| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
It was the last day of the nearly week-long string of holidays known as Golden Week,
"You're free, aren't you?" The time was 1pm. "Right? You've got some free time, don't you?"
As if the nice weather outside was a lie, the Takasu residence was faintly gloomy. Seemingly within arm's reach beyond the open south-facing window was the edge of the nearby apartment that towered above, so the brilliant sunshine of early summer didn't make it inside.
Nevertheless, the interior was methodically organized, every corner was cleaned perfectly, and despite being narrow, the miraculously trim habitat was enduring thanks to intelligent planning. That wonderfully comfortable and easy-to-live-in space existed thanks to the abilities of an only son named Ryūji, who was now finishing lunch in the kitchen with his back to the living room,
"Are you listening?"
No one took the time to even reply to his questioning voice, let alone with words of gratitude for his work. Taking a momentary break from washing, Ryūji turned around and stared pointedly at the white lump that was sprawled on the floor. That lump was lying in a messy heap next to the dining table, head-down with chin upon a folded cushion and a blankly befuddled face while poking a finger into the birdcage sitting nearby. Nipping hungrily at the protruding finger as though he tasted something delicious was a yellow parrot, Inko-chan. His ugliness was his charm point; the beak that he loved to keep open was the color of concrete and the small tongue that licked and jut out was tan like the color of rotting beef. Also, the eyes with discolored whites even now seemed like they're on the verge of death. And as a bird incomprehensible to humans, his eyelids twitched as he convulsed in response to seemingly dangerous agitations. According to the owner, the hard to view situation had been getting worse.
"...Taiga. Stop that. Inko-chan is going crazy."
"...Hm? No way, you're right."
Finally turning around, the white lump--that is, Aisaka Taiga turned around and pulled her finger from the birdcage. Or at least, so it seemed. "Eh? I can't take it out."
...So clumsy. Watching her tilt her head, Ryūji could only sigh. "What's with that, you? This isn't the time to be sighing. I think I'm really stuck." Pulling her small body up to sit on the tatami mat, Taiga held the birdcage in one hand as she tried to remove her finger while growling sullenly. Inko-chan simply wouldn't let go, instead valiantly clinging to Taiga's fingertip all the more intensely. "Uwa...he's using his tongue..."
Even in the subdued lighting, the shuddering girl's waist-length hair, the color of smoked chestnuts, contrasted with the surrounding gray. Lightly draped over her delicate figure was a one-piece dress covered in lace. With an appearance complete with a white overskirt, the elegant volume was charming--
"Hey, wait. Why are you just staring? It's your bird that's acting up, so hurry up and do something, you GIY."
"G, I, Y?" "Dumb dog. I said it a little more gently, so why don't you show some gratitude?"
This sudden surge of verbal abuse took away his ability to even speak. And yet, if not for the harsh language, Taiga would have been just like a moving French doll.
In any case, her eyes were like glittering gems, her pale lips were like wild rose buds, and her well-ordered looks were as temptingly hazardous as a snare dipped in condensed milk. Unfortunately, she was hopeless,
"Agh, so irritating, gah!" With a creak, the shape of the birdcage began to bend in her hand--She had inevitably been born beneath the starsign of the brutally violent tiger. Her given nickname was 'The Palmtop Tiger'...Because although her size was small, her ferociousness was comparable to that of a tiger.
With that said, it wasn't like Ryūji would lose in terms of ferocious appearances. He peered out sharply from the gaps of his bangs that were still in the process of growing. He had an almost excessively dangerous look, a stare that belied his personality. Even though there wasn't anything special about his physical abilities, his aura came off as being incredibly terrible, like that of a young man who would snap when overcome by negativity.
"D,d,d, don't break it! Don't! Carefully!"
In Ryūji's case, he only looked dangerous. Wiping his wet hands as he went over to protect his pet's habitat from the tiger, he knelt down beside Taiga. He tried to pull on the birdcage, but,
Ryūji leapt back as Taiga shouted with her finger still ensnared. Probably surprised by that yell, together with the already present stimulation, Inko suddenly bit down hard on Taiga's fingertip.
Perhaps as a result of the immense pain, while letting out even more shrieks, she managed to pull out her finger.
Just like that, they freed her finger and then lay passed out upon the tatami mats without saying anything for several seconds.
"...That hurt...Enough already~...!" Raising her head, Taiga looked in Inko-chan's direction with eyes that, although slightly moist with tears, gleamed like a honed assassin's blade. Perhaps he understood the severity of the situation.
Inko-chan looked up at Taiga and slightly quivered with a clatter. With the stress pent up throughout his body, he began to shed feathers in large clumps. In his confusion, Ryūji embraced the birdcage against his chest,
"Uwawa, Inko-chan is going bald, pull yourself together, stay calm! If you get any uglier, I don’t know if we’ll be able to live together anymore, you know! I don’t know what Taiga will do next, so let's get out of here.”
At the same time, Taiga also stood up, "Wait, what's up with that? It’s not like I’d get serious against something like that Inko thing."
"Well then, why are you making a fist?" "It’s so I can give you your punishment."
While forcing him back towards the wall, she clenched her small fist tightly. "What did I do?!" "My finger! It hurts, you know!" "How should I know?!"
Chasing Ryūji, who was running away while clutching the birdcage, Taiga circled the room when,
"Fugya~!" She fell flat on her face onto the tatami mat. Through the partially open sliding door, he could make out a white something protruding from the floor, which was what Taiga had tripped upon. Incidentally, the white thing’s true nature was,
"...Why is this sticking out here?" While his eyes looked as though he had snapped and might brandish a blade, Ryūji put down the birdcage, and looked at what was actually his mother’s bare leg. By the way, Ryūji hadn’t snapped, he was just bewildered.
With just one leg protruding from her room that was separated by a sliding screen, the head of the family, Yasuko had fallen into a deep sleep. After getting drunk while serving at Bishamonten Kuni, the city’s only hostess bar where she was employed, she had returned home at 6 am.
"Ah, did we end up waking her?"
Taiga, despite being thrice afflicted by selfishness, a twisted nature, and vanity, still showed her manners by politely asking in a hushed voice from her position on the ground.
"Nah, still sleeping."
Of course, Ryūji also lowered his voice and, taking a hold of the protruding bare leg, began pushing her back into her bedroom.
As a result,
A coquettish and nasally voice. Then,
"…Waaah!" "Ah, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?" The owner of the leg suddenly burst into tears. In her son’s middle school gym shorts and a t-shirt thin enough that her black lace bra showed through, she struggled, flailing her limbs and rubbing the white surface of the futon with the back of her hand.
Despite her pathetic behavior, she was already 33 years old, a woman whose boasted bust size was an F cup.
"I, I smell fried rice omelettes~! Ryū-chan and Taiga-chan ate it all by themselves while Ya-chan was sleeping! Waah~!"
"Don’t be ridiculous; I made sure to save some for you. It's wrapped up for you in the kitchen. I’ll put it in the refrigerator for now so you can microwave and eat it when you wake up."
"…Will you write ‘YASUCO’ on it with ketchup?"
"I’m not writing anything. It’ll just get messed up once I wrap it. Anyway, it’s ‘YASUKO’."
"…Ooh…Ya-chan, is still sleepy, so please don’t say any hard things…"
Falling onto her pillow with a plop, the by-circumstance single mother Yasuko soon began breathing the light sighs of sleep. She earned a respectable sum despite being hopeless at housework, but although she had a kind and gentle personality, the screws in her head were becoming hopelessly loose…Every day her son Ryūji spent some time trying to help his mother keep her wits about her. Not to mention, when Yasuko was in her third year of middle school, "My standard math score was 17~. My homeroom teacher was speechless, and we ended up just staring at each other until the day ended~."
…Or so he heard.
Regardless of all that, for the time being the Takasu household lifestyle, rather than falling into bankruptcy, had been continuing to prosper. With Yasuko as the pillar of support, Ryūji in charge of the chores, the pet Inko-chan, and,
"Ouch…I scraped my chin. Seriously, this house is too cramped to begin with. Hey, Ryūji, will you make sashimi for dinner? It’s totally unrelated, but that collision just now made me think of it."
"…It really is completely unrelated…"
"What? Are you saying I can’t have any sashimi?"
Glaring at Ryūji with her eyes wide open while rubbing her jaw was one tiger with a wild temperament. Even though they weren’t really living together,
"…There’s a sale on tuna going on in front of the station at five. If I remember correctly."
"Well, I want to go shopping too, so come pick me up at 4:45. I’m going home."
"Eh? You’re leaving?"
"You got a complaint?"
During the break, they had been together throughout the day. They had gone shopping together. Although it was natural that she didn’t stay over, they still took a nap side by side from after dinner till late at night nearly everyday. As for living together almost constantly, it was more a matter of convenience. Nevertheless, Ryūji continued to spout aimless words at the back of Taiga who was standing in front of him.
"What are you going back for? Do you have something to do? In any case, we’re still on vacation, right? Isn’t it still ok?"
He rambled on trying to stall for even just a bit more time. Brushing aside her hair as though it annoyed her, Taiga cast him a cold look.
"Aren’t you the only one who’s free? I need to do the laundry soon. The weather’s good after all."
"Laundry? It's just pressing a button, isn't it? Your house’s washing machine doubles as a dryer and the drying is automatic, so why are you saying you need to go home?"
"Che," Taiga clicked her tongue in irritation, glaring as though she wanted to seriously kill the annoyance that wouldn’t get out of her way.
"Agh, how depressing! What in the world are you saying?! If there's something you want to say then spit it out already!"
Almost painfully, Ryūji mumbled, "...W, will you go to the family restaurant with me...?"
"That again?!" In an instant, Taiga’s irritation flared even stronger. Still, Ryūji didn’t flinch from just that,
"It's fine if you're only doing this much, isn't it?! I can't go by myself! Just today, you said my fried rice omelette was good so I made you some, isn't that right? And moreover, just how long do you think I'm going to keep helping you in your constant troubles with Kitamura? Why not help me out a little?! Just that would be fine, wouldn't it?!"
"Ah, geez, shut up already! Just shut up! Lay off!"
"Off what?!" In the midst of their pointless arguing, from behind the sliding screen came a “Oo, ooh” --Suffering from a hangover, Yasuko had let out a moan. The two of them instantly got quiet, "…I guess it can’t be helped; I’ve seriously had enough."
The one who finally gave in was Taiga.
"You’re treating, understand? And buy me a magazine later. I’m sick of talking to you already."
Pretending to spit bad-manneredly with a ‘pe’ sound, or at least it seemed that way…Taiga spoke her mind. Still, Ryūji nodded like a man, without a single complaint. If she was going to accompany him to the restaurant, that kind of reimbursement was a small price to pay. Because that family restaurant was--
"Ah, there you go! One order!"
The yogurt parfait appeared before Taiga’s eyes with a bang as it was placed in front of her.
"It’s a secret, but this one’s a Taiga Special, with extra vanilla ice cream. Don’t tell the other customers and enjoy~"
"Is this okay, Minorin? Won’t you be scolded for this?"
"I’m telling you it’s fine, it’s fine, so relax! I mean, you’ve been coming almost every day this holiday season. This is the least I could do! And what about Takasu-kun, can I get you anything? I recommend the green tea parfait, or if you don’t want anything sweet, then perhaps something like potato fries. I’ll serve you with super-service."
"Ah, no, I..."
When faced with that wonderful smile, Ryūji could only wave his arms, unable to even bring himself to look up from his coffee. That said, his eyes weren’t even open in the first place.
It was just too dazzling.
Dressed as a waitress stood Kushieda Minori.
Wearing her silky hair in a ponytail, her slender and dazzling nape was exposed. A pale orange one-piece draped with a pure white apron, the uniform was simply too cute. Even her ordinarily inconspicuous bust swelled against the thin fabric, and her shining smile had the allure of an unripened peach.
Facing downwards in order to try and hide his blushing face, he desperately avoided eye contact with his one-year-long unrequited love. He wanted to look, but wasn’t able to, or rather, he couldn’t bring himself to look. It was the contradiction of a man in love. "Maybe you don’t want to hear it, but are you going to keep insisting that you’re not going out even though you two have been coming in here for tea almost every day during vacation? You guys are a couple, aren’t you?"
There was only one response to that sort of question, ""No, absolutely not.""
They spoke in unison while shaking their heads.
Scrutinizingly, as though she was shocked, Taiga looked up at her best friend’s face, which was full of kindness and was without a trace of malice.
"Minorin, you’ve been here working almost every day during this time off, but it doesn’t mean you’re going out with the shop manager or some old guy in the cooking galley or anything like that, you know. For us it’s the same. Even though you say we’re here together, it doesn’t mean we’re going out or anything."
"…There was a jump in that logic, wasn’t there?"
"What Minorin is saying is just as faulty then."
It had become pretty much official that ‘Takasu and Aisaka are not dating’, yet even now, Minori would take every chance she could get to pose her suspicions in a joking manner.
But to Ryūji who bore a secret unrequited love for Minori, it was too cruel to be a joke. "Yeah, yeah, I understand about the old guys."
"Just what old men are you talking about?"
"Because it wouldn’t work out with any of the shop managers; it wouldn’t work with the one from the shabu-shabu shop where I work part-time every other night, or the one from the karaoke shop, or the one from the convenience store that I work at in the morning. So I guess kind of like that, it wouldn’t work with Taiga and Takasu. That’s what you mean, isn’t it? Well then, I have to get back to work."
"…Just how is that part-time?"
Without thinking, the words just slipped out of his mouth by accident. As spontaneous as it might have been, Ryūji still congratulated himself for doing so.
"You might be right, but it’s probably because I’ve been saving up. And besides, even though we’re in the middle of vacation, we still have club activities. According to the captain, we can’t just play around."
Ryūji couldn’t come up with a reply to that. Instead, the one who kept the conversation going was Taiga.
"You’ve been overworking yourself a lot. With all the money you’ve earned, is there even anything you actually want?"
"Because I’ve got the time, I need to keep working. It’s a service fetish."
"…W, what is that?"
"It’s being refreshed by working. Well, see you again later!"
Leaving them with that mysterious phrase, the frankly hyper serving girl Minori headed towards the kitchen. After the two of them watched her go,
"How admirable…It’s not just that she’s cute, but she’s also diligent. Totally different from you."
"Well, you wake up in the afternoon, come to my house with both your head and your clothes in a mess, bum a lunch, then continue to laze around watching television, bum a dinner, hang around acting exhausted late into the night, and then just go home, don’t you? How unproductive."
Taiga lifted her head suddenly.
"It’s the holidays, so it’s fine, right? And it’s not like you’re any different. Besides, aren’t you forgetting something important? I’ve been making the effort to come here for your sake, haven’t I? Actually, that should be the most important thing to you."
She attacked him with her parfait spoon.
"Ugh…You splashed some in my eye!"
"Even though I’m on vacation, isn’t it more like I’ve been wasting my time for you? Don’t you get it? Hm?"
Showing more scorn than anger in her eyes, Taiga spoke arrogantly.
"You should be satisfied with this much. Since I’m here just to let you see the one you like. But you know, it’s not the same for me. There isn’t anyone who’s kindly supporting my love like that."
"…Why the heck are you talking so cryptically. It’s not like it’s my fault that you haven’t been able to see Kitamura. I really did try to help, you know?"
"Don't just start ignoring me in the middle of the conversation!"
Saying whatever she pleased and then immediately falling silent, Taiga’s eyes were now glued to the girl’s magazine that she bought from a bookstore on their way over. Though he didn’t really agree with what she said, he could only swallow her inevitable criticism together with his straight black coffee.
Speaking of which, it absolutely wasn’t his fault. He recalled the early afternoon of the first day of vacation.
While being pestered by Taiga, he had phoned Kitamura, his close friend and also the object of Taiga’s unrequited love. Knowing that Kitamura would have at least three days without softball club activities that both he and Minori were a part of, Taiga made Ryūji ask about his plans on those days. With that said, Taiga completely lacked the courage to ask Kitamura out on her own, so she had devised a heartfelt scheme where Ryūji would promise to meet up with Kitamura and she could pretend to join them along the way.
However, there was only a blunt reply to the phone call being made next to the nervous Taiga, "Man, it’s so horrible! I wanted at least one day to go out and play, but with everything at home and with student council, I’m completely swamped!"---No matter how you looked at it, the timing was terrible. There was just no way he could have done anything in that situation.
"…You couldn't even speak with him at all if you saw him anyway."
Looking up without really speaking or even altering her expression, only her lips moved as Taiga barely whispered to herself— Go. To. Hell.
"…No way…Are you going to send me?..."
"Did you hear that? Well aren’t your ears good."
With a smirking sneer, she gave Ryūji a look more befitting of a devil than a tiger. In that situation, Ryūji couldn’t help but think:
Just why was he spending all his time conspiring with this fellow when he was only being ridiculed and scorned?
--Taiga’s short yell interrupted his thoughts.
"Aaah! What the heck are you doing, you klutz?!"
Despite panicking a bit, Ryūji stood up with a tissue in his hand before kneeling like a servant next to where Taiga was sitting.
Some of the blueberry sauce had missed Taiga’s mouth and spilt onto her one-piece dress near the knees. He had to finish wiping it before it completely soaked into the white lace.
"Aww, my bad…Did it stain?"
"Nah, it’s okay. If we take care of it properly when we get back, it should be all right." Dabbing the tissue in a cup of water, he quickly yet nervously swabbed at Taiga’s dress while she moaned pitifully. After all, he estimated that it was likely more than twenty times as expensive as his street clothes. Even if it wasn’t his, he could never bring himself to handle valuable things with anything but the utmost care. Even if they had been arguing up until just now, that wasn’t really an issue. Because when he noticed something wrong, he always got caught up with it---Yeah, that’s right. Just like in this situation. It seemed as though he and Taiga were always like this. While he continued with the emergency cleaning, Ryūji unconsciously avoided eye contact.
The only reason that the two of them were even together was because they were each in love with the other’s close friend. That fact became known to both of them after a coincidental event, and it wasn't before long this strange alliance was born.
Taiga, who had been living alone, suddenly started relying on Ryūji for her everyday necessities and Ryūji, who naturally loved chores and cleanliness, didn’t refuse her demands. Consequently, things kept progressing bit by bit until eventually, they had fallen into the subtly complicated lifestyle that was exemplified by their current situation.
She’s such a klutz.
The fearsome girl known as the Palmtop Tiger had a surprising other side; in other words, she was simply more hopelessly danger-prone than anyone else he had ever met, so he ended up being unable to keep his eyes off of her for even a moment. When he let her go by herself, she would inevitably fall several times a day. If she was behind him, he would end up looking over his shoulder, or if she was using a flame, he would want to call out to her. If he didn’t prepare them for her, she would even skip meals. Her physical condition would deteriorate. She was so hopeless that he felt like escorting her just about every day so she wouldn’t do anything absurd.
Beyond that, what else could he say?—He had ended up witnessing her once-in-a-lifetime near miss of a confession. Surprisingly, he also found out that she was a crybaby. Things went pretty smoothly for the most part, but even though Ryūji and Taiga ate together, went to school and even shopped together, there wasn’t any mutual fondness in the odd relationship they had developed.
If asked on the spot, Ryūji could only come up with one other reason for them being together. That would be that he was a dragon and Taiga was a tiger---Together they composed a complete set, or something like that. "Ah!"
Once again, a spilled blueberry-colored drop cut Ryūji’s contemplations short. "...Be a bit more careful. And of all places, why did the second drop follow the first? It's a good thing that it fell on your finger."
"Geez, shut up already, it wasn’t like it was on purpose. In the first place, I didn’t ask you to clean it up for me or anything."
"Just what nonsense are you talking about now? If I left it alone, would you be able to remove the stain yourself? You wouldn’t, right? I'll have you know, I’m not doing this for your sake, I’m doing it for the dress’s sake."
"Wha? Oh, I see. If you like it so much, how about I give it to you? Then you could wear it, this dress."
Anyhow…now, she was gradually becoming more vicious.
Even so, he couldn’t stand watching such expensive clothing be stained, so while making an expression like that of a three-time repeat offender being sentenced to ten years (perhaps with some amount of displeasure), he ignored her and immersed himself in his efforts without hesitation. Then, "Ah."
"Did you do something else now?!"
Though Ryūji looked up instinctively at the defenseless sound that Taiga let slip, "That’s not it…This cute thing, I’m going to buy it. I’m definitely going to buy it." Taiga was muttering while holding up a page in her magazine by its edge.
"Are you wasting your money again? Just how much longer will you keep buying these fluttery and fluffy things that are all so similar? Well, which one is it? How much is it?"
"I’ve had enough, you’re so noisy! Do you think you’re my mother or something?!"
"I’ll end up being the one who has to organize them, so I should have the right to check first."
Ryūji got up and sat down next to the tempestuous Taiga, taking a glance at the page she was looking at while in close proximity. He spent the other day frantically arranging the expensive clothes that were flooding out from Taiga’s bedroom closet, fortunately things were still put away sensibly. He should have the right to restrict her frivolous spending. And so,
"…T, this one? This one is…I wonder just how…?"
He cocked his head without thinking. On the page with what Taiga said she’d definitely buy, the model wore a slender pair of denim jeans that showed off her long legs while striking a beautiful pose. It wasn’t fluttery or fluffy at all, but--
"…Even though I’m telling you this for your own sake…if you were to wear this, it would be a tragedy."
In any case, Taiga was just a bit taller than 140 cm. It should have been easy to see that she didn’t have those sort of long legs, however, "…What I want is this bag!"
"O, oh…Is that what you meant?"
"Well geez, I’m sorry my legs are so short."
As her voice resounded with an unsettling eeriness that completely belied her calm tone, Ryūji unthinkingly pulled back, preparing to escape. Taiga’s eyes narrowed in anger while the edges of her mouth turned upwards as though she were smiling.
"Wait now, come on, stay calm…We’re at Kushieda’s workplace…Um, we’re at the palace." "What’s that?! Are you kidding me?! I’m not just going to take that sort of attitude from you! If you understand that you misspoke then how about apologizing first?!"
Taiga wrinkled her nose ferociously—-It seemed as though his strange joke had completely flopped. This was bad. She was seriously mad now. Of course, he truly wanted to apologize quickly, but, "Guh.."
"At any rate, I’ve got short legs! But it's never bothered anyone else before!"
Grasping him by the nape of the neck, she started shaking him about violently. He couldn’t speak; in fact, he couldn’t even breathe. Desperately struggling and kicking the table shamelessly, he desperately tried to tell her "I surrender!", nothing more.
Then, he was suddenly released from Taiga’s grasp. Having been set free, Ryūji collapsed onto the seat coughing while trying to recover.
"H, hey now…Were you trying to kill me?! Seriously!"
"…Wa, wa, wa…"
Absentmindedly, with her mouth partly open, Taiga blinked in surprise. It looked like she had finally realized that she was being overly violent, he nodded sincerely, "That’s right, I was shocked you know. Hopefully now that you understand, this experience will keep you from strangling anybody a second time..."
Glaring intently at Ryūji, Taiga pointed at the page in the magazine they were just looking at, going "Look, look!"
"…I already heard you say you wanted that bag."
"Not that! This! This person!"
At the end of her cherry blossom-colored fingernail was a beautiful woman with her legs deftly crossed—-no, a beautiful girl’s smiling face. In the middle of a trendy black setting, she was stylishly wearing a camisole that must have cost several hundred dollars and even more expensive denim jeans while her lightly coiled hair trailed in the wind. She was certainly a very pretty model, but since she was a model, it was only to be expected that she would be pretty. There didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about the page.
The moment he tried to ask what she meant by it, she grabbed his head.
Just like that, his head was spun around almost 180 degrees to face behind him.
Without thinking, he let out a similar exclamation of surprise.
A newly arrived customer was being seated by a waitress not too far from where Ryūji and Taiga were sitting.
It wasn’t just Taiga and Ryūji who were looking at her either. Turning around to look and whispering quietly, nearly all the customers inside the relatively crowded shop were glancing towards her.
The first thing that stood out was how her slender body gave off the impression of a fawn. She didn’t appear to be exceptionally tall, but because of her relatively petite head, it balanced out just right.
Her hair had been carefully groomed to an utterly glossy silkiness. But instead of being overdone, it rested lightly on her shoulders with a kind of carefree air.
Wearing large Hollywood-style sunglasses on her small childlike face, she walked with flawless elegance. Her thin ankles that were clad in heeled sandals looked just like a finished sculpture.
Even though she was just wearing simply knit denim, her un-Japanese-like lengthy limbs accentuated her girlish style more than any dress could. With a brand name bag hanging from her shoulder and a polished white complexion, it was easy to see she wasn’t just some amateur.
In short, a true beauty. There was an overwhelming attractiveness that one couldn’t help but notice. When she casually removed her sunglasses, the shop was engulfed by a range of reactions.
Even Ryūji sighed and fervently stared without thinking. As though a haze had been lifted from their eyes, her sparkling good looks were revealed.
It was a wonder that a pair of such large eyes could fit on her petite face. Her smooth face was tinged elegantly pink. The disparity between her carefree expression and her carefully refined style was even more eye-catching.
She seemed charmingly pure through and through. She was gentle, calm, and graceful. Definitely like an angel, benevolently descending upon this family restaurant to share her brilliant aura with the gathered masses. He almost expected there to be a halo over her head.
And no matter how you looked at that beautiful face,
"...This person, she’s…"
The exact same person, the beauty from the page that Taiga was pointing at earlier.
"…She’s a model…"
Ryūji sighed deeply; it was the first time he’d ever seen someone and instinctively thought ‘Model’.
Although in a magazine she might have seemed simply commonplace, she was really cute in person.
"That girl, her name is ‘Kawashima Ami’. She was even on the front cover a couple months ago."
Unusually excited, Taiga told him almost pridefully.
"Is that right?...Haa…I, I think I might have just become a fan…Kawashima Ami-san…I wonder what she's doing in a boring place like this…"
"Her mother, she’s Kawashima Anna, the actress."
"Ooh~…Didn’t we see her just last night?...[Izu’s a Good Place for Murder ・Temptation of Capybara Hot Springs ・The Great Homicide Investigator, Reiko Yūzuki- Volume 4]…So she’s the daughter of that Reiko Yūzuki…Now that you mention it, I can see the resemblance. Alright, I’m going to take a picture with my cell phone."
"Knock it off, or I’ll get mad."
"I, is that so?...Anyway, let’s calm down for now. I got a little too excited."
"Hey, you were getting excited too."
Sitting side by side on the same seat, the two of them took a few deep breaths.
"Well, anyway…we saw something good, didn’t we?"
"It’s the only thing I’ll remember about this vacation."
While nodding in agreement, they each grabbed their respective cups at the same time, Ryūji’s filled with coffee and Taiga’s with milk tea, and simultaneously brought them to their mouths to drink.
"Yūsaku~! Uncle, Auntie, there’s a seat over here~!"
At the same time, they had spewed their drinks violently. Choking and coughing in unison, the two of them almost passed out…That was because the beautiful model that appeared suddenly in front of them was calling out to someone they were both quite familiar with. "W, w, wha…Why?!"
"Ki~, Kita~, Kitamu~, Kitamura-kun?! No way, why?! What’s going on?!"
With Ryūji against the table like a piece of trembling paper and Taiga flailing like a dancing octopus, their arms had at some point become entwined.
The two of them were then spotted, "Hmm? If it isn’t Takasu and Aisaka, how unexpected! What sort of mess have you gotten into? Never mind that, you two get along pretty well, don’t you guys?"
Kitamura Yūsaku, who had just entered the shop, waved to them looking like always while heading their way. Badly shaken, Ryūji’s knife-like stare became even sharper; and Taiga, who had been overwhelmed by a flood of emotion, was dumbfounded. Meanwhile, oblivious to their situation,
"It seems that Kushieda works here part-time. Did you happen to see her?"
Kitamura just continued cheerfully.
"Well, we saw her, but…this isn’t what it looks like!"
Looking like a stalwart monk defending Mt. Hiei, Ryūji moved a bit closer to his upbeat friend.
"You, just what’s going on here?! What’s with this…?"
"Eh? Ah, that’s right. This is a good chance for me to introduce you. These are my parents. Takasu, you’ve probably already met my mother from when we were having the parent-teacher-student conferences."
Even though it was rude while Kitamura’s parents were politely bowing and going through the formal pleasantries, "You’re mistaken! That’s not what I meant!"
He couldn’t keep from violently shaking his head.
"Not about them, but um, uh, well look, that!"
Having a limited repertoire of facial expressions, Ryūji tried to express his predicament to his best friend through full-body pantomime. However, "What’s wrong? Yūsaku?"
"Oh, we were just exchanging introductions."
---Things just got worse.
The cause of Ryūji and Taiga’s agitation was walking over on her own. It almost seemed like she was surrounded by glittering sparkles as she gave off an alluring fragrance,
"She, this is Kawashima Ami. Even though it might not look like it, she used to live around here. Before she moved, she used to be my neighbor. I guess you could call her a childhood friend."
"What do you mean by ‘though it might not look like it’?"
Even while smiling, she made a puffy face and playfully scowled at Kitamura like an ordinary girl. It all really happened right in front of Ryūji. In reality. In three-dimensional space.
It was such an extraordinary situation...yet Kitamura looked completely calm, "It’s a figure of speech. Anyway, these are my good friends Takasu Ryūji, and Aisaka Taiga."
Sitting right next to each other on the same seat and looking like some sort of weird boy/girl combination, they were introduced to the angel. The angel that was Kawashima Ami greeted them while smiling and laughing cutely, "How do you do? I’m Ami, it’s a pleasure to meet you!"
She nimbly and openly offered both her hands.
Ryūji stared at her beautiful hands...More like mesmerized, he couldn’t even understand what her action meant and had become stiff like a robot. Then, "Hey, let’s shake on it. Any friend of Yūsaku’s is a friend of mine you know."
---His hand melted. The palms of his hands started sweating, "…A, ah, a."
Because Kawashima Ami had gently lifted Ryūji’s hand that had been laying on the table and was grasping it in her own two hands. They were pleasantly cool, and where her ring was gently touching, it was even colder…
"Eh, hm, this wouldn’t happen to be…?"
Quickly letting go of the stupefied Ryūji’s hand, her slim fingers were now pointing at Taiga’s magazine that was still laid out on the table. Then, "Kyaa!"
An exquisite scream. Flustered, Ami took the magazine and held it against her chest, then shrugged as though she were embarrassed. Even while she tightly embraced the magazine to hide it and kept her small face tilted downwards, her eyes glanced upwards with a sparkling gleam and she started mumbling.
"No way…! Such a coincidence…Why?! Could it be,…ah, no way, you already found out? That I’m…this…I mean, that I appear in this…that I have that kind of job…"
She seemed to be trembling with sincere bewilderment---she kept on going for a few seconds. ‘What is she saying?’, Ryūji thought, a little surprised.
It was pretty obvious that even without seeing some magazine, anyone would immediately think ‘model’ or ‘celebrity’ just by looking at her. He didn’t understand why she acted like she needed to keep it a secret. Was it really possible that Ami wasn’t aware of how exceptionally cute she was?
He managed to squeeze out a reply that expressed what he was thinking.
"Well…If I look at you, the impression I get…is that of a model, so…"
He said it pretty bluntly, but that was the best Ryūji could do. Still, "Eh? That’s gotta be a lie!"
Totally incredulous, Ami’s voice rose, her eyes widened, and she cocked her head. "I’m just not like that at all! I don’t even have any makeup on and these clothes were just thrown on…Just what part of my humble appearance is anything like a model?"
In other words, she really didn’t realize at all, this angel. So innocent, or maybe pure would be a better word.
"Just look, my hair’s such a mess because I didn’t brush it when I woke up, and I just left it like that and came anyway, didn’t I? I wonder why…Isn’t it strange…I just don’t get it…"
While looking at her worried face, Ryūji started to kind of understand. For a person who had been born naturally beautiful, she must not have understood how unusually pretty she was, definitely. However, that might be the reason she was so pure. Also, that purity just made her even prettier---While he was absent-mindedly thinking that, "Ah!"
Ami suddenly pointed her finger at Ryūji’s nose.
"Just now, you thought ‘She’s a natural airhead’, didn’t you?"
In front of Ryūji’s agitated and rigid eyes, Ami puffed her face and stared at him with teasing eyes. He had definitely been thinking the word ‘natural’, but the implied meaning was different…Well actually, it might apply, at least in this case.
"You know what I mean, don’t you? You thought that, didn’t you"
Of course, Ami’s pupils were trembling with a hint of a smile, and being guided by that motion, he unwittingly ended up nodding.
"I knew it!"
Sweetly crying with an ‘Aah’, Ami twisted her lips into a sort of pout.
"Geez, I’m always being called that. Like, ‘Ami is a real airhead, isn’t she?’, they say. I wonder why that is, because even though I’m not like that at all, everyone keeps saying it…After all, I bet even Yūsaku thinks of me like that. With a disgusted look I bet."
"That just isn’t true."
Barely touching the subject, Kitamura smiled somewhat bitterly and shrugged his shoulders. Then, having decided he had waited long enough, he gently pressed Ami’s back, "Well, let’s go back to our seat. We’re keeping Dad and the others from ordering."
"Ah, that’s right! That’s no good, we’ve been keeping Uncle and the others waiting, haven’t we?"
He held up a hand apologetically towards Ryūji and Taiga.
"Takasu and Aisaka will still be here for a while, right? We’re just eating dinner with Dad and the others before going home, so let’s talk some more afterwards."
"See you later, then!"
Waving her hand before turning around, Ami’s figure was extremely pretty---Like a powerful surging wave. And yet, like a wave, it seemed like she would keep on going as she was.
While watching his best friend and Ami leave, Ryūji leaned his back against the seat as if exhausted. He kept an eye on them until the two made it to their seat, "Ah…"
Still delirious, he sighed for perhaps the millionth time.
Although she’s such a beautiful person and her mother’s even an actress, she’s still so pure and unpretentious. Immaculate to the core, so much so that she didn’t even consider herself pretty at all. She might have been just a little air-headed, but even that was rather cute. For such a girl to exist in this world…she was simply perfect.
It was such a difference from the messed-up Taiga, who was certainly pretty enough but had an unusually nasty temper that was just depressing. It was a waste of time to even try and compare them.
"…Hey, about Kawashima Ami, although she’s a celebrity, she seems like a really nice girl. Even though she has a pretty face, she still has an amiable personality…You know, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a thing or two from her. Since she and Kitamura were childhood friends…Don’t you think, Ta…"
With a gulp, Ryūji quickly scooted away from her. Just like that, he casually left his seat then moved over to the seat across the table.
He hadn’t realized his carelessness, but right next to him, there had been a silently growling tiger. He mistakingly thought her presence had gotten unusually weak, but---rather than that, it was more like how a predator stalking its prey keeps its presence hidden.
Although she might have put on a weak appearance, it was as if right now a swirling mass of murderous intent was radiating from Taiga’s body and surrounding her. With her small pretty face looking like a Noh mask, she started gnawing at her twisted lips like a wild animal tearing into meat. A piercing and ferocious light could be seen in her large eyes, partially covered by her thin eyelids, as she stared at the departing Ami’s back. Her small body remained in her seat but her chin was raised pridefully as Taiga sat looking extremely displeased.
He set aside the comparison, but in the end Ryūji couldn’t keep himself from talking. "…You…How should I put this, I wonder what that was all about. Though it’s true that a pretty girl who gets along well with Kitamura has suddenly appeared, you shouldn’t get so clearly irritated. Weren’t you acting all happy just a little while ago?"
Coupled with her lip-licking, her low whisper resounded in an ominous manner.
"It’s not a simple thing like that. Rather it’s…"
However, Taiga stopped midway and flipped her bangs upwards. "Fuu," with a small sigh, he could almost feel the tiger’s tenseness wash away.
"…Ah well, whatever."
Her eyes that had been tensely shining shifted into a cruel smile as they were directed at Ryūji.
"You’re not so low that you’d actually want to get close to her, are you? You get it, don’t you? Not even you should be that dumb."
"…What are you talking about?"
"Well, maybe I just have a certain sense for this kind of thing. I’ll give you only one hint for now---The kind of person who labels themselves as a ‘natural airhead’, there’s no way they’re really being honest."
"…Is that kind of thing really true?"
"Think whatever you want."
"Fu," while twisting her rosy lips viciously in triumph, Taiga stopped staring at Ami. Even though she had been pouting for awhile, Ryūji could understand that she wasn’t demanding to go home because she was still hoping to talk with Kitamura, even if for only a little bit.
While Taiga continued looking through her magazine with an expression that he couldn’t read, Ryūji continued unsteadily turning the pages of his complimentary booklet on bento side dishes---Nearly an hour had passed.
"Hey. My parents, they just went home."
Fashionably dressed in an almost glaringly obvious set of Uniqlo clothes, Kitamura was trailed by a radiantly beautiful young female model as they made their way over. As she moved inside the shop, the glances on Ami from all the other customers were full of admiration.
"Sorry for the wait!"
A step behind Kitamura, Ami expressed an angelic smile and gave Ryūji a wave. Ensnared, he ended up waving on instinct,
"…Well, aren’t you in good mood…Just like a dog wagging its tail…"
Taiga’s cold words made him feel oddly embarrassed about how he might look, and he lowered his hand.
Understandably, even without saying anything like ‘Kawashima-san will sit here, and Kitamura will sit over there’ they very naturally ended up with the boys and girls sitting together separately.
Sitting next to Ryūji, Kitamura posed a question to Ami over his open menu.
"Ami, you’ve still got some time, right? Is there anything you’d like?"
"No thanks, I’m already stuffed from earlier, so I’m fine…How about you two?"
Suddenly being brought into the conversation, Ryūji’s shoulder leapt as if shocked with electricity. Taiga kept her head down as she just stared at her own knees, petrified and seemingly unable to look in the direction of the casually dressed Kitamura.
"Eh, well, we…What do you think? How about it, Taiga?"
Taiga shook her still hanging head back and forth---The conversation died. Hmm, what would be good next? What should we talk about?
Ryūji waited with expectant eyes for Kitamura, the only one acquainted with everyone present, to start speaking and resume the dialogue. Realistically, this would probably be the one and only time he ever sat together with a model in his entire life. So that he could remember the moment fondly, he was sincerely hoping that Kitamura could steer things in a fun direction.
But then, "Aah, I’m so worn out after dealing with my family. Sorry, but I’m going to the bathroom for a bit."
Completely oblivious to the situation, the ever-relaxed Kitamura ended up standing from his seat.
Ryūji hastily raised his hand, but he couldn’t just say something like, ‘Please don’t leave us here’.
He looked at Taiga. She was still immobilized with her head hung low.
He looked at Ami. She wore a lightly questioning smile---She was tilting her head curiously while watching Ryūji, as though fascinated by his odd behavior.
It’s impossible. No matter what he did, there was just no way he could reconcile this situation by himself. While acting nonchalant and scratching his head, "Ah, you know, I kind of need to go too…Umm, which way is it…?"
Following a bit behind Kitamura, the ‘getting up from their seats together’ formation…or in short, the ‘accompanying’ formation was formed.
Of course, he naturally wondered if it was okay to leave the Palmtop Tiger and that girl behind in that kind of atmosphere, but…he succumbed cowardly to his nervousness. He was a poor speaker even under normal circumstances, but his companions were girls, including an incredibly beautiful model. Taiga just wasn’t reliable in this kind of situation, so if Kitamura left him alone with them, Ryūji wouldn’t have even a scrap of self-confidence left.
Simply unable to look back at the seat he left behind, Ryūji followed after Kitamura who was heading in the direction of the men’s bathroom. He couldn’t be any more ashamed, but it couldn’t be helped. At the very least, it would allow him to relieve himself. However, Kitamura suddenly turned around before the door, "…Right. Here we are."
"In this situation, I knew you’d definitely leave your seat with me."
Readjusting his silver-rimmed glasses, he whispered that. He discretely motioned Ryūji, whose eyes were glittering with bewilderment, over to hide behind the cover of a cigarette vending machine, "I have something I want to ask. And I want you to answer me honestly."
His apricot-shaped eyes were pointed directly forward. Then a moment later, very clearly, "What did you think about Ami?"
"…you, what about the bathroom?"
"Don’t need to go."
Making such a serious face, it seemed that Kitamura had seriously walked over here just to talk with Ryūji. Even though Ryūji didn’t really understand why he was being asked, he felt like he had to answer. It wasn’t like there was any reason he wouldn’t want to answer anyway.
"…Well, I don’t really…You, don’t just show up all of a sudden with such a cute girl. I’m so nervous, I can’t think straight."
"Well, she is cute. That’s something I noticed too."
"Mm, it’s not just that she’s cute either you know. She’s a wonderful girl. How should I say this…Maybe pure…or too pure, so it’s more like kind of worrisome…"
Knitting his brow and lifting his glasses to his forehead, Kitamura rubbed his seemingly exhausted eyes while at a rare loss for words. Then gently touching Ryūji's back, "Come with me for a second, will you? Just for a bit..."
“Hey, where are you going? The bathroom? You're not going back to your seat, are you?" "Don't worry so much...Anyway, get down."
Facing in the opposite direction of the bathroom, he started moving towards the customer seating. Then bending over, he concealed himself behind a decorative plant and then hid behind the divider between smoking and nonsmoking sections. Ryūji could only follow his lead. Making their way in a roundabout manner, they ended up directly behind the seat where Taiga and Ami were sitting. The two girls were clearly visible but shouldn’t be able see the two hiding in their blind spot.
"…Wait, just what do you think you're doing, you pervert?"
"It’s fine. Quiet down and watch."
Where Kitamura was pointing his finger, Ami relaxedly crossed her legs and draped her arms across the back of the sofa.
"Haa, so tired. Hey, hey, Ami-chan’s really thirsty~. Bring me an iced tea, won’t you?" Flipping her beautiful hair and then resting her head in her hand exhaustively, Ami rudely pushed the cup in front of her towards Taiga.
"…" Without altering her expression, Taiga threw Ami a look before turning back to her own knees. The one who lightly clicked her tongue wasn’t Taiga, but Ami.
"Hmm? Such a useless, or maybe I should say depressing, fellow…You’ve got a bad attitude, don’t you? Oh well, whatever. When Yūsaku gets back, I’ll just get him to bring it for me. Or you know, maybe I’ll ask that mean-looking weird guy. He’s so nervous it seems he’d do just about anything Ami-chan says."
While speaking in a sickeningly sweet voice, her strawberry-colored lips twisted slightly. Even so, her chaste appearance didn’t disappear or falter. Then without even facing Taiga, who was silent like a doll nearby, she recklessly asked.
"Hey, hey. About him, is he your boyfriend?"
"Would you mind if Ami-chan took him from you? Even though I don’t need him at all."
"Or maybe I should say, he has the look of a present-day delinquent? I bet you often get together with those kinds of losers~ Respect yourself a little."
Without opening her mouth, Taiga just directed an empty stare at Ami.
"Hmm, I see. It’s just the best you could do in this good-for-nothing place. Ah, that’s, the, worst."
Speaking in a singsong manner, it seemed like Ami wasn’t going to wait for Taiga to reply or anything anymore. Roughly taking her brand-name bag, she pulled out a large hand mirror and started staring at her own pretty face. Then once again straightforward, ‘Ami-chan’s so cute’ ---While murmuring happily, she gave a smile of satisfaction.
"Aah, I really want to go out and play already…You, just what do you two normally do for fun? Run around crazily?"
"…He’s not my boyfriend."
Anyone who actually knew Taiga would have trembled at her flat, nearly emotionless whisper.
"Ah, so tha~t’s how it is. Hm, whatever, I don’t really care~. Well, isn’t that right~, about that delinquent…Are you saying he’s simply impossible? Or are you saying Ami-chan might be a little interested in such a drastically different person?"
Ami snorted mockingly while staring at herself in the mirror. Then, suddenly shifting her eyes away from the mirror, she directed a rude glance at Taiga.
"Hey, hey, how tall are you? I noticed it just now, but aren’t your proportions funny?"
At the same time, she slowly scrutinized Taiga from head to toe and raised her eyebrows as though amazed.
"Fu~n, so there are shops that sell such small clothes. But you know, when you buy something like jeans, wouldn’t you have to cut the bottom? Ami-chan’s never had to cut them even once, so I wouldn’t know."
"---That’s just how her true character is."
"Tr, true character?"
"Yeah. That is Ami’s alternate personality from even before she started kindergarten. Dependent, selfish, and oppressive; the stereotypical selfish princess."
Trembling while looking at his best friend’s face, Ryūji nearly crushed the leaf from the decorative plant he had been clutching.
"Her personality’s so horrible…What’s with the ‘Ami-chan’? That’s scary! It’s like she’s possessed by a demon."
In all his life, he had never seen a girl who said those kinds of things...Actually, there might have been some in his own class, but at least for Ryūji, who had basically never approached a girl, it was the first time he had actually witnessed one himself. The Taiga with whom he passed his everyday life certainly had a bad sort of personality, but he got the feeling that Ami’s nature was bad in a different way. Knowing the whole situation, there might have even been some kind of sympathy for her, but it seemed that Taiga was still more reasonable.
"Based on appearances alone, Ami would be okay, but…I guess there’s a defect in her personality. Whenever she’s with people she regards poorly, her other personality ends up manifesting. Those people, they’re generally women."
"…I, is this the kind of thing where she thinks she needs to go that far because she’s a model?"
"It’s more like she’s been putting on a front since after she started modeling, I think. If you ask me, she’s still the same rather than having two sides."
While slightly tilting his head at his best friend’s words, Ryūji leaned forward expectantly.
What’s going on, Palmtop Tiger?
"That Taiga, is she just going to sit there and take that?"
Or rather, please hurry up and tell her that he’s not a delinquent---Biting his lip while his eyes reflected a harsh glare, Ryūji looked back and forth between the two girls. Taiga remained silent with a stoic expression.
"C, could it be she’s holding back just because that girl is Kitamura’s childhood friend?" Holding back were two words that just totally didn’t suit Taiga, but she was completely vulnerable when it came to Kitamura. That must have definitely been the case as he couldn’t think of any other reason for her silence, which is what he thought at that moment.
Then right before Ryūji’s eyes, the situation suddenly burst. That is, what’s generally known as ‘a slap in the face’.
It seemed that Ami, who kept her expression calm and her eyes open, couldn’t even speak.
"A mosquito. There was a mosquito."
Nearby, the tiger who had suddenly shown her fangs wore a concealed smirk. Her red tongue protruded from her mouth for only an instant.
"How fortunate, your cheek was nearly bitten by this mosquito. Huh, this is a fly."
Abruptly extending her small open hand, there was the slaughtered corpse of a fly. Upon seeing it, Ami’s face immediately tinged red. Naturally, "W, w, what the heck are you doing?!"
She was outraged. However, Taiga just sneered at her reaction exasperatedly.
"Even though I did it as a favor for you. You don’t know how to be grateful."
Ami’s voice was nearing supersonic levels. It was drawing attention from the nearby customers.
"That just isn’t true, is it?! Isn’t there something wrong with you?! Unbelievable, what’s with this, horrible, you’re the wo~rst! You know, I didn’t even want to come here or anything!"
"…You’re so noisy."
A single crease could be seen on Taiga’s forehead. Harshly scrutinizing with shining eyes, her blood-red aura rose up. "Che," she clicked her tongue succinctly, and her malicious shot was ready to go.
"Shut up, you damn brat."
Shooting such harsh words with the sharpness of a slashing sword, she put an end to Ami’s ranting.---It was the end of the match.
Ami’s slender shoulders started trembling with each breath. As her pretty face scrunched, ‘Ah, this is no good’---Kitamura muttered and stood, and followed by Ryūji, quickly walked back to their seats amidst the overly awkward situation.
Then, the instant the two boys arrived, "Yu,"
Like in a girls’ comic, Ami’s back as she turned around was a flower blossoming into full-bloom---or at least that’s what he felt. It was just that extreme as Ami wonderfully, dramatically,
She leapt to Kitamura’s chest while crying.
Her shoulders wracking with sobs, she redundantly voiced her complaint with childlike ineloquence, ‘I want to go home’, and looked up at Kitamura point-blank with her tear-filled eyes.
"Aaaah…Just why can’t you guys get along? Seriously…You were so loud and troublesome, Aisaka. Even you, Takasu. I’m going to take Ami home."
With his head down, his eyebrows drooping, and just looking apologetic overall, Kitamura held onto Ami as he deftly picked up her bag from the seat. Then, ignoring the glances of the other customers, he dragged her like that to the exit.
Afterwards, that just left, "...Ta,...Taiga...?"
"…Hey, keep it together!"
‘Won the game, but lost the match’, that was what was written all over Taiga’s face. Her lips expressed the tiniest bit of displeasure while her eyes remained empty, Taiga was just like a Buddha statue…She was completely silent. It might have gotten to the point where words of comfort would be useless.
"Well, um…It’s me. Cheer up."
"Simply put, Kitamura and I were watching the whole thing. Kitamura definitely doesn’t think that you were bullying her or anything."
"…Well then, even after seeing all that, Kitamura-kun still acceptingly protected that girl and took her home."
"…He probably wasn’t protecting her."
"…He was holding her gently, comforting her."
"…He wasn’t comforting her, I think, but…Oh!"
There was a waitress’s scream at the same time as the sound of glass breaking. The dish had fallen to the floor and shattered into a number of pieces, and as though feeling something, the brats in that place who had until just then been clamoring happily, suddenly burst into tears screaming ‘Gwaah!’. That was followed by screams of ‘Kyaah!’ and ‘Uwaah!’ as the milk steamer broke down and started spurting wildly with droplets of boiled milk scattering the customers who had been in line, then ‘Manager! The bathroom is full…Uwaaah~!’…The voice of the employee who didn’t want to see what was happening resounded and disappeared.
"…I hate her, that woman!"
--From all over Taiga’s body, she was releasing a dreadfully intense killing intent resembling lightning that sent blue sparks flying. Ryūji just couldn’t do anything in that situation. Taiga’s thoroughly chewed lips had lost most of their color, and her tightly clenched fists were trembling, then, "Uwa! Don’t cry!"
If at least Kitamura was here, there would have been the chance for a new development. As it was, Taiga’s eyes started to well up with tears.
"There are people watching, you know, try to bear with it!"
Moaning bitterly, Taiga rubbed her eyes with her sleeves. It ended up being something troublesome. Then Ryūji, who just wanted to cover his head, heard something wonderful.
"Eh? What’s wrong?"
From out of nowhere, Minori appeared still clad in her uniform. Widening her eyes in surprise,
"Taiga, you don’t look so good. Did something happen?"
"…It’s nothing…I, I’m going to wash my hands. I touched something dirty."
"Ooh, it’s a dead fly."
She moved out of the way of Taiga, who was standing while showing her palm. Like that, Minori watched her from behind for a while before slowly turning towards Ryūji.
"…That girl, what's wrong? Did something happen while I was on break?"
"…Not really…Well, there was a bit of trouble."
His faltering speech wasn’t only due to nervousness; he was also trying to figure out how he should explain what just happened. He wondered, out of all the possible timings, why she had to be on break just then. With a worried look, the nearly unflappable Minori spoke,
"I don’t know what happened, but she was quite mad, wasn’t she…It’s unusual for the docile Taiga."
He wondered why.
That is, on this day, it was at that moment Ryūji felt an even greater sense of dread.
Despite all this, they finished the shopping and returned to the Takasu residence, where as Ryūji was starting to wash the rice, Taiga returned to her usual self.
"…I probably won’t even meet her a second time. Because it doesn’t seem like she and Kitamura-kun are going out. And anyway, getting involved with her is beneath me."
"Is two liters enough? Should I go ahead and make two and a half?"
"Two and a half."
Her face showed signs of discontent, but Taiga spoke while playing with the sugar jar in the corner of the kitchen.
"…When I become an adult, I should be able to handle this anger more steadily."
"This coming from someone who goes so far as to slap someone else in the face?...Hey, don’t play with the sugar."
"Don’t lick the sugar spoon!"
|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|