Golden Time

By TAKEMIYA Yuyuko

Golden Time Volume 1 Chapter 4

Golden Time Volume 1 Chapter 4

Golden Time 1: Chapter 4[]

Chapter 4[]

Tada Banri is turning into a tuna-fish.

In spite of being awake, he can't seem to get up, his body stretched out on the bed and his eyes open in slits, just like a cat's. He is just like a tuna-fish hauled up to Yaisu... for a half-hour already Banri has been like a tuna-fish.

In the entrance-way, corridor and the kitchen, despite it being early in the morning, the veil of darkness has been torn, as if forgetting the night. In the shadowy corner, sitting on a second-hand stool, I've been watching Banri, the tuna-fish.

Facing the two open windows to the northwest, today's weather looks good again, the morning sunlight shining in gently through the cotton curtains he had purchased at a home-center. But as bright as it is around the window, the light doesn't reach to the middle of the room.

By the time they were deciding on this room, they had stopped hesitating over other possibilities. If the place had been a Japanese-style room facing south, then by this hour even the room's nooks and corners would be brightly lit by the morning sunlight, and it would certainly feel nice. Of course that property was good, I am thinking even now. But the wardrobe was big. That room's closet is too small, and already clothes, pajamas, bags and such are already starting to be scattered here and there.

Wrapped up in an eggshell colored sheet, his face still a little puffy and disheveled, Banri as usual was only just opening his eyes. Banri's body wasn't moving, and the still unhealed scratches and sores over all his body were not to blame. Neither were the new complications with people, nor the hectic life of a student, nor the feelings of getting used to living alone.

Every now and then, Banri searches for me.

It's getting to feel as if by holding on to his dreams he was getting clues, as if he thinks that by not moving, he might catch his quarry unprepared, so with his eyes alone he is searching for me. He is understanding that it is futile, and he is planning to stop, but he searches anyway.

"How does he hope to find me?", as if he could hear me if he tried. But even if he could hear, "What in the world? Why are you searching?", he wouldn't understand. Finding and catching me, would that return me to inside of him? Or perhaps, would he erase me entirely? Even so, that guy would not even understand my so-called existence. Such a thing he just cannot do.

So then, Banri, realizing the impossibility of what he was doing, as usual became dejected. Taking a breath, he closed his eyes once more, as if he were awfully tired, bothered by nothing working, and before long crawled under the sheets once more. However many times he did it, even leaving his parents' home and living alone, Banri still didn't change. Still, here he was.

I knew what Banri was going to do next. After all, haven't I seen this show so many times before? Hiding under the sheets, Banri has after a while fallen asleep again. In the time I've existed, after all, how many times has he fallen into this trap? It's called falling back to sleep. This sleep is strangely powerful, heavy and deep, hitting Banri all at once. Even having set his cell-phone alarm to wake him up, with a required exposition on criminal law that he hadn't even started on, Banri doesn't even twitch.

Getting down from the strangely comfortable stool, I approached the bed. Buried near the pillow was the cell-phone, once more making noise. This time it wasn't the alarm that went off. It was from Linda. Wake up, Banri.

If he were to out and say, "Hello, who is it?", Linda would sure be surprised. ...But no, she wouldn't be particularly surprised, would she? There wasn't anything mysterious about calling Tada Banri, or going out with Banri either, in a normal world was there?

Anyway Banri, wake up quickly. ...In other words, really get up. The noise from the alarm or from the cell-phone is making the lady next door mad, and she's hitting the wall. There it is again, the strangely hard sound is frightening.

Doesn't that hurt her fist?

* * *


"Mr. Two Dimensions! Hey thanks! Heeyy Thaaankkss!"

"Noo proobleeem! Catch yooouuu laaateeer!"

"Toomoorrooww! Aarrouunndd luunnchhtiimmee!"

"Soouunnddss fuun!"

"Oookaaay theenn!"

"Toomoorrooww theenn!"

Giving a big wave, as if somebody were leaving the dock on a ferry, Banri saw off Mr. Two Dimensions, who went ahead at a brisk pace. He could see his back as he was swallowed up in a group of students, like a young girl holding both hands before his chest,

"Mr. Two Dimensions, Satou Takaya-kun... good luck with your job at the tempura shop! No matter what, don’t get yourself burnt...!"

He earnestly wished still more. As it happened, Mr. Two Dimensions' high-school nickname was "Satou Taka". Anyway, according to the guy himself, rather than be called by that name, he preferred Mr. Two Dimensions "forevermore."

Yanagisawa, staring at Banri with an amazed look in his eyes,

"Causing problems even for Mr. Two Dimensions, really, what were you doing?"

He drank down the cloudy green tea he had put into a bottle of black oolong tea. "In other words," his voice continued awfully scratchy, now in scolding mode.

"When I first saw your text message, I thought that was absolutely the strangest thing ever. Really, were you truly in mortal danger? How could you not notice? To begin with, taking along new students who weren't even proper members of the club to a training camp in April, wasn't that a bit strange? And you followed along blindly even so?"

Not even talking back, Banri's shoulders slumped. His honor as the elder, completely fallen. In the past such a problem didn't exist, even in theory.

That nightmare of a Saturday, driving back to Tokyo with the freshmen, Mr. Two Dimensions was unable to contact Banri and Kouko, no matter how much time went by, and wondered if he ought to report it to the police. He finally was able to get connection to Banri's cell-phone, and when he'd managed to explain the situation, "Are you all right!? We're fine~, Kaga-san had left too, we were really scared~!", Mr. Two Dimensions was crying into the phone. "Sorry for leaving you behind", he said again.

Remembering it now, he was truly sorry. Having caused somebody to worry about him, having been apologized to, all of it was inexcusable.

"Enough, really... even I don't understand my foolishness... a feeling like 'help me'. Save me from myself!, so to speak."

"But though there's Banri, there's also Kouko. She is such an airhead!"

While Yanagisawa leisurely went descending the stairs, he gazed longingly at the bit of tea powder stuck to the bottom of the bottle and let out a sigh.

"Did she even understand what kind of dangerous situation she was going through? ...Anyway if she was safe, then I suppose it was OK."

Banri pushed the arch of his foot against a corner of the stairs in order to shamble after Yanagisawa. The hard corner stimulated his still-sluggish feet. Having done so felt good, somehow.

They were engulfed in the hustle and bustle of school building at lunchtime, with people heading to the cafeteria and others heading to meeting places, some coming, some returning, some meeting, some separating. The people coming and going to their destinations made a lot of noise. Owing to the classrooms being on an upper floor, Banri and Yanagisawa, like Mr. Two Dimensions, watched the people coming up from the lobby one floor below.

At a landing of the stairwell, while gleefully swinging around a corner by catching the handrail, Yanagisawa looked down at Banri's face.

"In spite of having sent a text-message, 'Don't go, it looks suspicious', there wasn't even a reply. What about that?"

"Omaken"

"So, if you hadn't accidentally run into those Omaken people, wouldn't you have been in real trouble?"

Nodding while saying "Yes, you're right", he slipped at the corner trying to do the same thing Yanagisawa had done. Yelping idiotically while dropping his briefcase, he banged his shin against the steps, a direct hit. He saw stars. A group of girls passing close by laughed a little.

"...Hey, what's he doing? Banri's really dumb, isn't he?"

Unable to even answer from the pain, Banri then and there crouched down on the stairs. It's not as if he'd been endowed with the physique, power and will-power of Musashibou Benkei. Even if Banri were your average person, or perhaps some low-life rascal, keeling over and dying from the impact would not have been funny.

"O...www...!"

"That must've hurt. That made quite a bang. Right on the shin, too. Aah, just because I couldn't get ahold of you, was I going to just casually text Kouko!?"

"...To Kaga-san? ...That... well certainly... 'Fuaaaaaa!'...?"

While rubbing his shin to dull the pain, Banri looked up at Yanagisawa as he gathered up Banri's stuff. Yanagisawa shook his good-looking face from side to side.

"No, the surprising thing is that there was no answer. Ever since Saturday I've been completely ignored, in the usual way. Apart from that night, she's not paid any attention to me at all. ...Did she get back safely?"

"For sure, brought back together in the car of an Omaken senpai, an older girl."

"You went together to her house? Her parents' home?"

"Well, maybe, what of it? She called, ‘It's over there, this is good enough, thanks for the help!' and got out at the intersection, though."

"Which intersection?"

"Which, I cannot say... or even if it's all right to say."

For now, he bent over and tried to see how things were going with his still hurting shin. When he rolled up the cuff of his bluejeans, his limited vision shook.

Behind Yanagisawa. Stunningly bright, rose-pink with a bold, dark red flower pattern. Silk fluttering lightly, one-piece dress wonderfully frilly. At this point, he had no idea how a person could be so skilled at dressing up stylishly in such gaudy clothing.

He made a small ‘x' sign with his finger to be quiet, warning him "It's Kaga-san, over there!" He sent Mitsuo a private signal, as he was half hidden from Kouko by a fire door.

Emphasizing more than usual her luxuriant hair, a snow white hair-band. Sandals and bag also snow white. Even at a distance clearly beautiful, lips painted deep red, today's Kouko again was perfectly lovely.

Yanagisawa turned his back, not noticing. Kouko, in effusively good humor and spirits, showed her sparkling smile and spun herself around so as to show the hem of her skirt especially for Banri. She looked for all the world like a matador. The other students passing behind her looked with skepticism, even hostile glares at the strangely behaving, gorgeous, perfect Kouko. Banri, however, understood the meaning of Kouko's mysterious behavior. The girl hadn't even replied to the text messages from her beloved Yanagisawa.

Shortly Kouko frowned, troubled by the situation with Yanagisawa, but trying to move on. That scenario would eventually have to result in "Kuoukuoo!" In short, moving on to the stage of "Look here, take me!" Yanagisawa was the bull. The matador, Kouko.

That Yanagisawa's gaze was suddenly directed intensely beyond Banri.

"Chinami!"

Reflexively, Banri also turned around and,

"Ah, it's Yana. What'cha doin'?"

A short girl, like a middle-schooler, was approaching them with a smile.

It was the first time he'd seen her.

Or rather, that voice. It was so cute, Banri found himself smiling automatically. Not in the sense of acting like a fool, of course.

"We had classes down below, and now that it's over we were coming back up. What's Chinami up to, by herself?"

"Yep. Being a good kid, this afternoon I've got nothing going on. I'll be alone at lunch too."

Completely the voice actor, doing roles like young girls chattering, she was what you could call an anime voice person.

She didn't seem to be assembled quite right: looking too young to be a student, with a voice too sweet. It hardly suited her small form. In other words--- her voice wasn't the only cute thing.

For a first meeting with the girl, she was somehow excessively cute. The more you looked at her, the prettier she seemed. While Banri without thinking focused on what he was seeing, yet he wanted Mr. Two Dimensions to see, as he thought these dimensions took cuteness to a new level.

Her visibly long, soft hair was only loosely gathered, and in spite of not wearing makeup her skin seemed to glow. Her looks and small build made her seem like a child from some foreign country. Showing a boyish silhouette in worn demins, but matched with a handmade lace-collared blouse, she had some sort of rustic outfitter's day-pack on her back, the which made her delicate form stand out in the crowd.

Whether that was stylish or not as girls go, for the time being, if you looked at it through Banri's eyes as a boy, it was a bit clumsy, or rather, to put it bluntly, primitive, he was thinking, but strangely, it was good. Setting aside whether it suited his taste or not, if there were a hundred guys, ninety-five of them would be trying to get her attention, trying to touch or poke, trying to get a reaction. Wouldn't he be thinking of such things? Of course Banri was amongst the ninety-five.

"Come to think of it, you two haven't ever talked before, right? Banri, this is Chinami. Chinami, this guy is Banri."

"Don't call me that!", unexpectedly speaking in unison, Banri and that kid, exchanging glances with Chinami. With a soft voice Chinami laughed. She smiled with her eyes too, and they turned into lines. She seemed to be smiling innocently, with nothing hidden on the other side of it.

Not saying even a single word, Banri looked back at her smiling face earnestly. And then Yanagisawa was looking at Chinami too. Intent on not missing even an instant, his eyes were chasing after her, not even blinking, watching Chinami's smiling face, like a fairy spontaneously coming out of the deep, thick forest. Even Banri could see what was going on.

This feeling. This Yana fellow. It seemed like---

"No way! We said it in harmony, didn’t we? Pleased to meet you. I'm Oka Chinami. Yana and I met at a film research club recruiting party."

---She was just right for him.

"Err, nice to meet you. I'm Tada Banri. Yana-ssan almost certainly has some connection with my previous life. Or rather, Oka,"

"Call me Chinami. Being called 'Oka' makes me sound like I'm an old maid."

"Ah. Then hey Chinami, China... excuse me, but this is a little awkward. I'll call you Chinami then. Chinami, ...excuse me, even this is hard to stop. Eh, Oka..."

Chinami looked at Banri's face, apparently with great curiosity as he spoke stupidly. Her dark eyes were a little bleary from being a natural airhead. It gave the impression of little letters spinning around in the middle of the pupils in her eyes. Inside such as little Chinami, around five hundred little heart marks wanted to call out. No no no, come back to earth.

"With Oka, that makes the third person with a two-syllable last name. There's Tada, Oka, and one more person, ...Kaga..."

With that tricky way of mentioning Kouko's name, Banri was casually trying to get a reaction from Yanagisawa. But the expression on his face didn't change. Didn't change, or perhaps because he was too enchanted, staring fixedly at the adorable Chinami, that other things, for example Banri's uninteresting and plain face, weren't even noticed. It appeared that he didn't even hear the name of his inconvenient childhood friend.

Chinami's eyes twinkled from Banri's dumb joke while she nodded at him.

"Wow, is that so? There's Hara, the girl in Film Research too! Counting Mita, the guy from phys-ed, just how many two-syllables are there here? This time, why don't we gather together a few two-syllable people and have a small drinking party? With this unexpected connection, we might have gotten something fun! Then I'll call for Yana too. Hey look, Ya-na, you're two syllables!"

She bumped Yanagisawa's elbow with her own, messing around.

Yanagisawa, looking even happier from that,

"Huh? But I'm five syllables, my real name has five syllables! We're in different classes!"

He bumped her back, his elbow to hers. His knock was stronger.

"Eh, finally, in spite of your saying you would call me, ihyahya! Hold on, hyaa!"

Chinami's last "Hyahahahaha!" went flying away as high pitched laughter. To blame was Yanagisawa, who was attacking her, tickling her sides. While she was laughing loudly "I'm ticklish! Stop it!" and trying to escape him, Yanagisawa was going after Chinami even harder, torturing her.

Kouko didn't even understand what she was seeing.

Or rather, she did. ...She was there, close by.

Remembering the situation, Banri's breathing caught. With what kind of face Kouko was looking at Mitsuo in his shamelessness, he was afraid to check. Was she about to blow up, or was she in shock?

Unthinkingly failing to read the mood in their behavior, she went to separate the happy couple against their will. Forcing her arm between the two with all her strength, she separated them. Quite angry that he was being touched by Miss Chinami, she grabbed Yanagisawa roughly by the side.

"Ya, na, s, sa, n, it's true that your real name has five syllables! Chinami-chan, let's call him that! In a party for two-syllables he's the wrong kind of guy! He's quite the sexual harasser! Please be careful with the brute! Hey!"

"Haha, that's true! Yana-ssan is five syllables! Hey, stop that!"

"That's not my real name! Or rather, hey, ow, hold on, ouch, really, Banri, what are you doing!?"

"Is this what it feels like to have your chest ripped off!?", with the seriously unpleasant feeling of having his body torn apart at the shoulder, right then,

"...U!?"

Banri saw beige-pink claws, gripping like eagle's talons. There was no sound of crunching from Yanagisawa's bones, but there should have been from the force by which he was turned around.

"Mitsuo, what are you doing?"

Smiling sweetly--- a beauty, no longer a deadly weapon.

Standing firm in her loveliness, Kouko was smiling like a demon.

Her long eyelashes swayed as she slowly winked. Peeking through her deep red lips could be seen pure white teeth, tinged with blue. Striking a balance as if calculated, her dark brown, shining hair fell over her right shoulder.

"...Have I any relation to you? What are you doing?"

Yanagisawa coldly brushed away Kouko's hand, which was grabbing his shoulder.

Banri was strangely nervous, having watched over the situation of Kouko and Yanagisawa for a while now. Standing so close their feet overlapped, Kouko looked up at Yanagisawa, still smiling elegantly. Yanagisawa's good humor took a nose-dive at once, as he looked down at Kouko scowling.

Perhaps, Kouko should not have made her appearance. It would been better if she had simply played at, "Look what I caught!" So Banri thought. Nonetheless,

"Is there something going on here? What do you have to say for yourself?"

She really ought not to speak that way, like warning a child, as if looking down upon him, her nose in the air. She shouldn't be showing that perfect smile, as if she were enjoying herself, tormenting him. Stop it, Kaga-san... though he was thinking so, the message wasn't getting through to Kouko.

Kouko, still showing a shocked expression, gave one small shake of her head, causing the hair prettily wound about her slender neck to come undone and fall downwards. Folding her arms elegantly, she slowly raised her chin higher. She posed in a way that shifted her weight to one leg. Her frilly skirt fully fluffed out, emphasizing her slender waist, her silhouette was completely that of a queen bee.

"I don't want other women chatting with my lover."

"I am not your lover!"

"'Just chatting, but cheating', how many times have I said that?"

"'I am not your lover!', how many times have I said that?"

"I would like you to stop doing things I hate."

"How you fail to understand what I'm saying."

"Mitsuo says things like that because he doesn't listen. 'I would like you to stop doing things I hate,' I said. It'd be good if he'd obey, too. Because with only that much, everything can be made perfect."

Chinami was still stiff, as if surprised, just watching the strained argument between Kouko and Yanagisawa. Then she quietly turned one eye towards Banri. She whispered to Banri, "What's happening?", but her voice was noticed,

"What in the world?"

The haughty eyes of the queen bee looked impatiently at Chinami.

"What was that?"

"...Eh? That...m, me...?"

"Where did that voice come from?"

"Fr, from my mouth..."

"Mouth! From your mouth! That voice! What in the world!", Kouko as if amazed opened her eyes wide, looking up once to the heavens. And then turning about with her perfect smile,

"Though it doesn’t matter that this mystery person showed up, to take a pass at Mitsuo for the moment. I am not begging, but commanding. Mitsuo isn’t just a lover. We’ll be planning our marriage soon. Understand? Marriage it is, marriage. Ma-rra-i-ge. It is destined. From the start you and I have been set apart from the world. Understood? Do you not understand? Understand! Now! At once! Right here!"

Pointing her finger at her, she approached Chinami.

"Eeh...?", Chinami, truly bewildered, blinked, unable to say anything.

Face to face, the difference in their heights was less than four inches. Richly colored brand-name clothing and sparkling jewelry on her, Kouko with one hand on her hip, her chin raised. And then looking down on the petite Chinami,

"---Hmph. Oka Chinami, eh?"

She looked at her with both eyes, as if examining something smelly a cat left at the side of the road. Unexpectedly, her high-heeled sandals were stepping on the toes of Chinami's boots. Banri too reflexively gulped, seeing she was willing to fight dirty. Certainly the type to put a thumbtack into a rival's toe-shoes. The type to have a pin on their fingertip when giving a handshake.

"I remember that name, for sure. Though I don't know what I've Chinami'd, well, do you like to Chinami? You live on your own? By all means, do as you please."

"...Huh...? Rather, you see, unfortunately my feet..."

"However, somewhere else in world from where we're at. Don't come near us. Don't bother us. Don't come near Mitsuo. Mitsuo is mine. Is that warning enough? Understand that there will be no warning next time."

"Kouko, stop it."

His handsome face freezing like a Noh mask, Yanagisawa stood in front of Kouko, giving Chinami his back as if to shield her.

Kouko, unconcerned, simply brushed Yanagisawa aside, putting herself even closer to Chinami. Bending over Chinami's forehead, her lips so close she could have kissed her, Kouko's fingertip pointed up at Chinami's chin like a gun.

"It's because you attacked. People like you are eliminated in a moment. Because that's the world. ...I will do anything. If you don't like that, then go to the ladies room and shiver, but why don't you leave? Why don't you just go hibernate for fifty years, or better yet a hundred twenty years."

A sweet voice coming from an elegant smile, she was a complete villian.

"Hey, didn't you realize? Isn't it really bad manners to reach out and touch other people?"

"Kouko, shut up."

"Hey, aren't you ashamed?"

"Shut up! Behave yourself!"

Grabbing the chain of Kouko's purse, Yanagisawa pulled on it. Losing her balance on her high-heels, Kouko took a quick step, staggering. Looking up at Yanagisawa's expressionless face, it seemed like for the first time she realized. She was dumbfounded for a moment, but immediately tried to regain her queen-bee expression,

"Go somewhere else."

"...So it is, Mitsuo. Send me a text-message, thanks. What we talked about, OK?"

"That's enough, I'm leaving. Chinami, let's go eat lunch. Banri!"

Called out to, Banri gulped, strangely awkward.

"Well, that, err, I... we have an appointment with that Omaken senpai. ...Kaga-san and I together."

Yanagisawa never even looked towards Kouko. Still as expressionless as ever, he looked at Banri's face for three seconds.

"OK. Then I'll text you when we get back."

He turned his back to them.

"Ah, Yana-ssan!"

Still uncomfortably holding his tongue, he left, walking beside Chinami. He called after that back.

"You have to put water in before you can drink it! And then the tea powder!"

"Calm down!", he thought, "Calm things down a bit!" It had no effect at all. Yanagisawa raised one hand as if tired, turning back to only Banri, answering "later". Parting the stream of students, their backs shortly disappeared.

Banri let out a long breath. While combing up his bangs, he returned to Kouko's side,

"Kaga-san, hold on, say what you like..."

He paused to catch his breath again.

"...However you want to say it, what was all that...!?"

The detested side of Kaga Kouko, the villian, was standing behind him.

She was so scared that sweat was running on her forehead, on her neck, in fact, from all over her body. I could tell since, right now, wham! I was able to see that she was proudly folding her arms, perhaps by chance that pose,

"...By chance are you hiding the sweat of your armpits...?"

Kouko didn't answer. As if she hadn't heard anything, she was looking away, her face beautifully composed.

Nonetheless, her whole body strangely bathed in sweat, she stayed put, both hands holding her armpits. Even her face was settling down to a blank expression, deathly pale. Normally she would be brighter, her expression clearing.

"For once, are you feeling guilty...?"

Still unable to open her mouth, she suddenly nodded at Banri's word.

"I mean really, something's already dripping... it looks pretty bad... are you OK?"

Once more, a nod. And then a few words, "Since there is no bread, I want to eat cake," though with a note of sarcasm,

"Perhaps I should go dry myself in the bathroom."

Simply that.

Sure, why not..., Banri nodded. While seeing off Kouko to the girl's bathroom, her arms still folded in a strangely stiff pose, he checked the time on his cell-phone.

"Well..., if you could hurry up... it will shortly be time for our meeting with Linda after all."

Shaking her head quickly as if she were a broken puppet, Kouko disappeared beyond the bathroom door.

That was the last he saw of her figure.

---But that was not at all what he meant. Kouko appeared again after several minutes. She had at last put on the cardigan, and her hair and makeup was perfect. "Sorry I took so long, Tada-kun", even showing a smile, it seemed she had managed to restore her normal, entirely perfect outward appearance. But,

"...Are,"

"Don't go asking 'Are you OK?', because I'm fine."

"...Bu,"

"Don't go saying 'But you see,' because I'm fine."

"...Ka,"

"Don't go saying 'Kaga-san, what are you doing?' Don't go telling me 'Are you an idiot?' Because I understand. I know. I'm foolish. Yes, a big disaster. Yes, yes, yes, I'm guilty. I was hated for that again today. On the way to the disaster I already knew it, but I could not stop, I could not admit defeat, knowing how many years I've been doing the same thing over and over again, something I cannot give up! So it is, because I'm a fool! But having been convicted, there's nothing I can do about it! And I can't turn back the hands of time! ...But sorry about that, let's hurry up. Let's not keep the Omaken senpai waiting."

Not letting Banri get a word in edgewise, with a toss of her hair Kouko walked out.

Since were it possible to say anything like "You're looking good now", then she would probably have to reply "Do you really mean it?"

The sound of her high-heels echoing wasn't as confident as usual. Neither her energy, nor her spirit, not her vitality, nor hardly anything else was sufficient.

* * *


Regarding the rescue of Banri and Kouko after they got into their mess in the mountains, the start of term training camp for the "Japanese Festival Cultural Research Society" was going on in the seminar house. ...Their nickname, Omaken. The nickname came from ''. She said, "There was talk going around the student affairs office right away, you see. 'A strange bogus club was trying to infiltrate the school, scattering pamphlets around, inviting people to join.' "

She was Hayashida-senpai.

Hayashida Nana, her nickname Linda. A natural born Japanese. This was the person that first noticed Banri when he called for help.

"You did such a thing for our sakes?"

While walking close behind, in spite of Kouko speaking, Linda was looking over her shoulder, and could be seen smiling and shaking her head. Seeing her that way, Banri was once again surprised at how unexpectedly normal a person she seemed to be. ...Wasn't saying such things rude? But, this Linda before him chatting and the Linda which on the day of the entrance ceremony materialized before him from the Edo era and threw him a kiss, he had a feeling they were the same person.

Just a little shorter than Kouko, with a softer voice, walking briskly with both hands stuffed into her pockets, her attitude was recklessly peaceful, filled with quiet force.

"It wasn't just for you two! It's self-defense, sort of."

There was that face. That of a saint.

Because of with her gentle, beatific face, even her long stride, even her casual way of talking, she didn't seem boyish in any way.

"'Omaken', to put it simply, do research into the old and admirable Japanese custom of the Cultural Festival, taking part in those times, leaving a legacy for future generations... though we're doing the typical activities, though you could say our presence is not required."

With every word she said, Linda's colorless lips seemed to wrinkle, pursing tightly.

"Of course, isn't it a little suspicious? I cannot say for sure that festivals and religious beliefs are not completely unrelated. Not that long ago, there was a big religious sort of event around here, and I've heard that for a long time afterwards they kept our club under a close eye, suspicious of us. Given that background, we've tried to present ourselves as a perfectly normal, respectable club whenever we have the chance. We tell everybody, 'We aren't strange, really, and being lumped together with such strangeness is troublesome for us. We would like to cooperate with you fully to expel these suspicious elements.'"

"I see..."

Nodding while walking alongside Kouko, Banri casually gave the elbow of her cardigan a tug. The two of them stepped quietly over some Monday Special, thrown out earlier in front of a tavern, not looking down at it.

In this part of town, a lot of old office buildings one after another, more than students one could see the forms of salarymen out for lunch. Their company IDs hung from their necks but stuck in their shirt pockets, the white-shirted forms moved along in groups, all the tired faced adults, impossible to tell apart one from another, materialized from here and there. Linda, like a worldly cat, easily weaved her way through the gaps in the men. They stuck with her after that, but Banri and Kouko were still a little slow.

"Catching up with you two, well, was really dangerous. Even the Student Affairs Office was saying they understood. It was just now becoming a problem at other colleges. That 'religion', so to speak, might even have been a pyramid scheme, from the awful amount of accessories, amulets and such that were being purchased. It was really good you could escape, oh, you can buy lunch here."

Clad in pretty fluorescent colored Nikes, her feet stopped. It seemed from a glance as if Linda had flinched a little, passing beneath an old sign, carefully lettered. "Auntie!", she called, and a woman wearing an apron appeared from the back at once.

"Good to see you again. We're sold out of today's special, Karaage, croquettes, hamburger and even seaweed bentou. Would you like Tonkatsu or Menchi?"

"Today's special's out!? Karaage and hamburgers too!? What's this place coming to...!"

"If only you’d come 15 minutes earlier..."

"Eh, then we'll settle for menchi."

"It's not polite to call it menchi."

"I'll take menchi gladly! What would you two like?"

Same for me, answered Banri's voice, and Kouko too nodded her agreement. "Three menchi, if you will", said Linda, giving the order. "Three menchi, as you wish", said the lady, immediately taking the order into the back. From somewhere back inside the tavern, a voice sang back "As you wish!" "Oh, possibly...", said Banri slowly bending way back, looking up at the letters on the sign. But, his back was struck by something,

"Don't worry about it, it doesn't matter since it's a chain shop. It was just for the atmosphere."

He was convinced that Linda, with her face of a saint, could see through anything and everything. Hmph, a small laugh in a strange voice could be heard from Kouko. Somehow or other, from the state she was in, sweating all over and ashen faced, she seemed to have recovered.

His mind relieved, Banri with undisguised curiosity,

"By the way, have you ever had menchi, Kaga-san?"

He asked Kouko and watched.

"Have I? Why?"

"Balls of ground meat, dipped in batter and deep-fried in oil. Casual food for the masses, eh?"

"Yeah, I already knew that! There're things to eat, you know."

"There are. ...Is that so?"

Looking at Kouko's face blandly answering, without thinking Banri smiled. Menchi for Kaga Kouko. Such things didn't seem to go in combination. Kouko went with wine, foie gras and caviar. In his mind's eye, she polished an expensive diamond on her finger while drinking expensive imported wine and holding a Persian cat. Wearing some kind of gorgeous gown, naturally, the term "rocking chair" came to mind at once.

Listening to their picking and choosing, Linda too looked back, bouncing her wallet in her hand while watching Kouko and grinning.

"Terrible. It doesn't suit you at all."

Perhaps she was thinking along the same lines as Banri. He said "of course it does", miming holding a brandy glass and rocking his body back forth. When the proper term came to mind, he said "A rocking chair."

"Is that so? But I like menchi. My favorite food is salted fish and smoked radish pickles... With regards to , I'm in the deep blue  club... Err, don't worry, I'm paying."

"That's fine, it's my treat. Though just for today, OK? With how you guys have been looking worn out lately, I'm not worried about collecting $2.50 in lunch money from you."

"Cheap!", Banri exclaimed in surprise. It really looked like there was deflation all around. From now on they needed to check this store, and there was no way he was going to reveal it, even for a certain temporarily down-on-his-luck princeling.

"That, really, must be too miserable. As for me, in dreams I've seen it all. In the dead of night, wearing only house slippers. Four syllables passing through my mind like an escaped prisoner."

"It's not four syllables!"

Like the upperclassman she was, Linda quietly ignored the retort. She got some small change from her wallet and without a word pushed it roughly into Kouko's hand, accepting the three boxed lunches stuffed in a single bag.

"You're welcome! Come again!"

Receiving $10 in change from the lady, she walked ahead of Banri and Kouko once more. Almost an attack, Banri's hand was reaching out, taking the unexpectedly heavy bag.

That night, when Banri and Kouko lost their way, it seems that they had been walking towards the real college seminar house without knowing it. Their shouts in the woods were heard by Linda, and they were rescued by everybody in her training camp. They explained their situation and the next morning, they were sent back home by car.

They owed her a debt of gratitude that could not be forgotten.

Consequently, both Banri and Kouko were already able to commit themselves to her permanently.

They didn't know for sure just what they were doing for Omaken, but whatever they were going to be doing, the feeling didn't change. In this way the decision was made.

Apparently the older Omaken had struggled with a shortage of help in the past. Overjoyed, they had invited the two of them over. So today, as it turned out, just like that, that they were going to show up for the noon meeting.

In the whole little campus town, there really wasn't anything really cool for a clubroom, so under normal circumstances, they gathered around the lecture building first floor lobby table, or got together at a local coffee shop, and then once in a while, like today, they might rent the district meeting hall.

There were so many things they might do: dress up in kimonos and rescue people from samba dancers, opening a rally, sliding down a mountain path riding atop a log, aim at targets while mounted on horses, wolfing down rice cakes, , stuffing themselves with mountains of food--- Japanese festivals were really so many things--- And Banri was planning to do them. Kouko must have been thinking the same thing too.

"Take a look, that yellow building over there. We've been using it for generations. We practice over there, in our first floor club-room."

Linda looked back over her shoulder, she pointed at a rather old three story building. Then,

"Remember it well. Don't forget, first-years."

She smiled at Banri and Kouko's faces.

The line of her jaw was divided into many pieces by her swaying hair, the light of the sun showing through brightly. As it was, as if about to go running she wore a nylon hoodie with a logo on it. Pants reaching only just past the knees. Calves. Slim ankles. Brightly colored, not quite new NIKEs. Her face looked out over the slightly bossy upperclassmen.

She tried to hold herself aloof from the world, light and breezy, but not too invisible. The neighborhood with Linda's form in it grew strangely comfortable for Banri. How in the world did he wind up spending the rest of the day with her? He had a hunch it was going to be fun. Banri's spirits rose at once, but,

"...?"

Suddenly he felt he was suffocating. His feet stopped.

To untangle his memory. "Don't forget!"

"Don't forget, Banri---" It seemed as if Linda's voice were catching in her throat. Making noises in the hot lining of her throat, as if she wanted to cry for him.

...Wanted to, but no, why would she call out to Banri?

"Aren't you coming, Tada Banri! What're you doing?"

Called out to by his exact full name, Banri, confused, shook his head. He didn't understand at all. He didn't have time to stand there and brood. Chasing after Linda and Kouko, he went into the refreshingly cool entrance. Advancing down the dim corridor, they opened a door.

Before his nose, the smells of tatami mats and bentou lunches combined. Like something they'd come to dearly miss, they were everyday smells.

"In here we take off our shoes, OK? You brought first-years!"

Their voices in chorus, "Whoa!", a bunch of people sitting around on the floor looked back over their shoulders. There might have been all of ten people, some of whom they recognized from their disaster. "We're terribly grateful for your help at that time…", they said, once more bowing their heads deeply as they said "It's a newcomer!", "The first newbies of the year!", "She's a pretty one!" and so on, brandishing their chopsticks at them and all of them applauding together in greeting. The atmosphere overpowering him, "Thank you…", said Banri feeling small and taking off his shoes.

Of course, slippers weren't really needed in this room, with its tatami floor. From wearing sandals that screamed "It's springtime!", Kouko was strangely uneasy going barefoot, suddenly becoming shorter, even more than Banri getting smaller and smaller, as she came inside.

Linda waved Banri and Kouko towards the middle of the room,

"That side's the third years, OK? Hi!"

The people in the area she pointed to gathered their voices.

"Hi!"

This time she pointed to an area a little apart,

"And on that side, the second years. Howdy!"

"Howdy!"

Seated in a circle, the people brandished their chopsticks.

"The fourth-years couldn't show, and you first-years are our first newcomers. Thanks!"

Involuntarily echoing, "Thanks!", raising one hand in the same pose Banri was giving them, Kouko simply blinked over and over again. It didn't quite fit her image as a lady.

"Well, first of all why don't we have lunch? Sit over there, here's a cushion."

In an impolite manner, but skillfully, Linda slid the cushions over the tatami, from their line against the wall over to Banri and Kouko with her feet. For her own part lowering herself to sit Indian style, she handed them their bentou lunches.

With Linda sitting on her cushion as if to separate Banri and Kouko, they accepted their lunches. Kouko knelt in a very lady-like manner, spread a large handkerchief over her lap and set her bentou neatly upon it. Banri too, unaccustomed to kneeling, opened up his bentou. Reflexively, a quiet "Whoa..." escaped him. He didn't think it was from deflated prices, but there was a large portion of rice and plenty of side dishes. This, simply put, was happiness.

"This lunch really perks me up... it's good! Will you be able to eat all of yours, Kaga-san?"

"Yes, probably. Linda, thank you for the food."

"You bet. Eat, eat. Since it's OK while we're eating, look over there, won't you? Since you're going to be involved with that group this year."

Linda pointed with her chopsticks at a laptop computer that had been left open on a table set near the window. The wide screen was filled by a video being played back,

"...Ah!?"

Without thinking, Banri slapped his legs. Of course, his chopsticks got stuck in his jeans.

"That outfit, wasn't it an Edo Period cosplay!?"

"Eh...", some of the upperclassmen turned their heads sadly at Banri's voice.

"Very much so! I can't invite anybody into the club without doing something cosplay!"

"I mean, isn't that so? Haven't I ever explained it?", Linda set down her chopsticks for a moment. Raising her face once more, she turned around to face Banri and Kouko.

"Well, you can't really call it cosplay, though. That time I had barely started practicing, really, since at that point I was only dressed the part. We Omaken do something different every year. In fact, last year we were in Yosakoi Soran. We were thrown in as a backup group for a team from an alliance of colleges, though. And now this year we are that!"

On the notebook monitor, the characteristic light step, the waving of hands. Lines of women together wearing bamboo hats and formations of men with twisted hand-towels wrapping their heads. Light out, well into the evening. Crowds along the way, dripping sweat. Japanese summer. Summer festivals.

"Since the Omaken was organized, well, for the second time in four years! What was it now? Yeah, Awa Odori! That's it!"

Excitedly shouting "No way!", they applauded.

"That's just it--- we will be in the Dance of Fools. You will become fools and dance like crazy, newcomers."

From the beginning Banri had been a fool anyhow, but would Kouko be all right with that?

* * *


Staggering, her feet tangled up,

"I, can't... no, self-confidence..."

Kouko muttered in a low, low voice.

While they were walking together, side by side, Banri couldn't find the words to comfort her.

The Omaken senpai were still in the rehearsal room, practicing. Entering the third-floor lecture hall and giving their excuses, Banri and Kouko in spite of being underlings had managed to escape.

"Is there anything to drink? Even water to buy?"

While nodding, Kouko caught a curl that had somehow escaped and went to put it back with her fingertip. It slipped from her fingers and fell back down, all the way to the tip of her nose.

The upperclassmen from other universities that were at the training camp that rescued Banri and Kouko a few days before--- every year, they recruited teams from all over the region to participate in Awa Odori, and gave them personal coaching. And now, Linda was taking the two newcomers who hadn't been to the training camp under her wing, this year's Awa Odori practice having already started,

"My inadequacy... what should I do about it? My sense of rhythm? My reflexes? Or is it more in my head?"

"Sort of. We're still just starting, I've not done it before either."

"I got the feeling you can do it. At least, you have the makings more than I."

"My 'makings' are greatly exaggerated. From the very beginning I haven't had such."

"...But if you don't have it, then where am I...?"

Banri handed over a bottled water he had bought from a vending machine to Kouko, who stood there sighing miserably. Saying "Thanks...", she opened the top to take a drink,

And started coughing.

Had something gone down her windpipe? Kouko was choking and coughing violently. Dropping by the wayside, the lid went rolling towards a storm drain. Kouko followed it with her eyes, moaning "Aaa..." in an extremely miserable voice. "That" Kaga Kouko, up til then had been getting weaker and weaker. If Oka-chan had been there right then, she might have been able to get back at the bully queen--- but unable to say anything because of the mood, Banri quietly watched Kouko as she was.

Not that it was all that hard a thing to do.

In any case, it was only the first practice session. No, calling it a rehearsal was perhaps a bit much. It was just an introduction, no more.

Without even music, their feet still barefoot, just beating time "1, 2, 1, 2". With no distinction between the men’s dance and the women's yet, they just tried beating time on their knees. Unable to speak with Linda, that was all they did.

On the tatami mats, all the Omaken stood evenly spaced, facing a mirror that had been installed on one wall. Then, with their feet spread to about shoulder width, both their hands open and lifted overhead, standing lightly on tiptoes. Calling out, "Here we go!", very casually, bent at the knees, simply rising and falling to the rhythm. "Loosening up, floating, it's the secret to dance", Linda said over and over again.

To this point Banri was having no problem. Some of the upperclassmen could already step out with alternate feet, fluttering their hands about, already doing it in that unique Awa Odori style.

Though what they would do had been decided, his mind spun around, "Awa Odori… is that so? Awa Odori, eh?" He felt awkward, but as he watched the older students lined up, in their T-shirted forms, with their light-footed changing steps, it dawned on him that they seemed a bit cool. Wearing twisted towels for sweatbands, showing stylishly, their heels visible sticking out of rolled down socks, wearing them as if only their toes were stuck in there... even all that was cool. Immediately imitating them, Banri checked that his socks were rolled down too.

However, there was Kouko.

Together 1, 2, 1, 2, for the time being they moved their necks back and forth. Over and over again.

But, they were slipping. Falling into the same rhythm as in the mirror, his head moving with the others lined up reflecting back. By itself, Kouko's head, unsteadily, wobbly, wasn't moving along with the rest.

Did she realize she was the only one out of synch? She was frantically trying to keep up with the rest, yet seemed not the least bit discouraged. From the very start her feet spread, twisting around, pigeon-toed as if she were feeling shy, her shyness held in check desperately, as if clinging to a boulder, her arms gradually descending weakly, towards the front as she had been learning to do. Her face was becoming steadily more rigid from the strain; she was becoming like Kishibojin, about to die.

"Kou-ko, Kou-ko, Kaga Kou-ko! Relax a bit! Take it easy! Laugh! Smile!", Linda over and over again called out to her. Each time, she tried to laugh a little, but Kouko's overly serious dance had no trace of flexibility at all. You got the feeling she was to crack at any moment. Her ever-perfect smile was a hundred million light-years away.

He understood, though he had forgotten the faces, as it was walking forwards and saying to Linda, "...C-3PO?" ---A strange thing, that he could remember something like that perfectly. Without even thinking he had put it into words. Some of the upperclassmen snorted when they heard it.

Kouko stopped practicing at once, her face going red.

"...Omaken, I'm beat, could we stop...?"

Banri was partially to blame in this, too.

Still holding the seemingly useless water bottle with the missing cap, Kouko slumped her shoulders and weakly muttered.

"I mean... sorry, Tada-kun, I, I forgot to give you money for the water..."

"It's OK, it's OK, as far as I'm concerned, it's no big deal. We've only just started. Besides, don't we owe Omaken? Have you forgotten already?"

"I haven't forgotten our debt, of course not. But... I've been thinking that perhaps we're going about paying them back the wrong way. Somebody like me, I'm just a burden. Maybe there's a better way than by joining a club. ...For example, a contribution. ...Or something like that."

"Aren't there other ways of paying them back that are better than money? Besides, if you were to quit, wouldn't that leave me by myself? Let's try to work together a bit more!"

"...Any more, embarrassing, carrying on..."

Looking a bit resentful, Kouko stared at Banri's face.

"That bit about C-3PO was bad of me! Sorry, really. I didn't intend to embarrass you, nor did I plan to tease you, it just came out..."

"...That's OK. Besides, you've not been trying to do such things to me, from the very start."

They started walking once more. Kouko let out a big sigh and spoke to herself.

"So it is... the very idea of coming here to college was a mistake. I've been messing up from the very start. Though I'm late, after all this time... what am I going to do..."

"You've got to where you're saying such things. Didn't you want to come to college with Yana-ssan? For now, that being the case, isn't it all right to say you accomplished that?"

"...But he's been avoiding me like the plague..."

"So lately it's been getting to be a game of playing hard to catch. That being the case, why not just let him be and let's go do Awa Odori, you and I together!"

"...But..."

"And then, on with the plan! We'll kick back and laugh for all to see! In black leather, having whips and whatnot for S&M bondage. Because that becomes Kaga-san."

"...I don't have such things..."

"Then buy them! It absolutely suits you!"

Chatting while they returned to the university building, Banri muttered "over there...", and stopped in his tracks. It was too late to change direction. Kouko saw the same thing Banri did.

At a table in the corner of the lobby, deep in conversation about something fun were the forms of Yanagisawa and Chinami. Since summer vacation they'd always seemed to be together, sitting facing each other, looking into each other's eyes, laughing like idiots, about ready to tip over the bench. It looked like the two of them didn't even realize Banri and Kouko were there.

Feeling as if he were breaking out in a cold sweat, Banri tried to quietly sneak a glance in Kouko's direction. He was afraid that she would charge at them again, just like before, with them as sitting ducks. But, this time, like you might expect,

"...It seems I cannot try today either. It'd be better if I just go home."

"Kaga-san"

"Today's been the worst."

Turning back at once, Kouko, her pretty skirt waving turned and went back down the street they'd just come down. Banri reflexively tried to follow after her,

"Kaga-san..."

"I'm OK!"

As if getting the better of herself, Kouko's voice hardened.

"...Since I'll be returning by taxi, here's fine. See you later, Tada-kun. Thanks for the water. ...Try to think about doing Awa Odori by yourself."

She trotted off, as if escaping from the lobby she left. Left behind alone, Banri must have lost his bearings for a moment.

In the end he returned to the lobby, to the table where Yanagisawa and Chinami were deep in conversation, then attempted to interrupt them by getting up on the table.

"Oh, Banri. What's with that entrance? I'd just now finished a text, I mean, what are you doing?"

"Interrupting your conversation."

Even though Yanagisawa seemed to be laughing merrily, he told him to shut up, and Chinami, looking as cute as ever, quickly rescued a water bottle so the bothersome Banri wouldn't knock it over.

"Hey, Chinami and I, we've officially joined Film Research. Won't you come in too? So let's make a movie, a movie! We might even be able to steal the competition from the upperclassmen."

"But I've gotten involved in doing Awa Odori."

"Ah, Awa Odori? Did you say ‘Awa Odori'?"

"That's what I said."

"...Why?"

"Because of Omaken. Together with Kaga-san."

"Kouko?"

Yanagisawa's eyebrows could be seen rising automatically. Surely thinking about how disagreeable things had been recently. Chinami seemed to be thinking along the same lines, and staring at him.

"Eh, Awa Odori? You're kidding, that's good, where might that have come from? They're doing wonderful things in many places, aren't they! Amazing, amazing!"

Turning a smiling face to Banri, her eyes innocently brightening, she started playfully moving her hands. It wasn't Awa Odori, funny uncle, funny uncle, funny uncle you funny uncle, I couldn't even see you. But.

"...Oka-chan, you're cute, aren't you..."

"Eh!?"

"...And besides, you're a good kid, right..."

"W, what!? What's going on!?"

"...But in truth, are you not awfully black-hearted? Aren't you hiding under that tattered clothing a lush body that wickedly leads boys around by the nose? Is there not blooming, deep in the Oka-chan jungle, its sinful nectar dripping down thickly, a Rafflesia flower?"

"Ehhh...!?"

"...Will it not bloom, the Oka-fflesia..."

"Y...yes!?"

"Hmph, is that so? You've really become Yana-ssan's favorite.", Banri saw Chinami's face go red in apparent confusion. She seemed to be feeling really awkward about part of the nonsensical compliments Banri had been spouting just now. Blinking her eyes, like a lost squirrel just come out of the woods tilting her head, she had both of her hands to her flushed cheeks. So was really cute doing that. Both in appearance and voice she's pretty, honest, innocent and true, and above all there's a very nice feeling about her. Warm, kind, and stable. Very much so. If they were already getting along, then they were the strongest players in the game.

Suddenly, he turned to face Yanagisawa.

"Yana-ssan. I somewhat understand your feelings..."

"So really, what are you..."

"...You'll understand..."

While he gazed down at Yanagisawa's stunned expression, Banri closed his eyes, exhausted. C-3PO, though, was unchanging inside, like Chinami, but its specifications had to have been built in. At least Banri thought so, though unfortunately, it's shiny golden body was a bit too much.

Rather, show off those wires! ...If he had anything to do with it, nobody else would be troubled.

* * *


Tuesday's second period, a lecture on law.

Afterwards, it being time to go and eat lunch together, Banri inserted himself between Mr. Two Dimensions and Yanagisawa, sitting shoulder to shoulder on a bench.

After skipping the period in spite of Law being a required subject, he had the devil's own choice of fourth or fifth period on Saturday, which was almost entirely freshmen (and, a few upperclassmen who'd failed before). Or so he supposed.

He stealthily opened the door in the back of the spacious classroom, so as to not make any sound to alert the professor. Looking over his shoulder, Banri noticed something was wrong. Kouko wasn't there. Crouching down because she was late, a girl he didn't know crept in.

Kouko had not yet materialized. Perhaps she'd taken the day off. Towards the middle of the lecture, in spite of a ban against it, he opened up his cellphone and below his desk started putting together a text message. "Aren't you coming to Law?", was all, without even any funny symbols.

Mr. Two Dimensions lightly poked him in the elbow. Then, with a mechanical pencil on a scrap of Banri's looseleaf paper, "Watcha wanna eat?" "Cafeteria food?" "Mos?" "I want rice." "A Rice Burger?" "Something else.", they wrote to each other in turns. Yanagisawa tapped the two of them lightly with his fingertip, getting their attention, he pointed over to the side with the tip of his pen. Chinami was right over there.

She kept a straight face, her pocket copy of "The Six Codes" standing on her desk so as to hide what she was doing with her fingertips. Whether stylish for the girls or not, she wore eyeglasses with thick black rims, the lenses jutting out from her face, and it seemed as if she were seriously hiding something she was doing, like sewing or knitting. Carefully moving her fingers in a practiced way, the girls seated to each side were looking on, seeming quite interested. "You're not really serious", she exaggeratedly lip-synched over to Yanagisawa. Mr. Two Dimensions watched Chinami for a little while too, then on the notepad wrote, "Yana's girlfriend? The Arale-chan glasses are a little odd, though in three dimensions they're cute."

If it weren't for the awkwardness, Yanagisawa would have said "Yeah, really." Lip-synching "You - are - wrong" with his hands to both sides of his face, he twisted his muscular body. It looked like he had already forgotten completely the embarrassing events of the day of the opening ceremony. And then, suddenly snatching away Banri's mechanical pencil, he scribbled.

"She's not my girlfriend yet!"

The emphasis made Banri secretly nervous. Yet, it was only part of it. There was also the matter of his mechanical pencil being used. The lead was spent. About 0.001mm had definitely been used up. Yanagisawa didn't notice the nervous aura about Banri, and was writing down even more nonsense.

"Though it'd be nice if there were any hope...if you know what I mean."

He laughed softly, grinning wide enough to split his face.

What was with that face?

Even saying "though", what are you up to? "If you know what I mean" shouldn't be allowed either. Writing it the way he did in particular should not be allowed. He had the urge to kill someone. Just as he was self-consciously composing his irritated face, the cellphone on his lap buzzed softly. It was an answer from Kouko.

"I'm not feeling too good today (sweat drop), so I'm taking a break (sweat drop)."

Reading that through reminded him of the state Kouko was in yesterday.

Getting to where she could hardly keep her feelings of jealousy under control, unfairly condemning both Yanagisawa and Chinami, and then, in that way, towards herself more than anybody or anything else, she looked like she was hating, feeling ashamed of, shunning and condemning herself. Her appearance shouted, "What's the use? What's done is done."

When in situations where others could see her, not a single drop of sweat would fall from her. Not for one moment would her smile fall. Reigning like a queen, she could not be ignored. Hiding herself alone, her whole body in a cold sweat from embarrassment and regret, unable to get up and come here this morning, there wasn't a single person in this world able to understand the clumsiness of such a girl --- but no, was there? To other girls, to this world, she was only one more.

Banri closed his cellphone and held it tightly. A person who had been able to glimpse all the abundant opportunities for this untrained girl.

Was there one around here?

"Chinami isn't just cute, she's interesting, she's got a good personality and a really good head. Seriously, she's just right for me!!!!!!"

---And here he was, scrubbing roughly with his erased the exclamation marks Yanagisawa had written so emphatically they'd extended out over part of the notes he'd taken from the blackboard, as if he'd gotten angry. "Ah, what!?", he muttered at Yanagisawa as he quickly erased it. Erasing while thinking.

Getting bothered by such a thing as this.

He was feeling irritated, even mad.

What is this state of so-called 'perfection'?

Having neatly erased back to the conversation with Mr. Two Dimensions, Banri turned a sullen face towards Yanagisawa. "What was that for!?", Yanagisawa cast a bewildered eye back at Banri. He had no idea just what he should be doing. He didn't know what he wanted to become. But no, he didn't want to get angry at friends, nor at Yana-ssan. But he wasn't able to control himself.

But if he were to write "But of course, he loves Kouko most of all. He will date Kouko and marry her.", would Yanagisawa be happy about it? Would it make this irritation go away? But simply thinking and theorizing about it wasn't going to make it happen.

It wasn't funny.

Not understanding at all what Kaga Kouko was to Yanagisawa, that wasn't funny.

But in the meantime--- he only barely understood women, immersed as he was in simple illusions about them. He was already drunk with an unbased sense of superiority, seeing that even though Yana-ssan could not understand the foibles of his childhood friend, he himself, having hardly met her, was understanding her. Though there was really no way she would want to come and check him out, he wanted to think there was.

He shoved his cellphone firmly into his back pocket.

Is there really such a thing as giving sympathy?

To become convinced that somebody else is quite like oneself, adding on their cares as if they were your own, getting close to that person, and feeling their pain as if it were your own. Is that what is called giving sympathy? If that is so, then sympathy seems to be quite selfish, and borderline hysterical.

Besides, one wouldn't have any control at all.

"If there's hope for Oka-chan, what about for Kaga-san?"

Taking back his mechanical pencil from Yanagisawa's hand, Banri scribbled in rough strokes. "Eh!", Mr. Two Dimensions looked towards Yanagisawa's face in surprise.

"Is there some connection between Kaga-san and Yana?"

"Kaga-san has wanted to marry Yana-ssan since they were kids."

"Wha!? What's that!? Are you kidding!?"

"Kaga-san is in LOVE with Yana-ssan"

"!?!?!?!?"

Yanagisawa wrote all over Banri's writing with his pen, erasing it. And then, frowning at Banri as if they weren't friends, he wrote boldly.

"I've told Kouko clearly whenever I've had the opportunity. Though I've always said it clearly, this time for sure, I made it clear. I made it understood. Because Chinami and I are thinking we really want to go out."

"Opportunity, when!?", Banri thought, unable to say anything from emotion, looking down at what Yanagisawa had written.


Kouko was nowhere to be seen around school Tuesday, nor Wednesday.

Perhaps it was just a little time to recover and come back, and the mail that Banri received was about Thursday night.