Golden Time

By TAKEMIYA Yuyuko

Golden Time Volume 1 Chapter 1

Golden Time Volume 1 Chapter 1

Chapter 1[]

Tada Banri ran half crying.

The Tokyo streets at one o'clock in the morning, despite being "the Tokyo", were pitch dark with no signs of life, not even a lit light by a window. During the day today (or rather, yesterday already), in spite of it only being April, it had been so warm he had been wearing only a T-shirt and drinking iced coffee, muttering to himself "It must be global warming." He was now shivering from the cold and anxiety. The sleeves of his flannel hoodie pulled down to his fingertips, his too-unsteady footsteps making a flapping sound from the sandals on his bare feet, anyhow, if he could just get to the main street everything might be all right... Should be all right. He wanted it to happen. With all his heart he ran.

"A young man turning nineteen this year shouldn't be running through the streets at night teary eyed...", I thought, but I understood Banri's feelings.

If I were in the same situation, I might cry too.

He had come to the capital together with his mother who, for the sake of her son who was starting a life alone, had arranged for furniture, appliances, gas, water, electricity and so on. She'd gotten through various minor formalities here and there, and then this afternoon (already, so fast!) she'd returned home in a Hikari bullet train.

And then, finally, he had truly started the first night of his life alone. Only, this night kept him from tomorrow morning's college entrance ceremony. Late at night, as the new day was just starting, unable to sleep with his worries, he did as he supposed any resident of Tokyo would do in order to distract himself: he went from one convenience store to another... but he lost his way in the streets. Worse, it appeared that somewhere, somehow, he had lost the key to his new home. In any case, it wasn't there in his pocket anymore.

Banri's feet suddenly stopped and walked all of three steps back the way he'd come. He saw a map of the residential area standing by the edge of the sidewalk. "Saved", he said to himself as he approached and searched for the apartment building where he now lived, "Motomachi", tracing a route with his finger from "You are here". Anyway, once he had returned to the front of the apartment building, he intended to walk all the way back to the convenience store, searching for his keys.

But... ahh, enough.

If this voice could reach Banri, I would tell him, "Look more carefully at the map. That 'Motomachi' is the 'Motomachi' in the next district!'" No, rather I would say, "You left them in the apartment in the first place, forgetting to lock up! They're in the room!" Unfortunately, I cannot do that.

For the time being, all I can do is pray for him so that if Banri could just get back to the apartment somehow and get to sleep quickly, then perhaps he would survive tomorrow's entrance ceremony without problems. Just how important can one day in your life be, this new college student entrance ceremony? Even I--- though having become a wandering soul, can understand.

I couldn't believe the possibility that the spirits of men, even when they have left their bodies, remain and stay in this world to watch over someone. This side of the world was hidden, so I had only recently found out.

I am, so to speak, a ghost.

My name was once Tada Banri.

Nobody hears this voice anymore, nobody notices my existence.

I just keep watching this new Tada Banri who continues to live, even though I, his spirit, have fallen out of him.

"Young man, at this hour what---, what happened---"

All of a sudden, the living Tada Banri turned his face forward and a light shone straight in his eyes, freezing him like a deer in a car's headlights.

"Ah, wha... I, I got lost..."

"Do you have a license, a passport, anything with you that can prove who you are?"

"Eh, ah, huh..."

He was being subjected to the first police interrogation of his life. This was going to be a long night. Was this situation a crisis? Was it a gift from god? You can never tell where Banri is concerned.

* * *


Anything and everything thrown together, his current state of affairs was one of "Great Trepidations", thought Banri as he looked around.

The weather, however, was truly excellent.

A snowstorm of cherry blossom petals from the clear blue sky danced around frantically, as they wanted to spend their lives as spectacularly as possible. The auditorium, located amongst a number of old gray office buildings, seemed to welcome the moment of drama.

The scene looked like something from a painting. Cherry blossoms against an April sky. Young people gathering for opening ceremonies. Men and women alike wearing brand new suits and leather shoes, bright smiles breaking out all over the place, anticipating college life. Banri felt like trying to cut off the dark, inconspicuous corner of that painting, where he stood.

A constant stream of friendly conversations passed before his eyes. The auditorium entrance was beneath the eaves of the building. For the moment, Banri and everybody else had the same brand new suits and the same brand new leather shoes, in their hands they had envelopes with the names of their colleges. With dark circles beneath his eyes from lack of sleep, he didn't look the typical freshman. His right sideburn curled out at a strange angle and some of the hairs near his ear stuck inside, rustling around, bothering him.

He couldn't get to sleep until three in the morning. He'd been a wreck since last night.

He got the idea, in the dead of the night, to go out and buy something, got lost in the streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood (a rather dumb thing to do), took time away from a policeman's duties, explained his situation and was escorted back to his apartment, with great difficulty he got to sleep, but due to his nerves, he woke up at six in the morning. But it was better than sleeping in late, he thought, as he slowly laid out his clothes while he thawed some rice his mother had put in the freezer, then ate breakfast. After that he took a shower, and dried off his hair while sitting on the bed. He shouldn't have done that. His body heated up by the shower, the still brand-new sheets comfortably cool, he had lain down without intending to. He didn't remember closing his eyes. "Eh... What'd I do now... What the heck...", he said when he realized it was already past nine o'clock. The opening ceremony was to start at ten in the morning.

Jerked awake like a puppet, he fell into a state of panic as he looked in the mirror, his newly washed hair now a mess from having slept on it, but he didn't have enough time to wash it again. He cheated with the dryer as much as he could, threw on a suit and flew out of the apartment. In that moment, he was even more on the verge of crying. He got on two trains later than he should have by the schedule, the right shoes on, but the wrong socks. Without even realizing it, he had put on his customary ankle-baring sneaker socks. Indeed, with his stiff new shoes, when he sat, he felt a weird chill around his ankles. He felt helpless.

He dashed from the station, somehow or another arriving at the college entrance ceremony on time. Taking his seat, he composed himself like a perfect freshman while the visitors were welcomed, though he found himself disassociated from the grand occasion. That wasn't from lack of sleep, nor from bedhead.

It was because, he realized, he was the only one entirely alone.

He wasn't even trying to be observant: the place was noisy the whole time from people talking. It was because everybody else had somebody to talk to. If they'd come up from an affiliated high school, they'd already formed groups of friends, guys and girls together, and if not, they were usually seated with their parents. Usually.

"Parents these days don't go to college entrance ceremonies!" "That may be so at Toudai, but at this place that's overdoing it. Everybody's going to think I'm some sort of mama's boy!" "Absolutely ridiculous!" "Parents don't normally come to college entrance ceremonies!" After Banri's complaints, his mother had returned home the day before. "Well, I've brought this just in case...", she said, then put a companion ticket for the admission ceremony back into her wallet, like it was something precious. He hadn't been all that seriously wishing for her not to come. But then he whined absurdly like a little kid, "I don't want you to come", in what he thought was a normal parent-child relationship.

And now, having gotten here, already discouraged, but above all, feeling guilty of being disloyal to his parents. () It weighed heavily on him. He hadn't even waved. His mother's back had gone through the Yaesu north entrance ticket gate, disappearing as he saw her off.

Without realizing it, he sighed pathetically as he stood still in the entrance, seeing the hair of people descending the steps, laughing together.

From where he stood, he could not see anybody else who was alone. He rubbed his eyes with his middle fingers. Maybe it was pollen, or perhaps lack of sleep, but his eyes were itching strangely. A guy who forgot his handkerchief certainly wouldn't have brought eyedrops with him either.

Things aren't looking good--- yeah, even as early as today, it looked like things are going to keep on going badly.

"You gonna ride the train? Or walk?"

"Why bother going up to the station? It just makes me tired. I prefer to walk."

In front of the paralyzed Banri's eyes, two guys walked by in suits, loosening their neckties.

From the auditorium, he had to make it over to the freshman orientation by himself, one hour later over on his department's part of campus. Having said that, according to the guide map that had been passed out to them, it was only one station away by subway. Even though he had just arrived in the capitol, that didn't mean he'd just crept in from the wilderness, nor that he was all that nervous about what he had to do. What was confusing from Banri's point of view was that the crowd leaving the auditorium, for some reason, was dividing in two.

Perhaps, the people turning north were going to the station. Those going south were walking. With the weather so nice, he wanted to walk, but the walking route wasn't noted on the map. The memory of last night's disaster still fresh in his mind, he didn't want to get lost by himself again in the streets. "But from now on, I will have to find the way everywhere by myself..." "But still..." Banri stood there murmuring, still hesitating for a while, then he finally made up his mind and went down the steps to the street.

He decided to stick close to the pair, who preferred to walk. "From this point on we're a trio!", he whispered to the backs of the two in front of him. The two of them were dressed in slim dark grey suits, just like Banri.

Still lacking the courage to make conversation, Banri followed after them, matching their pace. Though things were a bit uncomfortable right now, eventually their classes and studies would draw them together as friends. He'd say things like "Honestly, at the opening ceremony I was hopelessly following you two", and then they would be able to laugh about it all. Banri's pursuit still unnoticed, the two walked on steadily. At length the entire crowd of freshmen had flowed out of the auditorium, into the streets, where, like a river coming together, they mixed into the crowds of the weekday town passing by. If you didn't look too close, you could wind up confusing the freshmen and the businessmen. When,

"Ah, it's rather hot today, isn't it? Let's go get some ice cream."

"Really?"

The right-hand guy spoke on a whim. Staring at the back of the guy's head, Banri's eyebrows rose without thinking.

"Really. Why don't we stop by the next convenience store? I'll eat ice cream."

Do you really want to eat some ice cream right now? The opening ceremony has just ended, and you want ice cream from a convenience store in the middle of the way to the orientation, when the time is limited? He gazed the back of the left guy's head. "Forget it." You on the left, say it! Just what he was going to do while those guys ate ice cream, he had no idea.

"In that case I'll have some too. There ought to be a 7-Eleven around here somewhere."

"Yeah, there was a 7-Eleven. But where was it, I wonder?"

They didn't hear Banri's silent message. Leaving the slow stream of passersby, the two turned down a narrow side street. This was the time when he should have bidden farewell to them, sticking to the other freshmen. Banri should have done that, but he suffered a lapse in judgment. Going along straight ahead, it wasn't easy to distinguish freshmen from businessmen right away, so without thinking he had gone along with the two down the side street. "Ah ah ah." Ignoring Banri, whose conscience tried quietly to hurry him, those two were saying things like, "Hmm, 7-Eleven, 7-Eleven. Over there? Over here?" Those two stayed cool and collected as they went along unfamiliar streets. Perhaps they wanted to get rid of him... among such doubts, he turned left and right, straying from the right way,

"Ah, it wasn't a 7-Eleven after all."

They were in front of a Family Mart.

The two of them entered the store without hesitation, not noticing Banri's presence yet, who stood there blinking his eyes rapidly from anxiety. Not knowing what else to do, he followed suit, leaving a little distance between them. He turned his back to them, pretending to stare at the magazines, while the two were fishing in the ice-cream case. After some ten seconds, he made up his mind, "I'll have to eat too." In order to look normal, he figured he ought to just do the same things those guys were doing. After looking sidelong to make sure the two guys had gone to the cash register ice-cream in their hands, putting on his most innocent expression, he peered into the ice-cream case too. Not to waste any time in choosing, he grabbed the first one at hand, "Ah... I'd like some ice cream after all..." making such a face while the two paid their bill, he queued behind them at the register. However,

"But of course, from here we've got orientation, and ice cream could be a real mess. We don't really have much time left, maybe we should change our mind."

"Well, that may be so. Shall we just go? Excuse me sir, the register is yours, we're leaving."

"Ehh!?"

The two very politely gave their turn in line to Banri and went to put the ice-creams back in their case. The part-time store-clerk wasn't even bothered. "Next please", he said, waving Banri forward. Not having any idea what else to do, he reluctantly handed over the ice-cream, got out his wallet, and lacking small change, finally got out a 10,000 yen bill. "First the larger change", five-thousand, six-thousand, seven-thousand. "Then the small", jingle jingle jingle. Getting back his change took long, and during that time, the two left the store.

---What the heck? What am I supposed to do?

Shocked stiff, saying "no thanks" for a bag, he took the ice-cream as it was, and while putting away his wallet, Banri left the store in a daze. "Which way did those two turn?", he couldn't spot the forms of the two guys. "Calm down for now, I'm not lost yet", he kept reminding himself. "We came from this way, and then perhaps, along that way. I know that much, no problem."

When he looked at it, he realized what he bought was a . Whatever, let's eat. I should only worry after that. Banri shook his head to clear his panicky mind, then unwrapped his ice-cream. The soda-colored bar was tough from being too frozen, so after biting into it, "I have to put off eating this", he realized.

He took a looong breath.

"...What's this? ...What am I doing..."

What an idiot.

By the time he had realized it, the likely-to-be-important orientation was within thirty minutes or so. With no idea where he was, he was eating his ice-cream alone in front of the convenience store. The form of an idiot, who fell into this too unreasonable situation was reflected in the mirror mounted on the ID-picture machine across the street from the store.

He wore a dark grey suit, with a large light-green envelope. He held a light blue popsicle in hand. The hair drooping over his ruddy cheeks, was lighter than expected. Nonetheless, biting into the ice-cream, the features themselves looked much more composed than how he had previously perceived them. Even at a time like this, "Wow. If I look at myself objectively, I'm quite..." Banri thought, putting his hand on his chin, but

"...Whaa?"

He noticed that the image in the mirror wasn't moving together with him. Like a fool exposed, he turned around.

What was reflected in the photo-ID machine's mirror wasn't himself.

Dressed in a similarly colored suit, holding the same envelope at his side and eating the same ice cream was another person. Their eyes met, then looked away momentarily. Even so, Banri raised his eyes again and looked at the guy doing exactly the same as himself. There was no other possibility, the guy was a freshman at the same college. Ignoring him would be unnatural. Ehh, aren't we doing the same thing? Ah, what, maybe we are from the same university? By saying this, he wanted to keep things lighthearted,

"...Huh? Ah? Oo're ya?"

His mouth wasn't working too well, chilled by the ice-cream, and only an ambiguous moan was getting out.

Nonetheless, with body language, pointing at himself and then the other guy, he managed to get the point across,

"Ho...gu..."

The guy, too, while desperately trying to swallow a big mouthful of ice-cream, was looking back at Banri's face. Holding his fingertip to his mouth and chewing,

"...Well..., actually, I... the way to the college, I don't know it very well..."

His voice was lower than expected from his looks.

Without thinking, Banri gave a good long look at the other's face. Though it was just a for moment, mistaking the guy for himself was completely inexcusable, as the guy had much more composed features. He was also a bit taller than Banri, his hair better kept, his suit fit his strong shoulders well.

"I figured I would follow after somebody, so that's why I wound up walking right behind you. ...And when you went in there, I thought, 'What am I going to do now? ...Well, why not?... Why not just stick together?'"

"And from there..." the guy waved his ice-cream bar, showing it off.

Without thinking, Banri laughed. "What!?", he said, his voice now coming out naturally and brightly.

"Then really, we were doing exactly the same thing, both of us. I don't know the way either, and I followed after other guys from the auditorium `til I got here! But having been left behind, 'What am I going to do?', I was thinking."

"...Huh? Really?"

"Really. I don't know the way at all."

Still holding their ice-cream, not knowing what to do with it, they looked at each other for several seconds. In the end, they wound up laughing once more. Weren't they just the pair of oddballs? They felt like a heavy lid that was stuffed into their stomach, was swept away by laughing.

"Somehow, an unexpected meeting of similar people. I'm Tada Banri. 'Tada' means 'many fields', and though my name is made up from 'Man' and 'ri', it isn't 'Manri', but rather 'Banri'. I'm studying law. You can call me Banri."

"Oh good, I'll be studying law too. I'm . It means that 'the willows are thick by the side of the swamp', and 'light in the center'. You don't have to be formal with me, 'Yana' will do. Did you come here straight from high school?"

"I'm one year late in starting. How about you, Yana-ssan?"

"Yana-ssan? Wait- a year older!? ...Really? You don't look like it--- Well, it's fine. I'm straight from high school... but, though, ah, is it OK if I speak casually like this?"

"Of course. I mean, you don't even have to ask."

"I'm from Shizuoka. Since last night I live by myself. Where ya from?"

"I live close to here, but alone too."

"Yeah, freedom! We're alike! Let's be friends!"

As if raising a toast, Banri raised his half-eaten Gari-Gari-Kun to the level of his eyes. Yanagisawa raised his too the same way, and then they both finished off their treats in one breath. Throwing away the sticks, off they went, and finally before long they were able to return to the main street.

By themselves, after all, it had seemed an arduous journey, but together they weren't all that concerned. Compared to the streets of the residential area with no living soul around late at night, this time they could just ask somebody. When he was by himself, he couldn't even imagine doing that.

Chuckling to himself, he gave a sidelong glance at the already overly familiar Yanagisawa.

"Because unfortunately there wasn't anybody to talk with until now, I'd really been rather worried. I saw that other people were already among friends, and my loneliness was just getting worse."

"Ah, I was thinking that too. Especially for me, feelings of being cast out are something I didn't have for a long time now: since elementary school I've being going to an affiliated school."

"You've been going to an affiliated school since elementary?"

Nodding, Yanagisawa rapidly muttered the name of his place. Even though Banri was not from Tokyo, he still recognized the name of the prestigious private school. Over the next four years, the two of them would be attending this private university, but that other school was higher in rank in every possible way.

"Wha? Really? How come you didn't just advance to the university!? If you just stay on the  it always works out... What am I saying? Did I just..."

Banri reflexively shut up, stopping himself from running off at the mouth. This is wrong. What a fool he was. He was being insensitive. Maybe it wasn't he didn't, but that couldn't advance. Suddenly being raised from the depths of solitude, his excitement was slipping out of his control.

"Ex, excuse me...! What I said was wrong... I'm really sorry, we had such a great start on this day... Ah, the mood is becoming awfully strange..."

All these apologies were depressing. Looking at Banri's face, who held his mouth shut this time, his eyes wandering aimlessly,

"By no means, I don't mind at all. Well, if I tell it, it's going to be a long story."

Yanagisawa waved one of his hands in front of his fine shaped chin. His gesture of "Let's talk this over slowly some other time", reached Banri as well. "Slowly, some other time." I'll tell you when we have more time. By all means, come over for a visit, OK? You can even have Bubuzuke. ---Ah!

Slooowly he took one step away from Yanagisawa. "Eh, what?", Yanagisawa looked at Banri's strangely fixed smile, who looked like a fool.

Banri was thinking he'd gone and done it. Last night, before getting lost in the neighborhood, he'd been looking on the net. Amongst tips for college students posted on a site, there was a human-relations item: 'Pay special attention to avoid overly familiarity on first meeting! There are possible landmines!' ...What should he do in a situation where he was the one requiring special attention? Unable to help himself, he slapped himself once on the head like a comic story teller.

"I'm such an idiot, an idiot landmine... to have caused Yana-ssan such unpleasant feelings, after he's taken so much trouble to become my friend..."

"Huh? What's up? Are you perhaps troubled about what just happened? It's not that big a deal. It's not a long dragged out story, ...well, it seems you are worried for some unknown reason, so I will explain it in short. I had caused some problems concerning the opposite sex at the affiliated school. I was fed up, and needed my space. I wanted a new life as a college student, so I took the outside exam on my own will."

"It's not such a big deal, really", expressed Yanagisawa as he scratched his prominent eyebrows. Upon considering it,

"...Hyuuu...!"

Banri couldn't whistle, so he said this instead.

Carefully coming halfway back to where he was before, folding his arms across his chest, waving his finger while his shoulders shook, he intended to express "You're great!" the best way he could, within the limits of what was acceptable.

"Huh... The opposite sex?"

...If he kept his excitement at this level, then there shouldn't be any problems. But, in truth Banri wanted to be even more fired up. The opposite sex!? How cool! Arguing with the girls is super cool! A love triangle!? An affair!? Forbidden love!? Let me hear about it! I mean, share your luck! Make some girl trouble!  ...Around his heart a tension was mounting,

"Sooo, if someone's as cool as Yana-ssan, such things happen to them!? So did you have an argument with your girlfriend? Eh, eh, am I getting annoying!?"

He stopped right there.

"...No, you're not."

"Don't go making up stuff!"

With a fast half-step, he had drawn right next to Yanagisawa.

"...No, but, its no case talking about it. And by the way... she's not my girlfriend."

"Not your.. girlfriend!? What did you just say!?"

Isn't? And, while allowing Banri to get closer, the strangely serious Yanagisawa nodded. Then,

"It was not a good thing, absolutely not. It was... right. So to speak,"

Stopped by a red light at a crosswalk, he looked a little into the distance and then turned back to Banri.

"...a disaster..., it seemed like."

"Even so what does that," he tried to find out more, and as luck would have it, at that moment the light changed to green.

On this side of the crosswalk, a taxi was parked. Banri, with Yanagisawa alongside, had just started crossing in front of it at the light. Wham! The taxi's door flew open. To the asphalt descended the spike of a high-heel shoe, the hard sound echoing like a hammer.

They looked over there by reflex.

Banri gasped. In an instant, all his thoughts were swept away.

The storm of cherry blossoms had been something to see, but this, this was overwhelming.

Almost like rushing forth, out of the taxi came a huge bouquet of scarlet roses. Shining in violent contrast to the deep blue sky, deep deep deep red.

Banri's gaze was torn towards it, as it was raised overhead diagonally by that person.

"...Whop!?"

With all her strength, she struck the side of his face. "It hurts!", he shouted out, "No! It's cold!", he shouted out again, but in the end he hadn't any voice.

A cold spray of water droplets splashed over everything nearby. Completely astonished, Banri fell to the ground. The rear of his brand new suit-pants hit the ground, and he watched as more glittering drops of sprayed water came flying. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was Yanagisawa, who was being attacked. Yanagisawa got slapped across the face from above and the sides, three times, four times, by a bouquet of fresh, deep red roses. Each time, a few of the lively flower petals fluttered away, falling like drops of blood.

And then, the finishing blow! From directly overhead the bouquet came down, thrown down on the collapsed Yanagisawa's chest.

Banri was speechless.

Yanagisawa was too.

The rose petals fluttered about vividly, overloading their senses with the intensely sweet smell of nectar. In the middle of this deep red air raid,

"...I've removed the thorns."

Showing a wide, "perfect" smile, even the breathing was calm of that woman.

Who she was, what she was, such questions were fading away like the fog in the morning. There she was, a luminous snow white form, sparkling as if gently sprinkled with drops of water --- the deep red flower petals as it were an aura about her, the queen of roses completely.

"Congratulations on your admission! That's all I wanted to say."

"This can't be", Yanagisawa groaned in a low voice, holding the roses in his arms. Like he didn't want to accept reality, he was shaking his head left and right. Banri, still the dumbfounded outsider, simply lifted his eyes to her smile.

Her skin was perfect, shining like the finest silk. Her hair was perfect, deep brown, curled without a strand out of place. Her figure was perfect, her head slightly tilted to the side. Wearing a snow-white one-piece lace dress, her neck and ears highlighted by pearls, with fine high-heeled shoes and a deep purple handbag at her wrist, in every way the woman was perfect. That such a person could even live and breathe was a complete mystery, she was so unrealistically perfect. Even her voice was as clear as tinkling bells.

"So silly of you, Mitsuo."

Suddenly intense, she looked down fixedly at Yanagisawa from under her long, thick eyelashes. Her lips shining the same deep and glossy red as the roses, just like flower petals, she continued smiling perfectly.

"Did you think you could fool me completely, sneaking off to college? Did you seriously think you could escape? There's just no way. You can't fool me with tricks like that. For Mitsuo to run away from my perfect, our perfect future, such a thing cannot be."

Mitsuo - - - She is calling my Yana-ssan, no, not that he is mine in any way, Yanagisawa by his name.

Still dumbfounded and planted on the ground, their earlier conversation came to Banri's mind. This could be the trouble-making girl who is not his girlfriend, perhaps, after all.

"Mitsuo has been mine for-eeever."

"Wr...wroooongg!"

"You're mine. Don't put up useless resistance ever again. So, see you later!"

She half ran back over to the taxi, which was still parked there. Just before getting in, she noticed a flower petal stuck to her hair. She picked it gently with her fingertip and put it in the palm of her hand, then blew it this way --- I mean towards Yanagisawa, like a kiss. The petal fluttered through the air, clinging once to the tip of Banri's nose, but soon the wind carried it away.

Leaving the two of them and the roses behind on the road, the taxi took off.

"Wha,"

He looked over at Yanagisawa.

"Whaaaaaaa!"

Still holding the bouquet of roses, hair disheveled, Yanagisawa let out a long shout. Banri managed to stand up first, and extended his hand towards him,

"Yana-ssan, get ahold of yourself! Who was that!? I mean, what just happened!?"

Many people were looking towards them, Banri realized. For the most part, everybody was looking at Yanagisawa. He was still sitting on the ground, holding an enormous bouquet of roses, looking a bit out of place in the ordinary streetscape for sure. He was just like a time traveler out of some trendy soap opera from the bubble era. Passing along the street, groups of seemingly new students and businessmen were looking this way. Stares expressing surprise mixed with faint smiles. Some of them were pointing fingers, laughing.

Hey, look. Wow, incredible. What's up with that rose man? With that envelope and all, he's one of the freshmen from our school for sure. So mysterious! What is he doing? Isn't that rather awkward? There was muttering and whispering all around.

A bit disoriented, Yanagisawa stood up. Right then, as if in one last attack, the piled up flower petals came fluttering down from his head. Seeing them fall at his feet, looking at the bouquet of roses held to his chest,

"O..over... my student life... in one day, it's over...! Hahaha... ahahaha!"

Yanagisawa gave a distracted look and thrust one hand into his pocket. And then 'Whee!', pulling out a handful of petals that stuck there, he tossed them overhead. 'This can't go on', thought Banri, his shoulders twitching. As far as problems with the head were concerned, he had quite enough of his own.

"Hold on, Yana-ssan, you've really got to get ahold of yourself! Moreover, look... we have to reach the orientation in time!"

"Am I going to carry these gorgeous roses with me to the orientation!? I'd just be embarrassed, standing out like a sore thumb, and then, for four years of student life, what'll I do!? What do they mean by 'Rose Man' anyway! Like some kind of ''...!"

"Well well, ah, please take this: Congratulations on your admission to the college."

Some freshman girls were staring at them as they passed by, and their eyes met. On the spur of the moment, Banri pulled a few roses out of the bouquet and extended them out to the girls. Whereupon, while saying things like "Eh, is that for me?", they quite happily reached out their hands for them. Seeing this some other girls said, "Those guys are giving away roses?" "You're kidding! I want one!" And they came on over.

This might actually work, he thought.

"That's right! I'm giving out roses! Congratulations on your admission to the college! I'm the Rose Man, please have a rose!"

"...What are you doing Banri?"

"Yana-ssan, you should give some away too. Ah, here you go."

Pulling them out one by one, they handed out more and more roses to people.

"If all other freshmen go to the orientation, holding roses, the only memory that will be left won't be 'On the day of the entrance ceremony, there was this strange guy holding roses', but rather it will have become 'On the day of the entrance ceremony, the freshmen received roses', am I wrong? For that reason, Yana-ssan too, come on, we're giving out a million roses to you and you and you and you! Yes yes, here you go, there's still more! Congratulations on your admission!"

Even the , who were not looking like freshmen, cried "They're so pretty!", and "They're free!", and rushed over excitedly. "Could we please!?", their smiles directed at them.

"...Here you go!"

Even Yanagisawa smiled desperately, showing his teeth in a big grin while giving out roses to hand after hand.

"You are right! If I had stumbled right out of the gate, that Kouko would have had her way for sure. Even if she found out, we will be apart. We'll live in our own worlds. To that end, I went back and forth to cram school so I could get accepted here. In such a place, I wouldn't stumble! I won't become what Kouko wants me to be! My life as a student isn't over yet! Have a rose!"

They had about fifteen minutes left before the orientation start time.

* * *


Kaga Kouko.

That was her name it seems.

She had met Yanagisawa Mitsuo during her first year of elementary school. In those days, Kouko was a delicate, bullied little girl, whom he had protected. Because of this, she had latched onto him with all her might, saying that Yanagisawa was the 'prince of her dreams'.

"From that moment onwards, Kouko's dream has always been just one thing. 'Get married to Mitsuo!' ...scary, really."

"Scary? Why? Isn't that awfully romantic talk? A childhood promise… bound by fate to your childhood friend... sort of. That's good, totally. I mean, she is a really pretty girl, overflowing with charm, like an actress."

"You don't understand. You really don't know what it's like!"

His voice had risen only a little, but the girl seated in front of them looked back at Yanagisawa briefly. Lowering their voices, the two murmured "Sorry", and bowed their heads a little. They had been whispering too loudly.

The new law student orientation was taking place in a rather college-like way, in a wide classroom with seats arranged in tiers like a stairs. On the platform, a member of the Student Affairs department read into a microphone, "You have a duty to comport..." "Every effort to prevent accidents..." and so on, as he read out a number of important points regarding smoking, drinking and such.

A sweet smell floated across the wide space, coming from the deep red roses in the hands of a certain percentage of the students.

"...Didn't you get it from that moment earlier? Just because I don't move on to the same college as her, she ambushes me at the opening ceremony, beats me in the face with a monstrous bouquet of roses, and after she's done harassing me, she gives me a big bright smile and leaves, that kind of woman."

"She's a mess, she really is," he repeated in a soft voice like a groan.

"As far as Kouko is concerned, she has her life scenario fitting her so called 'perfect self'. She only sticks to me as part of that scenario of her perfect life. Whenever I tried to do something,"

Yanagisawa turned his face towards Banri. He separated his forelocks to the sides, disagreeably narrowed his eyes, almost cross-eyed, pushed out his chin, and with a strange tone of voice,

" 'Mitsuo! That's not right!' 'Mitsuo! That wasn't what I'd planned!' 'Mitsuo! Do what you're told!' 'Mitsuo! Faufaufaufa! ' 'Mitsuo! Fafafafafaa! ' ...That's what it was like. Not a way to live."

It was funny, but not at all like her.

"Her face wasn't like that. Rather something like this,"

Banri drew his chin back, batted his eyelashes up and down while looking upward, working his shoulder slowly back and forth, and combed up his bangs... gently,

" 'I've... removed the thorns... n...' wiggle~... wasn't it like this?"

Yanagisawa gave him a cold look and shook his head.

"What was that? No, she isn't like that at all. Of course, what can you know from just one meeting? She is like, ' Fuaaa! Mitsuoo! Nfuaaa! ' 'It's Fuafua! Do Fuafua! Don't FafaFaa! Mitsuooo! Faaaa! '"

"Eh, isn't that just some lunatic? What I saw was 'Oh how silly... Mitsuo... h'."

"No no, she isn't like that at all! She is more like this! ' Faffaa! Faaaaan! Mitsuoo! Faan! ', but also,"

Yanagisawa probably wanted to demonstrate his expressiveness even more, the veins on his forehead showing, he lifted himself a little in his seat, twisting himself around, when finally,

"You there! Stop all that whispering!"

"..."

From the speaking platform a finger was pointing at him in warning. Yanagisawa flinched, awkwardly stiffened, and quietly sat back down on the more than uncomfortable, wooden bench-like seat. His cheeks flushed, he bowed his head while mouthing "Excuse me..." and like that he huddled himself up. Even Banri hurt from the piercing looks coming from around the classroom. This situation seemed even more embarrassing than the attack with the roses.

He snuck a sidelong glance at Yanagisawa's blushing face, who also looked back at Banri, "Don't say a thing", Yanagisawa expressed by simply holding his finger up before his mouth. And then rather than to cause trouble with more whispering, he scribbled something in pencil in the margin of one of their handouts.

'Anyhow, I'll be away from Kouko four years for sure!'

'I won't give up just because of that much humiliation! I'll enjoy my life as a student!'

'Hurray for a new life!!!'

'Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom!!!'

And from the side you could see him grinning. His straight white teeth formed a perfect arc. Yana-ssan must come from a good family and place, Banri thought. Then, taking his pencil, rather than writing an answer, with a big grin, he drew a cat that was shouting "YES!!!".

Moving on to an explanation of the required classes and lectures for graduation, the special courses needed by those who wanted to move on to law school, the special courses needed for the civil service examinations, all of the different kinds of special qualification tests and so forth, they heard all sorts of important explanations, and the day's orientation ended at about noon. When he heard "The ban on recruiting for clubs will be lifted starting this afternoon," Banri looked over at Yanagisawa and their eyes met.

To really enjoy student life, you've got to have clubs. At least, Banri thought so. Selecting a club is, absolutely, the most important requirement, he thought. It happened when accompanied by Yanagisawa, he was just about to get up from his seat.

"Mitsuo! Faafafafa! Faufaufaa!"

"...Eh!?"

Suddenly a voice came from behind them. Banri and Yanagisawa looked back in unison. Banri saw white fingers placed firmly to Yanagisawa's forehead. ...Creak..., only Yanagisawa's head was made to turn around, like it was about to be twisted off from his body.

"Faufaufaufaufaaaaaa! ...am I like this I wonder?"

Yanagisawa's face went white, as if the blood were draining from his head. Reaching over the desk from the seat right behind and a bit above them, both hands holding his head, there floated the perfect smile of Kaga Kouko. Alone amongst the sober shades of blue and grey, shining white in a lace two-piece dress, there she was.

The whole time - - - she had been just behind them. Probably.

"W-W-W-W..." Yanagisawa's lips trembled.

"Why... why are you... what are you doing here!?"

"For the orientation, of course. It's only natural to be here."

Watching as Yanagisawa's face, trembling all the way to his nose, went pale directly in front of her, Kouko smiled, her rosy lips parting slowly. Of course, beautiful white teeth shone between those lips.

"I told you before, didn't I? I said, 'See you later'. Didn't you hear me? Or perhaps... Fafafafafaa!"

With a gesture like a caress, Kouko's beautiful finger slowly brushed Yanagisawa's hair.

"...was what you heard...?"

Her hands were fiercely swept away, and maybe out of frustration,

"What was that for?"

Kouko, still smiling but with a cold voice as sharp as a knife, folded her arms. Striking a pose with her chin lifted a bit, she looked down at Yanagisawa. Her large eyes shone like black jewels, mirroring the shadow of her long eyelashes. In all this, she seemed not to have noticed Banri at all.

"Don't you ask that! What in the world are you doing!? Why are you here at this orientation!?"

"I yielded to your desire and matched mine to it! I enrolled here too."

"Fa..."

"Now that's a happy face. For another four years, we'll be able to study together."

Yanagisawa held his breath, ran his hand through his hair three times, and because his hair was now all messed up, when he looked up at Kouko he looked like the angry ghost of a defeated soldier.

"...Y, your plans, what about them...!? In your plans for the future, didn't you want to move ahead in studying French Literature, spending three years studying abroad in France!? Hadn't you decided to build yourself a career in the fashion business!?"

Letting out a small sigh, Kouko slid her fingers down her glossy hair which reached below to where her chest swelled out.

"A small change was definitely required, but it wasn't difficult. Student life without you by my side would be meaningless. I had been thinking that you and I would go to college together, taking classes in business so we could take over my father's business. But I don't mind. It's the same for me whether my husband owns his own business or works as a corporate lawyer. Mitsuo, you betrayed me, planning to secretly take an outside examination. When I found out I was surprised, of course... but, rather than making a fuss to forcefully stop you, I thought it better to follow you. So I took almost all the entrance exams you took as well."

"...How, could the school of my choice, have gotten out... I asked my homeroom teacher to keep it secret, and yet... I didn't tell my friends, not anybody that I was taking the test..."

"This year they finished the medical faculty building. Did you know? It's called the Kaga Memorial Building."

"It was no problem hearing as much as the school you had chosen." said Kouko, once more showing a calm expression, lips relaxing to a broad smile. Horizontally across her bangs, a blue silk hairband with red-orange patterns framed her round white forehead. From her silhouette, following along to her small chin, and continuing past to the line of her long slender neck, she could hardly be more different from the other co-eds passing behind her. She was too sophisticated.

She had distinct features, that couldn't be described in any other way but being beautifully shaped.

"Aren't you happy too, Mitsuo? That I give you all my heart."

--- More than anything else, her expression of beaming self-confidence made her prettier than any other girl, Banri realized. Yet, she hadn't even noticed Banri's existence.

Yanagisawa, making a face like he'd eaten something bitter, stared back at Kouko, dumbfounded.

"Right? You're happy, right? Answer me, Mitsuo."

"...Unhappy..."

"Really happy, right?"

"...Forever unhappy..."

"The truth. You're happy, right?"

"Unhappy, I said! You're a nuisance! Despite my taking the outside exam so I could get away from you, you've gone and messed it all up! That's not something to be happy about!"

Suddenly, Kouko seemed to notice Banri's presence. She suddenly smiled pleasantly at Banri, who had been standing still next to Yanagisawa.

"Don't mind him. He's feeling out of sorts. Mitsuo is, so to speak, famous for being that."

Tsu, n, de, re.

Heh.

She tapped softly near her mouth with a beige-painted fingernail, and gave a small shrug of her shoulders. Like an actress on stage, she gave an exaggerated wink. Banri had no idea how he was supposed to react,

"Well, hmm, ...My name is Tada. What to say... well, nice to meet you... heh!"

Bending loosely, he pitched forward. Pushing Banri aside, Yanagisawa chose the primitive means of escape, by attempting to run off. "Oh! Mitsuo got away!", with that Kouko ran after him, highheels ringing boldly, running up the stairs. Kouko's beautiful form stood out, capturing the eyes of many freshmen, who then turned to each other to say something. There were quite a few of those, who knew that the gorgeous roses in their hands were originally her gift. Er, there must be guys around who saw the attack at the crosswalk.

"...I mean..."

Then he realized, after all, that he was alone again.

Left behind in the lecture hall, Banri looked around. Yanagisawa and Kouko's argument had drawn looks, and some glances were still turned towards Banri too. Ill at ease, he hurriedly threw the writing instruments left scattered on the chairs, into their envelopes.

"Yana-ssan has left everything behind..."

Gathering under his arm printed handouts of important stuff, syllabi, and various things belonging to Yanagisawa who had forgotten about them, Banri left the lecture hall in long strides up the stairs. They had exchanged their cell-phone numbers and e-mail addresses anyway, so returning them tomorrow won't be a problem.

Leaving through one of the many doors out to the corridor, he joined the swarm of the other freshmen. Plans for going out, first time introductions, the voices and laughter here and there echoed like a small explosion. The school building was old. The light coming from the flourescent fixtures was going yellow, there were braces here and there to stiffen the walls against earthquakes, and for some reason the windows had iron grillwork fitted to them. It was said that at one time this college had been the site of a violent student demonstration, and those things must have been the remains of that time.

Carrying at his side two people's worth of envelopes, Banri slowly descended the steps. In the designated smoking corner of the lobby, some freshmen (it was doubtful whether they had turned twenty or not), suits still on, were already hanging out. Glancing sideways, viewing the destination of the smoke they blew, following the guy in front of him, Banri also left the building.

That very moment.

"Freshman, congratulaaaatioooooons!"

"...Wha...!?"

With a great commotion, before his eyes fluttered a storm of confetti. There was a big crowd of students, many more than just the freshmen.

What started to surround Banri and the other freshmen blinking from this unexpected twist, were all the huge members of the American football club, yelling, and standing in the first row of students. Their big bodies crammed into their uniforms, chanting their team's name in a peculiar way, they grabbed the guys that caught their eye and easily lifted them over their heads.

"You there, freshman, con-grat-u-lations! Up you go!"

"Not me, not me, no way! Excuse meee!"

His eyes having met one of the guys with a helmet, Banri bowed his head to the summons and ran down the entrance steps in a hurry. In front of his eyes, above his head,

"Are you not interested in comic storytelling? We are holding live events for students!"

"Waa, waa, waa ♪ Come and do Glee Club ♪"

"You there, you look like someone who would love camping! The camping research club is over here!"

"The Freshman Comedy Club welcome reception will start at two o'clock! It's free of course, and there'll be drinks!"

Between leaflets being shoved at him, hands inviting him over, and then tons of bursting smiles, Banri's path was blocked over and over again. On the verge of being crushed in the crowded mayhem, all of the freshmen, swinging their idiotic faces like the heads of pigeons feeding, were being coaxed to line up before the desks of the club booths. You couldn't say that the midtown campus was very wide, but every club appearing there now had started their club recruiting meeting, with costumes, music and everything imaginable.

There was a group in varsity jackets with the college name on them, who for some reason were wearing swimsuits and shouldering oxygen tanks. There were masked pro wrestlers in tights building a small temporary ring, miniskirted lacrosse girls with polo shirts, each of them so pretty like a model, and some otherwise unidentifiable guys, who were selling cold drinks from an enormous cooler for 50 yen apiece. "Information on leisurely taking lectures! Everything is printed here!", yelled a gang of reporter-like guys, waving something resembling newspapers, with Mass Communications Research Society written on their sashes.

Even the other uniformed bodies gathered around, tennis, and then judo, which together with the American Football club were suddenly livened up by cheerleaders. Swordfighting and archery were there too. The people in tuxedos and dresses must have been the ballroom dancing club. A cheering party dressed in black school uniforms, they were difficult to approach.

There slightly hunched and short built, somewhat baby-faced, without any aspiration stood an idle Banri. For this, only the clubs with cultural aspects called out to him. "The trains will always be on time!" ...Railroad Research Club? "Why not go to the beach twice a year?!" ...Manga Culture Research Club? "Sunday morning is chaos!" ...Anime Research Club. And stranger, "Detective Novel Mystery Only Research Club", and "Maze Research Club", and even, this one catching his imagination a little, "Gigantic Structure Exploration Club". What could "On Mount Takao, even you can shake the mountain priest's hand" be?

He came back to himself to find that a mountain of leaflets had been pushed into his hands. Washed away by the raging wave of students from all grades jumbled together, Banri couldn't just stand still, and ended up at the center of the square. He intended to select which club they'd belong to with Yanagisawa, but in this madness, this uproar, he had no idea whether he could manage a clean escape.

"Aren't you a freshman!? We're the tea ceremony club, but young men are super-welcome too!"

"Ah, thanks..."

"Then for now, drink drink! Drink drink driiink! Drink driink! Drink drink driiink! Drink drink-ink-ink drink drink-ink-ink-ink drink drink driiink!"

"...Y, yes ma'am!"

Offered, rather insistently, a bowl of green tea, he tasted it while trying not to let the crowd rock his elbow. Gah, he drank the bitter stuff and returned the bowl. The way to drink! Yes, good guy! Clapping, the tea club moved on to their next target, drink driink! To the attack.

The back of his hand might have turned green as he wiped his mouth. At that moment - - - A loud whistle burst his ears. He looked up in surprise. From the other side of the campus, a group, playing Latin music of intense, danceable rhythm, was separating the herd of people, cutting through the crowd. The samba whistle was maddening. They had messed up hair, their own or wigs, gaudy beads woven into cornrows and really long dreadlocks, men and women alike dressed in bright green tight fitting leotards. They all had musical instruments in their hands. Singing in loud voices, they were a parade.

Incredible--- his mouth was hanging open already.

His ears breaking and his body shaking from the sound of the whistle, Banri's eyes were wide open. College is really cool. He hadn't thought it was cool like this. From this point on, for sure, life was going to get really cool.

This fast, arousing rhythm toyed with his body and made him feel like loosing to his instincts. He was convinced. At this place, for sure, he could become a new person. The days he had vainly spent pursuing the vision of his lost self were completely over.

The confetti dancing. The countless leaflets fluttering in the wind. The row of drums. The men's throaty shouts. The women's voices with their high-pitched laughter. Glorious, dazzling, madness of spring. The parade's rhythm shook him furiously, throbbing violently. He closed his eyes, blackout, can't see anything anymore.

Tada Banri.

If you were to open your eyes, you might be able to see your own self reborn. The self waking up in a new room, meeting new friends, and falling asleep in that new room.

Before opening his eyes again, he tried to envisage something like making a wish. He would certainly see a wonderful new world with his new eyes. Fun, cheerful and satisfying, even if he had mistaken those for loneliness or solitude --- the whole of it glittering gold, like being dazzled all the time.

Let's go live like that every day. So many people to meet, so many people to love, so many people to live together with in this world. Banri celebrated the sprout of a new life, and wished this from the season called spring.

If he could live like that, then surely before long he would fall in love.

He wanted to love.

A single person, he wanted to admire someone so much, that nothing else could enter his heart. It may have been a worldly desire indeed, perhaps, but as Banri was an ordinary person, it couldn't be helped. He wanted to meet a single girl. He wanted to bet it all on love. He wouldn't mind if she wasn't such an exceptional partner in every way like Yana-ssan's.

He wanted to throw himself into the currents of fate. Diving into the rushing stream of this new world, the person you should meet, the one you should discover, grab hold of it with your own hands, Tada Banri!

With his eyes still closed he let out a big strong sigh,

"3, 2, 1... Ready..."

Go for it!, he thought, and opened his eyes.

Come on, the encounter of destiny!

Drumbeats all over the place.

"...Eh!? Whoa!?"

Shining before his eyes --- there was a crowd of dancers clad in brilliant emerald green. All the dancers were assembled in ranks surrounding Banri, and were stepping in place wonderfully. He had his eyes closed, ecstatically, lost in a daydream, and by the time he had noticed, the second half of the parade group, the dazzling samba squad had surrounded him. Or instead, because Banri was just standing there he got in the way of the all the dancers, and the parade couldn't flow past him.

"Excuse me, excuse me", apologizing while trying to get through them, the hands and feet moving to the rhythm blocked his escape. Bending back and forth desperately so as not to disturb their choreography, the dancer's steps stabbing between his feet, in order to avoid hitting anybody he had no choice but to match their steps. Bit by bit, kicking his feet, swinging his hips, then in desperation,

"Heeeeeeeeeeeeyyy!"

Stretching out both hands, index fingers pointing to the sky, he gave a mighty pose, shouting with all his heart.

At almost the same time, somebody spun behind him, his headdress scoring a direct hit on the back of Banri's head. Crack! An easy knockout, he was about to fall clumsily flat on his face --- or so he thought for a moment.

His arm was grabbed hard, he was pulled up.

As if dragged out together with his twisted legs, Banri was yanked out of the line of dancers.

Stumbling a few steps he fell over to the feet of other students,

"No 'Hey!' from you, amateur. What were you doing?"

"...Ah..."

He saw that person.

"Freshman?"

He nodded.

The spectacle was outright surreal.

The person who helped Banri --- was wearing a kimono, white with flower patterns. A bright scarlet obi belt. And a . With the hat was secured under her chin with a red cord, her face was almost half hidden. What he could see his eyes were drawn to: full lips, tinged a vivid deep red. Like a scene from a period drama, in the stance of a traveler collapsed and nearly dead on the street, Banri had been caught by a rescuing goddess looking as if she were from the Edo period.

"Which department are you from?"

"L... law department. I'm Tada Banri."

"I'm Linda."

Linda.

His reality was shifting yet again. He'd thought he'd been rescued from samba by a person from the Edo Period, and that person turned out to be a foreigner---

"My name's Hayashida, that's why . I'm a sophomore. See ya later."

---Ah, Japanese.

"Errr...!"

Once he was standing, he involuntarily called after Linda. When she turned, beneath her hat a white face could be seen for a fleeting moment. Contrary to his expectations after her blunt words, she seemed to be a nice person.

"...Um, your lipstick... It is incredibly pretty..."

He had said it before he realized. What an abnormal thing he had blurted out. He had said it unintentionally. It was what came to his mind, at the spur of the moment.

"Disgusting!", she will leave him with those words, but Linda gave him a brilliant smile from beneath her hat. And then, swinging her supple, slim waist to the intense rhythm, she left Banri and turned towards the richly colored ranks of the parade.

As her form was on the verge of disappearing into the crowd, she turned around at the last moment. He could see her kimono sleeve swing as she threw him a kiss.

It knocked Banri for a loop, and he involuntarily slapped one hand over his stricken heart.

Twice in one day already, he'd received a kiss from the opposite sex... One of them wasn't intended for him. But,

"...Wow...!"

Having forgotten his lonely future for the moment, the spring just starting looked to be exciting.