Table of Contents:
Chapter 1 – Splash … 7
Chapter 2 – Fireworks and a World Conquest…84
Chapter 3 – The Dog Returning to the Sea …160
Chapter 1 – Splash
Something is ringing right overhead. It’s a familiar melody.
What was it again….?
At that very moment, I was riding a horse. It was a really weird horse. Its body was a tricolor of red, white and blue. And not like the face paint brushed onto the faces of soccer fans, but it was just naturally like that.
I sat astride the tri-colored horse, and it was galloping.
We’re moving at a break-neck speed. Its galloping across the grasslands during the red of dawn. It feels great. The dew sprays in all directions as it’s kicked about by the hooves of the tri-colored horse. Each time it’s kicked though, the dew glitters, and after it gives off its brilliance, it disperses into the air.
It feels great. It truly does.
But, nothing that feels good ever lasts for very long. It ends almost as soon as it begins. If all it does is that it just ends, that’s fine and all, but every time something that feels good happens, with almost certainty, something bad awaits. I know that from experience.
One month earlier, on an unusually hot day in June, I went out on a date with Takurou. He said he just got his pay check from his part-time job, so Takurou bought me lunch, and he even ordered for me a chocolate parfait for dessert. In a good mood, I finished off a crab cream croquette and a mini-omelette lunch and the parfait, and I was all smiles. It felt really good. To be able to eat a delicious meal, and the feeling of the start of summer, and the wind that felt light despite it being a hot day—it all felt great. Most of all though, it felt great to be with Takurou. Before even two hours had passed though, I got an incredibly bad stomach ache, and I felt like I was going to hurl. The pain brought me to my knees.
To be honest, I wasn’t feeling that great in the morning either. It was different from the pain you get during your period. It was a prickling, stabbing kind of pain around my stomach area. I can kind of understand now how the giant must’ve felt after he’d swallowed Tom Thumb. It was that bad. But, I grinned and bore it because it was the first time in a while that I would be going on a date with Takurou, and also because it was the perfect opportunity for me to wear the Courreges summer blouse that I bought the other day even though I couldn’t really afford it. For Takurou and the Courreges blouse, I didn’t mind pushing my limits a little. Now that I think about it, the blouse was a tri-colored stripe pattern too. Orange, yellow, and blue. It had vertical tri-colored stripes, and it was sleeveless, with sky blue ribbons on both sides of the hem. When you tied the ribbons a bit on the tight side, both of the hems become tapered, and it looked really cute. I wore that, plus denim Sabrina pants, and made my eyes double lidded with Aipuchi, double coated my eyelashes with a black and transparent mascara, lightly brushed my lips with a lip cream, and got myself fired up before I left home.
I’ve been dating Takurou since around the end of grade 10. We’ve only been dating for about half a year. We go to different schools, so we usually keep in contact via text messaging or by phone. That’s fun and all, but I much rather prefer seeing him in person. To hear his voice, to see Takurou, and to talk to him in the flesh. I prefer that a thousand times more. I fired myself up as I left home. It was fun. It was delicious. I felt great. That is, until my stomach ache came back with a vengeance.
It’s not like I’m bragging about this or anything, but I’m on the thin side. And even though I’m thin, I’ve got a pretty strong stomach, and no matter what I eat or how much I eat, I never experienced stomach pains.
But the pain that feels like a needle sword stabbing the lining of my stomach won’t stop. It’s not because of the croquette or the parfait either. Takurou ate the same stuff as me, and he’s perfectly fine. It’s my fault. It’s my personality that makes me push myself for the things and the people I love, for the date with Takurou and my new blouse.
“You went on a date even though you had a stomach ache, and to top it off, you ate a cream croquette and parfait? You really are moron personified, you know that?”
If it’s Misaki, she would wrinkle her nose, and say that while shaking her head as if to say “well what can you do?” It’s not even “if,” because she really did say that to me.
It doesn’t matter who’s involved or what happens, Misaki would never overdo things. She always does things on her own schedule. If she’s not feeling well, then she’d cancel without hesitation even a date that was a hundred years in the making.
“I won’t be coming because I’m not feeling well.”
She’d send off a text message along those lines, and she’d turn off her cell. She’d take a painkiller and stomach medicine, and burrow into her bed. She’s a pretty impressive person like that.
As for me, I can’t be like her. That’s why, I ended up groaning like the giant who swallowed Tom Thumb. After lunch, I made it home with Takurou supporting me, and I was taken to a hospital that was open for consultations on holidays, and I was put on an IV drip.
As it turns out, I had gastritis. Apparently, a pretty serious case too. I got put on the drip, and I was injected with a painkiller, and as I was back lying down in my bed in my room, my cell phone went off. It was from Takurou.
“How was it?”
“It was gastritis.”
“I’m sorry it turned out to be such a weird day today. I feel bad about causing you trouble.”
Takurou faltered. I got a bad feeling about this. That bad feeling became the pointed tip of the needle, and it stabbed my stomach from the inside. It hurt.
“Hey, you know, don’t you get this feeling like we aren’t really that great together?”
I didn’t know where to place the punctuation in the voice that said “hey you know don’t you get this feeling like we aren’t really that great together.” I couldn’t comprehend what he had just said.
“Don’t you think so? Well, I do.”
Well if you think so, then what does it matter what I think?
Pain turns animals into savages. And I, like an injured stray cat that bristles its fur and shows its fangs, turned violent.
“Well if you think so, then what does it matter what I think?”
I’ve heard that people at their most violent are also when they are the most honest. I said exactly what I was thinking.
“Really? Oh, so you think so too? That’s great. Well, see ya.”
And with that, he hung up. I didn’t get what he thought was so great, or what he meant by “see ya.” The rage that had nothing or no one to turn at, shrivelled rapidly, and the only thing left became the pain in my stomach.
It looks like I’ve been dumped. Thanks to the painkiller, once the pain settled down, I was able to register all that had happened with a fuzzy mind.
So what? Was the cream croquette and mini-omelette lunch supposed to be his idea of a “Last Supper”? No, it was lunch, so it wouldn’t be a supper, but at any rate, he’s got to be kidding me! Isn’t he being cheap by thinking he can just end things between us by covering the tab of a 680 yen lunch? It’s up to him whether he wants to end things or break up with me or whatever, but 680 yen? We dated for half a year, and during that time we had some pretty fun times, so he should’ve been at least a little more considerate. The least he could’ve done was say goodbye to me in person rather than a “see ya” on the phone. Does that mean that what we had meant so little to him?
In my heart, I cursed at him, and as I cursed at him, tears came to my eyes. To think that I would cry when I lost him made me realize that I liked him enough to be in tears, and I felt even worse. Even if you’re dumped, you shouldn’t be crying in bed alone.
In that instant, the saying that my grandma, who had passed away last year, used to say often came to my mind.
“Joy and sorrow alternate like the strands of a rope.”
I’m not sure what kind of rope it is or anything, but apparently it means that good and bad luck are bound up with one another. In other words, when you have a fun time that makes you feel great, there’s something that’ll make you feel bad waiting right around the corner. It might just be that the person who originally came up with this saying got a stomach ache during his date and got dumped by his girlfriend too.
I can hear a melody. Oh—what was it again…?
It’s “A Bear in the Forest.”* [*a popular children’s song]
The minute I realized it, the tri-colored horse jumped. It kicked the earth, and flew up into the sky. Although I was supposed to have been on its back, I was gazing at the beautiful soaring of the horse from the grasslands below.
I woke up. My cell phone near my pillow is ringing.
A slightly loopy version of “A Bear in the Forest” echoes in the darkness.
I got a text message.
“Happy 17th birthday.”
It’s a text from Kisaragi. It’s 1:18 in the middle of the night. I threw my cell phone to my bedside, and closed my eyes. Geez, could he be any lazier?
It’s common etiquette to send a birthday mail at 12:00 sharp.
1:18? What kind of half-hearted gesture is that? Kisaragi probably fell asleep at around ten like he always does, and woke up around 1:15. Maybe he needed to go to the bathroom. Then, he must’ve realized it was my birthday today, and sent me a text message. I bet he’s back in his bed snoring away right about now. Since after all, Fujimoto Kisaragi’s nickname since right around the middle of elementary school hasn’t changed. “Sleepy Cat.” According to him, unless he sleeps at least 10 hours a day, there’s a noticeable drop in his physical capabilities. He sleeps in class a lot too. At the high school that I go to, not even half the class listens to the teacher during class. Despite that though, Kisaragi’s the only one who’s snoring away before we even begin first block.
“Hey, Fujimoto—getting a healthy dose of sleep again today, aren’t you?”
Every time we have the morning homeroom, Suzu-chan, the teacher in charge of classic literature, got a kick out of ruffling Kisaragi’s head that’s always down on the desk. I was secretly worried though that Kisaragi might not be able to move on to the next grade. At my school, every time it comes time for people to move up a grade, there’s always around ten or so people that drop out.
The reason why that happens isn’t because the classes are too hard for them to keep up. At my school called Inanohara High, there is no such thing as a “hard class.” There might not even be such a thing as a “normal-level class” either. Last year, the handouts that were distributed on the second day of English class in grade 10 had pictures of an apple, a banana, and a bicycle, and beside them there were instructions to write the words out in English five times.
“Didn’t we do something like this in grade 6?”
Kisaragi, who sat next to me, asked while yawning.
“It’s exactly the same.”
“Huh, then what, we’re at a grade 6 level?”
“That means we’re at a grade 6, first term level. And as for you, you’re even below that.”
As I said that, I corrected Kisaragi’s spelling. He was missing one p off of “apple.” Kisaragi’s always skipping over stuff like this. He gets tired of things really easily, and can’t be bothered to do stuff most of the time.
We started high school with vocabulary from grade 6 for English and three digit multiplication for Math. Even then, our mid-term average for the first term was 31 points for English and 36 points for Math. It’s amazing, really.
Kusumichi-san, who went to the same junior high as me, and who also applied for Inanohara, apparently had her mom cry on her saying she was ashamed of her and her aunt moaning about how embarrassed she was to have her go to this school on the day of the entrance ceremony. Kusumichi-san’s family’s an established one, and they’re loaded. So it’s not surprising really that having their only daughter go to a school like Inanohara would make them cry and moan. When I said to her: “That’s tough,” the slightly chubby Kusumichi-san laughed a bit before asking:
“Do you mean my aunt and parents? Or are you talking about me? Hey, so which one is it?”
She said in a menacing manner that belied her roots.
Oh, and to add onto that, on the day of the entrance ceremony, Misaki’s mom cried too. But in her case, it was out of joy. When she was born, Misaki was born super pre-mature, and she was a certified “weakly child” to the extent that doctors told her parents lots of times that they didn’t know if she’d make it to the age of 10. But there she was, at the entrance ceremony of high school. Inanohara’s school uniform has a beige coat paired with a deep red checkered skirt with a slightly big ribbon in the same shade. It’s pretty fashionable because it was designed by some famous whatchamacallit designer overseas. The daughter who wasn’t expected to live to the age of 10 was a high school student wearing a fashionable school uniform. I’m not surprised her mom had cried out of joy. When I told her that the only mother who’d cry out of joy over her daughter getting into this high school is hers, she turned up her nose and laughed saying:
“I’m not like you guys. Just me being alive is me doing something good for my parents.”
She replied in a stuck-up way that made it hard to believe that she had that kind of past to her.
Even at a school like this–no, because it’s a school like this, there are around ten drop outs every year. At the end of every school year, there are always two make-up tests along with two weeks of remedial lessons. Apparently, they have a system where they try to save as many students as they can who didn’t get the bare minimum needed to pass, or who didn’t show up to enough classes to move on to the next grade.
“Heaven’s vengeance is slow but sure.” (Literal Translation: Do not let overflow the heaven’s net from neglect)
This was another one of my grandma’s sayings. But my high school’s net’s been left to overflow from neglect. Because my school’s filled with people who get hives from just hearing the first syllable of “homework,” it’s pretty amazing that they’ve been able to keep drop out rates at around ten people. That’s what our English teacher Kamanashi said. But I don’t agree. To the contrary, I don’t like it at all. They’re being way too nonchalant about it. Putting aside Kamanashi, whose only highlight of his life was that he graduated from a famous private university, even the other teachers are treating this too lightly. That’s what I think.
If their policy is to “don’t chase after those who leave,” then I think that’s a bit heartless. Back in grade 10, I ended up in the same class as this girl named Ayana. We clicked pretty well, but she couldn’t advance onto the next grade because of a double whammy of low grades and low attendance. She had to repeat a grade. So, she dropped out.
Ayana was a sleepy cat too, and she used to sleep a lot during class. She didn’t really–well no, she didn’t understand at all the English vocabulary or the three digit multiplication, and apparently, she was always so sleepy that she couldn’t stand it. Her being late for class and her leaving early were practically in her daily routine. But I don’t think she wanted to drop out. A week before the makeup exam, she shut herself up in her room and studied.
She sent me a lot of text messages during that time asking stuff like “Riho, what’s a ‘progressive form’?” and “I have a feeling that it’s my first time hearing the term ‘factorization’—what kinda foreign language is that?” She probably spent more time texting than she did actually studying from the textbook. Even then though, Ayana studied. I know from personal experience, but studying is hard. It’s tough forcing yourself to do something that you don’t want to do. Vocab, math formulas, the names of places, old words, they all bypass through my head. None leave a trace in my mind. When you study, you have to forcibly hold them back and try to memorize them. It’s really tiring. It makes you exhausted. Ayana did that for a whole week, and her face broke out in a rash because of it. Even then though, it wasn’t good enough. Her mark for the make-up exam in English was 16 points, and it was five points short of the minimum.
Wasn’t her rash, the bags under her eyes, and the effort Ayana to put into her studying worth the five extra points?
I wish they wouldn’t just give up on students like that. That’s what I think. Misaki shrugs.
“What can you do? If she was going to make such a big ruckus about it, then she should’ve taken action earlier. At the very least, she could’ve showed up to classes. This isn’t compulsory education. It’s a no brainer that in the real world, you’re gonna get burned if you take things too lightly. Right, Kisaragi?”
“Me? I don’t. I managed to pass. I only had to do one make-up exam.”
“With our school level, the fact that you even had to take a make-up exam is a sign that you’re not taking it seriously enough.”
Waving a skinny wrist that looked as if it could snap at any moment, Misaki shifted her gaze from Kisaragi to me. She sniggered.
“What’s with the face? You were able to move on to the next grade, and you didn’t even have to take make-up exams. You even got a prize for perfect attendance. There shouldn’t be a single thing in the world you should be worried about!”
“Yeah, but Ayana’s…”
“You’ll forget about Aya-chan soon enough.”
She rested her hip against the desk, and she light swung a skinny leg that really did look as if it could snap at any moment.
“In grade 11, our classes get split up according to our career choices, and we’re gonna be busy looking for part-time jobs, and we have our school trip, and we have dates to go on with our boyfriends–it’s gonna be a really busy time. You’ll forget in a flash people who aren’t here.”
I was at a loss for words. What Misaki said’s right. She really did hit it right on the target. I probably will forget about her. Ayana and I did click, and I did have a blast talking to her, and I did want to go on to grade 11 with her, but if she’s not here, there’s going to come a day when I’m going to forget about her. Chatting, eating lunch, going to buy drinks at the convenience store, hanging out and having a blast…if we don’t do those kind of things together, it’s really easy for the memories to fade. To us, the time we spend together, seeing the same things, feeling the same things, confirming things face-to-face–those are what’s most important.
Stuff like asking “Don’t you think she has like, the worst taste in clothes?” and “Who’s been feeding the stray cat at the train station?” and stuff about the drama that aired last night, and the latest edition of a fashion magazine—they’re really not that important, but it doesn’t really matter the topics. The mouth, ears, skin, eyes, and smell. What’s important is to be close enough to a person so that you get to experience the five senses. If you’re not by that person, you end up forgetting about them.
“That’s your flaw, Riho. You make yourself out to be this sensible, goody-goody person.”
Misaki laughs again. As if laying the final blow, she points her finger at me.
“You’ll forget. You’ll forget about someone who’s not here. You’ll forget and go on having a good time.”
Misaki got off the desk, and carried her bag. It looks as if she’s getting ready to leave. Even a light bag that doesn’t have any textbooks in it looks heavy when she carries it.
Kisaragi called out to her with his leg still on the desk. Misaki turns around.
“Even if you stopped showing up though, I wouldn’t be able to forget about you that easily.”
Misaki’s face is small. The large eyes that are out of proportion with her small white face that’s sprinkled with freckles gazes at Kisaragi without blinking. She wrinkles her nose.
After exhaling, she says:
“Who asked you to remember me?”
And with that, she left the classroom.
“Whoa, I thought that was a killer line for sure.”
Kisaragi scratches his head.
“’Killer lines’ don’t suit you, Kisaragi.”
“Awww, not you too, Riho? You guys kill me.”
Kisaragi opens his mouth into a big yawn in front of me.
Three months have passed since then. It’s already time to wear the summer uniforms. Ayana’s currently searching for a job. I got a text from her saying she tried working at a convenience store as a part-time job, but she got fired after she came in late two days in a row. Kisaragi’s a sleepy cat as always. As for Misaki, she’s been in a pretty good condition for over two months now. Apparently, it’s some sort of record. And as for me, I got dumped by Takurou. And this July, I’m turning 17.
It was raining. The rain at the end of the rainy season is always pretty intense, and it splashes against the earth, and even though it’s something that’s supposed to trigger a crash of thunder, the rain itself was pretty quiet. Soundlessly, it drenches the town’s roofs and the cherry trees of the castles. The only noisy sound is the croaking of the frogs.
Our town is a suburban city that has a population of less than 60,000. It’s near the Izumo area, and it’s blessed with warm temperature and rich land, and producing an abundance of iron from the Tatara furnace refinery, even with it being a small domain, it’s written down in the local history that it prospered to the end of the Edo era. It’s a city that gets a lot of rain.
“Okay then, let’s do it.”
Kisaragi’s gaze moves around the four people with a swift motion. Me, Misaki, Suu-chan, and Kei-kun.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
Kei-kun nods. Kei-kun, with his short blonde hair, had a super serious look on his face. I folded my arms and leaned back against the chair at the family restaurant we’re currently at.
Misaki wordlessly placed her cell on the table. It’s turned off. Suu-chan and Kei-kun do the same thing. Kisaragi lines the cellphones, including his own, around in a circle on the table. Then, he hands the menu to me. With a generous nod, I take the visual eye-candy menu with its colourful photos of deep-fried pork cutlets and salads dispersed throughout and spread it out on the table.
“Carbonara and an onion salad. 810 yen excluding tax.”
“I want a mixed salad and a smoothie.”
Misaki stretches out her neck and peers down at the menu.
“How much is that?”
“Just short of 600 yen.”
The other three ordered a 700 yen Chinese-style lunch set.
“Well then, the total comes to 3,520 yen. Everyone okay with that?”
Kisaragi’s finger swiftly goes to each cell phone and turns it on. Kei-kun lets out a deep breath.
Whenever it’s someone’s birthday, we always play this game. The rules are simple. In the order of whose cell phone goes off the earliest, they’re off the hook when it comes time for the bill. Whoever doesn’t get a call until the very end has to pay the entire bill. And if no one’s cell goes off by the time we finish the meal, the star of that day, in other words, the birthday boy or girl has to pick up the tab. It’s pretty simple, but it can get pretty intense. RCR. We dubbed the game “Russian Cell phone Roulette.”
Suu-chan lifted her glass filled with water.
“Well, at any rate, Riho-chan, happy birthday.”
The glasses make a clinking sound. The other 3 are gazing at their cell phones.
“Hey, it is Riho-chan’s birthday after all. Don’t you guys have anything to add?”
Suu-chan pouted her lips. Suu-chan, Nagahara Yoshie, is the most overweight out of everyone in the class. She’s the top scorer of our grade.
“Nagahara, you’d have no troubles even if you were to go to another high school.”
Kamanashi says that every time he gives back the graded tests. And Suu-chan, with a smile, answers every time: “I prefer being here.”
“You should have more of this thing called ‘ambition.’”
Kamanashi sighs. And in a lowered voice, he says “You’re going to regret it later,” with a furrowed brow.
It was like that today too. While he was handing back the graded vocab test, Kamanashi furrowed his brow and said those words to her with a frown.
“If you don’t put your best into everything while you’re still young, you’ll come to regret it in the end, Nagahara.”
“Yeah, ‘cause regrets you make when you’re young can be made up for.”
Absentmindedly gazing at the blackboard, Misaki mutters almost as if she’s saying it to herself. Even though she muttered it, her voice was louder than Kamanashi’s lowered voice. Misaki’s seat is located in the very middle of the first row. If she reaches out, she could touch the teacher’s desk. That’s how close it is.
“What is it, Morooka? Did you just say something?”
“No, it’s just—I’ve heard that if you don’t make regrets while you’re still young, you end up paying for it later.”
“What do you mean by ‘paying for it later’?”
“I learned that you end up becoming 30-something geezers and old bags moaning about what could’ve been. When that happens, you’re more likely to put on airs and give lectures to others. How pathetic, is that, right? Adults need to be graceful, or else they just come off as foolish.”
Kamanashi, who’s apparently turning 36 this year, looks directly down at Misaki.
“Who taught you that?”
“Suzui-sensei. We learned it during our Classic Literature class, right?”
Misaki turns over to me. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback because I was buffing my nails underneath my desk. Don’t turn the convo to me all of a sudden.
I told her that with my eyes, but Misaki continued to look at me without changing an expression. I decided. When a convo’s thrown your way, you have to either avoid it or take it on. High schoolers need to be graceful or else you come off as a complete loser. As for me, I wanted to be as cool as I possibly could. The nails that I was shaping and buffing shined. I exhaled lightly before standing up.
“Yes, we did. We learned that ‘In eagerness for matters of less consideration, we grasp at trifles, and let go things of greater value.’”
Kamanashi blinks his eyes. They’re narrow double-eyelid eyes.
“We also learned that ‘Old people love to give good advice; it compensates them for their inability to set a bad example.’”
“What is that? You learned those kind of things during Classic Literature?”
Kisaragi, who up until now had been resting his head against the desk, lifted his head. Perfect timing.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of La Rochefoucauld?”
The double-eyelid eyes continue to blink. His lips became slightly bent.
“I never thought I’d hear the name ‘La Rochefoucauld’ from you students.”
My, Misaki, and Kisaragi’s eyes met instantaneously. Well I guess it’s expected that he’d know of Rochefoucauld since he’s always bragging about graduating from that famous private university of his. But he should be pretty affected by our swing. Since, after all, we’re students of Inanohara High School, better known as “the Dumpster of Hell” with the passing mark set at 100 points out of 500 out of five total subjects for exams. He probably never even dreamed of ever hearing the name of Rochefoucauld come from the mouths of students like that. Just like a boxer who was punched right in the jaw, Kamanashi becomes dispirited, but even then goes on to add:
“Well it seems Suzui-sensei is teaching classes that are of use to you. I’m envious that this class is filled with such excellent students.”
He said sarcastically. He’s got some guts. I shrugged in response.
“Sensei, there’s also a saying that goes ‘We hardly find any persons of good sense, save those who agree with us.’”
“Okay, okay. That’s enough. Yoshimura, sit back down. We’re going to start class. You should put in just as much effort as you do in Classic Literature into English.”
Misaki turns, and gives me a thumbs up. Kisaragi goes back to being a sleepy cat. It’s not that we learned these quotes of La Rochefoucauld during Classic Literature class. Sorry Suzu-chan, but that was a lie.
When Takurou dumped me, I went to go get my hair cut. I cut my hair that was up to my shoulders in one swoop to a short-cut.
“You cut your hair because you got dumped? Don’t you think you’re being a bit transparent?”
Misaki laughed and told me that, but the short hair that resulted came out better than I had expected, and I was satisfied, and I was able to forget a little bit of the pain that I was feeling. If I can think something about me is cute, or find satisfaction in something, that cheers me up. Not only that, but that was where I met Rochefoucauld-sama. I found wedged among the women’s fashion magazines and the sports newspapers a brown-covered book. It was really plain. Normally, it was the kind of simplicity that I would’ve overlooked. But after being dumped by the boyfriend that I had been dating for half a year, my tastes had apparently made a temporary change. I was drawn to it more than the flashy weekly magazine with the actress wearing a brand name dress and smiling on the cover. And, I was drawn in hook, line, and sinker. As I was laughing my ass off and nodding my head in agreement to the book, the hairstylist gave it to me without a second thought. Apparently, it was something a customer had left there a year earlier.
“We don’t need it, so you can have it.” The next week, I let Misaki and Kisaragi borrow the collection of quotes that became mine. Kisaragi’s reaction to the book wasn’t really that great, but Misaki seemed to really take a liking to it. Even though we have absolutely no interest in English vocab or Math formulas, if it’s something we take interest in, our brains absorb it really easily.
Kamanashi, who had gotten one hell of a punch swung at him, was a bit more quiet than usual, and he had lost his confidence. He didn’t talk about how not being able to study would mean you’re narrowing the opportunities open to you in the future, and how there’s been a drop in the employment rates of high schoolers, and he didn’t even bemoan the low advancement rates into college from our high school, and he left the classroom the second the bell rang.
That’s how we came to be at the family restaurant now.
A cell phone rang. Everyone’s body twitched at the same moment.
The melody of the bear.
The other four’s tensed bodies relax.
It’s a voice that brings back memories. There’s only one person who calls me that.
Fujimoto Mutsuki. Only him.
“Wow, long time no talk!”
“Yeah, how’ve you been?”
“Pretty good. What about you?”
“Me? Well, we won today….”
“Huh? ‘Won’? Won what?”
“Huh? Oh…the qualifying match.”
Kisaragi’s eyes meet mine. He probably figured out who I was talking to.
“ ‘The qualifying match’…? Wow, you guys won, Mutsuki? Then I guess that means you’re heading to the National High-School Baseball Tournament, huh?”
“Huh? Uh, no, no. We’ve only won one game…oh, I thought you’d be at least a little curious about it, but I guess not, huh?”
Mutsuki made a wry smile on the other end of the line. I didn’t need to see it to know that he did.
“Sorry, it’s just, I don’t really read newspapers, you know?”
Kisaragi’s hand shot out, and stole my cell phone from me.
“Why didn’t you call me before you called Riho?! You idiot! Do you even know how much I was sweating over the results of your game?! I was so worried that I couldn’t even concentrate in class!”
I shook my fork lightly in front of Kisaragi’s face.
“Really! I couldn’t concentrate at all!”
“Well, at any rate, that’s okay—just call me, all right? To my cell phone.”
Suu-chan pretends to blow a whistle.
“That’s a violation! A yellow card!”
“Yellow card! Yellow card!”
Misaki and I parrot her.
“Player Fujimoto, due to deliberate attempt at extorting a phone call, is going to have to have his cell turned off for five minutes.”
Suu-chan’s plump hand reaches towards Kisaragi’s cell phone.
“Noo, wait! This is my brother we’re talking about here! What’s wrong with me trying to encourage a phone call out of my own brother?”
“That wasn’t an ‘encouragement.’ It was a coercive extortion. It’s undeniably a violation of the rules of this game.”
Kisaragi’s head drops. Wordlessly, he hands me my cell phone back.
“As lively as ever, I see.”
“Yeah, it is.”
Mutsuki laughed out loud this time. It was a slightly muffled laugh.
“Mutsuki, are you tired?”
“Well, sure. It was pretty hot today.”
“Did you hit any?”
“Two homeruns with a batting average of 1.0.”
“It was only our first game though.”
“Oh, so what, the other team was like a really easy team?”
I sensed a hint of a smile. It was only much later that I found out that even though West Soushuu High, which was Mutsuki’s school, had an automatic advancement to the nationals, and even though it was their first game, they played against a pretty tough competitor.
“Hey, how many more games do you have to be able to go to the Nationals?”
“When you say it, it’s as if I’m getting set to go to the amusement park or something.”
“Really? I don‘t think I‘m talking any different from usual. So, how many?”
He was quiet for a while, and Mutsuki replied “a lot.” What a vague answer.
“If it’s the National High-School Baseball Tournament, would you think about coming?”
He asks in a slightly mumbled manner.
“It’s in August, right?”
If it’s in August, I’d rather go to the beach than the tournament. When you live in a small town that’s surrounded by mountains for seventeen years, it makes you miss the ocean. I want to see the unobstructed horizon. I want to see the clouds that seem to well up directly from the horizon line. I want to experience first hand that the Earth really is round. I want to get psyched over finding a jellyfish. I want a new swimsuit. I better get cracking on that part-time job….
“You should come.”
Mutsuki’s manner of talking becomes a bit stronger. But, that fizzles in an instant, and he goes back to his mumbled, unclear way of speaking.
“It’ll be the last Nationals…so you should come.”
“If you’re going to be playing, then I wouldn’t mind going.”
“If I’m not going to be playing, then there wouldn’t be a point in you coming, don’t you think? You’re not interested in baseball, are you?”
“Yeah, you’re right–oh, but maybe not.”
“I could always go to check out the guys there–you know, for the hot guys.”
He sighs as if to say “don’t be ridiculous.”
“You’re not going to find any ‘hot guys’ at the tournament.”
“You’re probably right. Well that sucks. Anyhow, Mutsuki, listen to this! I got dumped by my boyfriend. I got a haircut because of it. It’s even shorter than Kisaragi’s now.”
Mutsuki was always the quiet type even as a kid, and he wasn’t very good at talking, but he was really good at listening. I was always talking to Mutsuki on top of the swings and jungle gym, while we walked down the road along the river, and under the sofa in the living room. He never became tired and weary of listening to me like Kisaragi did, or ignore me like Misaki did. He listened to me quietly with a serious look on his face. This reminds me of those times. I wonder if Mutsuki’s still that quiet guy who’s good at listening?
Mutsuki drew in a breath.
“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.”
“Yeah, I worked at this gas stand during the winter break for three days. That’s where I met him, but he dumped me. Mutsuki, what about you? Do you have a girlfriend?”
“What do you think? Do I look like I have the time to go around making a girlfriend or working at a gas stand?”
He added in a quick “bye,” and hung up. I hate the sound that’s left in your ear after the person on the other end hangs up on you. It beeps in a really cold manner. I associate it with denial and rejection, which are the two things that I hate.
“What? He calls me up out of the blue, and he just hangs up on me like this? Mutsuki, you loser!”
I bad-mouth him. Misaki and Kisaragi glance at each other.
“Riho, I’m begging ya here. Don’t talk about your boyfriend to Mutsuki.”
“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s my EX-boyfriend.”
“Yeah, yeah whatever, it’s just–don’t talk about other guys to him, all right? A total ban on the subject matter all together.”
Misaki’s lip curls.
“It’s none of our business whether you’re laying around reading manga or going out on dates with guys or shaping your eyebrows or slipping into love hotels, but while you’re doing all that, Mutsuki’s busy practicing. The very least you could do, is to not say anything to shake him up, at least during the preliminaries.”
“I’ve never gone to a love hotel. I’ve never done anything like that.”
Misaki head snaps back in surprise in an exaggerated manner.
“You dated the guy for half a year and you guys didn’t even do it?”
“Riho, no wonder you got dumped.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? And besides, what‘s it to Mutsuki what I do? And you know, you’re always putting on airs, but you’ve never even done anything for the sake of someone else before, have you?
“My personality isn’t the kind that does that.”
Kei-kun raised his hand as if he wanted to ask a question in class.
“Yes? Moritsugu Keishi-kun, go ahead.”
“Uhh…this ‘Mutsuki’ guy you’ve been talking about– he couldn‘t be…Fujimoto Mutsuki from East Soushuu High…right?”
Kei-kun was taken aback at my reply.
“Isn’t that like, amazing?”
“What do you mean ‘why’? ‘Cause he’s famous! Everyone’s talking about him. He’s been the clean-up hitter for the powerhouse Soushuu since he was in the 11th grade, and the newspapers’ve been saying what an amazing batter he is, and how it was unfortunate what happened last Summer, but it’s a sure thing that the team will make it to the nationals this year… Oh, now that I think about it, I think I read somewhere about him being from this town…”
I nod my head in confirmation, and ended up glancing at the side of Kei-kun’s face.
“Wow Kei-kun, I’m impressed. I didn’t know you read the newspaper. Good for you.”
“No, just the sports section. Plus, I am on the baseball team for the time being.”
Kisaragi and I both raised our voices at the same time.
“I didn’t know that. Kei-kun, you’re on a sports team?”
“Before that though–I didn’t even know our school had a baseball team.”
“Now that I think about it though, once, I saw these guys wearing uniforms smoking behind the club room.”
“Well I for one will let you know that we do indeed have a baseball team. It’s one where they use a hard rubber ball though. Kei-kun hardly ever goes to club practice, but he’s a member. Oh and–”
Suu-chan faces Kei-kun.
“Mutsuki-san was a grade above us back in junior high. I didn’t know him that well, but Riho-chan and the others have known him since back in pre-school.”
“Kisaragi’s been with him since the day he was born.”
Misaki pokes at her cell phone which had yet to ring.
“Since they’re brothers, after all.”
Kei-kun starts back in surprise again. The waiter served our meals. Everyone puts their hands together in a “let’s eat” fashion. They were all praying in their hearts for their cell phones to go off. Kei-kun though, seemed to be in a different world. His black eyes are shifting back and forth. Like an amateur camera person who couldn’t decide on his subject matter, his gaze flits back and forth among us.
“Fujimoto, is that true?”
“Yep. He was born a year before me. He doesn’t look like me much though, but we have the same blood type.”
“So you have a famous brother?”
“Well, I guess he’s going to become famous in the future.”
“Is he going to like, turn pro?”
Kei-kun rags on Kisaragi to get him an autograph. Kisaragi nodded in a noncommittal way.
This Spring, the school Mutsuki goes to advanced to the nationals. They lost in the second round, but Mutsuki hit three home runs. I don’t know much about baseball at all, but even I know that to hit three home runs in two games is pretty amazing. Even I know that. And apparently, that was when Mutsuki started being focused upon by the entire nation. People were making a fuss about him before he even got into high school, but no TV station ever came to interview his family.
That’s why, when I saw a newsperson wearing a bright red pant suit with a huge smile on her face pointing to his house while saying:
“This is where the player Fujimoto’s natural talent flowered…”
It felt a bit weird. The blue roofed house that I was so familiar with suddenly looked all distorted.
I haven’t seen Mutsuki in a long time. Mutsuki, who goes to a high school far away in the prefectural capital, has lived in a dorm all this time. Like Misaki said, he’s been living baseball day-in-day-out.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
Kei-kun tapped Suu-chan’s arm lightly. Kei-kun grew up in the town next over, so he didn’t know about it. Suu-chan’s facial expression hardens, and she doesn’t reply.
“If you know someone that famous, I guess that gives me something to brag about now, huh?”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“For you to brag about something, it has to be something that has to do with you personally. You have nothing to do with Mutsuki.”
Kei-kun stiffens. He has shaved eyebrows, so when he narrows his eyes, he looks really intimidating. Kei-kun’s Suu-chan’s boyfriend. It’s only been a month since they started going out, but we’ve all gone out together twice to karaoke. Our school has three divisions: a general division, a machinery division, and an agriculture and forestry division. Kei-kun’s in the agriculture and forestry division. The second time we all went out karaoke-ing, he brought tomatoes that he learned to grow himself. Of course, he brought them even though he wasn’t allowed to. Apparently they spent a year preparing the ground by mixing organic fertilizer with the dirt in order to grow them. The tomatoes, which were grown with love and care, tasted so good that it shocked me. Compared to this, the stuff they sell at the supermarket is like dry fruit.
Kei-kun’s a really cheerful and fun person to be around, and Suu-chan, whose cheeks’re stained pink every time she was with him, always looked like she was having a blast. But the Kei-kun who was glaring at Misaki right now had none of that cheerfulness to him. The fuzz that sprinkled the top of his lip gave an impression that he was older than he actually was.
These are the times that I realize that I really don’t know anyone. Even if you hang out with that person a lot and you talk to them often, you don’t know anything. That unknown part of them rears its head.
A long time ago, I watched this really scary drama on TV. There was this large board that was floating down the river (I learned later on from my grandma that it was actually a shutter. I was pretty close to my grandma when I was a kid.), and suddenly the board flipped itself over. And appears a woman drenched in blood. She had been bound down onto the board.
Now that I think about it, it’s laughable really. Me being the kind of person who loves watching B Horror movies, I could watch images overflowing with blood and gore and guts while eating a beef stew, but back then I was still in elementary school, and I found the woman, who was dripping wet and bloody with her whites showing in her eyes, so scary, that I broke out crying.
I don’t even remember the title or the plot of the story, but I can’t forget the “flip.” Everything changes with a turn, and I get to see something that I didn’t expect to see. It’s shocking, and scary at the same time.
Kei-kun, who’s usually cheerful and fun does a 180 with a flip. What will appear, I’ve yet to know.
“Oh, and just so you know? Don’t ask any stupid question like “Why don’t you play baseball too?” to Kisaragi, all right? He’s been asked that at least a hundred times from what I know.”
Misaki adds. She’s not scared of anything. It doesn’t matter whether Kei-kun glares at her, or the atmosphere changes, or does a 180, or whether the convo moves in circles—none of that matters to her.
She just says what’s on her mind. Kei-kun’s eyes blink. He shifts his gaze. He pops the cucumber added as relish to his meal into his mouth, and grimaces to show his distaste.
“The cucumbers that I grow taste a hundred times better than this.”
Kei-kun said it in the manner that I recognized as being recognizably his usual self.
Suddenly, a cell phone rings. It’s “Orange” by SMAP. Suu-chan lets out a shriek.
“That means I’m off the hook! Whoa, it’s spam mail! It reads: ‘A fulfilling relationship that won’t make you bored on those long nights.’ Wow, I’m so happy!”
“I’m happy too. That means that the two of us get our tabs paid.”
I shake hands with Suu-chan. Misaki looks to the side. Kisaragi turns on his cell phone and prays. Kei-kun draws a cross on his chest.
My ringtone melody goes off. I’ve got mail. It’s from Mutsuki.
“Oh, and I forgot to say this, but: happy birthday.”
The words are stretched out across the screen.
“Oh, so Fujimoto Mutsuki’s pretty strait-laced, huh?”
Kei-kun pops a piece of sweet-and-sour pork in his mouth.
“Well, he’s got it bad for Riho, after all.”
Kisaragi does the same thing.
“Well, to put it another way, he doesn’t know any other girls. Misaki’s got that crabby side to her, right? And the school that he goes to is an all-guys school that’s all about baseball, so the only image of ‘girls’ that he has is pretty much only Riho.”
Misaki and I kick Kisaragi in the shins at the same time.
“What is that supposed to mean? What do you mean I’ve got a ‘crabby side to her,’ huh?”
“And what do you mean by ‘pretty much only Riho’? ‘Pretty much only’? What is that supposed to mean?”
Kisaragi groans with pain. It’s because he was kicked hard with the pointed end of a loafer. That must’ve hurt. I did go easy on him, but apparently Misaki was unmerciful with her kick.
“Whoa, talk about a battle royale.”
Kei-kun trembles in an exaggerated manner. Suu-chan giggles.
“These three are always like this. They’re just having fun, right?”
“We’re punishing him.”
Misaki lifts her chin. She’s in a bad mood because her cell phone hasn’t rung. I bring a bite of carbonara in my mouth because I didn’t have that worry.
“Misaki and Kisaragi make a good combo, because Misaki’s a sadist, and Kisaragi’s a masochist. Before long, I bet Kisaragi’s battered body’s gonna be found floating in some river.”
“That sounds great.”
Misaki’s lip curls. Her lips are thin and nicely shaped. Misaki wasn’t blessed with color. Her skin and hair are sparse of pigment. The only thing that’s prominent are her black eyes. She looks frail and gentle, and if it were my parents, they probably would’ve wanted to stick “Handle with Care” stickers all over her. And the fact is, Misaki’s parents do treat their daughter as if she’s a fragile object. However, the daughter who’s supposed to be frail and gentle who would crumble if handled too roughly contorts her lips and says:
“I would take his fingernails off one finger at a time, and I’d take out all of his teeth without even giving him anaesthetic…hmm, I bet it’d feel pretty good to do that.”
She says those harsh things without batting an eyelash.
“Kisaragi, want me to do that to you?”
“I’ll think about it.”
Kisaragi replies with a serious look on his face. Kei-kun glances at his side profile before mumbling:
“Fujimoto, don’t you get sick of that shit?”
“You mean, hanging with them? Well, I’ve gotten used to it, you know? But just remember this: if they ever find my dead body floating somewhere, it’s these two that did it. They’re the culprits.”
“Naw, I wasn’t talking about that. I meant, like with your brother.”
“Mutsuki? Nah, it’s not like we live together, so it’s no sweat off my back, you know?”
Kei-kun looks down slightly. The nape of his neck is really pretty. There’s not one ounce of extra fat. Kisaragi’s the same. Unlike us, guys give off this sense that they’re made of pure muscle. They’re like food that’s got zero fat, and zero calories. They don’t give off a sense that they’re soft or rich, only hard and firm.
I was fascinated by a guy’s neck, but apparently, Misaki had no interest in stuff like that.
She asks with a slight smile on her face.
“Do you have a talented older brother yourself?”
Kei-kun lifts his head up.
“Yeah. Super smart. He went on from Ryo-High to a public university’s medical division.”
“That’s pretty impressive, ain’t it?”
“You don’t have to put it in question form, Kisaragi. It’s a no brainer that it is.”
“Yeah, you’re right. That IS pretty impressive.”
Kisaragi raised his gaze up to the ceiling as if searching for an apparition. Misaki laughs.
“A public university’s medical division IS located on Earth, you know. It’s not up in space somewhere, so you don’t have to look up like that. If you’re at the top of Ryo-High, then it must be something that’s easily within each for you.”
“Ryo-High” is a nickname for Takinoryokusai High School, which is a pretty famous university-entrance-oriented prep high school around here. From my junior high, a couple of the top scorers got into that school. Comparing Ryo-High and our school is like comparing a diamond to a coal. When we started grade 11, Kamanashi told this to us who were in the university advancement class. His words of encouragement were:
“Keep that in mind, as you try your best to take even a step forward in the direction of those diamonds.”
If the coal becomes a diamond with hard work, then the diamond’s value will take a nose dive. Or is it that the coal’s value will sky rocket? Either way, a coal can’t compete against a diamond. Its degree of hardness is different. Its refraction rate is different. Its value is different.
He said that all high-and-mighty like he knew what he was saying, but I don’t know what a coal is. I’ve never seen one in real life. I’ve seen diamonds before though. Even though I’ve never actually held one or put one on or received one as a present, I’ve at least seen someone wearing it on their finger or on their neck, or inside a show window. The coal is the mystery to me. I wish I could see it just once. To think that it’s glossy and black and flammable–it’s a pretty mysterious being in and of itself. But, having a diamond of an older brother while you’re the coal of a younger brother might be tough.
“Well, that kind of story’s a dime a dozen.”
Before Misaki could say anymore, I showed Kei-kun my sympathy.
“That must be tough.”
“Well, not like I care or anything, but my old man’s always ragging on me and saying stuff like ‘If we add the two of you and average you out, then the result is just about your average person.’ It seriously made me want to snap.”
“Did he say something like ‘Since we have one son we can brag about, we’ll give up on you’?”
“Nah, he didn’t go that far…Yoshimura, did your dad say that to you?”
“Not me–but Ichimura-san, who’s in the same class as me,’s parents did. It was the same pattern for her. She had an older sister who went from Ryo-High to a public university. Ichimura-san snapped for real, and she’s been running away from home ‘cause of it. She seemed pretty set on it when she told me that once she graduates, she’s never coming back home.”
“Well, this IS our high school we’re talking about, after all. The tragedy of being compared to your better-abled older brother or sister is something that’s as common as trash in a trash can. It’s nothing surprising really.”
“Misaki, what kind of comparison is that? Couldn’t you at least say ‘as many stars as there are in the sky’?”
“There’s no way that we’re stars.”
“It’s sick. It makes me fucking sick sometimes. It makes me wanna say what the hell’s wrong with going to high school and planting tomatoes? But even saying that’s a big pain in the neck.”
Kisaragi finished eating his Chinese-style lunch set, and finished off the water in his glass with a gulp.
“It’s not for me though. I’m really thankful that I didn’t end up like Mutsuki.”
Kei-kun raised an eyebrow.
“He’s got it tough. For a while after he got into high school, he wasn‘t doing that great, and he couldn’t make the starting team, and apparently he didn’t get along that great with the coach. That coach suddenly died one day in grade 11, and it’s only after the replacement coach started working there that he really started to grow as a player. Now that he’s in grade 12 and he’s finally able to make it to the nationals, everyone’s making a big deal about how great he is, but back when he couldn’t bat, he got booed a lot. I really respect him for not having fallen into a depression ‘cause of it. Carrying everyone’s hopes and expectations on my shoulders and being told stuff like ‘playing great is a given’? No thank you. It’d probably make me want to scream out ‘give me back my youth!’”
“Mutsuki? Really? I had no idea.”
“You wouldn’t know, Riho, ‘cause you aren’t interested in Mutsuki. I’m his brother, so I know stuff like that, see? Oh, Mutsuki didn’t tell me any of this. He’s not the type to go crying to people about stuff like that.”
“But isn’t it because he doesn’t open up to people about his feelings that it gets really tiresome? Those who bottle up their feelings are really missing out.”
Misaki laughs dryly.
“You should learn to bottle up more. Seriously though, if you add you and Mutsuki and average it out, you’d end up with your average person.”
“Kisaragi, I’m going to kick you in the crotch this time.”
“Whoa, I’m not gonna be able to have kids then!”
“You two, are you really in any position to be fooling off like this? Time’s up in fifteen minutes. At this rate, it looks like you three are going to have to split the bill.”
I smiled an easy smile and gazed at Kei-kun, Kisaragi and Misaki one at a time.
“You’ve GOT to be kidding me. I’m not going to pay for something that someone else ate! There’s just no way!”
Misaki shakes a fist.
“There’s no use complaining. Rules are rules. And besides, these are rules that we decided on together, you’re going to have to follow it.”
“Damnit, you good-for-nothing cell phone! If you don’t ring right now I’m going to pickle you!”
Like a faithful dog frightfully following the orders of the threatening owner, the cell phone rings in Misaki’s hand. It shakes with a muffled vibrating sound.
“Hello…oh, what? The rain? …yeah, you’re right. I’m just out with Riho and the others right now, so I’ll call you. You can come pick me up then..yep, that’s right. Okay, bye.”
Placing the cell phone down, Misaki smiles. The pointed jaw line of her small face softens for an instant. A gentle light twinkles in her eyes. It’s a superb smile that she rarely ever shows to others. Every time I come into contact with that smile, I see flowers. The bud of a wilting, small flower. It’s beautiful, and refreshing. The inside of my chest feels hot. I don’t know anyone else who can smile like a flower like she does.
“Yipee, that means I’m the third person off the hook! Thank you parents!”
“Was it from your mom?”
“Yep. She asked me if I wanted her to pick me up because it’s raining. Haha, my parents probably thinking their daughter’s going to melt if she gets wet.”
“You won’t melt, but you’ll probably get a fever. Last year, you ended up having to be hospitalized two times because of that, remember? You really should fix that habit of yours of going out on a rainy day without an umbrella.”
“It’s not like I caused you any trouble because of it. Just leave me alone. You can be really annoying, you know that, Riho? Maybe you should put some super glue on those lips of yours instead of coating them with two layers of lip gloss.”
She pulled back her superb smile, and she openly tries to provoke a fight. Well if she wants to start something, she can bring it.
“It’s no sweat off my back whether you get hospitalized or get sick or die or get murdered by someone. It’s just, I feel bad for your mom. It’s because you’re going around on a whim on rainy days without carrying an umbrella like you do that she has to constantly worry about you and wait on baited breath.”
“Whoa, what is that about? So what, you’re saying I should care more about how my parents feel? You really are always going off saying ‘sensible person’ stuff like that, don’t you? That’s what I hate about kids who have teachers for parents. It makes me sick.”
“Don’t bring up my parents’ jobs. That has nothing to do with this.”
“I wonder if he killed him?”
I heard a lowered mumble. It was from Suu-chan. In an instant, everyone at the table settled down.
“Suu-chan…did you say something?”
Suu-chan, who had been slurping on the Chinese-style spoon, gazes over at me.
“It just crossed my mind that maybe he killed him…”
“ ‘The coach’? Whose coach?”
“Mutsuki-san’s coach. Kisaragi-kun said that he suddenly died, right? I was just wondering who it was that killed him.”
“Would you normally think about stuff like that?”
Kei-kun takes out a cigarette. But since Misaki and I glared at him, he put it back in his pocket without smoking it.
“Well, he wasn’t a nice coach, right? So what’s wrong with killing him?”
“If we killed every person we didn’t like, then every one of us would turn into serial killers. As for Mutsuki’s coach, I don’t know if he died from an aneurysm or a heart attack or whatever, but I heard it was from some kind of illness. It’s not like it was some murder case or anything.”
Suu-chan tilted her head in response to what Kisaragi said.
“I saw Mutsuki-san’s game on TV for the nationals in the spring. They had a picture of the coach on the side bench. The captain was also saying stuff like how they’re “going to try their best to meet the previous coach’s goals.” My mom was getting teary eyed from just reading the caption in the newspaper. If it turns out that he was a really bad guy who no one even liked, and someone had killed him…”
Slurping the Chinese-style soup, Suu-chan gave a slightly embarrassed smile.
“Don’t you think that would be pretty interesting?”
“Like I said, would you normally think about stuff like that?”
Kei-kun shook his blonde hair. There were only two cell phones left. Both of them remained silent.
“Well, at the very least, it was lucky for Mutsuki. Thanks to them getting a new coach, he was able to grow as a player. He’s probably relieved. To him though, he’s probably trying harder for the present coach than the past coach, but he has to play the part of the player who goes up to bat for the coach who passed away. He’s not that strong that he can say what he really feels.”
Misaki twirls around her straw inside the glass. The ice cubes clink with a calm ring. Kei-kun grabs his own head.
“You guys are weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s definitely something off about you people. Doesn’t hearing about stuff like how they’re gonna try their best for the coach that suddenly died make you all teary eyed?”
Misaki summed it up in one word.
“Why not? It grabs at your heart-strings! I think it’s a pretty touching story myself.”
“I don’t believe in ‘touching stories.’”
If you believe in it, you never know what might happen. Misaki adds before grinning.
“Kei-kun, you’re too simple-minded. If you get teary eyed at every ‘touching story’ that comes your way, you’re gonna get it.”
“I wonder who? At any rate, you shouldn’t let your guard down.”
Misaki smiled as she concluded in a lady-like manner. Kei-kun poked Kisaragi in the shoulder.
“I’m not getting what they’re saying at all. Can you translate?”
“Well, in other words, don’t get too caught up in what other people are saying, right?”
“What a terrible translation.”
I told him that, but his translation isn’t that far off the mark. It’s scary if you get too caught up in what other people say. Touching stories, and heart-warming stories are all around us. There is also an abundance of the opposite kind of stories.
TO BE CONTINUED…
[UP NEXT: pg 57-104]