Cover by A. R. Shellnut
Another Saturday and another chapter! I’m so thrilled that I’m able to keep up this weekly posting schedule.
This chapter was a pleasure to edit. I managed to get through the whole thing in one day. I hope that doesn’t mean I missed to many errors. If I did I’m sure someone will let me know.
The continued support and encouragement of my supporters has been just the boost I’ve needed to keep my spirits up and my motivation high. You guys are amazing! If you enjoy my writing and want to help make The Dreams even better please visit my Patreon. Even just a dollar will be a huge help toward commissioning cover art and other improvements.
“Okay, Rina, I’ve been waiting all week, and I’m sick of you avoiding the subject. We’re alone now and we’ve got nothing better to do so I want to hear all about your date with Hibiki,” Corine insisted.
She had thrown herself down on Rina’s bed almost the second they entered her dorm room, and now that she was completely comfortable she went to work making her friend squirm. Rina knew this was exactly what her friend had in mind, but it was outside of her power to do anything to stop her from teasing her mercilessly. Knowing was half the battle in these things, and she knew from the start that this conversation was coming.
“It was nice. I had a good time, and I think Hibiki had a good time too.”
“That’s it? Seriously? Come on. I need details.”
Rina spun around in her desk chair a few times while she tried to parse out what her friend wanted to know. She had to tell her something, of course, but keeping certain things to herself for as long as possible was half the fun of these talks with Corine.
“I don’t know what you expect me to tell you. I think it went well.”
“Details! I need details! What did you guys do? What did you wear? Did you kiss?”
She blushed. Although she knew this was coming she had still hoped that she could have avoided this particular line of questioning. She understood it was fairly customary for girl friends to talk about dates and the like with each other, but she did not particularly like the tradition. It might be great for some girls, but for her it felt like digging into the deepest parts of her private self and ripping out pieces to put on display for another person. Her lack of experience in the dating department made her very self conscious about the idea of someone else judging the quality of a date she personally thought went very well.
To her a date was a private matter between the two people on the date in question. She felt fine sharing personal things with her friend normally, even if most of her personal enjoyment came from sharing inadequate answers and avoiding the questions, but in this particular situation her private matter was not exclusive to her. It felt wrong to talk about a time that belonged to her and Hibiki when he was not present or aware the conversation was taking place. She knew she was probably being silly and no one else would see things from this perspective, but she would at least try to defend their shared privacy if at all possible.
She shifted in her seat and spun around once again while she tried to think her way out of the situation. There was no way out. Corine’s dogged persistence was well known to her. The only way to get her to let up would be to actually answer her burning questions. As much as she felt like she was betraying an unspoken confidence, she hoped Hibiki would understand why she had to talk.
Rina sighed heavily. “There’s no way I’m going to get out of this, is there?”
“No way. Spill. Now.”
She spun around again to gather her thoughts once more. Her stomach still flip flopped at the idea of betraying Hibiki’s trust by sharing this information even though she understood that this sort of conversation was commonplace and nothing happened that might be unseemly to reveal.
“Well? What did you do?”
“We went to the diner over past the town square. We ate and talked for a while. We were going to go to a movie, but we stayed too long and would’ve missed the start of the movie so we decided to take a walk in the park instead.”
“Seriously? What else happened? Did you at least wear something cute? Did you guys kiss?”
“We talked a lot. That was really nice. He’s easy for me to talk to, which you know I can’t say about most people. I think he gets me more than most people. I can talk about studying with him and he doesn’t mind.”
“Well, for that alone he’s a keeper, or perhaps a saint.”
Rina rolled her eyes.
“Go on,” Corine urged her own.
“So, I wore new shoes, and that ended up being a mistake.”
“Oh no. Did you get dirt on them in the park?”
“No. You know I wouldn’t even care about that. I got really gross blisters that were rubbed sort of raw by my shoes, so I had to take them off and walk back to the car barefoot. Hibiki had some band aids and first aid stuff in his car so I was able to bandage myself up there.”
“Gross. Was he cool about it?”
“Yeah. I think I was more freaked out by it than him. He just made sure I got back to the car without messing my feet up any more and let me use his first aid kit.”
“Definitely sounds like he had potential. I knew my cuz would find you somebody good.”
“I guess it all has worked out for the best so far,” she agreed.
“So! You still haven’t told me. Did he kiss you at the end of the date?”
“No! He asked if he could call me, we said good night, and I left.”
“Did he, like, try to kiss you and you looked away or some other weird, unromantic thing?”
“No! I don’t think he would push me to do something like that so soon.”
“The end of a first date isn’t too soon for a little kiss!”
“It is for me so I’m glad he didn’t try anything.”
“You’re such a prude sometimes.”
“And you’re way too interested in my love life.”
“Hey! If I hadn’t done something you still wouldn’t have a love life.”
“Well, maybe I was okay with that!”
“Shesh. Sorry for trying to make you happy.”
Rina took a deep breath. Her temper had flared up before she could get a handle on it. After taking a moment to settle back down and actually give some thought to what she would say next she tried to clean up the mess she had made with her big mouth.
“I know you were just trying to help, and I am happy that I’ve met Hibiki, but I wasn’t unhappy before. I didn’t need to meet someone to fix my life because there was nothing wrong with my life to start with.”
“Yeah. I just want to see everyone get their happily ever after.”
“You need to watch less Disney movies. Real life doesn’t have happily ever afters.”
“I know. You’re right, but I have to watch those movies so I can learn how to be a real life fairy god mother.”
Rina laughed. Corine grinned.
Everything was fine again, at least until Rina had another date and Corine would once again need all of the nitty-gritty details.
She hoped that her pack would be light enough. She only took a few changes of clothes, and a bit of food that she was able to pinch from the kitchen with reasonable certainty that no one would miss it. Getting ready in just one day left her fairly certain she had forgotten something she would regret later.
Even stepping into the forest was a step into the unknown for her. She never went there. Her father’s barrier encompassed the entire village, but did not extend out into the forest. A healthy fear of the forest was instilled in her from her earliest years, and it had stuck. Sneaking out was already easier the second time around, so she felt confident that going into strange, new places would eventually start to feel more natural to her.
Now she was carefully picking her way through the undergrowth and trying not to make any more noise than was absolutely necessary. It was not an easy task as she kept breaking twigs and crunching leaves under her feet. She guarded her pack very carefully from getting caught on branches and briers, which only served to slow down her already slow pace. The light from the setting sun was already becoming inadequate when she found her way to the clearing. Souma was there waiting for her.
She smiled at him and he gave her a slight smile in return.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked.
She nodded as she did not quite trusting her voice at this time.
“Are you sure you are willing to go through with this? No regrets?”
She nodded again. “I need to get out of here,” she insisted.
“Let’s go,” she announced with a great deal of confidence that surprised even her.
This was the first thing she felt confident about in her decision in days. She knew she needed to escape. Doing it felt right. A huge burden had been lifted from her mind.
They started walking. Souma set the pace and Yuzuki did everything she could to keep up. She did not want to be a burden and she wanted to cover as much ground as possible. She found it a bit funny that she was running away without actually running.
At first she kept looking back. She did this not out of remorse, but out of fear that someone would come running after them. She did not think anyone would really bother, but then again leaving the village was breaking so many rules that she could not imagine going unpunished. Finally after she was sure they were far away from the village she felt like she could speak without great risk again.
“Are you okay with leaving your home and your mother?” she asked timidly after so many moments of watchful silence.
He took a moment seemingly to consider the question before answering. He shuddered and shook his head as though he was trying to banish some unpleasant thought.
“I don’t think I will suffer to greatly for the loss of a place like this.”
She nodded sadly. Even without the details she knew that things were not right between Souma and his mother. She was not sure she wanted to know just yet. Her mind still needed time to process her own problems.
They traveled all through the night. Yuzuki felt her feet start to grow heavy within the first few hours. Staying up all night had never been her style, and now she was trying to push herself to keep moving in a rapid rate well past her usual bed time. Even though she was growing more and more exhausted she did not dare voice a complaint.
She had asked Souma to help her get out of her father’s home. She needed to escape and he was helping her do it. He was leaving home with her and would be stuck helping her in so many ways. Complaining so early in their journey would only serve to make her seem ungrateful.
The fact of the matter was that she was more grateful toward him this evening than she had ever been toward anyone in her life. She hoped that he did not mind her silence. Keeping her mouth shut at this time was the only way she could endure her current state of exhaustion without running the risk of starting to complain.
She held her tongue for a while longer — until the moon was high in the sky. At least now she had an easier time seeing where she was going in the unfamiliar territory of the increasingly dense forest. Half the night had passed away while they were hiking through dead leaves and prickly vines. Her legs were covered in stinging little scratches where the thorns managed to poke through her clothes as she tried to pass by. She was exhausted and miserable, and she knew she could not keep going any longer.
“Souma,” she called out in a voice barely above a whisper. For some reason it did not seem like it was appropriate to speak out loud in the eerily lit, shadow filled forest.
He stopped and turned to face her. For most of their journey he had been walking several of his long strides ahead of her. She had a feeling that he was holding back to keep her from falling too far behind, and she had been trying her hardest to not hold him back any more than was strictly necessary by the limitations of her shorter legs.
“Do you think that we could take a little break?” she requested meekly.
“Of course,” he agreed without the least bit of hesitation.
From the looks of him he was hardly suffering at all from the exertions of this journey. On the other hand she was just barely able to stay on her feet long enough to slump down at the base of a tree. As soon as she was off of her feet her eyelids grew heavy.
She did not know how long she slept, but it was still the dead of night when she felt Souma shake her shoulder and her eyes shot open. She hardly remembered that she did not fall asleep at home this night and a spike of panic shot up her spine before she remembered that she would never be home in her bed again.
She stretched a bit and was alarmed by the stiffness she felt in her legs.
“How many nights are we going to sleep out in the woods?” she tried her best to keep herself from whining outright, but found herself failing from the first word.
“It’s hard to say. We’re still too close to the village right now. Unless you know some sort of spell for fast travel I’m afraid we’re stuck walking for a while.”
“I don’t know anything,” she despaired.
“Well, we’ll just have to keep walking in that case.”
He offered her a hand and helped her back to her feet. It was not very pleasant to be standing again, and her muscles were protesting loudly. She had to keep going though or she would be no better off than she had been back in the village with her father. In fact, her father would probably find her if she stopped here and then she would be in a much worse state than she had been before she made this decision to run away. To stay safe she had to keep moving forward. There was not any other option presented to her.
She took a deep breath and started walking again.