| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
"Hey, move your head! You’re blocking the TV!"
The head obscuring my view of the TV replied without moving a centimeter. "Shut up already,” Aisaka replied nonchalantly which irked me even more. “Why don’t you just move over a bit?”
“It’s my TV! Say that again and you can just get the hell out! You live just beyond that window anyway!” I gestured wildly with an arm at the nearby window that looked straight across into Aisaka’s apartment.
When my arm got tired, I looked back to Aisaka who was focused on the TV.
“Stop ignoring me!” I yelled. This finally got Aisaka’s attention. She turned her head around. Her eyes glittered beneath her long lashes, reflecting a cold stare.
“I’m watching TV, can you keep it down?” she sighed. “A stupid dog never learns does it?”
“Why you…” Annoying neighbor were the words that came to mind. I stood up and leaned down over the table in the middle of the living room. I reached out with a hand and was about to poke Aisaka in the back of her shoulder when the fusuma door slid open.
“Ryuu-chan!” my mother said in a playfully scolding tone. “You mustn’t fight now! Yesterday, Ya-chan got scolded by the landlady. She said we were noisy enough to begin with but that it’s been getting worse lately.”
“That’s mainly because of that girl!” I pointed to Aisaka. Then I made a double-take at Ya-chan. “Uh, how come you aren’t wearing anything…?”
Aisaka turned to look at Ya-chan in surprise. Even Inko-chan turned his head towards her. Our three pairs of eyes stared at Ya-chan’s snow white skin and it seemed she didn’t mind it at all.
“Of course I’m wearing something silly!” Ya-chan twisted her waist and the shift in lighting allowed us to see that she actually was wearing a nearly translucent one-piece dress. She also lifted up the leopard-spotted jacket in her arm. “And I’ve also got this to wear over top.”
I couldn’t help but stand in shocked silence at my mother’s choice of dress. Aisaka’s reaction was entirely different.
“That dress looks cool!”
“Isn’t it cute?” Ya-chan giggled. She grabbed the skirt of the dress and twirled around, showing off all sides of her outfit. “What else do you think, Taiga-chan?”
I held my breath as my mother spun. Aisaka suddenly pointed at Ya-chan’s butt when it came into view. “There! Your panties are showing!”
Inko-chan quickly replied without any hesitation, “But it’s better this way!”
Who would accept advice from a bird? Wait. Why would Inko-chan even say something like that? Even more strangely, why would Ya-chan actually smile cheerfully at the advice?!
“Then I’ll be wearing this! I’m off to work!” Oh god, she actually accepted the bird’s advice?! Ya-chan smiled and her breasts jiggled as she skipped into the kitchen. She grabbed the bag of buns that she had bought with saved up pocket change and waved. “Well, Ryuu-chan, Taiga-chan, Ya-chan is going now!”
“Take care,” I said. “Don’t drink too much and remember to call with your cell phone if you bump into anyone strange.”
“Okay! Taiga-chan, don’t go home too late now!”
“Sure,” Aisaka said. “Take care.”
As the antique door creaked to a close behind my mother, my home was one again sealed off from the outside world. More importantly, it was just Aisaka and I now.
“Ah,” I stood up and headed for the kitchen. “I’m gonna grab some tea.”
“Get me some too. And dessert as well.”
“Dessert? I don’t even know if there’s anything in the fridge like that. Is eating all that matters to you? At least bring something useful every once in a while!” I looked back at Aisaka from the kitchen and frowned. “Will you stop ignoring me?!”
In case you hadn’t noticed, Aisaka and I have gotten used to each other’s presence. In a way. The two of us were pretty much living together.
To make sure Aisaka didn’t oversleep I would go over to her place and fetch her in the morning, bringing along the lunches I made for the both of us. As Aisaka got herself ready, I cooked her a simple breakfast.
On our way to school, we’d keep a bit of a distance between the two of us so things wouldn’t be awkward when Aisaka met up with Kushieda.
Aisaka and I continued to discuss various strategies to have Aisaka win Kitamura’s heart. Any good ones would put into action they’ve all ended in failure so far.
After school we would go to the supermarket to pick up groceries for dinner. At first, I cooked dinner at Aisaka’s place but this meant my mother would be left out. If I only made Aisaka’s share, I’d have to cook a gain at home and cooking dinner twice in one day is just bothersome. I could bring the food I cooked at Aisaka’s place home but I didn’t like the idea of denying my mother a fresh meal.
So it was decided that dinner would be cooked and eaten at my place. Even though Aisaka had the nicer kitchen which I had managed to clean to a sparkle, it didn’t turn out to be that great. The knives were horribly dull and there weren’t any matching set of plates and utensils that weren’t made of plastic. It was surprisingly irritating.
For some reason, my mother was very open to accepting Aisaka at our place. It didn’t seem as if my mother’s eccentricity bothered Aisaka either. To her, she was just coming over to have dinner. When my mother left for work, the both of us would wave her goodbye.
At first Aisaka would go home when my mother left for work. But then she started to stay late to watch TV, read mangas, take naps, and just spend time talking about Kushieda or wondering about Kitamura. The amount of time she spent at my place just kept on getting longer and longer.
I blinked my eyes open and lifted my head. Wiping the drool from the side of my mouth, I looked across the table at Aisaka who had also fallen asleep on the floor. How did I not notice things becoming like this?
“Hey, Aisaka! Get up!”
“Hmm…?” she mumbled. While watching TV the two of us had fallen asleep; me in my track suit and her in a one-piece dress. The clock read three o’clock.
“It’s not good to sleep at my place. Hurry up and go sleep at home.”
“Umm…” She didn’t budge. I wasn’t even sure if she heard me. Instead, she continued to use a sitting mat as a pillow. She stuck a hand inside her clothes to scratch her stomach. Even in your sleep you ignore me? I walked over to her side of the table and yanked the mat from beneath her head.
“Ugh!” Her head knocked against the straw tatami mat flooring. Her eyes parted for a moment before closing again. “Mmm…” She shifted slightly, got comfortable on the floor and began to snore silently once again.
Squatting next to Aisaka, I looked at her sleeping face. It was such an intimate relationship we’re having. Maybe I’ve come to the age where I can hang out naturally with girls? No. That’s not it! She’s not an ordinary girl, she’s the Palmtop Tiger. But this sleeping girl before me, who would imagine she was the Palmtop Tiger who roared so fiercely?
The pattern from the mat was imprinted on her pink cheek. Some milk had dried on the edge of her lips. Her long hair was lying all around her on the floor. There wasn’t a trace of tension on her peacefully sleeping face.
“Aisaka? Hey, Aisaka! Wake up!”
Once my voice fell silent, the only sound that could be heard in my home was the refrigerator motor in the kitchen. There was still some time before dawn when my mother would return. Inko-chan hadn’t made a noise from beneath his cloth.
This wasn’t working at all. I lowered myself closer to her ear, my shadow falling over her face. I opened my mouth to yell but froze instead. From this short distance, I could see her pulse on her neck and smelled a strange fragrance.
Concentrate damn it! “Aisaka… If you don’t wake up… I’ll… as—assault you.” I almost couldn’t stop myself from laughing. Obviously I’m not serious. Why would I want to do anything like to her? Honest! It’s Kushieda I like after all. It’s just that Aisaka’s too thick-skinned. I’ve got to startle her and give her a scale to wake her up.
I was about to say something louder when I noticed a loose strand of straw from the floor stuck to Aisaka’s cheek. It was a big enough piece that it could scratch her. I should remove it for her. I gulped and reached out with a hand.
“Umph!” My back crashed against the floor, my jaw stung. I heard Aisaka mumbling.
“Hmm? What… are you doing?”
If it was a coincidence, it was very apt. Just as I was about to brush the piece of straw from her cheek, Aisaka rolled over. Her hand, rolled up in a fist, caught me beneath my chin like an uppercut.
Aisaka had sat up, scratching her head. She was giving me a suspicious looking frown as I lay on my back.
“Why are you being so noisy? It’s the middle of the light. The last thing we need is the land lady scolding us again!”
“Leave me alone!” If she had been awake when I almost touched her, I would be dead by now. She’s still scary even when she’s sleeping.
She was indeed the Palmtop Tiger; savage genes were in her blood. She was an aggressive school girl who would bite at any opponent that came at her whether she knew it or not.
Even though I was so familiar with her, I felt as if I still needed situations like these to drive the facts home into my head.
“Haruta Koji of Class 2-C reporting! I really saw them! I was grabbing a bite on my way home after club activities ended and I definitely saw Takasu and the Palmtop Tiger at the supermarket near the station! Takasu was carrying a shopping basket and looking over some fish when the Palmtop Tiger stuffed some meat into the basket. Takasu quickly yelled, ‘I thought we’re having steamed fish tonight!’ and put the meat back. Then they bought some onions and radishes. When they went to the check-out, Takasu said ‘Take a thousand yen from our common wallet’ and the Palmtop Tiger did just that. ‘Common wallet’! They’re like a married couple.”
“Kihara Maya, also from Class 2-C reporting. I saw the two on my way to school one morning. You know that brand new posh apartment building? I always wondered what it would be like to live in a great place like that. Anyway, I saw Takasu-kun coming out of that building. ‘No way! He lives there?!’ I thought. But the real shock came when Aisaka came running out after him saying ‘I’m still sleepy! You should wake me up earlier!’ I didn’t believe my eyes that I couldn’t help but watch. Takasu-kun turned around and yelled ‘I called you a bunch of times!’ Could this mean that they’re…?”
“Um, this is Noto Hisamitsu from Class 2-C. I was classmates with Takasu back in our first year and we still hang out sometimes. But lately, Takasu always seems to disappear whenever I think about walking home with him. I can’t help but wonder what’s going on. Yesterday my favourite band released a new album and I invited Takasu to come to the music store with me at lunch time. He turns around and asks Aisaka if it’s okay for him to meet her later that night at eight. Meet her later where? And what would he do with her? I asked him about it at the music store and he said ‘Don’t worry about it’, but there’s definitely something going on!”
“This is Kushieda Minori of Class 2-C! I guess you could say I’m a good friend of Taiga, but lately it seems like she’s hiding something from me. Every morning I meet her at the same street intersection on the way to school but I’ve noticed that Takasu-kun has started to come with her. He appears a bit behind her though, as if there’s nothing going on between the two of them. But if that’s just a cover, does that mean those two are an ‘item’? Or have they ‘sworn never to part’? Taiga always says that they just meet each other on the way or that she doesn’t even notice him behind her. Though, ever since Takasu and her have been walking to school together, Taiga’s isn’t late for school anymore. But, I’m really bothered by the feeling that she might be hiding something from me. The two of them also act a little sneaky around school. God knows what they could be scheming. Huh! Am I being jealous? Then what will become of the Soeur System? And the Rosa Chinensis and Rosa Gigantea? Why am I talking about some TV show all of a sudden? Aah! I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore!”
Takasu-kun was still Takasu-kun. Many people would still misunderstand him for a delinquent because of his fierce eyes. But he never paid any attention to those people.
Taiga was still Taiga. She never cared about rumours either. Excluding herself, she only showed any interest and talked to me, her best friend. Or rather, that’s what she used to do, now she talks with Takasu-kun all the time.
Those two were sort of like celebrities in the school. And because they were already into the habit of ignoring the rumours and whispered said about them, it doesn’t look as if they noticed the whispers growing around them.
“They both came out of the same building.”
“They’re whispering to each other again.”
“Hey? Where’d those two go?”
“You notice how the Palmtop Tiger calls Takasu by his first name?”
“I’m surprised Takasu has the guts to call her an idiot so casually.”
“And he manages not to get pulverized for it, too!”
“I think I saw them having the exact same bento lunches, too.”
Could Takasu Ryuuji and Aisaka Taiga be…?
“Oh, damn it!” The sudden outburst jarred my train of thought. It was Taiga who had gasped loudly and everyone around the classroom looked at her. She didn’t seem to notice the eyes looking in her direction as she walked directly to Takasu-kun’s desk by the window. A bunch of people nearby leaned in to eavesdrop but the two didn’t seem to notice. “Hey Ryuuji! I forgot to tell you something.”
“Yesterday…” Taiga spoke in a quieter voice now that she was nearby Takasu-kun. I couldn’t hear her clearly anymore from this distance! “Forgot to tell you…”
Takasu-kun grunted and lifted his face, listening to Aisaka’s voice. She kept on talking quietly. Only Takasu-kun could hear everything she said while everybody else around them were straining to listen in.
“Not coming home tonight…”
I could tell the guys sitting nearby Takasu-kun were just as shocked as I was since I saw them stiffen and sit up in their seats. Did she say what I think I heard?! The guys quickly wrote a note and began passing it around the room. She just said she’s not coming home tonight! Ignoring the glances around the two of them, Takasu-kun replied to Taiga.
“Staying the night…?”
No way! Is this for real?! Everybody else in the class who caught the whispered words the two were exchanging thought the same thing. Could they be?! She’s staying the night and he’s preparing something!
I saw the long-haired Haruta, sitting nearby, swallow. “The Palmtop Tiger’s staying over at Takasu’s place?”
Behind Haruta, the glasses wearing Noto replied, “Takasu just said ‘to be prepared’… Are they talking about… going to bed? Oh boy, this feels wrong.”
Some of the girls were gasping and whispering about how this was the first sexual experience for anyone in the class! Kihara Maya blushed and proclaimed, “I don’t think this is even their first time!”
I heard some of the guys mutter enviously. “I always thought the Palmtop Tiger was kinda cute… I was hoping nobody had asked her out…” It seemed Taiga had a secret following! “Me too. When I confessed to her last year, she said anybody like me could just go to hell.”
The whole class was furtively looking at Takasu-kun and Taiga, watching their lives in the making. Taiga was looking out the window so nobody could see her expression but Takasu-kun was fretting his brow. It looked as if he was worried about getting into a fight. Or a duel. With Taiga’s parents maybe?
“Ku—Kushieda, looks like something big is going to happen to your good friend tonight!” I was too shocked to reply. “Kushieda?”
No matter how many times the girl sitting beside me patted my shoulder or poked my elbow, I couldn’t help but stare at those two
“Oh damn it!” Aisaka said out loud as she began walking towards my desk. “Hey Ryuuji! I forgot to tell you something.”
“What now?” Class would start soon, hopefully it’s not something that’ll take too long.
“Didn’t Ya-chan leave without eating anything yesterday?” Aisaka asked about my mother. “She told me to tell you: ‘I forgot to tell you, I’m not coming home tonight.’ The landlord of the bar is having a birthday party that’ll last till morning.”
“Yasuko’s going to be staying the night?” I wished my mother would have told me directly. I really should know about these sorts of plans and things could become troublesome if Aisaka didn’t or forgot to tell me.
“Yeah, that’s what she said.”
“Then she must be already prepared to put up with that old man Inage whining away the night. I heard he got divorced last year.”
“Yeah. She mentioned that too.” Aisaka’s face suddenly twisted in annoyance. “Damn it! Stop using me as your family’s personal messenger!”
“Stop coming over to my place to eat all the time then.” I got her there. But not surprisingly she won’t admit it. “How many times do I have to tell you to stop ignoring me?!”
°°°°° It was another normal recess period in Class 2-C. I was reading a manga comic book at my sunlight drenched desk. Aisaka was sitting at the desk beside mine, sipping a box of milk with a bored expression on her face that read Leave me alone.
“Hey, Taiga.” Someone very courageous ignored the vibes Aisaka was giving off and rested a hand on her shoulder. I panicked and thought that Aisaka was going to cause a scene but relaxed when I realized that it was just Kushieda. “Are you free now?”
I had no idea what Kushieda was talking about but it seemed the entire class was interested as they were watching.
“Why such a serious face—” Aisaka was interrupted when Kushieda pulled her up from her seat and started dragging her towards the door. “Hey! Minorin?! I—I can move on my own without you pulling me! I’m gonna trip!”
“Just follow me!” Kushieda was the only one in the world capable of handling the Palmtop Tiger like that. If it was anybody else, they would be dead within three seconds. As everyone in the class held their breath, Kushieda pulled Aisaka along as if she was a piece of rolling luggage.
Kushieda paused a moment to turn around and look at me. “You come along as well.”
“Huh? M—me?!” What could she want with me?! I was felt a little ecstatic that Kushieda had called out to me. But I was also frowning in confusion.
The atmosphere was tense atop the school roof despite the idyllic clouds floating above in the nice, calm sky.
“M—Minorin?” Aisaka asked confusingly.
“Kushieda?” I asked out loud at the same time.
After dragging the two of us up here, Kushieda stood with her back towards us. The breeze picked up for a moment and with a Whoosh, the jacket Kushieda wore over her shoulders fluttered in the wind.
I lowered my voice and whispered to Aisaka. “Hey, what’s going on here?”
“How would I know? This is the first time I’ve seen Minorin acting like this. Maybe she’s angry about something?” Just how close Kushieda and Aisaka were became clear to me as Aisaka’s expression became melancholic as she said this. She took a step forward. “U—um, Minorin?”
Aisaka stopped mid-step. It seemed as if the whole world stopped actually. Without any warning, Kushieda turned and launched herself towards us. Her eyes glittered, adding to the dramatic feeling of the scene.
“Wah?!” Aisaka, startled, stumbled back and held her arms up.
Kushieda swiftly gliding past Aisaka, yelled out. “Takasu-kun!”
“Whoa?!” At first, I thought she was mad at me but before I could even react, Kushieda had fallen before me, kneeling.
She raised her head. Looking at me, she cried out in a voice that pierced the skies. “I now entrust my Taiga to you! Please! Take good care of her!”
“Uh… Huh?! Wha?!”
Kushieda bowed deeply so that her forehead touched her fingers. I was completely awestruck by all of this. Aisaka was having trouble keeping her jaw shut.
“Takasu-kun!” Kushieda continued. “This girl, Taiga, she’s a very important friend of mine. She may have a really bad temper at times but she’s a very kind and gentle girl! Please m—make her happy!”
Kushieda sob. I looked to Aisaka and she was also filled completely with surprise. Ten seconds passed with nobody moving. Thirty seconds passed with all of us remaining still.
I finally came to my senses. “Kushieda. H—hang on a minute. W—what are you talking about?”
“Please stop saying that!” Kushieda lifted her head and looked at me with a serious expression. “Stop pretending you don’t know anything, all right? Takasu-kun, that’s enough already. I know everything now. I’ll support you all the way!”
There was a look of clear determination on her face. She wasn’t kidding. She really wanted Aisaka to be happy. I was so mesmerized by her decency that I almost forgot by how wrong this entire situation was.
“Do you think I never noticed? That you two always walk to school together every day? And I’m always in the way. I’ve been waiting so long for you to tell me that you two are seeing each other. But no matter how long I waited, you wouldn’t tell me!”
“N—no!” My mind finally kicked in. “That’s not it! Kushieda, you’ve got it all wrong!”
“I just wanna tell you two to stop sneaking around already! Takasu-kun! Taiga! I already know that you are seeing each other! And I will tell you this—” Kushieda, still kneeling, bowed deeply then pointed a finger at me and smiled cheerfully. “I can’t be wrong! Takasu-kun, you’re Taiga’s one and only! I definitely won’t let anyone else get in your way! So please rest assured and continue dating, okay?”
Even if she begged me I wouldn’t! The whole situation was starting to weigh on me, I suddenly felt weak. I knelt to the ground and thought my soul was abandoning my body. Kushieda’s words had left me speechless but I have to deny all of this!”
“N—no!” I managed to stammer. “You’ve got it all wrong, Kushieda! We don’t have that sort of relationship! Listen to us first! And stand up, please!”
Aisaka finally caught up. She quickly leapt in front of me and started speaking, telling Kushieda that she really was wrong. Aisaka. If she says the same thing and denies this misunderstanding, Kushieda will have to realize she’s wrong. You tell her Aisaka!
“Ho ho ho! There’s no need to be shy! Congratulations you two!” She’s not stopping?! Kushieda elegantly smoothed out her skirt and looked past Aisaka straight at me. Her face suddenly became solemn and serious. “Takasu-kun, if you make Taiga cry, I’ll never forgive you!”
That doesn’t matter! It’s not like what you think! I struggled to say something prove Kushieda wrong. She stood up and turned to walk away. I reached out with a hand to stop her; I can’t let her leave this roof thinking what she does about Aisaka and me! But I just couldn’t think of anything to say that I didn’t already. My throat, my hand, everything, was paralyzed with shock.
As I stood there dumbfounded and motionless on my knees, I saw that the last remaining hope to explain everything—Aisaka—was in just as bad a state as I was.
“So that’s how it is.” Aisaka and I suddenly twisted, turning to look to that new speaking voice. It was Kitamura. How long had he been standing there?! “I was wondering whether you two were going out. Takasu, I was thinking about asking you but I guess Kushieda beat me to it. Congratulations to the both of you! Though I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this sooner.”
As if she was struck by a blade, Aisaka face twisted in horror. Her body stiffened and her tiny body tilted back, falling to the ground like a lifeless corpse. I could just imagine a pool of blood growing beneath her still form.
It seemed Kitamura was just as mistaken as Kushieda. Whatever he heard of the conversation on the roof, it was only Kushieda’s words that reached his ears. “Aisaka! I leave Takasu in your care. I’m sure you’ll cherish each other. Come to think of it, you two make a great match!”
That was the finishing blow. With the weight of surprise, shock, frustration, and defeat bearing down upon our shoulders, Aisaka or myself couldn’t lift our stunned bodies off the ground.
“Um, may I please have your order…?”
Wrong. All wrong. Everything was all wrong.
“Ex—excuse me, but if you aren’t going to order anything…”
“Juice…” Aisaka mumbled lifelessly. “I’ll have some juice.”
Oh yeah, I should probably order something too before we get kicked out.
“Make that two. I’ll have the same as her.”
The waiter just barely hid his disdain and turned to gesture at the self-serve drink and salad bar. “Just drinks for now? Well, you can help yourself to drinks and salad at the self-serve bar there. Let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to order later on.” The waiter turned and left. Neither Aisaka or I got up to get any juice.
It was around ten o’clock at night. The two of us had shuffled into a family restaurant down the main road from our homes. We were two corpses sitting at a non-smoking table by a window.
Though it was still April, I was wearing a loose t-shirt. I was so out of it I accidentally left the hair clip I used to keep my hair out of the way while washing my face on my head. Aisaka was wearing a red checkered blouse and a green checkered skirt. Her long hair was an absolute mess on her head.
The two of us looked miserable and wretched. We were stunned and speechless with nothing to say. We didn’t even blink. We just sat there silently, letting time pass us by slowly.
“How did it turn out like this?” I eventually asked out loud. I set my elbows on the table and set my head in the palm of my hands. “How did it turn out so wrong? Why did Kushieda get the idea in her head that…”
I had seen a side of Kushieda that I never known about. She was a very individualistic girl who wouldn’t listen to others when she thought she was right. Egocentric even. Considering how she was Aisaka’s best friend though, it did make sense that the two would have some things in common.
“Kushieda… Of all the people to misunderstanding.”
I’ve had a crush on her for a year now. To see her bowing down in front of me like that was mind-boggling. But of course, Aisaka suffered the same blows as I did.
Aisaka shifted her blank gaze, looking upwards despondently while sitting low in her seat. Any further and she’ll end up sliding down on to the ground. Is this really the Palmtop Tiger? The Tiger of Class 2-C that can kick a guy miles away with her gaze alone? Looking at her, I really began to feel genuinely sorry for her.
“Aisaka, pull yourself together.” I stretched my arms over the table and shook her tiny shoulders gently but she felt as lifeless and limp as ever. “Aisaka…” My face dropped onto the table. I was exhausted and even shaking Aisaka by the shoulders felt like it completely drained the energy from my body.
Why did this happen?! And why does it hurt so much? I should be used to this by now. Whether I was being misunderstood or giving the wrong impression, I’ve had problems with people not knowing what I think or mean since kindergarten. They would always have that look of fear on their face when they desperately tried to talk their way away from me.
Ah, that’s it. That’s what really feels strange about all of this. It wasn’t that I was misunderstood, but rather that even though Kushieda misunderstood me, she was still smiling cheerfully and giving me serious words of encouragement. That had flustered me more than anything else in my life and it was such a frustrating feeling being misunderstood for an entirely different reason than what I’m used to.
I’m such an idiot. Even though I’ve had a crush on her for so long but I never did do anything to get her attention or to get close to her. I shouldn’t be surprised. Kushieda had no reason to think that I would like someone else—let alone her. Perhaps I don’t even have a right to feel dejected.
These thoughts mulled in my mind for a few minutes. I don’t know how long I had been out of it but when I raised my head, Aisaka was setting to glasses on the table.
“I didn’t know what you wanted so I just picked this at random: West Indies Peach. It’s supposed to have a lot of vitamin C.” She had gotten up from her seat so silently that I never noticed. When did she come back to life? Long enough to get us some drinks I guess. She slid back onto her seat and released a deep sigh in front of me.
“I’m sorry,” she lifted her head and sat upright. “It’s because we’re always spending time with one another. It’s because I always wanted to do things my way that it ended up like this. Me always wanting you involved. I’m a hopeless master that has no right to call you a stupid dog.”
She looked exhausted as she said this. Even though her eyes held their usual strength and intensity, they did lack some of their usual luster.
I felt a stone falling in the bottom of my heart. She feels the same way. We’re always together and we’re always misunderstood and we’re always hurt. We both got so involved with one another that anybody would make the same assumptions.
“Well… I don’t really mind us being together… so much.”
I wanted to say something else, something more, but I didn’t think it would work. Aisaka’s also hurting inside and talking to her in a confident voice just wasn’t going to cut it this time.
“I’ve decided something.” Aisaka stopped spinning the ice in her drinks with her straw and lifted her head to look straight at me with determined eyes. “Tomorrow, I’m just going to confess to Kitamura-kun. There’ll be no room for stupid mistakes. Just a straightforward, normal confession.”
Her eyes betrayed the insecurity in this decision but I was the one struggling to breath for some reason. “Why… so sudden? You’ve hardly progressed in getting to know him.”
“That’s right. No progress at all. Not to mention that he misunderstands us now. So I want to put an end to all of this too.”
“An end to this…?”
“An end to us being together all the time.” When she said this, Aisaka’s eyes looked as determined as ever but her face looked icy cold. I was speechless. “You’re free from today onwards. Do whatever you want—confess to Minorin or whatever—I won’t do a thing to get in the way. No matter how my confession tomorrow ends up, you no longer have to listen to me.”
What is she thinking?!
“Your work as a dog ends today. From tomorrow onwards, we’ll go back to our old selves. Back to before you found that love letter.”
An emancipation was just declared. I no longer had to listen to her. I should be happy for this moment, but I said nothing. I should at least say something like Thanks for the company or Finally, a time to celebrate or something to indicate my relief. But my mind came up with nothing to say, not even It’ll feel lonely from no on. All I could do was grip the ice cold glass of West Indies Peach juice. My fingers begun to numb from the cold but it wasn’t anywhere nearly as cold as the winter in my chest.
Yet, for some reason Aisaka smiled silently. She turned her eyes away abashedly, covered her mouth with her hands, lowered her head, and continued.
“It’s strange. How’d we end up together like this right now? We didn’t make any plans for this late at night and yet us two walking zombies just end up meeting here anyway. We’re always eating together every day, goofing off or getting into arguments.”
She laughed from behind her little hands while her eyes squinted into crescent moons. Aisaka was really laughing from her heart, which was something I was seeing for the first time.
“I… I don’t want to go home. I never want to go back to my place where it’s just me alone so I always barge into your place and eat there… It’s really… Very…” Aisaka stopped trying to speak and simply shrugged silently. I wanted to know what she wanted to say however. Shifting her gaze casually, she closed her eyes as if she was carefully sealing away all that she had seen gently and without a sound. “It’s… Heh…. I don’t know how to say it. But it’s a good thing I didn’t starve to death. Especially with how clumsy I am. You know how I live alone, right?”
She quickly continued on with her monologue that she probably didn’t even see me nodding.
“It’s a cruel story. I didn’t get along with my parents, we always argued. One day I simply said ‘I’m leaving this house!’. They said ‘Go ahead!’ and then gave me an apartment. Before I realized it, I had moved out. I was too proud to take back what I said. When I moved into the apartment, I realized I didn’t know how to do any housework... It’s such a pain really. And, there hasn’t been one, not a single person, who’s come to see me. What’s really stupid was that I knew my parents would do this but I insisted on moving out. Pretty dumb, huh? Go ahead and laugh, I won’t get angry any more.”
Aisaka finally opened her eyes. After saying all of that in one go, I knew that she must’ve exhausted herself. What the hell is this? This story that Aisaka just told me? It’s like a tragic fairy tale of abandonment. A doll left in a ruined castle by the royal family that had moved on.
But Aisaka laughed. I think she realized everything that she just said and decided that laughing was the only thing she could do to cover it up. She laughed so hard I couldn’t help but think she was hoping I would laugh along with her.
So I laughed. “Heh heh. Yeah, that’s pretty dumb.”
“I told you so!”
I continued to laugh even though my heart felt like it was being torn apart. I tried my best to laugh happily and gently so that Aisaka wouldn’t be alone in laughing at herself. I laughed because no one had ever wished me to laugh before.
I suppose I could at least give her this. After all, it’ll all end today. Everything will revert back to how they were before tomorrow. She’ll not even bother to greet me. She’ll be the Palmtop Tiger that no one dares approach and I’ll just be another one of her classmates. If that was the case, then I might as well laugh as much as I could now and look at her last smile in this blandly decorated family restaurant.
I might as well show her. I’m sure she’ll laugh like hell seeing it. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a wallet. I opened it up and showed it to her. “Hey, look at this. Can you guess who this is?”
“Huh? This… You’re dad?!”
“You got it.”
“Pfft!” I was glad she wasn’t sipping her juice, she would’ve spurted it out of her nose. “Wahahaha!” Her laughter was so loud everybody else in the restaurant were giving us weird looks.
“What is this? You look just like him! Ha ha! That’s so funny!”
“Yeah, look at his eyes, the two of us are a match, right? Me and this thug.”
“Enough already! Put that away! Haha!”
Twitching and holding back tears, Aisaka was banging on the table with her fists. I could the air move as she kicked her feet wildly beneath the table. The laughter made her voice hoarse. My perfectly inherited gangster face seemed to have triggered something in Aisaka. If my face which I despised so much could make her happy and laugh like this, then maybe it was something worth having after all.
“I’ve never shown anyone this photo before.” I flipped my wallet close and put it away.
“Haha, man! I don’t think I ever laughed so hard. How’d you got his face like that?!”
“Yeah, it’s funny, right?”
“You bet! Ahh!” Aisaka finally calmed down. “All right. As thanks for showing me your secret, I’ll tell you something in return.” She covered her mouth in an attempt to stop herself from laughing again; her cheeks were a crimson red and her eyes glittered like a prankster. She gestured at me to come lean in close so she could whisper into my ear.
“Those cookie crumbs were salty, weren’t they?” She whispered with a smile.
“Wha?!” Damn! She knows I lied!
“Heh. When I picked the cookies from the ground, I chewed one up out of frustration. They tasted horrible! But you didn’t even let me stop you and you ate them all one go and you lied to me…”
Aisaka held her breath for a moment before the smile disappeared from her face and was replaced by a sad, tired look. She lost the words to what she wanted to say. Sighing, she lowered her head and covered her face.
“You… Ryuuji, as a dog, you’re a stupid dog. But as a human being... You’re okay…” It was a nice thing to say, but she still struggled so hard as she spoke right now. “That’s why I want to end this! You’re not a boring guy but… Our relationship isn’t a master-servant thing… As equals—You probably don’t get what I’ m saying anyway!” She had enough of words. They were just too frustrating. She lifted her head up again and she had her usual cold expression on her face.
“I’m hungry.” She grabbed a menu. I did the same. We both ordered a hamburger steak dinner. Aisaka told me the ones I make taste better. We had our usual conversation, our meal-time chit-chat. We argued over who should go get more drinks—naturally it was me. The limited time we had left together ticked away by the minute and by the second.
Time is cruel. It flows equally for everybody at all times. Without pause, it disregards everyone, no matter their circumstance.
After paying the bill the two of us began walking through the dark towards our apartments. There’s something magical about the cool night air of spring. The dream wind blew softly, causing my skin to tingle and itch. Continuing our chit chat in the restaurant, I kept on talking. I couldn’t stop. Aisaka was also unusually talkative.
For nearly twenty minutes, Aisaka talked and talked: about how her mother was living in a faraway city; how terrible her stepmother was and was part of the reason Aisaka decided to move out on her own.
I talked about what it was like to live with my mother; how our financial situation often meant we were ridiculed; and how some creep even stalked my mother. I talked about how my intimidating face and looks caused trouble all the time. I even talked about some embarrassing stuff that I went through during puberty.
I have no idea why I told her such things or why I didn’t stop myself. I had never told anyone about my personal woes as I just did to Aisaka. Maybe it was because Aisaka herself was sharing her problems with me. I considered asking Aisaka why she was telling me so much, but I held back, not wanting Aisaka to think or realize that everything we’ve been talking about has been so intimate.
We also talked about the happy days in our lives and lamented how they flew by so quickly. Nothing stopped time from moving forward however and eventually it all came to a breaking point.
“Argh! Damn it!” Beneath the glow of a street light at a corner, Aisaka yelled out in frustration, The pole of the street light had become Aisaka’s method of venting her frustration. She attacked it mercilessly, her feet striking it in quick succession with clearly evident strength. It almost looked as if she was an enraged drunk. “This is so unfair! Why must this world be so cruel to us little people?! Who can understand just how frustrated we are?!”
Her tormented screams echoed down the alleyways and bounced off the houses lining the streets. I didn’t stop her but merely stood still in the dark of night. My chin dipped slightly in agreement as Aisaka screamed her accusation at the world. Most people don’t seem to realize that those who look intimidating like Aisaka and I can be hurt.
“Argh! This pisses me off so much! I’m so friggin’ pissed!” Aisaka’s feet moved so fast I couldn’t count how many times she kicked the pole. When she tired out and her body forced her to stop, she turned to me. “Hey Ryuuji! You’re frustrated about Minorin, right? How there’s no progress between you two and how you can’t think of getting closer to her?”
“Yeah. I guess.” The change of topic caught me by surprised and I answered without giving the question much thought. When I think about it though, I’ve been more preoccupied with figuring out how to spend each day with Aisaka peacefully. Because of Aisaka, I’ve been too exhausted to think about the torment in my heart when I think about Kushieda.
“Then, Ryuuji, do you ever… cry?”
I didn’t know how to answer that question. The best I could come up with was: “Do you…?”
Silence quickly engulfed us. It was such a blatant, concise answer. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised by it, but it still made me pause.
Aisaka stepped away from the pole, looking up into the night sky. She brushed her messy hair away, revealing the delicate and snow white features of her face.
“I’ve been thinking a lot today,” she said quietly. “Whether I’ll ever get close to him, or if he’s already got a girlfriend. But other stuff too. Like an idiot, I think about many things but no one will ever know… No one will ever understand me…”
Her voice was softer than the fluttering wings of a butterfly. I could just barely hear her but it seemed as if the cloudy night sky had swallowed her lonely voice and amplified her words.
“If anyone knew what kind of person you are,” she continued quietly. “They’d definitely be surprised.”
I looked up at the sky, looking for the moon. I’m not the only one full of surprises. “Who would guess that you would cry over such things? I wonder if it’s only me that knows.”
“How shameless,” Aisaka quipped. She sighed as she lowered her gaze back to the ground and looked to me. “You’re the same as me. No one understands you, except me, and I know a lot too.”
Does she? “Like what?”
“Though you may look intimidating, you’re someone who doesn’t even dare to talk to the girl you like most. You don’t know how to be angry with anyone. You’re not the type to hurt anyone. You’re really good at cooking. Even though you’ve got a scary look and so many people wouldn’t dare approach you, you’re a very considerate person…”
Is that me?
“Am I right?”
“I never knew I was so hopeless,” I said flatly.
“I wouldn’t call that hopeless.” A gentle spring breeze picked up, Aisaka’s hair fluttered in the wind softly like cloth. She held onto her hair, catching strands of hair between her fingers. Behind the cascade of fluttering hair, I saw her lips move. “You’re actually a very gentle person.”
Those words were so soft and quiet I wasn’t sure if I imagined or actually heard them. “Aisaka…” I wanted to ask if I wasn’t just another boring nice guy but a look of twisted pain on Aisaka’s face stopped me.
“I—I’m the exact opposite. I’m such a useless person who isn’t good at being gentle. I don’t know anything—how to be kind to others. Instead, I’m always ruining everything instead. Everything and anything in my way I just ruin…”
True to her own words, anger gripped her once again. She began to kick at the light pole again with her pure white legs. “I—am—so—pissed!”
I felt something akin to fear growing within me. I’ve been witness to Aisaka’s mood swings in the past, but not to this sort of violence. As she screamed in frustration and acted out on it violently, there was nothing I could do but stand and watch.
“Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! ‘Palmtop Tiger’?! Do people seriously think I don’t care about being called a name like that?! Why doesn’t anybody understand?!”
Above us the clouds parted to reveal the moon, seemingly summoned by Aisaka’s screams. Its light, though pale, was bright enough to cast a shadow in addition to the ones already made by the glow of the street light.
I took a few steps closer to Aisaka just in case her emotions became even too much for her. One of my shadows overlapped with hers.
“Everybody pisses me off! That idiot Minorin who wouldn’t listen to me! Kitamura-kun who’ll listen to her but not me! They don’t listen or understand me! My parents are the same and I’ll never forgive them!”
Aisaka’s legs must have been become tired because she attacked the pole with her hands. Wrapping her arms around it in a bear hug, she tried to uproot it from the ground, a strained grunt escaping from her throat as she struggled. I wondered how many times she’s been tormented to the point of tears. How often did she choke on the tears welling up from inside her?
“Hey! Stop you idiot!” I yelled out. Aisaka wasn’t able to pull the pole out of the ground by a centimetre so instead she leaned her head back and looked as if she was about to head butt the pole. I quickly wrapped an arm across the front of her neck and held back her forehead with my free hand. No matter how vicious she was, there was no way head butting the pole would work.
“But I’m just so pissed!” she cried out loud. I felt her tears trickle down her cheeks onto my forearm.
Aisaka felt like an innocent child in my arms who couldn’t stop crying. I had to do something for her. I can’t do anything incredible, but I had to do something more than just saying comforting words that likely felt empty to her at this point.
“Let me help you.” I pulled Aisaka away from the pole and let go of her. I took a deep breath and with all of my strength, exhaled in a yell as I threw a kick at the pole. “This—pisses—me—off!”
I wasn’t used to kicking or any sort of martial arts. Though, I did watch a few K-1 fighting tournaments and I tried to mimic what I saw in those matches. My balance was horrible, I was afraid I would sleep and fall every time my foot hit the pole. Yet, the pole still shook when my feet struck it.
We must have been a despicable sight, two delinquents attacking a street light pole. But in our own little reality, we weren’t attacking, we were fighting. We were fighting for our sanity.
There’s a monster that hunts me; one that stands like a rock in my way in life. There’s one that haunts Aisaka too. When Aisaka liked someone and wanted to be with the person, the monster reared its ugly head. You could call this monster ‘low self-esteem’ or ‘fate’; her ‘personality’ or her ‘nature’. Whatever you called this monster, it still had many names.
It’s impossible to slay such a monster and one has no idea how many times one would have to battle its shapeless form throughout one’s life. But we would always fight it because if we didn’t who knows what twisted state our lives would be in. And so, we fought and vented our anger on the pole because we had nothing else to focus our anger on.
I had decided to help Aisaka fight on that reason alone. No matter how stupid, foolish, or bored we may be right now, I had decided to fight beside her. Her monster seemed larger than mine, I thought. Becoming a tiger must have been the only way she could protect herself from her monster. My legs started getting tired. The pole seemed larger and harder with each strike that sent a jolt down my leg. Aisaka never knew when her monster would strike and for how long she would have to battle it at a time, that’s why she acts like a tiger.
It was sort of amazing. We did have something in common after all. That’s why I understood Aisaka so well. And so, whenever I saw her looking exhausted or starving, I couldn’t leave her alone. No matter how annoyed or pissed I’d be, the truth was I couldn’t stand to abandon her.
“Ryuuji, move out of the way!”
I was so busy kicking I didn’t realize Aisaka had distanced herself from the pole. “What are you doing over the—”
I stopped short of finishing my sentence when Aisaka lifted her face and revealed a bitter, sinister grin on her face.
“Take this!” she yelled out as she sprinted towards the pole. “Kitamura-kun! I’m going to confess to you right now!” She leaped into the air and stretched out her leg into a flying kick. I gasped as I dodged backwards out of her way. Her tiny body flew elegantly past me, illuminated by a mix of moon and street light.
I couldn’t help but close my eyes as her foot struck the pole. I cringed but opened my eyes when I heard her fall to the ground, landing on her ass. I quickly knelt down beside her. “Idiot! Your leg…”
Aisaka pointed to the pole. I looked at it confusingly then back at Aisaka who had a triumphant smile on her face.
“Doesn’t it look tilted?”
“That’s not possible.” I turned my head to look at the pole. “There’s no way us kicking it would cause it to—” Oh. “—It really is tilted.”
“I told you!”
Aisaka’s smile screamed ‘Yes! I win!’ It was possible the pole was already tilted to begin with. That made more sense than Aisaka kicking the pole hard enough for it to bend. But I believed it was her anyway. The pole had indeed been bent by Aisaka the Palmtop Tiger.
She was smiling so proudly after all.
A bike riding figure down the road caught my attention. “Is that a cop?” The figure passed beneath the glow of another street light, revealing his uniform. We must have made more noise than we thought. I quickly turned to Aisaka. “We’ve got to get the hell out of here—Huh? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
Aisaka sat still on the ground without moving and muttered, “It hurts…”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Aisaka had pulled the edge of her skirt up slightly and was rubbing her knee with her tin hands. She gave me a hopeless look.
“I think I hurt it when I kicked the—ow!” Her face was a pain-filled frown.
I knelt down to take a closer look at her knee. Even in the dim street light I could see the swollen lump. “Considering how it’s swollen up I’d say that’s obvious.”
“The pole must’ve been really hard—ow!”
“Of course it is!” I sighed. She’s so hopeless. Still knelt down, I turned my back towards her. I guess this is chivalry. I had to admit I enjoyed the feeling of being so noble. “Come on, I’ll carry you. Hurry up and—umph!”
Aisaka had injured her leg, not her arms. She didn’t have any trouble pulling herself onto my back with her arms held tightly around my neck. “I—I can’t—breathe!” I frantically slapped at Aisaka’s arms that were suffocating me.
“Ryuuji! It’s a cop! Start running!”
I’m the one that pointed him out a while ago! Since Aisaka wasn’t letting me speak, I had no choice but to start running.
After running down the street away from the cop, I slipped into an alley and continued running silently in the dark. I took a few more turns and came to a small alley that was entirely devoid of light.
Neither of us said anything in the silence. As I held Aisaka on my back, her chin softly rubbed against my neck. She could probably feel my pulse beating rapidly. I felt her warmth on my back and she could easily feel mine through her chest. We didn’t need to tell each other we were scared, we could just feel it.
Without speaking, Aisaka pointed down the alley towards an open street. I followed her instructions and walked forward.
As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I heard a low, resonating clang. “Ow!”
“What? What happened?!” I stopped and craned my head to look back at Aisaka. This made me realize just how close we were to one another at the moment. I could feel her breath on my cheek.
“There was a road sign,” she answered weakly. “I bumped it with my forehead.”
“Why didn’t you duck?”
“It was too sudden! And I can barely see anything in the dark. You didn’t see it either! Ouch…”
“Where’d it hit you? Here?” I reached up and touched Aisaka’s forehead gently. She did have a point about the darkness. We were quite a bit away from the nearest street light so I wouldn’t be able to see a thing if I looked at her head instead. “I don’t feel any blood or swelling. I think you’ll be okay.”
“Such crappy luck.”
“Luck’s got nothing to do with this. You’re just blind and stupid.”
“What did you say?!” Aisaka yelled into my ear. Realizing my mistake, I quickened my pace into a jog, hoping the movement would keep her busy with holding on tight. Once we reached the main road, we wouldn’t be far from home.
“I’m glad you weren’t seriously hurt,” I muttered into Aisaka’s arms wrapped around my neck. The sound of a police whistle shrieked in the distance. I wondered if Aisaka was even able to hear me. “You have to confess your feelings tomorrow. While you’re face is still injury free for the time being.”
Aisaka didn’t say anything. I didn’t mind her silence. I didn’t mind carrying her on my back, her soft cheek pressed against my neck. I didn’t mind this at all.
I turned just to make sure the police man on the bike wasn’t following us and continued walking down the road. We passed beneath the light of street lights the lined the road. We also passed a few late commuters returning home from a long day of work as well as some old ladies walking their dogs. Everyone was busy in their own way and didn’t pay either of us any attention.
Whether it was commuters, blue collar workers, or old ladies, everyone had their own monsters to fight and I wondered if any of the people we passed ever gave into the urge to kick the crap out of a street light pole. Does being a grown adult mean you don’t let yourself do stuff like that?
I wondered what it would look like if the people we walked by took their frustration out on the poles lining the road. The image of a bunch of bent and tilted poles surrounded by a horde of people popped into my mind and I couldn’t help but laugh a little.
“What’re you laughing at?” Aisaka twisted her head around mine and tried to get a look at my face. Her breath landed on my cheek.
“Nothing.” I answered a smile on my face. “Just something silly.”
“Eh?! Come on! What is it? Tell me!” Aisaka tried to strangle it out of me.
“Gah! Why are you strangling—”
“‘Cause I’m curious! What’re you laughing at?”
“I told you—it was just some silly—I can’t breathe!”
“If you won’t tell me then I’ll make sure you won’t be able to tell anybody anything.”
Seriously, how can a person like her exist? I wondered as I tried to keep my windpipe clear at the same time. She’s a tyrannical tiger: forceful, violent, selfish, obnoxious. I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve suffered from spending time with her.
But when I think about it, I think I’ve gotten used to all the crap she puts me through. I wonder if she’s changed. It certainly doesn’t seem as if there are any changed emotions in her right now. Even when I drop her off at home and say good bye, I don’t think I’ll expect anything different.
“You can let me down here.” Aisaka tapped my shoulders and I let her down in front of her luxury apartment. I felt her weight disappearing from my back along with the warmth of her body. I turned and looked to Aisaka who moved to stand by the door.
I felt a painful weight in my heart, as if it was being held in a cage too small for its size. I almost can’t believe how painful this is.
“This is it, Ryuuji. And we’re just in a time, look!” She lifted her wrist to show me her watch. The two hands were close but not yet perfectly aligned on the twelve. It was still 11:59. “Ah, I’m so tired. At least we made it home peacefully.” She lowered her wrist. “It all ends today, right now. After today, you’ll no longer be my dog. In about thirty seconds.” She fell silent for a moment but broke it before it got long enough to be awkward. “Hey, do you have anything to say before then?”
“Anything to say?” When I’m with Aisaka, I’m either suffering or confused. I’m currently confused. “What do you mean?”
“You do have some last words to say as my stupid dog, don’t you, Ryuuji?”
“You’re putting me on the spot by asking me so suddenly!”
Aisaka, standing two metres away, looked as if she was smiling. Her head was tilted, as if expecting me to say something. But what could I say?
She glanced to her watch. “Ten seconds… Five…”
I couldn’t say anything.
A breeze blew between us. Aisaka lowered her hand again.
“Yeah… I—I’ll see you tomorrow… And good luck.”
That was all I could say.
|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|