| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
Sensing the door beside the staircase was ajar, Ryuuji crawled out of his quilt and quietly opened it, and bowed forward to take a peek towards the cold and dark corridor.
Taiga too sat kneeling while looking at Ryuuji, as though expecting him to open the door as well.
"... Brrr, I can't sleep."
She said softly while covering her mouth with her hands.
"... Did you turn on the heater? We use electric heating here."
"It's already on... but I'm feeling cold because of this."
Taiga shrugged and held onto her long hair - Ryuuji knew right away that her hair was still a bit damp. She probably didn't dry her hair properly after her bath.
"Though I've borrowed a hairdryer, but it's quite a hassle to dry all of my hair, and I don't feel so good occupying the bathroom for so long, so my hair's only half dry."
"... How considerate for someone who didn't even hesitate to eat three bowls of rice."
"Of course, because I'm a good girl..."
Taiga crossed her arms while holding her damp hair while lowering her eyelids and sitting upright like a saint from a portrait. Ryuuji pretended he didn't see that and listened intently at what's going on downstairs. Yasuko, Sonoko and Seiji were still in the living room, their voices during the late night were as faint as a marble dripping into a pond, and hardly anything could be heard from their conversations.
"... What're they talking about?"
Taiga remained silent for a while before gazing down the stairs as well.
"They probably have a lot to talk about. They've not seen each other for eighteen years, after all."
"Did you see the look on Yasuko's face when we said we were calling it a day?"
"... Pft!" Upon hearing Ryuuji mention that, Taiga snickered, while Ryuuji's lips was also quivering.
Ehhh... You're sleeping already!? ... Let Ya-chan come along... I just have a feeling I'll get scolded badly... Uwaa~ Dad looks as though he's prepared something terrible... As Yasuko was feeling terrified, Seiji was holding a 5 iron golf club as he stood behind her. I will now smack my daughter to her senses using this! No, of course he didn't say that. He just happened to be picking up his golf club, which he left lying in the living room, at that very moment.
"By the way, I've noticed that you resembled Ya-chan a lot, and now I realize gramps look just like you as well. So you'll grow up to be like him right? Thank goodness... I mean the hairline of course."
Taiga said and pointed towards his thick head of hair.
"I hope so as well... Huh, you think so? I never thought I resemble Yasuko at all."
"That's why I said it was a surprise. Though your face still resembled him..."
Taiga suddenly stopped, and shut her mouth, which had relaxed due to her gentle smile. She observed Ryuuji's expression for a while, wondering whether she should continue. Go on Ryuuji blinked and motioned for her to continue, and so she suppressed her voice and said,
"... In the end we still couldn't find out much about your dad."
"Are you fine with that...? Don't you want to know?"
"I was just curious."
Dressed in borrowed pajamas, Ryuuji sat at the corner besides the door while embracing his knees. Lowering his voice to avoid anyone downstairs from hearing, he said,
"I was curious why the two of them would separate after leaving their homes. But then I felt... could it be that my dad's absence was actually a result of Yasuko's choice? It would be another thing if she were to constantly search for him, but the fact is she didn't."
Ryuuji believed that if he waited for a few years more, he might be able to ask Yasuko why that person was never by their side. He wasn't able to ask now as he was embarking on a new phase in his life. Taiga sat in the same way Ryuuji in the other corner of the dark corridor and stared at her toes, while Ryuuji rested his icy chin on the back of his hands.
He believed that as he was still learning to walk, he was unable to understand his parents' choices, and could only accept them in their entirety.
In truth, in his ideal world - Ryuuji has imagined his father sitting at their imaginary banquet, though he could only envision the image of him eighteen years ago, but he was there. He couldn't pretend his father never existed, for it was thanks to him that he was born. And that was enough to prove to the world that his father existed.
I am his best evidence. So Ryuuji thought. I accept everything in my world. And that is me - Takasu Ryuuji. He lifted his face to look at Taiga's pale cheeks.
With her hair lying on the ground, Taiga shriveled her body while hugging her face to her knees. Her eyes glittered while looking at Ryuuji,
"... So you don't hate your dad or Ya-chan at all?"
Her voice was soft, but it was enough to reach Ryuuji's ears before they gently faded into the darkness.
The sound of their breathing overlapped in the cold air.
"I've been thinking a lot."
Ryuuji had constantly been unconsciously counting the wounds that he had to bear himself - be it money, his career, or even further into the future. When he was young, he had to endure the pain of others unknowingly shunning him due to him looking different, or looking alarmed upon learning of his origin and Yasuko's occupation, knowing this is how other people look upon him, not wanting to forgive these rumors... Ryuuji has been thinking about these, as though trying to confirm his wounds.
Some wounds have been healed, while others haven't. Some were still bleeding, some were inflicted unreasonably, and others he gave up tending to since he couldn't do anything about them, and some didn't even have anything to do with his parents or birth. Some open wounds came from misunderstandings which no one wanted to happen, or difference in values and feelings. Due to these facts, Ryuuji had bore numerous wounds of differing sizes while living in this world.
Even if one could decide where one's soul stands, they still would not affect the souls of others. Some people willingly get themselves hurt, while others will unavoidably get hurt. This is the truth, this is what being human is all about. Ryuuji too was one of them, and so no matter how careful he was, he would still invariably hurt someone. Ryuuji wouldn't even dare say that the thought of wanting to injure someone with a knife had never occurred to him.
He once again realized the magnitude of coming to terms with one's self - By accepting everything that has happened, including the pains of his wound as well as the ugliness of himself hurting others, and then feel grateful about it. It's no easy task after all.
"But, sigh... I'm glad I have you."
Ryuuji nodded silently. Taiga looked at his face, which was buried into his knees, his expression looked as though he were either crying or smiling, it was incredible. She placed her fingertip over her soft cheery lips,
"Is that what you expect of me?"
Ryuuji thought, Yeah.
No matter how hard or distant it is, there is one thing that I must do no matter what.
The moving of one's soul involves having the body and mind go through hurdles in reality, and deep within one's soul, there is one thing that no force could reach, and could never be destroyed. Besides Ryuuji, no one else could touch it. That thing involved gazing at his loved one and being gazed back, and then bowing his head, vowing never to betray each other. The eyes would look at my being, my actions, my thoughts forming a foundation within my heart, until I realize the purpose of my existence and how I choose to continue living.
I guess what my eyes can see would constitute what my world is.
Ryuuji believed Taiga too had something she could create a foundation out of within her heart. He hoped she would understand this as well.
And so Ryuuji wanted to show Taiga that thing within the foundation of his heart, and what he would choose to do from now on to make that thing exist.
Sitting on the dimly lit corridor, Taiga didn't ask any further, but merely gazed at the shadows formed from Ryuuji's feet.
"... What about you? Don't you hate your old man anymore? He single-handedly messed up your life. And then there's your real mom, your step-mom, your real mom's new husband, and your step-siblings. Your situation is far more complicated than mine, what do you make of all this anyway?"
As though praying, Ryuuji stared at her pale cherry lips which had gone silent. Yet Taiga didn't speak any further, and Taiga gently brushed away Ryuuji's prayers, anticipations, and expectations and moved her eyes towards something else distant.
Taiga was looking at somewhere on her own.
Lifting her sharp chin, her eyes shone as she faced this wide world with her provocative eyes.
Just what is she looking at? How wide is the world she's looking at? What kind of stars glittered in her world? What kind of seasons were there? What kind of wind was blowing? Ryuuji wanted to know, he wanted to see them, he wanted to stand with her in the same place, he wanted to be by her side.
Each confined to their own body, how could two souls that could not be merged no matter what get to the place where they are the closest to each other? How could their worlds merge?
"... Can I come over to your side? The heater seems warmer on that side."
Taiga returned her gaze towards Ryuuji, as though answering Ryuuji's question. Rubbing her hands, she shivered while sighing a breath and said, "It's freezing."
"Right, I'm turning on the heater."
Taiga said and headed towards the dimly lit room. Beep! Ryuuji could hear the faint switch of the electric heater being turned on. Perhaps it was too cold to walk on the icy floor tiles with her bare feet, Taiga walked quietly into the room, which was prepared for Ryuuji and Yasuko, while huddling her arms and legs as close to herself as possible.
"Phew, this room is warmer after all..."
Taiga finally relaxed her shoulders.
The room was only lit by the orange glow of the heater, and Taiga breathed a sigh of relief from the warmth given off by it.
"... Stop looking over here."
Taiga suddenly thought of something and placed her hand over her chest in her borrowed pajamas. Her arms were crossed together, her waist was slightly bent, while her head was looking slightly upwards... Are you a maidservant or something? Ryuuji decided not to convey that thought, and instead asked, "Why not?"
"The size of this pajama's too big. I'm quite bothered by how spacious the chest area is."
"Oh... You poor thing. Hurry up and lift your spirits by drying your hair with the heater."
"For some reason I feel really pissed with you saying that, but as they'll hear us downstairs, I'll let you off this time. But don't you forget what I said, don't ever!"
Taiga glared menacingly at Ryuuji and walked across the room with her hands tightly over her chest, and sat down before the heater, which was two futons away from Ryuuji, before extending her hands towards the heat source. The deep orange glow dimly illuminated the dark room. "Ah, I've been revived... Like I said, don't you forget!" She turned to glare at Ryuuji again.
"Yeah, whatever," Ryuuji stretched his legs on his futon and stared at his slightly hideous looking toenails while sighing his anxiety away. I must not get close to her again tonight. Just this distance, being alone together in this room and staring at each other is scary enough, since this was what he had wanted all along.
Honestly... Ryuuji thought, just feeling the breath reach his ears was enough to melt his brain and drive him insane.
Because the girl he loves was sitting right before him.
His heart felt like going through a roller coaster ride before arriving in the "present". Just looking at Taiga, every single strand of her fluttering hair, her petite shoulders, and her small and pale white bony hands was enough to trigger every sense within him. Ryuuji's every gaze was fixated on her, he could feel as though he could smell her fragrance, he could even sense warmth coming from Taiga... though that had more to do with her being beside the heater.
Have I ever wanted to embrace the touch of someone this badly before? His thoughts were simple - He wanted to get closer to Taiga, understand her more, tell her more about his thoughts. He never thought that just these desires alone were enough to trigger such a reaction within him.
But Ryuuji knew that if he reached out his hand now, it would all be over. He didn't know where he'll fall if he makes his move, as though standing by the edge of a cliff. I stood somewhere similar last time. If I were to fall off the bridge again, would I fall into water so cold that even my heart would freeze?
Ryuuji covered his ears nonchalantly and shook his head with an unknown expression as he relaxed his stiff neck. It was in fact quite hard to move his gaze away. He could feel his spine tingling, and even had an urge to whistle... He was never like that while he was with Taiga. How did I spend each day back then? Right now Ryuuji couldn't even remember. Back then... when exactly? Right now he wasn't even sure of the answer.
His eyesight moved towards Taiga, who had placed her long hair before her as she combed it. Under the caress of her pale fingers, Ryuuji felt her hair was as soft as dissolving honey. Under her bangs, her face reflected the illumination from the heater. Gramps and Grandma are currently downstairs. Ryuuji took a look around, and realized this used to be Yasuko's room - The furniture, the uniform that still hung there, the casual clothing, everything there revealed that his mother used to live there.
Even if our hearts are linked, taboo would still be taboo. It's just that the more it's forbidden, the more one wants to find out.
"Huh!? Y, Yes!?"
"... You're breathing too loud... Help me turn up the heater, I don't know how to adjust this."
Taiga was faced towards the heater and didn't turn around to look at him.
Ryuuji didn't reply, and merely approached the heater, as well as approached Taiga.
What should a person turning up the heater do? ... If it's just shaking hands, would she accept?
Can we embrace?
Don't friends normally do that already?
Right, I'll worry about it if she says no. I just hope she doesn't think I'm some bastard who doesn't know his limits.
... That is if I really want to feel her touch.
Just feeling curious about what it's like to be in physical contact with each other, I'll be satisfied with that alone... Ryuuji proceeded to reach out his hand.
"... I think it's this button."
... And pushed the button with a triangle symbol facing upwards. Beep, beep Sounds were made as the button was pushed, and the heating tubes glowed brighter as a result, turning into a fiery red color. The warmth reaching their skin quickly became stronger.
"... Is it too strong?"
"Just right. Ahh, so warm..."
"Make sure you don't burn your hair."
"No matter how stupid I am, I'm not that stupid as to... sniff,"
Taiga grabbed the tip of her long hair and smelled it,
"... I'm not that stupid as to get my hair burned."
She puffed her chest proudly and moved her face towards Ryuuji.
"... Don't come too close to me."
Ryuuji frowned and recoiled his face, revealing an alien-like face... or rather, a threatening face. He moved his body back in the same angle from Taiga, keeping a foot away from her.
"What's this about? Why are you saying that?"
Because just physically touching each other is not enough to please me... It's not like I could say that. Neither could I say it's because we have grown-ups downstairs. Anyway, it's just not enough. My desire for Taiga is bottomless.
None of it is enough. Just as I thought.
Even if he knew everything about her, and loved all of it, he still did not have enough time, as well as his own effort. There're only 24 hours in one day, 365 days in a year, and probably only around 80 years in one's lifetime. This night is only going to last for a few more hours. Ryuuji was just a normal kid who did not have enough of everything, and could only feel anxious and struggle in pain. That's all there was to it.
"... Anyway, no matter what, this line represents our boundary between ourselves."
He was now running out of ideas.
Using his finger, he drew an invisible line between where they were sitting, just cutting across the carpet intersection in the middle. "Don't ever cross this!" Ryuuji even changed gender and gave an expression of an old hag.
"... What happens if I do?"
"Invisible guards will blow your brains off with a shotgun."
"That's not what I meant... what happens then?"
Taiga sat before the heater in her borrowed pajamas, and stared at the hair which she was combing. Just her eyelashes were enough to create an impact on Ryuuji's heart. How could you stay so calm!? He even began to feel resentful. In the end, Taiga didn't understand anything. She could simply sleep whenever she feels like it, just like back in his double-room plus kitchen apartment.
If that's the case...
"Well... it's not like I want to cross it."
If I really cross it, what are you going to do to me?
"If I really cross that line, if I've already made up my mind... then no matter how you cry or beg, I won't be letting you go."
... Bastard! No... you devil! No... you Palmtop Tiger!
"But it'll really be a bother if I get my brains blown off by invisible guards. Besides, it'll be too sad to have you clean up my brains lying all over... right?"
Ryuuji was speechless.
Taiga's provocative gaze and warmth was triggering the pure and complicated heart of a man. This felt just like dancing on a cooking grill with his bare feet. With Ryuuji dancing while Taiga fanned the flames beneath it. Ryuuji glared back at her...
"What? You wanna say something with that expression?"
Taiga crossed her legs brazenly, having her feet face each other, and swung back and forth like a Daruma doll. She purposely widened her eyes and pouted, "If I don't even understand what you're trying to say, I won't be qualified to be your fay-an, fay-on, fiancé!" And curled her head inwards. Ryuuji thought, Not that I find any pity in it.
Seeing as he couldn't beat her in words, Ryuuji utilized a long-distance assault weapon - He covered his lips in a manly way with one hand, and then from the gaps of his teeth, blow out a dart filled with the toxin of a black mamba snake straight towards Taiga's eye... Of course he didn't do that. He decided to mimic what Taiga did a while ago and gave her a flying kiss while looking completely hideous. I don't care who's downstairs, this at least I could do! C'mon! One kiss costs 5000 yen! Ryuuji clenched his fist and thought...
"Your kind of kiss has hardly even flown over for me!"
Taiga nonchalantly slapped down his flying kisses as though they were mosquitoes.
"Wha! T, that's mean...!"
"Wha! T, that's mean...!"
"... My chin's not that long."
"You really are getting carried away..."
Taiga stuck out her chin in a malicious way and waved her hands while shaking her head.
"What did you say!?"
"You can't even mimic the sound of a flying kiss. Sigh... I can't believe you would be so shameless as to mimic me..."
"Arrgh! You! It was you who first...! Forget it!"
Ryuuji tried to retort but was lost for words, and so turned his head away from Taiga, and merely said, "I'm going to sleep." He then crawled into his futon and closed his eyes.
"Ooooh, he's mad. I was just joking, and you end up pouting."
"... Don't call me that."
"Um... It's great Ya-chan's issue's been resolved."
"Same for you... thank goodness."
Ryuuji kept his eyes shut, he could sense Taiga's breath by his feet, and so he cuddled himself more.
"... Same for myself as well... I feel really great, that's all I could think about. For Ya-chan to thank a person like me... and then I too am really thankful for you, for Ryuuji..."
Taiga's voice went coarse, her silhouette suddenly shivered and became blurry in his eyes.
"... Are you really asleep?"
Ryuuji replied that question with silence.
"If you're asleep, then forget it. My hair's dry and warm anyway now... so it doesn't matter."
He felt Taiga standing up and moved away from the edge of his futon. Hearing her footsteps, he opened his eyes and raised his head, trying to get up to chase after her.
Thud! A sudden whack caused him to stop breathing.
"... Sleeping people are not supposed to move."
"Not supposed to move? You... I, I can't breathe...!"
"They're also not supposed to talk."
Ryuuji continued to struggle while being suffocated.
Though he was completely pressed down by his futon, Ryuuji still barely managed to grasp the situation - Taiga had rushed and jumped onto him, then sat down on him and tried to suffocate him with his futon.
Taiga spoke softly with a coarse voice that was mixed with her breathing,
"... How could you escape? You're sleeping."
... Indeed, he couldn't even move.
Taiga only weighed about 40kg, and yet she has leaped over and held onto him, refusing to let go. This determination did not allow him to move either.
"You know, Ryuuji... I really, really, really, really, really, really..."
Two bodies that exist separately.
Two souls that can never be merged no matter what.
"... Love you."
And even so, they still wished to be as close as possible.
The futon that covered his face was pulled down, Ryuuji felt soft hair touching his face before his forehead touched another forehead, and his eyebrows came into contact with another pair, as though confirming the curvature of his face. His nose touched another nose, sensing his breathing overlapping with another. And finally, within the smell of shampoo, his fiery lips came into contact with another pair of lips. Taiga sat on Ryuuji with all her weight as she came down on Ryuuji's lips. This felt even hotter than the first time, more passionate, as though they could get immersed in it even more. In the nick of time, Ryuuji managed to steady his body, which was fast dissolving by the warmth of love, and frantically opened his eyes.
Taiga, I love you as well He repeated within his head.
The same thoughts have allowed two people to twist their bodies and leap towards the vast expanse, wanting to merge into a quadrupedal creature, sharing the same life. Yet these two bodies could merely be close to each other, touching each other, and they were anxious because of that. Their anxiety turned into frustration, and they could only cry and go crazy and would feel like destroying everything. This was the easiest method they could choose. Yet by standing so close to each other like this, they felt they could see something.
By bringing their respective worlds together, the two independent life forms are able to live once again in this new world, and this time they would be reborn in the same place.
Both Ryuuji and Taiga wanted to reach there.
That was all there is to it. By embracing everything, their "present moment" was here.
As they were both independent, since they could not combine into one, they were able to be strongly attracted to each other. They would dance, struggle, cry and get hurt together in the air, and then embrace each other with their powerful force. They desired to go to the world that they wished for, and opened their eyes many times.
As time and life is short and limited, by placing one's hopes too far, one could easily get anxious. However...
"... We really should be going to sleep."
They were slowly becoming grown-ups.
Marching ever forward, the time which they left as a trail behind them never comes back, slowly becoming the past.
Taiga caressed Ryuuji's eyelids with her fingertips, and he could feel her continuously quavering heart. As she was quavering, she closed his eyes and said,
"I'll be going to sleep as well... good night."
As if he could.
... As if he could even possibly.
He didn't open his eyes.
The sun hadn't completely risen, and it was very cold. This should be the last morning of the deep winter.
Sleeping sideways, Ryuuji cuddled his legs inside the blanket warmed by his body heat and covered his eyes with his hands. He reckoned the person sleeping in the futon next to him should be Yasuko.
Listening to the sound and breathing, Ryuuji knew that Taiga has gently opened the door and was standing there. He could also tell that the soft sound of metals clattering together came from the metallic zips of her bag.
Ryuuji. Taiga called out softly.
Ryuuji didn't move.
The call came once again, Ryuuji. He waited for a while before clearing the call once again. Three times she had called out his name, it seemed she wanted to make sure he was asleep.
"Then, I'll be gone for a while."
The floorboards gave out a faint creaking noise followed by the door being closed silently. She walked down the stairs gently, placed her shoes on the bricked floor of the entrance hall, had them put on and opened the door.
The door's being opened.
This is fine.
This town sure is quiet.
For a while Ryuuji could hear footsteps slowly fading into the distance under a freezing cold sky.
The footsteps were initially hesitant, but step by step it became more assured, and started running at their normal pace. The firm sounds of the shoes stepping on the asphalt slowly faded away.
The sound's gone.
Ryuuji didn't move inside his blanket.
He kept his eyes closed.
"I, is this..."
The first person to jump out from the futon was Yasuko.
"... Ryuu-chan! Is this really fine...!?"
This is fine.
Ryuuji wanted to reply as such.
But he couldn't say it. Even though he knew it's fine, he couldn't even open his eyes.
Taiga must return to her parents' side.
Because she loves them.
She didn't have to run away anymore.
Taiga had tried to abandon her parents. She was afraid that she would destroy everything if she showed them her love, which was why she never desired for anything before. The love she gave was not in proportion with the love she received, and she even went into tears because of it. She hated herself for not being able to get her love reciprocated, and not being able to get her feelings appreciated, and so she did not allow someone as insignificant as herself to have ambitious dreams. Taiga has always been restrained, restrained by the fear that if she sought out love that was forbidden, she would only receive retribution, end up losing everything and get hurt by it.
But now things are different.
Taiga has broken her bondage, she has finally been set free, and is able to go wherever she desires.
She should understand by now that even if she wanted to love someone or something, she no longer had anything to lose anymore. With a free mind, she whole-heartedly loves the world she lives in. She should understand that above loving anyone or anything, she should love herself, she should realize that she can have them all, and that there really was no such thing as give or take when it comes to love, and should be able to embrace everything, including her wounds...
This is fine. She already understands.
Feeling he was now able to give his reply to a now sobbing Yasuko, Ryuuji opened his eyes and climbed out of his futon, took a deep breath and looked up towards this world.
Towards this "present state" where Taiga was no longer around.
Towards the centre of this reality where he sat in the wintry morning. Even if he wanted to say this was fine, or wanted to tell himself that this was for the best...
He realized he was now alone in this world.
Ryuuji was now living all alone on his own.
Taiga's not here.
He couldn't say anything, no matter how he tried. He felt himself being torn apart and exploding. A spark burst from the whiteness of his eyes as a whole flurry of thoughts came rushing to his head so fast it felt as though his heart might blow up. "Ahhh..." He moaned. Everything's gone. No, this, this, this...
Ryuuji felt someone grabbing his shoulder hardly. He turned and looked at Yasuko, and saw tears were flowing like a fountain on her reddened face, sniffing with a painful expression. The fragments of a shattered world came crashing down everywhere, and here he stood in the midst of it as he shivered with his hair standing on his skin. The thoughts that came rushing felt like they were about to explode - Ryuuji believed that this would be his facial expression right now.
He kicked off the blanket and ran off.
Still wearing his pajamas, he virtually slid down the stairs and came to the entrance in his bare feet. Opening the door which Taiga had departed from, he ran straight out towards the world outside, running towards a new solitude on his own.
There was no one else on the road, just Ryuuji covering his mouth with his shivering hand. He must hold back that name which he nearly shouted out, and did his utmost to bite his lips to keep them shut. Though he could not stop his body, even when his skin felt like cracking up under this chilly wind. The winter sun had not completely risen and the gloomy sky still gave a sense of solemn desolation.
His mind, body and soul was being torn apart. At this rate it will end up in shreds.
His mind was on the run, so was his body, while his soul urged them not to. His body wanted to stop, but his mind couldn't. It probably won't stop. Thought Ryuuji as he continued to run in the wind.
I know, I really know, but my bleeding heart is still fanatically calling out to Taiga, in the hope that our worlds could come together. Could our hearts be together no matter how far apart we are? If my heart which was taken away doesn't return, then by seeking you out and calling out to you in a force which is incomprehensible, would you still want to leave, Taiga?
Even with such a powerful force, are you still choosing to leave?
Even when I run to the far corners of the world, would there be a day when our worlds would finally come together and we would spend our future together?
Will I even be able to acquire such a power?
Ryuuji ran aimlessly, trying hard to wipe off the tears flowing down his face. He knew there was no way he could catch up, he also knew Taiga would be running with all her might. This is fine... He said to himself, though his stolen heart was crying, he still continued to move his feet. Taiga is no longer in this town, there's no way I can catch up.
This is fine.
This body should contain a power similar to hers. I should be able to also possess the strength to love Taiga, be loved by her, as well as happily embrace everything in this world.
Ryuuji's white steamy breath puffed rapidly in the cold winter morning of the silent town.
Probably having received the phone message Ryuuji had sent from the train, they waited for Ryuuji and Yasuko, who were separated by a small distance, to emerge from the empty Saturday station ticketing hall.
He had used the time spent on the trip home to calm his anguished heart.
Amidst the sparse crowd of passengers, covering her out-of-bed messy hair with a baseball cap, Minori stood there in her coat and jeans,
"I don't get it."
Upon seeing Ryuuji, she said only that sentence. Biting her lips until they were devoid of blood, she stared at him with her eyes wide open. But Ryuuji could find no way to explain it suitably.
How should he properly explain the reason Taiga left, why he let her go, and why this was for the better? The more he thought about it the more scared he got. Though he knew Minori would understand, yet it was times like these that he became incapable of articulating his thoughts properly.
Standing some distance away from Minori was Ami. It seemed she had hardly slept, and stood slouching her shoulders with her hands inside her coat pockets, her naturally beautiful face now looking completely pale. Kitamura approached from a spot slightly further than them, he had no intention of condemning anyone, yet his eyes were filled with questions, looking at Ryuuji, who was the only one wearing a school uniform.
Ryuuji's message simply read: "Taiga has returned to her mother's side." There may have been a better way to convey that, but Ryuuji did not know what it was. It was natural that everyone was confused, because he and Taiga had promised that they would not abandon everyone who was precious to them, and so they will run away and return here together. They had been waiting all this time, believing that Ryuuji would come back with Taiga.
Ryuuji must now explain why he had returned alone.
"... You're all good friends, right?"
Yasuko, who recognized everyone there, said softly. She took out her key purse from her tracksuit jacket, and took off the key to Taiga's apartment which was entrusted to her and gave it to Ryuuji.
"Let's go look for Taiga-chan together. If there's anything you don't understand, then try to confirm it with your own eyes. Ya-chan must now fetch Inko-chan home."
"... Where did you put him anyway?"
"With the landlord~"
I see, so we'll be going the same way then... Just as Ryuuji was about to say that, Yasuko waved her hand and smiled, "I gotta go now." Perhaps she had guessed the situation - that Ryuuji had to be the one to tell everyone that Taiga is no longer with them - and so gave her son some space.
After receiving the key, Ryuuji lifted his head.
No matter who makes the first step, it's a big step we're all gonna take.
From the familiar station, they walked along the road which they would walk on everyday, and in the end they began to run. Even Ryuuji, who already knew Taiga wouldn't be there, ran with all his might. He passed by the corner of the Takasu residence, entered the condominium block entrance, and entered the password for the automatic door. Taiga had said this place was no longer Aisaka property, so could the password have already been changed? Could the creditors have already come to collect the place?
Ryuuji feared the key would no longer fit in the keyhole, but unexpectedly it smoothly fitted in. The door leading into Taiga's apartment opened with a creaking sound that was different from the opening sound of the large gate downstairs.
He pushed the door open and turned on the entrance lights as everyone struggled to remove their shoes as they entered. "Taiga! We're coming in!" Minori shouted, hoping Taiga to still be inside.
"Taiga, are you there!?"
Kitamura and Ami also shouted.
"It's me! I'm here! We're coming in! Taiga! Tai..."
Opening the glass door leading towards the living room, Ryuuji stopped in his tracks. Behind him, Minori and the rest also stopped their shouting. It was because they knew what kind of mess the apartment would look like had Taiga been in, which was why they all went silent.
Because they were shocked.
With the heater off, the wide living room felt icy cold.
Under the chandelier, the armchair sofa, glass coffee table and white cupboard remained, gently covered with sheets. The European-style kitchen, furry floor mat and long pillow which Taiga constantly held onto was devoid of dust. Every corner was sparkling clean.
Minori slowly walked to the centre of the living room and shook her head, as though deciding to throw all her emotions aside right here and then, and to forget everything. Like an robot receiving a command, she opened the cupboard, and pulled open one of the drawers,
"The little bag carrying all her personal belongings is gone,"
She looked up to everyone and explained,
"It's a small, flattened bag with deep blue and pink red stripes. She would always place her bankbook, signature chop, health insurance card and passport and stuff in there. She said it would be convenient for her to grab it at once in case she needs to escape during a fire. But now it's gone."
Solemnly closing the drawer, she opened the stained glass door and entered the bedroom, pulling the sheet to reveal the pillows, and discovering there was hardly a wrinkle on the bed. A closed notebook computer was left on the desk, while the normally tangled wires and cables which would have given Ryuuji an excited urge to sort them out were now removed, and neatly tied up with a hair band and placed on the desk.
Minori opened the dress cabinet, and for a moment couldn't say anything.
"... Her uniform's... still here."
She was trembling.
"Taiga, are you just gonna disappear like that...?"
Standing by the room entrance, Ami looked quite lost as she murmured. Her voice sadly echoed across the wide room.
Minori turned to look at Ryuuji, breathing deeply. Ryuuji merely looked as her shoulders rose and fell to her breathing.
"T, this... this, Takasu-kun, is this..."
I must give them an answer... Ryuuji had made up his mind.
"Is this fine...!?"
"This is fine."
"THIS IS FINE!"
This is fine! This wasn't a shouting contest, yet Ryuuji still yelled in a sad voice that was no less louder than Minori's as well as his own heart's, yelling with all his might,
"I think it's fine for Taiga to leave like this!"
"Won't you feel sad with that!?"
Who couldn't be sad with that?
"No, I won't!"
I'm feeling absolutely miserable.
"Kushieda, calm down!"
Kitamura held on to Minori's trembling shoulders from behind her and said softly,
"Aisaka may still not be far from us, we might still be able to catch up with her."
"Y... yeah. Maybe she's nearby. Perhaps she's wandering around as though nothing's happened!"
Hearing Kitamura and Ami say that, Minori and Ryuuji turned their heads around.
"You're right. If the place is still this clean, it means she's probably only finished cleaning and had just left not long ago. Maybe we could still make it... right? We could still catch her, right!? Takasu-kun!"
"Takasu-kun! Let's move!"
Minori, Ami and Kitamura ran out the corridor they came in front towards the entrance, followed quickly by Ryuuji.
Exiting the condominium block entrance and emerging outside, they ran along the road planted with beech trees on both sides. Ryuuji panted as the cold air entered his lungs.
We may still be able to catch her...
If he could catch up with that silhouette, that long wavy hair, that fluttering one-piece dress, Ryuuji would stretch his hand and grab on her shoulder, telling her, "Don't leave me. Stay with me always."
If he could still catch up with Taiga with his thoughts right now, and embrace her tightly.
If he could still hold onto her.
If she could choose to not leave.
"Let go! Takasu-kun! We gotta move! We have to get her!"
"No, Kushieda! We can't! This... this is fine!"
Ryuuji barely managed to grab onto Minori's wool jacket sleeve and pulled her towards him, using his weight to restrain her. Minori continued to struggle, wriggling her arms trying to break free. His left hand held onto Kitamura's arm and the tip of Ami's scarf, of course, he couldn't allow his right hand to let Minori go, and so used his entire strength to hold onto Minori's small yet incredibly strong wrist.
"Why is this fine!? That way we won't know where Taiga has gone! How is this fine at all!? Didn't you say you love Taiga!? Wasn't it you who told me where you have decided to go!? Weren't you the one that said you two would live together for the rest of your lives!? Didn't you say you want to achieve happiness... Why does it have to turn into this!? Why!?"
"Taiga's not gonna run away from her family! She won't abandon anyone! So this is fine!"
The pedestrians on the road turned their heads due to Ryuuji's shouting. Even so, he refused to release Minori's wrist. I can't let her go. Tears were flowing down her cheek as Ryuuji's words became blurrier to her as she trembled more and more. Still Ryuuji continued, "This is fine."
Closing his eyes, Ryuuji yelled loudly to Taiga, who probably couldn't hear him anyway,
"GO, TAIGA! Hurry up! Go on!"
If I can catch up to you, it means you would have to run even faster and go even further. No matter where you go, even to the edges of the world, go forward and grab on to everything which you are entitled to have!
Ryuuji yelled with all his might in lieu of his tears.
He pushed aside his heart, which was trembling from calling out to Taiga, and opened and closed his eyes continuously.
The wide sky looks far and bright.
Really, this is fine.
Taiga is no longer here. So it's good.
Kitamura removed his glasses and covered his face, his twisted mouth emitting whimpers which he couldn't hide. Ami glanced at Kitamura and bit her lip. Her cheeks, nose and throat were all red as tears flowed from her under her eyelashes down to her chin.
Minori had lost all her strength and sat in the middle of the pedestrian road,
"... Does this mean.. Taiga has abandoned us?"
Ryuuji said to his friend, who faced her back to him,
"She definitely won't. Taiga won't give up, she's not the weak sort of girl. She would certainly come back. And when she does, we've gotta be here for her!"
"No matter what you say... it's still sad. I'm sad that Taiga's not here. How should I deal with this sadness? How would you deal with your sadness?"
Minori's sadness was undeniable, no matter how unnecessary it was, even though she had wanted to shatter it when it appeared, she still felt miserable.
Yet Ryuuji didn't look away, but stood firmly and faced forward, even wanting to take on this sadness.
"It's fine to feel sad as well."
The sadness from being apart - that was the relationship for him and Taiga right now.
Yet our hearts are filled with love.
It doesn't matter even if we're sad.
Ryuuji thought slowly.
He had met Taiga under chaotic conditions just when the cherry blossom season had ended. The days of fighting and commotion all started from there. In the end they were invariably attracted to each other, and began loving each other from one moment, when they fell badly and even thought they were going to die. After managing to get on their feet, their hearts had at last melded. And now, Takasu Ryuuji still loved Aisaka Taiga.
As long as there was love, the bond linking the two of them will never be broken. As long as there's a link, I believe everything will be fine. A day will come when this love will pour out, converting into a yell that cannot be suppressed. Maybe we would call out each other's names, and nothing can stop the force that draws us together, and eventually, our minds, bodies and souls would meet again in someplace in this world. In that way, just like finding the way home, Ryuuji and Taiga would live on while heading in the same direction. If he could live with Taiga, and walk by her side, then it didn't matter whether there was no end in sight, it didn't matter if they had to continuously walk on. Ryuuji even believed it didn't even matter if they had to walk on forever, because this was love.
This was a long and winding road home, and therefore it should be treated with happiness. No matter how hard and arduous the road may be, it will all end in happiness, that is why they must keep moving on.
The days that he has gone through, the days he is now going through, and the days that he will go through, Ryuuji would love them all. And so would Taiga. As well as Yasuko, Minori, Ami and Kitamura. Everyone would do their utmost to love the life they're living.
We'll definitely meet again -- Having walked in their own worlds with their individual bodies, Ryuuji and Taiga would one day combine the two worlds with force and precision. Because their worlds are constantly attracting each other, calling out to each other, longing for each other.
We will not give up, but we will face it together.
"... Will Taiga still want to see me...?"
Ami asked while crying, her voice was so faint it was hardly audible. Ryuuji replied in a voice that called her back,
"If you believe that you'll definitely see her again, if you think that this is important for you, then convey it well with your actions. Only you could make it happen... do this for yourself as well, Kawashima!"
Tears continued to roll down Ami's cheek as she said,
"I want to see Taiga again! I hope that when she returns, I would still be here! I want to be better friends with Minori-chan! I want to make up with Takasu-kun! I don't want to break off anymore relations anymore! I want to be friends forever! It was fun being together with everyone! I want to be with everyone! I love you guys...!"
"W, what about me!?"
"Who cares about you, Yuusaku!?"
Minori went and hugged Ami on the head, who in turn hugged back. "Minori-chan!" And buried her face in Minori's shoulder as she sobbed. Two proud girls who refused to give way to each other were now warmly embracing each other. Thinking about their friend who was no longer here, they wailed loudly, ignoring the glances of the passers-by.
Being their friend and knowing how they thought, Kitamura also joined in. Ryuuji embraced their shoulders and lowered his head. The four of them huddled together, holding onto each others' shoulders and cried like kids in the middle of the pedestrian road.
Yet Ryuuji felt lucky. It is good that we have our own individual bodies, so that we can warm each others' wounded hearts. Because we were born and grew up separately, we could then meet each other, fall in love with each other, quarrel with each other... and then huddle each other and cry together like right now. It's a miraculous sight.
Right now when his heart was awash with sadness, everything that existed right now within this world Ryuuji loved it with preciousness. No amount of yelling could compare to the love that was flowing out from within.
Ryuuji believed that making a head start, Taiga's journey was also filled with love. It's just that not all love would guarantee return. Maybe she could be betrayed, hurt and become disillusioned again.
But she must still go on, just like everyone else must, on their own path of life.
No matter how far the distance, how long the roads, Ryuuji and Taiga will certainly find each other once again, so it was fine. Because they were heading towards the same destination.
--- Flying in the endless skies above, Ryuuji could see the beautiful world beneath the clouds. In this beautiful yet cruel colorful world, a strong beast shoved aside the sands of time and strode forward, using her four limbs, and ran unhindered along the land which she is proud to grow up on.
I am the Dragon.
I am the Tiger.
Together we would become human, calling out to each other. No matter where we go, or where we are, our howls would be able to reach each other.
At last, the sky where the Dragon soared cleared of clouds, and there was no longer anything to block the sound between it and the land where the Tiger roared.
No matter how everybody else blames Takasu-kun, Sensei will defend you all the way! Because I understand what Takasu-kun is doing...
"Ohhh! It's done, it's done!"
"I have received all ten pages of them. You see? The file is now this thick! I'll return it to you once you graduate. Your mother... um... T, Takasu-kun? Why are you looking at Sensei with such a vengeful look...?"
How is this vengeful?
"Oh, perhaps you're feeling unwell?"
"... Well, a lot has happened. You must have been through a lot..."
I'm just feeling a bit tired.
I will protect you. -- That's what his homeroom teacher, Koigakubo Yuri (single, aged 30) said to him as she held the stunningly thick file in her hand. The label on the side of the file read "Class 2-C, Takasu Ryuuji, Repentance Statements"
"But you sure do write a lot, submitting ten pages worth of Repentance Statements every weekend. And how many times have you done that? This is the sixth time already, not to mention the Cleaning Reports you submit every Monday, Wednesday and Friday... I think you've written too much for those. I've already said you only need to write one page for those, yet you still end up submitting five to six pages."
"Well, I can't help getting myself excited whenever I write those."
Thanks to Koigakubo Yuri's vigorous defence of Ryuuji before the school's principal and disciplinary dean, Ryuuji managed to come out of this major escapade largely unscathed. Ryuuji did not conjecture this himself, but he had actually overheard the principal say that from within his office. Ryuuji's punishment was commuted to writing ten pages worth of Repentance Statements once every weekend alone in the dean's room, as well as being put in charge of cleaning the staff restroom three times a week.
All these Ryuuji had diligently done. At the same time, he had achieved his best ever grades since enrolling in this school in the term-end exams a few days ago. He even overtook Kitamura in math, his strongest subject, to take first place in his grade, while his overall grade ranking improved by ten places, placing him amongst the highest ranked students. Ryuuji believed this would help somewhat in keeping Koigakubo Yuri's reputation intact. However...
"In fact, some teachers are not too happy with your Cleaning Reports... They all question just how many hours do you have to spend cleaning in there. And your reports even go into detail as to how many strands of hair you've found on the ground, how there're recyclable cans in the rubbish bin, how this and that is so filthy that you suspect it's done by some teacher... et cetera, et cetera. You sound like a mean old hag, you know... There's now a sense of dread and trepidation every time we use the bathroom."
"Do we have old hags teaching us?"
"... Um, I was just saying that as a figure of speech... You know... as a description..."
"Hohoho." Koigakubo laughed sorrowfully. She sorted out Ryuuji's Repentance Statement and placed it in her folder, so that she could go through them slowly and adding comments with her red markers, like "How about this?" "Think carefully!" "You're right." That was part of the job of a homeroom teacher as well. She would then return the statement to Ryuuji to see what he thought of her comments before placing it back in the folder.
It was after school on a Saturday.
Koigakubo flicked through the pages of the Repentance Statements with her finger. There was silence in the dean's room where the two of them were. The yells of girls from the sports clubs on the track field outside could be heard. Probably the Softball Team. Ryuuji could hear a rough and sharp voice yelling, "Hold~ GO~ Yeah! How's that? UWAH!" He once asked Minori just what this actually meant, her reply went like this, "It simply means that: 'Hold~ GO~ Yeah! How's that? UWAH!'" There were still many mysteries left unsolved in the world.
After this week, the third semester would come to an end.
"Right, your Repentance Statements have now all been received. Thanks for the hard work, Takasu-kun."
"... No, this was my fault. I should be thanking you for all the hard work, Sensei. Sorry for causing you this much trouble."
"Don't mention it."
His second year of high school life would end without Taiga around.
"Hmm?" Koigakubo turned her head around as she was about to leave. Ryuuji handed a piece of paper over to her. As he has folded the paper in half, there was a clear fold mark on it. The part which Ryuuji was holding was pointing downwards.
Before Koigakubo could see what was in it, Ryuuji said,
"A while ago I handed you one of these in this room after writing something on it. Please discard that. I'm sorry, but I've now gotten around to actually writing something on it... I'll see ya later!"
As Koigakubo started reading the paper he handed over, Ryuuji took the chance to quickly leave the room.
"Eh... Eh? Ehhhhh~~!?"
"Those are my genuine feelings."
The homeroom teacher followed him out of the room, Ryuuji turned to face her while walking backwards, pointing to her, "I'm serious." He then turned back and walked in great strides, turning his head to look at his homeroom teacher's troubled expression. Funny she would have such an expression... Ryuuji couldn't help but smile.
"It's good that you genuinely feel that way! But you're not supposed to write that on your career survey! Couldn't you write anything else besides 'a more bright, dazzling and cheerful future'!?"
"I expect my future to be dazzling and cheerful. By the way, 'everyone' in there includes you as well, Sensei!"
"Eh~~ Then allow me to give my... t, thanks..."
After a perplexed look, Koigakubo couldn't resist laughing out loud, "Wahaha~~!" Hearing her laugh, Ryuuji walked joyfully down the stairs. Koigakubo looked at his back and said in a relaxed way, "Your future is indeed dazzling, because..." But she then composed herself like a grown-up and withheld what she was about to say.
Bright, dazzling and cheerful, the future that Ryuuji has decided on contained only the sentence "To make everyone happy!"
Ryuuji had only completed the survey upon writing the exclamation mark and handed it straight away.
He proceeded towards his classroom to get his bag. He understood why Koigakubo had exclaimed "Ehhhhh~~!?" But the truth was, he still couldn't exactly tell her which university he intended to go to, or what major he would take, or what career he would be preparing for.
There's still one year to go, so does it matter?
Would that be too naive? Would that be too easygoing? Would I be falling behind everyone else? Yet Ryuuji had only managed to realize how huge the world was, and so he could not yet decide how he should live in such a world. It had nothing to do with money, nor did it have anything to do with being bound by Yasuko, neither did it have anything to do with Yasuko making up with her parents, and it has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of choices or whatever. It's just that Ryuuji was still carefully observing his surroundings, and taking things easier than his friends, he has finally made his move forward.
The future, being further away from the present, was way wider and larger, and Ryuuji felt afraid. Yet it was also bright and dazzling at the same time - and just thinking about that was enough to make him feel happy. He would achieve what he wanted no matter how he did it. Ryuuji believed that the dream he has decided on would surely come true.
As long as he thought that way, then he believed he would have no problem readying himself for the world.
Once the decision is made and the plan is executed, all that's left is the to accomplish the mission. That's why I would like to continue being a kid for now. There's not much time left where one can be idle, right? This is the last time in one's life where one can afford to be idle, right? So let me happily be idle for a bit longer.
It is only in moments like now where one can enjoy it to the fullest.
"Hey hey~~! I'm starvin already~ Let's eat~~!"
"So you actually submitted your survey just like that!? 'To make everyone happy'!?"
Haruta and Noto waited in the classroom for Ryuuji while munching on their snacks. "Yup, I did.", Ryuuji nodded and put a potato chip in his mouth.
"You actually did it~~! Way to go, Taka-chan~~! So what did Yuri-chan say?"
"She only went 'Ehhhhh~~!?'"
"Ahaha!", Noto laughed. At the same time, other classmates that were still inside the classroom happened to be laughing about something else, filling the classroom with laughter.
"Well, it's to be expected for her to respond like that. Since this was actually submitted by a top student."
"That's what's great about Taka-chan! Though I wish you would open a restaurant~"
"That sounds like a hard way to earn a living... By the way, what're we having for lunch? Isn't Kitamura ready yet?"
Ryuuji looked towards the corridor, wondering if Kitamura was still in the Student Council office...
"Testing, testing-- Ahem, umm... Hey! You! You're not related to the broadcast! Can you please not push me out of the way?"
Ryuuji nearly fell off his chair when he heard Kitamura's voice appeared over the announcement speaker.
Noto helped to explain the situation to him,
"It seems the Student Council and the Drama Club have gotten into a bit of dispute in the allocation of their broadcasting timeslots. The Broadcast Club says they're neutral in this affair and would want this to be settled in a calm manner, but..."
"... Ugh...! Like... hell... I'm... letting go!"
"Hey! Let you, you idiot!"
"Ahhh! It's falling down! Can you guys please stop!? Those are delicate equipment over there!"
"Settle this calmly...? But it doesn't sound like it... Will they be alright?"
Swish! Wham! Sounds of stuff crashing could be heard.
"Enough! Gimme... that... Let... go! Ha! Got it! W, we'll still be broadcasting 'The Patron God of Broken Hearts' next semester every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon, so stay tuned in support of your love life! Ugh... I'm not giving way! Music! Can somebody play some music? Now here's a tune... Huh!? WHOA!"
They could next hear something falling to the ground, followed by the sound of the broadcast transmission being cut off. "Ehhh..." Ryuuji looked up at the speaker with a perplexed expression,
"Hey~! I heard of this song in a TV commercial before!"
"Hmm, hmm, hmm." Haruta began humming to the tune. Sounds like the song was played to prevent the Drama Club from getting any chance near the mic. Ryuuji felt the song sounded familiar and exchanged glances with Haruta, they then gently shook their heads. At this moment,
"... I haven't gone to the karaoke for ages, who wants to go?"
Noto made a great suggestion.
"Good idea~! Let's go, right now!"
"Alrighty then. It's the 'My Voice' branch right behind the station, right?"
"That's the only choice! I gotta send a message to the Master right away, and tell him to join us later."
Noto quickly took out his cell phone from his bag and quickly typed a message with his thumb, "... We're going together, come join us!" And sent the message to Kitamura. Ryuuji followed him and Haruta out of the classroom, and as he was about to don their scarves...
"Taka-chan, it's quite warm today, you know~? So I don't think you'd need a scarf. It's so warm I even feel like taking off my hooded T-shirt inside."
"You're right... Really, is it spring already?"
Ryuuji looked outside the window, and saw the cherry blossom trees lined up along the school's entrance pathway were dressed in a sea of pink. Though they've yet to blossom, the buds on the trees were already growing pink in color.
"Oh yeah~ The season that matches my name has finally arrived! My flower, the Cherry Brocken, Jr is now coloured in a rain of azure and pink..."
"It's cherry BLOSSOM..."
"Hey~! What a coincidence! It's Ami-chan and her friends~~ Hee hee hee! You guys just been to the bathroom?"
"Eww! Eww! Eww!"
Upon seeing Haruta after just coming out from the ladies room, Ami, Maya and Nanako all placed their arms around their shoulders and shuddered while looking at each other.
"How come you guys are still at school?"
"By the way, you guys sure look ridiculous." Ryuuji pointed at their equally long and curly hair. He clearly remembered their hair wasn't like that during homeroom session not long ago.
"We were practicing how to curl our hair~~<3"
Ami twirled the hair near her chest with her fingers in a seemingly good mood, even her opened mouth appeared to be heart-shaped. She blinked her eyelashes and said to Ryuuji,
"Well? What'd you think? Hoho~~ Don't you think this light and curly hair fits Ami-chan very well? It fits so nicely that it's scary~~! It even feels fatal~~! This explosiveness, this potential, this decisiveness! We~~ll?? Even I feel a bit scared of myself. Kyaa! How can this be~~??"
"What are you getting so excited for? Come to think of it, it's because of people like you toying with their hair all the time that there's always strands of hair littered all over the wash basin. Did you even bother to pick up those pieces of curly hair which you dropped?"
"... OK, you can get lost!"
"Go, go, go!", Ami waved Ryuuji off while looking peeved. Perhaps due to Ami's reaction, Maya and Nanako both giggled. Upon seeing Nanako's hair, Haruta commented,
"Personally, I think Nanako-sama's curls look cute~~"
"Really? Thanks. Actually I wasn't too satisfied with it myself."
"Nah~~ You don't need to curl it too much, it's better if you leave it loose like that."
Upon hearing Haruta's praises, Nanako relaxed her pouting expression and looked meaningfully towards Noto,
"What about Noto-kun? Which kind of curl do you think is cute? Loose hair like mine? Or flashy like Ami-chan? Or perhaps just slightly curled like Maya-chan? Which do you like?"
"Eh!? Me!? Hair!? I, I..."
Suddenly finding himself being the topic of discussion, Noto looked at the Pretty Girl Trio of Class 2-C one by one and then stammered,
"... Wanna join us for karaoke!?"
He decided to change the subject while facing towards the ladies room door,
"We're heading there right now... Um, if you guys are free, you can join us... But, if you wanna go somewhere else... then, if then... Um, we can go grab a bite at the Mos Burger opposite the karaoke, drinks are free. Um, though we don't really mind, so that's it."
He slightly turned his head, and said softly without directing it at a particular someone,
"Kitamura's coming as well."
Maya suddenly exclaimed excitedly, as though wanting to eclipse Noto's voice.
"We were just thinking about going to the karaoke as well! In that case let's go together! We can go with them, right, Nanako-chan?"
"Of course we can! It's more fun that way. Right, Ami-chan?"
"Ahh~~ Well, you guys are lucky you get to hear Ami-chan's beautiful voice~!"
The group then walked towards the shoe locker to change into their outdoor shoes. The girls then walked in front, while Noto stayed at the back and muttered, "So she's really just coming for Kitamura?" Don't look at me. Ryuuji smiled bitterly at him, and casually shoved his head towards Haruta.
Toradora vol10 232.jpg The group continued walking under the yet to blossom row of cherry blossoms. Ami looked towards the track field and said, "Just in time!", and suddenly ran towards the fence there.
"Huh? What's up, Amin? Ehhh, why's everyone all gathered together? You guys all going home?"
Ami waved towards Minori, who was running along the track. Wearing her dust-filled softball team uniform, her fingers were wrapped in finger wrapping, she revealed her usual smile upon removing her cap. "Yo!" She waved towards Ryuuji as well. "Hey!" And he waved back in response.
"You look scary today... Are you still having club activities? And will you be working part-time later?"
"I just finished with my activities. And I'm free from work today!"
"Really? We're heading to the karaoke right now, why don't you get changed and join us?"
"Kara--oke! Whoooa! It's been a while since I done that! Count me in! Listen up guys~~ I'm gonna swamp you with loads of anime songs!"
"Yeah, yeah, we got it. Just hurry up!"
"OK! Sounds great!"
"Sounds great... what sounds great...?" Both Nanako and Maya tilted their heads, puzzled. At this moment, Kitamura came rushing down the stairs, having received his message.
"Hey--!" Ryuuji instinctively waved to his good friend and urged him to hurry up. Kitamura waved proudly in response with his bespectacled smile. Minori hurriedly wrapped up her club activities and dismissed her team members in Sengoku-era Samurai style. The girls continued leading the group, while Noto, Haruta and Ryuuji stopped to wait for Kitamura to catch up.
All that remains is you. Ryuuji said within his heart.
We're all here, so hurry up and join us.
Hurry up and return to my side.
I want to see you.
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Spin-off|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6 • Chapter 7|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Chapter 6|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5|
|Prologue • Chapter 1 • Chapter 2 • Chapter 3 • Chapter 4 • Chapter 5 • Epilogue|