It was just like I had been dreaming... The unexpected confession from Toshi, for whom I'd thought my feelings were one-sided for so long... He had always liked me. That's what he'd said to me.
"When I graduate from university, I'll come back for you."
That was definitely a proposal. I couldn't agree to his sudden confession right away, but in my heart I had already decided. Just remembering his soft voice made me smile uncontrollably. That was my answer. I felt the happiest I'd ever felt in my life... However. When we parted. After we met Nobukuni... I'd felt something pounding continuously in my head, like the chiming of a big bell. I dragged my heavy body back to my room and collapsed on the bed.
Like he had been waiting for my headache to clear up, another call came from Nobukuni that evening. Recently I'd become used to his tense voice.
"I want to see you tonight. Come see me and keep it a secret from Toshio, okay?"
I should have been able to turn him down, but I couldn't resist his desperate-sounding words and left the house as he'd said, heading for our meeting place.
This was a place that held memories for me too. It was a part Toshi, Nobukuni and I used to play in all the time when we were little. Insects had gathered around the streetlights, which emitted a faint buzzing sound. These days no one tended to it or visited it. The weeds surrounding the play equipment gave off a somehow sad feeling. It didn't look like Nobukuni was there yet. I sat down on the bench beside the rusty swing and remembered how Nobukuni and Toshi had been that afternoon. It had seemed like a drunken argument... I couldn't really hear what they were talking about, but I knew what Nobukuni wanted to say to me.
"Don't look so sad, Ryoko... Are you still thinking about Toshio, even now we're finally on a date?"
Nobukuni ran into the park, his rough footsteps audible, and sat down beside me... unexpectedly putting his arm around my shoulders.
"Um... N-Nobukuni? Hold on a moment."
I tried to shake him off, but he grabbed onto the arm I reached out with surprising strength and stared hard at me again, speaking with a suppressed voice.
"Looks like he proposed... Did you respond yet?"
"Did you? From the way he seemed earlier I guess you haven't yet. He's got good manners, hasn't he? If he did it like what I'm doing now..."
Nobukuni suddenly tugged on my arm, and when I tried to get away he pressed me tightly against his chest, then whispered in an abruptly kind voice into my ear.
"How did he confess to you, huh? 'I like you... I've always liked you, since we were kids, and I do now and always will'... Was it like that?"
Stab... stabtstabstabstab. My head... hurt. It was different from before, a heavier pain... Why?
"Not just that. How did he say it? 'I love you, I want to be with you forever'... Was it like that? But I'm not giving you over to him, Ryoko."
Toshi? ...Yes, that's what he said. Stabstabstabstab... What was wrong with me? My head... What was I doing? I couldn't do this... I had to get away... from... Nobu... kuni...
"Don't do it, Ryoko. I love you more than he does. I want you. You know that, don't you?"
His sigh, the strength of his arms holding onto me... He wanted me... right? Who did? As the throbbing in my head sped up, my heart began to pound, making a furious sound... Boom boom boom boom...
"You didn't respond right away because you knew how I felt, right? I know that, I do. Ahh, my Ryoko. You're mine. You're going to choose me."
Ah... Yes, that was right.
That was right. I'd always wanted him to say that. That he'd always liked me... in that soft voice. Right... Toshi? It was Toshi saying I was his, right? That voice, those arms... It was definitely Toshi holding me, wasn't it? Nobukuni was scary. But Toshi was sweet. Yeah, like this...
"I'm so happy. I... like you too. I want to be yours and yours alone."
"...Ryoko? That... Is that true?"
It was true... Why did his face look so strange? He looked like a different person to the usual Toshi. So strange, haha. Oh, but I'm sorry. My head is kind of... my chest... I'm happy, but I... feel... weird...
The cell... The time has come...
That girl... What is she doing?
...The moon is still telling me... We must make sure that the sacrifice is safe...
The Rite of Clairvoyance... draws nearer...
I know... I know this...
The girl... the sacrifice is beginning to forget herself...
This I know... And soon, her thumping heart will find itself in my palm, to offer up to the moon and I...
Her eyes, which have lost the ability to see the truth...
Soon enough... Very, very soon...
She will forget herself...
Feeling as though someone's voice was squashing my heart, I suddenly awoke... and I was in my room. Huh? The night before, I had definitely... I had definitely met up with someone. I felt as though something important had happened, but with the choking feeling and the dull pain in my head my memories had all been swept away. What I could remember was... something really painful, and a happy feeling. And then at some point, I had arrived home and got into my futon. All I vaguely remembered was coming home.
"This is weird. What's wrong?"
When I tried to think, the pain got worse. Luckily, the shop was closed for the day. My dad and brother were busy with preparations for the village's rituals, so they had left home early.
Feeling an uncomfortable sensation, I stood alone in the restaurant. As I did so, a person's shadow suddenly opened the door and peeked inside.
The person peeping inside the shop was Toshi.
"Oh, morning, Toshi. What's up?"
"Oh, nothing, uh... I don't really have any reason, I just wanted to stop by and see what you were up to," Toshi said, and smiled brightly at me.
It was infectious, and I smiled back. Just seeing his face seemed to lighten up my gloomy mood from earlier.
(I like you too... I want to be yours and yours alone...)
A stabbing pain began inside my head. Ah... I'd definitely said that yesterday. Yeah... I said that to him. To my beloved Toshi. That was how I responded to his proposal. Right?
As I recalled the faint memory, I looked into Toshi's kind eyes.
"W-what is it, Ryoko? Is there something on my face?"
Was he so embarrassed about meeting me because of my response yesterday? That had to be it, right? Thinking this made me love him more.
"...No? It's nothing. Haha."
My words had been quite daring. Remembering them made my cheeks flush a little. But... yesterday, Toshi had held me so passionately. Maybe it was okay that I had been so bold because I was responding to those feelings. I guess it meant that... we were as good as lovers now.
"There are some surprisingly cute things about you, you know, Toshi!" I said, linking arms with him casually.
"H-hey... Ryoko?" Toshi said, confused.
"Isn't this nice? Can we do this a little? Huh?"
"Uh, yeah, but... it's kind of sudden..." Toshi said.
As he spoke, the shop door suddenly opened.
"Huh? Nobukuni, is that you? What have you been up to since this morning?"
Nobukuni took a step further inside the shop, his face changing colour instantly.
"Ryoko... What are you...?"
Nobukuni's gaze was aimed at Toshi and I's arms. Panicking, Toshi pulled away from me. I thought it was strange. We were lovers, weren't we? He was a friend who knew how we felt about each other.
Nobukuni's eyes still shone dangerously. Until yesterday, I had been afraid of him when he was like this. But today was different. Now my fiance, Toshi, was with me. Nobukuni had said he was in love with me, but surely, looking at us today, he would understand how I felt...
"Welcome, Nobukuni. What are you doing here today?"
Decisively I took Toshi's arm again, and directed a smile at Nobukuni. I was his now. He would understand that, wouldn't he?
"R-Ryoko... What do you mean?"
Nobukuni rushed over to me, his eyes still sparkling, while speaking in a voice that seemed to crawl up from the depths of the earth. I squeezed Toshi's arm tightly again, which made Nobukuni look even more surprised, and he suddenly turned around and left, slamming the door behind him.
Slam! Rattle! The shop's glass door made a horrible noise that shot through me. That moment, a harsh throbbing began pounding through my head. My vision went white... black... red... The colour changing was like blood was oozing out of my eyeballs... Throb throb throb... Thud thud thud... thud.
The voice was doubtful. Who was it...? Who called me just now? Toshi... no? Toshi wouldn't probe me with a voice like that... Nobukuni, then? Yeah, wasn't it Nobukuni? He was looking at me with a strange face. Ugh... his arm. Was I linking arms with a guy who wasn't Toshi? No, let go of me!
It was weird - why was my head hurting so much? My heart was pounding, too... I felt a little warm. What was this sensation? The pain moved deep into the backs of my eyes... Nobukuni's face was so close... Nonononononono! ...Where... Where did Toshi go? He had been beside me only a minute ago...
"Ryoko! Snap out of it, Ryoko! Are you feeling okay? Here, hold onto me... I'll take you back to your room. Okay?"
Nononono, I had to be with Toshi! He must have just left the shop. I had to go after him... I had to get away from Nobukuni...
"Ryoko? Where are you going? Wait... Wa-..."
Throb throb thob... Boom boom boom...
My consciousness began to fade as I rushed out of the shop after Toshi...