Ayumu and I walked around the stalls that lined the sides of the temple grounds.
“This year’s candy apples are so much better than the usual ones! Look, look, look!”
Ayumu happily showed me the candy apples she had just bought.
“Aren’t all the candy apples the same every year?”
“That’s not true. Then, would you like to try a bite?”
Ayumu then held out the candy apple to me.
From where she had bitten into it, I could see the candy-colored cross section of the apple. The small teeth marks she had made reminded me of her lips, and I looked away.
“N-No, thanks. I’m not good with sweets.”
“Are you embarrassed, Tomo-kun?” Ayumu asked in a teasing tone, as if she knew what I was thinking.
“I-I’m not embarrassed!”
“Hey, look! They’re having a goldfish scooping event over there! Let’s go see!”
Ayumu, perhaps completely caught up in the atmosphere of the festival, was more energetic and excited than ever. The sight of her nape (of her neck), pure white and beautiful as she innocently pulled my hand, popped into my eyes without fail.
Taichi’s words lingered in my mind. Thanks to this, I was strangely aware of Ayumu’s every move, and I couldn’t help but worry that she might not realize my inner thoughts.
――But you, didn’t you confess because you wanted to go beyond that?
I know. I know that better than anyone.
Is Ayumu cute? What are you talking about now? I’ve been watching her from the time she was born until now. How could I not know?
I’m a man too. Of course, I’m interested in that kind of thing. I want to touch Ayumu’s body. I want to kiss her. I want to … go beyond that.
But what if she refuses?
I think I’m pathetic, too. But because we’ve known each other for so long, there are times when I can’t take the decisive step.
She’s a naive girl. She might think it’s too early for high school students to have sex. In fact, she might even think that I confessed to her for her body.
What if it makes Ayumu despise me? What if she hates me?
With just one word, my relationship with Ayumu might be over. All the precious time that I had accumulated with Ayumi since her birth might be ruined. There was no way I could say such a thing.
A sudden tug on my sleeve brought me back to myself.
“What’s wrong, Tomo-kun? You look scary.”
Ayumu stared at my face with concern. I wondered if I looked that deep in thought.
“… It’s nothing. Actually, I stayed up a little late last night.”
“You shouldn’t stay up so late, you know?”
When I said that, Ayumu laughed with a ‘I can’t help it’ look on her face.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to announce–“
At that time, an announcement began to be broadcast from a loudspeaker set up at the venue.
The main event of the summer festival, the fireworks display, was about to begin.
“Well, should we get going too?”
The look of trust in her eyes was so bright and painful that I couldn’t look at them properly.
As I pushed down my inner anxiety and conflicts, I pulled Ayumu’s hand and left the premises.
We headed for the embankment of the riverbank, far away from the noise of the festival, where there were few people.
From this embankment, which was located a little far from the festival site, we couldn’t see the entire fireworks display because of the bridge. This meant that we could take our time and avoid the crowds, so it was a secret pleasure for Ayumi and me to watch the fireworks from a distance here after having fun around at the festival. …
“It’s pretty packed with people. …”
It didn’t turn out as we had anticipated. On the dimly lit embankment, we could see a number of men and women who looked like couples already sitting on the bank.
“Why are all these couples here, of all places, …?”
“Tomo-kun. We’re just like them, aren’t we?”
Ayumu said with a chuckle.
“Hey, let’s go further upstream.”
We headed upstream, with the flirting couple at our side.
In the meantime, the fireworks display had started, and by the time we finally found a place to sit, we had left the festival site a long way behind.
“Haa~ … You can barely see anything from here.”
“We’ll have to find somewhere else to go next year.”
Tired of walking, we sat down on the grass and took a breather. The gentle breeze was soothing to our burning bodies.
The fireworks display was about to reach its climax. The sound of fireworks going off in rapid succession could be heard from a distance.
“Hey, Tomo-kun,” Ayumi said, staring at the faintly glowing bridge.” What’s troubling you?”
My heart jumped as Ayumu’s sudden words hit the nail on the head.
With that, Ayumu turned around.
“I’ve been watching … you for a long time.”
A caring, yet straightforward gaze pierced me.
Ayumi gently laid her own hand on my clenched hand.
“If you have a problem, tell me about it.”
I can’t tell you. There was no way I could tell her.
If I did, Ayumu would be …
“Is it because … it’s about me?”
“It’s because … today, Tomo-kun, whenever I talk to you, you always have a blank expression on your face. …”
I sensed that Ayumu’s voice was trembling.
“Look at your face, it looks so, so painful.”
When I looked up, I saw big teardrops in Ayumu’s eyes.
“Hey, Tomo-kun. Maybe you’re sick of going out with me …?”
A droplet of tears trickled down her cheek and fell onto her overlapped hands.
I felt the blood drain from my entire body.
It was only at this point that I finally realized how stupid I had been.
What the hell am I doing?
All I could think about was how I would get hurt, and I didn’t even think about how Ayumu would feel when she saw it.
I didn’t want Ayumu to look like this.
“Tomo-kun, can you …?”
Ayumu’s body went stiff as I suddenly hugged her.
“… I’m sorry, Ayumu.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“I’m such an idiot. I was so worried about all the unnecessary things, and in the end, I didn’t see Ayumu at all.”
Ayumi, in my arms, murmured my name in a low voice.
I slowly let go of my body and looked straight into Ayumu’s face and said. “I like you, Ayumu. I love you. So please … stop making that face.”
“… ~Tsu, hi~tsu, ku, u, u~u ~tsu.” (T/N: she crying and making sounds)
Rather than stopping crying, Ayumu’s face became even more crumpled and tearful.
“Ah, oh!? I’m sorry, I’m doing something weird again. …”
“You’re wrong. Because I was wondering if … Tomo-kun hated me.”
“Baka, that’s not possible. … I’m really sorry, Ayumu.”
I could feel the heat and breath coming from the face buried in my chest.
I placed my hand on her back and patted her trying to soothe her.
We stayed like that for the rest of the night, holding each other.
When I was sure that Ayumu had calmed down enough, I told her exactly how I felt.
“I want to do that with Ayumu, my childhood friend.”
Ayumu smiled and slowly closed her eyes, understanding my intentions.
As we pressed our lips against each other’s, a huge firework display lit up behind us.