TL note: this SS should be read after reading the volume 1 and 2, story wise.
Bitter… And fleeting memories of the protagonist, Ryuuto. In “‘Dating Story’ Episode 0,” we will look back at the memories from his middle school days.
The intense summer vacation that I spent with my beloved, first girlfriend — Runa — finally came to an end while we were swamped by homework.
As it became September and the new school term began, the first thing that happened in class was changing seats.
“Well then, please take your stuffs and move to your new seat”
At the teacher’s words, the students in class stood up at once. It was to move to our new seat, which was decided by lottery.
My seat so far was located just beside the teacher’s desk. This time, I would be seated second from the front by the window. It was a spot where it felt like before, but I was relieved that the pressure from teachers would be less than it was now.
Speaking of what’s relieving…
Kurose-san, who was in the seat next to me, checked the inside of her desk once more and was about to leave her seat.
To her, “Well then…,” I said with a sideways glance.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Kurose-san slightly bowed at my almost soliloquy-like parting.
Kurose-san, she was Runa’s younger twin sister — though most of my classmates didn’t know that –, was the person I have ever confessed my feelings to back in the first year of middle school. The girl who reunited with me, as Runa’s boyfriend, this time somehow fell in love with me, and even seduced me to try and win me over.
This was the second time I experienced an awkward seat change with her.
The day I found out about Kurose Maria was the day of the entrance ceremony for the first year of middle school.
“Hey, did you see!? There’s one crazy cute girl in one of the classes!”
“Yeah, I did! I wonder what elementary school she’s from? She’s just super pretty!”
While seeing the cheerful boys of the other classes making a fuss with a sidelong glance, I headed to the classroom, alone and in silence. As I was about to head back from the gymnasium after the ceremony was over, “Ugh, Kurose Maria? I’m not good with that girl…”
“Me too… She’s cute, but has a bad personality, right? Going to the same middle school is just the worst”
I could also hear the whispers from some of the girls.
I wonder what kind of girl this “Kurose Maria” is. For now, she’s certainly a cute girl, I thought as I entered the classroom. While looking at the seating chart on the blackboard, which was arranged in the order of student numbers, I headed towards my seat and I met eyes with a girl who had already taken a seat next to me.
“Ah, Kashima Ryuuto-kun?”
While reading the name label on my seat, that girl smiled at me who stood there like a pole.
“I’m Kurose Maria. Nice to meet you”
She’s an angel, I thought.
Her beautiful black bangs were crowned with a shine like a halo ring, not an exaggeration. Her face was also cuter than I had imagined, and she looked like she could become the center of an idol group in no time.
“…Nice… Meet you”
She was too dazzling, I ended up becoming flustered and became unable to speak.
To such a me, Kurose-san showed a finishing smile.
She’s too much of an angel. This kind of girl have a bad personality? That must’ve been just girls’ jealousy, I thought.
Despite my nervousness, I thanked god that I could start my middle school life next to this insanely beautiful girl.
Kurose-san was an angel, not only in appearance but also in personality.
While in class, the lead in my mechanical pencil had run out and none came out even when I clicked it multiple times, so I looked through my pencil case and realized that I didn’t have any refills.
At times like this, as a gloomy person, I didn’t have the idea of relying on the classmates around me. Among the several boys I got along with in elementary school, only one was going to the same middle school, but he was in class 3.
I guess I’ve got no choice but to wait until recess… Or to take my notes for this period in all red pen from here, and as I was about to prepare myself, “Kashima-kun.”
I was called out from next to me in a whispering voice that could be made while in class.
With a smile, Kurose-san was holding a case of refills towards me.
“You can use it if you like”
As if to reassure the bewildered me, Kurose-san smiled even more.
My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t even say thank you properly.
The next day, I brought my own refills, and made up my mind to call out to Kurose-san during recess.
“Eh? …Ah, you don’t have to, though”
Despite smiling as if she was slightly troubled, Kurose-san accepted the refill.
My fingertips that were in contact slightly were hot.
“But thanks. I’m happy that you’re concerned about me,” said Kurose-san, as she smiled and her cheeks blushed slightly.
“I wanted to get along well with you, Kashima-kun”
I was surprised.
She wants to get along well with me…? That, what does she mean…?
Even when I was in elementary school, there were several boys and girls who were dating the opposite sex. However, for me, “dating a girl” was still not something realistic.
But at this moment, for the first time, I felt a clear pounding in my heart towards a girl as a romantic interest.
Even after that, Kurose-san came to get in contact with me in various ways.
“Hey hey, Kashima-kun”
On a certain day during school lunch time, Kurose-san, my neighbor, started to talk to me. For school lunch time, we were expected to join desks and eat together in groups of people who were seated near each other. Kurose-san and I had our desks attached to each other, and I was startled that the distance between us was closer than usual.
“Wh-what is it?”
“Here, can you eat it for me?”
Kurose-san then showed me a spoonful of broccolis. That was the stuff that was in the cream stew.
Making a cheerful voice, Kurose-san put the broccoli on top of my cream stew.
“I’m a bit bad with it. That helps,” she said as she leaned in closer to me and placed her hand on my thigh for an instant, then quickly let go.
Wha-what’s with this subliminal skinship…!
My heart couldn’t stop pounding, and afterwards, neither could I taste the stew or the bread.
The only thing that I could taste was the broccoli Kurose-san gave me.
The broccoli in Kurose-san’s stew, scooped up with the spoon Kurose-san is using…
When I had these thoughts, the broccoli, which was just grassy-smelling, tasted slightly sweet and sour.
Of course, I was not the only one who thought that Kurose-san was cute.
“That Taguchi from class 2, I heard he got rejected by Kurose-san”
“Eh, even Taguschi’s not good enough, huh”
It seemed that even the popular, cheery, good-looking guy even in the school year did not get the okay from Kurose-san.
“Kurose-san doesn’t have a boyfriend, right?”
“But then isn’t the rejection just too many? Just who would she date?”
It was rumored that Kurose-san had rejected all of the guys who came to confess to her ever since enrollment. There was even a trend among the cheery guys to call confessing to Kurose-san as “Kurose Challenge,” and competing with each other to win her over.
“If Taguchi’s no good, it might be a bit beyond me”
“Does she have someone she likes, I wonder?”
Hearing that, I was startled.
I don’t think I’m that conceited. I don’t think so, but…
Maybe, even in a one in a million chance… Is there any possibility of that?
One such day, during recess, Kurose-san was restlessly rummaging through her bag.
Although I was nervous, I spoke to her without thinking. That was just how unsettled she appeared to be.
“Aah… You see, I think I forgot my English homework notebook…”
Kurose-san looked at the school timetable. English was already on the next period.
“And today is my turn to get picked, too. What should I do…”
I felt like her delicate shoulders were trembling helplessly. Maybe she was exaggerating just because she forgot her homework, but I figured it might come as a shock to her, who was usually so earnest.
“…If you’d like, wanna copy mine?”
When I asked her, “Eh”, Kurose-san looked surprised.
“Is it okay?”
“It’s okay. …I don’t know if I got them right, though…”
Kurose-san looked at me with a truly happy face.
“You’re really so kind, Kashima-kun”
She then took the notebook from me, and gave me an embarrassed, bashful smile.
“Maybe… I like such a kind person”
Her cheeks turned red.
Inside my ears, the words of the guys in my class resounded.
──Does she have someone she likes, I wonder?
No way… There’s no way.
Me, Kurose-san does…?
Is that why she’s turning down the confessions of all those cheery guys?
In that case… Is she maybe waiting for my confession?
No, there’s just no way, so I thought, but the pounding of my heart didn’t stop.
Even afterwards, the “Kurose Challenge” of those guys continued.
“I heard Yoshida also failed”
“Ishikawa also did”
Each time I heard that, I let out a sigh of relief and at the same time I couldn’t stop my heart from pounding wildly.
Then on one such occasion, I happened to hear a rumor that there would be a seat change soon.
“I heard we’re changing seats next week”
“It’s only June, though”
“Eh, isn’t it normal? When I was in sixth grade, we changed seats twice a month, you know?”
The chatter of my classmates rapidly was becoming distant.
Changing seats… I’ll be separated from Kurose-san.
Miraculously, Kurose-san and I were both on class duty that day.
Class duty was a job of staying in the classroom after school until the last, erasing the blackboard and turning off the lights, and then leaving the classroom after closing the windows.
When we finally found ourselves alone in the classroom, I was anxious and nervous, and my heart was beating so fast it felt like it would explode at any moment.
“Hey, did you hear it? They said we’re changing seats next week,” Kurose-san said as she was erasing the blackboard.
Kurose-san’s well-featured profile shone divinely in the sunlight coming in through the window. When I saw her face, I was uncharacteristically struck by a heartrending urge.
──Why won’t you say it? Kashima-kun. Even though I want to be confessed by you…
I felt like her profile was appealing to me in such a way. And before I knew it, in the empty classroom, I opened my mouth.
Perhaps sensing from my tone of voice that something was unusual, Kurose-san stopped her hand and looked at me.
“…What is it?”
Her face was pure, like a saint’s.
It’s alright. If it’s this girl, I’m sure she’ll accept it.
Because, that time too.
──I wanted to get along well with you, Kashima-kun.
Also that time.
──Maybe… I like such a kind person.
She’s got a feeling for me. I can’t see it any other way anymore.
Kurose-san is waiting for my confession.
So show some guts, me.
I felt my throat tightening and the tip of my tongue tangling, but I couldn’t stop anymore after coming this far.
“Li-like to… Go out with me?”
Kurose-san’s eyes opened wide at my confession.
“…Does that mean, you like me?”
At that moment, I felt a tinge of relief appear on Kurose-san’s face.
I knew it… I’m glad. For me, she also has a…
For a moment, I didn’t understand what she had just said.
However, I understood from her apologetic expression that I didn’t seem to have misheard her, nor Kurose-san had made a verbal slip.
“I do think of you as a good friend, though, Kashima-kun…”
Eh? Are you kidding me?
Then, what about those numerous suggestive behaviours?
Is everything… My misunderstanding?
A misunderstanding, huh…
I couldn’t accept reality.
Even at this very moment, my mind was full of thoughts about Kurose-san.
Then after that, not knowing how I finished my class duty anymore, I found myself on my way home alone.
Ah, so this is what it’s like to be rejected, huh, I thought.
The sky illuminated by the sun leaning to the west was beyond beautiful, and I felt irrationally upset.
It has been four years since that time, huh.
Even at that time, the following week’s seat change was awkward, and I couldn’t make a decent parting, didn’t I. Since I didn’t have true friendship, I wasn’t even listed as the challenger of “Kurose Challenge.” I just fell in secret, alone.
But, if I think about it now, that was probably a good experience.
Because, the past is what makes the present.
When I turned around upon hearing Runa’s voice, I found her two seats back in the next row. She waved her hand at me while smiling.
When I saw her smiling face, it warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face.
I lightly waved back at her while I was feeling embarrassed.
“Our seats are a bit closer now, right!,” said Runa.
That day after school, while I was walking home with Runa next to me.
“But still, we also didn’t get to be next to each other this time… Maybe we can on the next seat change?”
She looked a little dissatisfied and it’s cute.
“I wonder. Even though there are more than thirty people, the chances of being just right next to each other are pretty good, you know?”
“Eeh~, but don’t you wanna be next to each other?”
“Well, I want to, but… It’s also alright if we don’t”
Seeing Runa pouting her lips, my face became hot. It was because thinking about what I was about to say now made me feel embarrassed.
“…My feelings… I-is gonna be, always next to you”
I said it. So embarrassing…
Runa’s cheeks turned red. And then she came to lean in close to me.
“Hey, can we hold hands?”
We’re still near school, so it would be embarrassing if anyone saw us, though.
Her slender fingers intertwined with mine, and my thoughts were also entangled.
I love Runa.
On the same day I ended up remembering a very slightly bittersweet memory, I feel the time I’m spending with her is extremely sweet.
Suddenly looking at me with upturned eyes, Runa leaned in closer.
“About what you said before, something like ‘time will make you forget the past that’s haunting you’”
I wonder if it’s something I said during summer vacation when I was working at Mao-san’s beach house, I thought.
As I was wondering what she was talking about, “But can you really forget about it?,” Runa said as if murmuring, dropping her gaze downwards.
“I’m a bit relieved… That Maria didn’t get to be by your side, Ryuuto”
Feeling like she had seen through me reminiscing about the past, I was startled.
“…I can forget about it. The past is the past after all“
The hopelessness I had on the day I was rejected by Kurose-san was no longer in my heart.
Four years had passed, and the scars were gradually closing up and becoming one of my folders of memories.
If I could, I would like to have her peek into my mind.
To see just how full it was with my feelings towards Runa.
“The one I love right now… Is you, Runa”
Though embarrassed, I conveyed it to her stammeringly, and then Runa, “Ehehe,” laughed happily.
“Me too, I love you, Ryuuto,” she said, smiling like the sun.
Her, who’s smiling like the sun, and only her do I want to cherish forever.