On the way back home, both Ayano and Ryouta remained quiet. There was no nagging or arguing this time.
While steering the wheel, I glanced over at Ryouta and saw the distant expression on his face as he stared out of the window. I didn’t even have to look into the rear-view mirror to see that Ayano was depressed… she was emitting an intensely gloomy aura from the back. I was surprised Ayano never asked me why I was driving although I obviously didn’t have my licence yet. I guessed she most likely hadn’t thought about it. It was common for kids in my hood to start driving illegally.
It remained like that until we reached Ayano’s apartment. She silently got out of the car but stood by the side for a minute or so without closing the door.
“She better not say she’s forgotten something because I’m not going back there again.” Ryouta mumbled loud enough for me to hear.
“I’m sorry about what happened today. I’ve never seen Aunty speak like that before…” Ayano suddenly bowed slightly, apologising.
Ryouta and I turned to look at each other, taken back and unsure of what to do.
“Forget it, we’re used to it.” Ryouta finally said, feeling uncomfortable but not wanting her to feel miserable about it. He didn’t expect Ayano to have spoken up for us earlier. He didn’t see that coming from her.
“But you shouldn’t be…” She pressed her lips together, “I’m really sorry!” She bowed again, covering her face as her hair fell forwards. Then she turned around and disappeared into her apartment.
I cleared my throat and leaned back on my seat again. She looked like she was about to tear up… and that moved something inside me. It felt heavy and really uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to people caring enough to feel sad for ‘thugs’ like us. And judging from how Ryouta was behaving right now, I was sure it was foreign to him too.
“Maybe she’s not so much of a witchy hag as I thought she might be,” Ryouta suddenly started to speak. “This time perhaps it was me who did the judging, not her.”
I stared at him for a few seconds and smiled as I started the car and drove off, “Never thought there would be a day you’d come to acknowledge Ayano.”
“Hey don’t get me wrong, I still hate that nagging hag’s guts!” He retorted defensively. “I just… maybe I’m starting to realise why you might like her.”
I smirked, “To be honest I didn’t know she was like this until now myself.”
“Huh?” Ryouta raised an eyebrow as he turned to stare at me, “Then why did you fall in love with her?”
I frowned as I tried to explain, “While I was locked up, I still had this 5 yen coin with me. She left it behind when she left.” I pulled out the coin which I had turned into a pendant from under my shirt. “Every time I looked at it, I remembered her… the way she acted and spoke. It all came back to me, even the way she slammed me onto the floor.”
Ryouta blinked, “That tiny witch did?”
“I didn’t expect that one either. But I don’t know…maybe I wasn’t really in love yet, but I was so bored. Memories of her always made me so curious… I wanted to know who she was and I’ve never had an interest in any other girls like that before.” I continued.
“So… my theory is that you weren’t in love with her at first. I knew that was just too strange! You were just really curious about her that you wanted to seek her out!” Ryouta slammed his fist into the palm of his other hand in enlightenment.
“Call it whatever you like. But… she’s interesting.” I shrugged.
“Just interesting? I think it’s already more than that now, seeing how you’re more than ready to risk your own life to help her.” Ryouta smirked.
“Tsk,” I swerved the car harshly around a corner, causing Ryouta to whack his head against the window beside him. “Told you to wear your seatbelt.”
“Ow! You did that on purpose!” Ryouta complained, but wasn’t about to drop the topic. “So are you ever intending on asking Ayano about what happened between you? Maybe she might remember! Or are you intending on hiding it from her forever?”
I remained silent. I didn’t know and I had convinced myself that this wasn’t the problem that I should be focusing on at the moment… but he was right. I wasn’t just hiding it from Ayano, but running away from reaching a conclusion that I feared.
“I’ll tell her.”
“When?” Ryouta sat up in his seat.
“Tomorrow.” I answered, making him grin in excitement. “But we can expect the worst outcome from it. Most of the turmoil in her life happened because of me and besides that there is another problem.”
Ryouta frowned at me questioningly, “What problem?”
“Akira.” I narrowed my eyes and exhaled.
Suddenly I stomped onto the break, sending Ryouta flying forwards against the front window.
“Kentaro, you punk! Stop doing that!” He yelled, rubbing his head and glaring at me as he got back into his seat and fastened his seatbelt.
But my attention was elsewhere. There was a guy walking on the street before us and what looked like a scary tattoo on his forearm, wasn’t actually a tattoo. It was a scar that I recognised too well.
The scar looked like an upside down “Y”, the exact same one that was engraved into one of the kidnappers’ arm after the car accident had happened. There was no doubt about it, it was definitely one of the guys who tried to kidnap Ayano a year ago!
“Kentaro? What are you staring at?” Ryouta asked, trying to follow my gaze.
“Can you see that guy over there? We’re gonna catch him.” I said.
Ryouta looked at me weirdly, “I know you’re bored but it’s a bad idea to hunt people down randomly.”
Without warning, I hit the accelerator pedal again and swerved the car into the sidewalk right before the guy. He jerked backwards in fright and landed on his back with wide eyes.
“WHAT THE HELL?!” He yelled at us but suddenly went silent as soon as I got out of the car.
He looked shock. He recognised me, which confirmed that I was right.
Before he could turn and run away, I grabbed hold of his arm and held him in a lock behind his back.
“Make any funny movements and I’ll break your legs.” I hissed.
Ryouta remained seated in his seat, frozen. He had no clue what was going on.
I dragged the guy into the car and let Ryouta drive the rest of the way home so I could make sure he wouldn’t leap out of the car and escape.
There were a lot of questions I had to ask this guy and maybe… just maybe he had the answers to things that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I wasn’t about to let him get away.
“W-what do you want from me?!” The kidnapper winced as I tightened my grip on his arms, “It wasn’t me who planned to do it! It was the other guy! I was only paid to drive!”
I frowned, “Save it. I don’t know if you’ve ever been interrogated before, but you’re about to experience it. So prepare yourself.”
“Wait… Don’t tell me you’re going to get Rin on him!” Ryouta stared back at me with wide eyes.
“Dang… I don’t know what sin you’ve committed dude. But my advice for you is that honesty will be your only friend.” Ryouta laughed nervously. “Rin is the most coldblooded human I know out there when it comes to interrogating.”
The kidnapper sweated and I could feel him stiffen tensely in my hands. I wasn’t expecting him to get frightened this easily, but it was to my advantage anyway.