* 10 *

In autumn, in my second year of middle school, the night before the culture festival, as the classes were finishing up all their presentation preparations, I remembered that this day held great significance in my life.
We were implicitly allowed to stay at school until 9 PM that night, so everyone finished up early so we could have a blast.

It might have been a little after 6 PM. As I took in the breeze on the veranda outside, I watched my classmates making props and rehearsing a play in the classroom.
Suddenly, but not necessarily because anything had happened, I was filled with a feeling of happiness.
As I searched my mind for the cause, I realized it was that girl who would soon become irreplaceable.
I remembered that this was the day. It seemed that this was when I began to fall in love.

As ever, I didn't know who that fateful girl was, but I gleamed that today would bring the impetus for falling in love with the one who would become my girlfriend.

Thus, I stuck around the classroom as late as I could that day to meet her.
Just past nine, when I couldn't bear to wait any longer, a classmate spoke up.
"Hey, can somebody take this to the gym?"
I intuitively accepted on the spot, and received a number of props. Among them was a red Santa hat.

I would've been willing to just take it by myself, but then from the corner of the room came a voice: "Wait, I'll help you!"
I looked toward the owner of the voice. It was Tsugumi who came running up to me.

"As I thought," I thought.
Sleepy eyes, long eyelashes, always thinking. As I said, I'd been searching for a girl with those characteristics, and found a few, but Tsugumi matched them most closely.
I had more or less nailed her as the one who would be my future girlfriend a while ago. And I found my guess to be spot on.

With my future girlfriend before me, I nearly danced down the hallway as I joked with Tsugumi, who had put on the Santa hat.
She smiled at the corner of her mouth, took some reindeer antlers from among the props we were carrying, and put them on me.

The lights were already off in the gym, so it was pitch black. After we put down the props behind the stage, Tsugumi looked at me and grinned mischievously.
"Hey, if we go back, we'll just have to do more work. Let's rest here a while."
I agreed, of course.

We ended up going home together that night. We both seemed sad to leave each other, so we talked for about an hour more on a park bench.
This is where the best parts of my life begin, I thought. I was dizzy with delight.

I would repeat everything the same as in my first life. So I thought.
Except, well... what happened in cherry blossom season, in my third year of middle school.

As in my first life, after school, when we were the only two in the classroom, I confessed to Tsugumi.
I was ready to delight, and for her to be delighted, and all of that.
But she just looked worried and said "Umm...", faintly trying to smile.
A few days later, she ultimately turned me down. But perhaps the problem was that I was too cocky.

My confession, in my first life, was said very hastily and with much tension.
Perhaps my desperation managed to move her, and turned a confession that ordinarily would not have won her over into one that did.
The second time, I'd acted more like "Hey, you've been waiting, right? Figured I'd confess already." It wouldn't be surprising if that left a bad taste with her.

I could think of any number of other causes, of course. But I had failed to make her my girlfriend. That was what mattered.

Chapter 11

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