The following short story was originally published in the December 2000 issue of FaNTASIENNE, under the title Pre Prologue.
It has been translated from the original Japanese.
…I hate rainy days.
My uniform gets wet, my hair gets all messed up, and mud gets splashed all over my shoes…
But the absolute worst part, is that it means the trains are going to be packed.
I’m gonna get flattened, at this rate.
I’d really appreciate it if everyone would just stop leaning against me.
My book bag is getting crushed too, even as I clutch it to my chest.
I sure hope my textbooks are okay…
All my notebooks are probably getting crinkled up…
And my uniform’s got to be all wrinkly now, too..
And if that wasn’t bad enough, people have been stepping on my feet this entire time, so my shoes must be totally filthy by now.
The flowing scenery outside the window gradually blurs into a soft spectrum, and the train starts to rumble and shake.
Having nothing to hold on to, I hunch over a little, trying to withstand the momentum.
I squeeze my bag in tight to my chest.
But the tremors beneath my feet are making it harder and harder to keep my balance.
All of a sudden, I found myself having enough space to breathe in the once-claustrophobic train car.
I hesitantly lift my head up to take a look.
And when I do, right there in front of me, is…
I just know who he is — I’ve never actually talked to him. And I’m sure he has no idea who I am.
And yet, for some reason…
Narumi-kun has his right arm bracing against the door from his hand to his elbow, as if trying to protect me from the rest of the passengers.
We almost make eye contact, but I panic and look away.
What am I supposed to do now…?
I want to try talking to him, but I just don’t know what to say.
I’m blushing up a storm, I’m filled with an unexplainable sense of happiness, and I’ve got butterflies in my stomach…
Should I say something to him…?
As the train pulls in to the platform, an even stronger force of momentum starts to throw me off balance.
Narumi-kun grits his teeth, and braces himself to support both of our weights.
I could sense the exact moment that my heart skipped a beat.
After one last huge jolt, the doors on the opposite side of the cabin slowly opened.
Many of the passengers disembarked.
But an even greater number of people came onboard after them.
The jingle signaling our departure plays over the intercom.
With the high-pitched flute melody still ringing in my ears, the doors shut and we begin to move.
The train pulls out of the station, more crowded than before — now so cramped that I’m basically being hugged into Narumi-kun’s chest.
I can feel his steady breathing on my hair.
It feels like I can almost hear his heartbeat, even…
I start to wonder whether he can hear mine, too, and a sudden wave of embarrassment flows over me.
Uh-oh… Now I definitely can’t lift my head up.
I unconsciously squeeze my bag tightly, as if trying to suppress my embarrassment.
Any concern I could’ve spared for my textbooks and notebooks goes out the window.
Each time the rickety train jerks from one side to the other, my face gets buried in Narumi-kun’s shoulder.
It’s warm, sturdy, and I can smell the laundry detergent in his clothes.
With a huge thunk, the train goes over a bump, and I can’t help but let out a little yelp of pain.
Even though all he did was accidentally step on my foot.
「Sorry, that was probably my bad…」
Astonished by his whispering in my ear, I reflexively turn up to look at him.
I knew I really shouldn’t have, but by the time I realized what I was doing, it was already too late.
「U-Um, don’t worry about it, I’m just fine, so, um, well, uh… I’m sorry…」
…I’m such an idiot.
Why the heck am I apologizing…?
He’s going to think I’m so weird…
「Well, if you say so…」
「No, it’s okay, really. It’s no big deal, I’m fine… promise.」
I slowly, ever so cautiously raise my head, only to see that Narumi-kun had turned his face away and was staring at an advertisement.
Is it just me, or is he blushing?
…No, that can’t be…
He probably couldn’t even hear me, that’s all.
But, just maybe… No, there’s no way.
I must be imagining things. Probably because I’m already feeling so ridiculously happy, just from having him shield me like this…
『…Next stop, Hakuryo Hiiragi Preparatory Academy. Doors will be opening on the right.』
Over the train’s PA comes the announcement that we’re nearing our destination.
Just a little longer, and I’ll be set free from this stuffy, crowded train.
But, I guess that’ll also mean the end of me being here with Narumi-kun like this. And who knows if this will ever happen again.
It’s sad to think about, but it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it…
The train decelerates as it pulls in to the platform.
Outside the window, the station comes into view. I’ve basically memorized this place at this point, it being a part of my morning commute.
Finally, the train screeches slowly to a halt.
I hate the rain, and I hate crowded trains. But, just for today, I’ll promise not to complain about either…
I find myself almost forcibly pushed out onto the platform, and then I’m alone again.
I stand still and try looking around for Narumi-kun, but I can’t find him.
Although, even if I managed to track him down, it’s not like i have the courage to call out to him…
Giving up, I start walking along with the flow of pedestrians.
I rub out some of the wrinkles in my uniform, and try to pull my smushed book bag back into shape.
My shoes were much cleaner than I’d expected. But unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said about my stockings, which now had little mud stains splattered all over them.
—And I just got these, too…
I sure hope they’ll come out in the wash…
I continue walking along with the flow of traffic, and happen to notice Narumi-kun standing at the bottom of the stairs leading outside.
He’s looking around restlessly. Almost like he’s searching for someone.
On an impulse, I hide myself in someone else’s shadow to make sure he doesn’t see me.
—What am I even doing…?
I mean, what if… and this is a really, really big what-if… he just happened to be looking for me…?
All of a sudden, I hear someone call out to Narumi-kun.
He looks kind of bewildered, and then turns in the direction the voice was coming from.
Curious, I glance over — and right there, were Mitsuki and Taira-kun.
「Oh, great. It’s you guys… Talk about a bad omen to start off the morning.」
「Well, excuuuse you!」
The two of them run up to where Narumi-kun is standing.
「Whatcha doin’? Kinda looked like you were waiting for someone.」
「Hm? Oh, did it? Nah, I was just standing around. Don’t worry about it…」
Narumi-kun answers inattentively, while still scanning the area.
「He’s not listening, Hayase.」
Mitsuki’s eyes narrow, and she makes a devious grin.
「Alright buster, start talkin’. You have a run-in with a little cutie on the train? You waitin’ so you can check her out some more?」
No, I’m not cute at all, Mitsuki…
I mean, this is me we’re talking about…
…Oh, gosh… What am I saying…?
I just… jumped to conclusions… and assumed Narumi-kun must’ve been looking for me…
…I’m so embarrassed I’m gonna die.
「Wha…!? Dumbass, I wasn’t checking her out. And besides! How do even know it was a girl!?」
「Whaddya mean〜? I never said anything about it being a girl, did I〜?」
「Oh, right! Sorry, I forgot that ‘cutie’ is totally gender-neutral these days!!」
「You’re only digging yourself an even deeper hole by denying it so hard, dude.」
Taira-kun tries to advise him as he teasingly shakes him by the shoulders, as if to show that it’s futile to resist.
Narumi-kun looks miffed, but eventually gives in to their pestering, letting out a despondent sigh.
「So, did you find out what her name was?」
「I mean, no…」
「God, you’re hopeless.」
「Shut up. And I already told you, I wasn’t checking her out…」
「What the hell? Why the sarcastic tone? You trying to make a fool out of me!?」
「She doesn’t have to try, dude… You’re making a fool out of yourself.」
—Aw, it sounds so fun… If only I could fool around with my friends like that, too…
…But, I doubt that’ll ever happen.
I’m just not that type, is all…
I really envy Mitsuki…
She’s so positive, and she gets along with everyone.
And… she’s in the same class as Narumi-kun, so she knows far more about him than I ever could.
At least she’s able to get to know him…
「—But wait. If she got off at this station, then… does that mean she goes to the same school as us?」
「Yeah, she was wearing our uniform.」
「What year was she?」
—I’m the same as you guys, ugh…
I’m even in the classroom right next to yours…
「Like I said, dude. I didn’t ask.」
「Uh, pretty sure you could’ve found out just from looking at the color of her hemlines, dude…」
When Taira-kun points that out, Narumi-kun’s expression instantly stiffens up.
And then, he storms off up the stairs on his own.
「Ah, hey! Get back here, you! Don’t think you’re gonna convince me that you didn’t even notice what color her uniform was!」
「Shut up! Even if I wanted to, it’s not like I could’ve just checked her out! She was all up on me!」
Thinking back on what happened in the train, the embarrassment comes rushing back.
I mean, I can even still feel traces of his body heat lingering on my skin…
And I can’t get the sound of his soft, whispering voice out of my ears, either.
My heart’s starting to race again…
I don’t need a mirror to be able to tell that my face must be turning bright red right now.
「’All up on you,’ eh…? Wow, Takayuki. You really suck at this whole interrogation thing, don’t you…?」
「…Gh… Don’t be delusional, dude. That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Quit misconstruing my words.」
「What’s there to misconstrue!? Sounds to me like you had yourself a nice, steamy little intimate moment to start off the morning!」
「Oh, for the love of… I dunno what the hell you two are imagining, but I assure you: there was nothing ‘intimate’ about it whatsoever! Nothing happened! Zero!」
「See? That’s the kind of shit I’m talking about. That just proves that this chick totally got inside your head. You’ve got the hots for her, dude.」
Their voices start to fade off into the distance as they climb the stairs.
I let myself be moved along by the flow of traffic, and start walking up the stairs myself, being careful to keep a safe distance behind them.
「God, you are sooo totally worthless. You’ll never get a girlfriend at this rate.」
「Hey, c’mon, Hayase. No need to be so brutally honest with him. You’ll hurt his feelings.」
「…Shinji-kun? Did I hear that wrong, or did you just agree with her…? Whose side are you on here, anyway!?」
「Oh, uh… Nah, dude! I was just kidding around! Ahahahah… Ow, hey! Cut it out! Lemme go, dude!!」
「Ugh, c’mon! Knock it off, you guys! You’re making a scene!」
—I wonder if there’ll ever come a day when I can just relax around him, and have fun talking with them like that?
A day when I can walk alongside them, as their friend…
A day I can spend laughing together with them…
A day when Narumi-kun might smile and laugh together with me…
「But, well… You might be right, I guess. I probably should’ve asked her name, at least…」
「Well, she does go to the same school as us. I’m sure you’ll get a second chance.」
I wanted to tell him my name, too…
But I’m still too much of a fraidy-cat.
Honestly, I wish I could just walk right up there, and start talking to him right this second…
But… I just don’t have the courage to do that yet.
And yet, I still want him to at least know my name…
—Suzumiya Haruka. Nice to meet you, Narumi-kun…