* 53 *

I didn't lift my head up for a while. After about ten minutes, thinking they would have left the plaza by now, I was about to raise it.
Just then, I noticed for the first time that there was a girl sitting to my left.

And this was funny - as she sat four seats away, she was holding her head in much the same way as me.
A man and a woman sitting in a café, quite a distance apart, and yet acting in just the same way. How odd.

It seemed even odder when I realized it was Hiiragi.

Then I remembered, that's right, she was stalking Tokiwa too.
I wondered, then, if Tokiwa knew about Hiiragi as well, and instructed her to keep doing it, even going so far as to politely write out his schedule.
He had told me "My stalker had to be you," but it seemed to me that it could have been Hiiragi, too.
Because in terms of his reasons for "why it had to be me," Hiiragi and I were like twins.

Hiiragi got out of her seat and went to the counter to order a refill of coffee. She didn't seem to have noticed me.
She was wearing an unfashionable white sweater, her outfit yet again completely different from what I last saw her in. Yet it strangely suited her.
Some people just aren't suited for a refined look. Yeah, I'm probably one of them too.

Once Hiiragi got her refill, she went to the condiment bar, took the lid off her paper cup, and began dumping in ridiculous amounts of sugar.
I wish you could've seen it. It was like her objective was to make a thick soup.
She took her sugar-with-some-added-coffee drink back to her seat and savored it, drinking with both hands.

All of a sudden, I felt there was something stunningly nostalgic about it.
It's like the feeling when you listen to a hit song all the time, then don't listen to it for years, and then you hear it on the radio again a decade later.

My eyes were fixed on Hiiragi drinking her coffee for a while. But I really didn't have a clue what my brain was so nostalgic about.
Yet it could certainly not be directed toward anything else, that much was certain. It was definitively coming from Hiiragi.

Of course, Hiiragi had long been a friend of sorts. We were classmates ever since middle school.
But that just made it stranger. Why such a sudden longing over someone who's stayed around me for so long?
She shouldn't have been giving me such a sensation.

Finally, I succeeded at finding a good, proper word for the sensation.
Deja vu.

I had seen this very sight once before.
No, more than once - countless times, I'd seen Hiiragi just like this, at this angle, in this café.
It wasn't a memory from my second life, so by necessity it was a first-life one.

Something overlapped with Hiiragi. Immediately, I was struck with great unease.
Had I? Had I been making such an unbelievable mistake?

Hiiragi looked up, and we finally met eyes.
No, we never spoke up to each other. We'd gotten good at communicating intentions with our eyes alone in our third year of high school.

Hiiragi's eyes spoke volumes. Just two or three seconds of contact told me a great many things.
So... by the time she looked away, I was already convinced.

She had memories of "the first time."

Chapter 54

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