| This article contains HEAVY spoilers. Please view at your own risk.
The nuclear war had resulted in the end of human culture as we know it, while mutant viruses that had come about as a result of biological weapons had rampaged through the globe, causing the deaths of over 90% of the human population, as the survivors could only sit and wait for their deaths in their hastily constructed settlements. Even so, the nuclear-powered military robots belonging to the old human civilization, having lost their human masters, were now the enemies of the human survivors as they relentlessly attacked the human settlements, continuing the never-ending 'war'.
A young man living in one of the settlements was chased by one of the military robots into the deep recesses of the 'ruins', inadvertently awakening a sleeping android. No one would have thought that this chance encounter would decide the fate of the human race--! That's the main gist of the story.
"......Why did only men survive? That's so boring."
"It's said that the biological structure of men gives them more resistance against such viruses."
"But even then, there's really no reason for them to pair two guys together is there?"
"That android isn't male, it's gender-less. And anyway, they aren't officially together yet, they've only confirmed each other's feelings."
"......You're actually listening to the story aren't you."
"I borrowed the script from them before the broadcast."
Kitamura Yuusaku happily pushed his glasses further up his nose as he opened the lid of his lunchbox, only to find that the seaweed had stuck to the bottom of the lid. 'Oh no, I was careless.' Using chopsticks to lay the seaweed onto the rice as it should be, while opposite him, Ryuuji also opened the lid of his lunchbox. Since he was the one who made it, there was no feeling of anticipation, just a feeling of meeting again with familiar dishes.
Wildly exaggerated shouts of 'Kill!' 'Go to hell!', coupled with technical terms like 'The time of destruction' 'Nuclear fission' blasted out from the speakers as it spread across the noisy classroom.
Going into the third school term, someone had finally complained about the student council hogging the lunch break broadcasting time period, which is why right now, from Monday to Friday, the student council's 'love cheerleaders' and the voice drama of the voice acting club were taking turns.
In the world where the voice drama had projected, girls were speaking in boyish manners, giving a jarring sense of discordance to the drama. They still haven't finished killing yet? It's so irritating. Ryuuji used his chopsticks to stab at his food as he complained,
"Don't you think they have too much of these battle scenes? Aren't there programs that are more suitable for lunchtime listening? Like girls telling happy stories for instance?"
"Perhaps the story's become a bit too complicated because only a small portion is broadcasted each time. And also, the target audience of the voice acting club is girls."
"I don't think anyone's listening."
Though Ryuuji and Kitamura looked rather creepy sitting opposite each other while eating lunch, the two of them still nonchalantly observed the other students in the classroom--Even girls were concentrating on their individual conversations, looks like the reaction to the broadcast was so non-existent that Ryuuji and Kitamura were the only ones actually listening to the drama. On a side note, Noto and Haruta were still fighting over bread at the charity club, so they won't be back for a while.
Hmm-- Kitamura's straight face revealed a slightly villainous expression as he spoke softly,
"It seems like just my show is enough. Ah, but I haven't gotten any new ideas lately."
"Don't be silly, no one's listening to your show either......Ah, this seems to be an unspoken secret isn't it?"
"I heard it, I heard it."
"Ah, you heard it?"
As the two of them casually exchanged meaningless talk, a girl's scream suddenly sounded in the classroom.
"I've to-to-to-to-to-to-to-told you that you don't have toooooooooooooooo-!"
Kihara Maya was screaming by the window, as Kashii Nanako's facial expression was stiff from the force that Maya was grabbing her with. Unusually, the bishoujo gang was without Ami, as her place was taken up by Taiga, who stood in front of the two of them while shouting 'Look, look!'.
"Why are you reacting so violently? Weren't the two of you the ones who asked me about it?"
"We only asked you about your injury! No one asked you to show it!"
"You'll understand everything by just taking a look. After all, seeing is believing."
Listening to Taiga's warped logic, Ryuuji couldn't help but think: She really is Minori's best friend.
"Aisaka......How do I put this, she really is Minori's best friend."
Looks like Kitamura also has the same feeling. On a side note, Minori isn't in the classroom right now.
Don't don't don't want! No no! Maya screamed incessantly as she pushed Taiga away; Nanako, on the other hand, had an irritated expression on her face,
"I don't dare to look at the injury, so please don't show it during lunchtime! Right, how about a meatball?"
She stabbed at a meatball with a plastic fork and pointed in to Taiga as a sacrificial tribute, to which Taiga swallowed with relish. Just as Nanako and Maya looked at each other and sighed in relief-- '......But those are two different things! Come, let me show it to you!'
Kya-- The two bishoujos who were innocently eating their cute bentos during lunchtime were being forced by Taiga to witness first-hand the almost completely-healed injury on the side of her head. Ryuuji couldn't help but shake his head at such childish behavior.
"Stop it! Tiger!"
"Continue! Tiger!" The guys who were eating their lunch in the vicinity shouted to get Taiga to show her injury to the two girls--even though they would scatter and run the moment Taiga turned around and glared at them.
"Just what is she trying to do......"
"Well, it's good that she's energetic."
Kitamura smiled towards Ryuuji and began to eat his lunch, looking as though he was in an advertisement for seaweed bentos.
"But it's great, really great. It's all due to Takasu's courageous actions that we're able to see her energetic smile again."
Ryuuji couldn't help but stare at his best friend Kitamura's face. Kitamura noticed his stare,
"I know I can't tell her that you were one who saved her. If she asks about what happened, I'll tell her that I was the one who carried her up. Would that be alright?"
"Hey hey hey, what's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?"
Give me the seaweed! Of course now. Ryuuji didn't need to physically grab the seaweed, all he needed to do was to absorb the essence of the seaweed through his gaze--obviously it couldn't be something like this.
Ryuuji was thinking. Kitamura didn't ask any questions, probably because he already knew. But Ryuuji could only think about it in his head, unable to say his thoughts out loud.
Even when he heard Ryuuji's strange request, 'Tell Taiga that you were the one who saved her.' Kitamura still didn't ask any questions, but merely told him,
'It isn't your fault.' before accepting the request.
Ryuuji liked Minori, but was rejected by her on Christmas Eve. Taiga was also acting weird over the new year, and since Kitamura also understood the undercurrents beneath all their actions, he didn't need to say anything. That Taiga confessed her feelings to Kitamura in spring, and then acted to end her one-sided feelings, thus able to change her relationship with Kitamura to that of good friends, was rather unbelievable. From the ideal friendship that was now blossoming in front of his eyes, Ryuuji felt like he could feel Kitamura's desire for such a relationship with Taiga.
Which is to say, Kitamura had knew long ago that the person Taiga really liked was Ryuuji.
"Alright alright! Even if you look at me with such passion in your eyes, you won't get a thing."
Of course, the events that had transpired in the few minutes it took to pull Taiga back from the edge of the cliff were only known to Taiga and Ryuuji--No, were only known to Ryuuji alone.
"I've always felt that your double eye-lids......are so well cut-out. It's like someone operated on them......"
"You must be joking, I swear that I've never gone for plastic surgery."
And even before Kitamura had noticed that Taiga liked Ryuuji, Ryuuji had noticed something even more terrible.
Kitamura wasn't the only one who saw through everything, or rather, Ryuuji was the only one who was slow. Just like how Ami had said that she disliked me because I'm stupid, seemingly refering to the fact that not only did I not notice Taiga's feelings, but even cruelly made her help me get closer to Minori.
Another thing was Minori. Is her stubborn rejection because of Taiga? I already know the answer, but I don't want to overreact or get too conceited, which is why I don't want to face up to that fact.
In short, only one thing is certain: I'm an idiot. If that clumsy Taiga hadn't done something stupid, perhaps I would still be in the dark about her feelings, and would probably tell her 'You're really a nice person!' in return for all that she has done for me.
--Even though pretending not to know anything wouldn't change the outcome at all.
"Aisaka, stop it! Germs will get into the wound!"
Kitamura finally stepped in. The screams of the damsels in distress seemed to have ignited his passion as the class representative.
Taiga, who was chasing Maya and Nanako around the classroom while preparing to take off the band-aid on her head, looked over and then walked to the two of them while smiling broadly. Just as Ryuuji wondered about what she was doing -- "Look! It's healed already!"
She took off the band-aid and moved her head closer to Ryuuji and Kitamura.
The 5-centimetre wound on Taiga's head was yellowish due to the fact that the internal bleeding had already stopped, and there was a small scar in the middle of the wound. Though the cut itself had already healed, scar tissue could still be seen.
"Why must you show me something like that during lunchtime!?"
Normal people would probably be shocked by something like that right? But Ryuuji also couldn't help but want to knock her head lightly -- "Ah......It really is healed!"
Kitamura was also slightly shocked by Taiga's sudden actions, but he immediately recovered to take a look at the cut before grinning and giving her a thumbs-up. 'I told you!' Taiga happily leaned her head to the side as she gave Kitamura a thumbs-up in return.
Even I think that such thoughts are stupid and embarrassing, but why? Why do you always punch me, kick me, put me in strangleholds, while you always smile at Kitamura and give him the thumbs up? Since you like me, then shouldn't you......No, no, I've already decided to forget about it, so I shouldn't think about such things.
If I had known that it would become like this, it would be better for me not to have found out about anything. If I hadn't known about her feelings, then I wouldn't have such stupid thoughts, and would only smile and think, 'She still likes Kitamura.'
"It's all thanks to Kitamura-kun that I only suffered such a minor injury. Thank you!"
"No, it's nothing."
Kitamura waved his hand as he looked at Ryuuji, who turned away, pretending not to know anything. This definitely wasn't jealousy.
Taiga hadn't noticed the strange expressions on the two guys' faces as she continued,
"Why is Kitamura-kun here?"
"Hmm? Why can't I be here?"
Ryuuji couldn't help but feel like doing his usual falling-on-the-ground routine at Taiga's question.
"No, I don't mean it like that. Because Minorin just went out of the classroom passionately declaring that she had to snatch the rights of usage of the sports field from the soccer team. Isn't Kitamura-kun the captain too?"
Ah--So that's what she meant......Kitamura pushed up the glasses that had slipped off in surprise with his middle finger,
"To tell the truth, the male and female softball teams were merged together a few days ago, with Kushieda as the overall team captain. I'm still part of the team, just that I'm not one of the committee members anymore. It's a bit too hard for me to juggle the positions of student council president and softball team captain at the same time."
"Is that so?" "That's right." The two of them continued their conversation. Ryuuji still had a blank look on his face as he put a piece of mushroom into his mouth.
"Speaking of which, seeing that Aisaka can come back to school safely puts my heart at ease. Everyone was worried about what had happened to you when you didn't come to school for an entire week."
"heh heh heh, it's nothing."
Taiga gave Ryuuji a look. You want to tell me to not tell everyone that you merely wanted to skip school right? Ryuuji's lips curved upwards at this shared secret as he returned a look that said 'I know' while drinking a mouthful of Oolong tea.
If only all the secrets could be swallowed into the stomach and digested as though they never happened......Ryuuji even began to think in that direction. If that could happen, then everything would become much simpler, and Ryuuji, whose engine was about to break down, would be able to continue moving forward.
Perhaps it would really be like this.
"Takasu--! Yuri-sensei's looking for you!"
A classmate called for Ryuuji from the corridor. 'Got it!' Ryuuji replied before he got up, not bothering to put back the lid of his lunchbox as he stuck out his chin towards Taiga,
"You didn't bring lunch right? Mine's practically untouched, so you can have it. I don't feel like eating today."
Taiga looked at the lunchbox hesitantly. 'Just eat it.' Kitamura said as he smiled like an oba-san.
"......I didn't bring chopsticks. And I don't want your chopsticks, so give me a pair of disposable ones."
"There's no such thing as disposable chopsticks. You should know that the world's rainforests are rapidly diminishing."
"Wow, you're so naggy......! I haven't seen you for a week and your nagginess has taken over your body."
"Just wash my pair and use it."
"Environmentalist!" Even when Taiga shouted that at him, Ryuuji didn't turn around as he strode out of the classroom. He thought to himself while walking: Would other people think that it's weird if I give a bento that I've already eaten to a girl? Is it very strange? Perhaps. But Ryuuji felt that if their relationship was like before, then this sort of action should be normal, or rather, she would have robbed him of his bento.
Since it's like that, then the present has to be exactly like the past. Since his standpoint has not changed, Ryuuji will have to make his actions look less deliberate and more natural.
Other students could also be seen in the staffroom during the lunch break. The more serious ones were asking questions about homework, while some female students were eating lunch with the more popular male teachers. In the top half of the crowded staffroom, were the second year teachers' desks.
"Why haven't you turned it in? This is an extremely important form......"
The single (30) Koigakubo Yuri's lunch was a cup of instant noodles. The plastic cover on top of the cup was fogged up, making it easy for Ryuuji to imagine how the noodles inside must be rapidly expanding.
"Everyone has turned in the form......I would never have thought that Takasu-kun would forget to bring something so important......"
Still staring at the cup noodles.
Koigakubo Yuri looked at her rapidly expanding noodles uneasily out of the corner of her eyes. No, no, she quickly swiveled back to look at Ryuuji, but still couldn't resist sneaking glances at her noodles.
"......Sensei, you should eat first. I'm listening to you speak, so you should quickly eat the noodles before your noodles shrivel up."
"Gah! No, no, never mind. Takasu-kun hasn't eaten lunch yet either right? So how can I, as your teacher, eat noodles by myself?"
"I've already eaten. You don't have to mind me, so please go ahead and eat."
"Is, is that so? I'm sorry, I have so many things to do, but so little time."
Ryuuji watched as she peeled off the cover and broke apart a pair of disposable chopsticks, "heh heh heh!" as she happily scooped up the noodles. But then, she suddenly stopped her actions,
"About that......Didn't an incident regarding Aisaka-san's disappearance happen during the school trip?"
The single class teacher blinked carefully as she said,
"I think that because you're so worried about Aisaka-san, the screws in your brain have become a little......loose."
The screws in your brain --- Hearing something that he never thought would come out from the mouth of his class teacher, Ryuuji was at a loss for words. An awkward silence descended upon the two of them, as Koigakubo Yuri attempted to cover the awkwardness while stuffing a piece of jelly ear into her mouth,
"Because......ah hot hot hot. You've been spacing out a lot lately, and have even been forgetting important things. Sensei's really worried about you."
"Would you like to go for a......psychological assessment?"
The class teacher gulped down a mouthful of expanded noodles. Ryuuji watched her eat as he replied in a low and steady voice,
"There are a lot of reasons......"
Flying drops of soup flew onto the table that was completely covered in papers, leaving stains on the free real estate information magazine. Ryuuji's mouth twisted in to a ヘ shape as he watched the drops of soup fly. The object he hated most in the entire world were these kind of free advertisements. These things never do any good, and only serve to fill the world with random advertisements, resulting in a gross wastage of resources! "Wow! It's free--" You collect so many of these things because of that mentality, of course your home can never be completely clean and tidy! That sort of thing should just be thrown away! And speaking of such magazines, it's not even a health magazine! Ryuuji desperately fought to keep the urge to shout and throw that magazine into the dustbin under control. Control yourself, my environmentalist spirit......!
"There may be many reasons, but this is normal isn't it! I don't think I need to go for counseling! And also, the reason why I'm unable to hand in my higher education aspirations survey is not because I have a screw loose, but because I've yet to come to a consensus with my family!"
"Ah, is that so......?"
"Yes, it, is!"
Ryuuji's uncommon display of rebelliousness made him look like an eagle tasked with an assassination mission, as he looked down at his noodle-eating class teacher with a piercing gaze. This stupid single woman (30)! You can eat such convenient food until you die! You even put so much salt in it! Curse you into buying an eerie house for an extremely high price!...... Of course Ryuuji wasn't thinking of such things, but what he said was the truth.
Yesterday, as he was eating hotpot with Yasuko, they did discuss his future higher education and career prospects, and also about the higher education aspirations survey which would be used as a basis for next year's class placement.
Yasuko's answer was, just write 'I will study hard!'. Although Ryuuji didn't want to accept that answer, and also wanted to discuss more practical and realistic problems, but because he was late in cooking dinner, Yasuko had to rush through dinner so as to be on time for work. The next morning, before Ryuuji was about to go to school, Yasuko was sleeping soundly, and since Ryuuji felt drunk just by smelling the stench of alcohol in the apartment, discussing serious matters was out of the question.
Even then, the Ryuuji with a mother complex......no, with a serious attitude still wished to discuss this issue with Yasuko and only hand in the survey when they had reached a consensus. Ryuuji was seriously considering both applying for higher education and going straight into work, so how could he take being seen as someone with a screw loose?
"I see, I see."
Koigakubo Yuri placed a piece of fish cake into her mouth as she waved her chopsticks at Ryuuji, attempting to calm him down,
"Sigh, because Takasu-kun's a good student who has never done anything to worry sensei. And also, it's because I have high expectations of you that I'm so naggy. This is the natural tendency of a teacher."
Ryuuji's eyebrows rose in surprise as he repeated the two words, the class teacher's eyes intently watching his expression.
"Please don't have high expectations of me, my family is very poor."
Ryuuji prepared to rebut his class teacher, but to his surprise, she merely put her chopsticks down and smiled slyly at Ryuuji,
"Anyway, please try to hand it in as soon as possible. Only Aisaka-san and you have not handed it in."
"Taiga hasn't handed it up either? Then why am I the only one you called?"
"Because I just passed the form to Aisaka-san. Even though you also have many reasons, but this and that are two completely different things. Please find a time to have a talk with your mother, and think about your future."
In the corridor outside the staffroom, Ryuuji couldn't help but sigh deeply.
His footsteps on the way back to class grew heavier and heavier, until Ryuuji was almost not moving at all. This heaviness reflected his current state of mind, something that frustrated him.
This and that are two different things. Though his class teacher had said that, but it's impossible to separate the two so clearly. Wishing that the everything would stay as it is while being unable to imagine the unknown future, even as he completely disagreed with Yasuko's opinion. Yasuko would only say ambitious words without considering the financial situation of the Takasu household. It was next to impossible to get her to understand that, and Ryuuji got a headache just by thinking about it.
Ryuuji used his right hand to hold up his swaying head.
This is probably because I haven't been sleeping well these past few days right? Even though his heart had come to a complete stop, there was still outside pressures coming in the form of his higher education aspirations survey......The footsteps that were supposed to go back to class turned towards an empty corridor. I need to regulate my feelings before going back to eat with Kitamura and Taiga, I still have to continue lying in front of them.
As he came to the corridor that connected the main building and the gym, Ryuuji felt as though he was unable to breathe properly, so he opened a window to let in some fresh air. He opened his mouth like a fish out of water, filling his chest with lung-piercing cold air.
No matter how deeply he breathed, he still felt uncomfortable. Ryuuji stuck his head out of the window, still feeling trapped. He was still unable to escape from that snowstorm.
Haven't I already decided to forget Taiga's confession? Since she doesn't intend to let me know, wouldn't everything go back to normal as long as I forget her confession?
But then, even if one is really determined to forget something, it isn't as easy in practice. To be able to perfectly pretend that one has forgotten everything requires more time. Just that when he was still trapped inside 'something that logically, shouldn't exist', time was still moving forward. Ryuuji understood that as he stopped in his tracks, everyone else was still moving forward, step by step. The decision between going to university and starting a career was even more so, as Ryuuji felt that he was being left behind in every department.
Ryuuji also knew that he shouldn't be like this, that he had never proactively pursued a course of action before, only responding to problems as they happened. He wanted to choose the right path of advancement, but he did not know which was the right path.
Perhaps I really do have a screw loose, just like what sensei said. No matter what, my mother is Takasu Yasuko, so the nuts and bolts in my brain could have already disappeared, just that I haven't noticed it yet.
Ryuuji had thought that he was a dependable and hardworking person---but that beautified self no longer existed. So what remained? What was his real identity?
The demonic-looking young man who was talking to himself by the window groaned softly, his attention suddenly attracted to the gap on the windowsill that was stuffed with leaves and dust---one would probably get an acne outbreak if one gets too close. Ryuuji quickly took out a piece of tissue from his pocket, nonchalantly wrapping it around his index finger as he 'ahhhhh---'ed like an oba-san while drawing his finger across the windowsill.
Even Ryuuji himself felt that he was being too pessimistic.
Speaking of someone who was as un-pessimistic as he was pessimistic, Kushieda Minori appeared in Ryuuji's mind.
Ryuuji had felt that she was the epitome of optimism ever since their first meeting, willing to smile at the person whom everyone said was a delinquent, she's the goal that someone who lacks self-confidence like him aspires to become. In comparison to Ryuuji, who walked around with his head lowered to hide his scary features, Minori always looked straight at the sun like a sunflower blooming towards the sun. That is why I am attracted to her, that is why I like her.
Now, I've experienced first hand the steel within Minori. She's not just optimistic, kind and cute, but also individualistic to the point of stubbornness. Even if she hurts the people around her (like me!), Minori will never change herself, will never stop in her tracks......This is what Ryuuji found out. She is like a sunflower that raises itself towards the sky, blooming healthily......no, she's the missile launching program that locks on to the sun, preparing to knock it off its place in the sky.
The reason why Ryuuji ended his one-sided affection for Minori was also because after getting to know her on a personal basis, he knew that he was unable to 'keep up with her'--not because he felt that he wasn't good enough for her, but because Ryuuji really felt that someone like him would never be able to match up to her strength of will and the speed at which she speeds along the highway of life. But even if the flame of affection has been extinguished, even if he no longer had hope for any kind of future progression with her--"Kushieda......"
Ryuuji thought about it everyday: If only I could become like you one day.
To Ryuuji, Minori was something perfect and admirable, his wish to become like her never changing at all.
"Am I just a piece of rubbish in your eyes......"
"Of course not---"
Due to the significant shock that Ryuuji received, his body was unable to keep up with the speed of his turn, as his indoor shoes screeched in protest, throwing him onto the floor.
"......Since when have you been there!?"
"Kushieda, you Unkotarezo, you must have thought of me as Cascade haven't you......"
Minori's eyebrows shot up as her dark eyes shone with light,
"Which is why I said 'of course not', I'm not a horse."
Just how long has she been here? Minori bent down to look at Ryuuji, who was sitting down on the floor, nodding her head forcefully in front of him.
"What happened to your ear......!"
Ryuuji couldn't help but lie down onto the ground, his heartbeat suddenly increasing exponentially. This was something that cannot be described by phrases like 'heart-pounding' anymore.
Why would Kushieda appear at this time? And what is she talking about? What Horse? What Tarezo? I don't understand any of that!
And she---"Since it has come to this, I shall use my ultimate killing move Mustang Special! Hah!"
"Calm down! You're really dangerous! Calm down!"
Minori suddenly started to run, as Ryuuji quickly jumped in front of her while sticking both hands out at her as though he was trying to stop a galloping horse. There would surely be an accident if she ran in school like that.
"Hmm? Why are you stopping me? I'm just going back to class the normal way."
"Who would run like that indoors!? How is that normal way!"
Hearing Ryuuji's lecture, 'I got scolded', Minori immediately turned around and started doing the robot, causing Ryuuji to become momentarily speechless. Right, I almost forgot, she's been like this a lot recently...... 'How, how, Takasu-kun? Please don't let your soul leak out of your mouth like that, you should go back to the classroom too. What could you be doing at the borderlands?"
"That should be my line......You aren't stalking me are you?"
And so, Ryuuji started to fall in line with Minori's jokes.
"What are you talking about."
But Minori chose that moment to go back to normal as she looked at Ryuuji blankly,
"I was on my way back from returning keys to the gym teacher's office. It should be strange that you're here right?"
Because I am unable to become like you.
I am unable to face up to each new day as energetically as you. I'm being restrained by many things, and have always stopped in my tracks, alone--But how could he say that kind of things out loud.
"......I'm still taking in the shock received from Yuri telling me that I have a screw loose in my brain."
"Huh? A screw loose? Wh, Why?"
"Because I didn't hand in the higher education aspirations survey. And also my sleeptalk......during class yesterday, seems to have gotten her worried."
"Ah---Dream and Cry eh?"
"What's that? You're not talking about me are you......?"
But Minori wasn't toying with Ryuuji. She walked to the window, breathing out a stream of white mist towards the cold air outside the window, and turned towards Ryuuji,
"It's really good that Taiga can come back safely. Really, really good."
And then she smiled widely, the corners of her mouth turning upwards,
"That time, if you hadn't gone with me......if you had let me go look for Taiga by myself, how would everything have turned out? Most probably both Taiga and I would have met with an accident. Thinking of that possibility, even I'm also Dreaming and Crying."
Yes---Minori gave a small reply that sounded like her, and yet didn't really sound like her as she nodded her head.
Under the assault of the cold wind on their faces, Ryuuji and Minori maintained a small distance between them as they mirrored each other actions, putting their hands on the windowsill while shivering with their heads tucked in. If someone had seen them from outside of the building, it would probably an extremely interesting sight.
The thin layer of clouds seemed to have been frozen in the wintry sky, but the weather was clear, with the only problem being the murderous gusts of wind. There were no tall buildings obstructing the view from the window, and so the two of them could see rather far out into the streets. They looked at the housing districts with their roofs and chimneys that stretched all the way to the faraway resource-recycling factory, despite the line being broken in the middle by the river. The two large red and white striped industrial chimneys on top of the factory was spewing out clouds of white smoke. Doesn't that harm the environment?
"I had originally thought that I would be able to save her by myself."
Beside Ryuuji, Minori's voice floated up together with a stream of white mist, as he looked at how the mist dissipated into the air. Minori should be talking about Taiga's accident.
"But to be honest, she dropped to the bottom of that kind of cliff, which means that I would never have been able to save her alone. I'm glad that I didn't make a wrong assessment of the situation at that time......And also, even I doubted that I would be able to find Taiga by myself. Takasu-kun even knew the position of her fall."
The object that reflected the light that brought me to Taiga was -- "--I saw the brooch that was buried in the snow first."
Minori, who had stuck her head out of the window, looked back in, her eyes meeting Ryuuji's. Ryuuji couldn't help but look to the side, but Minori's gaze did not waver.
"I had thought that the brooch was a present from Taiga, but it isn't, is it? It's the present that you had bought for me but didn't give it to me in the end, which is why Taiga gave it to me right? According to my deduction, that should be the present that you were planning to give me on Christmas Eve?"
She got everything correct.
Minori seemed to have expected that Ryuuji wouldn't be able to come up with an answer to that, as she nodded her head to fill the silence that descended upon the two of them. To tell the truth, Ryuuji hadn't given her the present because he had forgotten to bring it to meet her on Christmas Eve. But of course he couldn't say something like that as he merely quietly looked at Minori.
At the same time, he thought to himself---She really does know everything.
"How did you......"
"I have my sources. Speaking of which, I'm sorry, I really didn't know, and I really thought that it was Taiga's present."
Ryuuji wasn't able to immediately perceive what was it that she was apologizing for, but Minori's expression remained serious, as she looked at Ryuuji with a gaze fierce enough to knock the sun out of it's place in the sky,
"You......You wore that brooch for a while, you can't be apologizing for that can you?"
I lost my memory, so I don't remember anything about Christmas Eve. So Takasu-kun must be like that too, the way we interact must not change......Minori, who had been like this since that night, hurting Ryuuji in the process, talked about that Christmas Eve night for the first time. She finally decided to face up to that night, and to Ryuuji's feelings.
"Although my decision not to accept hurt you, but I hope to apologize to you by wearing that brooch in front of you. I'm really sorry."
Admitting that she hurt Ryuuji was the same as admitting that she knew of his feelings, rejecting his confession one step ahead, and not forgetting about that incident until now.
"You apologized to me so suddenly......Is it because of Taiga coming back to school?"
Minori didn't reply his question, merely looking at him with her blazing eyes, letting her hair dance freely in the wintry air.
Ryuuji suddenly thought of something: Perhaps Minori is the same? The Minori that looked as though she was moving forward at an inhumanly fast pace on the outside was actually just like Ryuuji, that she had already stopped in her tracks as well? Most likely she'd stopped ever since that night.
Which is why she wanted to take the chance after Taiga comes back to settle everything.
She admitted to rejecting Ryuuji's feelings, and apologized for hurting Ryuuji, basically signalling that she knew everything---Is this Minori's way of 'moving on'?
"Where's the brooch now?"
Hearing Minori's nonchalant question, Ryuuji answered her just as nonchalantly.
"It's in my room. Do you still want it?"
"No thank you, I don't think I'll accept it after all."
I knew you would say that---Ryuuji had wanted to say that to her, and then smile.
Since you're going to settle everything, then I shall settle everything with you as well---Although he really wanted to tell her that---"I......"
He sighed before opening his mouth again.
"......really admire you."
I'm still unable to take that all-important step forward. I really hope that I am able to move on, just like Kushieda, but I can't do it, I'm still unable to stand on my feet, still unable to leave that snowstorm.
As long as I am unable to forget that voice, I will be unable to move on.
"What's wrong? Why do you suddenly say that?"
"I......have been restrained by many things, abandoned by even more things. I've been unable to forget the things that I want to forget, and also......"
I still see that snowstorm every time I close my eyes. The chaotic swirling of snow and ice, and the pair of tightly-shut eyes that are buried with the snow and ice, the tears beneath her eyelashes, and --- 'It's painful."
That voice was heard once again.
Within an endless pool of solitude, Taiga decided to hide her feelings and move on by herself. Ryuuji thought of the only time when Taiga said the things that were hidden in her heart, her voice resounding incessantly in his heart and mind.
"I am unable to forget the things that I want to forget."
Minori's fist drifted towards the side of Ryuuji face,
"Of course you can't forget, from the moment you decided to forget it, it was already set that you will be unable to forget it. If you really could forget it, then you wouldn't have remembered it in the first place. It's because you'll never be able to forget it that you'll want to forget. That's why pain is unavoidable."
"But......I must forget it......At least I think the other person would want me to forget."
Turning around, Ryuuji attempted to push Minori's fist back at her. Minori didn't ask questions like 'What do you want to forget?', or 'Who wishes for you to forget it?', merely listening to his exposition.
"That's why I want to forget."
Perhaps Ryuuji's way of thinking wasn't correct, since Taiga had never said anything along the lines of 'I want you to forget it'. She hadn't planned to let her hidden feelings out, hadn't planned to confess her feelings, had hoped to hide her affection for Ryuuji forever.
That's why---I want to forget--"I admire you because you're proactive, and always moving forward towards a goal. What should I do to be as proactive as you?"
Minori kept quiet for a while as she looked into Ryuuji's eyes. She pouted slightly, 'hoooo~' breathing out another stream of white mist,
"Because I've 'decided'."
"Because I have already decided the direction in which I want to go. If I hadn't made up my mind, then I wouldn't even know which way is forward. Takasu-kun, where do you intend to go? Do you have a place you want to go? If you don't have such a goal, then you wouldn't be able to move on.
The direction to move forward.
The place you want to go.
Hearing Minori's questions, Ryuuji realized that he was unable to answer any of them.
He didn't know where he should go, or maybe such a thing didn't exist in his heart in the first place. In all, he didn't possess any sort of passion or hope for a dream or aspiration. At least, he was unable to detect the presence of such a desire.
Ah, so that's it---Because I've been unable to make up my mind, that's why I'm unable to reach anywhere. Ryuuji looked up at the sky.
"Do you know where you want to go?"
Answering resolutely, Minori lightly jumped behind Ryuuji, and, not caring whether her skirt was being blown up by the wind, posed to make a pitch. The hair on her shoulders danced lightly, her eyes following the invisible softball all the way down the corridor.
Right now, Ryuuji really admired the person with whose kind of eyes.
As the lunch break was about to end, the corridor became more crowded with students going back to their respective classes. Ryuuji and Minori had stood by the window for too long, as they shivered while walking down the staircase, suddenly noticing a certain person at the same time.
Kawashima Ami just walked out of the staffroom.
Among the other students, she was the only one that stood out. Her willowy limbs, straight back, and snowy-white skin was completely different from the students around her. Once again, Ryuuji felt the strength of Ami's existence.
The beauty in question turned around when she heard Minori's voice. Minori waved at her in response -- "......"
But Ami acted as though she didn't see Minori and walked away. The target of her wave gone, Minori could only lower her raised right hand.
"......The two of you are still fighting?"
"Please say 'we're in the process of making up'......Although it seems that I'm the only one who wants to make up."
Minori didn't stop walking as she continued to walk slightly awkwardly in the corridor that Ami had just passed through. Looks like even Minori has things that she cannot solve.
"Didn't we talk about this yesterday--?"
Yasuko, who was busy stirring a bowl of natto, opened her eyes widely as she looked at her son, who was sitting across the table from her,
"Didn't I tell you to write 'I will study hard!' on the survey? Why haven't you turned it in yet?"
"I haven't finished my side of the argument."
Ryuuji prepared dinner especially early today, planning to discuss the issue with his mother over dinner.
"You haven't thought about this seriously yet."
"Ya-chan's really serious."
"If I go into a government university near our home for four years, it'll add up to about 10 million yen in expenses altogether. If I get into a private university, then the expenses will be even greater. Have you ever thought about the financial implications of me going to university?"
"Hmm? The government universities near our home are all third-rate universities-Definitely not! Ryu-chan's so clever, a private university should be easy to get in, you must get into a good university in Tokyo!"
Natto Bomb~! Ah--Sticky~! Yasuko used her chopsticks to stuff a piece of natto into Inko-chan's cage.
"Hah!" Inko-chan grabbed the natto while drooling all over himself. This bird actually eats natto.
"That's not what I'm talking about."
Yasuko's bowl of natto, the dinner table, Inko-chan's cage and Inko-chan's beak were all connected by a string of nattos. Ryuuji used his chopsticks the pick the natto off the table with a serious face. Yasuko, who had no make-up on, had her hair in a bun as she happily sipped a bowl of miso soup while watching television, humming the tune of some new idol singer that was probably two decades younger, probably planning to perform it at work later.
Ryuuji turned the television off.
"......The point is, our financial situation isn't suitable for me to pursue higher education."
"Of course it is."
Pouting, Yasuko attempted to snatch the remote back, but Ryuuji was one step ahead as he stuffed it under his cushion.
"I'm telling you that it's extremely hard!"
"How hard can it be? Of course it wouldn't be hard. You're going to be in your third year of high school next year, and then it'll be four years of university right? And of course my salary wouldn't decrease over this period of time."
"How can you be so sure? What if the business closes down?"
"It won't close down! There are a lot of customers there."
"The other investments of your boss might fail right?"
"Eh--? How would I know about such things."
"That's the point, you don't know for sure, that's why our financial situation is not good......I think I should just get a job after I graduate, and then only try for university when our household income is stable. Or I should look for a university that would give me a full scholarship......."
Yasuko would only give an expression befitting a mother at such times. She leaned towards Ryuuji and loudly rebutted his argument,
"Ryu-chan doesn't need to think about anything, Ryu-chan only needs to concentrate on studying and try for the best university! It'll mean that Ryu-chan's really good if you get a scholarship right? That's why Ya-chan doesn't allow you to think about other things. Ryu-chan will go to a place with a lot of good students to study! Ryu-chan's different from Ya-chan, Ryu-chan's really clever, so you must get the best~~education possible, and develop your talent as much as possible, so that you can have an extremely happy life. That's why you shouldn't be thinking about things that aren't related to studying!
There's a saying that goes......A saying that my teacher often said when Ya-chan was still a student...... Hmm...... Jade...... process...... shiny....... something like that......"
"......A Jade stone is useless before it is processed?"
"That's~~right! That's it! That's why Ryu-chan must get into a class full of good students to study hard, and must also go for extra lessons and the such. And then Ryu-chan must properly prepare for the university entrance exams. Wow--Which path will Ryu-chan choose? It's so exciting--! Would it be to become a doctor? Or a Vet? Or a pharmacist, dentist? A professor isn't bad either! Being a scientist at the cutting-edge of technology isn't bad either, but then perhaps being a lawyer would suit Ryu-chan either? Ah--What if Ryu-chan goes overseas? Ya-chan will be very lonely! But Ya-chan will try to endure the loneliness!"
Ryuuji was left speechless as he stared at his mother, not knowing what else he could do other than stirring his own bowl of natto.
"Nyan! His mother bit into a piece of bluefish as she imagined a rosy future for Ryuuji.
Talking about med school without any supporting evidence? Just what are you talking about? Apologize to every student who is aiming for med school and their parents right now! Ryuuji stirred his bowl of natto violently, finally thinking of the only way to get Yasuko to face up to reality. He went over to the closet in the corner of the room, taking out the savings book from a drawer and handing it to Yasuko.
"Hmm......? We have quite a lot of savings! Eheheh!"
Ryuuji resisted the urge to just fall down onto the floor as he said,
"......Does it look like a lot? Half of this amount will be gone after we pay the school fees in spring. And we still have to deduct every month's rent, utility bills and our personal expenses. And since you're working in the service sector, so you'll have to buy clothes and make-up, don't you? No matter how we scrimp, we'll never be able to save up any money each month. Under this kind of financial situation, where do you think we can get the money for me to study medicine?"
"What was that for! Ah--I guess I better go and work part time. That way, our household income will increase by about fifty thousand yen each month, so at least......"
"No! I won't allow you to work!"
Yasuko raised her right hand violently, her nattos flying up into the air. Ryuuji hurriedly picked them up again.
"If you start working, then you won't have time to study--! And then we won't be able to see each other everyday, life has no meaning if I have to eat dinner by myself! It's not nice at all! I won't let you work!"
......Because of Yasuko's stance on working part-time, Ryuuji had never worked before, only taking care of household chores.
"It's because you told me to go on to university that I want to work part time!"
Thinking back, Ryuuji felt that he had wasted the past two years of his life, for if he worked as hard as Minori part-time, then he would have a sizable amount of savings right now, saving him the need for such a quarrel.
"Don't worry! Ya-chan will find a way!"
Yasuko gave a victory sign as she smiled. It was this that had kept Ryuuji in the dark the whole time, because Yasuko the adult said so, that is why Ryuuji had always believed that she could solve the problem, when in reality, even Yasuko had no idea as to how to solve the current problem. Takasu Ryuuji is already seventeen, and will soon be eighteen, so he was finally beginning to see the world for what it really is.
Even parents have things that they are unable to do. Never believe them when parent's say 'don't worry'. In the past, Yasuko had been lying to Ryuuji the whole time, telling him, 'don't worry!', 'Ya-chan's the mother, just leave it to Ya-chan.', 'As long as Ya-chan's here, everything will be fine.'......And Ryuuji had always believed that everything will be alright.
"You won't be any less happier than the other children who have fathers, because Ya-chan's a super-mom! Always young! Always cute! And Ya-chan has superpowers! So if Ryu-chan meets any problems, Ya-chan will be able to save you immediately! Even if there's an accident, nothing will happen; Money will gush out like water. So you don't have to worry at all, just leave it to Ya-chan. We'll be able to be happy all our lives---"......Find a way? I don't think so.
Ryuuji thought to himself: The fairy tale of my childhood is finally going to end.
"There'll be a way! Really, Ya-chan will think of a solution! So Ryu-chan doesn't need to worry about money."
Yasuko gave an innocent smile as she nodded furiously, but her child could not be tricked any more.
After Yasuko went out to work,
Ryuuji was still unable to come to a conclusion regarding his higher education aspirations survey, only managing to wash the dishes and clothes, and finishing his homework. With nothing left to do, Ryuuji wasn't in the mood to watch television, so he could only think of studying a bit of English, writing down the pronunciation of each word with his naturally small and neat handwriting, but even as he wrote, he couldn't help but stop writing.
Where do I intend to go by studying so hard? Because he didn't even have a set goal to work towards, Ryuuji couldn't motivate himself. Thinking of that, Ryuuji quickly stopped himself from continuing that line of thought. One wrong step would bring him into a never-ending abyss of self-doubt.
He looked outside the window, Taiga's bedroom was still lighted. An extremely strong light emanated from behind the curtains, looks like she had turned on the table lamp.
Maybe Taiga is also studying hard at the table......or she could be reading manga or magazines, or even surfing the net while eating instant noodles.
Ryuuji touched the cold window frame with his fingers, concentrating on the window opposite for a while, but was still unable to see Taiga's frame on the other side of the curtains.
There was nothing special to talk about, which is why Ryuuji didn't intend to call her, he just wanted to confirm whether he could see Taiga or not.
If 'not expressing any kind of affection' was Taiga's goal, then Taiga's 'moving on' was hiding her feelings and turning her back towards Ryuuji -- If it was really like that, then Taiga would move further and further away from Ryuuji, until he wouldn't be able to see her at all. Even if Ryuuji hadn't changed at all, Taiga would still leave.
No one, including Taiga, was willing to take responsibility for the way that Ryuuji had stopped in his tracks. No one was willing to give him a signal to move forward.
"......I guess that's to be expected."
Ryuuji tiredly let go of the pencil.
|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|