Title: The Hand You Extended

Shimokawa huffed, panting for breath.
A wheezing sound echoed from her throat.
If I had been watching over Shimokawa more carefully, I would’ve realized sooner.
Because in just that one moment—-Shimokawa was gasping for breath.
She looked like she was drowning, desperately struggling for breath to live.
She put her hand on her chest and throat and then let go, trying to search for oxygen. 
And it was at this moment that Yayoi sensei’s words replayed in my mind.
“—-Shimokawa-san gets really stressed when she involves herself with people, causing her to sometimes hyperventilate.
Just be careful about that.”
Yayoi-sensei’s voice that played in my head sounded strangely slow.
It sounded sluggish, unlike her normal carefree tone.
I finally came to the realization that it was a terrible idea to come here.
Shimokawa had an attack because I—-
It felt like all the sound in the world was instantaneously cut off.
I couldn’t hear anything—Except for Shimokawa’s breathing.
Her shallow, wheezing breaths.
The only things that my ears registered were her shallow gasps.
Thump, thump.
My heart pounded in my chest.
Why am I just standing still? Move, move—
Shimokawa turned to me before muttering something.
Her voice was so quiet that I could barely hear it.
“….I-,…..It hurts…..It hurts a lot, Kamikawa-kun, Kamika—……wa-kun.
Something inside me burst.

“Shimokawa-san, pull yourself together.
Take slow deep breaths—-Shimokawa, Shimokawa!”
I clasped her hands.
For a moment, I thought they were ice.
Her hands were that cold from the lack of blood circulation.
Shimokawa looked at me.
Her hands searched for my hands, grasping them.
Maybe I was just imagining things, but it felt like her body temperature had gotten a little better.
Losing control of myself, I called her name over and over again.
I pulled her towards me and embraced her.
It’s a miracle that no one else passed by as this was happening.
Or maybe someone did and I just didn’t notice.
It didn’t matter to me either way.
All I could think about was Shimokawa.
As her wheezing began to slowly calm down, I began to feel relieved.
I had completely dropped all pretenses.
If Shimokawa could just smile happily—
If she could smile happily…..That was my only wish.
The two of us sat down side by side on the park bench.
“I was planning on resting a little bit longer and then returning home.
Is that okay?” Shimokawa asked me this, but I had trouble nodding.
Truthfully, I wanted to bring Shimokawa back home as fast as possible.
I felt like I had already been too careless today.
She had just happened to be doing well, but I had misunderstood that and wanted to give her a push; in the end, all I had done was cause her suffering.
That’s how I truly felt.
“Hey, um….Shimokawa-san, I’m really sor—”
“My name–”

Shimokawa instantly cut off what I was trying to say.
“Just now, when you called me by my first name, I was really happy, you know.
If you actually think of me as your friend, Kamikawa-kun, could you call me by my first name?”
“My first name.
If you genuinely think of me as your friend, I want you to call me by my first name.”
Shimoka—Yuki was quite stubborn.
In the short period I had known her, I had come to realize that much.
I scratched my head before taking a breath and resigning myself to my fate.   
In the first place, I was the one that had wanted to get closer to Yuki and learn more about her.
“—–Yuki.” As I said that, feeling rather embarrassed, Yuki grinned and nodded.
“Thank you, Fuyu-kun!”
The way she said that sounded truly happy.
Well, I guess she did say that she was really happy earlier.
Up until now, I’ve never called her by her first name before, so I felt strangely embarrassed.
“Fuyu-kun, can I ask for one more thing?”
“Hm? Well if it’s something I can do, sure, I’ll do it.”
“Then, lend me your hand—-”
She extended her hand towards mine.
She was facing away from me, but I could tell her ears were bright red.
Despite this, as if she had made up her mind, she turned to look at me.
She looked straight into my eyes, perhaps trying to convey her resolve.
I could feel her determination.
“Your hand.
Whenever we go outside, can I hold your hand? Uh….Um….whenever I hold your hand, it becomes less painful for me to breathe, so, um…you might think of me as weird, but…if we could—”
I gently touched Yuki’s hand.
I really just touched her hand.
All I did was lay my hands on top of hers, but my heart felt like it was going to explode.
I felt strangely conscious of her.
I mean this is just a way to help lessen Yuki’s attacks, but, even as I told myself that, my heart still wouldn’t calm down.
I could feel my face burning up.

Yuki took a deep breath.
We sat not too close and not too far apart.
I felt Yuki’s hands slowly regain their warmth.
“…..Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
I was worried about how I should respond, but, in the end, what left my mouth was that curt reply.
After that, we didn’t say anything.
We sat there, the heat circulating between our hands.
It was strangely comfortable.
“……Thank you, Fuyu-kun.
I’m probably okay now.
I can breathe perfectly fine.
But it’s only because of your hand.
I’m only okay because we’re holding hands, so can we hold hands on the way back too?”
“Uh, um, sure.
Yuki was staring at me with an unsatisfied expression.
Before long, I realized that she was silently protesting about what I had called her, so I quickly rephrased myself.
“—–Yuki, if you’re fine with that, then of course that’s fine.”
Holding her hands is one thing, but I never realized that it could be this embarrassing to call her by her first name.
“Oh, that’s right.
Do you have a second?”
This is just way too embarrassing.
I’m going to try to end this here.
As Yuki’s hand held on to my arm, I reached into my pocket and took out a small paper bag.
I felt a little guilty about the fact that it had wrinkled a bit, but I couldn’t really do anything about it now.
I placed the paper bag in Yuki’s left hand.

“Well, you’ve treated me to all this delicious food, so I feel like all I’ve been doing is receiving stuff from you Shim—-Yuki.
I wanted to get something for you.
I consulted Kaizaki about this, but I was scolded for picking something too expensive.
So this was picked—”
“By Kaizaki-kun?”
“He helped, but, in the end, I was the one that decided on this.
If anything, I feel bad since it’s so cheap, but I couldn’t come up with anything else.”
“Fuyu-kun, could you open it for me?”
Yuki was still stubbornly unwilling to let go of my hand.
I did as she said, revealing—-a strap that could be attached to a smartphone case.
On it was a white cat, one of Yuki’s most used character stamps.
I was honestly surprised that I had managed to find one.
[TLN: As in LINE stamp]
“This is…..”
“Well, it’s because we’ve been contacting each other a lot lately.
I thought that it might serve as a good luck charm.
I even prayed to Lulu, hoping for your attacks to not be as bad.”
I added the strap to her smartphone.
I couldn’t really see Yuki’s expression clearly, but she was handling it very carefully.
She stroked it gently.
“But, you know what? You pushed yourself a bit too hard today.
We can take your rehabilitation slowly, a little at a time.
Considering what you’ve gone through today, you’ve probably been under a lot of strain.”
She nodded meekly.
“But it’s okay.
Because you’ll be there for me, right, Fuyu-kun?”
“Well, I’ll do as much as I can.”
“That’s more than enough.
When you’re here, Fuyu-kun, I feel like I can breathe just fine.”
I didn’t know how to respond.
I was at a complete loss for words.
So, instead of responding, I took Yuki’s hand and squeezed it.
She squeezed back tightly.
The place our hands connected felt warm. 
To be honest, I had been scared, really scared that she might just stop breathing.
I still felt weak thinking about it.
I’m so glad everything turned out okay.
From the bottom of my heart, I’m truly so glad.

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