Without thinking twice about it, I grabbed hold of the hand that Ayano was waving around whilst babbling on.
I wasn’t wrong. There was definitely someone else here… or perhaps more than just one person.
Dammit! Could they be Oshiro’s people?
“Eh?” Ayano blinked, “Um…” She mumbled, staring at her hand, which was in mine.
As soon as I heard another footstep, I got up from the bench and started running towards the path that would lead to my house, dragging Ayano with me.
“Wha- AAAHHH!!” She screamed in bewilderment.
I considered staying behind and fighting, but I wasn’t certain how many of them were there yet and it would become troublesome if Ayano ended up getting involved. I had to bring her to safety first.
As soon as we started running, the footsteps behind us started to pace up too. I cursed under my breath and ran faster.
“WAIT!! Where are you taking me?” Ayano yelled in between her hitched breathing, her feet barely touching the ground as she stumbled after me, “Excuse me, but are you kidnapping me right now?!”
“Shut up and run!” I shouted back, tightening my grip to make sure that she wouldn’t manage to pry her hand out of mine. I hadn’t imagined that I’d be holding her hand under circumstances like these.
“No!!” Ayano shouted as she tried to pull back, but she was too weak, “My house is in the other direction! At least tell me where you’re taking me!!”
I ignored Ayano’s complaints and continued running as I heard the footsteps getting faster. The Yakuza weren’t people you could mess around with.
“I… I know Kung-fu!” Ayano exclaimed.
I slowed down.
Ayano noticed it too, “That’s what I thought…”
Now I could tell that those footsteps belonged to a single person, “Wait…” I stopped and turned around.
Judging from the distinctive sound of the rubber heels being dragged against the ground, I figured out who the footsteps belonged to. There was only one person who took such lazy steps whilst walking or running.
“Come out of your hiding spot before I make you, “I threatened as I let go of Ayano’s hand.
She blinked at me, confused.
“3… 2…” I started my countdown.
“Ok ok! I’m coming out!” Ryouta walked out from behind a large green trash container with his hands held up in submission.
Ayano‘s jaw dropped as she stared at Ryouta, “That guy! Where did he come from?” She turned to look at me.
“I came from behind the trash container, duh.” Ryouta answered.
“That’s not what I meant! How did you get there?” Ayano asked, pointing her finger at Ryouta.
“Sheesh… If I was a real thug she’d be done for.” Ryouta stated, “She couldn’t even notice someone was trailing her.”
Ayano just stared at Ryouta, still in shock.
“Ignore him…” I said as I glared at Ryouta, walking towards him. He took a step backwards as he noticed the anger brewing within me.
“Okay, I know what you’re thinking.” Ryouta put his hands out in front of him again, “But we can talk this out right?”
“I don’t think so.” I answered, whacking him on the head and grabbing him by the collar.
“Ow! Time out! ” Ryouta shouted, trying to dodge my hits.
“Um…” Ayano voiced, “I guess you know each other?”
Ryouta flung his arm around my shoulder and grinned, “We’re best buddies, bonded by blood!”
“I don’t know him.” I grumbled.
Ayano blinked at both of us and burst out laughing, “Are you always like this together?”
“Like what?” I asked, as me and Ryouta looked at each other.
“People at school always talk about how bad and scary you are you know…” Ayano mused as she looked specifically at me, “Could that really be true?”
I considered answering her. I wanted to tell her that those outsiders had no clue about me to even judge me, but I remained silent.
“We can be scary, wanna see?” Ryouta narrowed his eyes at Ayano. I knew that he meant what he was saying.
I removed Ryouta’s arm off my shoulder and threateningly twisted it behind his back, “Yeah, wanna see?”
“Never mind,” Ryouta laughed nervously.
I let go of Ryouta’s arm and looked at Ayano, “You should go home.”
“I would.” Ayano answered, “If I knew where I was! Where the hell did you bring me?”
“You don’t know this area?” Ryouta tilted his head slightly.
Ayano looked from left to right before looking back at us again and shaking her head. Suddenly her eyes widened, “Wait this place…”
She took a few steps forwards and stared at the old rundown buildings, which were covered in layers of graffiti that had been painted over several years, “I think I recognise this! I might have been here before!”
Ayano walked further down the path, observing the crumpled up cars that had been abandoned at the side of the road. She jogged towards the nearby phone booth, which had been smashed apart during a gang fight that had happened on this street before.
Ryouta looked at me and I shrugged at him, just as confused.
“This! I remember this!” Ayano pointed at the wrecked phone booth, “But I just don’t remember how or from when.”
I swallowed consciously, thinking about the possibility that Ayano could be remembering this place from the incident that had happened a year ago.
She clapped her hands together and gasped, “No way!”
I held my breath as I stared at her, anticipating what she may have realised.
“This place…is THAT place?!” she asked with wide eyes.
“This place is WHAT place?” Ryouta answered her with another question, clearly growing impatient too.
“You know! They call it ‘the darker side of the town’!” Ayano whispered.
I exhaled in relief, “That’s all?”
“So it’s really this place? This is where most of the thugs hang out and fight?” Ayano asked, curiously, “Where all the bad stuff happens?”
Ryouta shrugged, “I guess so…”
“I didn’t even know people had a name like that for this place,” I stated, raising a brow.
“Me neither,” Ryouta admitted.
“Okay, but did you really have to drag me to this area out of all places to run for safety?” Ayano asked, looking around cautiously again.
“We live here.” I answered.
Ayano blinked and left a long pause before she spoke again, “Oh.”
Ryouta laughed scornfully, “What? Are you scared of us now?”
She shook her head uneasily, “Although, you do creep me out with that constant glare plastered on your face.” She bluntly pointed out at Ryouta.
I laughed inwardly at Ryouta’s sceptic expression, knowing he was still trying to fight his inner urges to crush her. He clearly couldn’t trust her yet, and it seemed like she felt mutually towards us too.
I could sense that Ayano was in fact uncomfortable to be out here alone, with us. After all, we barely knew each other.
Suddenly she pointed at something that was further down the path, “Since we’re already here, we might as well go there and eat! All that running made me hungry!”
Ryouta and I whipped our heads towards each other with wide eyes.
The place she was pointing at was mom’s restaurant.
“No!!” We both shouted out in unison, dreading what may happen if we were to bring a girl with us into the restaurant. Mom would definitely be all over Ayano and ask all kinds of awkward questions.
Ayano flinched in shock, “What? Why?”
“Uh… It’s closed now.” Ryouta said.
“It’s clearly open.” She nodded towards the board sign in front of the shop, which read ‘OPEN’ in big and wide letters.
Damn that sign.
“What kind of a girl are you? What time is it? Shouldn’t you be at home by now?” Ryouta suddenly started nagging as if he cared about her, but I knew it was only because he was frightened of my mother.
Ayano opened her mouth to answer but closed it again as Ryouta continued with his rant.
“Wouldn’t your parents be worrying about you by now? What if they called the police because they think you’ve gone missing?” Ryouta went on, but was interrupted by Ayano.
“I left them.” She said.
“My parents… I left them.” She explained, “It’s already been about a year since I’ve last seen them.”
“Why?” I frowned, wondering how she could be so expressionless whilst saying something like that.
She shrugged, looking away. It was obvious that she didn’t want to talk about it, but I remembered that she came from a very wealthy and prestigious family. It made me wonder what caused her to leave them.
By the time I snapped out of my thoughts, she was already heading towards the restaurant.
“Oi!! Wait! Don’t you have a dog or something, waiting to be fed?!” Ryouta panicked, striding after her.
I sighed heavily, breathing out a faint mist into the cold and dark atmosphere. I knew that the reason that she wanted to go into the restaurant wasn’t because she was hungry, but because she wanted to find a crowded place, where she’d feel a little more secure.
But this was going to become troublesome, I had barely ever introduced any male friends to my mom, let alone a girl.
A soft shuffle in the midst of the dried autumn leaves caused me to turn around abruptly.
Silently, I observed the empty path behind me.
It must have been my imagination.
Shrugging it off, I hurried towards the restaurant too, hoping that things wouldn’t get out of hand.