| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
My second year of high school started off horribly but I have to admit things were improving.
My reputation as a delinquent was quickly straightened out in my own class. I'd like to think it's because I'm in the same class as some other students as last year, like Kitamura, but it's obvious that my un-delinquent-like behaviour when I bumped into Aisaka Taiga, the Palmtop Tiger, played an even bigger role. Maybe I should thank her.
When we drew lots for seating arrangements I also lucked out and got a seat right beside the window where I could look out at the calming blue sky or feel the warmth of the sun's light. I also had Koigakubo Yuri as my homeroom teacher who I knew from last year. She's a decent teacher though it's fairly obvious to a lot of us students that she worries about being single at her age—twenty nine, some of the students whisper.
What really made me feel good about the year, though, is that Kushieda Minori is in the same class as me. In fact, it's between classes right now and she's talking to Aisaka Taiga right beside my desk.
I didn't want to be obvious, especially with Aisaka right there, so I was resting my chin on my hand and looking ahead, concentrating on not staring at Kushieda. I was concentrating on keeping myself under control so hard that I lost track of her conversation. What was she talking about again?
"...You have to be careful and make sure the sides—er, edges—edges of the bucket don't harden. But, anyway, since the middle was still watery, when I poured the soft jelly in like this..."
Jelly? I couldn't help but turn my head slightly to look at Kushieda. She was in the middle of gesturing and pantomiming something. From any other angle, it probably looked as if she was pantomiming tipping over a bucket. From my point of view behind her, it looked as if she was pantomiming hitting me in the face with an elbow.
Actually hitting me in the face with her elbow probably rules out the use of the word pantomime though. I jerked my head back as the corner of her elbow hit me. She quickly turned around, "Takasu-kun! I'm sorry! Are you alright? I didn't notice you behind me! I didn't hit you in the eye did I?"
I blinked a few times and used a hand to cover the side of my face. I faked rubbing my cheek but I was really hiding a blush while I blurted, "Don't worry about it. It's nothing."
"Oh, good! I'm glad you're okay," I heard genuine relief in her voice as she smiled and turned back to Aisaka. "Where was I? Oh, right, you've got to pour the jelly in slowly like this."
She pantomimed again. This time I yelped slightly while jerking my head back, I wasn't expecting to be hit again. Kushieda turned around and began apologizing. Again.
"I hit you again! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" she said as she bowed her head with each apology. Her hair fluttered as she dropped and raised her head. I could smell the sweet scent of her shampoo. I wouldn't mind getting hit in the face a few more times.
Kushieda standing nearby while talking to another person was enough to make me happy since it gave me the chance to listen to her cute voice. Her gesturing and pantomiming wildly with her hands and arms was more than I could have hoped for since she would make contact with me when she did—literally.
I tried to smile and waved her apologies away but I couldn't help feeling a little confused. What's this bucket she's talking about? I must have had a puzzled look on my face. "Hm? You look confused, Takasu-kun," she said with her eyes on me. "Is something wrong?"
"Erm," with her attention on me I couldn't help but stammer. I had to pause before completely organizing what I wanted to ask in my head. "Bucket?"
"Pudding!" What? "I made pudding in a bucket!"
I was bedazzled. I marveled at how she could take pleasure and joy in the simple things in life. I also then realized that the two of us were having a conversation! My heart started pounding, my limbs stiffened. Damn! I'm seizing up! What do I say now?! I probably have a dumb look on my face right now, too.
"Hey, Takasu-kun, you like pudding?"
"Ah..." Was all I could muster from my throat which felt swollen and parched at the same time. She must think I'm a boring and lifeless guy. My mind raced as I tried to think of more to say but she beat me to it.
"The pudding I made didn't turn out too great," she continued with a smile. "Maybe because it was too much, it didn't look as if it mixed right. Oh, but I can show it to you instead!"
"Show... me...?" I was surprised I managed to say that much.
"Yeah, I'll show you. Let me go get it," she walked off excitedly towards her desk.
I suddenly felt like running away. What do I do when a girl gives me pudding? Should I eat it? It's not lunch time. Should I hold it for later or eat it right away? As Kushieda came back, I couldn't help but drop my head a little but she just kept on smiling with her head tilted slightly, "Here you go, Takasu-kun."
Right! I'll eat it right away and tell her how amazing it was! I lifted my head and raised a hand to accept the pudding politely. She placed some photos in my hand which confused me at first but quickly simplified things. "Oh... Uhm, great shots..."
"It looks a gross, doesn't it?" It sort of did but at the same time it was mind blowing: there was just so much of it! The bucket was on a plastic mat on the floor and inside was a light yellowish cream that looked like slime. I didn't want say that however so I looked at the next photo which showed the same bucket being emptied out into another bucket. The mat was a lot messier in this second photo. Kushieda continued, "It smelled strange, too. Maybe because I didn't wash the bucket thoroughly."
I still couldn't think of anything positive to say so I looked at the third and final photo. I froze up instantly. The bucket was there in the photo. The slime was there. What had seized my attention, however, was Kushieda sitting beside the bucket, holding a spoonful of the stuff with some of it spilled onto her nose. I was looking at a picture of an angel at play.
"Oh, I should go show these to Taiga—huh, where'd she go? She was right here," Kushieda looked around as she took the photos back then moved on in her usual excited steps. "Thanks for looking, Takasu-kun!"
Aisaka Taiga, eh? I watched Kushieda as she left and felt a dread come over me. I was lucky that I was in the same class as Kushieda, I didn't have to sneak past opened classroom doors to catch a glimpse of her smile. But despite being so close to Kushieda now, I had a feeling that Aisaka was going to come between us. The two of them spent nearly all of their time together after all.
The Palmtop Tiger ignored me ever since I bumped into her, but she'd still distract me if I tried to approach Kushieda. I need to figure out how to get the Palmtop Tiger out of the way.
Today I was in charge of classroom duties so I had to help the last period teacher with some paper work. I did the work so thoroughly that when I finished the sunlight entering through the windows had a soft orange-pink tint. I had left my bag in the classroom so I made my way back quickly.
I opened the classroom door but quickly stumbled back a few steps as a loud explosion erupted in the room. A bunch of chairs and desks went flying through the air. A small figure, silhouetted by the light of the low sun coming in through the windows, dashed through the flying debris and hurled itself into a cabinet in the corner of the room. By the time the noise of the chairs and desks crashing into the ground faded away, my feet were rooted to the floor in terror.
What the hell was that?! That silhouette? Could it be?
I recalled the image in my mind and picked out the petite figure; long hair; and fluttering skirt from my memory. There was only one person who fit that description: it was the Palmtop Tiger. And for some reason she was hiding—rather poorly—inside the cabinet that held the classroom cleaning supplies.
What do I do now? I had no choice, I'll just pretend I didn't see anything. I can't go home without my bag or the homework in it. Trying to keep my steps as quiet as possible, I took a few steps inside the classroom towards my desk.
"Ah!" A shout came from the cabinet. It tilted and I could only watch in shock as it crashed to the floor, throwing its door wide open. Aisaka Taiga was curled up into a ball with her arms wrapped around her knees pulled tightly against her chest. Because she was curled up into a ball, she rolled out of the cabinet, down its open door, and onto the ground. She came to a stop right in front of me.
Despite where she was now, she remained tightly curled up and merely glared at me with her eyes. Now that she was just over a meter away from me, I figured I might as well abandon all pretense of pretending she wasn't there. "Are you... okay?"
Aisaka finally began to uncurl her body and push herself to her feet but she continued to glare at me quietly. I took her silence to mean that she was just fine. I said out loud, "Ah, yeah, my bag," and continued walking to my desk. It only took a few seconds but it felt like an eternity with Aisaka watching me silently. She was like a tiger watching its prey from the edge of a clearing in the tall grass.
I tried my best to ignore her and focused on my desk. Oh, right, I had brought my bag over to Kitamura's desk when I went to chat with him before going to take care of the classroom duties. It looked as if Kitamura was staying late somewhere around the school too as his own bag was hanging off a hook at the side of his desk. I made a turn towards Kitamura's desk and was nearly bowled over from the sheer force of a loud, terrifying scream.
After regaining my balance, I turned around and looked to Aisaka. She had a look of rage—no, wait, surprise? frustration?--on her face. "W-what is it?" I asked, dumbfounded.
"W-what are you doing?!" she yelled back at me.
Why was she yelling at me?! I uttered back, "My bag...! I'm just getting my bag! Huh, are you alright? You're starting to look a little..." I couldn't think of a word to describe her expression, it had transformed into a mix of anguish and despair.
"Y-your bag?!" she yelled some more, her voice cracking. Now she was just stuttering incoherently. "But your desk—over there! W-w-why is your bag th-th-th-there?!"
"I was talking to Kitamura when I got called for class du—!" My explanation was cut short as I quickly scrambled back. Aisaka—who was standing at the opposite end of the room—had suddenly closed the distance between the two of us and dug her fingers into my bag. She was trying to tear it away from me and it felt as if my arms were going to pop from their sockets. How is that small body of hers so quick and power?!
"Wait! Hold on! Ai-Aisaka?!" I blurted out as I tried to keep a hold on my bag.
"Just give me your bag! Let go!"
I had no idea what was going on. The situation was just too much and I couldn't think of what to do. As the two of us struggled over my bag, I caught a glimpse of her face distorted in frustration and what was now definitely rage—she looked like a demon. "Give it to you?! Quit messing around!"
I feared that we'd be locked in this tug-of-war match forever; neither of us had gained any ground. I thought about letting go of my bag but she'd probably fall back and hurt herself.
I should've worried about my own health, however, as Aisaka suddenly redoubled her efforts and tightened her grip on the bag. I felt both my hold and my footing slip, "Stop! We're just going to hurt ourse—"
Huh? Aisaka's face which had been filled with demonic rage was now weirdly scrunched up.
I felt a sudden gust of wind, wet spittle splattering on me, and my head crashing back against a desk. Even the tiger's sneeze was powerful.
I moaned as I dropped my bag in my lap and rubbed the back of my head. I looked up at Aisaka through tear-filled eyes. "That hurt! What the hell were you doing?! It feels like I cracked my head open!"
She sneezed again, much more quietly this time, then sniffled. Suddenly, she collapsed to the ground between the desks. "Ai-Aisaka? You alright?" I called out but got no response. She was curled up again and her hair was a tangled mess around her. "You look sick. Are you anemic? Here, I'll help you up."
The sight of her pale face, quivering lips, and sweating forehead erased the terrifying images that I had witnessed earlier. I reached out a hand but felt ice bite into my hand when she slapped it away. Trembling, she grabbed onto a desk and pulled herself up. She was so frazzled she didn't bother pulling her skirt down when it rolled up as she struggled to her feet, revealing tiny and smooth thighs.
She began to walk off with a wobble in her step. "Aisaka, seriously, are you alright?" I was being nosy I guess, but she really did look horrible. I got up and took a few steps after her but stopped suddenly.
"Stay away from me!" That sounded more like her usual self—almost. There was something in the tone of her voice that seemed off. It sounded as if the tiger was forced into a corner.
Eventually Aisaka disappeared out of the door but I could hear her footsteps for a few more moments. "What a mess," my head still ached. My bag looked like the baby from a judge Ooka Tadasuke parable: nearly torn apart by the two women claiming to be its mother. The chairs and desks in the room had been thrown into disarray.
After an encounter as wild as that, I couldn't help but clean up the mess Aisaka made. What a troublesome girl. As I cleaned, I tried to piece together what happened and why but couldn't figure it out.
"I'm not any good with these puzzling things," I muttered and sighed to myself when I finally left the room.
By seven o'clock my mother had left for work early with her colleagues. I ate dinner alone then went to my tatami straw matted room. I dragged out my bag with the intention of doing my homework but paused once I opened it and looked inside.
There was a light-pink envelope in my bag. It looked as if it was made out of fancy washi tissue paper and it was decorated with a pattern of silver cherry blossoms. In light-blue ink To Kitamura-kun was written on the front. I flipped the envelope over, From Aisaka Taiga. I spent a lot of time writing this. If this troubles you please throw it away at once!
I never thought Aisaka had the word please in her vocabulary. Of course, her writing a love letter to Kitamura was even more unexpected. She had obviously put the letter in the wrong bag and that explained why she tried to tear it away from me. What was I going to do with it?
I held out the letter to nobody in front of me and rehearsed giving it to Aisaka. "You stuck this in my bag my mistake, right? Here. I didn't read it." Somehow I didn't think she would believe me. But what else could I do? She would think that I've seen this letter by now. The best I can hope for is that she believes me when I tell her I didn't open it.
I slipped the envelope back into my bag but then I heard something tear. Oh no. I pulled the envelope back out. Aisaka didn't properly seal it, a loose part of the opening flap caught on something in my bag and forced the entire thing open. In a panic I rummaged through the drawers of my desk till I found some glue. I set the envelope on my desk and was about to apply some glue to the opened flap with a shaking hand when I suddenly realized there was something very odd about this love letter.
There wasn't one. With a confused frown, I slipped a finger inside the envelope, opened it wide, and looked inside. It was empty. I collapsed on my desk; all of that panicking for nothing. Aisaka Taiga, you hopelessly idiot. Hiding in the classroom cabinet, rolling out in front of me, getting the wrong bag, nearly destroying it, sneezing, fainting. All that just to get back an empty envelope.
In the end, I glued the envelope closed. I didn't need her thinking I opened it on purpose. I'll have to be careful not to laugh when I hand this back to her or else the Palmtop Tiger might eat me alive.
I woke up in the middle of the night.
The cloak read 2:00 AM. Why was I awake? I was dreaming. Did something in my dream wake me? Or did some loud noise? I went to bed in my boxers and a t-shirt but it was the middle of April and not unbearably cold. In fact, I had left the window in the living room partly open to let the cool night air circulate throughout the house. Ever since the luxury apartment building was built opposite the window, I had become a little lax with security even through there wasn't anything worth stealing in my house.
Maybe that was it. I climbed out of bed with a yawn and made my way to the living room. I closed the window and locked it, but for some reason, this made me feel even stranger. My heart started beating quickly. It felt as if someone was watching me. I looked around the living room but saw nothing. The phone display wasn't lit up, there weren't any calls from the bar my mother worked at.
I was worrying to much. Maybe I just needed to go the bathroom. I might as well now that I'm awake. I took a few steps towards the bathroom when I heard something behind me. I tried to jerk around but my footing slipped. As I fell to the ground, I saw a shadow slashed through the air where my head was a few moments ago. The thin shadow continued its swing till it hit a bookshelf against the wall. A few books tumbled to the ground but I was more worried about hearing the sound of wood cracking.
What the hell?! Please tell me this is a dream! Wake up, Ryuuji, wake up damn it! No, I was already a wake. Landing on the ground suddenly was pretty painful. There was somebody in my home and whoever it was raised the dark, long shadow it had swung at me and came at me again.
I rolled away and dodged another slash as I looked around the dark living room frantically. What do I do?! Call the police? The phone was on the other side! I made a dash for the phone but quickly realized that my attacker was much faster than me. Instead, I turned around just in time to see the shadowy figure swing downwards. I raised my hands above my head and hoped for the best.
Whatever the attacker was swinging smacked into my opened hands, stinging pain ran down my arms. Whatever it was didn't lop off my hands though, so I did my best to ignore the pain and grip the weapon with my bare hands. Realizing this, the attacker shoved forward. The two of us held onto the weapon and struggled back and forth. We struggled past the window and for a brief second moonlight beamed down onto my attacker.
Again?! I was so shocked and distracted that she managed to get a better grip on the weapon. She almost tore it out of my hands when she suddenly went slack.
The weapon was ripped from my hands as she stumbled backwards to the ground with a cry. I quickly regained my balance and groped the light switch. "Aisaka!"
She ignored me and instead wiped a runny nose on the sleeve of her dress. I grabbed a tissue box that had fallen to the ground in our struggle and tossed it towards her, "Use a tissue, damn it!"
Aisaka's long, light brown hair fell around her. She was wearing a loose, white dress that was separated by many layers of soft laces. The dress looked good on her small figure. The wooden sword she was clutching in her hands, however, wasn't the best matching accessory.
"G-give me the wooden sword," I weakly demanded. I should have grabbed it as soon as she fell. I could have taken it quickly instead of going for the lights or throwing the tissue box at her. Ignoring the tissue box, she pushed herself to her feet and the two of us began circling one another around the low living room table.
"Aisaka, listen," I tried reasoning with her. "I know what you want. You want the lo—the letter back, right? The letter you put in my bag by mistake."
Instead of calming her down like I had hoped, my words seemed to piss Aisaka off even more. She gripped the wooden tightly in her fist and lowered her body as if to lunge at me. She was like a bomb waiting to explode so I kept on talking, "I'll give the letter back! Please calm down. I didn't read it!"
"Do you think you can get away by giving it back?" she snarled. "Don't be ridiculous. You knowing the letter exists is the problem I've come to deal with!"
Aisaka suddenly lunged towards me, screaming and swinging her wooden sword. I was still incredibly amazed by how fast she was but I was more surprised with the fact that I was still alive on account of her poor aim.
I jumped out of the way of her swing and scrambled around her. "Damn!" she cursed and gave chase. "Get back here!"
"Shit!" I yelled as I stumbled around the room. Tears from the exhausting struggle were starting to blur my vision. "What kind of person tries to kill her own classmate?!"
"Shut up!" she shoved me from behind, throwing me against a sliding fusuma door. I turned to see her holding the wooden sword with both hands, ready to jam the point straight into my face. "You know about the letter and you think I can continue living? Only death can save me from this embarrassment!"
"Then why are you trying to kill me?!"
Aisaka stabbed forward with her sword. I just barely ducked in time, the sword jammed into the fusuma door I had refitted a few days ago.
I scrambled away. Aisaka pulled the jammed sword out of the door with a violent jerk as she spoke, "I don't want to die yet, so I'll kill you instead. Or erase your memories."
"Erase my—? That's impossible!"
She glanced at her wooden sword with a dark look in her eye. "Oh, it's possible. I just have to hit you hard enough."
"You can't go around erasing people's memories as you like!" This was insane! She was insane! Common sense, ethics, consideration for others, she had none of these things!
She charged at me again, "I'll rip that love letter from your memories!" I tried to dodge again but I wasn't as quick this time and she crashed into me. I had no choice at this point, I had to fight back. Despite her small size, she managed to push me down and pinned me to the ground with her weight but I had managed to get a grip on the wrist attached to her sword-holding hand. She started screaming and pummeling me with her free hand, "You saw it, didn't you?! You saw it! You think I'm an idiot... an... idiot..."
As I held her sword-hand with one hand and tried to deflect her pummeling fist with my other, I thought I felt something wet splashing my face. Through our struggling arms, I caught a glimpse of her face. Despite her fierce howling screams, her eyes were red and watery. "H-hey! Stop! Are you crying...?"
"No, I'm not! Let go of me!"
"Listen to me, Aisaka!" I yelled back. "You've got it all wrong. The envelope was—"
"Let me go!"
Her free fist sped past my flailing arm and landed a solid blow on my nose, causing pain to explode throughout my entire head. Her wrist pulled free of my grip. I blinked away my tears and saw her raise the wooden sword over her head, held in a reverse grip with both hands. She stabbed downwards towards my forehead.
"It was empty!"
The point of the wooden sword stopped a few centimeters from my forehead. Aisaka was stiff as a board. In a soft, child-like voice she muttered, "It... was... empty...?"
I let out a sigh of relief, nodding and rubbing my nose where she had punched me. "It was. There was nothing inside for me to see." It looked as if she was in complete shock so I gently began pushing her off of me. "You're lucky Kitamura didn't get the envelope. He wouldn't let it slip but you'd be the laughing stock of the school if anybody else found out."
I got a meter away from her and she was still sitting on the floor. I decided to take a chance and went to my room to grab the envelope. She hadn't moved when I came back. I stuffed the envelope into one of her small hands, "Here, see?"
Letting her wooden sword drop to the floor, she held the envelope up with both hands to examine it through the light.
"Ah..." her little cherry-coloured lips parted slightly to let out silent breathe. She ripped the flap open and looked inside. Confirming there was nothing inside, she turned to towards me, her messy hair tangling around her. For a single, short moment, there was a completely blank expression on her face. Then she burst into tears.
It was now my turn to be shocked. I stared with my mouth hanging as Aisaka genuinely, heart-wrenchingly cried. She wiped at her face with quivering hands but tears continued to stream down her blushing cheeks. Between sobs and ragged breathes that wracked her body, she cried, "I'm so hopeless..."
She continued to sob silently after uttering those words before falling completely silent. "Ai...Aisaka...?" Instead of responding, she slowly tilted to the side and collapsed to the floor. Remembering how she nearly passed out in the classroom, I hurried to look her over. "Hey, Aisaka. Are you alright?"
She was fine. I think. She looked pale, but she was breathing. What now? Despite what she tried to do to me, somehow calling the police to drag her away didn't seem like the right thing to do. I gathered a few sitting cushions and blankets from around my living room and set them down in a pile beside the table. I gently picked Aisaka up—her small figure and the white dress made it seem as if I was carrying a doll in my arms—and set her down on the makeshift bed.
I paused to wonder what to do next when I received my answer: a low growling noise escaped from Aisaka's abdomen. "Was that... her stomach grumbling...?"
There's always food readily available in my home. After all, what good is a clean house if those who live in it are hungry?
I always like to have a batch of chopped garlic and ginger sitting in the fridge. As the frying pan warmed, I quickly cut up some onions and turnips. Once the cooking oil hit the right temperature, I tossed the rice into the pan. The turnips were mixed in right after to give the dish a clearer taste. The eggs I mixed in gave the rice a yellow colour. I added the onions and some bacon later on so that they would be sweet and not overcooked respectively. Adding in some pepper, salt, oyster sauce, and cilantro finished off the main dish. The soup was easily made by adding hot water to some onions and chicken soup base. In all, the whole meal took me fifteen minutes to cook and I even managed to clean a few of the dishes, too.
It was three in the morning but my cooking was still flawless.
As soon as I set a plate of the fried rice and the bowl of soup down on the table, Aisaka roused from her sleep, "Garlic..."
I might as well make sure she enjoys it. "Aisaka...? Wake up. If you want garlic, it's here." I gently shook her shoulder.
She continued mumbling, "Fried... fried..."
"Yeah, fried rice."
I raised an eyebrow as drool began trailing from the corner of her mouth. I couldn't just leave it alone so I wiped it away with a tissue. "Come on. Get up or the rice'll get cold."
Aisaka's eyes finally fluttered. I didn't feel comfortable touching her when she was possibly conscious so I tugged on her dress to help her sit up. She shoved my hand away, confirming the fact that she was awake. She looked around bleary-eyed. "Eh...?" then sniffed audibly. "What's that smell? Garlic?"
I gestured to the plate on the table. "I just told you it's fried rice, didn't I? Hurry up and eat, it'll get your blood sugar level up," that sounded somewhat nerdy. So I added, "I don't want you fainting again."
Aisaka narrowed her eyes at me and for a moment I thought she was going attack me again. "Just what are you trying to do?"
"I'm not trying to do anything. You sounded starved so I made you something to eat. You were looking anemic like at school. You actually do eat every once in a while don't you?"
"That's none of your business!" she looked around the living room. "You live here alone?"
"With my mom who's out at work. Shouldn't you have figured that out before breaking into my house?"
"Shut up," she shot back pitifully then suddenly crossed her arms over her chest protectively while giving me a stern look. "You-you didn't do anything funny to me, did you?"
I stopped myself from yelling at her; she thinks I'm the one doing funny things?! "You're the last person to be making accusations considering you broke into my house," I said flatly. "Hurry up and eat already."
"I don't—" Three in the morning is not the time to be arguing. I shoved a spoonful of rice into Aisaka's mouth mid-speech. I had to admit this was pretty brave of me, but at this point it was either getting killed by Aisaka or evicted for waking the neighbours. "Mmm!"
Aisaka pushed the spoon away. "W-what are you doing?!" she glared at me but continued chewing between her words. She looked like a squirrel with filled cheeks. After she swallowed, "Mmm... Don't think you'll get away with this. I'm not done with you yet."
She grabbed the spoon from my hand. "More importantly, how'd you know the envelope was empty? You opened it didn't you, you voyeuristic pervert?"
Not intentionally at least, I sighed. "It wasn't like that! I... well... held it up to the light," that explanation wasn't entirely true but I thought it was good enough. Despite that, I wasn't even sure if she was listening to me because as I spoke, she flattened the small mound of rice on the plate with the spoon before slowly scooping some up into her little mouth.
She chewed slowly at first, swallowed, then sipped some of the soup. She let out a small sigh of comfort and, surprisingly, looked like a normal girl who was simply enjoying a meal. Maybe I should bring up what I was thinking about while cooking.
"Hey, Aisaka, listen to me a second..." she shoveled another spoonful of rice into her mouth and chewed, faster than before. "Your letter—I mean, that envelope. There's nothing to be ashamed of."
She silently stuffed more rice into her mouth. I continued, "Even if I saw what was supposed to be inside, I think—"
The chewing became faster, the swallowing louder. She really was starving. "Hey, listen to me!"
She held out the now empty plate, "Seconds!"
"Eh? Oh, sure," I took the plate and went to the kitchen—good thing I made some extra—and came back to set down a filled plate on the table. "Like I said—"
She still wasn't listening to me. I suppose this is what you call undivided attention. But where does all the food go in that tiny body of hers? She was intensely focused on the fried rice, as if fried rice was the only thing that existed in her world at the moment; there was a party going in her mouth and every grain of fried rice was invited.
This wasn't going anywhere and she's half way through the last serving of fried rice. I needed to do something drastic to get her attention. After looking around the room, I got up and made my way to the birdcage in the corner, "Hey, Aisaka, come and have a look at this... it's tasty!"
She stopped stuffing her face with fried rice. "Hm, something tasty?"
Now that she was looking, I pulled the cloth from the cage. Inko-chan was sleeping inside. His face twitched as he slept; the white of his eyes was visible since his eyelids weren't completely shut; his beak hanged wide open so that his tongue stuck out. Aisaka was finally distracted from the food, "Wah! That's disgusting! Why'd you show me that?!"
"Inko-chan's not disgusting, he's just—" Wait, that's not what I should be arguing about. Though considering how Aisaka reacted maybe he is a little weird? I put the covering back over the cage. "Nevermind. Go ahead and eat, but listen to me, okay?"
Aisaka picked the spoon back up and continued eating, but slower this time. In fact, she was glaring at me while she chewed. "There's nothing to be ashamed of," I said as I sat back down across the table from her. I could tell—or at least, I thought—she was listening because her eyes followed me. "We're in high school, it's only natural there'd be some people of the opposite gender that we like so there's nothing wrong with writing a love letter. Don't couples go through a lot of trouble before getting together?"
She continued eating but lifted the plate a little over her face as she did so. Now I knew for sure she was listening: she was hiding because she was feeling embarrassed. "Though, I've never heard of any cases where the love letter is put into the wrong bag. Or the envelope itself being empty."
"It's all your fault!" Aisaka slammed the now empty plate onto the table and pointed the spoon at me. "You've rambled on for some time now so let me set things straight. I hadn't put the letter inside the bag till just before you showed up. Then I panicked and stuffed the letter in the bag by mistake—I didn't know it was your bag."
"You've got some rice on your cheek."
Aisaka's face flushed a slight red as she narrowed her eyes at me. "You. Are. Annoying!"
I was going to say something back but she was glaring daggers at me. Maybe feeding her was a bad idea? She haughtily lifted her chin and, despite being shorter, looked down her nose at me. "Takasu Ryuuji, this wouldn't have happened if you had handed over that bag. What am I to do after something so embarrassing but beat those memories from your head like I planned?"
"Didn't I just say there's nothing to be ashamed of?!" She's just going around in circles. I smacked my face with an open palm and held my head a moment in thought. "Alright, fine. Stay here and wait a moment."
I stood up and made my way to my room. I needed to do more than just tell her. I returned with a box filled with a bunch of different things and set them down in front of Aisaka. She tilted her head to look inside at the notebooks, small notes, CDs, CD player, illustration books, and other things. I'll show her what's really embarrassing.
Lifting her head to look up at me, Aisaka asked, "What are these?"
"Just look. Feel free to pick anything up."
She made an annoyed sound and grabbed a notebook at the top of the pile and flicked through it. She scowled as she looked back and forth between the notebook and me. "Seriously, what's this? What are you doing?"
"That," I gestured to the notebook in her hands. "Is a catalogue. A playlist of concert songs I made for the girl I liked. They're arranged by seasons, so four themes. I've even got the songs recorded on those CDs there."
I bent down to pick up the CD player from the box and slipped one of the earphones into one of Aisaka's ears. I hit the play button and I could hear the music faintly. The first song in the summer theme was playing. I picked up a folded up piece of paper and unfolded it, "A poem I wrote, I was thinking 'What present should I get her for our first Christmas together?' I decided on perfume and even listed a few brands and their prices."
I stood back up and held out my hands to the side, palms up. "There, that's the sort of things I've done."
"That disgusting," Aisaka pulled the earphones out and chucked them at me. I let them bounce off my chest, I would not back down on this.
"Disgusting? Fine. But I'm telling you all of this because I don't feel ashamed of it. What's wrong with liking a girl? Sure I'm hopeless and haven't the courage to confess my feelings to her. I only indulge in pointless fantasy, but I'm not ashamed!"
Well, actually, I'm a little ashamed of not having the courage to tell Kushieda how I feel, but that's just a little detail Aisaka doesn't need to know. I suddenly realized just what and how much I've revealed to her and felt a blush rising up my neck towards my cheeks. I turned to look away but my movement was jerky. There was one thing I thought about showing to Aisaka but changed my mind and stuffed into the sleeve of my t-shirt. As I turned away I lost my balance for a moment and the thing I decided against Aisaka seeing slipped out. "Not that...!"
Aisaka grabbed the envelope out of the air as it floated slowly downwards. She raised an eyebrow as she looked at me, "What's this? An envelope?"
"Hold on a second, wait—" I tried to grab the envelope back but her tiny hands were too quick for me.
She slapped my reaching hands away with one hand while she read the writing on the envelope, "From Takasu Ryuuji... To Kushieda Minori-san—Kushieda Minori-san?!"
"T-that's not... Wait..." Damn it.
"A love letter? For Minorin?!" There was no room for denial. I had written the love letter but only to put my feelings down on paper, they were never meant to be delivered or even read by anyone else. And now Aisaka's eyes were focused on them like a spotlight. She let out a disgusted, unimpressed noise. "Tch! You? Like Minorin? You're joking. Aren't you a bit full of yourself?"
"H-hey! You're not any better, are you?! Having a crush on Kitamura!"
"Sh-shut up! I told you to forget about that! Instead, quit squirming around and confess already!"
"Hey—that's my line! I'm saying the same to you!"
The two of us degenerated into endless, circular bickering. "Ah!" my eyes caught sight of the window, the darkness was fading. I turned my head towards the clock. "It's already four!"
My mother will be home from work soon. Things will be weird if she finds Aisaka here. Things will probably be weird for Aisaka to see my mother coming home after so many hours at the bar, too. And then there's the landlady who'll be up as soon as the newspaper arrives. She'll probably complain about all the noise. If she evicts us now, we won't be able to afford another place since Yasuko bought a flat-screen TV that barely fits in the apartment!
"Anyway! Aisaka, I won't tell anyone and I don't think you're an idiot since I'm hardly any better. Let's just put an end to this, okay?"
With her arms crossed, she answered flatly, "No way."
"Why? For now just get the hell—I mean, please go home! My sick mom will be back any minute!" She is sort of sick in a sense of the word.
"No! I don't trust you. Besides... besides..." Like a kid, Aisaka knelt to the ground in the middle of the room. With a sad pout on her lips, she stared at her knees and twirled her fingers around the tatami straw mat. Her voice, when she spoke, was that of a confused, lost child, "That... love letter... What should I do? I don't know if it's the right time... to give it to him yet..."
Of all the times to ask for tips and advice on romance! I held my head in my hands to stop myself from screaming. "I'll tell you some other day! Come on, just go home for now, please!"
She continued to fidget on the floor, "So you'll tell me what you think about it?"
"Yes! I'll listen to anything you say and help you out in anyway you ask! I swear!"
Fidget, fidget. "You'll help me? No matter what?"
"I will! Anything, anything!"
Her fingers ran twirls along the tatami mat. "Anything? You'll help me like a dog? And do everything I ask?"
"Yes! I'll work as hard! Whether as a dog or anything, I'll help. So, please, let's just end this today, okay? Please?" I don't think I ever begged so hard and so much in my life.
"Okay..." Aisaka picked up her wooden sword and stood up. "I'll go home."
First she went towards the window. I hadn't realized it before but there was a pair of small shoes just inside. So that's how she got in here. She picked up her shoes and walked towards the door but suddenly stopped and turned to look at me. "Hey," now what? "Is there any more fried rice left?"
I blinked. "Huh? No, you ate it all."
"I did? Oh, well."
"That was four bowls worth of rice. Are you seriously still hungry?"
She didn't reply, putting on one of her shoes silently. She paused before looking over her shoulder at me. "The fusuma door," the both of us looked to the hole her wooden sword had made in the door before we looked to one another again. "Is fixing that going to cost a lot?"
She was looking up at me with her large brown eyes which blinked a few times as we stood in silence. For some reason, my heartbeat started speeding. I looked away though I was more puzzled than afraid. This was the first time I've ever seen her being considerate of others. Me. "Ah, I can probably fix that myself with some paper. Though I'll have to find a store that sells washi paper of the same quality."
"Hmm," she let out. She had an expressionless look on her face that I couldn't read. At least it wasn't angry. "Washi paper... Then, you can us this?"
She held out the light-pink envelope that she set out to erase from the memories of my mind and placed it in my hand. The idea of using her letter-less love letter envelope to patch the fusuma door was dumbfounding. But, well, it was a nice shade of pink.
Aisaka bent down to slip on her other shoe. "If it won't do, I'll pay to fix the door."
"Uh, um, yeah..." I watched her back silently as she began to tie her laces. For some reason, it bothered me that she didn't answer my question about whether or not she was still hungry. I couldn't let it remained unanswered, "Hey, hold on..."
"How long had it been since you last ate?"
"Why do you care?" she took her time tying her shoes. "It's not as if I don't eat ever. I just get tired of the stuff from the convenience store after a while. I do have some food, I just can't stand it most of the time."
I frowned slightly, "Convenience store? For all three meals in a day? That can't be good for your health."
She shrugged and began tying the other shoe lace. "There was a fast food stall by the train station but it closed down last month. I get food from the convenience store because the cooked food at the supermarket... I don't know how to buy it..."
Huh? She's that helpless? "Supermarket food? The one you put in a transparent box and have the cashier weigh? Why don't you go with your family—parents?"
Aisaka finished tying her other shoe. As she stood up, I thought I saw her shake her head slightly. Idiot. Every family has their secrets and problems. Considering my own history, I should have realized how inconsiderate that question was. I stopped myself from asking further and watched silently as Aisaka opened the door. She stepped out as a gust of wind blew in, her hair floated weightlessly in the air a moment.
"Ah, wait!" I really was being clueless and inconsiderate. "Let me walk you home, it's probably not a good idea to walk alone at this time."
"Relax," I thought I heard a derisive chuckle. "I live close by. Besides, I've got my sword."
"Somehow that's not comforting."
"It's really close," she glanced at me for a moment. "Anyway, bye, Ryuuji. See you tomorrow."
She disappeared from the doorway. I quickly put on some slippers and ran out after her but lost sight of her. She had a lot of speed in those small legs of hers.
Huh? Wait a minute. "Did she just call me by my first name?"
I managed to clean everything up before Yasuko or the sun returned.
I was surprised to learn that the light-pink envelope patterned with cherry blossom petals did a perfect job of covering up the hole on the fusuma door.
That little bit of pink paper was the only thing in the living room that remained of that crazy, ridiculous night.
|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|