Chapter 52: Returning the favor
“And why on earth did you invite me?”
Okajima-kun began as he sat down next to Itakura-san.
His eyes were not on us, but on the menu list in his hand.
Without waiting for a response, he called the waiter and placed his order.
It was as if nothing was wrong, as if he had asked a question and was not interested in the answer.
It was unnaturally natural.
It was impossible for him not to understand.
This group of people, and Itakura-san, had called him with a hint of what the meeting was about.
In other words, this gathering was an unimportant part of his daily life, as I realized.
The conversation that was about to take place was a matter that he did not need to be concerned about in any way.
I was irrationally angry at his attitude.
I knew why.
It was because he reminded me of myself a little while ago.
”Okajima-kun, do you remember Kitami?”
Of course he remembers him.
After all, he was the one who spread the fake e-mail.”
Itakura-san informed me that she found out right away after asking around a little.
This is why I called him up today.
I knew I had to hear what he had to say.
The reason I asked him like this must have been out of defiance against his attitude.
There was someone like that?”
A tentative affirmation.
It’s a whitewash.
Miyajima-san, let’s get down to business, shall we? It’s an undeniable fact that that guy bullied Emi regardless of what anyone thinks.”
Itakura-san starts out.
It seems that her position is still on Emi’s side.
However, her aggressive attitude may be understandable.
For her, Okajima is someone to blame with a good cause.
And there is ample evidence to back it up.
Of course, it was me.
“You remember, don’t you? How you bullied Emi at that time.
After that, you also bullied Kitami.”
In order to make it impossible for him to escape, I told him so clearly.
He may have felt that it was difficult to ignore the fact that he had been told so much, but he seemed to have given up.
Ah, I remember.
It was around the time when I was in eighth grade, wasn’t it?”
But he doesn’t stop there.
”So? What’s that all about?”
He said it in such a resentful manner that I almost thought his attitude was normal.
I felt my blood boil.
I wanted to ask him why he was so unapologetic, why he didn’t feel sorry for his behavior.
It was Itakura-san who interrupted my impulse.
“Stop it with this bullsh*t.
Emi is still suffering because of that! And yet, what’s with that attitude!”
Her voice was subdued, but her words were full of power.
I thought it was very typical that Kitami’s name was not there.
But I was also grateful that she said it so clearly, so I swallowed it.
And the reply to those words were
“Ah? It’s a little late for that, isn’t it? I mean, she was the perpetrator in the first place.”
He shifted the subject.
It was irrelevant that Emi was one of the perpetrators.
“That doesn’t make what Okajima-kun can be neglected.
It’s simply one more perpetrator, isn’t it?”
”—Who the hell do you think you are in the first place? You’re just as guilty as she is.”
I feel an illusion of tightness in my chest.
No, it is actually clutched in my chest.
The past sins, the regrets.
”What about it? Do you want me to apologize to him? Is that what you wants? If I called him up all the way here just to say that, it’s really annoying, isn’t it?”
I was at a loss for words as the conversation wound down so quickly.
I have to say something.
This is not “that kind of thing” at all.
”I mean, Itakura already knows, right? That I was threatened by Emi too.”
”Do you understand? Everyone is already a perpetrator and a victim.
Well, surely? I feel sorry for Kitami, but that was a long time ago?”
”‘It was a long time ago’, no way”
”Because it’s true, isn’t it? That guy left the school without accusing me of anything.
You know what that means, right?”
”T-that’s because we lied…!”
He was complaining.
We were the ones who trampled on his words.
”I don’t know that for a fact.
You’re the one who did it, no?”
”Why do you think you are the only one in a different position?”
”—-! T-That’s! I didn’t mean …!”
”There it is.
I didn’t mean? Because you are the only one who was remorseful.
You are on Kitami’s side.
Aren’t you forgiving yourself for saying that? That’s very self-satisfying, you know.”
That word pierces my heart deeply and profoundly.
It should not matter what others say.
I know that is the principle of my behavior.
I am aware of it.
And on top of that, I want to help him, because that’s what I feel like doing.
Above all, I am not hiding this feeling from Kitami.
And yet, it stings.
My actions seem shallow.
I am reminded that in the end, everything I do is for myself.
More than anything else, I felt frustrated that he seemed to see through everything I did.
The frustrated me makes me feel even more petty, which triggers a negative cycle.
”It’s already too late.
Why are you digging it up now? Does that guy who left without saying a word really want this?”
I don’t know that.
This gathering today is at the sole discretion of Itakura-san and myself.
I didn’t tell him.
My mind wandered to myself, wondering if I had been a nuisance, if I had gone the extra mile.
“You’re just like him, so give me a break with your pompous high-mindedness.”
I have to talk back.
It won’t change if I don’t.
Change? Change what? Even though I’m the same as him?
Is there nothing I can say back to him…?
”ーIn the first place, having a girl say such a thing for Kitami is too lame (laughs)…”
“Ha…? What the hell are you doing, Itakura…”
”—-And what about it? You’re still a piece of sh*t”
It was Itakura-san who saved me —- she said so in a dignified voice.
She was splashing water on Okajima.
“Ha, what are you talking about?”
“To begin with, you bullied Emi.
Don’t put that on the shelf and say what you’re saying.”
“Like I said, Emi bullied Kitami, too, so she’s just as guilty…”
”No, of course not! That doesn’t erase your doing! By Kitami’s standards, you can’t be innocent!”
It was unexpected.
It was a statement that clearly defended Kitami.
“A-Are you sure! That makes Emi the bad guy, too, right?”
“What about it! Then I’ll just make her sorry! I’m not trying to get rid of Emi’s guilt!”
I had fallen for her words.
Because I thought she was just on Emi’s side.
Because I thought she would not take Kitami’s side.
“And that’s enough! Let’s go, Kana!”
I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I should grab the offered hand.
But she grabbed my hand forcefully.
“…You’re going to return the favor to Kitami, aren’t you? Let’s go, quickly.”
It was a word that seemed to clear away the fog in my heart.
Yes, it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do.
I think Kitami, of all people, taught me that it’s not about forgiveness or unforgiveness.
Kitami accepted my words.
I was returning the favor.
“Then, that’s what it’s about!”
Simple, I thought to myself.
It’s bad enough that I can rely on him to push me along.
We left the restaurant.
It was a bit of a painful turn of events, but we had achieved our goal.
”… Thanks, Mizuki.”
She must have her own feelings about it.
I’ll pretend I didn’t see her slightly vermilion face.
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