| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
This is Chapter 4 of Once Spring arrives, let's go to Gunma! from Volume 2 of the Toradora! Spin-Off Light Novel series.
By the time his fever broke, three whole days had passed.
When the Haruta appeared at the start of the new week wearing a face mask, the more fearful classmates said, "The cold bug’s even got to Haruta...!", and avoided him as if were the germ itself. Going no closer than his desk, everybody desperately avoided him. Thanks to this, nobody even asked him to give an explanation of what had happened. Even the single woman (age 30) had said of their mysterious conversation the other day, "Haruta-kun had to be delirious from fever, from going outside", so the rest wouldn’t be too nosey.
Of all his friends, Taka-chan was the extraordinarily cheery one. "Tie the bag where his tissues are stuck! The germs will get in the air!" "My iodine helps, gargling’s good for you!" "You’ll need to change your mask soon, use mine." "Eat oranges." "Here’s some hard candy to lick." "Drink some lemon juice." Treating his mask with gloves as if it were hazardous waste, he dashed here and there helping out.
And then, the day ended, where to steer his bike… where to go? Coughing, his mind was numb while he looked towards the school gate. It was then.
"---Ah. You came."
By the gatepost, dressed in slender jeans, sneakers and a turtle-neck sweater, with a knit jacket and cap, and a mask, a person stood there. From the white knit cap, long straight silver hair spilled down to beneath her bosom.
Sena, hands in her pockets, in that moment, looked about to say "meow", or to cry.
"...The mask. What’s with that? Got a cold?"
"How’d she wind up wearing a cold mask!?", he wanted to shout from his hoarse throat, something really dumb. But Haruta didn’t know what to say, since he couldn’t remember anything about that night.
"I mean... hold on, still, what can I say since I don’t remember..."
In one big step, he closed the distance to Sena. Sena saw that Haruta’s mouth was hidden by a mask, and suddenly,
"...I’m sorry, truly..."
Head bent down all the way to her knees, it looked like she was taking a deep bow. Other students on their way home gave the two surprised looks as they passed. That is, it seemed, this guy with the long hair and hoodie, whose idiotic voice rang within the school, was seen being apologized to by an pretty older girl. It was quite something to see.
Nevertheless there she was: a beautiful woman, with her face downcast and her eyes rimmed with red. Below the mask, surely her face was twisted and about to cry.
"...That was a horrible thing I did. Really, whatever else, I wasn’t thinking. ...I’ve been thinking. Since then. I’m sorry. Truly I’m sorry, please forgive me..."
"Hold on... Stop it... Seriously... Stop crying..."
Wiping her eyes with her fingertip, Sena finally raised her face. Gazing at Haruta sorrowfully, her ice-blue eyes trembled once again.
"...Sorry for what I did, too..."
"Why?", her eyes questioned, unsure how to answer, biting her lips beneath her mask.
While laid up in bed, he too had been thinking for quite a while. Thinking and thinking, he had come to see that his own feelings were only one side of the story, something that pained him deeply.
Leaving a naked Sena behind, deserted. Sena, deeply wounded by his running away. The strength and kindness Sena was able to show that day, he himself did not have. Though he was able to pull her out of the river mud, frankly, he couldn’t even shelter her in his arms.
He had broken the cord-like thing she pulled him with, her arms reaching out, only trying to hold him close--- Bitter regret and the cold bug were conspiring together to grow inside his body, coming back over and over again, knawing away at him.
If separation was to be their fate, then it fell to him to finish driving Sena away from before his eyes. There was no way he could bear the sadness of that. There was only one way to “cross that line”. He could draw such a line, and though it was easy to make a fuss, once he crossed over that line, he wouldn’t be able to keep it up. Sheer force wouldn’t drive a difficult woman like Sena away.
But, he didn’t do it—-- that night, Haruta couldn’t do it.
Sena tilted her head slightly and shrugged her shoulders, her hands still stuck in her pockets.
"...Since Haruta-kun’s feelings were hurt, I was hurt too. I was stricken. ...Since then with an awful cold... even a fever, I’ve been stuck in bed."
Now that her fever broke, she came to find him. His voice was still scratchy.
"...You came to find me."
"Yes. I came. Thinking about it, I decided to come."
"Is that so?"
She thought about him.
Haruta took one step towards Sena.
Sena had thought about it. Thought, and then must have realized that trying to pull him back was a mistake. Simply returning from the open window would have said goodbye perfectly. Haruta couldn’t cross over the line, making it as if it were nothing.
Even if that were so, he couldn’t just do nothing. Just when the line was broken--- he couldn’t really be sure just when that happened. No matter how much it hurt inside. He could not be sad about this, this encounter, this last chance to see each other.
The line that Sena had set had been dropped. For his sake. 'You can get a little closer', she was saying by coming here to meet him.
Wasn’t it enough already, what she’d given? In return for the help he’d given, it was more than enough. He’d been very lucky.
"...Hey, would you mind coming with me over to the college for a bit? We won’t be barging in on Ryousuke this time. This has nothing to do with him: I want to show you something. Something I want Haruta-kun to see."
Sena pulled both her hands out and showed them, as if to say, 'I won’t do anything funny.' On her two hands were knit mittens that matched her cap, because of which, she couldn’t grab anything with her fingertips. She couldn’t even secretly take the button of his uniform jacket.
"Yes! Let’s go!"
Beneath his mask, he was grinning like a complete idiot.
Leaving with Sena that time, he welcomed her openly with a smile.
As they entered the old concrete structure of the workshop building, Sena guided Haruta. Going up the stairs, they opened the sliding door to the second floor room A.
"...Wow... how’d it get like this... absolutely the..."
"It’s oil after all. Be patient, you’ll get used to it."
About the size of a classroom, the room was square. You could say it was just like Sena’s room, though it wasn’t. Over on a rack there were some portraits and other materials, piled up in stacks, and some abandoned bags of personal items. In that moment, apart from Sena and Haruta, nobody was around.
The glass set in the window was perfectly transparent and beautiful, with no wires nor grillwork to mar any of it. The light shown brightly, not dim like the corridor. But of course the wall and ceiling were falling apart, with cracks running here and there. The floor was also sticky, and the bare ductwork was dusty.
"If there were an earthquake, this place would fall apart at once! Sena-san, you’d jump right out the window to escape!"
"Yes, I would. ...For sure..."
In the time while Haruta was shuddering in fear of earthquakes and looking around the workshop, Sena was dragging something really large from a rack in the corner of the room.
"I’ll help you! Watch out, that’s dangerous! ---Whoa!"
"I leaned it against that wall."
Shouting 'Incredible...', Haruta gently let go. He moved back and once more, his said, 'Incredible.' That board-like thing... he’d never seen such a large canvas,
"...It’s a painting, sort of. That one’s mine, almost good enough for showing."
"This is innn...credible!"
Again he shouted.
He thought, "Where in Sena’s slim body did she hide such energy for painting?" Dynamic, the colors laid down in such thin yet intense, passionate, as if enraged, lines, they naturally jumped out. Red, orange, purple, deep blue, such colors leaping about madly, jumping crazily, crashing about as they laughed and played. He suddenly remembered Sena saying, "I don’t dance." So it was--- dancing with the body was not something she did. Because in visions of the world she freely, even daringly, danced wildly, with hidden energy.
"Sena-san, seriously, I’m... impressed! Wow! Since that mess about Gunma!"
Sena looked back at him and said "Oh?", tilting her head, puzzled. Perhaps she hadn’t heard the praise she’d waited so long for. Her mask still on her face, she stood quietly there, taking the gloves off her hands.
He was suddenly nervous.
Both of Sena’s hands, all ten fingers, had become something incredible. All of her fingers had tightly fitted rings with sharp stones, over the top of which was placed tape, giving her small fists improvised brass knuckles.
"Wait!? What’s this!? Sena-san, what are you doing!?"
"...With this, to that,"
She looked at her raised right fist. Twisting at the waist, her right arm right then---
"...like that. Yep. I wanted to do that."
With a daunting pose, shouting "Gyaa!", she was Haruta. With fierce energy, she swung downward with her ring-punch, diagonally across the middle of the huge canvas, ripping it up. That was good, well done, Sena nodded, then gave it another ring punch with her right. Making a sound as if it were crying, the canvas cloth tore. Sena ripped apart her painted world with her fists.
"Waiwaiwait, no no no, what are you doing!? Seriously seriously seriously! But that painting, you spent so much time on it, and it’s really pretty! Awawawa, uwaa!"
Greatly excited, Haruta was dancing around like crazy. Frantically, he caught Sena’s shoulder, trying to stop the destruction. But,
"...It’s all right. I thought about it. I understood. Doing this, this way, is OK. I want to do this."
Turning to the big hole she had torn, Sena kicked through it with her shoe. The noise echoing, the frame cracked, of course. The already bolt-upright Haruta, seeing it all, went pale but could only watch over Sena’s desperate rage. To a certain extent, he felt small.
"Excuse me. But this painting,"
Bang, crack, crash! ...Finally the canvas fell to the floor.
"The theme was 'Unfinished'. You could call it unfinished… something always worked on, eternally being worked on, it seemed like."
Riiippp! ...Grabbing the torn part, Sena tore the painting up into little pieces.
"...This, you know, was something I painted for Ryousuke. I was trying to draw my love, my feelings, how much I loved Ryousuke. Because I thought it would last forever. So too was this painting: always unfinished, always getting more layers. Our love staying with us eternally, our thoughts continuing to overflow, always piling up in layers... or so I said!"
"Hey... you, already, stop already..."
Sena lept up.
With both feet, she trampled the painting.
Again she kicked, striking the wall, once more trampling what had become an unending project, dulling the surface where it had been for so long.
"And so, with this, it is over. ...Completely over. This shape, this painting’s final form. In this way, the thing I wanted to paint, it became like this. I did it. ...I wonder, is there anything else? Haruta-kun, this folded stuff. This frame."
"You want me to do it too!? No way! Aren’t you going to regret this later!?"
"I won’t, I won’t. ...It’s for the art’s sake. Yes. Art, art. Art. So hurry up, I mustn’t stall."
"Hey, this is going overboard! Really!? Seriously!? ...Are you serious!?"
Yes, I’m serious, Sena nodded. She said to destroy them. To kill her offspring with her. Get it over with!, she said.
"...Ready, set…! Hang in there--! Minakami Express, here we go!"
Bending the canvas, he stomped on it with all his might! Crunch! Making an awful sound, the canvas folded into four pieces. "Two tickets to Shibukawa Station!", he shouted as he kicked, rent, tore and ripped up.
"As might be expected from a guy, you’re strong."
Sena sounded happy, more and more eager to commit murder, murder and more murder. ---They were killing. Together with Sena, he was letting Sena die. It was good-bye, it was farewell this way.
"We can even take the Limited Express Kusatsu! Let’s ride it to Manza-Kazawaguchi!"
He couldn’t bear to see her die.
He didn’t approve of her sneaking out like this.
If she was going to do it, she would do it. By these hands, by these feet, before these eyes, they were committing murder by battery. If she said farewell, he would see everything. He would see with his own eyes the last of Sena.
"Sena-san! This is the last one! Stop hitting things!"
He supported Sena’s dead body with both hands. Shouting “Eei!”, she ran with all her strength, ramming it with her elbow. Making a fool of herself, she fell to the floor, almost running Haruta into the wall, and then the corpse,
"I... I did it------------!"
It tore and fell to the floor, between the two of them. Sena raised a delighted shout of triumph. Like a new person, eyes shining brightly, shouting many more times, "Hurray! Hurray! It’s over!", she jumped. Haruta jumped with her too. We did it, we did it! Art Art!
"Where’s all the racket coming from... Sena!?"
The door opening, Sena and Haruta turned around at the same time. So-and-so-kun stood there, seeing the state of the workshop and it’s two murderers, his expression changing. All of a sudden, he wasn’t the macho he’d seemed before! He went deathly pale.
"You, this... aaah!? It has to be a trick, what have you done!? Wai... wait... uwaaaaa! This, you, Sena, this, the exhibition... is this a practical joke!?"
So-and-so-kun at that moment shook and sank down to the floor. He seemed to truly be in shock. Sena, on the other hand, was calm, cheerful and refreshed.
"At long last it was complete. This was how I finished it. I managed to finish it... at long last, it took a convincing shape! I did it! Yay!"
She and Haruta gave each other a high five.
"Mon...grel! This too... you did this out of spite!?"
"You’re wrong, you’re wrong," the two shook their heads at so-and-so-kun. Pointing at the scattered remnants of the corpse, her mask slipped down to her chin, Sena simply explained:
"Really, this is a work of art. I wanted to do it like this... done this way, mine, an expression of how I paint. Exploring myself this way, diving into myself, making sure of what I am, and then practically forming it, if I don’t prove myself in my own eyes, I am unable to live as a human being should. Ryousuke, too, is like that. I should know. We cannot live without it. ...But this, is it not still a painting? With three dimensions, isn’t it more interesting?"
"...You...are, are you really serious...?"
"Yes, I am. I thought about this, and did it. Now, I feel really good. Everything fell in place, and this work was finished. Finished, and then… quickly on to my next work. My next project has already been born. It’s inside of me, but I still don’t know very well what it will look like. I want to see it. I’m dying to see it. Crazy about it. Have to make it quickly… have to make it. Quickly, quickly... awful... trembling...!"
As if she were trying to keep herself from exploding, Sena was really trembling, hugging herself tightly. Up to this point, more than anything, her facial expression had said, "I’m feeling good." Seeing her sudden transformation, Haruta for some reason started clapping.
And then so-and-so-kun seemed to understand. While saying "Anyway, anyway" over and over again, he started gathering the more important fragments of all the destroyed works. That hunched form, might eventually wind up the same way, I think.
"You didn’t think about presentation... but as far as I’m concerned, the review board... can they do 3D, really?" ---And so-and-so-kun wound up clapping too.
Even so-and-so-kun seemed to have been completely transformed. Both of them transformed, though no longer a couple, it seemed the two could still get along as persons. And so, having had met two different kinds of people, there was a happy ending. Or so thought Haruta in his simple way.
Before saying goodbye, he was thinking he’d ask one more question.
"Well, Sena-san, your happy memories of high school, do you think it was all a lie?"
It was a little too crowded for sitting, so standing in the train being jolted about, he looked out the window. The sky was again dark, the city lights quietly shining.
"...Well, after that times with your friends when your boyfriend was stolen away, in the times when he was cheating on you... how much you’ve changed, though that must have been painful."
"Have I changed...? ...Well, the fun things about high school, the messy situations, the heartbreaks, the joys, things together with Ryousuke, things together with that guy... all of it, I don’t think it was a lie. I don’t think I want to forget it all. I’m thinking it was all important."
"You said, 'I hated it.'"
"Yes. I hated it. All of it, though that’s unforgiveable, I think. But, I don’t think it was a lie. I don’t think it would be good for it all to never have happened. I still hate it, I always have."
"...Really? Those memories from before, how painful were they? After all, wasn’t high school life supposed to be fun in the end?"
"Yes. Memories, you see, are things that pile up. And when things pile up, what’s beneath invariably disappears. Moreover, some kinds of memories, after a bit, become transparent. The memories buried beneath always have an influence. ...So it is with me and my pile of memories. They make me what I am. ...Being a student, fun?"
"It is fun! ...But because it’s fun, you get uneasy~. And despite it being fun, in the end there are all sorts of betrayals, unpleasant things waiting, will everything be broken? Such things..."
"Nobody knows just what will happen. But hey, in this new future whatever kind of awful thing comes up, whatever happens, I will not disappear! The present Haruta-kun’s 'fun' absolutely must not disappear. I’m not joking. Haruta-kun is going to pile up memories."
"Seriously~. You’re a really interesting person. ...So interesting you will be, right? Doing so, you will make all kinds of memories, of everything. Everybody does that, only I make my own sorts! My colors change each moment. Even seeing so many, I’ll never get tired of it, even in a lifetime. ...Here’s the station! Let’s get off, then get your bike."
The got off the train together at the station nearest Sena’s apartment, leaving by the ticket gate. Confused for a bit by all the hustle and bustle, almost taking a break,
"...Well, I’ll see you next time. Later, on a date. Next time let’s eat. Let’s treat ourselves with the 3000 yen from the other day."
"Eh!? Later, we’re going on a date!? Hurray!"
Sena laughed. It was good that she laughed, and that alone convinced him it was all over. Having interfered when Sena had thrown herself into the river, having exerted more strength than he thought he had, he had to make sure Sena wouldn’t die. Even with the fresh start on life after that, still, that they might be able to go out together had been inconceivable.
He was glad. From the bottom of his heart, he was glad. How happy he was! He didn’t think he’d ever had such a feeling before.
"I’m incredibly happy! I really am glad! Hurray, hurray! Send me e-mail, absolutely, OK! Let’s get together! Let’s eat something, OK!"
"That’s fine. Eventually, let’s go to Gunma, OK?"
"Wha!? Gunma!? Go to Gunma!? Together!? Really!? How!?"
"But you can’t! Sena-san’s a duummee~ ahahahaha ☆"
"...You see. Thinking about many things, feeling depressed... Hey!, I thought, if Haruta-kun and I were to go to Gunma, it would almost certainly be a lot of fun. ...With that, reaching the limits of what I could knew myself, I investigated Gunma on the net. Catching a cold... I really was a fool. Haruta-kun, do you like meat?"
"I love it!"
"Well then, let’s try some of the area beef. It's famous."
"Wha! Local beef! Rather, how! You fit a PC in your place! In that messy room, there’s space to put a PC! Super incredible! You’re a magician!"
"There was space enough..."
Thinking, 'Incredible, incredible,' as he skipped onwards, he noticed. Finally he understood.
He’d fallen in love.
He was in love with Sena.
So like this, happy about little things like this, ---her having thought about him, having investigated on the net about Gunma, there’s no helping it, dear beloved Sena.
So it was.
"Until our date! Until our date! I’m really glad! Let’s go to Gunma too! Let’s go for sure!"
"Let’s go by train, since I don’t have a driver’s license."
He wanted to watch Sena’s smiling form forever. The silver hair, the ice-blue eyes, the body followed by its supple tail, he wanted to watch forever with his eyes. To be able to date Sena, wanting to date her, was enough to make him want to shout out his happiness.
It wasn’t even an eternity.
Someday this love might even come to a bad end. But for now it is certainly a joy to be alive. If it were to disappear rather than build up. In that case, he would make new colors.
What kinds of colors would they be? What colors would be made? We did it, we could do it, we accomplished it. In that moment, he wanted to shout, "Sena, could you look at these colors?"
I want you to see, a small wish.
"Don’t give me 'eh'! Couldn’t you hear me just fine!? Because I’m serious!"
One day, at lunchtime. In the staffroom the ridiculous, idiotic voice disruptively echoed all around. While wrapping her arms around her delivered gomoku-yakisoba, guarding it, the single woman (age 30) took a hard look at Haruta’s face.
"B, but... Haruta-kun, you’ve not even chosen fine arts nor calligraphy. Why do you suddenly want a recommendation to the College of Arts, how’d this happen...?"
"Well..., I’ve fallen in love."
"Hey, Yuri-chan!? Are you listening!?"
"Oh, sorry... I got distracted counting the mushrooms in my gomoku-yakisoba..."
"I’m going to choose fine arts for next year! So that’s why, right? Right? As my homeroom teacher, there are many things you can do to make arrangements so I can get a recommendation, right? I know you can do it! Aren’t you in charge?"
"...Ehh... even if I’m in charge, there are things I can and cannot do..."
"Don’t say that! Please! ...It can’t be helped, I knew that! I’ll give you this cream-roll!"
"I don’t need it."
"Now, now, don’t say that!"
"Waah, I’m eating lunch with a student again today~ I’m popular, se-ri-ous-ly, isn’t that nice~.", she said to the young Japanese teacher sneering at her as she passed by. "Isn’t that nice!", the desperate single woman (age 30), waved back at her with the cream-roll that’d been handed to her.
"...Wh, which arts college? Falling in love… that is, what... going out with her?"
"That hasn’t been decided yet! But, well… sooner or later won’t it get that way? Heehee! Gunma by the Love Express!"
"Gu, nma...? ...That person, is that really a girl? ...Human being?"
"What are you saying! She’s beautiful! She’s probably human! She’s a third year now~, look, going back and forth together from school~, sort of~! Kya~!"
"Suspicious...? Did you say third year?"
"I did, I did! Twenty years old! A grown up older sister~!"
"...Well, there’s no way we can get a recommendation for next year. And by the time the admissions process is done, a year from now, she will probably have graduated."
Haaa... the quiet flowed through the staffroom for several seconds. And then,
"...Oh wow...! Such a fate I’ve fallen into... kyaa!"
"Ah, besides, Haruta-kun, you might well have moved on by the time three years have passed."
"Man! Somebody ate your food!"
"Aaah! My gomoku-yakisoba!"
Nevertheless, so it was.
From how he took the Chinese takeout from his homeroom teacher, how delicious it had been--- while carefully avoiding the quail eggs, Haruta smiled happily. It was delicious, this weekend he had a date with Sena, somehow every day was really happy. His smile didn’t fade, somehow he was pure angelic smile... with Gunma beating strongly in him, today again his heart was full.
"Devil! Devil! Lunch bandit!"
Even the cries of the kind single woman (age 30) laid up another layer in my heart, yet another kind of memory. Even if he thought she was a little noisy, combined with the flavor of the yakisoba, he heard it as an enchanting melody.