| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
Seemingly uneventful, a few days passed in peace.
Though Taiga was as troublesome and touchy as ever, she was currently ignoring Ami completely, and while Ami might have still been frantically putting on her good-girl act in front of her new friends, she didn’t seem to be provoking Taiga into a fight or anything. She might go as far as to look in Ryūji’s direction with her Chihuahua-like eyes every once in a while, but she didn’t do anything more.
Nevertheless, these fellows who shared a mutual dislike were in the same class after all. When they happened to pass by one another or hear the other’s voice, things fortunately ended as near misses---however, that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t stare silently at one another or engage in some sort of battle of wills for a few seconds. But even so, for as long as Ryūji had been watching during the past several days, Ami and Taiga had not exchanged words face to face even a single time.
If they could somehow peacefully get through the year like this…No, he really hoped they could continue like this all the way to graduation. An event that crushed Ryūji’s tiny hope into even smaller pieces occurred around the time when they switched uniforms in the latter half of May.
"Takasu~! You free now?! I’ve got some really great news!"
It was late afternoon; homeroom was finally over and they had been released from school. Wearing glinting black-rimmed glasses and playing with the ends of his purposely messy hair, Noto was all happy-go-lucky as he walked over to Ryūji’s seat.
“Haruta said he’d introduce us to three of the first-year girls from the track club today! Of course naturally, we’re going, right?!”
“…Sorry, I’ll have to pass. I’ve got something to do. Anyway, even if I went, they’d eventually say something like ‘That one guy is scary’ and that would be the end of it. Wouldn’t they just end up running away then?”
“That’s not true! You’ll be with Haruta and me, so they’ll definitely come with us! Come on, come on, you’ve gotta come; we’ll be meeting at the McDonald’s in front of the station!”
Extremely happy, Noto took hold of Ryūji’s shoulders while wearing an incredibly elated smile and just started hopping about all idiotically. However, Ryūji quickly shook off Noto’s grasp.
“Seriously, I have something I need to do. Just look, try looking right over there.” He was pointing to a spot by the doorway to the classroom. Right there,
“…Gwa, it’s the Palmtop Tiger. So, scary…”
Crossing her arms in an aggressive stance and unintentionally scaring the crap out of the guys who were trying to walk past her, Taiga was staring at Ryūji intently. The crease in her brow issued a silent command---Hurry up and get over here.
“It was a request from her. So that’s why, I have to pass on today, sorry.”
“Ehh, what’s with that…How boring. I guess there’s no helping it, maybe we’ll just have to do it 3-on-2. If it’s the Palmtop Tiger, there’s not really anything I can say to her.” Giving up, Noto turned away from him, but,
“…The thing is, Takasu.”
Turning around again all of a sudden, he started muttering in an unusually pensive tone. “The Palmtop Tiger is fine and all…Well, she is incredibly pretty, and there are even times when I see you two together and honestly think, ‘Isn’t that nice~’. But, I think you can’t be truly happy like that, you know? She’s the kind of wild person who piles up desks and chairs before flinging them all over the classroom.”
With the comment about the desks and chairs, he was likely referring to last month when Taiga went ballistic telling everyone that they weren’t dating.
“…Just why do I need to be happy with Taiga anyway? We’ve already said from the start that we’re not like that.”
“Well okay then, if you say so. But, let me give you a bit of advice. Shouldn’t you try properly going out with a different and more normally cute girl at least once? I’m not saying you should try asking out a top-quality girl like Kawashima-chan or anything, but at the very least try a girl who’s not a tiger.”
“If I could possibly do that at all, then I wouldn’t have any problems, you know.”
“Well yeah, but anyway I’m just saying ‘try to look for someone else’. If things keep going like this, won’t you be unable to have a romantic relationship with anyone because you’ll be taking care of the Palmtop Tiger your whole life? Well anyway, see you tomorrow!”
Noto just said whatever he wanted to say before leaving the classroom with a light-footed gait that matched his mood. Considering Noto’s words of ‘a different, more normally cute girl’, Ryūji immediately couldn’t help but think of Kushieda Minori.
Or rather, he thought it was rude---Of course he wasn’t going to be watching over Taiga for his whole life. When the time was right, he intended to get a girl, preferably Minori, and properly live happily ever after.
“Hey Ryūji! I told you to come right away; does the term ‘right away’ mean nothing to you?! Or what, are you adjusting yourself to a milder pace?! What a Lohasian scheme! Haa…Lohas! Ha!”
“…Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
While Ryūji shrugged his shoulders at her stompish yelling, he obediently sped up as per Taiga’s orders. Then, being just about dragged into the hallway,
"Just look at that! This is just the worst, what am I supposed to do?!"
“T, this is…!”
Just looking at where Taiga was pointing made his blood run cold. It was horrible…
The students’ lockers were all lined up side by side in the hallway, but all the way on the left, Taiga’s locker was left open and sweet strawberry milk had been splashed around messily inside; her jersey, textbooks, and even her dictionary were currently covered in the light pink, milky fluid.
The culprit was Ami…he was so sure of it, but,
“How did this happen, I can’t believe it!”
“It wasn’t on purpose! I couldn’t help it!”
…She had done it herself, this girl who was the clumsiest fellow in all of history. As Taiga was trying to get ready to go home, she had been facing her locker while drinking strawberry milk. She had opened her locker and was going to leave behind any books she didn’t need before going home---But she had fallen over. Her strawberry milk had gotten away from her and landed in her locker.
“This is…a bit more work than I thought it would be…!”
He muttered quietly, but at the same time, Ryūji’s eyes had started shining with a dangerous look. The thrill of excitement running down his back was almost a fever akin to lust.
First, he’d need to get everything out…Take home the jersey and wash it…For the books, he had to thoroughly wipe them down and dry them, or else it would leave behind a smell…Then, he would take care of the locker’s entire interior thoroughly…very thoroughly!
“Can you get it clean I wonder? This.”
“…Ah…it will be…I’ll definitely get it clean…”
Snugly pulling on the rubber gloves he always kept in reserve, Ryūji felt the blood rushing passionately in his young face. To some measure, there was something about this he ultimately enjoyed---the actual cleaning, the totality of it, or maybe the thoroughness. A mess that at a glance looked ruined beyond all hope of recovery, to bring it back with his own two hands made him feel alive more than anything else in the world. The proof of that was Taiga’s island kitchen. The first time he encountered it, it had been totally engulfed in mold and the clogged sink drain had been giving off a sickly sweet stench, but now it was so perfectly cleaned that one could safely go ahead and eat off it. He had given up some of his time to wipe it down and perfectly organize everything in and around the simple modern-styled kitchen, so Ryūji wasn’t opposed to bragging that a more blessedly spotless kitchen would be hard to find.
‘So now it’s your turn’…Ryūji feverishly scanned Taiga’s locker with a dangerously excited look in his eyes. However, this time he wasn’t filled with just an urge to clean. “Taiga…It’s a promise, right? That you’ll give it to me in exchange for doing this.” “I get it already, all right.”
Ryūji had ended up committing a seriously egregious act---Or so he might say, but it had been Taiga, asking him to clean for her, who had made the exceptionally clear promise. The large, unopened Hermes bag that Ryūji had kept his eye on for some time…Taiga had promised that she would give the bag that held two of the thick brand-name bath towels to him as compensation for his services.
“Ooh, my long-awaited Hermes towels…Even if you might say I’m just following a fad or something, as long as I can get those orange Hermes towels into my towel closet, then I don’t care what you might say about me! From the moment I saw it in an interior decorating magazine, I’ve been longing for some…Seriously…” “D, do as you like…”
“I’m just saying this in advance, but I’ve also had my eye on those linen towels you have that are made from Egyptian cotton. I'm pretty sure you have a bunch of unused ones. I saw them the other day when I was organizing your closet…The next time something else happens, you can give me some of those.”
“Is that so…I’m going to go wait in the classroom.”
As if she couldn’t stand the sight of Ryūji acting like an ecstatic housewife, Taiga eerily gave him a single cold glance, flipped her long hair, and ended up going inside the classroom.
Now that she had left, this was Ryūji’s domain. As his eyes glared animalistically, Ryūji was about to start working, but wait, he needed an apron, so he turned first to his own locker. Humming to himself, he pulled out his reserve apron from the locker he always kept clean, and started to put it on somewhat excitedly---Then he thought to himself. He was passing on a meeting with freshman girls in order to do this kind of work. That was. That was just…
“…Well…it’s normal for me…to skip isn’t it…”
Trying to more fully convince himself, he gave a large nod. Because he loved cleaning after all. Because he loved organizing, so much so that it even amazed himself.
It wasn’t that he was throwing away a chance at a relationship to take care of Taiga, it definitely wasn’t. He was just taking the time to clean something that Taiga had gotten dirty. Taiga really made some almost unbelievable mistakes, so he was just cleaning up after her. He was by her side regularly, so understandably he just wanted to follow her. So, there was a difference.
--- ‘If things keep going like this, won’t you be unable to have a romantic relationship with anyone because you’ll be taking care of the Palmtop Tiger your whole life?’ There was a subtle but important misconception to what Noto had said. It wasn’t true, not with that kind of connotation; he wanted to stay by Taiga’s side continuously into the future because he wanted to keep a watchful eye out for chances to clean. That’s the only thing he was thinking. Because if he followed Taiga, as surely as she'd breathe, that girl would mess up and inevitably make something dirty.
‘Haa, haa’, while Ryūji was taking out Taiga’s things, he breathed heavily just like an addict in critical withdrawal as he kept trying to convince himself. He certainly had some sort of addiction, but it’s possible that he wasn’t even aware of it himself.
One hour eventually had passed since he started cleaning---No wait, it was probably a bit more. It might have looked odd that his head was thrust into someone else’s locker as he started seriously, but the guys who might have given Ryūji some weird looks had been gone for some time; the hallway had fallen completely silent, and Taiga might have been the only one left within the classroom.
“Just a little bit more and it’ll be perfect…”
That bit of monologue that escaped from his lips echoed in the cramped space.
The cleaning had already reached its peak, and while fully immersed in the locker, Ryūji couldn’t help himself from going over the little details like the corners with a cotton swab in hand. It didn’t look like any strawberry milk had made it that far, but dirty things were dirty things.
Then he heard the small sounds of someone walking down the corridor. It seemed like a girl. If she saw him like that when the school was devoid of life, he would almost definitely end up startling her. Letting himself be carried away by his groundless notions, Ryūji hid himself completely from her sight with the nearly closed door of the locker and held his breath. However, he almost felt like crying out unthinkingly when looking through the gap in the locker, he saw the person passing by just a few centimeters in front of him.
Those unmistakable good looks couldn't possibly belong to anyone other than Ami Kawashima. And yet, without realizing that Ryūji was there, Ami was entering the classroom where no one but Taiga still remained.
He had a terrible presentiment. A really bad one.
The weird guy who had been hiding in a locker quietly sneaked out into the hallway and, debating whether or not he should go into the classroom, decided to try peering in from the window for the time being.
“Ahh no way…Why are you still here? You’re a real eyesore~.”
…It looked like his presentiment had been right on the mark. Ami was mockingly slurring her speech. Turning to Taiga, who was wiping one of her textbooks, Ami looked at her with contempt. Ami’s lips were twisted into a sneer. It had been a while, but Ami Kawashima-san (the real one) had appeared once again.
Still sitting in her seat, Taiga narrowed her eyes,
“Don’t get any closer, you damned brat.”
With a level voice that bore no emotion, Taiga disregarded what Ami had said.
Ami broke her glance momentarily as she was taken aback in surprise, but it was only for a moment. Expelling a ‘Hmph’ and turning away from Taiga, Little Miss Two-Face started speaking.
“Kya~, how scary~! That’s just like Aisaka-san! That must be why even the teachers think you’re annoying! Even though I was in the staff room asking questions about class just now, all the teachers were making such a big fuss, like ‘Ami-chan is oh so cute’ or ‘I’m so glad you came to our school’ or ‘You’re not being bullied by Aisaka, are you’, you know! And everyone just smiled and laughed~! But I was a little annoyed~! They just kept saying ‘Ami-chan is so cute’, but even if they didn’t say that, I’m already fully aware of that!"
With a bemused smile on her rosy lips, Taiga was nearly laughing at Ami’s words.
“That’s just no good. If you’re like that, then just how long will I have to endure your disgusting two-sided personality; at the very least, let me have fun watching you. Ahh, even when I switch classes, even when I graduate, will it ever end? This who~le time, I’ve been closely observing you.”
“Oh I look forward to it, to when you bare your faults. I’ll say this ahead of time, but revealing your true nature or whatever, that would be ‘simple’. But that would just be boring, so I’m not going to do anything. I’ll be watching you for a while, so let me enjoy it for a long, long time. Just…You should probably watch that mouth of yours. Life is long after all…Only if you want to continue living it.”
For an instant Taiga’s subtle voice tinged the atmosphere of the classroom black, like some sort of sing-song curse. However, Ryūji understood the situation. Taiga wasn’t being seriously angry yet. Like a cat playing with a trapped rat, she was just toying with this fellow she couldn’t stand and simply enjoying herself…Because both her eyes remained calm and she was even holding back her full strength. If the tiger was actually angry, that kind of thing wouldn’t be possible. She wouldn’t stop her flurry of attacks until her prey had been completely ripped to shreds by her every tooth and nail.
But, Ami couldn’t have any idea that Taiga was pulling back.
She had probably been overly disgusted by what Taiga was saying. Ami’s face visibly twisted with negativity as she yelled that one word. A momentary tension filled the air in that classroom where a devious battle was developing.
"…Haha! Really, you’re such an irritating shortie, aren’t you?"
Flipping her hair, Ami regrouped and went back on the offensive with a smile.
“Isn’t it because you’re like that that you have no friends? Despised and all alone, how, very, sad~. Though if Ami-chan had known we were going to be classmates, she probably would have chatted with you using the super cute good-girl version, you know? How regrettable, that you weren’t able to become friends with the popular Ami-chan~…Huhu, doesn’t it seem like that Ryūji Takasu is completely smitten with Ami-chan? That guy, he’s always looking at Ami-chan with a glint in his eye. It’s really annoying, so won’t you tell him to stop it already?”
---With that kind of thing being said, it was just about impossible for him to enter the classroom or anything like that. Rather than that, what did she mean by ‘glint in his eye’…That was just his normally bad expression. It was hereditary, that’s all.
“I’m so glad you made such a mistake…Hey, could you hurry up and go home for me? Looking at your weird face is making me want to vomit.”
“I was planning on leaving even if you didn’t say anything, because after all unlike a shitty midget like you, the popular Ami-chan has things to do…The thing is…I guess maybe Ami-chan feels sorry for you? Even Yūsaku, the most kind-hearted person Ami-chan knows, dislikes you.”
“…What did you say?”
Taiga’s tone dropped even lower. Her large eyes that were directed at Ami gave off a blood-red glow. Without realizing, Ami---She had stepped on a landmine.
“That is, I was thinking about it after the first time we met, but you know Yūsaku, he had never mentioned even a word about you, like that you were classmates or anything…Even if I asked him ‘Who’s that girl?’ he didn’t really say anything, so it seems like he doesn’t think much of you at all…Or to put it more plainly, Ami-chan's enemy is Yūsaku’s enemy. I went ahead and told him everything you did to me at the family restaurant, so I think he probably already hates you a lot. If you’re hated by even the totally charitable Yūsaku, then it’s all over for you."
She spewed all that out.
“Well, see you tomorrow!”
She took her bag and smiled! Putting such an expression on her pretty face, there was no hint of her maliciousness. Just like that, she walked right out while humming merrily to herself.
Ryūji broke into a dash. He slipped into the locker in the nick of time.
It probably would have been fine if he hadn’t hidden at all, but---He couldn’t keep himself from hiding. Waiting until the last of Ami’s footsteps had faded away, he then took a cautious step into the hallway,
He checked on Taiga through the window.
Still there Taiga had her back to Ryūji, and she very slowly tilted her head. It looked as though she was contemplating the meaning of the words Ami had thrown at her.
‘He dislikes you’.
‘It seems like he doesn’t think much of you at all’.
‘Ami-chan's enemy is Yūsaku’s enemy’.
‘I think he probably already hates you a lot’.
‘It’s all over for you’.
“U, u, u, u…”
She looked up to the sky.
She screamed with a forced voice.
“…That. Damned. Brat…!”
“Hey, Taiga! Calm down!”
At his desperate cry, Taiga jumped up and turned around. As soon as she noticed Ryūji over the windowsill, Taiga gave a sudden leap forward and grabbed his gakuran sleeve at point-blank range.
Taiga’s eyes right then were unfocused, pretty much just swirling round and round. “Ryūji, Ryūji, Ryūji, Ryūji~! Were you listening?! Hey, just now, did you hear that?! Did you?! Did you?! What did you think, about this, and that, and everything she said…Hey, is it true?! Really?! I’m despised?!”
“C, calm down a bit! There’s no way it’s true, just think about it rationally!”
“Yeah, but that brat, s, she, about me, Ki, Ki, Kiki, Kita, hates…Kiiiii~!”
---He just wanted to collapse. Taiga had ended up snapping for real. Violently kicking over three nearby chairs in a row, Taiga was even baring her fangs as she looked up to the sky and gave a low roar.
“Grrr, you damned braaaat! Right now, haaa…I’m going to kill her!!
“Calm down! Don’t be hasty, come on, just take a deep breath.”
She yelled curtly and pushed Ryūji away with a master’s authority before breaking into a full-out run. She probably intended to chase after Ami who had left and gone outside. This was bad, if things kept up like this, someone might end up dead.
In trying to stop Taiga, who was headed to the door, Ryūji was also running to the same door from outside the classroom,
“Stop it, don’t go! Calm do…”
Bang! It was a horrible sound.
Ryūji was opening the door as Taiga was trying to open the same door. They had each pulled at the sliding door in opposite directions on their respective sides. So Taiga, moving at full speed, had crashed her forehead straight into the door that Ryūji had slid across to her side. It was such a surprise that after confirming what happened, Ryūji was left speechless. Taiga was staggering like a drunken cat…two steps, three steps she took backwards.
He just about screamed.
As she was slowly on the verge of falling onto her back, he caught her in the nick of time just before she fell.
“S, s, sorry! Are you okay?!”
“Fine…I’m fine…It’s okay…I’m, all, ri…”
This looked really bad. It looked like Taiga didn’t even have the strength left to belittle him.
- * *
“Ryū-chan, Taiga’s room, the lights are off and the curtains are still closed.”
While she curled her hair with an iron, Yasuko walked barefoot into the kitchen. Ryūji shrugged as he finished cooking the last of their tonkatsu.
“Seriously?...Even though it tastes best freshly fried.”
“Ooh, looks so good~…Ya-chan really loves tonkatsu.”
With similar timing, the mother and son both stared at three servings of tonkatsu that were making a delicious sizzling sound. Though their faces didn’t really match, their thoughts were exactly the same---If they didn’t eat quickly, their food would end up becoming cold. Since that incident after school, Taiga had seemed rather strange. It looked like she had hit her head pretty hard, but without showing any worrisome symptoms like nausea or bleeding, she had returned to her usual self soon enough. ‘You, just where were you looking?’. ‘Were you trying to kill me, you mutt?', she had gone back to saying things like that.
However, while her displeasure was the same as usual, there were times she seemed just a bit ‘gloomy’. After the incident, the Taiga who was usually like a spontaneous firework was more like a piece of fruit rotting from within by her own poison. Immediately after she said her few words of complaint, she had fallen completely silent and didn’t open her mouth again even once on the way back to her apartment. She didn’t even mention anything about Ami.
It wasn’t the same as being ignored. Rather than consciously ignoring Ryūji, it might have been that she was stuck in thought, or perhaps a better way to put it was that she was being despondent in replying because she was deep in thought.
And then, even though it had become habitual for Taiga to come over at 6:30pm to eat dinner, she still hadn’t shown up at the Takasu residence.
Folding his arms while holding chopsticks in one hand, Ryūji looked over the tonkatsu and muttered.
“Could her health have possibly deteriorated? Then maybe she went to the hospital…alone? If it’s like that, then even if I had to force her maybe I should have taken her to the hospital as soon as we got back…maybe this wasn’t really the best time to be frying tonkatsu.”
“Iya~, I bet she’s in there. I can sort of feel her presence through the window, you know.” Yasuko made her declaration as she looked into a mirror while holding a one-piece in front of her chest.
“Ya-chan is pretty sensitive to the presence of women, after all. Inko-chan thinks so too right!”
‘Eh…? Ahh, yeah’, looking confused and a little stupid, the bird that was suddenly pulled into the conversation oddly enough made a suspiciously human-like response that could have been mistaken for an actual reply.
Inko might somehow be right in this case, as Yasuko’s intuition really was quite often accurate. In her own words, it was just that she was a ‘mini esper’.
“Ryū-chan, if you’re worried, then go ahead and bring her over here~.”
As she was saying that, Yasuko had decided on her outfit and hung it to the side, and she was now doing her hair with her left hand and skilfully typing an email with her right. Yasuko wasn’t really the type to multitask, but she was usually in a hurry around this time and would noisily send work-related emails as she was getting dressed.
No choice, Ryūji just nodded at the tonkatsu. While he couldn’t continue worrying like this, he couldn’t just keep Yasuko waiting since she needed to go to work soon.
“Well then, I’ll be going for a bit. Go ahead and eat it when it’s done, okay?”
Averting his gaze from his real mother who was making a strange sexy pose as part of her reply, Ryūji went out the entrance hall while wearing a T-shirt.
His sandals clanged as he descended the iron stairway; it was already evening in early summer. In the sky there was a beautiful struggle for dominance going on between indigo and crimson, while the wind gently and peacefully blew by.
Ryūji took a great, deep breath, as if to remove the stain of his house’s odorous frying oil from his chest. With a good supply of oxygen to his head, even his excessive worries became distinct.
He wondered since they were in the same class, just how in the world did Taiga and Ami plan to get through each day. Having such treacherous quarrels in the cramped classroom, if they were going to slowly whittle away at each other’s hit points until one of them collapsed---was there any point in that? Ryūji couldn’t understand the world of the aggressive at all. It was after nearly a minute of walking when he entered the familiar marble entranceway of the bourgeois apartment, but Ryūji hadn’t dealt with his worry at all. He could see just by looking at the two girls that they weren’t going to be on good terms with each other, but he also knew that they were going too far. Even so, he was thinking. Couldn’t they just maybe respect each other even a little bit so they could have more peaceful lives, rather than rueing the fact they had become classmates.
Images came to mind of the <most unfortunate> Taiga glaring upwards with a visibly intense desire for murder and the <fickle> Ami sharply averting her gaze before putting on a faint smile. If Taiga was the Palmtop Tiger, then Ami would probably be a purebred Chihuahua that only acted amiably to its master. She might yelp and act aggressively, but when it became dangerous, she would leap into her master’s (Kitamura’s) arms and resort to making faces instead. She was even dressed up in designer clothes.
“…It’s too perfect.”
He just imagined a tiger and a Chihuahua staring one another down, then feeling completely exhausted, he rang the bell for the auto-locking gate. When no one answered after a while of waiting, he rang it once more then a third time as he nodded to himself. Perhaps a bit of a mother-con, he was convinced that Yasuko’s intuition wasn’t off, so he rang the bell yet once more. Then,
With a tense curtness that seemed to be asking ‘Who the hell are you?!’, Taiga’s voice resounded gloomily.
“I…It’s me. I’ve prepared dinner, so get down here and come on over. It’s tonkatsu.”
“…Don’t need it.”
Ryūji’s normally sharp expression looked like it was tinged with just a little bit of insanity---It wasn’t an indication of anger but of surprise. Taiga, who could be counted on to have an insatiable appetite, was saying she wasn’t going to eat dinner. This just might be more serious than he had thought.
“Hey, what’s wrong with you? Could it be that you’re not feeling well? Does your head hurt?”
“…Shut up. It’s not that I’m hurt anywhere.”
“If you skip dinner, you’re going to collapse again.”
Taiga’s small body had horrible energy efficiency, so if she skipped a meal, she would immediately shrivel and become anemic. Ryūji knew that’s what would happen, so that’s why he took a sharply terse tone.
“Anyway, open up, I’m not going to stop feeding someone who won’t properly explain why they’re not going to eat.”
Before long, an almost silently faint click of the tongue. Soon after, the auto-locking door opened.
He was on the second floor of the first-class apartment.
Ryūji had unthinkingly yelled out in surprise at the face that appeared from beyond the oak door being slowly pulled open.
“W, what happened…?”
The silent Taiga was wearing a blanket over her head, and her cotton lace one-piece was a mess. Her hair was also all tangled and stuck to her face as if trying to hide it, and the one eye that showed through was all red, completely blood-shot---Her face even looked damp throughout, so it was pretty evident that she had been crying alone.
Taiga was a girl prone to crying, but even so this was…
“H, hey. Wait up.”
Dragging her blanket behind her, Taiga ended up moving down the elegantly designed beige hallway towards the living room. A little bit hesitant, Ryūji nevertheless took off his shoes and chased after her.
Past the massive glass door, the magnificent living room that was more expansive than twenty tatami mats was wonderfully decorated like something straight out of a foreign magazine, but,
Ryūji mumbled and scratched his head.
On the carpet apart from the sofa, crumpled sheets and blankets that looked like they had been taken from the bedroom were piled up, and in the center of it all, there was a large depression just the size of Taiga. She fit in perfectly, squatting in the hole and completing the round pile. As if using the blanket she wore from her head as a lid, Taiga hid her whole body and turned into a complete Hikikomori Tiger.
The crystal chandelier wasn’t turned on at the time, and only the recessed lights were casting a gentle illumination from the ceiling. She had probably been exactly like this just moments earlier, sitting in this gloomy room without even being able to tell what color the sky was through her closed curtains.
She had been balled up just like this, seriously depressed.
He hesitated for a moment. Still, Ryūji focused his resolve, pulled away part of her cover, and bent down to sit next to Taiga, who was like a baby bird trying to hide in its nest. “Come on, what’s wrong?...Could it be that the spot you banged earlier is hurting? Want to go to the hospital?”
Anyway, though it might have been coincidental, the one who injured her was Ryūji. Even if she might think he was being annoying, he couldn’t keep himself from speaking. However, Taiga just balled up like a baby tiger without replying and pressed her face into the sheets.
“…Are you okay…really…?”
A little bit later, she finally said something with a voice like the buzzing of a mosquito.
“…Kitamura, could he actually…really hate me now?”
Turning her hidden face just a little to the side, her eyes, that were wet with tears and peering out from gaps in her hair, looked just a little desperate. Taiga was staring at Ryūji intently.
---He gave a long, long sigh.
“Hey, come on…Are you still worrying about that kind of thing?”
“I told you already, right? Kitamura, he saw everything that happened at the family restaurant. He understands you were provoked and that’s why you did that kind of thing, and in the first place, he already knows about Kawashima’s real personality. And anyway, Kitamura isn’t the kind of guy to hate people because of something like this; you should know that more than anyone else, right? You really shouldn’t be so depressed over such a trivial thing.”
“…Is that, really true…?”
“I’m telling you it is.”
“…Well then…Just why am I such a shortie?”
That question really caught him off guard, as he didn’t really spend any time thinking about why people are what they are. A few seconds later he tried to spit out a few words, “T, that is…I guess it’s hereditary, isn’t it…”
He was able to make a passable, relatively safe attempt. However, Taiga in a low voice continued speaking along the same vein,
“…I’m a shortie, and my name is even weird…and I can’t do anything on my own…”
Right there she ended up falling silent.
It was something he was hearing for the first time. That she wanted to do something about her name ‘Taiga’, which was a little over the top considering she’s a girl, and her short stature, which was even the reason she was called ‘Palmtop’. Now that she had mentioned it, it was certainly true that Taiga would greedily consume dairy products all the time.
“I had no idea…So you were worried over that kind of ridiculous thing.”
“…It’s not ridiculous. Unlike you, I’m more sensitive.”
Rubbing her eyes with her small fists, Taiga finally lifted herself up and sat down next to Ryūji. He couldn’t see it earlier because it had been hidden by her hair, but there was a cooling pad stuck to her round forehead. Maybe it had even ended up swelling. Feeling a pricklish pain in his heart, Ryūji almost unconsciously started gently stroking part of the cooling pad with the tip of his finger. Taiga just let him do it,
“…What’s that…I’m 165 centimeters tall, so…”
Her lips showed some displeasure as she mumbled that, and she hung her head a little. ‘I’m only just a little taller’, he thought, but then Ryūji realized. She wasn’t talking about herself here---
“…And my name, it somehow feels like something from Mercury, so…so, so…"
These were things that Ami Kawashima said.
With her stylishly proportionate eight headed figure and her name that seemed cute like an anime character’s. Taiga’s ideal woman who had all the things she wanted, that would be Ami Kawashima.
‘Now I get it’, Ryūji breathed. Taiga had fallen into depression like this because in addition to worrying about what Kitamura thought about her, she was also feeling an inferiority complex caused by Ami. The fickle woman she despised had all the things she ever wanted. On that point, there was just no way she could win...If it was like that, just about anyone would want to crouch in a dark room and gloomily shut themselves in, probably. It’s not like Ryūji couldn’t understand the kind of state she was in. He nodded a few times seriously,
“And more than that, she’s an old friend of Kitamura. Even their families are on good terms.”
---He had meant to show his support, like ‘I understand what you mean’, and yet. In some way resembling melting ice, Taiga’s face ended up twisting pitifully.
…Crap. I ended up hitting the largest complex…
If it was just that Ami had the proportions and her name was cute, Taiga wouldn’t have gotten so depressed, but in addition to all that, Ami was on close terms with Kitamura. That most important point, it was because Ami had that advantage in what was the most serious concern for Taiga that she was getting this depressed. She was just futilely chasing after the things that Ami had and she didn’t.
Ryūji finally realized his mistake, but it was all ready too late. Looking like the contents of a confused jack-in-the-box, Taiga shuffled back to her hikikomori corner. Finally, she completely closed herself in with her blanket,
“…I wonder why you’re so insensitive like this…I’m just amazed at your thick-headedness…” Her low mumble resounded with bitterness. With her saying that kind of thing, he couldn’t keep himself from retorting,
“Well, I’m always dumbstruck with the way you live your life.”
At his accidentally rude comment, Taiga quickly became livid. She flung aside her blanket and stood up.
“W, well aren’t you energetic?”
“Tell me, just, what, part, of me, is, so, surprising!”
“Well, like that! Right now! Wait a! Oh! Auh!"
Interrupting him, she started hitting upside the face with a cushion,
“You! You’re a! Dog! Mutt!”
“Dust! It’s flying everywhere! Stop it! Pah!”
“Quiet! Shut up! Ha…choo!”
“Ah! Oh!...Uwa, your nose is running!”
More than the physical impact was the emotional degradation…It was enough to keep him from even resisting, but then…Taiga’s stomach rumbled with a sound similar to an earthquake.
Widening her blank-looking eyes and halting her attack, Taiga looked down at her own stomach that was making such a tremendous sound with a surprised face.
“I wonder what that sound was just now.”
“Don’t go ‘Huh’! That sound’s coming from your stomach!...Geez, I knew it, you’re hungry, aren’t you? Come on, let’s go eat tonkatsu.”
“…I told you I don’t need it didn’t I?”
“I believe your stomach more than your words. It’s almost time for Yasuko to leave, so come on, get up.”
“…The meat, is it black pork?”
“It’s black pork.”
“…The fatty parts, can I eat them?”
Looking a little reluctant, Taiga finally got up from her nest of blankets. First he made her blow her nose, then check to make sure the doors were secure and she had her key, and had her put on sandals over her bare feet; like that, Ryūji successfully brought Taiga out from her apartment.
Then they walked beneath the sky that was being overtaken with indigo more than before, and after ascending the stairway of the rented house next door,
Yasuko’s teary face peered out from the entrance hall doorway. Looking as if she had been waiting earnestly for the two of them until now without eating,
“Even though we’re having tonkatsu, we don’t have any sauce; this is no good~!"
She held the empty sauce pot in one hand and told her son the shocking news.
With a quick about-face, Ryūji and Taiga dashed off and with a fast pace leapt into the nearest convenience store. Ryūji went all out to the aisle with sauces, while Taiga went on her own to browse magazines.
Having paid for the sauce,
“Come on, we’re in a hurry, so let’s go.”
He hit Taiga in the rear with the convenience store bag. Taiga looked back at him offended, “I get it, so stop being so noisy and don’t touch my butt, you perverted dog. Just give me a sec…Ah.”
Flipping through a magazine, her fingers that were turning the pages suddenly stopped. Then as Ryūji was nearly out of the store in front of her, Taiga caught the end of Ryūji’s t-shirt and pulled him back.
“Hey, look at this.”
She was showing him a page. Turning around and thinking ‘What?’, Ryūji instinctively stopped walking when he caught sight of the picture being shown.
“…If it isn’t Ami Kawashima.”
At the bottom of the open magazine there was a small column featuring Ami in casual clothing and the following words.
---Starting with this month’s issue, Ami-chan will be taking a break for a while to take care of school-related matters. Look forward to seeing her again!
“That means she’s taking a holiday. That’s what this is saying.”
“So she’s taking a break from work because she moved over here?...Our school, is it really all that great…”
Somehow, he felt like it just didn’t make much sense, but,
“Pf, this isn’t the time to be messing around talking like this. If we don’t hurry, Yasuko will be late.”
Putting away the magazine, the two of them jogged out of the store, passed through the parking lot and just made it to the street.
“…What is it?”
Practically at the same time, they ended up seeing something weird and stopped. They instinctively turned to look at one another.
There was a bizarre and mysterious-looking person passing by closely in front of the two. She had a black full-body jersey on and wore sunglasses, even though it was night, so it was obviously a cover, and then on top of all that, she wore a wide-brimmed hat. Yet, with her long, slender limbs, her exposed, sheen hair, her small face, and her great style, no matter how you looked at it, she could only be the person who was surely the only model in this town---The person they had just seen in the magazine.
Taiga understandably frowned with displeasure,
“What, you ask…It's her…”
“…Speak of the devil…But what’s with her appearance?”
With such a bizarre outfit, she just ended up standing out even more. If this were Hiroo or Azabu, then, just maybe, she could have blended into the city with the air of a private performer hiding her identity. However, in this residential district no one would complain about misdeeds, even if she was mistaken as a fashionable convenience store robber and reported.
Ami went into the convenience store dressed like that and naturally picked up a basket, but afterwards, it was remarkable. She took just about all the pastries and ice cream products lined up on the shelves and threw them in her basket with tremendous aggressiveness. That was followed by bentous, side dishes, and even pastry breads. PET bottles of non-diet drinks---sweet carbonated beverages as well. Even the shop clerk was leaning from his register to keep a watchful eye on her strange behavior.
“…What a weirdo…Is she having a house party or something?”
“No…That’s not it, not with those things. Fu~n, I see…I ended up seeing something interesting.”
With a small laugh, Taiga stood up in front of Ryūji and started walking quickly. It seemed she figured something out on her own, but didn’t feel like sharing the information.
“Ryūji, let’s run.”
They were in a hurry, after all. Putting aside what just happened for the time being, Taiga and Ryūji took off along the asphalt road towards the Takasu residence where their tonkatsu was waiting.
But at that time, strangely, as if enjoying herself, Taiga’s mouth was parted with a smirk.
|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|