| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
"Ocean! Sun! Okinawa!"
"Beach! Island! Okinawa!"
Two copies of the parent consent form was slapped onto Ryuuji's head the moment he entered the classroom.
"......What're the two of you trying to do?"
Ryuuji gave them an unpleasant gaze through his crescent-shaped eyes. That would've have made any other person cry out in fear, but Noto and Haruta, having gotten used to that gaze, merely stood there calmly.
"What's wrong, Takasu, don't put on such a dull face! Did you bring the consent form!"
"Happy new year! That's Okinawa mind you! A free six day five night holiday!"
I don't think it's free--Ryuuji looked at the blissfully moronic face of Haruta, which had not changed at all even though it was a new year. Right now, Ryuuji felt slightly envious of his happy-go-lucky friends who obviously did not know anything of that feeling named 'frustration'. But Haruta seemed to have misunderstood the emotions contained within Ryuuji's gaze, his expression changing rapidly.
"Ah, don't do this, Taka-chan! This is my consent form!"
"Why would I want to take yours......I brought mine."
Really, Ryuuji was a tad envious of him.
After speaking, Ryuuji placed his bag onto his seat. Even Noto and Haruta should be able to sense the unadulterated trace of unhappiness in the air. But this kind of thing could not be easily explained. Things like how he had been rejected on Christmas eve by the Kushieda Minori who was about to walk into class, and the emotional state that he had been in ever since that incident were not things that he could talk to Noto and Haruta about. And to compound his misery, Ryuuji had just ran away when Minori greeted him with her usual cheerful voice.
He sat down at his desk and clutched his head in his hands. The more he thought about it, the more he seemed to have acted like a petty person. It was the worst thing to ignore her just because she rejected him.
Petty, shallow, lousy......Ryuuji was rubbing salt into his own wounds by thinking about what he had just done. It was because so many things have happened that he didn't know what to do. If this goes on, would she start to hate him?
Ryuuji scratched his head furiously with both hands as Noto tried to restrain him.
"Takasu, what are you talking about? What happened to you? Ah, don't tell me it's the after-effects of the flu that you just recovered from?"
"Now that you mention it, I was extremely surprised when you told me that 'I just got discharged after being hospitalized for flu.' when I asked you to go to the temple together on New Year's day. But I guess you'll cheer up when you see this right! I'm really looking forward to the school trip, so I've already bought this! Look at this baby!"
Haruta forcibly pushed Ryuuji's hands away from his head and stuffed a book into his face. The book in question was a guidebook, which Ryuuji instinctively tried to push away, but his hands stopped halfway into the motion. 'Sparkling Okinawa!" Ryuuji's gaze stopped at the cover photo of the guidebook.
The sun shining down from an endlessly blue sky onto the impossibly green coral reefs and the dreamily perfect beaches. And the young people in swimsuits that had their hair ruffled by the sea breeze. Men and women leaned into each other affably, the tide coming up to their knees......they were also holding watermelons in their hands......!
Such, a dazzling sight!
Ryuuji couldn't help but laugh. He laughed till tears were flowing out of the corners of his eyes, not because of grief, but because he had seen a beautiful scene that couldn't be any further away from his situation.
The people in the photos were too radiant to be real, and they looked to be as happy as anyone could be. Right now, Ryuuji felt like he was that thin shadow by their feet on the sands. If the surface of the shining youth so often talked about referred to the people on the cover, then Ryuuji must be the other side of the coin. It was so ironic that it was actually funny.
Whichever way Noto interpreted that burst of laughter, he started to laugh along happily, waving his hands about as if there was a fish in between them --- an image that could not be further away from its proposed intention of appearing cute.
"Look at the color of that ocean! We're so lucky to be able to go to Okinawa for our school trip! My friends from middle school who're in high school now are still going to places like Kyoto and Nara that we've already gone for our middle school trip! There's nothing but temples in those places!"
"That's too bad! I have one place that I definitely must go in Okinawa! Manzama!"
It's Manzamo isn't it......Ryuuji couldn't help but mentally correct him.
"And the American military base! It should be really cool to get a look at the US Marines!"
I don't think they'll just let you go in for a tour......Once again, Ryuuji couldn't help but mentally correct him. Finally, when Haruta mentioned 'I really want to fire a gun!', Noto cut off his rambling by saying 'I think you've mixed up Okinawa with some other place'.
"Good morning! I see you guys are already looking at a guidebook of Okinawa! What passionate studying!"
Upon hearing the distinct voice of a certain sportsman, Ryuuji turned around at waved in greeting. The person whose friendly eyes were framed behind a pair of spectacles and raised his hand in response to Ryuuji's greeting was the student council president and class president, Kitamura Yuusaku.
"Takasu, I heard that you caught a cold at the end of last year? Are you better already?"
"Hmm, what's up? Are you alright? Ha! Don't tell me because of your high fever......"
Kitamura wrinkled his eyebrows and shot a searing gaze at the region between Ryuuji's legs. Ryuuji took only a moment to understand the meaning behind that gaze and told him to bug off, closing his legs together.
"Morning, great leader. Are you planning to do that thing again this year?"
Noto clapped his hands together and bowed. That action clearly referred to,
"Of course I'll be doing the Great Illuminator Deity of Broken Hearts thing again! It's my duty to encourage the people with broken hearts in our midst, so that they can break free from the abyss of rejection......what's wrong, Takasu, why're you staring at me like that?"
Ryuuji hurriedly shook his head, shifting his gaze away from Kitamura's eyes, which were almost twice the size of Noto's. No......because he had reacted to the word 'rejection'.
"But there's a problem with continuing to do the Great Illuminator Deity of Broken Hearts programme as the participants of the most popular segment of the show, the 'your love life support group' segment is finding it hard to get participants. Not mentioning the people from the student council, I've already gone through my juniors from the baseball club, this'll threaten the survival of the programme if the situation continues to worsen!"
"Then just find a participant. Ah, just nice, I've already found one!"
Ryuuji looked towards the direction that Noto pointed in and couldn't help but shut his eyes, his hands grabbing on to his kneecaps with all his strength. I really really want to sink into the ground and disappear, but--
"Morning, Kushieda, looks like you cut your hair! Don't tell me you got dumped!? Why don't you join Kitamura's programme!"
"Hmm, that's Kushieda's definition of cutting hair? There's practically no difference at all, why don't you go all the way, just like the skinhead wig that I gave you! Right, Taka-chan!"
--Haruta placed himself behind Ryuuji, cutting off his only escape road......
Lifting his eyes while shivering at the same time, Ryuuji clenched his jaw and sneaked a peek. Minori was removing her wool muffler while speaking in her usual bright voice as though she had completely forgotten about Ryuuji's performance a while ago,
"Why are you guys so naggy--! Could you not talk about my hair in that kind of despicable manner!?"
Hey, is she an idiot, yes I think she's an idiot. Noto and Haruta pointed at Minori and laughed. Even Kitamura laughed along as he opened his arms.
"I'm always here for you if you're out of love! Come, jump into my arms! Then join my show!"
"Good job, Mr. Deity! What a strong chest you have!"
"Minori's out of love~!"
Luckily the substance that slowly flowed out wasn't tears, but blood that came from biting down too hard on one's lip. Ryuuji didn't join in their conversation, nor did he look at Minori's face, but merely stood there with his head bowed, biting down on his lip like a stone statue. The vocabulary that was flying around above him were too dangerous, so he took great care to avoid being hit by any one of them.
"Tsk, Taiga, let's go. Those guys are idiots! They don't even know that the haircut cost me four thousand five hundred yen!"
She grabbed Taiga and prepared to go to her seat. Taiga nodded in agreement, wrapping her arms around Minori's waist as she commented 'They're like bandits!'. But the guys today (with the exception of Ryuuji) were extremely high for some unknown reason (probably a combination of the excitement of going to Okinawa and a new school term).
"That's right, Taiga should join the programme too! You could be on air together with Kitamura!"
"Heh, that's right, what a great idea! Come, Taiga, fly towards this strong chest of mine!"
With a flourish, Haruta pulled open the front of Kitamura's school blazer, even though doing so only exposed the school shirt beneath.
"No! Taiga, that's a trap!"
"Ah! That hurts, Minori! You poked me in the eye!"
Minori covered Taiga's eyes with both of her hands.
"This is something that shouldn't be seen, I've already fallen into that trap once! Just when I thought that it was nothing, an extremely dark and scary object appeared in front of my eyes!"
Ha Ha Ha, Kitamura laughed, still in his blazer-less state.
"Hey, don't describe it like that. When have I ever shown you an extremely dark and scary object?"
"During the summer! At Ami's summer house!"
Did something like that really happen? Kitamura tilted his head innocently.
Haruta, who was standing in front of Kitamura, suddenly scrambled to get a closer look at Kitamura's school shirt.
"Hey! Looks like even the great Deity has his moments! Such an embarrassing fellow! Oh, Taka-chan, what's this sinful object on his shirt?"
That particular thing had already been tagged as a 'sinful object', so there really was nothing more to be said about it. Ryuuji instinctively jumped up as Haruta pointed at the offending object(s), where two strange-looking circular dark objects had appeared in the front of Kitamura's school shirt. Upon closer inspection, Ryuuji felt that it could possibly be soy sauce. But the objects were situated at the exact positions of where a persons nipples would be, and speaking of that, the objects really looked like nipples--
"......Aren't these his nipples!"
Argh! Ryuuji couldn't help but gag at the sight. It was so dirty that all he wanted to do was to pluck out the pair of eyes that had observed the objects and clean them. Kitamura hastily drew his school blazer around himself, his face turning red.
"Oh no! I forgot to wear a T-shirt inside!"
"I can't take it anymore!"
Minori crossed her arms in front of her chest as she fell backwards. Beside her, Taiga started laughing loudly. At this time, Noto walked to Taiga and lightly poked her elbow, looking as though he had something to say.
"......Hi! You're in luck, Taiga, you're in luck!"
If Taiga hadn't asked, Ryuuji would have. Haruta immediately bent down beside Taiga, opening up the Okinawa guidebook in front of her,
"Taiga~ Read this!"
"Huh!? Chin, Chin chin......!"
"Oh~! Ha! Everyone heard that right!? She really said it!"
Haruta hugged the guidebook, which was opened up to the page that introduced the 'Chinsuko' under the 'Must-buy gifts' section, and laughed brazenly. He probably wanted very much to die today. In that instant, Ryuuji thought he saw blood spurting out from the sides of Taiga's eyes--no, that's the blood-red killing aura that was emanating from that girl.
Taiga grabbed Noto and Haruta's thumbs with one hand each, took a deep breath......and unleashed a ki-attack. Noto and Haruta's bodies blew through the air as though enchanted, crashing into each other before dropping to the ground. The two of them lay there, unmoving, probably dead already. Following that, Taiga lifted her head and shouted,
Minori laughed lightly, and said 'Good job!'. Kitamura was still in his embarrassed state, covering his chest from external inspection.
What just happened......Unable to follow the slew of events that had just happened, Ryuuji could only stand there in a daze, after which he subconsciously lifted his head and look in Minori's direction.
Just like a man who suddenly saw the rough current beneath the wooden boards of the bridge that he is crossing, Ryuuji thought of something he shouldn't have thought of.
It's normal for everyone else to be normal and cheerful. But why can Minori also keep up her usual cheerfulness. How could she be able to act normally around the guy she just rejected--Why?
To Minori, was that merely a small incident that could be forgotten in the short span of two weeks?
Sensing Ryuuji's gaze, Minori also lifted her head. Their eyes met, but Minori gave her usual smile immediately. 'What's up?', just like the kind of smile that friends gave each other their eyes occasionally met, as she used a lighthearted tone to speak.
The incident just now--She seemed to have completely forgotten Ryuuji's rude and hurtful actions.
And then Ryuuji reached his limit. He could only turn his back on Minori and run away from her once again. Running away from his circle of friends, this overly-sensitive man could only hide in the toilet.
"Ah, what a coincidence! Takasu-kun, do you still remember me?"
As Ryuuji was walking towards the door, a male student looked in from the corridor and waved to him.
"Ah, I'm the one who was wearing the bear costume at the party--"
"Oh, so you're the one......"
Ryuuji remembered and walked towards him. On the night of Christmas Eve, Ryuuji had tried to look for a Santa Claus costume to wear to Taiga's apartment. But he was unable to find it, so Ryuuji had asked to change clothes with the guy who was wearing the bear costume. Because of everything that had happened after that, Ryuuji had forgotten all about it.
"I'm so sorry, I had completely forgotten about it. Sorry for making you come looking for me.
"It's nothing, since that costume's only used for those kind of parties. On the other hand, your suit looked pretty expensive, so my mother wanted me to return it to you as soon as possible."
"Ah, you even took it to the dry cleaners......I'm really sorry, and thank you very much."
Ryuuji furiously stared at the guy as he took back the suit. Oh no, I really must bring that costume to the dry cleaners before returning it to him.
"That's right, here. It seemed to have been in that pocket, so I don't know whether it was troublesome for you to lose it. Though I went to look for you after realizing that it was still in the pocket, but you were already gone."
That was the Christmas present he had planned to give to Minori as he confessed his feelings.
Holding the box in his hands, Ryuuji said,
"......No, it's nothing. It......wasn't needed on that day."
Ryuuji shook his head lightly, it's true, he said to himself mentally.
This was truly something that wasn't required anymore. Even if he had it on hand that time, he wouldn't have been able to give it to her.
"Is that so......that's great! Actually, I was rather nervous when I came up here. I was thinking of what I would do if Takasu really turned out to be a delinquent. Looks like Murase and the others were telling the truth when they said 'he's a nice guy, don't worry'."
Ryuuji lowered his head slightly as he laughed rather awkwardly. Though he was definitely not a delinquent, but he wasn't sure if he could be classified as a 'nice guy'. Would a nice guy completely ignore the girl who rejected him? Perhaps he should be classified as a 'narrow-minded guy'.
After exchanging names once again and promising to return him the bear costume, Ryuuji watched Murase's friend walk away. Then, he stood by himself outside the classroom.
Inside the box that was in his hand was the brooch that he had braved the frightened stare of the shopkeeper for two whole hours to pick out. Though the brooch was only a cheap one that cost around a thousand yen, but it wouldn't have been appropriate to give something expensive when they weren't dating. He still remembered that Minori's fringe was stubbornly knotted together. Though he had felt that a pencil box or a small pouch would also be good choices, but Ryuuji had wanted to give her something shiny and pretty. Even if it was only a cheap brooch, it was something as beautiful as Christmas.
I should just throw it away.
He thought, I should throw it away immediately.
Instinctively, Ryuuji didn't want to hold on to the object that brought back painful memories of that night.
But just as he prepared to chuck it into the rubbish bin, his hands stopped by themselves. Ryuuji clicked his tongue as he violently tore off the Christmas wrapping. Why am I even thinking of classifying litter at a time like this......He opened the box and took out the brooch, throwing the wrapping into the flammable rubbish bin.
Ryuuji's fingertips clutched the inflammable brooch tightly as he stared at it. On the silver wave-shaped brooch were a number of golden glass pearls, casting a shiny glow under the light.
Ryuuji felt that the brooch reflected Minori in it. Among all the other kinds of brooches, only this one suited her best. If she could wear it in school, at club practice, at work--he had once thought. If she could think about him as she put it on--He had once thought. Looking at her wearing the brooch, Ryuuji would feel that his feelings had been successfully conveyed to her--He had once thought.
But he wasn't able to give this to her. He didn't need this anymore. Just as Ryuuji prepared to throw the brooch into the dustbin,
"Taka-chan, save me! Look look, Taiga did this! I have proof! Look at the teeth marks!"
"It's your own fault for being so irritating! What's wrong with you, insect! I'll destroy you! It'll be harmful to the earth if you exist for even a second longer!"
Just as he prepared to throw the brooch into the dustbin, Haruta, who was being hunted down by Taiga, ran into Ryuuji from behind. Even Taiga ran over. And then the two of them noticed the brooch in Ryuuji's hand at the same time. Haruta was the first to speak,
"What's this, what's this? What're you doing with it?"
And then Taiga also made a surprised sound before closing her mouth. Ryuuji had told her about buying a brooch for Minori. Taiga then looked at the dustbin, and saw the Christmas wrapping on top, seeming to understand the symbolic meaning behind it. Taiga had a tendency to be unusually perceptive in such situations.
"......This, This is......something useless......"
"Useless!? Then give it to me! You see, I've also felt that my fringe is always knotted together!"
The uninformed Haruta snatched the brooch from Ryuuji and clipped it onto his hair while saying, 'how does it look?'. Ryuuji couldn't help but think that the brooch ended up half a world away from where it was supposed to go as he looked at the moronic Haruta.
"Ouch!? Hey, what's with you!?"
"Just give it back! Return it!"
Jumping onto Haruta's back, Taiga looked like a long-haired idiot trying to climb a tree as she attempted to get the brooch of his fringe. Haruta, whose hair was pinned together by the brooch, screeched in agony. Though Ryuuji wanted to stop Taiga, but--
"That's, still, Ryuuji's brooch! That's why, you should, return it--"
Just as the classroom door opened and the class teacher came in with her class list, the brooch finally came off Haruta's head, taking a few strands of his hair with it.
"It's been burned to the ground!"
--The students of 2-C could only stare blankly at Koigakubo Yuri, single (30 years-old), who was standing at the podium in front of class with an awkward smile. But they were unable to decipher the meaning of her words.
'Come, please hand up the parental consent forms!' The class president, Kitamura, who was busily trying to carry out the first orders of the term from his class teacher, froze in his position.
The single woman (30), quickly thanked him and grabbed the stack of consent forms, immediately stuffing the forms into an envelope before uttering those cursed words.
"Because it was burned to the ground, that's why it's not there anymore. It's such a shame. But, it won't be canceled. That's why, umm, that, it's probably alright. Yes, just like what was originally planned. Yes."
"......Sensei, I totally do not understand what you've just told us, please explain it more clearly.
Hearing Kitamura's direct question, the single woman (30) gave up on trying to hide the news.
"It's the hotel!"
Looking as though she'd made up her mind, she said that with a commanding tone,
"The hotel that was reserved for the school trip to Okinawa! It was burnt down at the end of last year, so it's not there anymore. And there isn't a hotel that can take in a hundred and sixty eight students in Okinawa anymore! That's why the school trip has been changed to a three day two night ski trip!
That's great isn't it!"
--The wails of agony was amplified by similar cries coming out of the neighbouring classrooms. An anguished screech was heard from a neighbouring class as even the ceiling seemed to tremble.
"You have got to be kidding!? Are you serious!?"
"That's the worst thing to happen!?"
"Ahhhhhhhh! My first ever plane ride, my first ever visit to Okinawa!"
"And speaking of that, why are we going up the mountain during the coldest month of winter!? Are they trying to kill us!?"
The single woman (30) tried to hush them, and continued,
"Isn't skiing just as good? You'll get to ski at a large ski lodge! You'll get to see silvery-white snow scenery! And you'll get to make angels in the snow! And the happy voices of your classmates! and other things."
"No! That's too boring! This is a once-in-a-lifetime school trip!?"
"I must go to Okinawa! No matter how long we have to wait, just let us go to Okinawa!"
"That's right! I don't want to go to some snowy mountain! Let's protest!"
Though it was an extreme solution, it had the support of most of the class. However, the single woman (30) merely glanced at the envelope securely tucked under her arm.
"But I've already received all your parental consent forms......so that's that......"
The despicable action taken by the adult pushed the students to their limit. Everyone started wailing miserably.
Haruta, who had already bought Okinawa guidebook, was already bawling, Kitamura, who was also looking forward to the trip, was shouting 'I object! It's too unreasonable!' towards the podium. On the other hand, the girls started to verbally assault the class teacher with shouts of 'Single woman!' 'Thirty years-old!', and even Taiga, the rich girl could probably go to Okinawa any time she wanted to, was banging hard on her desk in defiance.
The single woman (30), who was bathed in such extremist defiance, gave a pitiful expression.
"It's not like I burnt down the Okinawa hotel......"
--Which was the truth.
Within the chaos, only one person, Ryuuji, who was like the citizen of another world, suddenly opened his eyes to their fullest extent. It's impossible for the single woman (30) to burn down the hotel.
It was me.
......Ryuuji considered this seriously. Perhaps, the curse of 'let the school burn down!' that he had released in the morning had ripped through the fabric of time and space to descend onto the hotel in Okinawa, causing it to burn to the ground?
In his heart, Ryuuji apologised to the students whose faces were full of tears. To him, the howling snow mountain suited him more than sunny Okinawa right now. The cursed had come through, though he felt sorry for his classmates, but Ryuuji was rather happy about it. Ryuuji didn't want to think about blue skies and clear waters, for he wasn't in the mood to be shone upon by the blazing sun and to laugh loudly and happily with his friends right now.
Darkened skies, unrelenting snowstorms. Slightly wet clothes. Musty rented ski suits. Bear. Avalanche. Closed room killings......These are the right things. The high pitched whistle of the ghost ship Titanic. The maniacal laughter of its spirit crew. These are the right things. To hell with the school trip. How nice it would be to get locked up on a freezing snow-capped mountain, to play hide-and-seek in an underwater labyrinth, to wander around in hell.
The once-in-a-lifetime school trip? Who cares about that kind of thing.
"Damn it! Why must Ami-chan be late on a day like this!?"
"Ami-chan wouldn't stand by passively on something like this!"
"Ami-chan would surely do something!"
Just what were they expecting from the two-faced model, Kawashima Ami who hadn't appeared in class? The guys had even started to shout Ami-chan--! Ami-chan--! into space. But the single woman (30) immediately dashed their hopes as she spoke,
"Kawashima-san was in Hawaii for work-related reasons and was unable to catch the returning flight, so she won't be here today. But she's probably sick and tired of southern islands, so perhaps a snowy mountain would be more to her liking!?"
The voices of the entire student body rejected her half-baked hypothesis. The single woman (30) thus gave up on any further attempt to round up this mess. She turned her back onto the class and scribbled a line onto the blackboard.
'Life is unfair!!!'
An involuntary sound escaped Ryuuji's mouth, as everyone turned their eyes upon him. What's wrong with that fellow, why is she back already--a familiar statuesque figure could be seen through the shelves, no doubt, it was Kawashima Ami.
Ryuuji was buying the ingredients needed for dinner at the supermarket with the sky amber in color. In the midst of the biting winter winds, the pedestrians on the shopping street were all rushing to get home. Just before Ryuuji stepped into the supermarket, he glanced at the neighbouring bookstore, only to see an extremely conspicuous figure.
In front of the shelve stocking woman's magazines stood a taller than average figure. And on that body was a smaller than average head. From just the side of the face that had a pair of shiny sunglasses on, the beautiful jaw line of that person could be clearly observed. A muffler was wrapped around her shiny hair, as her tanned skin shone with a bronze sparkly. Below the probably jaw-droppingly expensive coat was a pair of retro jeans and boots, though she wasn't wearing high heels, her legs were still extremely long. That kind of unique style, coupled with her nonchalant handling of a Chanel bag, just screamed
'There's a pretty girl here!!' 'I'm a model you know!'.
Looks like Ami-chan hadn't changed at all. But Ryuuji felt that it would be hard to start a conversation with her, and prepared to retreat. The last time he saw her--The memory of parting with Ami at the Christmas party was not a good one. Ami couldn't stand Ryuuji's stupidity anymore, and had left by herself. The Ryuuji of that time hadn't realized that he had abandoned Taiga to be by herself, had assumed that the world revolved around himself--the Ryuuji of that day was extremely stupid. But too much had happened at that time, so much that he couldn't even open his mouth to ask Ami to stay. It was expected for her to be angry.
Ami, who always gave of an aura of arrogance, had probably predicted that the situation would become like this. Ami probably already knew what kind of result that Ryuuji's stupidity would bring. And then, she probably would have been surprised by the extent of his stupidity. Ami's words had always been hurtful, so much so that other people would want to ignore them. It was hurtful probably because those words were always direct and truthful.
Ami moved, and Ryuuji hurriedly stuffed his face into a recipe book.
Ami walked over from the woman's magazine section while listening to her iPod, looking as though she hadn't noticed Ryuuji's existence. As he had a bad feeling about it, Ryuuji was unable to lift his head and strike up a conversation with her, and could only stand there. But life always had a tendency to go the other way, as Ami walked towards the recipe section, her hand reaching towards a magazine that was in front of Ryuuji. Her target seemed to be the recipe book 'Set meals - Genmai Bento'.
"Oh I'm sorr......Ah"
--Ryuuji blinked in surprise.
Ami's bag had knocked into Ryuuji's hand as she reached over to take the book, knocking Ryuuji's magazine to the ground. Ami finally realized that it was him when she turned to apologise. Though her expression was veiled behind that pair of shiny shades, but Ami immediately covered her mouth after saying 'ah' in surprise.
"......You should give up. The 'Set meals' series isn't nice to eat at all."
Though his voice still gave of a slightly awkward tone, but this was the most normal voice that Ryuuji could manage.
After confirming that it was indeed Ryuuji, Ami put the magazine back on to the shelf and clicked her tongue aggressively.
She made a sound, making her dislike obvious. Ami then turned around, but the strap of her bag got tangled together with the loose end of Ryuuji's belt. Ami turned around belligerently and pulled her bag towards herself, hugging it in front of her chest.
"What are you trying to do to Ami-chan's Chanel!?"
"It should be what you're trying to do to me!?"
Facing up to the horrifying gaze that shot out from behind the sunglasses, Ryuuji's insides involuntarily shuddered, throwing his demonic appearance aside. In response to the sudden quarrel between the beautiful model girl and the demon-faced male, all the shoppers stopped whatever they were doing and looked at the two of them. But Ami didn't care about things like that.
"Ah--That's---the worst! And why are you here? Can't you just disappear?"
The bad feeling was accurate. Hearing that, Ryuuji's face began to contort as well.
"What are you trying to say!? What kind of attitude is that! I, I was!"
Rejected by Kushieda on Christmas Eve!......He couldn't say that out loud.
"I was hospitalized for flu! I had a high fever of forty degrees, and I even lost consciousness! How could you treat a patient like me with that kind of attitude, don't you feel ashamed of yourself!"
"How would I know about something like that!......Speaking of which, high fever? Forty degrees? Then....."
Ami took of her sunglasses, lightly biting on its frame, one eyebrow rising slightly. Her beautiful eyelids fluttered slightly, but she didn't say anything, mere staring at the region between Ryuuji's legs.
"Don't be stupid! I didn't lose my reproductive capacity!"
Ryuuji crossed his legs, defending against the wordless laser that was stronger than any argument. No wonder they were childhood friends, as Ami and Kitamura's way of responding to such things were exactly the same.
"......Ah is that right. Ha, that's good then. I'll be seeing you, bye bye."
Ami slid her sunglasses into the back pocket of her jeans, a feigned smile appearing on her lips as she coldly turned away.
Ryuuji's world turned black for a moment. Just what kind of woman is she......what an uncomfortable fellow. Even though he already knew of Ami's dual personality and atrocious character, Ryuuji was still taken by surprise. Was she merely irritated? Did she have to dislike him to such an extent because of what he did?
"Wait up! Why do you have to be so aggressive!"
"Ah-Do you want me to tell you why? Because I, loathe Takasu-kun.
--That was too direct an answer, leaving no room for interpretation. Ryuuji couldn't help but stand there, staring at Ami like an idiot.
"Huh? Please don't follow me, it's extremely irritating."
"Ouch! What are you doing, stop fooling around!"
Because of the searing effect of her words, Ryuuji unconsciously stretched out his hand, accidentally touching the back pocket where Ami kept her wallet and cellphone. He was glared at, while Ami looked as though she had sealed all routes of movement in the bookshop, as she pointed at Ryuuji in front of everyone in the store.
"Do you still need me to explain myself more clearly!? I loathe you because you're an idiot!"
The hurtful attack rooted Ryuuji to the ground.
"......Kya! Somebody was actually loathed for being an idiot......Hahaha!"
A burst of cruel laughter came from some distance away. Ryuuji turned around to look at the owner of that laugh, the small-sized person who only tied up one side of her hair, wearing woolen cap, a white wool coat and boots--in other words, that Taiga.
Ryuuji asked, why are you here?
"You're really slow! You're ten minutes late!"
"Don't get riled up over such small matters. You're just a Baka-chi who doesn't even know how to read the time."
"I know how to read the time!"
Ryuuji was surprised by the conversation taking place between Ami and Taiga. The two who have been locked in battle since time immemorial would actually meet up in a bookstore?
"Here, this is 14 US dollars. And, this is 40 US dollars."
"Right......if 1 US dollar is equivalent to 100 yen......"
Looking at Taiga taking out thousand yen notes from her kitty patterned purse, Ryuuji couldn't help but sigh,
"......Just when did the relationship between the two of you become so good that you bring each other presents from overseas?"
"These are not presents, this is money, Baka-chi~I only have a ten thousand yen note, don't forget to give me the change!"
"Huh? Since you asked me to buy stuff for you, shouldn't you have prepared the exact amount before hand?
How do you expect me to give you so much change? Ami pouted as she took out her wallet. After much effort, the two of the finally settled the matter. Ami raised her head, looking at Ryuuji's face.
'Why must you come here?!' Ami seemed to be extremely angry. As she looked at Ryuuji's childish attitude, Ami's expression changed to that of someone who's had enough, as she kicked him with her heeled boots. 'ouch!' But she missed, and stepped on Taiga's foot instead. 'Ah! What's wrong?' Ami turned around and looked at Taiga. 'Oh, so I hit you!' and proceeded to lift up her leg nonchalantly.
Welcome to Sudobucks! The voices of the female university student store workers and jazz music filled the shop.
The three of them who had originally met at the bookstore had ended up at their usual place at the non-smoking zone of Sudobucks. Taiga ordered a cup of coffee and some baked biscuits, Ryuuji a cup of mixed coffee, while Ami took a latte. Taiga and Ryuuji sat together, as Ami looked at him with an extremely irritated expression (had he done something extremely stupid to make her hate him so?)
"......What did you ask her to buy for you?"
Though he wasn't that interested, but after sneaking a peek at Taiga's bag, he saw a range of random products whose prices ranged from 14 to 40 US Dollars.
"Handbags and slippers! The products that were on the Hawaii limited edition magazines! Ah, this this!"
Taiga suddenly became extremely excited as she jumped up and showed off her wares.
"......Ah, that's nice. Though it won't be of much use......ah, but it's alright since you're so happy. At least you can use it in the summer."
Ami, who was drinking her latte, widened her eyes in confusion,
"What? Why wouldn't it be of much use? Weren't we going to Okinawa for the school trip? Wouldn't these be just right for the trip? I spent a long time looking for the things you wanted!"
"Ah, haven't you heard? The school trip has been changed to a three day two night ski trip."
"The hotel in Okinawa burned down. So we're going to be trapped in the freezing mountains."
"Why is that so! You can't be serious!? Yahhhhhhh! NoOOoooo!!! I bought a pair of shorts and t-shirts specially for Okinawa!? And speaking of which, why is it three day two night? Why is it such a short trip? And, why must we ski!? I don't want this! I hate this!!!"
"......Why is Takasu-kun apologizing to me?"
"......Why are you apologizing!?"
Unable to answer their questions, Ryuuji looked away, sipping his coffee while bemoaning his bad luck. 'It burnt down because I cursed it' If he said something like this, who knows what kind of look they would've given him......However, Ryuuji truly believed that the fire was because of him--
Ka! Ami lifted her hands in surrender. In front of Ryuuji and Taiga, the girl who always pretended to be someone else and hid behind a mask started to whine in a manner befitting her true character.
"Ah---I've had enough! This is worst~No, it's even worse than the worst!!! Why must we ski, of all things! I am totally not interested in going to a place like that! I just want to skip this period of time! Ahhhhh~~maybe I should just make an excuse regarding my work and skip it."
"......whatever you want to do to skip the trip is your freedom, Baka-chi--but, I have something to tell you regarding this school trip!"
At this moment, Taiga's expression became serious, as her body leaned forward. 'Hey!'......One end of the lace in her one-piece dress went into her cup of coffee, as Ryuuji hurriedly fished it out.
"This is the reason I called you out for. Ryuuji was just a coincidence, but just nice that he's here as well."
Taiga looked over to Ryuuji. Ryuuji was conducting emergency procedures on Taiga's lace, and moved the coffee cup away to prevent any repeat incidents. He didn't notice Ami looking at the entire scene with a slightly dazed expression.
Taiga squinted her eyes, and then spoke to Ami with a calm and serious tone,
"Though we're not going to Okinawa anymore, it's still a school trip. The main goal of leaving behind good memories is still in effect. That's why, Baka-chi! I have to tell you that if you go with us on the school trip, you mustn't trouble Ryuuji in any way!"
"......huh? Trouble! I should be the one feeling troubled"
Ami directed a look full of hatred at Ryuuji as she hugged her cute Chanel bag. Wait a minute! Ryuuji hadn't asked Taiga to say anything like that, so he was just as confused as Ami. Anyway, the first thing to do is to calm down, Ryuuji thought as he slowly sipped his coffee.
"Because Ryuuji, likes Minorin"
"Argh, Ryuuji that's disgusting!"
Cough! Cough! -- Using a tissue to cover his mouth, the eyes that were filled with tears from the coughing glared at Taiga, "What are you saying!"
Looking like a snake that has found its prey, Ami's mouth curved upwards in amusement. To Ryuuji it was the first time today, and probably the first time this year that he had seen her so happy, as her eyes shone wickedly. To describe her as a snake would be too insulting, she looked just like a demon. Ryuuji looked at her apprehensively.
"And, Minorin likes Ryuuji too."
"Huh? Hey! Hey! Hold up, that's just your own conjecture isn't it!"
"Shut up you......it's definitely like that! I know everything. Though a lot of things have happened so it's been rather rocky between them. But no one should go and disturb them. Baka-chi, you shouldn't do anything like that too!"
Looking at Taiga's serious expression, Ami lightly swirled her latte with a coffee spoon as she observed Ryuuji.
"I see! Well, I guess I understand what you're trying to say......but, why are you in such a rush to tell me that."
"Ryuuji got rejected by Minorin on Christmas Eve!"
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!--- Ryuuji's mouth opened wide in a soundless scream,
"Yes! He got rejected!"
Ami blinked her eyes. On a side note, a couple on the neighbouring chairs were looking over, and even the shop owner, Mr. Sudo had put down his calculator to look at Ryuuji. Got rejected! Who? Is it that person? Is it that demon-faced youth? American? That's so pitiful!......In an instant, Sudobucks was filled with merciless discussion on the topic, making Ryuuji want to disappear into the ground.
The discussions became louder and louder, drowning Ryuuji in their intensity and fervor. In that instant before he collapsed, Ryuuji mustered all of his remaining strength to smack the table.
"......To be more accurate, I was rejected before I even confessed my feelings to Kushieda."
Having said that, Ryuuji sprawled onto the table.
How could Taiga. Though it was the truth that he had been rejected by Minori, but why did she have to spread this around. If he could use magic, he would erase the memories of everyone around and walk out pretending that nothing had happened, but unfortunately, this was already in other people's memories, one of them being Kawashima Ami.
"......Oh~So it was like this?"
Hearing Ami's evilly sweet voice, Ryuuji raised his head. She must be thinking of more scary and hurtful things to say. Since it has come to this, what's one or two more wounds to add to the hundreds already on his body?
At that exact moment, Ami's gaze shifted away from Ryuuji's face. She dropped her smile and buried her mouth into her cup of latte, seeming to be mumbling to herself.
"......Looks like someone finally got 'hurt'."
But her gaze wasn't on Ryuuji, but on Taiga. Taiga had also noticed that gaze, and lifted her head in response to it.
"This school trip is Ryuuji's last chance to confess his feelings to Minorin! -- I can't let anyone get in their way, do you understand?"
She suddenly turned to look at Ryuuji,
"It would have been better if we had gone to Okinawa, but there's no point in complaining about that. 'Life's unfair!'. A skiing trip isn't the best setting, but it's your last chance to find out Minorin's true feelings. And by last, I mean we're going to be split into different classes next year. Ryuuji's going to science right?"
"Minori's an arts student, so the two of you will be in different classes. In other words, you'll be separated from her after this year. Which is why, this school trip is really the last chance! Do you get it?"
Ryuuji felt a spate of breathlessness at being stared at from such close quarters. To be streamed into different classes--though hard to accept, it was the truth. He had already grown accustomed to being in the same class as Kushieda. The spring that he had looked forward too was now going to be over soon. And everything had not been going well. So should he bow out of the competition, or should he push himself at this crucial interchange?
"So, Baka-chi! --Listen up! You're always sticking to Ryuuji, isn't it about time to stop?"
"Huh? So you're trying to say that Ami-chan has been sticking to Takasu-kun all this time?"
"I'm not trying to say, it's just that you have been sticking to this depressed Ryuuji the moment you appeared!"
"Is that right? But, anyway, whatever makes you happy."
To tease Taiga, Ami purposely laughed playfully at her, and then muttered softly,
"--if that's what you really want."
Her eyes were hidden behind the shiny shades. Taiga seemed to not have heard that sentence as she sat there expressionlessly, finishing up the last of her biscuits.
But Ami didn't continue. She slowly finished her coffee, looked at the time on her cellphone, and then placed her Chanel bag on her lap.
"Ah, this is so boring. I'm not interested in your childish love stories. I've had enough, so I'm going back. It's also about time. What're the two of you going to do?"
"You're right, let's go. It's almost six. Ryuuji has to go prepare dinner."
Taiga said. She was right, no matter how much psychological pressure he was under, Ryuuji still had to be back home preparing dinner by seven. Ryuuji stood up and took out some money to pay for his coffee, giving it to the cashier after collecting the rest of the bill from Taiga and Ami. And just as he prepared to walk around the table to leave together with Ami.
Suddenly, Ami lifted her head and grabbed onto Ryuuji's collar. That aggressive action seemed to want to force him to sit down again, causing him to shiver involuntarily despite it being a woman's strength.
"......It's too bad you weren't the only one that got 'hurt'."
"......What?! What do you mean by that?!"
Ami's eyes that were hidden on the other side of the sunglasses seem to have seen right through him.
"Anyway, idiots wouldn't have understood that."
Ami pouted, looking as though she was laughing, but instead creating a sense of fear and anger.
"I still loathe you after all!"
Ami mercilessly kicked Ryuuji away, but lost her footing. Despite that, she didn't fall, but merely corrected her step, and left the shop.
--Too bad you weren't the only one that got 'hurt'
Ryuuji stared at Ami's retreating form, unable to ask any of the burning questions that was in his head. Ami's angry expression was exactly like the one she had on that night.
The starting point of her anger was probably the conversation that they had while preparing for the party. Ami had teased him, saying that he and Minori were playing the part of parents to Taiga, and had also said that they should stop this ridiculous game before someone gets hurt......But Ami had said after the conversation to forget her words.
Of course it was impossible to just forget her words--and he had been rejected by Minori, and had gotten 'hurt'.
Was the truth really as Ami had said, that him, Taiga and Minori were all living in a fictitious family mentality?
If he wasn't the only one who had gotten hurt, then who else had been 'hurt'?
"......You're always like this, always saying half of what you mean."
You're always calling me an idiot, so tell me something that even idiots can understand. Ami's figure had already disappeared through the door, but Ryuuji's eyes were still trained on it. Since you're more mature than everyone else, and understand more than everyone else. Then tell me, instead of being angry by yourself, understanding by yourself, leaving by yourself,
Why are you always like this!
"Baka-chi went off?......What happened? You look like you just died."
Both the cashier and Taiga looked at the cold expression on Ryuuji's face confusedly.
When Ryuuji and Taiga walked out onto the street, the sky had already darkened. After night had fallen, the frigid cold followed soon after, making even breathing a bit hard.
"You haven't bought the groceries that you need right? You should hurry."
"I'll be going to the station. There's a new bento shop before the ticket gates."
Outside of the shopping street was a T-junction that was filled with the smell of exhaust gas.
The people walking on the street were gone, and under the streetlights, Taiga creased her eyebrows, muttering "Brrrr". From this position, the lights from the bridge across the river could be faintly made out. To the left of this T-junction was the station, while a big supermarket was to the right of the T-junction. In other words, he would have to say goodbye to Taiga here and wouldn't have a chance to talk with her until tomorrow at school. Ryuuji hesitated, searching for the words to say, but decided to say what he was supposed to say.
"......The best chance to confirm Minori's feelings that you mentioned yesterday. You meant......the school trip?"
"Yes! Don't tell me you've forgotten it already!?"
"I did forget. What you said about Kawashima always sticking to me......You even thought of that. I'll say this first, thank you. Even though I think you just said something uncalled for to someone who doesn't care."
Taiga pulled up the collar of her coat, facing away from him.
"It's better to tell Baka-chi about this kind of thing. And I'm also partly responsible for this. If not for my actions that day, it would probably have ended differently."
Taiga pouted as she spoke, looking up at the sky as though looking for some particular stars.
"......On that night, do you know what Minorin said to me?"
She seemed to be talking to herself, making it difficult for Ryuuji to say anything. Taiga turned to him, her expression a cross between sadness and happiness.
"'Nothing happened~' That's what she said......Just like how Takasu cheered me up when I was depressed, she was so tenderhearted. But she said, nothing happened. Nothing happened nothing happened, she repeated over and over, and then smiled. She is that kind of girl."
"......She probably thought that it wasn't a big deal."
Under the streetlights, Taiga seemed to have stopped looking up at the skies as she turned to Ryuuji. She used her fingers to press down the hair that was being blown away by the night wind as she shouted,
"The feeling is mutual between you and Minorin. It'll be alright!!! Seriously!!!"
Looking at Taiga's confident demeanor, Ryuuji wanted to ask her some questions,
"......Actually, I've always wanted to ask you. Why do you believe it so strongly? Where did you hear 'Minorin likes Ryuuji' from? Don't say something like 'I can just tell'."
"Would you like to hear it?"
Taiga was surprisingly honest. That smile looked like it belonged to a magician about to reveal the trick behind his magic, full of confidence. Taiga put her hands on her hips, looking confidently at Ryuuji.
"Then, promise me one thing. I'll tell you but only if you promise not to say stupid things like 'Huh?', 'Impossible!', and 'It can't be!'."
"......I won't say anything like that! I swear!"
Ryuuji raised one hand in a solemn vow, waiting for Taiga to reveal the secret behind her magic. Taiga nodded and turned around,
"Then, let me tell you--I believe so because there is a reason in my heart to believe so!"
But only that.
Ryuuji was stunned for a moment, but still managed to catch himself before a 'huh?' escaped from his lips.
"To put it simply, I believe in 'you', I believe that you're someone worthy of being loved by Minorin. That you're someone that deserving of her!"
Taiga lowered her head after saying that, and then raised her head once again, giving a joking smile before turning back sharply,
"......So~I'll see you tomorrow!"
Under the dim light cast by the streetlamps, Taiga started to run towards the station. She stopped halfway as if remembering something, and shouted,
"Speaking of which, what was up with you today! Don't you dare run away again like that tomorrow! You better not run away tomorrow!"
Without stopping to see Ryuuji's reaction to her words, Taiga ran off. Her child-like figure vanished into the golden hue of the streetlamps.
Ryuuji stood there silently, pressing lightly on his chest. It was really a display of magic, he said to himself.
The heart that was laced with wounds was now fired up again after being showered in magic. If Taiga said so, if she believed in him, he felt like he could believe that he was someone worthy of being believed in by her. That, he might actually be a pretty decent guy.
And Ryuuji knew as well. He knew that Taiga's words were worth believing in.
Ryuuji had gotten back his self-confidence once again, thanks to a small act of magic. He slowly walked by himself in the darkened night. But a sudden gust of the southern wind led him to think, that if Ami saw such a naive version of himself, she would probably look at him with the cold gaze that said 'just as I thought, you still don't know anything at all'......probably.
|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|