| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
Ryuuji placed his school bag on his legs while standing outside the school gate. He was waiting for Minori, who was intercepted by her juniors from the softball team just as they were about to leave school. "Bye bye!" "See you tomorrow!" After waving goodbye to each other in front of Ryuuji, the first year girls went their separate ways. It wouldn't have been nice to let them endure an unneeded fright. Therefore, Ryuuji deliberately lowered his head to avoid looking at them, taking care not to put on an expression that would imply that he was targeting them, and instead determinedly looked at his squeaky clean shoes.
Under the evening sky...
"I'm sorry to make you wait! Let's go!"
Minori ran out of the school gate while flinging her schoolbag wildly. Ryuuji also started walking nonchalantly by her side. Although he already knew that he would be able to smell the peachy fragrance of her hair once he was near her, his heart was still weighed down by the rock that was "Kitamura's changed", but Ryuuji's heart still beat uncontrollably as a result of that familiar fragrance. Also, because of Ryuuji's well-behaved personality, he didn't think of weird things on his first walk alone with Minori after school, but instead concentrated on the road to Kitamura's home.
"We have to walk a bit, is that alright with you?"
"Yup, no problem. Does Takasu-kun know where Kitamura's home is?"
"It's over near the bridge. It's the residential area beside the suspended bridge on the highway."
"I see, it's near the city centre. That's rather close to my house."
Minori nodded in acknowledgment, her pace subconsciously speeding up. Ryuuji, who was almost left behind by her unreasonably fast walking pace, quickly jogged to catch up with Minori, tentatively patted her on the shoulder and spoke the words that he'd been wanting to say for a while,
"Wait! Erm... About the thing that happened during the lunch break... Sorry for not telling all of you about Kitamura."
In the next second after the contact with her shoulder, she almost tripped due to the slightly differentiated height of the road surface, and made a surprised sound. It wasn't because she wanted to avoid Ryuuji's hand.
Although Minori almost tripped and fell, she maintained her balance by her own accord. If it was Taiga, she would surely have fallen onto the ground. It was testament to Minori's physical abilities that she was able to laugh awkwardly to mask her embarrassment of tripping before Ryuuji could lend his hand to steady her,
"Oh... That was close... It's alright. You didn't have a choice, it was a request from Yuri-sensei."
Minori nodded while making a V-sign at Ryuuji.
"I'm not offended at all, since it's obvious that Takasu-kun is also extremely worried about Kitamura-kun."
She generously forgave him, her pace also slowing down from the previously unreasonable pace, as the two of them were finally close enough to be able to maintain a conversation.
"I'm a very predictable person... I would always do whatever my teachers told me to do... I've been like this since birth, even handing in every single piece of homework on time, I..."
"Yes, Takasu-kun's is such an honest person."
"Luckily there was someone more honest than me, so everything can be out in the open now."
"Ahaha, you're talking about Ami, right?"
Their breaths turned into white mist in the cold air, disappearing into the darkening evening sky. The expression that appeared in both of their minds was "You're going to Yuusaku's home?" "Oh~ The two of you are really nice." "Yes~ and the two of you look so happy together, you're so intimate that I'm jealous." Although Ami had already gone home, her smile, which was more innocent than fairies playing in a magical forest, still didn't forget to spread its deadly poison to others.
Ryuuji got angry just at the thought of her. Ami's reaction at the recent state of events was extremely infuriating.
"What is wrong with her... She was still acting like a mature adult for some unknown reason a while ago. Now she has completely abandoned her facade, appearing in front of everyone as an evil person."
"What's so wrong with that? I like both the mature Ami and the evil Ami."
"So she's right up your alley..."
It could be seen just from the fact that Minori was Taiga's best friend that Minori had unusual tastes regarding girls. Thinking about this not-so-stupid thing got Ryuuji thinking about his own condition, that he was practically living together with Taiga while having a crush on Minori. In the eyes of an observer, Ryuuji's own tastes could be seen as weird too, right?
For the very first time, Ryuuji walked alone with Minori past the crossroad where Minori waited for him and Taiga every morning, continuing in the direction opposite from the Takasu residence. The withered autumn leaves danced in the wind on the sakura tree-lined road.
Ryuuji was preparing to secretly peek at the side of Minori's face, but a sudden gust of cold wind made him shut his eyes involuntarily.
"She must be just as worried about Kitamura-kun as us, maybe even more worried than us."
"...With that kind of attitude!?"
"Yes, that's what I think. If you think about it, Ami has been working in the adult world for a few years now."
"Mm." After waiting for Ryuuji's nod of affirmation, Minori continued speaking, albeit with an uncharacteristic cold edge in her voice, but with a strong sense of belief.
"Ami knows more of the evils of society than the few of us, who are still children. As Kitamura-kun's childhood friend, she also knows things that we don't know about, but no one understands that she actually understands the most about the situation. Although she's faced with immaturity on all sides, she still patiently interacts with the childish people that we are. She also doesn't disregard our opinions, but treats us seriously. Although Ami's words are extremely scary, there are few friends who are willing to speak the 'truth' to us, right? Wouldn't normal people prefer to be gentle out of fear that they would be hated and ostracized if they were to speak the truth?"
"...Doesn't she just have a lousy personality? Is that a cause for such lavish praise?"
"Wrong, Ami is a good person, a very nice person, and this is something that I can confirm. Takasu-kun knows this too, right?"
"Sorry, but I don't know about that. She's merely displaying her true nature. Even now, are you still being tricked by her appearance?"
"Regardless of her appearance and her true nature, or whether she's lying or telling the truth, Ami is still Ami. I believe that she has her own reasons for saying such harsh words today. Or maybe I should say that..."
Minori suddenly lifted her head to look at Ryuuji.
Their gazes met, and Ryuuji saw that Minori was dead serious.
"...I wish that she would continue to be like this. It might be harsh to say this, but both Takasu-kun and I probably have a lot of things that we don't understand, right? Although we wish to be understood by others, we can't make it so. Right now, I think only Ami understands everything. How should I put it, I guess she's like the last hope for people like us...those who are childish, unable to understand others, and also unable to make other people understand them... Ah, what am I saying..."
Minori suddenly turned her gaze away, closing her mouth and turning to move forward with huge steps, while saying in a soft voice, "Kitamura-kun's house is this way, right?" Her ears were red, as if she was embarrassed by her overly-serious speech. That's the part I like about her. Ryuuji's heart was suddenly filled to the brim with boiling energy.
Her blushing face is extremely cute... Not this, but I like the way she's serious without being embarrassed about it. Having witnessed the moment in which she was only focused on one thing alone, Ryuuji's crush on her seemed to intensify even more.
Minori is more gentle, honest and warm than anyone else. She shines with righteous energy, shining on me with a sun-like brilliance and warmth, even into the dark recesses of my soul.
"Kushieda... How should I say this...is very gentle."
Although they were only a few simple words of praise, it was the culmination of the honest feelings of Ryuuji's heart.
The sudden voice sounded like a lamentation, as the shocked Minori stopped in her tracks, turning abruptly to face Ryuuji. The pregnant lady who was on her way home after finishing her shopping looked at the two people facing off in the middle of the street in confusion.
"I'm not, no! I'm extremely arrogant and..."
It was impossible to deduce whether Minori was angry or smiling from her facial expression. She forced out an extremely small voice,
Not giving Ryuuji a chance to ask about the real meaning of her words, Minori lowered her head and crouched down onto the ground.
She stayed in that position unmoving, as if she was frozen. Ryuuji's hesitant hand hovered in the air, unsure as to whether he should pat her on the back, the mandatory comforting words nowhere to be found.
"Kushieda... Hey, hey... I'm calling you..."
Another few seconds passed like this.
"...Oh! I'm sorry! I'll pass for this turn. It's alright, Jyounouchi-kun!"
Minori finally lifted her head, her face still clouded with a complicated expression, but she still forced a smile,
"Ah...lately, how do I say it... Yes, sorry, I'm alright, I'm really okay! Sorry!"
"What do you mean?"
Although Ryuuji was hesitant as to whether he should respond, he decided to speak in the end,
"Giving such a complicated reason, and acting strangely all of a sudden... What are you apologizing for? And who's Jyounouchi?"
"Ah, I'm not apologizing... Erm...right."
"Although I can't be something as heroic as 'the last hope', I want to know more about you. You don't have to be Kawashima to understand you, right? I should be able to understand you too, right? Can't I? Although I'm immature and childish, just as you said, still... I still want to know everything about you."
Ryuuji was closing in slowly but surely.
Bit by bit, secretly getting nearer.
Ryuuji spoke honestly from his heart, covertly shortening the distance, trying to get closer to Minori. Hoping that she would answer, not wanting to be discovered, yet at the same time hoping to be discovered by her. During the few seconds in which he waited for her response, Ryuuji bit his lower lip tightly, putting his hands into his pockets, not wanting anybody to discover his frozen fingers.
"...It would probably be scary."
Then, Minori opened her mouth, rubbing her eyes in an attempt to mask her facial expression, the corners of her mouth curving into a smile,
"Takasu-kun, you must think that I'm perfect. But once you see the kind of person I really am, you would surely..."
"Time is limited!"
Ryuuji suddenly shouted loudly, shocking Minori into raising her lowered face.
"Didn't Kawashima say this before? She's right. Everything has a time limit, whether it be changing classes, graduation or the length of one's life. Do you want to let 'the childish Takasu-kun be ignorant' until our time comes to an end, and then let go? I don't intend to be childish and immature forever, and don't be afraid, I don't treat you like a saint who doesn't even need to go to the toilet."
Don't be afraid, because no matter what happens, I still like you. Ryuuji only said this sentence in his mind. No matter what kind of appearance you put on, no matter if you're not the person I imagined you to be, I'll love you forever. Ryuuji was unable to say such an exaggerated statement out loud. He should have said all that he needed and wanted to say... No, wait, wouldn't his true feelings be exposed like this? After saying all that he had said, Ryuuji was suddenly afraid. It's too late to regret it! Although it was a bit rushed, since he had already said it, he couldn't do anything about it... Ryuuji only started contemplating the results of his actions after he had spoken.
"Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle..."
In front of Minori's weird but dazzling actions, everything, whether it be the feelings of regret or the delicate nature of a man's heart, vanished into smoke.
Her hands opened up like the statue of the Buddha, her expression conveying a sense of peace. Her eyes half-open, her gaze seemingly looking upon the people of the world with comfort and pity. Minori had attained enlightenment in the middle of the road, chanting "Sparkle Sparkle", literally describing the brilliance that was emanating from her figure, and spread her legs to support her body weight on her toes,
"Let me tell you the truth. Takasu-kun's words almost sent me to heaven... Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle... I'm really happy. Right now, I feel that it would be enough as long as you can understand the feeling of my happiness. And as long as you continue to wait like this, the day of understanding will come... Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle..."
Ryuuji, who was almost sucked into the brilliance of Minori's world, forcefully kept his feet on the ground to keep his balance. That is to say, even though Minori was ultimately unable to reveal her inner thoughts and feelings to Ryuuji, in the future, she would be willing to open her heart to Ryuuji. Minori's unorthodox movements conveyed such a message. Would I be overreacting if I explained it like this? But now's not the time to think about that! If I've misunderstood her message, it's Minori's fault for being so ambiguous.
That's a good explanation. Ryuuji laughed in spite of himself,
"It's alright, let's just leave it at that for today. I've already said all that I wanted to say. How do I say it... One day, I think I would want to know more about you...but I feel that for now, this is enough."
Ryuuji said everything in one breath. Opposite of him, Minori's face seemed to have melted into something not unlike a baby's face that was about to descend into uncontrollable sobs, but...
In the ensuing silence, Minori's originally almost crying face changed into an extremely happy face in an instant. It could be seen from the blossoming smile that she gave Ryuuji that she was extremely happy, while her gentle, slightly trembling lips seemed like they were about to say something. But nothing came out of those lips, as though no words would ever come out of them as they were covered by a hand.
The words that were supposed to have come out of her mouth weren't conveyed to Ryuuji in the end, but neither of them felt that it was a pity. Let's just stop here for today. Ryuuji smiled.
"Hehe." Minori smiled and squinted her eyes, but in that moment, her eyes were trembling as though they saw something flying towards them from above Ryuuji's head.
The two of them reached the residential area with a bit of impatience at the perceived distance between each other. The Kitamura residence was on the gray street that was devoid of any green presence, lined up between a traditional style residence and a newly built, diminutive home.
Pressing down on the doorbell that was situated below that nameplate that said "Kitamura", there was no response. Kitamura's shiny motorbike was parked in front of the door, the window on the second floor was open, and the electric bicycle that Kitamura's mother had borrowed from her company was also parked to the side, but there was no response no matter how many times the doorbell sounded.
"No one's home?"
Minori muttered, attempting to contact Kitamura by phone - unsurprisingly, no one picked up. Minori cut the connection before the voice announcing the voicemail recording could finish speaking. Ryuuji's chest suddenly felt much colder. How could he forget his friends in his moment of madness!? A gust of cold wind blew like a cold hand on his chest, coming in from the gap in his school uniform. Taiga had borrowed his scarf again today.
"I'm home... Remember to lock the door as strange things have been happening lately. The pervert won't stop just because you're a woman whose kid is already in high school. Ah...it's so heavy. The cabbage was very cheap today."
Ryuuji walked into the darkened doorway. Taiga wasn't there during the time before dinner, so it was Yasuko and Ryuuji's private mother and son time. In the quiet apartment, the only sounds came from the television set, and Ryuuji would become even more talkative than usual if he relaxed just a bit. Still in his school uniform, he walked straight to the kitchen, putting down the environmentally-friendly bag that was stuffed with cabbage as he spoke (Homemade product. Sewn from a bag of cloth that was bought for 50 yen at a flea market, and is extremely durable and able to hold a sizable amount of things. It had once attracted the attention of the girls from the handicrafts club when Ryuuji brought it to school, resulting in Ryuuji having to teach fifteen girls from the handicrafts club how to sew the bags after school. But anyway, the design is really nice!), skillfully placing the fresh food into the refrigerator, and picked up two pieces of cabbage, once again experiencing a heavy weight on his hands.
"This is real cabbage from Gunma, but it was selling for this price! The supermarket at the city centre is really good. You're asking me why I went to such a faraway place? Something big happened today. Kitamura, that Kitamura actually became a delinquent. You're shocked too, right? He suddenly appeared with blond hair. If you asked me whether it suits him... It doesn't suit him at all! It looks extremely weird! But that is definitely a sign of some kind. Anyway we're all very worried about him, so we paid a visit to his home, to ask about his situation, but he wasn't at home. That fellow is really worrying, all he does is to get himself in trouble... So in the end I went to buy cabbage and other things... Hey, didn't I say that you should at least rinse the used glasses with water? Because you only drink sweet things and don't bother to rinse the glass after drinking from it, it leads to flies who wouldn't be frozen no matter how cold the winter dying because they get stuck onto the glass. The glass isn't a fly-trap. Speaking of which, where do these small flies come from? Our home is extremely clean, so there shouldn't be any place for the breeding of such flies... It can't be from the landlord's house can it? The landlord's family only has old people, and the old lady has a very serious attitude, and it's not like they've done anything weird. But these flies..."
"The flies could have come from outside or from the pipes... You should know that even without me telling you right..."
The sponge that was in his hand to wash the glass was dropped into the sink, the detergent disappearing into the water in the form of small bubbles, wasted.
The television set in the living room was turned on, and the person sitting in front of the low table should have been Yasuko. Because only two people lived in this apartment, in the worst case scenario (?), it would have been Taiga. But why are you here? Shocked beyond words, unable to speak, heart beating furiously, hair standing on end, with only a corner of his brain still thinking rationally, a similar sound would be heard when encountering a burglar, right? Ryuuji was unable to speak as the person that he had wanted to see a while ago had conveniently appeared in his home.
"I've run away from home to your home... Sorry for the intrusion."
Ryuuji stiffly raised a hand that was covered with soap to him. That was the response that took all of his strength to undertake.
The blond-haired guy that was sitting in front of the low table, still wearing the dirty uniform from that morning, raised a hand in acknowledgment, looking at Ryuuji, who was standing in the kitchen. What was that greeting for? Where have you run off to!? Why didn't you contact me!? Everyone's extremely worried about you!! Just what happened!? There were too many questions that Ryuuji wanted to ask, with the end result being that all of them got stuck in his throat.
"I'm home~ Ah, Ryu-chan's shoes? Which means~ Ah~ Ryu-chan's back~! I say, listen to me, listen to me~ There's big news~! Kitamura has run away to our home~! Ah, look look, he's here~! So Ya-chan went to the convenience store to help him buy a pair of underwear, and my last pair of stockings was also torn, so I bought a new one~! Huh? What's wrong? You don't look excited at all~!"
With overly-thin eyebrows, a childish-looking face that was devoid of makeup, the UNQLO home pants that doubled as pajamas, legs that weren't clad in stockings, and her upper body clad in Ryuuji's middle school gym clothes - Yasuko, who appeared in such a fashion, gave a happy smile, casually passing a plastic bag containing a pair of underwear to Kitamura. Kitamura accepted the underwear and said, "Thank you! Oh, that's a really good pair!" Now's not the time for this! Ryuuji had a lot of things to say, and also... What was this about running away from home?
Ran away from home... Ran away from home!
He ran away from the Kitamura residence to our home!
But I only prepared three pieces of pork chops!
What to do!?
As the son's inner thoughts lapsed into a bout of chaos and confusion, his mother, who was in an extremely good mood, lightly touched his shoulder,
"Ryu-chan, Ya-chan and Shizuyo (the second most popular hostess at Bishamonten Kuni) are going to eat barbecue before going to work tonight~. So you don't have to prepare dinner for me tonight~."
"You're going out to eat. Oh, then the problem of the fried pork chops is solved... In any case, don't you usually go after work, at dawn? Something called 'after'."
"No~ Ya-chan will be drunk after work and unable to converse in Japanese~ Because Shizuyo had a boyfriend who she was thinking of marrying 'cause she thought he was a thirty year-old company president, but it turned out that he was actually a seventeen year-old blue-collar worker~. It's hard to believe right~? She even said something like 'This is considered a crime, right~?' Anyway, Ya-chan wants to listen to her story before she's drunk~"
"...So everything will be solved if you listen to her story?"
"I don't know. But roasted cow stomachs can make one appear younger."
You just want to eat roast meat, right? Yasuko went back to her own room to change. Ryuuji gestured to Kitamura, who was kneeling on the tatami mats in a well-behaved fashion, to sit on a cushion, and was contemplating whether to get him a cup of tea when Yasuko stuck out a pearly arm, indicating for her son to come over. Ryuuji went over and was immediately dragged into the room by Yasuko, who closed the door. She whispered,
"...Don't tell Kitamura, but I've already contacted the Kitamura residence~. Anyway there's no school tomorrow, and Ya-chan doesn't need to go to work, so just let him stay here in the meantime."
"So can this...still be counted as running away from home...?"
"Don't think so, it'll only be counted as sleeping over for a night~. Actually there's one thing..."
Yasuko took out a piece of paper from the messy box that contained numerous make-up bottles and other objects which contained names written in beautiful handwriting and a stamp - that was the secret contract.
If the sons of the Kitamura or Takasu families were to run away from home, the other party listed in the contract will be contacted immediately, and exchange information on the whereabouts of the son. The undersigned, Kitamura Keiko and Takasu Yasuko.
"Huh? When did this happen?"
"Didn't Ya-chan buy insurance from Kitamura's mother's company~? So I made a contract with Kitamura's mother at that time~ So, Ryu-chan, if you ever want to run away from home, Ya-chan will know immediately if you run to Kitamura's home, be careful~."
"This can be hardly seen as a trap now that you've told me about it, right?"
"Huh~? What are you talking about? Ah~! That's right! Oh no, forget about it, forget about it~!"
The red-faced Yasuko flailed her limbs wildly in an attempt to get Ryuuji to forget what had just happened, while Ryuuji merely shut the door on his gym clothes-wearing mother, unconsciously checking the spotless apartment floor, wondering if a nut or bolt from Yasuko's brain had dropped onto the floor somewhere in the apartment.
Perhaps he had noticed Ryuuji's sharp gaze, or maybe he misunderstood the mother-son secret conference, Kitamura shrugged his shoulders apologetically, scratching his blond-colored head,
"Takasu, erm... Sorry for not informing you first, it's too sudden isn't it..."
"It's alright." Ryuuji shook his head in response,
"I am extremely shocked, but its better for you to come to my home, or I would be worried about what happened to you."
"Yasuko asked me to come, so I just listened to her..."
"Ah, alright, then just enjoy your time away from home. I'll be with you, so let's just look for a place to relax tomorrow. You probably have a lot of things you want to say, right?"
The blond-haired boy lapsed into a momentary silence...
"I'm hungry!!! What kind of meat are we having for dinner today!?"
BAM!!! The door of the old apartment flung open with a loud noise, the violent and fierce action threatening to bring down the house. That fellow had come today as well. The stomach alarm that sounded every day at the same time, and with the spare key that was taken without permission. Ryuuji had long gotten used to such insolent appearances, but Kitamura widened his eyes in shock to such a blatant intrusion. That's not good... Hearing the heavy footsteps that were getting nearer and nearer, Ryuuji unconsciously held his breath. He wasn't worried about Kitamura, but upon seeing such a scene, that fellow would probably die from embarrassment, right...? Looks like her funeral will be our responsibility.
"I said, what kind of meat!? What kind of fish!? Answer me! Just what are we having for dinner..."
"Ah, Aisaka!? What a coincidence! What's wrong? Have you run away from home too?"
Standing with her legs apart, wearing a red one piece western dress and woolen sweater, Taiga's face rapidly changed colour from white to green to red and to green again, finally resting on a dark red reminiscent of an over-ripened tomato.
Taiga's world was destroyed in an instant "What's, why, mm, ah...!" She turned and fell to the ground while muttering a string of incoherent sounds.
"Aisaka!? Hey, Takasu, something's wrong with Aisaka!"
It was obvious that something was wrong with Taiga even without Kitamura's proclamation. Ryuuji quickly moved forward to help her up,
"Tai, Taiga... Wake up! Come back to life! Kitamura has run away from home! He's sleeping at my house tonight!"
Ryuuji jabbed her in the cheek to bring her back to life. Opening the eyes that were almost hidden beneath trembling eyelashes, Taiga swiftly crawled in a different direction, using the wall as a support to get up, still shaking, and then walked stiffly to the doorway to shut the door with a loud bang. After counting to five, "Ding-dong~", she pressed down on the rarely-used doorbell of the Takasu residence. Ryuuji swallowed uncomfortably, and walked towards the hallway. How can you hope to gloss over this? It's too much of a stretch... Although he knew that nothing could be done at this point, he still opened the door...
Taiga wore an extremely suspicious-looking smile on her face as she stammered,
"...Thank you for inviting me over for dinner today!"
"Please... Please come in."
Ryuuji led her into the apartment, and upon seeing Kitamura in the living room, "O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-Oh!" Taiga cheerily lifted her trembling right hand,
"I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-It's such a coincidence, Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki-Ki-Kitamura-kun."
"Yo, Aisaka! We meet again!"
How could everything be overlooked in this kind of situation!? But even then, Kitamura smiled gently at the extremely suspicious-looking Taiga. This blond-haired guy! This I-ran-away-from-home guy! This I-need-other-people-to-buy-my-underwear-for-me guy!
Yasuko went to eat barbecue and to work, leaving three kids in the Takasu residence. The sound of the cabbage being sliced at a high tempo of 16 beats per measure filled the apartment, while in the living room...
"You had mentioned living in the neighboring apartment complex, but I didn't know you actually lived by yourself."
"I, I didn't mention it? Ya-chan said I could come over everyday for dinner, so I took her up on her offer..."
"I see, it must be really nice to live next to Takasu."
"Mm, ah... yes."
"Oh, Inko-chan seems to be close to you as well, he's even licking your finger. Whoa...those tongue techniques are adventurous aren't they..."
Ryuuji secretly turned to look at the two people who were stammering behind his back. No, Taiga was the only one stammering, while Kitamura was his normal self, happily watching Taiga feeding Inko-chan cabbage. The actions of the two were both rather relaxed - both of them were on the tatami mats, hugging a cushion while holding their heads in their hands, one on each side of the bird cage.
"But tatami mats are still the best. My grandfather was tricked by the renovator many years ago to change the floor of the traditional house into cheap-looking floor boards, so I lost the space to roll around and have fun."
"My, my house is also renovated in a western style... Tatami mats are still the best..."
"Traditional homes still make people feel more at peace. Although it seems lazy, I wish I could roll about at home."
"We sure have a lot in common... Hehe."
Although Kitamura and Taiga's residences are both referred to as "Western-style houses", I guess there are substantial differences between the two, right? But since they look like they're enjoying themselves and nodding to agree with each other, such technicalities can be overlooked. The secretly laughing Ryuuji continued to cut the cabbage. The kitchen knife sent out a rhythmic sound from the high speed with which it was wielded. He deliberately didn't speak to the two of them, while Taiga was as well-behaved as a kitten that was in an unfamiliar surrounding, and with Kitamura looking relaxed. From an observer's point of view, the two of them seemed to have had a good atmosphere going.
The two of them might even unexpectedly become romantically involved. Ryuuji stuck the knife edge into the heart of the cabbage, his fierce eyes flaring with blue flames. He wasn't swearing to the death god to force the two of them to the deepest recesses of hell, to destroy their relationship no matter how many reincarnations they went through. He felt that Kitamura's abnormal situation had actually brought about a surprisingly favorable situation. Although he was worried about Kitamura, Kitamura looked rather normal himself. Perhaps he had met with some unhappy things in the student council, but he may well recover after running away from home for a few days to experience the feeling of being rebellious.
"Inko-chan is drooling while eating the cabbage... Pets are so nice, so cute."
"Cu, Cute... Mm, cute... Only a little..."
"Haha~haha~!" Ryuuji heard laughter coming from behind him. It would be great if more good things were to happen between Kitamura and Taiga, and Minori and myself. Putting the sliced-off cabbage heads into a freshness-maintenance bag, Ryuuji unconsciously started whistling. It's such a waste~. It's such a waste~. This must be put into the refrigerator carefully, so it can be sliced into strips and cooked along with bacon tomorrow morning.
"Oh! What's wrong? Stay there to keep Kitamura company!"
Taiga was acting like a shy child who had run away from relatives, as she followed closely behind Ryuuji's back. It was a rare chance to be able to interact with Kitamura, but she rolled up her sleeves good-naturedly,
"I want to help! Yes, I'm good at washing dishes, let me wash dishes! Which ones need washing!?"
"Yes! I'm very good at it!"
Looks like she intended to appear to be virtuous in front of Kitamura. But Takasu wasn't the type of man who would leave the tableware used for the sauce mixing unwashed. The tableware in question had already been washed, rinsed and kept in its correct place. The only ones which had not been kept were the ones which would be soon used.
Good at washing dishes... Although extremely dubious, Ryuuji accurately read Taiga's inner thoughts, so he whispered,
"You want to show him your good points, right?"
The two of them nodded to each other, secretly turning around to peek at Kitamura. He was lying on the tatami mats, looking at Inko-chan who was currently covered in cabbage strips and convulsing. So Ryuuji spoke in a loud voice,
"Alright, let's have Taiga help to make that delicious fried egg for us today!"
"Oh~ so Aisaka's best dish is fried eggs. The skill of the chef is most prominently displayed in the simplest of dishes. I'm sorry for assuming that Aisaka had absolutely no contact with household chores! I'm looking forward to it!"
In front of the smiling Kitamura, Taiga was like a newly married wife, replying bashfully "Hehe, please wait a while!" Oh-oh... That's a nice atmosphere... Ryuuji revealed a wraith-like smile, passing Taiga three eggs from the refrigerator. Taiga accepted the eggs demurely, whispering in a voice that only Ryuuji could hear,
"Now what do I do?"
"I said, what do I do now? What do I do to these things to change them into fried eggs?"
It can't be! Needle-thin cabbage slices that were stuck on the kitchen knife detached themselves and floated down onto the floor. Ryuuji had initially assumed that Taiga would at least be able to fry an egg, but it seems as though he had underestimated the extent of her uselessness.
"It's my fault!"
"To the Kitamura-kun who is trying to apologize, please go back. Anyway, why are you apologizing? Quick, teach me what to do with these eggs. Ah, and don't let Kitamura-kun find out that you're teaching me."
Ryuuji swallowed hard. Now he'd have to secretly teach the useless Taiga how to fry an egg while frying the pork chops at the same time. Ryuuji felt that this was an impossible task. But since it had already come to this, there was no turning back.
"Let's see... Take out the frying pan. You know which one is the frying pan right? The flat one..."
"Of course I would know such things."
Ryuuji pushed the cabbage into a basket and put it aside, placing the three pieces of pork chops on the cutting board, severing the tendon between the fat and the lean meat with the kitchen knife, while whispering out of the corner of his mouth,
"Crack the egg open, and put it into the bowl there. Do, Do you know how to crack an egg...?"
"Success rate of 50%... Do I crack them together?"
"It'll be good to crack them together under such conditions."
The trimmed lean meat was placed in a shallow plate, and mixed with salt, pepper and flour.
"Ah... The first try failed..."
Ryuuji swiftly took the bowl containing the failed attempt and took out another egg from the refrigerator,
"I'll use this for the panko bread crumb coating. This is the last one, there won't be any eggs left if you fail this time."
Everything was placed in the hands of God. Ryuuji broke up the failed egg attempt and sprinkled it with bits of panko. A side glance at Taiga confirmed that she had successfully completed her mission, with the egg yolks now floating in the bowl.
Even at this stage, Taiga was covered in sweat. Ryuuji dipped the pork chops in the egg, and placed it in the shallow plate containing the panko,
"Light the fire, and pour some oil into the frying pan. There's oil there. You must let the oil cover the whole of the frying pan."
"Don't be so excited, calm down. The fire's too strong! Turn it down, turn it down! Ah, my carefully taken care of frying pan!"
"How, How do I turn it down!? Ah, is it this one!?"
Taiga forcefully turned the switch to the "strong" side. Of course, the fire on the stove became even stronger.
"Wrong direction, you idiot! The other direction! Turn it in the other direction!"
"Ah, ah, I haven't poured the oil."
"Don't worry about the oil! Turn the switch in the other direction! Now's not the time to worry about the oil!"
"Ugu... Ah, I poured the oil!"
"Never mind! Don't worry about it! Just get the fire...! Wrong! That's the switch for the other stove!"
"Yes! That's the one! Spread the oil around! Turn! Ah, don't stick the wet chopsticks in!"
"Ah, h-h-h-h-hot! What's going on!"
Taiga used the wet chopsticks previously used to handle the cabbage to spread the oil in the frying pan, creating explosive drops of hot water coming from the pan. Taiga jumped back in fear. "You idiot! You're not allowed to leave the fire!" Ryuuji's voice was like a teacher from hell,
"Rotate the pan, let the oil spread evenly across the surface! Stop!"
"Ah! It's hot! Hot hot hot! It's still exploding!"
"Isn't that all your fault? Quick, put the egg in! Lightly, lightly!"
"Ah! It exploded again! I'll be burnt to death~!"
"You won't die! Now turn the fire down, hold the cover with one hand... The cover! Now prepare a bit of water! Pour some into the glass and hold it with your other hand!"
"Co, Cover!? Which cover are you talking about!? Water!? Huh!? Let me think, oh, fire, fire!? Fire is... Huh!? Water, Water!? Fire, what to do with the fire!?"
"There can't be any other cover besides the cover for the frying pan at a time like this, right!? Hey! What did you do to the fire!?"
"Ah! What's this!?"
The fire once again flared up to its maximum capacity. The impact led to the consummation of the instinctive fear of fire and the nerves in Taiga's brain, resulting in the final answer of "Fire = danger = must put out the fire = water".
"I've got it! You pour the water here, right?"
Ryuuji shouted. Taiga poured an entire glass of water into the frying pan which already had too much oil in the first place, even though a small amount of water was enough to cook the egg.
Large amounts of smoke billowed out alongside the scary explosions of the oil, something that was compounded by the fact that Taiga had poured some oil onto the outside of the frying pan earlier, creating a thick pillar of fire that erupted from the stove..
Ryuuji threw the pork chops into the frying pan and slammed the cover onto the pan to beat off the pillar of fire. He could still feel the boiling hot water bombarding the inside of the cover, making shockingly loud noises, but Ryuuji determinedly kept the cover on the frying pan. He turned off the stove and waited for the oxygen inside the pan to be depleted.
After numerous seconds...
"Hey... Hey, Takasu, Aisaka, are the two of you alright...?"
The kitchen was engulfed in silence.
It took a while for them to realize that a worried Kitamura was standing behind them. Without saying a word, Ryuuji and Taiga stood facing each other and stared into the other's eyes, then...
The two of them slumped to the floor, hand in hand. Beside them, Kitamura also crouched down, placing his hands on their shoulders worriedly, nodding his head furiously,
"Aisaka's really good at frying eggs! Yes, really good! It's just like magic! The fire just burst towards the ceiling like this... Really good! It really is something you're skilled at! I understand!"
Taiga's fear-induced wailing and Ryuuji's manly sobs filled the kitchen for the next five minutes. Luckily, it wouldn't lead to a scolding from the landlord since they just averted the danger of burning down the entire apartment complex... But if the apartment complex had really burnt down, it would obviously have been their fault.
The freshly-cooked rice with miso soup, crunchy and succulent pork chops, the mountain of cabbage slices, and...
"Ah! It feels as if these things are emitting an aggressive light...!"
"What are you Ah!-ing for! Didn't you make that!?"
The now brown egg whites had become completely crisp. The egg yolk didn't just change its appearance, but it also became extremely hard, and could only be described as extremely charred. In any case, it was a product which would drive the mother hen that laid the egg crazy, as it gave off a burnt smell that added some unwanted colour to the Takasu residence.
And Kitamura was sitting opposite her, so there was no chance of reversing the situation. Taiga puffed out her cheeks, pulling the plate to her,
"Mm... Alright, I'll eat the lot, so there won't be any objections, right? Add ketchup! I'm going in!"
"Don't be so stubborn, you'll get cancer if you eat something like that. Eat what you can and throw the rest away... it's a waste, but more money would be wasted if you fall sick. Kitamura, just ignore this plate and eat the pork chops that I've fried. Itadakimasu!"
"Itada-kimasu!" The depressed Taiga and the beaming Kitamura followed Ryuuji's lead and picked up their chopsticks.
"This is the dish that Aisaka made specially for me, right? Thank you very much. Since you've made it just for me, I'll take the lot. Even the best chefs screw up sometimes."
In front of the two wide-eyed arsonists, Kitamura swiftly pulled the plate of cancer-inducing compound towards himself, smiling wryly, and began stuffing big portions of the burnt egg into his mouth.
"Ki-Kitamura-kun... Don't eat it! You'll fall sick if you eat any more of that! Actually, I don't know how to cook, and I've never cooked before! Sorry, I lied! And I even said that it was my specialty!"
"Hahaha! I didn't expect it to still taste like a fried egg! This egg that's been over-fried! Haha!"
Kitamura continued to stuff his face with the eggs that couldn't possibly be edible, still laughing happily.
"Ryu-Ryuuji, something's wrong... Kitamura-kun's gone crazy..."
"Pull yourself together, Kitamura! I'll go get some medicine!"
"No, it's alright! I really feel very lucky. I felt even luckier when I heard that it wasn't your specialty. I'm extremely lucky to be able to eat food prepared by Aisaka!"
Isn't this cute?
Ryuuji's inner thoughts were obviously not directed at the naive smiling face of the blond-haired guy.
It was directed at Taiga, who had lowered her head and was now blushing furiously, with her eyes in a line.
"Re-Really? That's, really...edible?"
"Yes, of course it's edible. It tastes pretty good!"
"Ah, Ryuuji added the salt and pepper... But, but, but... Hehe... I'm a bit more confident now. I'll work hard to cook for you...some other day. Although I don't think I'll ever be able to cook, I'll try my best to learn. Mm, that's right. I can't be relying on other people forever..."
"I can guarantee that there won't be a problem with Takasu as your teacher."
Ryuuji, who was drinking his miso soup while looking at the blissful couple, carefully avoided making any unnecessary noises. He suddenly recalled an event in the past, the extremely salty cookies. Taiga tried unsuccessfully to make cookies for Kitamura during home economics class one day, with the cookies eventually ending up in Ryuuji's stomach. Wait, then even before that, Taiga's love letter that was supposed to be for Kitamura was also received by Ryuuji, sparking off this weird period of cohabitation, though the letter itself wasn't put in the envelope in the first place.
That's right! Looking at Taiga, who was blushing furiously while giggling uncontrollably, Ryuuji thought, "The feelings that Taiga wanted to convey have finally reached Kitamura!" The failed product, the fried eggs, reached its destination for the first time in human history - Kitamura's stomach.
"You did it to cheer me up because you were worried about me running away from home, right? Thank you very much, I feel much better now!"
It felt as though the crush was slowly moving towards a wholesome direction, though its angle was a little off. But Taiga was laughing happily, as Kitamura continued eating the burnt eggs while looking at her. It would be nice if the two of them could reach the stage where "It's good enough like this", just like my feelings towards Minori.
Just as I was thinking, the whole chain of "Kitamura's loss of control" has resulted in something good. Now the only thing that's left is... Yes, find out the reason behind that blond-hair and perhaps this whole thing could be resolved.
"Remember to eat the pork chops too, it's full of my love for you."
"Ah, of course! Pork chop sauce, pork chop sauce! Where's the lemon to be squeezed onto the cabbage?"
"We don't eat cabbage that way here."
"Alright! He who stays near ink also gets stained black!"
Biting down on the edge of the fatty part of the pork chop... "H-H-H-Hot! Ah!!! Delicious!" Kitamura shouted happily. Taiga was also more well-behaved than usual, but was still eating in big mouthfuls. Spying an opening, Ryuuji nonchalantly asked,
"Drink the miso soup too, it's good for your health. Anyway, what's with the hair?"
"How should I put it?" Kitamura stopped halfway through the sentence, continuing after drinking a bit of the miso soup,
"Because I don't want to be the student council president."
He said it as if it was no big deal.
"Ju-Just because of that...?"
"Yes. No one would ask me to be student council president if I dyed my hair blond. Although my parents flipped when they saw it."
Now eating the pork chop with smaller bites, Kitamura spoke while commenting about how hot the pork chop was. In front of him, Ryuuji took a deep breath.
Is that true?
Because he didn't want to be student council president, that's why he ran out of the classroom upon hearing about the student council president elections, then appeared in front of everyone with Kitamura's own version of a "delinquent look" the next day? And he even fought with his parents and ran away from home for that? The almost unnoticeable unease that accompanied this explanation prodded Ryuuji to ask again, but...
"Hehe! What's so bad about that? Just don't run for the elections if you don't want to be the student council president! In any case, you don't have to stay in the student council forever! Even the stupid chihuahua said that!"
In front of the beaming Taiga, Ryuuji could only swallow his question... Was it Ryuuji's misinterpretation? For some reason, the pork chop tasted uncharacteristically bitter...
"Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy... I'm home... Ahhhh~choo!"
Hearing the sound of the door opening in the doorway, Ryuuji woke up.
Looking at the clock, it was three thirty in the morning, and it seemed that Yasuko was back. The sound of Yasuko discarding her high heels could be heard from the hallway. Listening to Yasuko making her way to her room with unsteady footsteps, Ryuuji thought, "It should be alright to leave her to her own devices" and crawled back into bed.
A female voice was heard, but it wasn't Yasuko. Ryuuji jumped out of bed.
Walking around Kitamura, who was sleeping on the floor, Ryuuji made his way to Yasuko's room. He turned on the light...
"So soft... So soft... Ahhhhhh~"
"So, So uncomfortable...! Such a strong smell of alcohol~!"
Just as he thought. "Gah..." Ryuuji rubbed his eyes and scratched his head.
Yasuko had said to Taiga before she went to work, "It's rare to have a friend who's staying over, so Taiga-chan should also sleep over tonight~. Just take out one more futon in Ya-chan's room~." Since she had said it, of course Taiga would have followed her instructions, sleeping over after taking out an extra futon in Yasuko's room.
"Don't just stand there and look, come and save me! Argh, I'm getting drunk just by smelling the alcohol...!"
The extremely drunk Yasuko had jumped straight into Taiga's futon, totally ignoring the one already laid out for her. Taiga had borrowed Ryuuji's large hooded T-shirt and sports pants as pajamas. Yasuko gave off a smell of alcohol so strong that one got a headache just by smelling it, and she hugged Taiga tightly while rolling around in the futon. Taiga was suffocating from the lack of oxygen caused by the strong smell of alcohol and from being trapped in the futon.
Ryuuji laboriously loosened the drunken grip that Yasuko had on Taiga's arm. Finally, Taiga was able to climb out of the futon. Yasuko stretched her scantily-clothed body and said,
Yasuko used her long fingernails to keep her cleavage that was threatening to spill out of her shirt in place. Ryuuji, being a son without any special interests, merely said,
"I can't stand it, you look really bad."
Ryuuji, who had no idea what to do, yawned loudly. Taiga, whose hair was in a mess, opened her mouth widely to yawn in agreement.
"Darn... I was woken up~. Ahhhhh..."
She bit down on the overly-long sleeve of the T-shirt like a child,
"What is Ya-chan saying...? Can you understand her?"
"She said, 'Water... Ryu-chan, give me water... I want it with ice.'"
"No wonder you're her son... I want to drink water too, do we have iced barley tea?"
"Yes we do. I made some before sleeping."
The two of them stumbled towards the kitchen, guided only by the light from Yasuko's room. Taiga brought out the glasses while Ryuuji opened the refrigerator...
"Huh? The barley tea's gone... Even the bottle's gone..."
Taiga found the empty glass bottle in question residing in the sink. Only the tea bag remained at the bottom of the bottle. Under such circumstances, the criminal could only be...
"Damn that Kitamura! How could he finish all of the tea while we were sleeping!? We could make another bottle by adding water... This is the spoiled brat that grew up under the protection of his parents...? Ah, even the ice cubes are gone! Why does he need ice for an iced drink? And he didn't even bother to make a new batch of ice..."
Ryuuji couldn't help but sigh in response to the empty ice box. During this time, Yasuko was still shouting, "Water~" Although there was water in the BRITA water bottle, un-iced water would probably be insufficient to satisfy the drunkard.
"No choice, I'll have to make a trip to the convenience store, at least it's closer than the vending machines. Do you have anything you want to buy?"
"Yogurt! Ah, no, pudding! No, cream puff! Chocolate electric cream puff? Sweet coffee? Ice crea...? Wah! What do I do! My head hurts..."
"...Why don't you just come along."
With only the house key and wallet in his pocket, Ryuuji and Taiga slipped on slippers and prepared to leave the house as quietly as possible.
"It's so exciting to go out of the house at this time... Ah, that's right, let's get Kitamura-kun to come with us?"
"He should be sleeping."
"Let's just try to call him."
Nodding to each other, the two of them went back to Ryuuji's room.
"Gah! There's a smelly odour in this room..."
"It's none of your business!"
Only turning on the table lamp, the two of them crouched down beside Kitamura's pillow. Kitamura pulled the blanket up to his mouth, snoring as he slept soundly. Taiga bit into the sleeve of her T-shirt and giggled soundlessly,
"Hehe... Kitamura-kun's sleeping face..."
"Hey, what about our initial objective? You perverted woman..."
They pulled off the blanket lightly, just like in the television shows where they play pranks on sleeping people to wake them up. It was a pity that Minori wasn't present, as she would surely shout "GOOOOOD MORNING!!!", complete with a safety helmet and microphone. Underneath the blanket, Kitamura's glasses-less sleeping face was revealed.
And then, Ryuuji and Taiga finally understood the reason behind Kitamura finishing the barley tea, and also the reason behind the disappearing ice cubes. They weren't able to say anything, or even sigh, so they just lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.
Placed beside the pillow... No, it should have slipped from his hand after he fell asleep, for the wet object was a plastic bag containing the melted ice. It was probably used by Kitamura to cover up any evidence of him having cried in the night over an hour ago. He drank the barley tea to make up for the loss of water.
Kitamura was crying not too long ago.
The towel that Ryuuji had placed on top of the pillow was already wet. Tear streaks could still be seen on his face and the corner of his eyes. Kitamura had stuffed the towel into his mouth, biting down on it. He had probably just fallen asleep, having cried his eyes out soundlessly in the night where Ryuuji and Taiga were both sleeping soundly, not wanting anyone to find out.
The footsteps of the two echoed in the empty street.
"It's a bit dangerous at this time, don't stray too far away."
Taiga was dragging her feet a small distance behind Ryuuji, moving forward at a snail's pace that was so slow that she couldn't even catch up with the white mist she breathed out.
Although there should still be a while more before winter truly set in, the late night air was already rather cold. On the streets that were devoid of any human presence, in the small alleyways that even homeless cats wouldn't set foot in, no windows were open, and the road in the housing district disregarded the presence of Ryuuji and Taiga, preferring to slumber by itself. The surroundings were dead quiet.
Ryuuji called Taiga's name. Taiga lowered her head, looking as though she was about to stop walking, her messy long hair covering the expression on her pearly face.
Ryuuji walked back a few steps, grabbing the sleeve of the hooded t-shirt that he lent her. Taiga didn't shake off his hold, and finally stopped walking.
"What... What am I so happy about? And I was so excited... I'm such an idi...ot."
Taiga's hair whorl was facing Ryuuji, and both her shoulders and voice were trembling, but not because of the cold. The voice that regretted her own foolishness disappeared into the silent night.
"I don't know anything, don't notice anything, Kitamura's pain and sadness... I didn't find out...anything... I can't... I am...not good enough..."
"Why wouldn't you be good enough?"
"Not good enough...!"
Tears fell onto the small, uncovered feet that should have already been hurting from the freezing cold. Ryuuji witnessed the tears that didn't even appear when she was abandoned by her father.
All the sorrows of the past were rained down like a heavy downpour on the petite figure of Taiga, but her heart was still like a patch of robust and fertile soil, continually absorbing the rainwater while growing. But the amount of water absorbed had finally burst past the limit, the excess water had flowed out of the soil. Quietly, each drop of Taiga's tears made a circular-shaped, transparent mark on the asphalt road.
"Someone like me has no right to like him...!"
Some hours before daybreak, an irrepressible sob rose up on the street. Ryuuji only looked at Taiga's hair whorl, still clutching the overly-long sleeve of the T-shirt. He was also unable to continue moving forward.
Taiga used the sleeve that was not gripped by Ryuuji to wipe her face forcefully, suppressing her own voice while bending down painfully. If you don't have the right, then neither do I. Ryuuji stood there at a loss of what to do, not knowing how to comfort Taiga, still gripping the sleeve of her T-shirt.
Didn't Ami also mention this, "Someone will come and save you if you cry loud enough." Ryuuji thought that it was very true. The weird, serious, honest and gentle Kitamura had many likable attributes, and because he was "that kind of person", Taiga and Ryuuji, both of whom liked Kitamura, wanted to save him when he was crying. No matter what Kitamura did, they would still want to help him - Ami was right on this point. This was why Ryuuji was unable to rebut Ami, who accused Kitamura of being too naive. Because they liked Kitamura, they accepted his rashness. Even if Kitamura was taking advantage of everyone's love towards him by crying, Ryuuji and the others would still want to help him.
But the problem was... He was obviously crying, so what should the group of idiots who hadn't noticed do?
Even if they wanted to help him, even if they wanted him to act rashly, what could they do if they couldn't hear the sounds of him crying?
Just what should the kids that wanted to become "the last hope", but were unable to do anything to help do?
Ryuuji's body jerked uncontrollably... Tears threatened to overwhelm his eyes.
At the last moment, Ryuuji lifted his head and looked at the dark sky overhead. Few constellations could be seen from the streets, where the air was extremely dirty, and where isolated stars shone brightly, responding to Taiga's sorrowful cries.
"Taiga, look, it's the Big Dipper. That's the polestar... and Orion."
Wasn't there a song called looking up at something...? Ryuuji forced out a melody from memory, sticking his hand inside the sleeve of the hooded T-shirt to grab hold of Taiga's freezing fingers.
Taiga lifted her head, her red nose and tear-stained eyelashes revealed by the streetlamp. The beautiful face gifted by the gods had been disfigured by the tears, but it wasn't of consequence as Ryuuji pointed to the night sky. As long as you look up, your tears will never fall.
The iron-willed Taiga once again stepped forward.
Although tears would flow once in a while, it was alright.
Ryuuji was very clear about that, because he had always been beside Taiga, and bore witness to the fact that no matter how many seasons came and went, no matter how many lonely nights passed, and no matter how many times of laughter, fun, and sorrow they had, Taiga had never been defeated before, which was why Ryuuji knew, and he also believed.
"Which one? Which one is Orion?"
"The one with three stars in a line. Do you see it?"
"Ah... I see it... It's over there."
Lifting her head to look at the freezing sky, Taiga's fingers squeezed Ryuuji's hand a bit tighter. Ryuuji knew that even though Taiga's face was full of tear lines, her heart had already recovered her strength, and she only needed a bit of time before she was ready to move forward once again.
"Didn't we learn about the distance between stars in primary school?"
"Mm, it's 'how many light years' right?"
"That stands for the number of years it takes for that beam of light to reach the earth, right? So the Orion or the Big Dipper that we're seeing now could have already disappeared... Even if they explode and disappear now, it will still take us more than ten thousand years to know that it has disappeared. The stars that we're seeing now, that we believe in...could have disappeared a long time ago."
As if for confirmation, Taiga held Ryuuji's hand even more tightly. Must be strong, not like this, must be stronger, stronger, stronger, stronger, stronger! Must be even stronger! She wanted to shout something like this.
"Just like Kitamura-kun and I, what is seen by the eyes of other people isn't true... How many years, how many thousands of years must it take for the truth to be known? Just how far is the distance between Kitamura-kun and I?"
"You want to shorten the distance between him and you, right? Because you like him, that's why you want to know everything about him."
Taiga didn't nod her head, only responding while still looking up at the night sky. Still holding on to her hand, Ryuuji also looked up at the same star, saying softly,
"Everyone's the same, everyone's afraid of being far away from other people. Once you like someone, you would wish to shorten the distance between the other person and you, which is why you stretch out your hand towards the other person..."
Just like the two of them right now, only when in direct contact can they not miss any disturbance of the heart, only when in direct contact can they experience every joy and sorrow together.
"Only like this can we let our souls come into direct contact with each other. Let's work hard together...and see what our efforts result in."
He thought of the girl who whispered that she was afraid.
And also thought of the boy who suppressed the sound of his cries.
Although he had thought of other people, in this moment, he only thought of Taiga, whose fingers were interlocked with his.
To understand each other is like a miracle. For two people to understand each other and to fall in love is so hard that it would take a miracle and divine grace to happen. Every pair of lovers, friends, husband and wife, parent and child, and siblings in the world were all miracles. Ryuuji quietly closed his eyes. It was hard to understand, but it was valued because of its difficulty.
One hundred seconds to once again stepping out towards the convenience store.
Ten thousand seconds to daybreak.
|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|