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E6 - 6 This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.

This is Chapter 2 from Volume 4 of the Toradora! Light Novel series. The text is from Baka-tsuki.

Transcript

It would take about one and a half hours by limited express to get to Ami's villa.

Although it was summer, it wasn't Obon season which may have explained why the unreserved seats were only half occupied at most. After the five of them secured adjacent three-person seats and moved one to face one another, their group seating was complete.

Ami quickly and carelessly tossed her overnight bag, a super high-class brand name item, into an overhead compartment,

"Iyaah~! It's been so long everyone! Have you all been doing well? Ah~, Minori-chan, I've wanted to see you~!"

Smoothly flipping up her beautifully flowing hair, which had a light tint that might have been limited only to summer break, she turned to Minori with an angelic smile while acting like she might cry from nostalgia. "Saying that even after you ran away from me." Minori's half-jest of a tsukkomi went thoroughly ignored.

"Ah Yūsaku~, I guess you're the same as always~! Isn't that right, Glasses! Ahaha~!"

To her childhood friend Kitamura, she spoke with a superficial sweetness while casting careless smiles about, and then,

"And Takasu-kun!"

Spinning around, she practically dove right into Ryūji's chest as she moved closer to him and smi~~led... Her face was puffed up like an innocent baby's. Ryūji unconsciously took a step back. Still showing that babyish smile, Ami followed up with a step forward that left Ryūji with nowhere to run.

"Aww man~~! Hey, hey, just what happened to you during the break? You didn't call or message me at all! I was so bored!"

"...You, I'm pretty sure you never told me your number or email address..."

"Hu~h, really? Fufu, never mind all that, this trip should be fun... Don't you think? I'm looking forward to it, aren't you?"

As Ami lowered her voice while disregarding Ryūji's response, a wicked flame burned within her eyes that were directed only at Ryūji. On top of that, she slid her cold fingers discreetly onto Ryūji's wrist.

Her almost overly long limbs were sporting a simple tank-top and jeans, and the style of her eight-head figure was attracting quite a bit of attention today as well. "You know, I'm pretty sure I've seen that girl before" "She's gotta be a model, don't you think?" and so on. Overhearing the pair of college girls, she smiled rather happily, nodding,

"Ah, oh no! Today, I only put on sunscreen after I washed my face. I'm not wearing any makeup! Ah geez, and my skin's not all that pretty... This is horrible~~..."

Ami sandwiched her utterly smooth milk-colored face with both hands, slanting her eyebrows as if she were actually worried. No makeup and still that pretty... She was immersed in a shower of envious glares from all sides,

"Well, we're on a trip after all! It's not necessary to have makeup, right? Just or-di-na-ry!"

Kyaha! It was the finishing blow. Gathering even the blameless women on the train who weren't actually going heavy on the makeup and crushing them all at once, Ami's pretty face became even more dazzlingly radiant, like a vampiress feasting on the blood of her victims. Her large Chihuahua-like eyes shimmered, and her petite, unadorned, yet menacing face that seemed to consist of only milky white and rose red hues possessed the loveliness of an angel. Emitting an aura that seemed to be screaming "I, am, so, beau-ti-ful! All you normal women, be thankful that you get to breathe the same air as me, the chosen Ami-sama! Gahaha! Feel free to worship me~!", Ami seemed to be in fine form today as well.

Finishing up,

"Ah, oh yeah, Takasu-ku~n, it looks like Aisaka-san hasn't gotten here yet, so don't you think you should call her? Although I don't care at all if she decided not to come~"

She completely ignored Taiga, who was right in front of her and, showing him a somewhat troubled expression, sidled up next to Ryūji. Just then, the train started moving,

"Hey, sit down, tramp."

"Ah!"

Ami fell on her behind onto a seat by the window. Coming from the front with her fingers, Taiga's blinding stab attack had pierced both her eyes, practically embedding them up to the first joint.

(!)

"...Th... That hurts...~?!"

"Since your eyes are that useless, I just thought I would remove them for you. I'm right here you know."

"...E, ehh~... You're so small that I guess I didn't see you..."

"They really are useless after all, aren't they?"

Preparing for another attack (all the way to the knuckle this time), Taiga made a sinister V with her small hand, but

"Now now! That's enough for today. Just look into my eyes!"

It was halted by Minori, who got in between the two and pulled at her pretty double eyelids with her fingertips, as though she was trying to look foreign. Reacting in astonishment, Ryūji's eyes became weird as well, but showing no surprise,

"You too Minorin, don't make such a weird expression and sit down or you'll fall down."

Taiga lectured before making Minori sit next to Ami. After that she forcefully took Ryūji's hand as he stood in the aisle and practically threw him into the seat next to Minori before sitting down opposite Ami. Wondering if this was Taiga showing her support, Ryūji felt somewhat moved by her actions. That just left Kitamura to sit opposite from Minori; in other words, he'd be sitting next to Taiga, but she was sticking as close as possible to the window and remaining diligently fixated on Ami while practically ignoring Kitamura's existence.

"Wow, what oppressive intent... You're short, but you're like a thick wall or something..."

Acting disgusted, Ami looked away, but,

"Well since I'm so small, it shouldn't feel all that oppressive, right?"

Planting her legs down with a bang, Taiga continued to stare harshly at Ami's face. And then,

"Ah. Bakachi~"

Taiga called out the shortened form of "Stupid Chihuahua", her personal nickname for Ami.

"Could you possibly be talking about me?!"

"What horrible creases."

"Ehh...?!"

Pointing towards Ami's eyes, she seemed to be indicating the physical flaw. Following along, even Minori turned to stare intently at Ami's face,

"Eh, Amin wouldn't have a thing like that on her beautiful skin, would s... Ohh..."

As if saying "I am so sorry", she bowed deeply. For some reason, Kitamura returned a polite nod, as if saying "No need to apologize, thank you for worrying". Now that it had been mentioned, even Ryūji could certainly see that Ami's ordinarily perfect, radiantly rosy skin had the tiniest bit of discoloration just beneath her eyes.

"What's up with you... You're kinda wrinkling. Are you not getting enough sleep?"

"W, wait, wha, even Takasu-kun, looking at someone's face and saying 'crease' or 'wrinkle' is just... For there to be things like that on my skin is... Ahh!"

Pulling out her compact makeup mirror and peering at her own pretty face, Ami had let out a loud scream. The mirror slipped from her hands.

Then, as she gently touched the skin around her eyes with her trembling fingertips, even her voice became thoroughly shaky.

"Ahh, what the heck is this... I can't believe it. Well, I know I've been busy recently, like really busy, but... Ahh geez, what do I do... Maybe I should just die..."

Holding her forehead and closing her eyes, she really seemed to be in shock. Grabbing ahold of her shoulder, Minori tried to shake her back to her senses.

"A~min, get it together! What in the world's happened?!"

"...When break started, I went all the way back home and I'd been working hard over there the whole time. So, after finally getting off from work, I had planned on taking the last train to get back here yesterday but just barely missed it. In the end, I had to ride the earliest train this morning. I only slept for three hours... Haa~..."

Aww, Minori and Kitamura's expressions softened with pity. Even Ryūji felt the same way, but if he tried to change his expression like them, it would only be mistaken for murderous intent or maybe insanity. As for Taiga, she tried to touch the crease in question with her outstretched hand, much to Ami's annoyance.

"I see, that must have been just horrible A~min. So then I guess your summer vacation is just these next few days?"

Ami responded to Minori's kind words by saying, "That's right".

"Okay then... If it's like that, we have to go all out and make sure Ami enjoys herself on this trip. All right everyone, you don't let the batters go in whatever order they want, you know. We have to create a lineup. And so, let's have the guys' army go for a homerun with a fun conversation to alleviate Ami's woes. Alright, give it your all!"

Despite what she said, there were only two members in this army. The first to go was Kitamura, who was sitting opposite Minori,

"The batting order, eh... Well, why don't we try a debate with a common topic. Though I wonder, what kind of topic would Ami want to discuss? Maybe about the pennant races this year, or the Koushien situation, or since we're going to be preparing for exams next year, how about we talk about the declining college enrollment?"

He struck out by a mile. It was Ryūji's turn next.

"Who'd want to talk about that sort of stuff... Anyway, let's have some breakfast. I brought some onigiri."

"No way, seriously?! Woohoo~, awesome!"

Practically leaping up, Minori clapped her hands. Taiga, who was next to her and Ami, who was saying "Onigiri?! Mm, that might be good! I haven't had anything to eat or drink all day after all!", both had a bright look in their eyes. Even Kitamura looked surprisingly pleased as he repositioned his glasses. You might even be able to say that he got the first hit at his first at-bat.

Opening the cloth-wrapped container that he had taken out from his luggage, he started handing out a couple to each of them. Staying as far away as possible from Kitamura, Taiga basically crawled on her stomach over Ami, "H, hey!" and Minori, "Wow, I can feel your chest", stuck out her hands and got her rice balls from Ryūji. Holding them in both hands, she went back to her seat looking happy.

Minori took a bite out of one of hers, and then immediately with total delight exclaimed,

"Uwah~, it's so good! Did Takasu-kun make these?! Onigiri, onigiri, they're so totally delicious! Ah, and there's a plum in here! Yay plums! It's a homerun right off the bat!"

Flailing her legs wildly, she repeatedly kicked Kitamura in the leg as he sat across from her. Yet even as he was being kicked, Kitamura was also in a good mood saying "Oh, this really is good".

"Riding on a train, eating something simple like onigiri is the best~! As expected of Takasu-kun... Be my wife?"

Her large eyes shimmering, Ami said something that brought back memories of that nightmare,

"I won't."

He replied without hesitation. He didn't have time to be lured in by this Chihuahua with rice on her lips. Glancing sideways at Ami, whose eyes looked cold as she clicked her tongue "Tch", Ryūji quickly put on a nonchalant expression.

"Anyway, what did you guys do for summer vacation?"

Aiming for a homerun with a fun conversation... wasn't his goal; this was the setup that he had planned out with Taiga beforehand.

"Oh man, I had to work the who~le time."

The one who had spoken and was going "Ahh, I'm so tired" was Ami. Next, even while she was still chewing,

"Club, work, club, club, workworkwork, club, club, club, work."

That was Minori, the excessive part-time worker. Kitamura nodded in agreement,

"I was also swamped with club and student council, day in and day out. And last year, my great-grandfather passed away, so I went for the memorial service in my hometown too."

Next would be Taiga. Do it, Ryūji's glance told her. I know, Taiga slightly nodded,

"I made an MP3 compilation of ghost voices that were caught on CD. Here Minorin, listen."

She gently took out the white earphones she had prepared in her bag and then stuck a bud into each of Minori's ears. With the volume up high, an infamous sound, a mysterious voice saying "♪...Senpa~~i...♪" could be overheard as the recording played back. At the same moment, "Buh!", something came flying out of Minori's mouth. Moving just like a bullet, it shot straight forward and smacked Kitamura in the forehead. Kitamura held his injured forehead, moaning and hiding his face when a seed fell between his knees. It was the plum seed that Minori had spat at him.

"S... Sorry, Kitamura-kun! Or rather... What the heck Taiga?!"

Apologizing to Kitamura, yanking out the earphones, and scolding Taiga, Minori's face was in a sudden flux. Even her voice was out of balance.

"Sorry~"

Taiga shrugged as she spoke, but,

"You're not sorry at all, are you?! What was that just now?! It was 'that', wasn't it?! Like, being called from the underworld by a dead underclassman... A,a,ah, ah! What do I do, I'm the one who was called! I'm going to be dragged into Hell too! Or rather, the grudge continues!"

"Now now Kushieda, calm down... First off, do something about this seed please."

"Oh my bad, Kushieda SEED Destiny."

While returning the plum seed to Minori, he turned to Taiga with a sincere smile.

"Aisaka, you actually like that sort of horror?"

"Eh?!... N... Asking if...I...like it...or not... I guess, I do...?"

"Ehh, how surprising!"

After taking the impact of his smile from point-blank range, Taiga was rather flustered as she started picking at the rice on her fingertips. Climbing up out of her seat and sitting on top of Ami's knees, Minori grabbed Taiga by the shoulder and shook her,

"Wha?! Isn't this the first I've heard of this?! You don't really like that sort of thing, right?!"

Minori fell into a state of denial. Shouting, even though they were in public, her entire face became red as she started acting wildly. She completely ignored Ami's weak, troubled moan of, "Heavy..." coming from beneath her.

Seeing her like this, Taiga and Ryūji exchanged glances and nodded slightly to each other. It really did seem like Minori couldn't handle horror-related things.

That's right... Taiga was thinking, with the goal of this trip being what it was, this would be their greatest plan yet. Entitled "Operation Make Minori Scared, And Then the Knight Appears".

"Minori, you know, she just can't handle horror stories, ghosts, or anything occult. That's what she said during the self-introductions when we just entered high school at least. She'd get goosebumps just from seeing the sign for a scary movie in town, so I think it might be true..." That was the information Taiga had leaked to him at Sudoba's.

And so during this trip, Ryūji and Taiga would work together, taking up the roles of spirits to scare Minori near to death. And then, just when she neared her limit on fear, Ryūji would make his appearance. "It's okay because if anything pops up, I'll protect you!" The spiritual phenomena would then stop showing up completely and Minori would be overwhelmed by relief.

"Takasu-kun, you really did protect me... Takasu-kun, you're like my personal genie..." or something like that. If they could pull off something so dramatic, even if it was a bit detestable, it seemed like it had a good chance of closing their distance.

Oblivious to their scheming, Minori yelled out, "I'm confiscating this!", took Taiga's iPod and put it in her own pocket,

"Geez, Taiga... Anyway, no more scary stories allowed! No more weird things either! Rather than stuff like that, we're trying to cure Amin's fatigue, so let's get things going with more appropriate conversation, with more wonderful or academic topics! For instance, what do you like to put in your onigiri? Or maybe about your childhood or ramen or animals and stuff like that!"

"Ah, I know, since you were talking about scary stories, you know last week I,"

Suddenly opening her mouth, Ami took hold of Minori who was riding her knee like a child. Minori shook her head wildly.

"Nononononono! That's not necessary! Ami, it's fine if you don't tell that kind of story!"

"Oh no, this isn't a scary story like that. It's funny, a funny story!"

Smiling, Ami began speaking softly into Minori's ear.


"...So this is a story about last week, when I was at a certain studio for a magazine photo shoot.

Wanting to fix my makeup, I had gone back to the waiting room. The makeup room at that studio was horribly cramped and though it had a sink, it looked rea~lly old. The piping was bare, the lighting was poor, and the mirror was kind of broken, so I didn't really like it at all. But, it's not like I could choose where to go.

Well, the makeup person had told me to go remove the makeup I was wearing first, so with no other options, I had just entered that makeup room by myself when I saw it... It looked like blood.

On the sink, the mirror, the floor, all over...bloody stains. So red, and I could smell it clearly, the stench of blood, it was probably, no, definitely...blood. But whose was it?"


"...How scary..."

Covering her face with both hands, Minori looked like her spirit had been sapped from her body. Her eyes were opened extraordinarily wide as if asking "Are you serious or just joking?". She was starting to slide off of Ami's lap as her body went slack. Ami firmly held onto Minori and pulled her back up,

"Oh oops~, sorry, sorry!"

Smiling brightly, Ami began rocking Minori on her knee like she was trying to soothe a child,

"It wasn't like that at all, there's a punchline, a punchline! Ahaha, because the blood, it was just from a staff member's nosebleed! The cameraman at the time was a difficult guy; a middle-aged man who would swing his camera around violently, and so one of the staff members took it to the face, like really hard, to where his nose got bent completely sideways! It's like, how ridiculous~!"

"Ahahaha", as Ami carelessly laughed by herself, her voice echoed within the shaky express train. Remaining silent, the only thing that Ryūji could think was that her punchline had been rather distasteful.

"...S, so that's how it was~... That's not so bad~..."

Looking up while still being held by Ami, Minori wiped the perspiration that had appeared on her brow during her agitation.

"And there I was, thinking for sure that a bizarre murder had taken place upstairs, and the chopped up corpse had gone down the drain, and getting clogged along the way, the pipes had ruptured, and the victim's blood and flesh had spouted from the drain of that room's sink and were dripping all over...Like, pieces of flesh that had turned into pork filet-looking slabs with human hair thoroughly mixed in, and teeth scattered about, and... Uwah, so scary~!"

And so Minori quickly experienced another cold sweat. Remaining silent this time though, Ami casually set Minori aside, back onto her original seat. The group was shrouded in an eerie silence.

Rather than Ami's story, the horrible punchline, or any of that, Minori's imagining was so much more disconcerting, but... it was just her imagination. However, Minori didn't stop there. Futilely twisting her arms in distress,

"And then, then you know, the eyeball goes like 'Pah!' and pops up, then what am I supposed to do if I see it...? Huh Taiga, and what's more, what if I end up like that? Huh Ami, what do I do?! Noo, I don't want to end up in a drain!"

"I don't want to die like tha~~t!" Minori held her fidgeting arms between her legs and wailed. Seeing Minori like that, Ryūji's eyes were glinting like an over-sharpened knife. But it wasn't like he he was considering acting on this occasion. He had just been thinking to himself.

Apparently, she was that type of person. Maybe what you'd call a self-destructive coward? Gradually thinking up scary thoughts on her own, she was the type who would eventually terrify herself. In any case, with Ami's unwitting assistance, the plan to make Minori scared was off to a good start.

Suddenly at that moment,

"Ohh!"

Kitamura spoke up.

As the brightness increased outside the window, first Ami who was near the window, then Taiga and Ryūji, and lastly Minori too, all looked up. The color quickly returned to her face and her eyes began sparkling like they usually did.

"W...Wow! We made it! It's so beautiful!"

Outside the window of the train carrying the five of them, the midsummer sun shined along the horizon of the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean, making the water shimmer even more brightly.

Beneath the azure summer sky, the bright blue-filled August setting extended beautifully as far as the eye could see.


  • *


"To-ta-lly AWESOME~!!!" "Awesome~, some~, m~..". Minori's voice resounded up to the heavens.

Getting off at the station closest to the villa, they walked for a good twenty minutes down a road that seemed to curve widely around a mountain.

After making their way out of some trees along the sand-strewn path, the scene before them suddenly brightened when they saw it.

"You know, I'm sorry for making all of you walk like this~."

Ami turned to look back at them. "Seriously", Taiga growled, but the other three, Minori, who had just finished shouting to her heart's content, Ryūji and Kitamura were now speechless. Simply standing motionlessly with their eyes wide open and huddled together naturally like little timid animals, they continued to stare in awe at the scenery below them.

They had heard that it was a villa by the sea, but...they hadn't expected it to be anything like this.

"...Y, you really are rich after all, aren't you... It might be a crude thing to say, but that really struck home just now... I probably shouldn't be surprised since Ami's house was three times as large as my own..."

Just barely getting out what he wanted to say, Kitamura was shaking his head in amazement.

"Oh come on now Yūsaku, what are you talking about? This is just ordinary, or-di-na-ry."

So then, does that make us below average? Well in any case, this wasn't the time to be sulking.

The small path that extended out of the woods continued along towards descending stone steps. And beyond those steep steps was the sea.

With the shimmering white sand and the clear deep blue sea, the waves continued to undulate beneath the intense light that beamed down from the midsummer sky and the ocean spray scattering like stars. Everything was bright and glittery. The scenery extending to the edge of the Pacific Ocean was simply picturesque, while the scent of salt pervading the moist breeze and the sound of the gently beating waves were just enough to bring it all into reality.

With the beach completely deserted, the transparent waves were unopposed as they shimmered beautifully, continuing along the cove that was surrounded by a rocky precipice. It wouldn't be a surprise if the whole beach belonged to the Kawashima family.

The beach was simply fantastic, like a paradise. The sound of the waves continuously washing back and forth, the sound of the wind, the smell of summer, the rays of the sun, and then...there was the mansion.

A wooden deck portruded outwards towards the beach, while on the other side, like a European petit hotel, the entrance was built of elegant white stone. It was unclear exactly how expansive it was as the branches from the erosion-countering trees prevented a full view of the building, but even so, it was a sight to behold. There were dry stone walls that were generally not found in Japan, the crinum that were scattered along the beach had spread greenly underfoot throughout the premises with flowers that blossomed pink and the windows were positioned at twice the height of a normal house.

"W, w, w,"

Stepping forward onto the stone staircase,

"We really get to stay here?!"

Turning around with considerable force, Minori leapt towards Ami. Her bag whirled around at the same time, nearly swiping Ryūji and Kitamura in the face. The two guys barely escaped danger by instinctively pulling their heads back.

"Come on now Minori-chan. Of course! Isn't that to be expected?"

"Kyah! Uwah, wah, wonderful, it's too wonderful! I'm so deeply moved! Being allowed to stay at a place like this is a dream come true! Ohh, let's hurry up and go, Amin, Taiga! You too, boys' squad!"

"Ahaha, come on now, you're making too much of a fuss~!"

Despite her words, Ami didn't really seem all that annoyed with Minori's ecstatic demeanor. Making use of her long legs, Ami took off with leisurely leaps after Minori who practically flew down the stone steps as if free-falling.

"Ah, wait! Be careful, girls! Don't trip!"

Even Kitamura started running down the stairs, chasing after the two girls,

"...You'd definitely trip, so don't rush, okay?"

"Ehh? Just when have I ever tripped?"

Just as Taiga was about to take off after the two, Ryūji grabbed her by the back of her neck. Not only was she just a klutz, but it looked like she was suffering from amnesia now too.

"Walk down carefully. The sand can make you slip, so watch your step."

Holding the displeased Taiga by the elbow, he tried to slowly assist her down the steps but,

"You're too close, you seihanzaisha!"

"Se, se...~?!"

"Sex offender! Just what are you imagining, you pervert?!"

Taking advantage of his momentary confusion, she yanked her arm free. Then with a 'Bam!', Taiga violently smacked Ryūji on the back, knocking him away,

"Ah!"

As Ryūji just barely caught himself after falling forward a couple steps, she struck a haughty pose behind him. She stared down viciously at Ryūji with her piercing gaze,

"Walk in front of me. Then, in the unlikely event that I happen to fall, you can use your body to stop me. Only in that case will I give you permission to touch me."

She was acting so arrogantly. Still feeling a cold sweat all over, Ryūji stood motionless and dumbfounded,

"Y...you're so unbelievable, I'm simply speechless... Just now, I felt like my heart might've stopped..."

"You're speaking right now, aren't you? You're such a chatterbox... Cut it out!"

"Eh?!"

"Shut it! Close your mouth!"

He was caught in the storm of her self-indulgent verbal abuse.

Noticing the two in a hot state of sorts, Minori spun around,

"Ooh~, Taiga and Takasu-kun are getting heated~... Ahhh!"

Making fun of the two by pointing and implying that sort of thing, she missed the last step in magnificent fashion. She ended up diving face first into the beach, flopping with her limbs outstretched on the burning sand.

"Ho~~tttt~!"

"Mi, Minori-chan, are you okay?!"

Ami hastily ran over to her, but,

"I'm fi~ne! It's just that the friction and hot sand burned my face a little!"

Rolling forward and getting up with a smile and a victory pose, she disregarded the human-shaped imprint she had left in the sand, turned towards the villa's wood deck, and took off running wildly once again while shouting things like, "Railroad Charge!".

On the other hand,

"Ohh...the sand's getting in my sandals..."

After she'd finally gotten down the stone steps, it was a mystery as to where Taiga's earlier vigor had gone as she was acting rather timid; she kept stopping when her sandals filled with sand and tried to shake her legs futilely one at a time.

"If you're worried about that sort of thing, then you can't walk on the beach, can you?"

Walking in front of her, Ryūji had spoken, but she just scowled and moaned that the sand was hot. She simply would not take another step. Exasperated, he thought "What a stubborn girl. I don't even know what to do anymore" when,

"What's wrong, Aisaka? You okay? I'll take your stuff for you."

"Ah..."

Kitamura suddenly appeared and very deftly took Taiga's large bag off her hands. Effortlessly carrying two bags, it was easy to see that his arms were surprisingly muscular,

"Do your feet hurt? We did walk quite a bit... Sorry that I didn't notice."

Peering at Taiga's face with a concerned look, his handsome eyes practically overflowed with kindness.

"I, it's not a problem! I'm fine!"

"Really? Well then, let's go!"

He started walking before Taiga, who was still shaking her head, but rather than leaving her behind, Kitamura made sure to keep an eye on her, walking at a slow reserved pace.

Of course, Taiga's face was completely red; with an expression caught between a smile and torment, she was practically trembling as she grit her teeth so forcefully that her face looked hollow. Her back stiffened up like a board and her right arm and right leg were moving synchronously, but at least she was finally walking.

Introspectively, Ryūji pondered his own shortcomings. He wasn't able to show such suave kindness to girls like Kitamura could and he didn't have such an attractive physique either. If only he were the sort of guy who could pull it off, he'd have done the same thing with Minori. If he could've just smoothly taken Minori's bag for her, saying something like "Your face got burnt, didn't it? I'm so sorry I wasn't able to protect you when you fell"...But the reality was, he had only been able to watch as she fell down, laughed it off, got back up, and then took off running.

So it's hopeless, I'm not getting anywhere, were among other thoughts. He was spiraling into depression when,

"No one's been here yet this year, so unless we do some cleaning, it might be kind of dusty."

"Wha~t?!"

Hearing what Ami said after she dropped her bags onto the wooden deck, Ryūji looked up suddenly.

"D... Did you say cleaning?!"

His sanpaku eyes that looked dangerous even under ordinary circumstances were glinting, burning with a gradually growing lust. "Cleaning sucks, why don't we just set everything on fire, let it all burn to ashes" ...was not even close to what he was thinking. He actually liked cleaning. Actually, Ryūji absolutely loved cleaning.

Take, for example, a floor caked in dust. He loved how the cleaning rag would turn pitch black with just that first wipe. Or when areas exposed to water had been left alone for quite a while, becoming sludged with black mold... The moment when he'd go check with mold killer in hand while wondering just how bad things had gotten over time, he enjoyed that too.

Inserting the scrubbing brush into a dirtied drain and pulling out the filth stuck inside was enough to make him shiver with pleasure. After scrubbing the bath heater where red yeast had ended up proliferating, that moment when he'd wonder "Is it really clean?" and hear it squeak cleanly as he checked it with his fingers was simply irresistible. When he saw black mold in crevices, he'd exclaim things like, "I've had enough already, geez", but would have an irrepressible smile of ecstasy on his lips.

And so, he couldn't help but love having his home in immaculate condition. He'd keep everything so sanitary that he wouldn't even need to hesitate if someone told him to lick the floor. And keeping all the equipment easily accessible and facilitating the process of chores and cleaning, he deeply loved arranging everything in perfect order so that he could maintain a constantly spotless environment. There was no asking why. Throughout the world, just as there are those who like anime, those who like games, those who like music, and even those who might devote themselves to idols, so too would there be those whose passion was cleaning.

On a somewhat related note, Ryūji's secret hobby was to flip through overseas interior design magazines. If he only had the money to spare, he would love to get a full color complement of those luxurious fabrics and linens. His desire to experience such elegance was somewhat mitigated by his daily practice of helping out with chores at Taiga's deluxe apartment, but,

"So great~... It's almost too much..."

Instinctively bringing his hands up to his face like a young woman might, he looked over the villa in awe. He would actually get to clean such a mansion...

It was just as he would expect of the underdog homicide detective Reiko Yuuzuki's villa. It just felt absolutely right, unlike the gaudiness of the typical Japanese nouveau riche. The interior must be just as extraordinarily elegant, and yet it was probably all covered in dust, just waiting for Ryūji. "Ah~", he sighed, depositing his bag on the wooden deck.

"Okay... If it's cleaning, I don't care how bad it is, I'll take it on..."

Murmuring feverishly to himself, he took out the cleaning rag and the Takasu stick (In a slight fit of madness, it was a tool Ryūji had put together himself from wooden chopsticks and cotton fabric fashioned after that famous cleaning product, the 'Matsui stick') from his bag.

Now that he was ready, he turned around as if saying, "Okay Kawashima, please unlock the door and let me in", but,

"No no, Ami, with this beautiful beach in front of us, you can't mention something like cleaning~!"

Eh? Those unbelievable words, they had come from his dear Minori's lips. She nimbly jumped over the deck's wooden railing and landed on the beach,

"Wahoo! The sea, the sea! It's the sea~~!"

Flinging her shoes and socks aside, she ran towards the edge of the water. She disregarded the coming waves and went in ankle-deep,

"Hya, it's cold~! Ahaha, come on waves! I won't lose~!"

Amidst the splashing water that shimmered under the midsummer sun, she gave the incoming waves a low kick. All smiles, she then turned around and waved, yelling "Hey everyone~! Hurry up and come on over~!". Seeing Minori like that, Ami kicked off her own sandals and rolled up her jeans,

"I bet that feels good~! I'm going too~!"

"We'll take care of cleaning later!"

Even Kitamura went barefoot and took off running. "Kyah~!", "So cold!", they were all happily shouting,

"Hey, come on guys! We should clean first, shouldn't we?!"

Ryūji's dissenting cry was dispersed by the salty air in an instant. Thinking "What the heck", he turned around to see that one other person was still on the deck, the failure of a swimmer who didn't seem to have any interest in the sea. Indeed, she was still there.

"Hey, Taiga! So I see you're still here! You feel the same way, don't you, like you'd rather clean first instead of playing in the ocean, right?! That's right, the two of us can work on our plan some more now while we're cleaning."

However, just as he took one step forward towards her, she avoided him as if he were a leper,

"Noo~, don't get near me!... You, just now, you were making a perverted face."

"Eh...?"

"Disgusting."

Her narrowed eyes filling with contempt, Taiga coldly and disdainfully turned her face away, completely ignoring him. Kicking off her sandals, she ended up running off to join the others at the edge of the sea.

"Oh, there she is! Taiga, come over here! There's a ton of fish~!"

"Eh, where? I want to see!... Ooh, it's cold!"

"Don't worry, you'll get used to it soon!"

Taiga, who was lifting the edge of her skirt and exposing the lower half of her snow white legs as she entered the water's edge, held onto Minori's arm. The one left behind, Ryūji, was totally alone. Everybody's laughing happily... That looks like fun...

Although he was still unable to completely toss aside his urge to clean, there was no point in staying behind by himself like this. Not wanting to ruin the pleasant atmosphere, Ryūji hesitantly made his way down from the wooden deck while constantly turning back to look at the villa. He went as far as the edge of the tumultuous sea, and fidgeting on his feet, he idly wondered if he should remove his shoes when,

"Take that!"

"Wah!"

He was splashed in the face with cold water. He could taste the salt on his lips and his nose and eyes burned. Meanwhile, Ami was laughing.

"C'mon c'mon, Takasu-kun, let's play together!"

"Play, you say... Gah, hey you!"

"Ufufu, hurry, hurry~!"

Despite the fact that she was inviting him, she mercilessly splashed water with her fair white hands at Ryūji who was still fully clothed. Although her smile was gentle like an angel's and her beckoning voice was like a passing breeze,

"C'mon c'mon c'mon~!"

Aiming her splashes precisely at his face, she showed her fickle nature with her undoubtedly malicious intent.

"Dammit... You wanna go?!"

"Kyah~!"

In this situation, there was no need to hold back. He was intent on mercilessly paying her back double, but when he tried Ami laughingly retreated towards the open sea. The ocean spray that glittered in the midsummer sun had drenched the edge of Ryūji's shorts before he knew it and the intense sun began to tan his skin.

"Ooh~, cold! It's cold~!"

Laughing and fleeing, Ami had her jeans rolled up far enough that her knees were exposed, and not taking her personality into account, the whole scene looked just like a soda or sports drink commercial. Splashing water at each other, laughing together, he started feeling like it was really summer. Even his urge to clean had faded. The surging cumulonimbus clouds within the blue sky also added to the overall summer feel.

By the time he realized it, he was laughing loudly while intently chasing after Ami, his sweat and the seawater now indistinguishable on his skin...

"It's really cold~! Geez, Takasu-kun is a bully~!"

However,

"Oh really, so it's cold? Cold like this?"

"Ah~! Stop it~! Ya...Ah?!"

"Cold like these sea lice?"

"K...Kyaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!"

Behind Ryūji, Taiga had come in and replaced him as Ami's opponent without him noticing. The things that Taiga continued to fling at Ami were the sea lice that could be found in abundance on the nearby rocks. All of a sudden, Ami's white tanktop was littered with clinging sea lice,

"You damned midget, what do you think you're doing?!"

Looking like Prajnaparamita as she scowled angrily, Ami started hurling the sea lice she had suddenly acquired right back at Taiga.

"Shut up and take these sea lice, you stupid Chihuahua!"

"You're the one befitting of sea lice, you midget!"

Putting a damper on the otherwise pleasant midsummer seaside scene, an extremely nasty fight had broken out. While Ryūji cringed fearfully and prepared to run away, the one who had the courage to intervene was,

"Look here you two! This is our long-awaited trip, so what's with the fighting!"

...none other than Yūsaku Kitamura, the righteous class representative. However, the sea lice that the two girls were wildly flinging at one another started to hit and cling to Kitamura's shirt as he now stood in between them, right in the line of fire,

"Uwah, hey wait, these... You guys shouldn't be touching these, should you?! I don't really... I, I can't do it, please get them off for me... Ami! Get them off, please!"

"No way~! Yūsaku's disgusting! Don't get near me!"

"What?! Then Aisaka, please take them off for me!"

"U...I, I'm sorry..."

"What the heck?! You won't remove them for me?! But you guys were handling them with your bare hands just a second ago!"

What he said might be true, but it seemed that being chased by a guy with sea lice all over him was undoubtedly disgusting. Ryūji felt somewhat sorry, but even looking Kitamura in the face was too much for him, namely because they were even hanging from his glasses...

So with the two girls screaming "Kyah!" while being closely pursued by the glasses-wearing guy covered in sea lice, they all ran together along the water's edge. It seemed like they had found an agreeable rhythm for the moment.

Then,

"Ahaha, those guys are so ridiculous~! They really gathered a lot of sea lice!"

"Y, yeah."

Catching him by surprise, Ryūji was suddenly looking at Minori's brightly smiling face. Minori was watching the three dash around wildly and smiling,

"Well, actually, I can catch sea cucumbers..."

"Whoa?!"

She held out her hands, showing Ryūji a sea cucumber she had caught. He instinctively recoiled, but,

"Y'see, waters that have sea cucumbers in them are pretty clean. The sea cucumbers clean the water, and they're rather tasty, y'know."

Minori was in a good mood, simply ecstatic to say the least. After nonsensically bringing her arms together in a crossbones sign, she tossed the sea cucumber back into the water,

"Ahaha~, my hands reek of the sea now~!"

Sniffing her hands, Minori started smiling even more. Faced with the overabundant cheeriness of her carefree disposition, Ryūji naturally ended up smiling as well, but,

"...Hey, Kushieda, by the way,"

"Hmm?"

He couldn't lose sight of the goal of this trip. He needed to take this chance and do what he could to advance the plan somewhat, basically that was what he was thinking.

"That thing drifting about over there, don't you think it kind of looks like a human head?"

"~...!"

What he was pointing at was actually just seaweed floating on the surface of the water. But depending on how you looked at it, it just might have looked like a floating human head. In any case, he got the feeling that since it was Minori, she'd eventually let her own imagination run wild and do the job of scaring herself for him. Just as he expected, Minori was starting to get goosebumps all over her body,

"Guh...Kyah~! A corpse... It's a corpse! Or more importantly, this water is, with that rotting corpse's... Uwah~!"

Somersaulting as she tried to run away, her balance was shot as she clung to Ryūji arm. She leaned her weight against him. With the sensation of her fingers as well as the palm of her hand that was hotter than he had expected,

"Are... are you okay?!"

He felt like he could just die. Starting from the back of his neck, a tingling sensation ran down his spine. It felt kind of... No, it felt really really good.

"How could I be okay?! We're standing in corpse water~~!

However, next to the excited Ryūji, Minori's face was completely red, seeming genuinely scared. And she had been smiling so cheerfully just moments before too. Naturally, he felt rather guilty for selfishly getting excited on his own,

"S,...sorry for saying something weird... That thing, it's just seaweed."

Without thinking, Ryūji had given in, but,

"Kyah! So it's a seaweed corpse~~!"

From her half-standing position, Minori somersaulted once again, rolling along the wet beach. "According to her logic, wouldn't that mean that the meat, fish and so on from the supermarket would also be considered corpses?" ...was what he was thinking, but before he even had the chance to console her, Minori was already running all out towards the wood deck. He could see Ami in partial shock as she watched from a bit off to the side.

Although the plan was still in the preliminary stages, Minori was already thoroughly ensnared in the trap.

Light Novel
Main Series' Volumes

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