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“Hey, you’re Kachi-san from 1-E right?”
How does one pinpoint that exact moment they fell in love?
Sure, there will be those with enough romantic experience who might say that it’s something you can tell from observation, but for me it wasn’t even a matter of beginning to understand how.
I’d never thought I could ever fall in love in the first place.
She was a little surprised when she turned around, but then for some reason she broke into a smile.
It was just a coincidence.
With my penchant for taking the scenic route, I had opted against travelling the shortest route to the station and instead taken the long way along the river bank.
My reasons were simple. I had no club or cram school to go to, so I had no real reason to hurry. Taking the long route would also be more relaxing.
That was how I ended up passing by Kachi Shirokusa on my bicycle.
We weren’t in the same class or anything, but I had heard the rumours many times before.
–About the novelist.
Someone from the same grade, but already an accomplished author. A person from a slightly different dimension.
An incredible beauty, but with an equally aloof personality to match. She was always said to be seen alone, divorced from her surroundings – even projecting an aura of self-centeredness so strong her whole world seemed to revolve only around herself. There was more than enough there to pique anybody’s interest.
That’s why I tried reading her novels. And to be completely honest, I was blown away.
I began to think it was only a matter of time before I would try and talk to her.
But even alone she was too conspicuous a target. Talking to someone who no one talks to at all would be an incredible spectacle. Just imagining it was enough to make the coward in me freeze, and every day I hesitated and hesitated until eventually putting off the matter till the next.
When the time finally came it was truly a coincidence.
When I passed her she had parked her bicycle by the side of the road and climbed the stairs going up the embankment.
She seemed to be gazing at the river.
With no one around, it was the perfect opportunity to finally talk – an opportunity I felt I would never get again.
Rebuking my racing heart, sweating palms, and the part of me which had decided to again give up and try another day – I finally spoke, saying those words at the start.
“Maru-kun from Class G, if I’m not mistaken?”
I was completely taken aback. With my average test scores, middling looks and ordinary athletic ability, I didn’t think there was a chance she would actually know me.
“Was I wrong?”
“Oh, no no! Y-You’re right! I’m Maru! Maru Sueharu from Class G! I surprised you knew!”
“Well, I think I can put a name to most of the faces of the people in my grade.”
I should have expected no less from a genius who made her literary debut in the first year of high school. She was on a different level.
“So… was there something you wanted?”
Her long, beautiful black hair trailed in the wind.
I mustn’t get distracted. Her iciness is legendary. If I blank out here-
“So you called out to me for no reason then? You must be mocking me. I’m afraid you must have mistaken me for a mannequin in a window display. Please, if you’re just going to stare, do me a favour and leave.”
A stream of merciless words would be the response.
In school I had seen the dejected figures of multiple boys, laid low in much the same fashion, so many times before.
Those luscious lips seemed to wait expectantly for me to succumb to the same despondency.
However, suppressing the unhealthy emotions and anxiety that threatened to come out of me, I spat my next words out.
“–Your book. I read it.”
Her eyebrows twitched.
“… My book?”
She took a deep breath and looked at me with expectant eyes.
“… May I know your thoughts?”
The plot of the novel swirled in my mind.
The protagonist was an eleven-year-old girl called Mashiro. She was clumsy and introverted. Being constantly bullied, she stopped going to school and locked herself in a world of her own imagination. In a world where it was unclear where reality stopped and fantasy began, she met a bright and cheerful boy of the same age called Haruto.
From a literary perspective, what shone most was Kachi’s ability to masterfully tackle the sensitive subject matter of bullying straight on. Using illusion as a metaphor, she was able to bring the difficult path Mashiro took to salvation to life.
Mashiro received the gift of courage from Haruto, and when Haruto disappeared after Mashiro finally broke through the stigma of her bullying, the scene unknowingly brought me to tears.
Yes, that was why. While I could never find the best words like a critic might, I had to convey my feelings – my true feelings I let my gut tell her instead.
“It was incredible. I was really moved.”
Her hand went to her mouth and her eyes widened.
Tears began welling up in the corners of her eyes. She seemed to be more happy than she appeared.
As her coldhearted façade which could have been said to be made out of ice crumbled, she grinned.
“–Thank you. Hearing you say that makes me really happy. I’m really glad… that I tried as hard as I did up till now.”
After that nothing really happened and our conversation ended.
I remember the joy and satisfaction I felt at long last being able to say the things I had wanted to for so long.
But that wasn’t all. I kept her smiling face in my memory as well.
I began to want to talk to her again.
Having finally been able to talk to the book’s author, I really should have talked more about the parts I liked particularly. Things I liked about the characters perhaps, or which scenes I felt were especially emotional.
I was in the midst of those thoughts when I realised I was just finding excuses for myself to talk to her. More than the novel or anything really, I just really wanted to talk to her.
That’s when I realised again that, wait, I might just maybe be falling in love with her.
“No no, there’s no way.”
Yeah, isn’t falling in love for the first time supposed to feel a lot more amazing than this? Like being too excited to sleep or turning red in the face and being too embarrassed to speak? That hasn’t happened to me, and sure, she’s hot, but I can’t have fallen in love with her just because of that, right?
By the time I was thinking those things I had already been completely consumed by the poison.
That’s right, poison.
This was not me falling in love. This was something making its way around my body, slowly eating me whole – or so I thought anyway.
This was something I didn’t notice until it had invaded every corner of my person, until it was too late.
In the winter of my first year in high school, I was afflicted by the poison of love.
My first love.