* 69 *

Once the power came back on, we were cold as corpses, our hair and skin frozen over, and had probably gotten colds or pneumonia or something.

We wanted to warm up somewhere, but all the stores were already closed.
On top of that, the car tires were stuck in the snow and it wouldn't get going, and I'd left most of my stuff at the department store, so I didn't even know where to start.

We decided first of all to turn up the heater all the way and warm up in the car.
We had no energy left for even the smallest conversation; we just shivered like idiots.

Just then, I heard the sound of a bell. The clock struck midnight.
Yes, that moment signified the end of the repeat.

Ahead of us lay a world we knew absolutely nothing about.
There was no sign of an impending third loop.

My real girlfriend, teeth chattering, very faintly smiled at me. “Sure is cold...", she said. It must have been quite an effort just to say that.
"Yeah, it is," I replied, but just as I said it, I felt something warm inside me.

Thinking about it, I hadn't had anyone to share in the cold with those whole ten years.

I wonder why I felt so happy then all of a sudden?
Our stand-ins would continue to take our spots, there was no making up all the classes I'd missed, my parents were going to get divorced any moment now, my sister was depressed, my best friend was going to kill himself, and right now I was about to freeze to death - but I was happy.

Whatever happened from here on out, I felt like I could handle it.
I felt that together with Hiiragi, we could make it well enough through anything.
It was a groundless belief, but beliefs don't always need ground to be powerful.

Maybe I was just thrown off by the chaos of the day, but I supposed I might have been happier then than I was on my first twentieth Christmas.
And that is a very, very impressive accomplishment.

It was a happy Christmas ten years in the making.

With hands still trembling, I took Hiiragi's. "Hey, Hiiragi," I said. I hadn't quite gotten my thoughts in order, but I had to say something.
"We've lost a lot in these ten years. Maybe we've gained some things along the way, but compared to what we lost, it seems like next to nothing. I can't approve of these ten years, not at all. I feel we've lived ten almost entirely pointless years."
Hiiragi stared intently at her hand.

"But," I said, "when I see you, I feel I can do it again from the start. There's no need to rewind time or anything. I just realized it, just now. Something outrageous. I think I've fallen in love with you again. And not even because you were my girlfriend in my first life. I've just fallen in love with the girl before my eyes. ...So what do we call our lost ten years? What a barren decade. Hiiragi, I'm going to do everything I can in hopes you'll love me again. It'll be like when we first met."

"...That might be kind of hard," Hiiragi smiled. "Because I love you too much already."

Well, I'll be. She knew exactly what I wanted to hear.

I brought my face close and kissed Hiiragi.
It was awkward like always, but it made me so happy.

It was just like starting over.

Chapter 70

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