| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
"I'm not mad. Everything's fine!"
...Although Taiga said that, she had already gone ballistic long before saying that. Ryūji and Taiga's relationship continued to remain frosty for days.
Although they weren't particularly on good terms with each other, Taiga insisted on doing things as usual, which meant she had no intention of not stopping by the Takasu residence. She came over to have her meals, stayed late as always, and continued to maintain her insolent and snappy attitude. If Ryūji accidentally attempted to explain "that incident" or tried to ask why Taiga was so agitated by "that incident"...
She would say, "I am not..." followed by a barrage of words.
As a result, "that incident" became a taboo subject in the Takasu residence. However, now, "that incident" was becoming a taboo that got Taiga even more agitated, often saying, "Why should I care about that!? You make it sound like I'm mad!"
This stalemate lasted for quite a while. Come to think of it, just what did I do? Even Ryūji couldn't figure out the answer, so he simply allowed his nerves to hang ever more precariously by a thread as the days passed, until one day...
"Taiga~! Haven't we promised to do this already?"
It was after school, just after homeroom session had ended, when a Jizo Buddha appeared in the 2-C classroom.
"Didn't I already say I don't have any club activities today?"
The Jizo Buddha was none other than Aisaka Taiga, who sat firmly in her seat, her mouth forming an inverted V-shape. Her best friend, Kushieda Minori, was grabbing her by the shoulder and shaking her vigorously,
Ryūji, of course, noticed Minori's yells. Normally, he would go up and ask, "What's going on?" since this was a golden opportunity to go up and talk to her. But when he thought about his terrible relationship with Taiga these past few days, Ryūji became rather hesitant about approaching that Jizo Buddha.
Although he was mindful of Minori, Ryūji could only stand far away and feel helpless. The only thing he could do was naturally emit a dangerous glare from his eyes - not because he was scheming to assault the two girls, but because he was split by the unique feelings of self-awareness and love during puberty... Such is the heart of a man.
Help came from an unexpected corner.
"What's wrong, Minori-chan?"
As she was about to go home, Ami felt she should show her fraternity, choosing to wear her angelic smile as she walked towards Minori and the Jizo Buddha...
At that moment, Taiga went out of her Jizo Buddha mode and bared her fangs while growling softly, "Uuu....!"
Taiga waved her arms and legs around as her nose got clipped painfully by Minori. I never knew something this simple could disarm Taiga... I see. As long as I do that, she'll have to submit... I must jot this down! Ryūji quickly began to take out his notebook.
"Kawashima-san, sorry about this. For some reason, Taiga's just hard to deal with today. We promised to head to the stores near the station to buy our new swimsuits, but today she suddenly said she doesn't want to go..."
"Swimsuit? Ah, of course. The swimming pool will be opened tomorrow. I'm so looking forward to it!"
"Kawashima-san, have you bought your swimsuit already?"
"Well, I've got a swimsuit I wear when I workout, so I guess that would do~ Though that one is just a simple design made for competitions, it doesn't matter, right? It's gray all over, except for some orange stripes on the sides..."
"Oh, that won't do! The school only allows black or deep blue swimsuits without patterns on them, and stripes are limited only to white!"
"Eh? No way!"
Quietly seated, Taiga slowly lifted her head to look at Minori conversing with Ami.
Ryūji observed Taiga as she sneakily picked up her bag, crouched her already tiny figure and made an elegant tumble-turn past Minori's legs. She then lowered her center of gravity like a beast, preparing to leap outwards...
"Hey! She's escaping! Takasu-kun... grab her for me!"
"Huh!? Oh, umph!"
Ryūji stuck out his arm reflexively and grabbed onto Taiga, who just happened to pass by him... It was nothing but a chance miracle that he succeeded.
"Let me go, you perverted dog! How dare you defy your master? You traitor! P, p p, parasite!"
Ryūji ignored her stuttering insult and handed her straight back to Minori, who came rushing over.
"Thanks for helping!"
"Don't mention it."
The two of them happily exchanged gratitudes. Minori looked towards Taiga,
"Hey! T-a-i-g-a! Why did you run?"
"I, I never agreed to go! When you said you wanted to go buy a swimsuit, I simply said 'Sounds good', that's all! I... I wouldn't want to go!"
"I... I don't wanna buy a swimsuit!"
"Then what are you going to do!? Your swimsuit from last year's already rotting, isn't it?"
Gulp... Taiga nodded embarrassingly. Ryūji murmured helplessly, "That's what happens when you don't wash and dry your swimsuit after wearing it..."
"That's why you have to buy a new one! How are you gonna attend PE if you don't have one?"
"I'll just skip PE then..."
"I don't believe this!"
This time it was Minori's turn to sigh helplessly. She patted Ryūji's back, who unknowingly had remained at the scene, and said "Your turn!" Since when did I get dragged into this? thought Ryūji, but he still spoke,
"What are you gonna do about your PE grades if you skip lessons?"
As a man, he had no choice but to take over for Minori.
"What business is it of yours anyway!?"
Whoa! Taiga's glare suddenly felt murderous, but right now he was standing right before Minori, so he couldn't just run away like that. Although this is a bit under the belt, but here goes...
"Hey, Kitamura! You say something as well!"
Kitamura had just packed his bag and was just about to leave when he was called by Ryūji. He turned and pushed his glasses up his nose,
"Hmm? What's up?"
"Taiga says she's gonna skip all swimming classes!"
"Now I can't pretend I didn't hear that!"
Oh boy. Taiga's face has twisted out of shape! Serves her right. Kitamura approached without stopping and asked,
"Aisaka, are you not feeling well?"
"Then you have to attend class. Though it looks like fooling around, a class is still a class."
Since Taiga is clumsy and isn't good at lying, when Kitamura decides to throw a direct ball towards her, there can only be one victor! "Good, I'm glad you understand! Well then, see you all tomorrow!" Kitamura waved his hand nonchalantly and walked out of the classroom, leaving Taiga behind to stare at his back with what seemed like a bit of resentment in her eyes.
"Well, that's decided! Come on, Taiga! Oh, Kawashima-san, why don't you come along as well?"
Ami turned to glance at Taiga and saw the Palmtop Tiger looking absolutely pissed with her cheeks puffed up, as if about to leap for the strike. Not only was she pissed, she emitted an aura that seemed to read "Don't you dare come, or else."
"Taiga! What's with that face? Kawashima-san just moved in recently, so she wouldn't know where to buy swimsuits."
"I'm fine, Minori-chan. I'm fine."
Minori gave Taiga a scolding, while Ami simply shook her head and smiled elegantly. She then took one step backwards and said,
"I'll be going with Takasu-kun instead. You're fine with it, right, Takasu-kun? Can I come? Can I?"
Ami's long and slender arm gently leaned on Ryūji's arm, as though they were about to cling to each other.
"Huh? Eh? Me and you!?"
Ryūji gulped and looked at Ami. He knew that the clear white cute face that was looking up at him was just a crude mask, but he couldn't help being mesmerized by it... It was charming, crystalline, breathtaking. Ryūji was being continuously assaulted by Ami's watery eyes, shuddering lips, and her lonely-looking chihuahua face. As though being led by a rope, he nodded.
"Really!? That's great! I'm so glad, Takasu-kun sure is reliable! Oh, you wouldn't mind, would you, Aisaka-san?"
Ami's provocative eyes lit up with a blue flare as she glanced towards Taiga. "Huh? Eh? What's with this atmosphere?" Minori asked puzzled as she turned and looked at Taiga and Ami, while Ryūji could only stand stiffly.
"I'm fine with it."
Taiga waved her hair irritatingly and smirked. Her rose-colored lips opened and fired her venom,
"Ryūji already agreed to it. What's that got to do with me? Ryūji can do whatever he wants with anyone, why should I---"
..."Care?" Is that what she's trying to say?
"WHAM!" A sudden thud. Taiga had wanted to bend down as she attempted to finish her sentence, but she bent too much and smacked her forehead straight on the table. The invincible Palmtop Tiger now held her forehead while kneeling on the classroom floor.
"Oh dear! It looks painful to me..."
Ryūji and Minori hurried forward to attend to Taiga. Standing right behind them,
"Could it be... that Aisaka-san is very clumsy?"
As Taiga's venom dispersed by this unexpected accident, Ami tilted her head in realization, as though she was understanding another secret of the world.
"Why!? Why does it have to come to this? Why don't you get lost somewhere else with Ryūji? Somewhere like Europe, or the Arctic Circle, or even the demon capital Shinjuku!"
"Oh well~ It's not like I did it on purpose~ Because he said this is the only place where they sell swimsuits. Oh my! I'm sure this one would suit Aisaka-san well. You see, it says 'Child-size. Suitable for Ages 6-9'. Isn't that cute~? It's a two-piece as well."
"Maybe you should wear this one, Kawashima-san. It suits a chihuahua with raging hormones. See? It's 5cm wider..."
"Isn't that a pair of swimming briefs for guys?"
"Oh, you're right. I see, if the bird-shaped Kawashima Ami were to wear this, her thick body hair would show, right?"
"Why are you saying things like that so loudly!?"
Their venomous duel echoed in the corner of the building.
"This is really getting embarrassing..."
Being dragged into the ladies swimsuit corner, Ryūji the highschool student was already blushing, not to mention having to listen to such a conversation.
"Really... You guys... I'm sorry I got you involved in this, Takasu-kun."
"It's alright, I don't really... mind."
Standing next to a bland decorative department store plant, Minori looked especially mesmerizing. If it wasn't for Minori, the whole thing would have left Ryūji falling into despair... though not anymore thanks to her.
It was just after four in the afternoon, inside one of the four-story shopping attractions of the town - the station shopping center. There were hardly any people even at this hour; it was especially deserted at the swimsuit corner, with only some Hawaiian music playing in the background.
In this empty corner, Minori was carefully examining some plain-looking swimsuits while conversing with Ryūji,
"Does Takasu-kun have a swimsuit? The men's section is just beyond that pillar over there."
"I'm fine. My swimsuit from last year is still intact..."
"I guess. You're not Taiga, so you wouldn't have allowed it to rot."
"Taiga's just especially filthy."
"Yup." Minori smiled, while taking down a swimsuit from the hanger racket,
"By the way, mine hasn't rotted yet. I'm just thinking of buying a new swimsuit for myself. Hmm... Is this OK?"
If Ryūji could quickly reply, "Yup, it's good, suits you just fine." Then they'd be off to a flying start... Despite knowing that, Ryūji just felt something strange with his throat, and was unable to say anything charming.
I'm such a hopeless idiot! Ryūji silently began to hate himself... Choosing a swimsuit together with Minori was such a good chance... This was something I never even dreamed of! Ryūji's imagination was easily overwhelmed by reality.
Of course, Minori did not discover Ryūji's frustration.
"Hmm... does the bottom look thin?"
30 degress... She made a V-shape with her hand and measured them against her waist. She then promptly placed the swimsuit back on the rack and slowly walked towards swimsuits from other brands. Minori casually said,
"Ah yes, I've been thinking. Takasu-kun's uniform and sports wear always look so tidy. You always have them ironed, right?"
C, could she be... complimenting me? As it came all too sudden, Ryūji's mind went absolutely blank, but he still tried his best to stay calm while looking at Minori's cheek.
"R, really? Well... that's because my mum's usually out working, so I have to handle these myself. Besides, I don't really hate doing these..."
"Wow~! That's amazing! So you actually do all your own chores?"
Feeling his face turning hot instantly, Ryūji turned his head away, pretending to casually look at the swimsuits, he even unknowingly grabbed at the breasts of the display dummy nearby. However, Minori came out with something else more sensational,
"Taiga told me 'Ryūji really knows how to do his chores!', and 'He sure knows a lot of stuff I wouldn't know, isn't that amazing?' To hear Taiga complimenting a guy... To be precise, this is the first time I've ever heard her complimenting anyone! So I was really shocked."
"Ah, Takasu-kun, you can't do that! That's a dummy, squeeze any harder and you'll squish them!"
"T, Taiga... complimenting... me?"
Ryūji could feel his eyes popping out.
How can something this ridiculous happen? It's impossible! Taiga's always calling me a perverted dog! How can someone who treats me like a dog all the time compliment me?
Aha! ... I get it! A flash appeared in Ryūji's eyes as he thought of an answer that he would accept: Minori is lying. Even if it's not a complete lie, it's still a very ridiculous one... And that's because she's always hoping to hook me up with Taiga.
"You're kidding me."
"Don't you believe me? Hmm, well, it's your choice whether you believe me or not ~"
Minori shrugged and smiled while whispering to Ryūji, "What a pity~" No matter what you say, it just won't happen. Even if it is my crush telling me that.
Right, Taiga? How could it be possible? There's no reason to believe, right? Especially when we're not getting along well lately, I just don't see her complimenting me at all! While he was thinking, someone called out from behind,
"What do you guys think of this swimsuit?"
Both Ryūji and Minori turned their heads...
"Heh heh," Reflected in their eyes was a blushing smile.
The dazzling sight before their eyes had caused them to momentarily forget that they were inside the station shopping center.
There was no extra body hair on the clean milk-white skin, which was so smooth it was unreal.
"Isn't it nice? I wonder if it'll look weird? You think I look out of place in such a plain-looking swimsuit? It feels embarrassing having to wear this in front of the guys!"
Every time they blinked their eyes, their vision was occupied by the dazzle of starry fragments...
"What the hell is up with those long legs!? This is too eye-catching!"
... Minori had gone nuts.
Ryūji agreed with Minori as well. No matter how you look at it, it just defies logic. Ami kept her round eyes opened while shaking her long hair, as though genuinely feeling puzzled,
"Eh~? But I picked a plain-looking one! How is this eye-catching? I don't get it, it's strange. I wonder why?"
It was only a few weeks ago that she was discovered hiding flab in her gut. Right now, her stomach had slimmed down considerably. This was probably due to the fact she no longer had to force feed herself under pressure; the curves on her body were now stunningly beautiful.
Her body was wrapped in a mature-looking swimsuit, while her long snow-white legs and thin, tender arms extended from it.
A tall and slim figure, a small cute face, plus a pair of dazzling eyes - the sight of such a dream-like fairy was nearly enough to cause one's heart to stop beating.
So this is a professional model...? "That's strange, I really don't get it!" Ami once again stood before the mirror and examined the swimsuit she wore. Ryūji and Minori were completely dumbfounded. Isn't this too... perfect? Her legs are too long! Too slender! Too white! Too beautiful! ...... As though waking from a dream, Minori stepped forward towards Ami,
"K, Kawashima-san! Which brand is that swimsuit? Not that I want to buy the same one as yours, but I'd like to make myself look thin as well! So I'll be getting this brand!"
"There's plenty of those in the fitting room~. Oh, how about we wear a lover's set, Minori-chan?"
"No thanks, hope you understand."
No way am I gonna let you outshine me! Minori turned towards the section where Ami pointed and rushed off.
Ami's eyes, which were staring at the mirror just a while ago, suddenly changed... Ryūji thought, Here she goes. while standing calmly and observing this incredible transformation.
Ami quickly decided on the most beautiful pose - placing one arm on her hip and the other on her mouth, and then slowly leaning forward to emphasize her bosom,
"This is bad, this is really bad... Ami-chan is just so, so, soooo cute! But, this is sure scary! Is it okay for Ami-chan to be this cute? Ami-chan looks cuter this year than last year, as well as cuter today than yesterday! Wonder how cute and beautiful Ami-chan can get? Even this swimsuit... This plain and normal looking swimsuit, it doesn't even cost more than 10,000 yen! Ah... if only this were a cute bikini, how much cuter would Ami-chan get?"
She appeared to be pretty satisfied.
"Oh boy, even Ami-chan's feeling scared at such a thought... Wonder if Ami-chan would be better off as a gravure idol? Don't you think it's criminal to hide such a perfect figure? Thought so Toradora vol02 heart.png. Hey, Takasu-kun, don't you think so as well?"
"Don't you feel embarrassed wearing that while walking around? We're in a shop, you know?"
"Huh~? Are you kidding, Takasu-kun? Ami-chan is soooo~ cute, what's there to be embarrassed about? If anyone sees Ami-chan then it's their lucky day! Ami-chan's already thinking of charging 3000 yen per person~ Oh, how about 3000 yen for one look every second?"
Slowly lifting her long hair upwards, Ami had already taken off her angelic mask, revealing a mischievous glance within those cold and clear eyes of hers while sporting a teasing smile. This was the sort of vanity reserved for girls who know they're pretty; her lips made a sneer as though taunting someone, proof that she was definitely up to no good.
"Needless to say, Ami-chan's gone through hair-removal surgery!"
She purposefully revealed her hairless armpits, emphasizing her figure. Is this supposed to be extra service?
"Ahhhh~ Ami-chan is so cute today as well~ Toradora vol02 heart.png"
She said while throwing a glance towards the mirror. Ami's in a really good mood today, looks like she's really satisfied with her perfect swimsuit look.
However, at this moment, there was a more pressing matter for Ryūji...
"Um... h, how's this one? ... I can fit in alright, but..."
Minori stuck her head out from within the fitting room curtain,
"Huh? Which one? Lemme see~!"
The sandals Ami wore clicked as she walked towards Minori. Eh? Which one? Ryūji also wanted to "click" his way towards Minori to find out. But I can't... Right...?
Ryūji pretended to look around at the towels and goggles while slowly approaching, raising his ears to listen to their conversation.
"Minori-chan, come out already~! You won't know whether it fits if you don't look at yourself in the mirror, right?"
"Eeeeeh!? H, h, h, h, how can I? N, n, n, no, I can't!"
"You're gonna have to wear this in front of everyone tomorrow anyway!"
"That's completely different! Kyaa!!!"
"Well well, isn't this very cute? It really suits you! You don't have any excess flab, and the skin around your shoulders looks absolutely beautiful, it feels great!"
"R, r, r... really? Do I? Do I?"
"Of course! Since we're at it, let's show Takasu-kun as well. A guy's opinion is very important too. Hey, Takasu-kun~!"
"Kyaa! No! You can't, you can't, you can't! Don't come over, Takasu-kun! And don't look!"
Gulp... Ryūji remained anchored on the floor for about ten seconds. If she says don't look, then I won't. From the outside, it was impossible to tell that Ryūji was waging an epic battle with the Demons of Lust, his eyes merely emitting a dangerous glow. His rationality eventually persuaded him to cancel the idea of pretending not to hear anything and walking over. He bit his tightly closed lips so hard that it bled - A sign of a gentleman.
It was only after sensing that Minori had returned into the fitting room that Ryūji found it safe to turn around...
"W, what is...?"
Still wearing a swimsuit, Ami stared at Ryūji and did not bother hiding the mischievous thoughts within her eyes, as if they had X-ray capabilities.
"It seems Takasu-kun can't bear the look of Minori-chan in a swimsuit... hmm..."
"Wha!? Of course not! She told me not to look, so I..."
"Why are you so nervous? Forget it! I'm gonna go get this swimsuit off."
She's probably not interested in hearing my excuse, huh? Ami removed her high-heeled sandals and walked across the swimsuit corner barefooted.
Just what on earth was she up to? Right now, only Ryūji remained... Somehow this feels...
Ryūji began to notice the stares of the other customers and shop assistants directed at him. It was actually quite dangerous for a male high school student to be all alone in a female swimsuit corner. Desperate for help, Ryūji began to look around...
"Come to think of it, where's Taiga?"
It was only then that he noticed that the girl he was so used to seeing every day had disappeared. The four fitting rooms are located in separate corners of the building, one of them is empty, while the other two are being occupied by Minori and Ami, this means... Walking towards the remaining one, he found a pair of recognizable miniature-sized shoes under the curtain.
What's going on, Taiga? So you were here all along? Just as Ryūji was about to say that, the curtains opened for a few centimetres and a head emerged - it was indeed Taiga. Her eyes rolled around, as though looking for something, while her mouth appeared as a straight line, and her brows were wrinkled due to some sort of anxiety. From that expression, she seemed to be at wits' end and was seeking help.
Just when Ryūji was thinking about whether to call her first...
Taiga had noticed him. Although she was first to speak, her face contorted in resentment, though she still stuck out her snow-white finger and called out to Ryūji.
Reminded of the cold war he had with her, Ryūji had a bad feeling about this, but he still replied,
Even though knowing nothing good will come out of it, I still decided to respond to a summon... Is this the sad fate of being a dog?
"Never mind that! Just come over... Closer! More! Over here!"
Taiga frowned anxiously. Being mindful of her surroundings, her lowered voice was filled with urgency as she frantically waved her hand at Ryūji, who obediently walked, step by step, towards the fitting room, while growing more and more suspicious...
"... Could it be... that you aren't wearing anything... WHOA!?"
Ryūji was suddenly assaulted without warning.
"Umph!" He was dragged into the fitting room by the arm that suddenly emerged. The curtain quickly closed, just like how a Venus fly trap would snap shut upon capturing its prey, and darkness loomed. Ryūji was too terrified to make any noise. Losing his balance, he crashed on the mirror and fell on the floor.
"Ow... What the hell was that for!?"
"Shut up! You want to be treated as a pervert!?"
Ryūji suddenly realized he was now sharing a narrow space of about nine square feet with Taiga, who was sitting on the floor with her uniform tidily on (instead of not wearing anything),
"I... don't know what I should do anymore!"
"W, w, wait...!?"
"Wah!" Taiga grabbed Ryūji by the shoulder, her eyes had suddenly gone red. Oh shit! Is she gonna cry?
"What now? What's wrong?"
Squatting on the narrow floor space, Ryūji lowered his voice, while trying his best to look at Taiga in the face and comforting her,
"Don't cry! Or Kushieda and Kawashima are going to get the wrong ideas!"
"... B, b, but I... don't know which one to pick anymore!"
When he looked carefully, he found that they were surrounded by many black and deep blue swimsuits. Each of them had been turned over, it seemed she had already tried them all.
"You just couldn't decide which swimsuit to wear, right? What's there to cry about? Man, I can't believe you just toss these stuff around..."
"They all have problems!"
Taiga shook her head vigorously, she was about to lose it. If this goes any further, she might become physical.
"I, I get it... Anyway, just calm down and don't cry! What are you not happy with? The style? Color? Or do you want me to choose one for you?"
Ryūji had subconsciously switched into delicate mode, though Taiga shook her head even more,
"It's none of those! It's... the size! The size's not right!"
Now I see... Ryūji finally understood. For someone with an elementary schoolkid figure, wearing an adult swimsuit was just asking too much.
"In that case... how about wearing a child-sized one?"
"Absolutely not! Stop saying the same things as Kawashima Ami!"
Taiga lifted her tearful face and growled with her lowered voice.
"Speaking of which, wouldn't it be better if you ask Kushieda or Kawashima about this instead?"
"Don't you think I would have done that if I could!? But they both found sizes that fit them, it's just too embarrassing if I'm the only one who couldn't! How do you expect me to say it!? Besides, that split-personality freak shouldn't even be considered!"
"Though you say that, I wouldn't know what to do... Oh, how about this one?"
As Ryūji carefully placed each swimsuit back onto its hanger, he found a swimsuit much smaller than all the others.
"Ooohhh... this is XS. This should be small enough? You want to try it on? Or is that not good as well?"
"I've already tried that, it's... ordinary, sort of! The problem is with... how should I say... a certain body part..."
Her voice grew softer and softer, to the point where the last part of her sentence was nearly inaudible.
"Then this one should do, right? If the size isn't too far off, then I'll modify it for you. Oh, this one's XS as well... Guess this won't do, that one's bigger."
Ryūji selected three especially small swimsuits from the dozen or so swimsuits. For Taiga, these three were all "ordinary".
"In that case, we'll pick one from these three! ... Aha! How's this? The price is just right, and the material's pretty firm... Hmm, this can be placed in a dry cleaner, right...?"
After carefully confirming the laundry label, Ryūji handed a swimsuit to Taiga, "I think this one is great!" Surprisingly, Taiga accepted it obediently.
Her eyes moved between Ryūji and the swimsuit on her hands,
"Umm... yeah... this... sure is the best..."
The ambient mood was disturbed by a sigh, giving the narrow fitting room a funeral-like atmosphere.
... Let's go have a seat at Sudoba (Sudou Coffee Bar)! But Minori and Ami's invitation was turned down by Taiga. As a result, Ryūji did not feel comfortable with going alone with the two girls, so he had no choice but to go home with Taiga. Along the way, Taiga showed no signs of being agitated or being mad, which had not happened for some time. She merely said softly, "You could have gone with them..."
Thank goodness, she didn't get agitated or mad at all. For some reason, Taiga's mood seemed to have taken a turn for the better.
It wasn't until six in the evening that Ryūji realized how mistaken he was...
"Hey! Dinner's ready..."
"The miso soup's great as well! Plus we have pudding afterward!"
Not only did she not help out in preparing dinner, but all the lacy furball-like object known as "Taiga" did was lie on top of the small table and toy with a piece of lettuce that hung on the bird cage with a paperclip. Lacking any focus in her eyes, she would occasionally sigh deeply as well.
She was not even bothered by the messy state of her long hair, to put it simply, Taiga was now in "melancholy" mode.
Standing concerned from a distance, Ryūji took out his family heirloom: a piece of cucumber marinated in rice bran, and rinsed it while thinking, Poor Inko-chan's gonna suffer from more mounting pressure as things go.
"... Woo... shuu...?"
Inko-chan gently pushed the lettuce that Taiga was toying with towards her. That voice... was he trying to say 'Would you'?
Taiga gently shook her head.
... Taiga was conversing with Inko-chan. Even a bird was feeling concerned for Taiga, but right now Taiga was as powerless as a sinking corpse in the deep sea. Even her absent-minded gaze lost its usual glitter. Looking this melancholic, seems like she's not only angry with herself, but has basically given up completely. The sudden depression had left Ryūji feeling puzzled... though he did have some ideas. Ryūji knew it probably had something to do with the swimsuits, but he did not know why it would cause her such gloom. Haven't we already bought the swimsuit?
"T, Taiga... I'm gonna try making some Nanban Chicken for tonight. Although it's my first time, it should come out fine..."
"I'm gonna add mayonnaise as well!"
That still failed to rouse her appetite. At least she looked fine when in her 'cold-war' mode last night, there's nothing worse than this depressing atmosphere.
"Oh no~! I'm late, I'm late~! I can't believe I've forgotten that a girl's coming for an interview today~! I've gotta leave in 15 minutes!"
Ryūji's mother, Yasuko, rushed over noisily.
"Huh!? Just what're you doing? Hurry up and eat... Whoa! Today's costume looks exciting!"
Hearing her son say that, Yasuko smiled happily, "Hee hee~" She then raised her arms and stretched them towards the ceiling. Is she trying to mimic a letter Y in 'Yasuko'? She even raised a leg. Maybe she's making a Glico logo? Ryūji wasn't too sure about that one either.
With a body that hardly looked older than thirty, Yasuko wore a white mini-skirt so short that her buttocks were almost revealed, while her F-sized bosom was dangling non-stop in front of her slim chest.
... Women sure have it tough, having those two soft structures hanging off the front of them... Just when Ryūji was thinking of that...
"Kyaa! Taiga-chan, how perverted you are! Actually groping people..."
Taiga, who was supposed to be lying on the floor, suddenly straightened herself as though she had thought of something, stood up and began grabbing at Yasuko's wobbling breasts.
"TAIGA! Stop sexually harassing other people's mothers!"
"Ah~ it's fine, it's fine, Ryū-chan! Since Taiga no longer looks scary today, Ya-chan's happy! Hee hee!"
Grope, grope, grope, grope... Although Taiga continued to fondle Yasuko's elastic bosom, her eyes were as blurry as a dead fish's.
"This is freaking me out already, so stop it! Seriously... hurry up and eat, and stop playing with breasts!"
Ryūji squeezed himself between the two of them while gracefully placing the dishes on the small table. "Dinner time!" Yasuko obediently picked up her chopsticks; Taiga quietly sat herself down.
"Let's eat~! Wow! It looks delicious! Ya-chan loves Ryū-chan the most!"
Yasuko's breast continued to wobble as she smiled like a child beneath her perfect makeup...
Taiga was now poking Yasuko's breast with her chopsticks.
As Yasuko left in a hurry, carrying her sole and most expensive Chanel bag, the Takasu residence fell into an awkward silence.
As usual, Taiga finished her dinner and laid lazily on the tatami mat, while paying attention to the lines between the ceiling tiles... or rather, she was simply staring at what was before her eyes.
Ryūji washed the dishes and wiped his hands while secretly observing Taiga, who was behaving strangely. Just what is wrong with her? Is she alright? Although I'm concerned, she's no longer as aggressive as she was yesterday, and she hasn't caused any harm either, so I guess I can just leave her alone...
"Umm... Taiga, have you prepared everything you need to for tomorrow's swimming lesson? You got your towel in the bag? Oh yeah, let me help you modify the swimsuit we bought earlier today."
Ryūji still decided to talk about it. Seeing her lackluster pale face, Ryūji could not bring himself to remain silent. It felt as complicated as seeing the stray cat that constantly came to steal the kitchen food getting sick... He wasn't being nosy, nor was he being sympathetic.
"How about it?"
Yet Taiga pretended not to hear and turned her tiny back towards Ryūji.
"Let me modify it for you, alright? Didn't you say it doesn't fit? But if you're fine with it, then I won't."
Taiga continued to face her back towards Ryūji, and simply replied softly,
"You talk too much."
A cold reply that was unwilling to say anything further. Although deeply injured, a tiger was still a tiger, and was able to pierce the most fragile spot in the heart with a needle. Even a target like Ryūji would get hurt.
I've already tried my best, even if I'm not good at it. I even agreed to help her modify her swimsuit size... I did all this just to cheer Taiga up, who was looking depressed, since I am a bit worried about her... Having done all that, what kind of reply is 'You talk too much'!?
This includes all the unforgotten grudges we've been having... All because of Ami's prank, Taiga ends up seeing us embracing each other, why should I put up with her stinging remarks!? Not to mention, she herself doesn't admit she's criticizing me, neither does she admit she was angry, instead questioning why she should get angry at my actions. Although she says that, for days she's given me nothing but a sour face, and now this...
"You're really annoying..."
Enough. Ryūji's eyes squinted cruelly like a cobra, but he wasn't cursing the world to end, it was because his patience was snapping,
"Oh, is that it? Then I won't be bothering anymore! Nor will I take care of you anymore! You can go ahead and wear that wrong-sized swimsuit tomorrow!"
"I'm going to take the day off tomorrow, so it wouldn't matter..."
"If you want to take a day off or whatever then that's your call! I wouldn't give a damn if you have to repeat a year! This pisses me off! You're too selfish, you know that? Why must I endure this treatment just because I end up embracing Kawashima!? Anyone can tell you're bearing a grudge!"
Taiga stood up. The mechanical doll that was once thought to be broken had suddenly stood up, and the mood instantly became terrifying. Ryūji quickly swallowed what he had wanted to say.
"... Why must you mention that again?"
The eyes that turned over were red with rage, while the twisted lips were tightly shut - until those jaws would open to reveal their white fangs ready to bite - this abandoned doll appearance looked absolutely terrifying. Oh crap. I've stepped on a landmine.
Ryūji got up and began to back away, trying to keep a safe distance. Stomp! Taiga marched barefooted on the tatami, approaching Ryūji step by step. Those moist and glittering big eyes were full of murderous intent, craving for blood.
"You know... Ryūji..."
Ryūji could feel his neck being licked by the icy, repressed voice,
"I've already said it many, many, MANY, TIMES... I don't give a damn about it... I'm not mad at all... If I do look like it, that's simply because of you trying to second guess my thoughts as though you know everything... You don't get it? Huh!? Are you sure you really don't get it!? Huh!? Huh!? Huh!? Huh!? Huh!?"
Taiga approached slowly like a panzer tank, elbowing her arm on Ryūji's chest, and even stepped on Ryūji's feet with her bare toes. Now, Ryūji could no longer escape.
"Come on! Answer me!"
"What I mean is..."
"Enough! Shut up! Listen carefully to what I'm about to say! To hell with all those incidents from before! That has got absolutely nothing to do with this! You get it!?"
"What I wanted to ask is... just what do you mean by 'this'!?"
"I'm going home."
After yelling what she wanted to say, Taiga quickly turned her head and went for the entrance.
"Hold it right there! You think you can just say whatever you want and then leave just like that!?"
"Of course! You're annoying, you know?"
Ryūji stepped in front of Taiga to confront her, resigned to his fate, he frantically waved his arms in attempting to stop Taiga from escaping. I've stepped on the mine anyway, so it doesn't matter if I make a ruckus before it explodes.
"Going to someone's place to eat, but acting all depressed, you think you can just say you're going home and act as though everything's fine!? Just what's going on here?"
"If you want to moan, do it to the landlady downstairs, you stupid dog!"
"That's fine by me! But I want to know why you're so depressed?"
"That's none of your business!"
"Why do you hate the swimming pool so much?"
"You listen carefully! It's because I can't swim, that's why I hate it!"
"That's not the real reason! There's no way you can say it so neatly!"
"Tch!" As she clicked her tongue, Taiga stepped forward, lowering her tiny body and barged through Ryūji like a talented dancer... or at least she attempted to...
"Now's my chance!"
Taiga never fails to disappoint in moments like these.
"Ow... Why on earth are there soybeans on the floor!?"
Taiga had stepped on the soybeans that were on the tatami and fell with all fours facing the ceiling. Grabbing the opportunity, Ryūji quickly brought down his foot - not on Taiga, not on the soybeans, but on her skirt.
"What do you think you're doing!? You stupid dog! Get off me! You'll leave a paw print! Get your dirty dog paw off my lace skirt!"
"That's for calling me annoying!"
Taiga tried frantically to get up, but since Ryūji had stepped on the area near her waist, she was basically stuck. Every time she tried to struggle, her skirt would slowly slide down, revealing her white hip and waist, as well as a little bit of her panties.
"Damn it! Stop fooling around! I can't believe you'd ambush me with soybeans!"
"Stop trying to tarnish people's reputations with random accusations! Those soybeans were leftover from the soymilk that Yasuko was grinding this morning."
"Ya-chan!? She drinks soy milk!?"
"Since when have you been calling her so intimately!? HEY! You idiot!"
What was she thinking!? Taiga suddenly tossed the beans in the air, and caught them with her mouth... and ate them. She's chewing on beans that were crushed with her bare foot! She munched three times before swallowing them.
"That's disgusting! Give me more!"
"Aren't you contradicting yourself!? What on earth were you thinking? Eating the beans like that? You'll get a stomachache!"
"I want to replenish my soy proteins!"
A thought suddenly appeared in Ryūji's head as he looked down at Taiga, who was struggling to get her stepped on skirt out.
When Yasuko said, "I'm gonna be drinking soy milk everyday from now on~"...
"Ya-chan saw this on TV. It says soy protein helps your breasts grow big~! Ya-chan will be in big trouble if her breasts were to shrink. So precautions have to be made! Ya-chan's so smart~!"
Taiga, unable to decide which swimsuit to pick, was close to tears in the fitting room...
"It's... the size! The size's not right!"
Soy proteins... Soybeans... Picking them up and eating them right away... Hates swimming pools... Gets depressed over swimsuits...
"T, Taiga... Could it be..."
"N, no... NO! Don't... don't say it..."
Fear began to show in Taiga's eyes, as she grabbed onto his woolly sweater and looked at Ryūji with eyes seeking salvation. She then retreated towards the wall, while shaking her head and repeating, "Please don't..."
But, I have to.
I have to say what I think. If I don't confirm it, I'll never be able to live normally with Taiga again, so...
"Are you... flat-chested...?"
The subsequent tiger cub howling was the main reason why the landlady raised the rent on the Takasus, causing constant headaches for Ryūji... Of course, no one else knew about that.
Compared to her depressed self from a while ago, Taiga now looked very cheery, as though a burden had been removed from her shoulders.
After the previous event, the both of them left the Takasu residence and walked for about a minute before coming to the ultra-posh condo apartment building.
This apartment is still as exquisite as usual, though it's still a bit too big for Taiga to live alone in. Ryūji sat on the sofa edge while waiting for Taiga to emerge from her room, where she had hidden herself, doing God-knows-what. She left a warning before she closed the door,
"You wait here. If you even dare open this door, I'll kill you!"
The sparkling chandelier glittered dimly in hues of white and yellow. The living room was unusually quiet, unlike the soundproof-like situation from before at the Takasu residence. Yet this silence feels like the calm before a storm...
"I mean... what's the big deal with bust sizes?"
Ryūji mumbled to himself while taking his specialized mop and beginning to clean the glass table.
Ever since they met in spring, though it had not been long, they lived a life where they often saw each other. Ryūji thought to himself, Taiga's always fretting over some trivial matter.
It wasn't long ago when Taiga was feeling frustrated with her name and her tiny figure. When they first met, she nearly went ballistic over constantly failing to properly approach her crush, Kitamura. And now she was getting depressed over the size of her chest... Taiga's already over-sensitive to begin with, not to mention she gets easily agitated.
She's got such a beautiful face, has a great friend in Minori, and lives in a grand apartment, what more does she want? No, I guess this apartment's probably a source of her depression as well. Ryūji sighed. He knew that for Taiga, this apartment was evidence of her being forsaken by her parents.
Could her conflict with her parents be the source of her extremely unstable personality? Ryūji wasn't going to draw conclusions and say that this was some "mental trauma", though it was hard not to.
Gets angry and depressed easily, extremely moody, prone to tears, and then asks for help the moment after she's done scolding someone - this Palmtop Tiger's hopeless. Nevertheless, Ryūji just could not leave Taiga like that, nor could he stay away from her. This is a world where those people who believe Taiga to be some carnivore that ought to stay in the wild will never understand.
I've got to change my attitude. Ryūji had made up his mind by the time the table corner was wiped sparkling clean, This time I must stay by this unstable and melancholic tiger's side.
I'm a dragon, and you're a tiger... the dragon is the only beast that can stand equal to the tiger... He had even made such an exaggerated declaration. Ryūji couldn't find it in himself to leave Taiga alone, so he would have to seriously support her on a psychological level as well.
That's it! The problem isn't with the size of your chest. It's the size of your heart!
"How is it...?"
No... t, t, this is... so it is... but...
Startled, Ryūji fell from the sofa, and ended up seeing something even more shocking.
Taiga emerged from her bedroom door. In order to show Ryūji how depressed she was, she had put on the dark-blue swimsuit that she had just bought today without even removing the tag.
The long hair around her waist wrapped around her overly tiny body.
The indirect lighting caused her pale skin to glisten like a white pearl.
Probably due to her height, everyone simply concluded that her body size must be the same as a child's. Nobody could have guessed she actually had a slender waist.
"What are you nodding about?"
Although she looked gloomy, her beautiful face, which was as delicate as a glass-made artifact, now looked even more splendid. The sight of Taiga in a swimsuit had the ability to give one an urge to dress her up like a doll.
Having said that...
"They do look... kinda flat..."
Taiga's chest was pressed just under the thick swimsuit. There seemed to be some bulge just under the white skin near her collar bone. She isn't completely flat chested... It's more like they're flattened under pressure. The true cause of Taiga's "flat-chestedness" isn't her chest size, but her breasts being too soft.
From her armpits to her back, there was no bulge to be seen at the necessary places. If she wasn't careful, there was a danger of her swimsuit falling completely off her shoulders when she moved her body, which was quite sad. To put it simply, "a certain body part" was the reason why the swimsuit wouldn't fit.
"Where are the chest pads?"
"I've already put them in, but... haha, t, they fell back inwards... haha..."
Taiga sighed while wearing her unique "expressionless smile", as she sat on a leather sofa personally designed by some famous Scandinavian designer. Ryūji suddenly noticed something strange...
Ryūji had wanted to investigate why Taiga looked so flat-chested, but he discovered he could not look straight at her.
Her exposed white skin was as delicate as a glass container, and her waist was so slender that it might break if held onto. She was thin but hardly bony. The sight of her feminine figure caused Ryūji to develop an unusual feeling that even he was afraid of.
Looking at her like that is just sacrilegious... I can't do something like that, it's just pathetic. Ryūji decided to cocoon himself from the thought of staring at her.
"It's flat, isn't it? I've got nothing there... that's why I hate the swimming pool..."
Taiga's low voice simply went in Ryūji's left ear and out the right.
In that case, when Ami was wearing a swimsuit in the station shopping complex, she did indeed look pretty. She had a great body, and her figure was well-tuned, causing people to panic and fantasize, but there was no feeling of fear like now. Could it have something to do with her being a popular model? Where being observed was part of her profession, even though she wasn't working? Or could it be because she was too beautiful to the point of being surreal? B-but, the problem is...
"Ryūji? Are you even listening?"
Standing before him with her eyes glued on him, Taiga's existence was as real as one could get. By simply grabbing her with ease, one could even sense her body temperature was at 36 degrees Celcius...
"A... anyway, why don't you go wear something first? Or you'll catch a cold."
Taiga nodded at Ryūji's behest, and returned to her room to get a bathrobe. Upon seeing the bedroom door closing...
"Hah, hah, hah, hah, hah..."
Ryūji frantically rubbed his face. What on earth's going on!? Why am I feeling so bizarre!? Not to mention I feel extremely guilty to the point of shivering... I didn't even do anything! Why is it!?
"Up till last year, I was never this frustrated," Taiga said after putting on her bathrobe,
"... Or to be more precise, I never even realized I was flat-chested before, since we never had swimming lessons in junior high,"
Ryūji finally returned from his state of shock, and paid close attention to Taiga's speech. Although this was Taiga's apartment, the one preparing all the tea and snacks was Ryūji.
"Last year, I attended swimming lessons as everyone else had, but right after the last swimming class, I discovered something... Photos of me in my swimsuit that were secretly taken by the guys from other classes were circulating everywhere."
"I see. I can't believe they'd do such a thing..."
"Of course, I went straight to the Photography Club's club room and raised hell there."
"So you were the one who single-handedly caused the instant dissolution of the Photography Club?"
"Here are the photos I've confiscated... After seeing these, you should be able to understand my sorrows."
Casually receiving the photos, Ryūji turned them over to look at the front side.
"Whoa! This is too mean!"
In the photo, Taiga had much shorter hair than she had now, which was tied to the back of her head, while she stood unenthusiastically by the poolside.
Someone had drawn an arrow pointing towards the chest area of her swimsuit with a marker pen. Ryūji wasn't sure whether it was the bastard who took the picture, or the asshole that sold the picture, but all he could see written on it were the words, "Pathetic bust".
"Pathetic bust... They're being called 'pathetic'! It was only then that I realized how pathetically flat my chest is!"
"Hey... wait a minute! This is only what that guy thinks..."
"But isn't it true!? After looking myself in the mirror, even I thought my chest is tragically flat! Ugh, Damn it!!!"
Taiga began to cry hopelessly, she then lay down flat on the table and said,
"And now I've got to show this flat chest before Kitamura-kun... What time is it now? It's past nine already? There's only 12 hours remaining before the swimming lesson starts... I... don't wanna go..."
Ryūji's eyes shimmered terrifyingly like a blade while he remained silent. He wasn't trying to secretly assault the scantily dressed Taiga, he was quietly thinking to himself...
"Alright. I'll think of something."
Taiga lifted her head, her eyes meeting with Ryūji's. He nodded heavily to Taiga,
"Didn't I already say I'll modify the size for you? I've got a plan. Lend me that swimsuit for the night, it's time to go into nightshift. I'll definitely make sure you can stand with your chest upright before Kitamura!"
The vulnerable glitter that was not seen for nearly a week once again appeared in Taiga's eyes. She stared at Ryūji without hesitation, blinking her eyes like an innocent child,
"Are you serious? Why are you helping me?"
"Haven't I already told you? I'm a dragon, and you're a tiger... that's it."
... As if I could tell her that it's to atone for mysteriously having weird thoughts about her.
"That's enough already, you go sleep first."
"No. I want to stay until you're done."
The pair were now back in the Takasu residence, exchanging the first serious conversation they'd had in a long time in the narrow apartment. Actually, the conversation was beyond "serious".
"I'll stay awake until you've finished working on it. I'll go play some video games first."
Taiga gave Ryūji an incredibly warm glance, which could not be simply described as "serious". Before that incident with Ami, Taiga had never spoken so tenderly before.
On top of that...
"It seems... that I was... being moody, and behaving badly too... so... I'm sorry..."
... No matter how annoying, even to the point of nearly abandoning it, a well-protected egg would eventually crack open one day, giving birth to a lovely bird. For someone who was never able to resist those sentimental family serials, this motherly-like warmth stimulated Ryūji's tear glands. Moreover, it helped wash away the slight feeling of guilt that remained within him.
It was half-past-three in the morning, and Ryūji was still giving his all, sewing and knitting the swimsuit.
"What the...? Wait a sec! Wow! What on earth's that!? That's amazing!"
"Ryūji, get back to work already..."
Ryūji turned his head around to see the words "36 COMBO" appear on the TV screen, something he had never seen before while playing Tetris.
|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|