| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
"Like I said, don't--- move! I can't apply any lipstick on you this way!"
"I don't need those!"
"Of course you do! Your lips are too thin! How can you be so confident with your looks without any makeup!? Do you really think you're so cute!?"
"You're annoying, Bakachi! Just how long are you going to be this annoying?"
The room filled with the scent of chemicals was like a battlefield, with girls screaming everywhere. "Oh! This colour looks cute!" "How can that woman not apologize after bumping into people!?" "Hey! Where's the face powder? It's gone!" "Oh no! The pen's broken!" These voices were beginning to sound like roaring.
In one corner amidst the commotion, Ami took out a posh branded bag containing make up tools, and with a serious look in her eyes, held Taiga's chin with both hands. Sitting in front of the mirror, Taiga was completely uncooperative, and merely glanced towards her cellphone in her hand and frowning her eyebrows, refused to sit properly. The light pink lipstick followed Taiga's protruded lips, attempting to add another layer of bright colour on her lips.
"Stop moving... don't open your mouth, close it, close it, good... Alright, it's done. Next is lip gloss. Now which should we use... The limited Chanel coral one? Though it looks a bit too bright, or maybe the RMK pastel violet one? ... It'll suit your pale skin better. Or perhaps the M.A.C. transparent one to let your lips sparkle and keep its original colour. Hmm--- But that's too modest, not really my taste. We can also use the NARS multi-function lip gloss, but your lips would look too dry..."
Ami took out many lip glosses from her bag, and like a magician shuffling his cards, she elegantly opened their lids one by one and dripped them onto her fingertips as she began thinking. "Hmm... Should we use Chanel? Or NARS? M.A.C. Dior? Or maybe we should just use the cheaper local ones?" Ami was now making all sorts of incomprehensible spells as she carefully compared the variously coloured liquids with Taiga's lips, totally immersed in her thoughts. The pretentious girl was now even crossing her legs like a crab.
"What is it, Takasu-kun? Did you just say something?"
"Not really, for some reason... I just felt like doing this, to see if I could really brainwash you..."
"Huh? Well, I don't have time for this nonsense."
At this moment, Ryūji could not find a reason to make people turn their heads towards him.
Taiga sat on her makeup chair, while Ami was seriously helping her with her makeup. Ami stuck loads of facial tissue in her coat pocket, while her finger carried many brushes and eyeshadow sticks, smearing and applying all sorts of material on Taiga's face again and again. Like a professional hairdresser, Ami would also occasionally take out some gel and placed hair clips on her collar, preparing to fix Taiga's bangs into place. Compared to the other noisy girls, this was on a completely different level altogether.
"Why's this all powdery... Ah-choo! Ah--- Tissue..."
"No! You'll wipe out the makeup on your nose that way!"
Completely ignoring Ami's protests, Taiga continued to press the buttons incessantly, until her nose started to become sensitive and she began to sniff non-stop.
The offices of the PE teachers located in the gymnasium were partitioned into many smaller sections with curtains, where the participants of the Campus Queen competition got changed and applied their makeup, with help from their female classmates, creating a lot of commotion. Though Ryūji was the only guy involved in this as well, no one seemed to have noticed at all, as everyone was busy with their own stuff. In essence, this has become a battlefield.
"Argh! There's only 15 minutes left!? I still need to practice my MC lines as well as my own makeup... Takasu-kun, is the costume ready?"
"I was waiting for you to say that. Thanks to the efforts of the sewing team, it's now complete."
Ryūji stood up and held the dress for everyone to see. Even the Sewing Club girls from Class 2-C looked towards Ryūji and applauded approvingly. "Wow! Takasu-kun is amazing!" "Incredible! It looks so cute!" The reason there weren't any creases on the dress was because Ryūji had taken into consideration that there was no iron available, and so specifically chose a dress that would not wrinkle easily.
"Wow! This looks great!"
Ami's eyes glittered as she felt her fingers through the dress.
The triangular design would perfectly emphasize Taiga's miniature figure, since this dress doesn't incorporate a lot of Taiga's normally favourite ribbons and laces. The material was light and transparent silk. Layer upon layer of voile made the dress look elegant and graceful, just like a real princess.
Ryūji satisfyingly looked at the dress in his hands, looking completely pleased. Though he wouldn't go so far as to actually wear it himself, it does reflect his sense of beauty which was unique amongst the male high school students.
I found this back when I was tidying Taiga's cabinet. When he asked Taiga, "This is a very beautiful dress! How come you don't wear this?" The irresistible tailoring and elegant design was so good that Ryūji was pretty much breathtaken, but Taiga's response was, "I bought it because I thought it was cute. But then I discovered it would expose the fact that I'm flat chested, so I didn't like it."
Hence for this Campus Queen competition, Ryūji, with assistance from other girls, made some slight modifications to the dress. The girls would help make long ribbons, which were obtained from the older silky clothes, while Ryūji would make small folds on the chest area, and then sew the light orange ribbons that the girls made onto the folds, just under the chest, and make a small bow. As adding chest pads would just damage the tailoring, Ryūji chose such a method instead, as this would not only emphasize Taiga's slim curves, it would also beautifully increase the volume around her chest.
"The theme for this dress would be... 'Juliet'... how romantic... how regal..."
Caressing the dress that he had completed, Ryūji's looks had gone beyond that of what a mammal should have. "So this is what Takasu-kun likes." "How surprising!" "He looks dangerous..." He didn't even notice that the girls, who were tidying up their sewing equipment, were slowly starting to look at him with eyes that were no longer that of respect.
As this was the Campus Queen competition, a mere "Juliet" style dress wasn't enough to attract people's gazes, so Ryūji also prepared a special accessory for Taiga.
"And we're done when we add this at the back. Heh heh, they've got this in that Leonardo DiCaprio movie 'Romeo + Juliet', haven't they? Though I can't remember the exact details, but this is based on that scene!"
Ryūji added a silk ribbon behind the dress so Taiga could hang that behind her - a pair of angel wings. Though it wasn't big, one can still see it spreading cutely when looking in front of her. And where did he find such a thing? It actually belonged to a regular performer at the Bishamonten Kuni. When the drag queen first heard about this, his reaction was, "Campus Queen competition? Wow! Won't that be exciting? Oh and while I may not look like it, I'm actually a woman as well! Though the operation didn't go as planned..." He then gave his pair of wings to Yasuko for free.
Ami had no idea where the wings came from, and merely applauded for them being cute.
"Hmm... I was right to let Takasu-kun be in charge of the costume. The makeup's pretty much finished as well. Come, lift your head, we need to apply some blush powder."
"Grr... really, what the hell is he doing, why isn't he answering!? Dammit... could something have happened? He couldn't have gotten caught in an accident, could he..."
Even now, Taiga was not looking at how Ami was helping with her makeup, but instead gripped onto her cellphone irritably and glared at its display screen. She didn't even bother to have a look at herself and her costume in the mirror. Ami proceeded to lift Taiga's face by herself and applied some blush powder on her cheeks, and finally removed the hair clips on her head one by one, and all this time Taiga ignored her. At last Ami parted Taiga's long hair in an accustomed way and took out a hair spray and began to spray from the inside of her hair.
"Kawashima-san, please be ready by the stageside! We're almost ready as well!"
"Okay~! Damn! There's no time! Taiga! Nanako-chan and Maya-chan will come over and make your hairstyle for you, you just tell them that Ami wants a 'gentle angel-like feel, with the parting on the left, but don't make it too obvious'! Argh! This pisses me off! I wanna to do that myself!"
Feeling unsatisfied, Ami finally began to pack up her cosmetic box. When Ryūji saw her acting in a way beyond his imagination, he couldn't help but say,
"I never thought you liked such backstage work. I always believed that you were the sort that couldn't stand not being the protagonist."
"I don't actually hate this backstage work. Helping people with their makeup is actually fun! But girls would usually like doing makeup, right? Maybe it has something to do with me seeing all those professional stylists at work all the time, so it's quite... By the way, what're you still doing here? We're about to get changed, so can you men please get out? And Taiga! You need to quickly get changed! Don't forget to tell Maya-chan about your hairdo!"
"Hey! Are you even listening? You've been like that since we started... You couldn't still be waiting for your dad, could you? He probably won't come. Ah... and Ami-chan thought she could meet him for once, what a shame~!"
Taiga said angrily as she lifted her head,
"He'll definitely come! He must be late because of work! That's why his phone isn't responding! Good thing he didn't see the wrestling show... that would be too embarrassing, thank goodness he's late... He'll come afterwards! Definitely!"
"Well, I guess, if you say so. But do you still want to use that stage introduction as planned when you come on? You sure you don't want to change? I can think of something else..."
"It's fine, that will do."
Ami was trying to say something else...
"Kawashima-san! It'll be late if you don't hurry!"
"Coming--! Sorry, I'm on my way! Are you really sure?"
"I said it's fine! Ryūji thinks so as well, right? That person will come, right? Because we promised each other, so he'll certainly come... He's not sick or in an accident, right...?"
Looking at Ryūji, Taiga suddenly showed some doubt on her face.
"I'm not an esper, how should I know? ... But if he's really in an accident, he should've called already, right?"
"Yeah! That's what I think too!"
Hearing the organizing committee member rushing her, Ami grabbed her stuff and left without saying anything else, dragging Ryūji's hand along the way and leading him out as the girls began to get changed.
"Thanks for your help! I'm counting on you to help drum up the atmosphere within the audience~"
Tee hee! Ami shrugged and ran towards the committee member. Now it was Maya and Nanako's turn to enter the garden of ladies with their large mirrors and combs.
Ryūji sighed to himself, and walked alone in the empty gymnasium corridor. The storm-like preparations had finally come to an end, and he suddenly felt fatigued in his back and shoulders. The depression that was momentarily dispelled as he rushed to finish the dress was now returning again.
The whole class knew that after the pro-wrestling show was over, Taiga would have to prepare for the Campus Queen competition. The whole class was supposed to know, and yet Minori never once appeared in the preparation area, so all the preparation was done by Ryūji, Ami and the other girls. She was Taiga's best friend, and yet she didn't even come to show her concern. Though Ami would say, "What would she come for? ...That sporty girl would just get in the way anyway!" But she should at least just come and give Taiga some encouragement, shouldn't she? If she could have said something, maybe Taiga could've relaxed a bit.
Ryūji began thinking about things he didn't want to think about - Taiga's dad still hasn't appeared. Would Minori be thinking, "See? I told you so!" When she sees Taiga frantically looking at her cellphone and me trying to calm her down, would she be thinking, "Serves you right! I've already told you... If he doesn't come, it means I wasn't wrong..."
I don't want to think of her as such a person.
"Hurry up and come... Taiga's dad..."
Ryūji began talking to himself, and rigidly swung his stiff shoulders, and so accidentally smacked himself into a wall and had to kneel down in pain. He lifted his pathetic face and rubbed his arm with his dry hands, wondering about how Taiga's father would appear...
He'll surely arrive driving that silver convertible.
Slinging his jacket over his shoulder, he would shrug his shoulder and say, "Sorry I'm late!"
Taiga would then grumpily say to him, "You're late!" But would still reveal a shy but cheerful smile.
"You'll surely come, right? No matter how late you are, you'll think of some way to rush over here, right? Because you're her dad, you're Taiga's dad..."
Heroes often arrive late.
Ryūji breathed a deep breath, and slowly stood up. Noto should've reserved a seat for me by now. As though trying to walk past the obstacle ahead of him, he began to walk in huge strides.
In any case, if he can't even come to a Campus Queen competition - then he most certainly deserves a kick in the nuts.
Flash! The spotlights shone at the stage from three different directions.
"... Sorry to keep everyone waiting!"
It happened the moment the MC entered the stage with a mic in hand.
The packed gymnasium began to rumble - mixed with deafening cheers and applause, as well as the tremor caused by many people jumping in excitement, the sounds echoing all over the gymnasium.
"Ow! My ears...!"
Ryūji was forced to cover his ears and lower his face to protect himself, but Noto, who was sitting next to him...
"OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OHHHHHH MY GOOOOOOD-----!!!!! AMI-CHAAAAAAAAAN---------!!!!!"
Had already started jumping up and down enthusiastically like an excited puppy dog, punching his fists in the air and swinging his head while screaming wildly.
"N, Noto... Noto!"
"AHHHHH----!!!!! AMI-CHAN!!! KU-WA-SHI-MA!!! AHHHH-----!!!!! AHH---!!! AHHHHH-----!!!!!"
"Noto, calm down! Get ahold of yourself! You'll blow a blood vessel that way!"
Ryūji patted Noto on the back, trying to calm him down, but his friend had already let his excitement get to his head. His glasses had slid down to his chin, his heart instantaneously linked with the other guys, and danced wildly in that narrow seat of his, not caring whether he would get hurt. Ryūji's foot was repeatedly stomped on by Noto, causing him to wince in pain.
"Hee hee hee! You should all keep quiet, okay~?"
The foldable chairs lined up closely were all occupied, there were even people standing. Ami accepted her applause as a matter-of-factly, her sweet and beautiful face revealing a somewhat troubled smile.
That costume is too low-handed of you! Aren't you supposed to be the MC!? Ryūji wasn't dazzled, but was rather feeling helpless. What's with this "I don't actually hate this backstage work" nonsense!? She was basically born to indulge in all this adulation and admiration, listening to people singing her praises!
How was it that Ami managed to change into a different appearance so quickly? First, her gentle smile on her pretty face, which was soaked under the spotlight, revealed the glittering makeup on her face. As expected of a professional model, her wet lips sparkled like pearls, the light-coloured eye shadows allowed her shining chihuahua eyes to reveal their purity. Yet her gaze beamed with infinite charm, by moving her gaze a bit, it would look as though she was telling a tale from far, far away. Ami's beauty was too dramatic, her shiny hair emphasized her feminine curves, what was frightening was that even her shadow was giving off the same beautiful scent.
And then there's the costume that she's wearing on her slim and elegant figure, which was the true reason for driving everyone, including Noto, absolutely crazy, and the source for Ryūji's speechlessness.
"Umm~ Oh my, if you aren't quiet, then I'm going to have to punish you~"
She said as she lashed her whip. Standing on the stage of a public high school was a dominatrix.
She wore a pair of 10cm-tall high-heeled shoes.
Her netted stockings looked as though they form part of her skin, the dark netting perfectly accentuated her white skin even more.
A garter belt linked her stockings with her black leather catsuit. Though her thighs were small, they could still be seen from the sides of her panties. The curves created from the leather suit tightly wrapping her buttocks were so dangerously sexy that no one dared look directly at them. The ribbons in front of the suit were neatly tied up all the way to her neck, though there was a blank space in the upper chest area, provocatively revealing her cleavage - Two white spherical objects were squeezed tightly together and altered in shape as a result, appearing in this blank space of infinite sexiness.
Besides those, there were her excessively beautiful armpits, and her marble-like arms. Not to mention her leather gloves, which extended from her hands all the way to her elbows, enhanced her seductiveness. Suddenly, Ami's smile disappeared-
"Haven't I told you to shut up already!? You bunch of worthless pigs!"
CRACK! The whip lashed in the air and cracked as it hit the ground.
That yelling was not part of her acting, that was the real Ami. By making such a violent outburst, she brilliantly demonstrated how black-hearted she really was. Ryūji began to shiver.
"Ah... sensei, I wanna be part of the floor...!"
"Hit me~! ... Ahhh, hit me... I want to be hit! Hit me badly~!"
"Even as a pig, I'll gladly do it! As long as I can get near Ami-chan!"
The audience had been stunned to the point of revealing their submissive masochistic nature, pathetically declaring their eternal fealty to Queen Ami.
"You want me to hit you hard? You shameless and filthy pigs! You should all sit down quietly like the ugly pigs that you are! After all, you're just pork meat if you can't even fly---!"
Ahhh~ ... The gymnasium was filled with the sound of swooning and drooling, yet everyone still obediently suppressed their screams, because their queen had told them to. Noto, who was at the verge of insanity, was now looking with lecherous eyes,
"Ami-chan's thighs... Ami-chan's violence... Amazing! This is too amazing! My mind is now filled with new desires..."
As though dreaming, he wrapped his body like a baby as he sat bedazzled on his chair.
Only Ryūji remained calm - Or rather, he was skeptically trying to get out of this whirlpool of madness as he gazed at the MC Queen. The atmosphere is indeed incredible, but...
"... Just kidding~ Toradora vol02 heart.png! Really, that was all a joke, so don't take it seriously, okay~? Please continue to keep things excited! Now then, I will now explain the voting rules! We will first have the candidates introduce themselves one by one, and then we will have one person one vote..."
... Why is the MC the one taking all the spotlight instead? Wouldn't things be boring from here onwards?
In her dominatrix queen outfit, Ami began to speedily explain the voting rules, though no one was really listening, as their eyes were all fixed on her cleavage, long legs and armpits, as well as the pale white skin that can be seen beneath her netted stockings.
With the change in the BGM, Ami moved towards the microphone on the other side of the stage, and the audience moved their gaze as well.
"Now let us begin! Starting with No. 1! From Class 1-A..."
A pale skinned, tiny and cute first year girl walked onto stage with her costume for the school festival. People can't help but feel that they've seen her greeting customers before, as she was wearing a maid uniform. Just as the audience were thinking She's gonna say it...
"Welcome back, master!"
She smiled nervously and said. She said it! The crowd erupted in applause, though the mood didn't feel right. Maybe it had something to do with their eyes all clearly fixed on the MC.
"Her specialty is welcoming her master home! Claiming to be good enough to earn a 1st class certificate for maids! The performance this beautiful maid has prepared for today is 'Rock-Paper-Scissors'! Now everyone! Let's play--!"
Standing by the side of the stage and attempting to drive up the atmosphere, Ami the MC simply looked too dazzling, both in looks and in attire. Such was the difference between a professional and an amateur.
The first year maid didn't notice that the mood looked strange, and continued happily,
"Now let us begin our 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' game--! Well~ the rules of this game in the Class 1-A maid cafe are..."
She began dancing left and right, singing some strange and campy song, and then shouted "Hey!" and raised her fist. The only people who followed her movements were a few girls... Most probably girls from her class.
"How sad... It's all because Ami-chan is just too attractive! Or rather, the executive committee chose the wrong person to be MC to begin with."
Even Noto, who finally came to his senses, looked sympathetically towards the first year girl. I feel the same way too... Ryūji applauded loudly and sent her off from this strange atmosphere.
But the first year student that came afterward was also...
"W, welcome back, master."
Saying the same stuff.
"Just how many maids do we have in our school anyway!?"
"Leaving that aside, is that all they ever say?"
Neither Ryūji, Noto, nor any of the audience could get excited by this. Though this junior schoolmate was indeed cute, with her distinctive cateye and fluttering short hair, as well as legs as slim as a baby lamb from beneath her mini-skirt. She's probably the prettiest of the first year girls, but as everyone got used to seeing maids, plus that greeting of "Welcome back" was getting old, all the audience could say was "Is that all?" Not to mention she was completely outshone by the MC.
"Takasu, did you know? We have like eight classes doing maid cafes this year... I went to four of them... but just requesting them to write 'Noto' with tomato ketchup on my omelet rice cost me 300 yen extra..."
"And I was wondering where you've gone to, so that's what you've been doing."
"Yeah, I was visiting these maid cafes. Where have you gone to? Were you hanging out with Kitamura? Haruta and I were looking for you for so long, thinking of hanging around with you."
"I was with Taiga and Kitamura, having lunch in a third year stall, we even bought crepes... oh yeah, we even went to the Chemistry Club's annual mashmallow stall, though it was sold out when we came to the front of the queue." (TL: Marshmallow is just a guess, I have no idea what the real term in English is, please double check. )
"That's because their marshmallows are popular every year. I went as well, and even bought some as presents. Before my sister graduated from here, she used to love these. I still got some with me, want some?"
Without realizing, Ryūji was now chatting happily with his friend. When he noticed, he quickly lowered his voice apologetically.
"Oh, your phone's ringing."
The cellphone in his pocket, which he had set to silent mode, began to vibrate. Ryūji quickly pulled the phone by its handstrap. The Campus Queen tournament is on right now, I don't think now's the right time... Though Ryūji was worried, but he noticed other people were taking out their own cellphones and taking pictures of the stage nonstop. If that's the case, I'm sure it's fine for me to check my messages, right? As Ryūji flipped his phone open, the maid on the stage was singing a song out of tune.
"Oh my... Poor girl... I think I'll vote for this junior as a consolation..."
In that time~ At this time~ Seeing the maid singing was heart wrenching, and the feeling of helplessness and sympathy quickly spread throughout the entire hall.
"Are you crazy? You should save that vote for Taiga. This will affect our class's overall ranking, you know?"
Though she was pitiable, Ryūji still stopped Noto and reminded him of this. "Heh heh heh..." Noto let it pass with a silly smile. Regardless of whether she was nervous or was just naturally a bad singer, the maid on stage continued with her out of tune song. Out of courtesy, Ryūji gave a quick glance at the stiff maid before looking at the screen on his phone.
As he looked at the screen...
Within the dark space, the screen shone dazzlingly.
The words on it clearly reflected into his eyes. There was no way he could have read it wrong or misinterpreted it. Everything turned into words and entered Ryūji's retina.
The title was "I'm sorry".
The sender was "Aisaka (Father)".
The first line read, "Hi".
"Hey, Takasu, when is Taiga coming on? Are they gonna follow the class ordering?"
Everything suddenly fell silent.
There's something I'd like you to tell Taiga.
"Nope, it's now a third year that's coming on. Whoa! A yukata! And she's hot as well!"
Due to work, I have no choice but to leave.
"Oh, so she's from the Tea Ceremony Club. I never knew we had such a senior. She looks elegant!"
So I don't think I can come today. I'm sorry, I'll make it up for her someday. By the way, there's something else...
"By the way, Ami's stolen the scene again! Oh, that whipping girl!"
You know what I said about living together with Taiga? Forget I ever said that. Because of my work, I can't have a divorce yet. So I have to continue my current marriage. Please tell her to occasionally come eat with me. I'm counting on you to tell my little Princess. Thanks.
... All this for work!?
If it were some urgent business, or a client came to see him, or even if he had gotten ill - if it was because of these reasons that he couldn't come to the school festival, it was still acceptable.
No matter how Taiga looked forward to it, how she wanted to see her father, how she believed that he would keep his promise, if it were for these reasons, then it can't be helped. Because her father was an adult, no matter how important his daughter was to him, he couldn't just place his daughter's school festival ahead of things that were happening before him. Ryūji would understand these, and so would Taiga.
Ryūji never thought Taiga's father would do this, he never imagined that Taiga's father would actually do such a thing... It never even entered his mind.
"Takasu? What's wrong? Hey..."
Ryūji finally understood the true meaning of "being stunned into silence".
He took a deep breath, as his body was stiff as though he was wearing metal armour. His raised eyebrows and wide opened eyes all stopped moving upon reading the first line in the message, and were unable to move anymore.
Too shocking, just too shocking.
Ryūji was really stunned, because he completely didn't understand, he couldn't comprehend what this was all about, what this all meant, nor did he know what he should do.
He didn't know how he should face Taiga, when faced with such a message, and with his own beliefs. Because there was no one to tell him the answer.
"Hey, are you alright? You look terrible..."
Noto shook Ryūji's shoulder with his hand. Ryūji wanted to tell him "I'm fine", but he didn't even know whether he should open his mouth.
The pretty yukata girl on the stage was reciting a prose using every syllabic kana, causing the audience to giggle in laughter. The Campus Queen tournament was once again getting exciting.
Ryūji kept staring at his cellphone screen, nothing else could get into his vision anymore. But he seemed to believe that things might change if he continued to stare into it. And so he just stared at that dazzling screen. But nothing changed, and only the "truth" was placed before his eyes:
Taiga's father not only ran away from the school festival, he even ran away from everything related to Taiga, he chose to escape from it all.
Ryūji's eyes could only see this truth.
"W, why did I believe him..."
He said with a voice as sharp as a child, and grabbed his chest tightly... Why did I believe him? Why did I single-handedly decide that this was a "good thing" without giving it any second thought!? Why did I not listen to what Taiga wanted to say!? Ryūji was subconsciously clawing his chest painfully, but he could not feel any pain.
In the end it was all for nothing.
Only the pain caused by me remains.
Ryūji thought back o the pain that he has caused - the figure of Taiga wavering appeared in his head. It was the figure he saw after he had persuaded her, and the figure with which she then ran towards her father and hugged him under the streetlamp. She was thrilled yet shy at the same time.
Taiga was happy, really happy, and she constantly looked cheerful and blessed... Upon seeing such a Taiga, Ryūji would feel really lonely.
It was because he felt lonely that a despicable thought was spawned. Ryūji had a thought which even he himself did dare not face - How he had wished Taiga's father had never appeared. In this way, they would continue their lives with the three of them together as usual, with Taiga relying on him, needing him, pouting on him, and he could convince himself that "it was right to come to this world". He felt everything was taken away from him, he felt he was no longer needed, so he felt lonely, and he hated that. As Ryūji had felt glimpses of such thoughts before, he convinced himself that "this was a good thing".
It's not that I trust Taiga's dad that I let her return to him.
I was doing this for myself, but I pretended it was for Taiga's sake.
I wanted to use Taiga to make up for what's missing in my life, that's why I threatened her about "planning to discard something which I could never get".
Ryūji believed as long as Taiga could have happiness with her father, he could atone for his sin for being the reason Yasuko couldn't return to her parents. Though Taiga has no relation with Yasuko whatsoever, he only needed one chance for atonement, then he would feel redeemed, and would no longer think of himself as a child nobody wants, coming to this world by mistake.
Yet deep in his heart he genuinely wanted Taiga's father to disappear, hoping Taiga would stay forever by his side, to confirm his raison d'être.
How can I be so stupid? How can I be so nonsensically selfish and self-centred?
And this is how God punished me as a result.
How should I tell Taiga?
Like the impact of a storm, Ryūji's heart and lungs were frozen stiff like a corpse. He couldn't think, his fingers couldn't move, his ears couldn't hear anything.
"Now then~! The next contestant hails from Class 2-C, I'm sure you all know her better if I call her the 'Palmtop Tiger', right? As expected... let us welcome Aisaka Taiga--!"
Whoo-hoo! The audience clapped and murmured. "The Palmtop Tiger's here!" "She's really taking part!?" "Are you sure we don't need fences? Wouldn't that be dangerous!?" The excited audience now gave Taiga their most enthusiastic response so far.
"Um, Takasu... It's Taiga's turn..."
Noto looked confusingly at Ryūji, who still clutched tightly at his cellphone and widened his big eyes.
He didn't even notice that the crowd had gone silent.
She... The girl who looked slightly nervous walked onto the stage.
The thin silk suited her footsteps, which seemed to glide in the air.
The angel wings behind her flapped softly.
Her long hair growing to her waist fluttered like soothing music, together with her loose hair ribbon.
Her slim body wrapped inside the dress looked so fragile it could break.
Her lowered brows cast a shadow over her face. Maybe it could an illusion, but her fine glass-sculpture-like face seemed to constantly stay down.
Taiga's soft footsteps were like ripples.
In this silence, her striding was like wind being blown.
Like a clear visage about to dissolve into honey, no one dared to make a sound.
Everyone felt like protecting this dream-like butterfly that just came out of her cocoon, fearing to damage her beauty, and held their breath as they looked on.
Someone said softly.
"S, so cute..."
As for Ryūji...
"Well! Today Aisaka-san's father also came specifically to cheer for her today! Can Aisaka-san's father please come forward to say a few words for your daughter--?"
Ami held her mic in one hand and waved with her other hand, her eyes looked a bit concerned as she looked towards the audience.
Taiga stood in the middle of the stage, withdrawing her feathers, biting her lips uncomfortably as she waited. But her eyes still believed that somewhere out there, someone would cry out for her.
Time passed by unbelievably slowly.
"Um... well... that..."
Ami couldn't help but make some sounds. Taiga's father, who was supposed to cheer for her, was not in the hall. The awkward pause led to murmurs appearing within the crowd, not praises for the beautiful angel, but doubts. "He's not even here!" "Hurry up and continue!"
Taiga's wings shook a bit.
Ryūji saw it.
Ryūji stood up, kicking his chair back. Taiga saw Ryūji's eyes, and they exchanged glances. Upon seeing Ryūji clutching his cellphone, she quickly understood more than anyone else what was going on. When she saw Ryūji's expression, she momentarily gave a dejected look, like a baby about to cry.
Taiga lowered her head, painfully closing her eyes.
Her actions were as though saying that she understood everything - Her father didn't come, and wouldn't be picking her up. Yet for some reason she didn't seem surprised. Her closed eyes looked as though they were saying, "If that's the case, then there's nothing in this world worth looking at."
Her small shoulders lost their energy, and her wings drooped. The fallen feathers fell in place of tears onto her feet.
Ryūji couldn't do anything. Taiga was too far on the stage, he couldn't reach out to her even if he tried, neither could he drag her father here.
Taiga seemed ready to escape from the stage where everyone was looking.
As she turned with her back towards the audience, ready to leave with her head down, no one had thought that Taiga would still be so clumsy even in this moment.
OHHH! The audience gasped as well. Taiga's high heeled shoes had stepped on her own dress now of all times. Losing her balance, Taiga fell forward by her own weight, just like that in the centre of the stage.
"U-wah... midget Taiga..."
THUD! Taiga landed face flat in a sound Ryūji and Ami couldn't bear to hear. Her dress fell forward, revealing her entire thigh. Even the other contestants, standing by the side of the stage, were scared stiff by such a scene. Nobody moved, and simply watched what was happening before their eyes.
The sudden accident had left everyone speechless, and the gymnasium fell dead silent.
Only Taiga muttering echoed throughout. As she couldn't bring herself get up yet, she could only attempt to straighten her dress, but the dress was broken, and was ripped all the way to her thighs, which meant she couldn't cover her pale white thighs even if she wanted to. It was an embarrassing sight to behold, and people couldn't help but sigh at her misfortune.
What should I do? Being struck by lightning as divine punishment, and impaled by his own self-hatred, once his scales are fixed to the ground, not even the dragon could fly or flap his wings to create wind. As a dog, Ryūji was even more useless, and he was completely at a loss on what to do. He already felt like crying out loud... All this is happening to Taiga, and all I can do is stand here...
Taiga finally raised her head.
Whether it was embarrassment, or she was too emotionally stricken, her face was redder than blood, and she could only tearfully bite her lips and sniff her nose.
The dog that could do nothing shouted in his heart - There are now two choices for you.
The first choice is to cry right there, waiting for someone to give her a hand. Who knows, the lights could suddenly go out and someone would come rescue her, taking her away from what will become the casual talk for days to come.
Besides that, there is a second choice.
And that is to get up with her own two feet.
Just like that, carrying her wounds and shame, finding a balance between everyone's gazes and her own emotions, and think of something. Even if it were done clumsily, even if her wounds were to crack open, even if it won't be successful, no matter how painful or badly it turns out, she must think of a way to get up and walk forward.
Which choice would you take?
Taiga, which choice would you take...
The mumbling was faint.
The lighting was strong.
Strong and more dazzling than anything else around. Like stars bathing under the spotlight, Taiga's eyes came back to life. The wings in her back shook for a while, her displeased eyes gave a ferocious stare and moved her body a bit, like how an animal would shake its head after just waking up.
She then ripped off the end of her long skirt without hesitation, leading to gasps within the audience. Amidst the audience drawing their breaths, Taiga lifted her chin matter-of-factly and puffed her chest as proudly as before, rubbing her red kneecaps and slowly picked herself up.
She stood up.
"I won't be beaten so easily," She muttered. Her expression was twisted and her tears were concentrated in her eye sockets, but she still stepped forward back towards the stage. Now wearing a cute mini-skirt, this Campus Queen contestant, whose repute was higher than anyone else, walked forward step by step.
"She did it..."
Ryūji could feel Taiga's wings were breaking the waves and sailing forward.
Though the wind wasn't strong enough, and he was worried she might not fly.
At this moment, within the rowdy and chaotic crowd, Ryūji, on his own...
Began to clap his hands.
He clapped with all his might, so that it echoed across the whole gymnasium.
That was the wind.
This is the wind I am giving to you.
"Hey, that's the delinquent Takasu."
"Oh yeah, he's cheering for his partner."
-- Ignoring those whispers, he stood and continued with his clapping, all this for the girl walking with pride, all this for Aisaka Taiga, Ryūji would send her his wind, and his utmost compliments, he would even give her encouraging cheers, "Come on! Hang in there!"
"Hmm... maybe we should cheer for her as well! She's cute, after all!"
"That's right! Anyway, Long Live the Palmtop Tiger!"
"The Palmtop Tiger is invincible! Not even her clumsiness can stop her!"
The clapping began to spread like ripples from around Ryūji. Noto, the unknown person next to him, and the next person onwards, one by one they began to stand up and cheered for Taiga. The students of Class 2-C certainly did their best to applaud, and even the dominatrix MC smiled and placed her mic under her arm to join in with the clapping, while whistling to drive up the crowd. Everyone was applauding for this beautiful, dangerous, and hopelessly clumsy Campus Queen contestant. The applause had turned into the wind which would steadily push Taiga ever forward.
Just as the whole gymnasium was filled with applause--
A sudden yell filled the hall, but it wasn't Ryūji.
"TAIGA! LISTEN UP--!!! No matter when! No matter what! YOU'RE THE BEST--!!! EVERYTHING'S GONNA BE OKAY--!!!"
The voice was a bit hoarse, so that person stopped to catch her breath.
It was Kushieda Minori. She stood on a chair at the last row, preparing to yell again, but she started to cough and couldn't make any sound, so Ryūji took over for her,
"TAIIIIIGAAAAAA--!!!!! GOOD JOB! YOU GO GIRL!!! HANG IN THERE---!!!!!"
Noto and the others all looked astonishingly at Ryūji, but Ryūji didn't stop, and took turns yelling with Minori, telling her to not give up, cheering for her while standing up and cheering with all they've got.
They both believed Taiga made the right decision.
Even if you fall down, life goes on and you must still continue moving forward. No matter what happens, no matter how painful it'll be, no matter how much you're betrayed, how useless you feel, as long as you're alive, you must continue to get up and move forward. No matter how many times you fall, no matter how exhausted you are from getting up, you must still move forward, whether you're crying or smiling while at it, you must still rely on your own two feet, and walk on down the path that you have chosen.
That is our reason for living.
Living with her incredible endurance, Taiga frowned her very red face, and rubbed her rather painful elbows and knees as she walked onto the stage. The feathers on her wings continued to fall like a layer of snow on the path Taiga had walked on. Ryūji continued to cheer full on, "That's good! Keep it up!" The applause in the audience continued to grow louder, whistles and cries of "Palmtop Tiger" could be heard.
Yet as she came before the mic, Taiga scowled and screamed with the tip of her voice:
She leaned forward while holding the mic like Yazawa Eikichi, standing wildly with her legs open under that torn skirt. Just as everyone wondered what she was going to say--
"Who cares about things like fathers? They can get chopped up and sent to the Morgue!!!"
Oooooo... The crowd gasped and leaned backwards, and then whispered understandingly, "As expected from the Palmtop Tiger, the strongest and most dangerous animal of all. Even her relations are filled with bloodshed."
Taiga seemed to throw everything out the window as she got here.
"Now time for some self-introduction! Hey, dumbass! Where's the stuff that you got prepared!?"
"Y, yes ma'am!"
The "dumbass" Haruta was already sitting at the front row with the prop ready in hand. The object he tossed onto the stage was a Boston bag. Just what is she up to? After unzipping the bag, Taiga elegantly rolled her body in a smaller shape than usual and crawled neatly into the bag. And then coming from the bag--
Maybe she was too ferocious, a contestant timidly came over and anxiously zipped up the big. The audience once again gave their generous applause for Taiga's slick performance.
Perhaps out of consideration, the first year contestant proceeded to pick up the bag, leading to an even louder applause--
"DON'T PICK IT UP--!!!"
For Taiga, it seemed like picking up the bag wasn't part of the show. A few seconds after the bag was placed back on the floor,
The first year maid quickly unzipped the bag. Flicking her hair, Taiga emerged from within with a pompous look,
"Hmph! Not bad, eh? You should feel honoured to serve me, maid!"
She proudly puffed her chest and intimidated the girl... Wasn't it just a while ago that she was as pathetic as a frog that got run down by a car...?
The time had come for the votes to be announced.
No one had thought that the conceited roadkill frog tiger with her angel wings had really become the Campus Queen. Her victory was attributed to her amazing trip, as well as her imitation of a certain incredibly underweight comedian by crawling into a Boston bag. (Referring to Esper Ito - http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%A8%E3%82%B9%E3%83%91%E3%83%BC%E4%BC%8A%E6%9D%B1 )
This time no one doubted her anymore, and gave her their unanimous applause. Taiga scowled and returned once more to the centre of the stage, and sat on the throne under the guidance of the executive committee members.
All this time Ryūji watched her from under the stage. Taiga faced forward, proudly lifting her chin, but she was still alone. Looking down at everyone's gazes, there was no one to come hug her, or anyone to come take her home.
Taiga is sitting there alone all by herself.
"Takasu...? Hey, what're you doing!? Hey!?"
Ryūji wanted to go to Taiga's side, even if it's just to pull their distance a bit closer. He was ready to climb through row after row of seats-- Though he knew he wasn't exactly the person she was expecting, though he knew that there was no way he could really mend that wound in Taiga's heart.
Yet even if there's a gaping hole in her heart, he felt he could still be a pillar that could continue to support her, and now was the time to do so. Ryūji pushed the shoulders of the audience in front of him, attempting to climb forward one step at a time. Seeing how this could inconvenience others, Noto quickly held onto Ryūji's shoulder,
"Like I said, it's useless! Oh, I'm sorry, sorry... See? Even I'm getting blamed here!"
It was only now that the gymnasium felt so huge. Even when Ryūji scowled with a villainous face, he couldn't get past those packed seats, and Noto's grip was surprisingly strong...
He felt his heart breaking.
He didn't know what he should do, but he felt that as long as he could get to Taiga's side, he could find the answer. I just want to get beside the lonely Taiga, even one step closer, one centimetre closer.
At this moment,
"Ladies and gentlemen! Now for our final tournament!"
A girl's voice blasted across the hall with a powerful big brother-like tone. Ryūji couldn't help but stop in his struggle to get forward.
Six people appeared on stage.
In their uniforms, they all wore a bright red armband and stood horizontally across the stage.
In the centre holding a mic and laughing merrily was the spiritual leader of this school's students, the living legend, and down-to-earth big brother...
"I see y'all are in a great mood! Now then, it's time for this year's Campus King tournament!"
It was none other than the perfect Student Council president, Kanou Sumire.
Standing still by her right was the ever loyal vice president, Kitamura Yūsaku. Standing just right behind in a single row were the council committee members. As for the festival executive committee members who wore green armbands, they all stood behind in another row.
After the euphoria of the Campus Queen competition, they began to murmur uncontrollably -- "Now what?" "Looks like a Campus King competition is about to start." "But we haven't even got any candidates!"
"Heh" - A smile appeared on Sumire's face, which halted the noise made by the crowd.
"The criteria for choosing the Campus King will be... This!"
In cue with Sumire's hand sign, the council members pulled down a rope hanging from the ceiling, which seemed to have come down when no one was noticing. CLAP! A huge glitter ball split open, and as the ticker-tapes flew around, a huge piece of paper unrolled itself before everyone's eyes--
And hit on the head of a naturally unlucky council member. As he bent down in pain, Sumire shoved him off and purposely read out loudly the paper's contents which everyone else could see:
"This year we'll be choosing a... 'Mr Lucky Guy'!"
Lucky Guy... What the hell's that?
The brainwaves of the entire audience seemed to have gone into sync at the same time as they all tilted their heads in confusion. Even Ryūji, whom Noto had tried very hard to keep in between the seat rows, had tilted his head. Stepping forward, Kitamura took the mic and explained,
"The origin of 'Mr Lucky Guy' came from the annual Fuku Otoko (literally Lucky Guy) race held during the Toka Ebisu festival every January 10th by the Nishinomiya Shrine in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture to celebrate. I'm sure you've read or heard about it from the news before, right? Every year a lot of people would gather outside the shrine gates at the dawn of January 10th, and when the gates open, they would race up 230 metres of stone steps towards the main shrine. The first three to arrive would be awarded the 'First Fuku', 'Second Fuku' and 'Third Fuku' prizes, and the winner of the 'First Fuku' would be known as 'Fuku Otoko', or 'Lucky Guy'. In other words - right now the race is to be prepared in the sports field, anyone who wishes to participate please meet at the starting point there! The first to arrive there would be the 'Lucky Guy', in other words, the 'Campus King'!"
Upon hearing Kitamura's explanation of the rules--
"Running in the school festival? No way!"
The boos were louder than the cheers. Some of the guys, which seemed to agree, began complaining,
"How come the girls only have to sing on stage while we guys have to run!?"
"Why do we guys get to do all the troublesome stuff!?"
The complaints became boos as well, and were directed at the members of the student council. But standing tall, Sumire merely smiled coldly and endured their grumblings.
"You don't have to participate if you don't want to. This is a free event after all."
"Then nobody's gonna participate!"
"That's right. Let's go!"
The audience was obviously not interested, and were beginning to leave. However--
"First, the winner of the Lucky Guy award will have the right to have a dance with our Campus Queen of the year Aisaka Taiga in tonight's bonfire night. Second, he will win the right to crown the Campus Queen."
The Campus Queen crown was brought before everyone's eyes in a trolley, with a council member carefully holding it up. The winner does get to dance with the Campus Queen, but Taiga could very well refuse to dance-- Thinking about that, many more disinterested people began leaving.
"Hey, there seems to be something else up there!"
"A huge bag of stuff!"
Shining underneath the Campus Queen crown, which seemed to be borrowed from somewhere, was a heavy mysterious looking cloth bag. Sumire smiled and continued,
"Oh, I nearly forgot... This comes with the crown, a shopping bag made by Kanou Groceries which you would only normally get when you spend up to 3000 yen. As for what's inside... well, I'm just trying to recycle stuff that I no longer need, old stuff that I've been keeping for three years. These are my study notes since April of my first year, including all exam papers, answers, explanations... I must say I can be surprisingly serious, since all notes from every class, every question asked by the teachers and their answers, and all essays organized... They're all well preserved here. Sigh, though it wouldn't be good to dump them all away, but I do wish that before I graduate, I would be able to show this happy couple, the Campus Queen and Lucky Guy, the testament of how I studied these past three years..."
The mood instantly changed, and the boos quickly dispersed.
"Big Brother Kanou's study notes...?"
"All past exam papers...?"
"Notes, questions, answers, essays...!?"
"The testament of study of 'that' Student Council president, who scored first in school ever since she enrolled with full marks!?"
The crowd was growing more and more excited. Even some of those planning to go home decided to return to their seats to see what else they could find out. Especially those with poor grades, as well as those third years in danger of repeating, who were secretly discussing whether to participate. The studying tools of the genius Kanou Sumire... This prize is way too attractive! Though there were also some within the excited crowds thinking along the lines of...
"Eh!? People are actually joining? No way! T, then the part about dancing with the Palmtop Tiger is also true, right? But in the end we could get refused by her, right? Right!?"
"Well, that's what I thought as well... Um~~ What if she couldn't refuse?"
"Is that even possible!?"
"Maybe it's because I heard people are interested in joining, so I'm feeling a bit anxious... Let's put aside whether we could dance with the Tiger, don't you think it's great to be able to photocopy notes with her?"
"Become friends with the Tiger..."
"Maybe it is true..."
Some of the boys under the stage began glancing at Taiga, who stood behind the student council members. Though she heard Sumire mention her name, she didn't get angry or rebut Sumire at all, but simply sat quietly on her chair. Notwithstanding her true nature, as long as she didn't go ballistic, there was indeed nothing else that was cuter than Taiga.
"That's it, I'm in!"
"No way!? Are you serious!?"
"Right, I'm in as well! My target is 'First Fuku'!"
More and more contestants appeared, some even gathered to discuss their strategies,
"As the Athletic Team, it wouldn't be good for us if we were to lose to any other club!"
"Right! Our aim is to beat the Athletic Team! Now's our chance to show them what the Basketball Team is made of!"
"Soccer Team members, gather up! We'll use our elegant tackles to defeat everyone else!"
"Heh heh heh! Now's the time for us to end the Soccer Team once and for all! Calling all Five-a-side Soccer Interest Club members!"
None of the sports teams were willing to lose to amateurs in this tournament, so they all gathered up, aiming to win the Lucky Guy crown.
"I also want Big Brother's notes!"
"Each class is only allowed to send one person to participate in the Campus Queen tournament, so why is it the guys can freely join the Campus King one!? That's not fair!"
The girls began to grumble. Seeing the guys getting all fired up, Sumire held her mic with one hand and said on stage,
"Though the title starts with 'Mr', this tournament is free for all regardless of gender! We would also welcome girls to take part! Now! If you've decided to join, meet up in the athletic track in the sports field outside--!"
YEAH! The deep roars of the guys were mixed with the cheers of the girls.
Ryūji could be seen amongst the student that were heading outside to gather.
Ryūji was not interested in Big Brother's notes.
Neither was he interested in the title of "Lucky Guy".
Though it wasn't too bad to be able to dance with Taiga.
He only wanted to reach Taiga earlier than anyone else. No matter what, no matter how, he only wanted to quickly rush towards Taiga, who was sitting there all alone, and be by her side.
|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|