I could only use my cell phone.”

“Why don’t you tell them that?”

“None of the students on campus are technically allowed to carry cell phones, but in reality, if someone were to get hurt, you would use a cell phone to call for help, right? They seriously need to re-evaluate their rules, I swear.”

He lamented over the general committee’s inflexible organizational structure, but then a serious expression suddenly came over him.

“Anyways, have you figured anything out yet?”

As I sluggishly walked on, I responded carefully. “Not yet.”

“Mayaka is…”

He started to speak but faltered. I could imagine what he wanted to say, so I started talking instead.

“I don’t blame her for suspecting me.”

“No, actually, apparently she thinks it couldn’t have been you. Her phrasing was a little mean, but she said, ‘I doubt Houtarou did anything. I mean, he literally does nothing.’ ”

A bitter smile crept across my face. Not only does that definitely sound like something Ibara would say, but that was what had happened in reality as well. I did absolutely nothing yesterday.

If that’s what she really thinks, however, then Ibara is probably in a difficult spot right now.

“If it’s not me…”

“Exactly,” replied Satoshi with a deep sigh.

If it’s not me, then there’s only one other person it can be. I thought back to what happened yesterday.

 

2. Past: 1 Day Ago

I was reading a paperback in the clubroom after school. It was a period novel chronicling the early days of a man who became a master spy later on in his life, and it was so ridiculously interesting that I had become uncharacteristically engrossed in it.4

At Kamiyama High School, a place overflowing with various clubs—several of which disband and are then replaced by newer ones each year—it was quite common for clubrooms to be switched around at the start of a new academic term. That said, the Classics Club remained in the same geology classroom. It’s not like I’m especially attached to it, but because I’d been in this room so regularly over the course of the previous year, I ended up sitting in my usual seat. It was the chair positioned, as always, third row from the back and three seats from the window overlooking the school grounds.

As I reached the end of one of the chapters and raised my head to exhale from the excitement, the room’s sliding door suddenly opened. Ibara walked in, her eyebrows furrowed and her face betraying a concerned expression.

Mayaka Ibara was a second-year now, and she had changed slightly. She had quit the Manga Research Society she was once a part of alongside the Classics Club. She herself said it was because she “just got tired of it.” Judging from Satoshi’s conflicted face, however, it seemed there were other circumstances involved as well, but I didn’t pry.

It’s not like her appearance had changed or anything. If you tossed Ibara into a group of new students and told a hundred people to pick out the second-year, I doubt even a single person would have chosen her. She had recently started wearing clips in her hair; however, had Satoshi and the others not brought it up, I would have never even noticed.

There were only two of us in the clubroom when she arrived. Until just a little bit ago, there had been three.

“Hey, did something happen?” Ibara asked.

“No…”

The one who muttered that was Chitanda.

Eru Chitanda was the recurring Classics Club president. She hadn’t cut her hair in a while, so it was somewhat longer.

Ibara looked back towards the hallway and then spoke in a somewhat concealed voice. “I just passed by Hina-chan over there. She said she wasn’t going to join.”

“What?”

“Her eyes were kind of red. Was she crying?”

Chitanda was at a loss for words. Without responding to the question, she muttered to herself, “I see.”

I had no idea what had happened.

A year passed, and as we became second-years, naturally so were there new first-years. We opened up the Classics Club for new students to join, and while there were a lot of complications along the way, we finally managed to recruit one member.

Tomoko Ohinata had turned in a provisional club enrollment form, and all that was left was for her to submit the main club entry form. Not only had she and Ibara become really close, but she seemed to be having a lot of fun talking with Chitanda as well. She could be a bit annoying at times, but it’s not like I was cold towards her because of that. Everyone thought she would join the club without a hitch; rather, I wonder if in reality we all forgot you were even required to turn in the main club enrollment form after the provisional one in the first place.

And now, we were being told that she wouldn’t be joining. Had all of this collapsed in the short time I had been reading my book?

Chitanda faced Ibara and spoke once more with quivering lips. “I see,” she repeated as best she could.

Even though Ibara didn’t know what had happened, she listened carefully and asked, “Are you okay, Chi-chan?”

“I knew it. Because of me…”

“What do you mean ‘because of me’? If you’re talking about Hina-chan, you’re wrong. She even said it wasn’t your fault.”

“No, I’m sorry. I have to go.”

Chitanda forcibly ended the conversation and left the geology room with her bag as if she were in a hurry.

All I could do was stare.

Ibara watched Chitanda as she left and then turned around to face me. With an expressionless, monotone voice, she spoke.

“So, what happened?”

All I could do was shake my head, mouth agape.

 

3. Present: 1.2 km

While there are tons of clubs, there are only so many new students. The race to recruit these incoming students reaches peak ferocity every April. Last year, I didn’t really have any reason to join the other clubs, so I ignored the whole thing. This time around, however, I ended up in the center of the maelstrom. Doing it, I experienced something for the first time—a true bloodbath.

The new students, clueless and disoriented, are violently fought over in the clubs’ recruiting attempts, so problems naturally cropped up here and there. While it was probably true the new students themselves were partially to blame for not being able to turn down the incessant soliciting of clubs they had no interest in, there were apparently certain clubs that had gathered massive amounts of members to pressure the first-years into joining. Using high-handed tactics like this was something that simply did not work, however. The reason behind the two-step process requiring students to submit both a provisional club entry form and a main club entry form was to make sure the students joined of their own volition. If a student didn’t turn in the main entry form later, they were automatically dropped.

The deadline to turn it in was this weekend, so essentially, the deadline was today.

I might as well ask.

“Just because you don’t turn in the main entry form doesn’t mean you can’t join later, right?”

“Of course. You can join or quit any Kamiyama High School club you want at any time. It’s completely up to the person.” He continued with a slight grimace, “It’s just that a club’s budget is based on its member count at the end of the provisional club entry period, so any member changes after that point aren’t the greatest. Anyways, more importantly…”

“I know.”

The problem doesn’t lie with the bureaucracy.

In all reality, the second we learned that something went wrong yesterday, we should have tried to resolve it then and there, though I suppose there wasn’t anything we could have done in the first place considering both Ohinata and Chitanda had already left by that point. Only one day had passed, and yet it already feels like it’s too late. If this goes unresolved by the time everyone parts ways for the weekend, Ohinata’s resignation will almost certainly end up being a done deal, and changing her mind will probably prove impossible.

There are no classes being held today after the Hoshigaya Cup ends. We have to report to our homerooms for a little, but after that, everyone will be free to meet up with their clubs.

In other words, though today is our only chance to pull Ohinata aside, we have hardly the time nor the opportunity to get into contact with her.

“That said, I’m not really sure what happened,” said Satoshi in a hushed voice. “As far as we know, something made her really angry or depressed, but you have no idea what caused that, right?”

“Yeah, I was reading the entire time.”

“In that case, Chitanda had to have been the cause. Except now, it contradicts what Ohinata told Mayaka.”

The upward slope was still in its manageable stages. Houses lined the left and right sides of the road and the hill continued gently forward. Someone nimbly caught up beside me as I continued my slow pace. He was probably a student from 2-B, the class that started after us, who had faith in his running abilities.

I whispered, “What did Ibara say?”

Satoshi seemed almost disappointed in me. “What? You didn’t hear?”

“She didn’t tell me anything.”

“I wonder if she didn’t have the chance. I’m only going off what she said, so the details are a bit fuzzy.” Satoshi’s eyes darted about, and then he hesitantly added, “It was, Ohinata said Chitanda was ‘like a Buddha’, or something like that.5 I only remember it wasn’t anything mean.”

This is news to me. All I knew was that Ohinata said she wasn’t going to join the club.

“Was this really yesterday?”

“The phrasing might have been different, but it definitely happened yesterday.”

So Ohinata said both “I’m not going to join” and “Chitanda’s like Buddha”? If that’s what happened and I take both at face-value, then it implies: I’m not going to join, but it’s not Chitanda’s fault.

That would therefore mean I’m the reason that Ohinata decided to quit; yet, I truly didn’t do anything yesterday. Of course, I would be lying if I said I didn’t remember nor hear anything. I talked a bit before entering the clubroom, and I did hear the occasional thing as I was reading, but that’s all.

“I guess this isn’t going to be simple after all.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” murmured Satoshi under his breath, however. “I think it is simple. A new recruit joined. She changed her mind. She decided to quit. That’s all.”

Even as I continued to more-or-less run, Satoshi managed to follow alongside me while pushing his mountain bike. He’s in pretty good shape, just as I’d expect from a cycling hobbyist.

Satoshi let out a sigh and finally started to talk.

“Hey, Houtarou. This might seem a little heartless, but if Ohinata quits, I think we should just give up on her. I mean she was definitely a fun girl, and Mayaka really seems to like her, but if she herself made the decision, I don’t think we have any right to dispute that.”

He looked at me and added:

“—Though I figured you’d be the one to say that.”

I can’t fault him for thinking that. Actually, when Mayaka initially came into the room distressed, I didn’t really care about any of what happened.

Ohinata had her own things to deal with, I figured. At Kamiyama High School, you were allowed to be in up to two clubs at the same time, so if there were three she wanted to join, it would be completely understandable drop the Classics Club. In any case, her intentions were unclear. Maybe she found a sport she wanted to do, or perhaps she decided to start participating in general committee activities. It’s possible she just decided she needed to concentrate on her studies. There were any number of reasons why she might have decided to quit, and the Classics Club didn’t have a single reason to dispute that. It was unfortunate, but maybe it wasn’t meant to be… That’s all I chalked it up to.

There were several reasons why I ended up having a change of heart since then, though I don’t feel like listing them all out to Satoshi right now. After this, he gets to ride his bike the rest of the way, but I’m stuck on my legs. I’ll only tire myself out more if I try to talk while running, so I want to limit what I say as much as possible.

Likely realizing that I wasn’t going to reply, Satoshi casually continued to speak.

“But you know how it goes. If you’re dead-set on trying to dissuade her, I won’t say anything. So, are you going to try begging her or what?”

I was immediately caught off guard.

“Begging her?”

“Yeah, lower your head like this and tell her, ‘I know you must have experienced much displeasure at our hands, but I implore you, bestow upon us but one more chance!’ ”

Satoshi said this while gesturing with his hands, and then continued with a puzzled face.

“You weren’t going to do that?”

I hadn’t even considered the possibility. I suppose it was an option, but in the end…

“Ohinata up and said she had a reason as to why she was quitting, right? I wonder if we can really bring this issue to a close without knowing that reason first.”

He responded with a groan.

“You’re actually going to try and resolve the issue, huh? I guess begging’s not something you’d really do in the first place, although quickly apologizing and saying ‘Pretty please!’ is the quickest way to go about this. It might even go over better than you expect.”

I somehow doubt that. At the very least, I find it impossible to believe that prostrating in front of her will completely settle the issue at hand.

In the first place, I’m not doing this because I want to dissuade her from leaving. I’m not sure I’m even capable of everything aside from so I can beg her to sign the main club entry form only to ignore her after. All that does is put off the hassle until later. Now, I like avoiding work, and I love being able to omit it even more, but what I don’t like is putting something off until later. If you see something that looks like a hassle but pretend it isn’t there, having to deal with it later becomes even more of a hassle.

“I’m not going to beg.”

“How about craftily persuading her?”

“That’s also a pain. Besides, do I look I have a silver tongue?”

“Nope. Forget gently convincing someone, you’re more the type that settles a conversation with a single piece of sagely wisdom,” he said, and then became quiet.

He stared intently at my face.

“You said that resolving this issue wasn’t going to be simple. Are you really actually trying to figure out the exact reason why Ohinata wants to leave?”

Calling it ‘figuring out’ is giving me too much credit.

“I’m just trying to remember everything that’s happened up until now. If I can do that, I can spare myself the effort.”

Satoshi started thinking for a bit.

“Remember, huh? I see. In other words, you don’t think whatever made Ohinata angry or sad happened necessarily yesterday after school. You’re saying the cause, or rather the original, underlying problem, was something that may have happened at a different time.”

Not bad.

I know for a fact that I didn’t do anything yesterday. If we assume it was Chitanda—even if we put aside Ibara’s ‘Chitanda is like a Buddha’ account—then that means talking with her resulted in such immediate trauma and hatred?

I feel bad saying it, but I could see it happening if it was with Ibara instead. She seemed like the type of person that might shank you if you simply mentioned something that rubbed her the wrong way, no matter how trifling it was. Chitanda would only be confused, though.

Thinking about it like that, the cause might have been related in some part to something that had happened prior to yesterday. What if, at some point starting when Ohinata joined the club as a provisional member, unbearable thoughts had been slowly accumulating in her head? What if yesterday, she reached her limit?

“I know I said I wasn’t going to stop you, but… This is going to be tough.”

“No kidding.”

“No matter how much you remember, Houtarou, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have all the information necessary to crack this one.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

It’s not like the Classics Club members were always together; even I didn’t go to the clubroom every day. There were probably tons of things I neither saw nor heard. Had all of it started and ended while I was unaware, just thinking would be useless.

That said, and I couldn’t tell any of this to Satoshi yet, I do have some ideas here and there. In the time after Ohinata joined as a provisional member, there were a couple things that I thought seemed strange. Maybe if I focus on those parts, something will become clear. I might be completely wrong, but at least it’s somewhere to start. Besides, I have 20 kilometers. This course takes far too long when simply running.

“If there’s anything I need to know, I’ll try asking you,” I said.

Satoshi furrowed his eyebrows in suspicion.

“Asking me? Just to let you know, I’m going to be riding ahead of you now.”

“I know, but we’re bound to pass each other again at some point, right? See you then.”

I smiled at him and continued.

“After all, Ibara and Chitanda will be coming from behind.”

Satoshi looked confused for a moment, and then he suddenly stared at me dumbfounded.

“You’re terrible! So that’s what you were planning. How could you? Think about all the blood and sweat the general committee poured into setting up the Hoshigaya Cup.”

“Isn’t it the Marathon Event?”

I absolutely need to talk with Ibara and Chitanda.

On the other hand, I also have to come into contact with Ohinata by the end of the day.

There’s only one way I can do both.

In order to prevent congestion in the streets, each of the classes’ start times were staggered. I’m in class 2-A. If I remember correctly, Ibara is in 2-C and Chitanda is in the very last one, class 2-H. If I run slowly, Ibara will eventually catch up, and if I go even more slowly than that, Chitanda will as well.

“Which class is Ohinata in?”

“Class 1-B. No wonder you were going at such a slow pace. No, I’m relieved. Actually I’m really relieved. That’s right, there’s no way you’d seriously try to run all the way through to the end.”

Satoshi laughed as he said this. How rude. I ran like I was supposed to last year. Admittedly, I did stop around halfway and walk the rest.

“Now that I know your evil scheme, I suppose it’s about time for me to get moving. Even lazing around should be done in moderation.”

He got on his mountain bike. I thought he was going to push the pedal and ride away, but he suddenly hesitated for a second. He turned back towards me.

“I’m only going to tell you this because we’re friends. Make sure you don’t take this all on yourself, Houtarou. You’re the kind of person that doesn’t normally care about others’ problems, so don’t forget that you aren’t responsible for anything, no matter what ends up happening with Ohinata.”

It’s a mean way to phrase it, but I understand what he’s trying to say: no matter what I remember or find out, in the end, it’s Ohinata’s decision. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I guess it would be a good idea to keep that in mind.

“I’m going now. See you again somewhere on the course.”

“Yeah.”

Satoshi finally started to pedal away. Even though the slope was getting steeper and steeper, his mountain bike picked up speed without staggering. He didn’t even stand up to pedal. With his rear planted firmly on the saddle and his body arched forward, he pedaled further and further away.

With my small steps and sluggish running, I saw him off.

 

Though I said I’m going to talk with Ibara and Chitanda, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Even when each of them does catch up, I won’t be able to talk with them for very long. I doubt Ibara in particular will slow down for me. In the time that I have between her to catching up to me and her passing me, I’ll probably only be able to ask around two questions.

I don’t have enough time to ask everything I want. If I don’t decide on what I want to ask before she catches up, I going to ruin my only chance.

In order to ask the right questions, I need the right preparation. Specifically, I need to understand just who exactly the Kamiyama High School first-year Tomoko Ohinata is.

. . . So I tried to remember. After Chitanda left yesterday, Ibara asked the only remaining person, me, a question.

“So, what happened?”

When I didn’t answer, she continued.

“You don’t know? Should’ve seen that coming. You never pay attention to others.”

A single, nonchalant comment.

It did sting a little, though.

The reason I didn’t know wasn’t only because I was reading my book. I never took an interest in Ohinata. It was probably things like this that led to Satoshi wondering if I hated people. It wasn’t entirely true, but it wasn’t very far off either. Perhaps from an outsider’s perspective it looked like I was becoming more and more distant from Ohinata.

For the most part, I didn’t really care at all about her personal life, about what made her happy and what had hurt her in the past. I all but ignored her. I wonder if, even now, I can manage a full U-turn from that apathy. Can I do it during this 20 km distance? The course took far too long when simply running, but I wonder if even that was long enough for me to try and understand someone.

I have to try and think about it, no matter what it takes.

The slope became progressively steeper, and at some point, the scenery to the left and right of the road had changed to that of a cedar forest.

Another person passed me by as I dawdled forward.

I first met her in April. It was during the new student recruitment week.


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  1. The ‘2’ shows their year in high school, and the ‘A’ indicates their specific class within that year.
  2. A fox wedding is an idiomatic phrase referring to a sunshower.
  3. The Japanese rainy season (tsuyu) typically begins in early June and can last through mid-July.
  4. Possibly referring to the novel Rasputin Came (ラスプーチンが来た) by Futaro Yamada. The book is about a famous WWI-era Japanese spy, Motojiro Akashi, and his confrontations with Russian “mad priest” Rasputin during his younger days.
  5. This implies that she’s kind and understanding.