| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
This is Chapter 1 of Once Spring arrives, let's go to Gunma! from Volume 2 of the Toradora! Spin-Off Light Novel series.
Seventeen years old, it was evening.
The withered weeds coldly hid the riverside embankment, the usual way home. His nylon school-bag thrown into the basket of a granny-bike, loose pebbles from the bad road clanged against the metal of the bike. The late autumn wind blew coldly past his ears. He found himself forced to wear his trusty fleece hoodie under his school uniform jacket.
Seventeen year-old Haruta Kouji, was distractedly thinking while pedaling. The parka was a really good thing. ...But rather,
"...That woman, she went and jumped..."
The scene remained before his eyes.
After four in the afternoon. Nearly December, it was already starting to get dark. The streetlights were coming on bit by bit, as he turned towards the bridge he could see them all lined up down the side. There, under the dim and gloomy light, a woman stood.
Her long hair could be seen, blown about by the wind. The face of the child-like person could not be seen, small in the middle of the bridge, standing alone.
---But, that was all. From just that scene, the thought "perhaps she may jump", came to his mind, because of a dumb conversation with his friends after the last class at school, a little while before.
With that dreadful look of his, "Taka-chan" Takasu Ryuuji had related, "Close to the register in the supermarket, they sell fresh flowers. But there aren’t too many buyers, there are other things close to the register, and sometimes packages run into the display. A flower breaks off at the stem and falls to the floor. I see the poor flower and call the store clerk -- shortly she comes. 'Here you go', at once stretching out my hand and facing her, 'Let me pick up the flower for you.' Our hands strike, our eyes meet. 'Here you go.' 'No, for you rather.' At length I turn it over to her. 'Do you like flowers?' 'I'm not all that familiar with flowers.' 'Well, if it’s OK with you, might we have some tea?' '...That, that would be fine.' " ---With his cold sanpaku eyes seething with desire, it seemed to be what he considered to be an ideal meeting with a girl. Although it seemed like a pleasant story with a sweet atmosphere, on second thought the idea of picking up and giving a girl some decapitated flower stinks of poverty.
"Noto-chi" Noto Hisamitsu said, while wiping some black spots from his glasses, "It’s rather similar to Takasu’s story, but in a CD store. Other than myself there only seems to be one other person listening. I’m thinking while reaching for this strange minor band’s CD, and the girl was picking up the same CD and our fingertips touched. 'Er, uh, do you happen to like progressive rock?' 'Ah, I listen to it a lot.' 'Yes, me too.' 'Ah, it’s better if I have tea, too.' 'Yes, isn’t it though.' And so... this is how I would do it." --- I wasn’t gaping, but, on the other hand Taka-chan dangerous face glittered. Haruta didn’t agree. If she was listening to some strange minor progressive rock, it didn't really feel cute to him.
Well then, as for your dream, what is it? When he was asked, Haruta answered sincerely. "Passing by the river, I unexpectedly found a girl who had fell in and was drowning. Magnificently rescuing her, I gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She came to, fell in love with me, receiving thankfully the help I gave her, trustingly asking if we could go home. Because we had gotten wet, we had to change clothes of course, and we talked, smooth-like, ... next, he he!" ...It was all quite serious. Compared to his two friends’ answers, it was rather dramatic, fateful, and had a sense of speed. Overall it was better and more probable.
Despite this the two of them, unfortunately but all too likely, truly densely yet assuredly from a feeling of pity, shamefacedly said 'Well, I have to go to the supermarket.', and 'I've gotta go buy a CD.', each of them wishing to leave and go find their ideal dates. Feeling defeated, and peddling my bike, that’s how I found myself at the riverbank! ...And that was what really happened. I was simply returning home.
Arriving at that place, because he spotted the woman standing on the bridge, unintentionally that ridiculous story---
She seemed to be climbing over the guardrail without hesitation.
Ready, set, like that, it looked like she was going to take the plunge.
It was about five meters to the surface of the water.
Putting herself in a diving pose, off she went, falling directly down.
And then, splash! And, a sheet of spray. Amidst the white foam, her body was swallowed up and disappeared.
"...This is really bad, it can’t be real, this can’t be happening... whaaaa!"
And then, panic. Shouting aloud, his long, chin-length hair stood on end. He was the only person around, in short the only eye-witness. He frantically pedaled over, dumped the bike at the foot of the bridge and slid down the embankment. Since he was a little kid he’d been used to playing by the river. Yelling a battle-cry, he dived in as he would have then. The cold nearly froze his heart. His feet sank to the mud of the riverbed, surprisingly deep and slow, different from when he was a kid.
"Hullo! Are you all right?"
He shouted while moving through the murky water. At once, his sneakers and socks were pulled off by the mud, and he found himself barefoot. The breathtakingly cold water soaked him to his thighs, sheets of spray came up from mid-river and leapt out from the water surface like white hands. There were so many things to consider. He realized something about this situation. The kids from around here, everybody’s done it once or twice. Himself included. It didn’t look far from the bridge to this river, so, instead of cracking her head on the riverbed, it looked like she had gotten stuck in the mud. He raised his hands out from the water surface, then lifted his face a few centimeters. It looked like he could breathe overhead clearly, provided it didn’t get any deeper. If this happens again,
"Go for it! ...Keep going!"
This way, he could just pull out anybody he grabbed from this mud from hell.
He struggled to the water surface, carrying her body out in his arms. She was unconscious. What he was going to hold on to he hardly knew yet, but he held on desperately anyhow, his feet kicking at the mud, moving forward sluggishly. Leaning into it, he struggled toward the broad embankment. They collapsed in a tangle. He pulled her up and gently laid her wet body on the dry withered grass, but she showed no sign of coming to. She was unconscious, it seemed. "She’s not dead...", he wanted to think.
"She doesn’t look too good... what am I going to do? Anybody, help! Ah, that’s it, that’s it, ambulance, ambulance!"
Yeah, her cell-phone, where is it!? In the bag!? In her shirt pocket!? Will it have gotten wet!? And stepped on by some idiot in a hurry, when suddenly,
With a cough, the mud-covered girl started breathing again. Her body shook while she painfully coughed, bent double, and then coughed violently several more times, expelling water, her breathing a noisy rasp. Her hand reached out, trying to find something. Panicking when Haruta bent over her, she tried to turn away from the scoundrel. All the while, with one hand he felt for her shirt pocket, desperately searching for the cell-phone,
It happened suddenly, and with great force.
She wrapped both hands around his neck, clinging with awful strength. He was pushed down almost as hard as he could stand. Her arms held Haruta so tight he could hardly breathe, and her feverish breath blew hotly on the back of his neck.
"Of, course... cough! Help... me...!"
Even if he wanted to try and free himself right away, her arms held him so tightly he couldn’t even try to leave. Luckless until she almost drowned, he thought as with awful strength that girl came and hugged him.
"Ryousuke’s not here... I cannot live on...!"
While whispering, "warmth, warmth." While coughing painfully. While repeating "Ryousuke, Ryousuke".
"But my name is Kouji for sure, not that I should be saying that here... well, never mind! I’ve gone and said it!"
He had been talking to myself, clearly surprised, but it looked like it got through to her that time. She had been clinging but suddenly she separated from him.
First, she looked at him.
He was smeared with mud, with long wet hair, the color of his skin peeking through the thin knit where it clung to his elbows. Even those shoulders and arms were rather thin, his dirty face awfully pale. On his round forehead, a shallow scrape, the feet which stuck out of his slim denims were barefoot. The pupils that stared at Haruta were large like a cat’s, sparkling and shining brightly, but her long eyelashes trembled as if she were frightened.
"...Who...? You aren’t Ryousuke… what’s going on...?"
"I happened to be passing by."
"Where’s Ryousuke...? The man, who was here... where is he?"
"I don’t know."
"No way... no way, that... Ryo,"
"Ah!? That reminds me,"
He shouted aloud, and his eyes went wide, taken aback. With a hot look, Haruta shouted so he wouldn’t forget.
"Tomorrow I have to work the day shift---!"
Now, it just died--- just like that, like a shutter her eyelids closed. Then the very next moment,
"Ah, wait wait!"
Exhausted from the repeated exertions, her body collapsed. Once more the river’s flow tried to take her away. With the last of his energy nearly exhausted, it looked like she would be washed away, but somehow he was able to grab her arm and pull her back up on the riverbank.
Her hair shone like silver.
"...Use this, too."
He forgot to take the offered towel, lost in thought after having seen her form. A little older than he, but not yet a member of the workforce. Probably a college student. Still quietly looking at him, she sat by the towel fallen by Haruta’s knees. Then,
"I’ll have to lend you some clothes. ...Here’s something to wear. I even have some sandals you can put on to get back."
Along with the towel, at Haruta’s knees there was a gray men’s bathrobe, samurai style.
"Close the shower curtain, OK? ...Did you hear me?"
"Duh..." (TN: Got any better ideas? Japanese ぽえ～)
---That stupid mop’s mouth, hanging open, might have looked like part of practiced whole-body relaxation, but in reality, he was still rather tense inside.
The second floor apartment where she lived was just across the road from the riverbank. She brought him there, accompanying him as he walked the bike, going up into the small one room apartment, and at the moment, Haruta had to borrow her shower. Last used by her. Even so, even Haruta, despite how awful things had been, couldn’t help but turn to the dripping wet girl and, bowing his head, ask her permission to enter.
Somehow, some way, I’m alone with a member of the opposite sex. And this one in particular fresh from the bath, with warm wet hair, lightly dressed, with perfect slim lines, smelling nice, standing before my eyes... For all these reasons and others, a monk would have a
hard time relaxing in a situation like this!, he thought, wondering how things could turn out this way.
"...Quickly, before it gets cold. Then you would really catch a cold. ...The river water was rather dirty, too."
"OK", he said, anyway it was her place. (TN: Same mystery as above, spelling slightly differently this time: ぼえ)
And now, borrowed towel and change of clothing under his arm, the time had come. Hiding his nervousness he simply stood up. He had nothing on from the waist down--- though he had wrapped a borrowed bath-towel around his hips in a sexy style. He had adopted that style while he had been waiting for his turn in the shower: his pants had been dripping like crazy, coldly clinging to his legs so that he could not sit down. The upper half of his body was not much of a problem, so he kept his T-shirt on. His nipples were standing from the cold.
So, the bathroom’s over there. And, while drying her hair with a towel, she pointed to a small door that could be seen near the front door. "Eh? Where is it?", he said, twisting his body so he could look over there. At that moment, the towel wrapped around Haruta’s lower body softly fell down.
He didn’t realize what had happened for a couple of seconds. But then he suddenly felt rather chilly, and his body felt a bit exposed.
He shouted out loud. Why in the world was the lower half of his body exposed like that? His friends knew he wasn’t in the habit of exposing himself. He was so embarrassed, he covered his face, which had flared red in an instant. Oh, what a scandal... Just his face hidden (though with a daunting pose), he peeked through his fingers to check her expression. There’s no way his sacred bottomless style could be allowed to be seen---
Without a word, she sat quietly, wearing a slight frown. Not raising her voice, not moving, not scolding him, nor even raising her hands against him. All of which meant,
"---Safe! Oh--- surprise! I think she might be able to see! Safe safe! Made it...!"
Both his arms snapped down to cover himself. Zip! He carefully focused his energy and rammed his little finger into the wall with all his strength. Squirming in pain for a little while, he didn’t say a thing, but from all his embarrassment his face naturally heated, and finally unable to stand it any longer, still bare-bottomed, he shouted "Hyoo!" and escaped to the bathroom.
The small simple arrangement of bathtub, toilet and washbasin surprised him as he shut the door, but finding himself alone could finally breathe properly. His face turning the color of overripe apples from the pressure, he could finally hang his head. "Wow, what a klutz I am! She must think I’m a complete idiot!", he thought. ...It may have seemed he was doing a report on himself, but frankly he couldn’t even think right then and there.
As she had just showered in the dim bath unit, it was still warm and stuffy. Though it was so small he had trouble getting in, eventually he managed to stand in the bathtub. Then he smoothly took off the last layer stuck to his body: his T-shirt.
"...What...? Oh boy. What’s this... Oh!"
It was at that time.
In short, after all the confusion, it suddenly dawned on Haruta. Below, he was already bottomless, up top, his T-shirt still hung around his neck, he hit the palm of his hand with his fist, making a thumping sound and knocking his elbow into the washbasin. Here we go again! Yet another bang.
"This, is not my dream date!"
In some details it was--- he rescued a girl from drowning. And then she invited me to her place. She took a shower, and now it was his turn. It was fair to say that the situation was "pretty close". "Hey look at this!", he repeated foolishly as his two friend’s faces came to mind.
The borrowed towel and clothes he put in the toilet seat, and got completely nude. Dancing for joy while turning the shower valve, he yelped in dismay as water sprayed mercilessly all over the towel, floor and change of clothes. He had forgotten to close the shower curtain.
At first the tepid shower pouring down chilled his body. But the water temperate rose immediately, the hot shower beating his skin pleasantly warming him up. In the midst of water noise, Haruta by himself,
"...Heh he he!"
In a good mood he scrubbed his face. Without shampoo he scrubbed his long damaged hair, bending his body this way and that. Hey look, hey look, isn’t this something? This date is real! "Haruta, you are a really the boss! As an apology to you, I will ask Taiga to go out on a date with you!" ---Taka-chan said in his imagination. "Haruta, how clever you are-- you’re a genius--! By way of apology, here’s 100,000 yen!" ---He imagined Noto saying also. Stop it you two, with friends like that… well, but, if you insist, I’ll take it… Going out with a scary classmate (oh boy), or moving him to tears, 100,000 yen in the wallet. Accepting those apologies may have been imaginary, but the reality is turning out much like his story.
This date is going exactly according to plan. And, if she’s just wearing a towel, isn’t that good?, he thought, She's nearly defenseless. His hair still wet, he put on only sweat pants and a T-shirt over his slim body. That white skin... seductively thinly dressed.
"Whew--! What excitement!"
Body soap was enough to wash away the mud from his legs and feet, but his monologue revealed thoughts too liberal, his own yet somehow he thought he really ought to be prepared to flee. Just because they took turns showering separately, didn’t mean he couldn’t expect anything afterwards. Just that he couldn’t expect anything strange. But nothing happening, nothing at all... absolutely not! Speaking of which, this could all be a joke! Sorry about that! While bowing his head to no-one in particular, he looked down to his nether regions, double-checking. ...No problem. Not that he truly expected to find something, but he was a bit worried about getting some strange infection in a delicate area from the dirty river water--- Very sorry about that... the world can be an awful place!
Hurriedly finishing up what remained of his shower, drying his body with the borrowed towel, and without hesitation he put on the borrowed sweatpants without underwear. His briefs and uniform pants he put together in a plastic bag she had given him. Then he resolutely opened the door to the apartment hallway. There was a loud bump.
"Oh! I’m sorry...!"
The loud noise had come from the door hitting square on the back of her head. The open bathroom door was right next to a really tiny kitchen, and it looked like she had been in there heating water. She was there right before his eyes, holding the back of her head and groaning from the pain. A greasy light blue kettle let the world know it was boiling, bubbling stupidly.
"Bla...black tea, or coffee... which would you like?"
"Coffee for me! Your head, it is OK?"
"Eh... sort of, in a manner of speaking..."
"Huh? Sort of? Seriously, is your head OK?"
"...OK. My place is a bit small, you see. This kind of thing happens often..."
Recovering, she got out two coffee cups. She tossed in some instant coffee. Some of the powder spilled into a really beat-up sink. And then from the kettle poured boiling water. Two cups of coffee about twice as strong as they should have been, but that was OK.
In spite of just throwing together instant coffee like that, the delicious aroma of coffee wafted up and filled the air. Haruta like an idiot remained standing the whole time, watching.
“Here you go. ...Drink up.”
Those slim hands passed him a cup of coffee, and then she just started drinking her portion. The narrow hallway and kitchen hardly seemed a yard across. Chilly air came in from the hall. He remained standing casually.
Well, that’s all he could do--- strangely understanding, Haruta followed her, sipping over-hot coffee in that place. Before long, in that narrow apartment, the combined bed and television stand’s rather large shelf completely full, neither tea nor anything drinkable was to be found on the table. There were clothes, makeup, piles of papers and heavy books scattered all about, beyond that, what else? That must be a sketchbook, and over there many books piled up, here and there fallen towers. Buckets of what might have been really big writing brushes, fluffy round brushes, dirty plywood, oily fluids in bottles and so on: strange things were scattered all around. The floor visible, a while ago Haruta had sit near the edge of a cushion. Next to that cushion, there was a stepped on and very possibly shattered CD case to worry about. No way... me? Is this risky?
"...My room, it’s dirty, isn’t it?"
Suddenly spoken to, he was startled. He looked down at her petite figure.
Still damp, her brown hair, falling straight down to her chest, still gleamed like silver. Looking at her round forehead while nodding, continuing on to the cheeks and white nose, he blinked.
Thin, pale white, and all over--- transparent seeming. While thinking about that,
"It’s really a mess, isn’t it! Something smells too! An art studio? Looks like?"
He wasn’t smart enough to be careful. CD Destroying Criminal = He’d already forgotten that he himself might be the culprit. In spite of his being too honest for his own good, her quiet expression didn’t change.
"'Art Studio', you guessed right. ...This, is the smell of oil paintings I’ve made, not collected. Individually they’re OK I suppose... but my security deposit is as good as gone..."
"Paintings--- Now I see! Are you an artist? I like that brush, is it for painting?"
"No. I’m just an art student."
"Art School!? Paintings, of course you’re making them! Wow incredible, that’s fantastic! An artist in the making! An artist, it can’t be! Show me something, show me a painting!"
"No way. ...Hey, by the uniform you were wearing, you’re a high school student, right? A public school?"
Nodding, "Haruta Kouji, seventeen years old", he confirmed. "Hmmph", she said, sipping her coffee with the expression on her face still not changing.
Sneaking a glance sidelong at her supple figure, turned neatly at the narrow point of her pale waist, looking just like a cat, he thought, and then suddenly he remembered. Cat or not, her walk to and from school was certainly keeping down the stray fat. She was the spitting image of the Siamese cat in his old neighborhood. There were silvery lines in her ice-blue eyes, and being slender and pretty she seemed a foreign cat.
Despite her owner’s care, she had smoothly escaped somewhere through an open window, never again to return--- at that moment, this vision of the charming, long-tailed girl’s body wrapped around his spirit and jerked him awake. Reflexively, he rubbed his eyes. In his imagination it was all settled. But. ...What in the world is her name...?
"...Ah, er. What, what’s your name?"
"Dontwant Tosay? Dont Wantosay? Ah, 'scuse me, where's that name from? That’s a foreign name f'sure, which country ya from?"
From eight inches below, two round eyes looked up at Haruta momentarily bright. Those deep blue eyes looked like they were shimmering. "Uwaa...", his voice rose in wonder. And then,
"...Where’d you come from, already-- ahh--! You’re pretty! You’re beautiful! You were just about dead, so of course I helped you--!"
From his now-loosened mouth, the words he had meant to say but couldn’t started flying out. "Oh!", he realized, too late to keep his confused mouth shut. And then wham!, he blushed... since coming up to this apartment, he had blushed so many times already he didn’t know how much more he could take.
It’s a 'hama'?
To his shame, he couldn’t remember. He was awfully puzzled, having lost track of the conversation after he had looked down at her.
"Oh! Now I get it!"
Finally understanding dawned. It was comprehensible. Bam! He slapped his hands together and bowed his head deeply.
"DONT is an alias, but your real name is HAMA, right! Ahahahaha what a combination--! Then I will call you Sue."
"That's not my name. ...Hamada, Sena..."
"Ahahaha! Sena-san? So you’re Ayrton! Well, you can call me Kouji, if you want."
"I’d rather not..."
"OK then... Haruta will do."
He would have preferred being called by his first name, but it was no big deal. More importantly, he strained to memorize her name: Hamada Sena---chan. His head barely able to handle it, unable to think about deep things, he managed it once it had dripped down into his memory. Still, in this odd moment,
He started to forget, when once more a light bulb lit up over his head. Sadly, the bulb was rather sad, dim, with low wattage, the illuminated memory taken right after being only sort-of memorized, being close to falling away, knocked off like dust by the wind.
"Ryo, ryou... ryuosa... hmm... ryousa, -sorta? ...No, what was that memory... ah... ah? So long ago...?"
"...Perhaps, 'Ryousuke', you might be trying to say?"
"Ah, so it is, that’s it. That may be it."
Sena chewed on her lip, hiding a frown. Not the greatest thing, but, that mouth opened once more. Perhaps in its own way, it was her sense of duty regarding her rescuer Haruta.
"Ryousuke, this clothing, the owner of it, is a man."
"Whaa? Is that true? The owner? ...Seriously, a man? ...Because you told me a while ago, 'here you go', I had put this on without underwear... Ah, no, just because I thought you were single that doesn’t mean that... ah... that’s what it was... a man"
"...It’s okay. I don’t think I’ll be wearing it anymore."
"Oh, really? Wow! Good, good, for the time being I will stay 'upwind', for many reasons!"
"...That’s not good."
"Not good!? 'Downwind', what am I going to catch!?"
Not paying attention to the restless Haruta clattering around, her damp hair combed down by her slim fingers, Sena looked down at her toes. If she were a real Siamese cat, her tail would probably be waving back and forth restlessly in the air.
"That’s not so. That is something to wear, in other words something already here that you can wear when you come. Ryousuke is my boyfriend... perhaps becoming my ex. That was the guy’s name. Unfortunately, well... my jumping in river and all, he was the reason."
"...Ouch... so that’s how it was."
About enough to drown oneself. There are some complicated circumstances around, he thought. Indeed, it was a love affair. But even Haruta knew better than to say "that’s a common thing..." Coffee cup still in hand, Sena’s bowed silhouette blended into the shadows, seeming to vanish from this world.
"...Though he left me, I really wished he hadn’t. I tried to get him to talk, but of course it was no use. Though I pursued after him to the bridge, not catching up, begging him to please come back, I only saw his back... and in the end he never looked back. I didn’t really think I was going to die. In such a shallow river, I didn’t think there was any chance a person could die. ...Well, that possibility might have come true if you hadn’t helped me. But, even looking back at drowning, ...even if nobody noticed, I didn’t think..."
He remembered the figure of Sena, standing on the bridge in a daze. Sena had been motionlessly staring somewhere down the road. Her boyfriend had been somewhere along that gaze.
Downhearted, and unable to do much, Haruta simply acted sympathetic, not asking questions. Nodding as if he knew all about this kind of thing, he tried to cheer her up, poking her on the shoulder with his fingertip and going "Bang☆". "Ow...", Sena’s hot coffee spilled on her hand, but she didn’t notice him.
"Even if I was going to be abandoned, I would have appreciated being noticed! Besides, if I wanted to be noticed, I’d rather not have to scream something like 'I’m going to die!'"
"I cried. ...I really cried. Since about a month ago. Over and over again."
"...Ah, is that so..."
Suddenly, she backed off a bit. Even so, there was something about her voice that calmed him at once.
"For the first three times or so, it was getting to be like I was apologizing. It felt like that. At first, saying to myself, 'we can talk next time', I was able to put it off. ...But the fourth time, he told me 'I can’t go out with you anymore', and since then little by little perhaps I’ve limited my putting off of things."
"And with that change in attitude you tried to drown yourself. And that misfired."
Sena didn’t nod. But, she should have. "Ah", suddenly her breath caught.
"...What I really mean to say is this. Though I could say that I could still put things off, it no longer made sense. My boyfriend didn’t love me anymore, right? For me, forcing a guy to stay is not love. Isn’t it more fun to simply stick together? That other guy wasn’t fun, rather, wasn’t he 'patiently' ignoring me? For him, it must have been such a pain, unbearable and stressful, wouldn’t it? I loved the guy, but wasn’t that pathetic?"
She relaxed a bit, having put her true feelings in order. Seen in profile, Sena’s head was hung in shame, perhaps too much so, her long wet hair still hanging straight down.
Sena left her mug in the water-spotted sink and groaned painfully.
"Of that... I understood. I wasn’t going to worry about Ryousuke anymore. Whatever else happened, whether I died or not, that fighting had to end… never again would I follow that path, I understood."
To support herself and keep from collapsing, she reached up to the sink with her hand. Her wrist was slender to the point where her bones were visible. Her nails were short, cut down nearly to the quick. Through the back of her hands her bluish veins could be seen vaguely, floating there. It wasn’t just that she had the face of a beauty. She also had many other good points, he thought absentmindedly.
Yep. This person is pretty, of course. And she’s free. Whether she realizes it or not, she’s been declared a Free Agent. Haruta blinked, realizing, if she really wants a change, then why would she not not opt for what’s already at hand?
"But, I still love him. ...What should I do about that? I used to think that no matter what awful things we said or cried, angry, resentful or regrettable, if we took a walk together everything would be like it was before. ‘We would eat together, just as we did before.’ I loved walking together, the two of us. We would talk while strolling around, drink tea, check out the bookstore, returning tired to eat our meal, messing around until we fell asleep... you could say I really loved that time. I was happy. I was whole. I don’t want to lose him. ...What should I do?"
Yes! The moment has arrived! Flipping his long hair up, he looked up at once to try and assert his claim.
"You ought to look for a new guy!"
Like for example, me me! Let it be me! Let it be Kouji! You’re as noisy as all get-out! But leaving that aspect aside, you’ve got plenty else that’s fascinating! Besides, separating from Sena is something I really don’t want to think about! If we were to separate, it would be because she threw me out! So, Sena, you don’t annoy me at all! Your guy from before has forgotten you! So, right!? Right--!? I bow before thee!
...As you might expect to this point. Cool, keep your cool. Really, I mean it. Set your face sternly. Give off the air of a really good looking guy, dripping confidence. But,
"...No way. It is meaningless to do it, if it's other than with Ryousuke."
"Well, is that so! Hahahaha!"
In two seconds his ship sank. He could only laugh.
"B, but right! Excuse me! Let’s see now!"
After we’re done talking, then it’s good-bye. We will see how it turns out. Sena, letting out a sigh, quickly peeked at the wall clock. That movement seemed to indicate some impatience. A chance encounter long awaited, he didn’t want it to end like this. In the middle of this awful cold, he jumped into the river and saved her life. Would she even thank him properly!? ...But of course nothing’s been said so far (she didn’t even ask for help...), though it looks like perhaps there’s a little something in her eyes. Even though I could have given her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. From the bottom of his heart, he thought, I would like to see her eyes a bit more. If only he could see.
"Let me see, right. ...I think I was taking the wrong approach, for sure. I"
"...Eh? What are you talking about?"
Very dangerous, talking while thinking about strategy!
"Because, well... that, about your boyfriend, he doesn't need you anymore. That’s just the way it is. Holding on to your old relationship would be awfully hard, and now you have a chance for a fresh start! A new relationship, under construction! Looks like it."
"...How do you mean?"
"Fo, for example, that, Sena’s new appearance... Ah, yeah. Now I get it! Ahahahaha--!"
At that moment, a bolt of lightning went off in Haruta’s brain, clearing his eternally hazy mind from that time onwards. And then it faded. The brightness of the flash was no surprise. It came. Things like that happen now and then.
"What!? 'That’s incredible, you could only get yourself a high-schooler for a boy-friend!?' Ah, but that was the plan, of course!? Her young boyfriend has brought such happiness, Sena has completely forgotten her old boyfriend. Flaunting it, she’s giving off a fog of happy hormones. Ha!? Is that person Sena!? Do I see any regret in this!? To me, this looks like a pretty picture!"
"...That 'high-schooler', is possibly...?"
"Yes! That’s me!"
"Yes! That’s me!"
Sena gave Haruta a good look, blinking many times, chewing her lip while she thought. Then,
"Well... in short, you’re saying make him jealous?"
"Yep, just a bit! A warm and happy Sena-san, once more restored, newly fallen in love!"
Of course, by Haruta’s real plan, it was getting about time to convert make-believe to reality. However much they might regret it, once Sena was his girlfriend he wasn’t planning on letting her go for any reason.
So, what can I say for myself, looking like a fool but in truth a rather sneaky person. Like right now: I’m suggesting that we cooperate in a charade, grabbing this golden opportunity...
"...But, why would you do such a thing?"
"Well of course, that way I can become a good friend of yours, and I hope it might even become the real thing! Sena’s so pretty, and cute...! Art students are really incredible! Finally I’ve met somebody I don’t want to good-bye to! ...Yah! There, I’ve said it!"
What have I said! In an instant, he was crouching down, hiding a furious blush behind his hands. His long awaited flash of inspiration had come to nothing. It was over.
...It figures. I really look like an idiot. Everybody, all around, says that I seem to be a pitiful, foolish, idiot dimwit. Whatever my real plan was, I’ve broken it all to pieces with my careless talk. Even I cannot believe how, like a complete idiot, I went about destroying myself, and set up traps for myself, but,
Sena had just laughed. Almost ridiculously, it seemed like a joke. Covering her mouth with both hands, bent almost double, but still not quite laughing out loud,
"Well, it’s funny... but, it might be a good idea. Let’s do it. I want to do it. Yep, incredibly, even though the plan came from a high schooler, it’s rather amazing. You’ve been surprisingly persuasive."
"Re, really!? Really--!?"
Both of them seated next to each other in that narrow kitchen and corridor, Sena turned and nodded repeatedly. Furthermore,
"Really. This will a part-time job, OK? Do as you said. Each job... each date we show off the 'new Sena' to Ryousuke, I will give you 3000 yen."
"Are you kidding!? Seriously, after all!? Hurray!"
To be able to date Sena, even temporarily, and getting some spending money on top of it! Haruta struck his fist into the air from joy, shouting happily with no underwear on.
---Haruta Kouji, seventeen years old.
And that was how he came to be a male escort.