Golden Time

By TAKEMIYA Yuyuko

Golden Time Volume 3 Chapter 1

Golden Time Volume 3 Chapter 1

Chapter 1[]

Tada Banri bowed his head to the Kaga parents.

And then I... backed off to get a wider view.

This me is a ghost, having died, but ordinary living humans would have been forced to back off from this point too. This woman, Kaga Kouko. She must be a rather important person.

At any rate, this evening's arrest was a sight to see--- Sticking my ghostly face into it so, I was enjoying myself to the max in other people's problems. What had happened in these past few hours was relevant even to me.

It was about two hours ago.

With such awful offenses: drinking while underage, even stealing a bicycle, she was interrogated in a room at the police station. Banri was with her too. And then, inevitably, as Banri's guardian spirit this me was with them too.

Separated from Kaga Kouko by the several policewomen guiding her, he proceeded uncomfortably under the cold flourescent lamps and was led into a room with some small sofas squeezed in.

The room didn't look like it was "for criminals," even the door was ajar. Even though it was the middle of the night, there were people hurrying in and out, and noisy offices nearby. It seemed to be a space for having meetings.

He was made to wait there for a little while. No, quite a while.

Up to that point the very picture of hesitation, looking around nervously, Banri had become the incarnation of nervousness, jumping even when he was given some tea. Before long, one after another, a bunch of rough-looking middle-aged guys in windbreakers, punch-perms and radios firmed fixed to their hips appeared, saying "Well, well." They passed them papers and told them, "Write clearly, OK?" Made to write his name and address, in the space of one breath his good fortune fading, his nervousness returned and he began to tremble.

So that's how it was. Even he was nervous. Scared, even. Would these signed documents remain his whole life? Would these not haunt him when he went to find a job? He was caught like that when suddenly and ominously, the ring of an incoming phone call echoed through the floor.

'Errr,' Banri's mouth opened and a feeble voice came out. His face fell into a servile smile.

"Is she being arrested...? I, I, I mean, well, though I am to blame... per, perhaps..."

With nobody sitting in the sofa facing him, the old guys--- the police officers in the prime of their lives, were bending over to stare Banri straight in the face. Banri, in desperation, spoke as honestly as he could.

With his fellow classmates from college, though they were underage, had against better judgement gone out drinking. In retrospect, it was a disaster. There were problems related to his memory loss, and to the stress of the preceding days. Perhaps persuaded by his drinking, he had dashed outside to the dangerous streets. Kaga Kouko, before causing her own accident, desperately chased after him to ensure his safety. However, unable to keep up on foot, requisitioned the bicycle temporarily, or rather, borrowed it. The result turned out like this.

They had caused a lot of trouble, both for the owner of the bicycle, and for the public in general.

"...Really... I am very sorry...!"

While sunken in the sofa, leaning forwards, Banri suddenly bowed his head. It might turn out pretty bad if he told them exactly where they had been drinking... Of course, nobody noticed me, anxiously by Banri's side. With regards to the responsibility for the underage drinking, even the club might be implicated.

'Hmph,' they could not see his emotions, but his voice carried strangely well, and one of the police officers nodded.

Made to write the address and phone number of his home in Shizuoka, his parent's cell-phone numbers and the name of his hospital on a fresh sheet of paper, Banri's hand holding the ballpoint pen trembled shamefully. He calmed down, but the hand holding the paper was trembling, and getting as cold as mine. If this body had substance, my hands would be sweating like crazy for sure. Forms in hand, the police officers left the room.

And then, when a little more time had passed, he noticed two shadowy human forms hurrying towards the still open door. At the sound of footsteps, Banri's face and mine both rose, but by that time already nothing could be seen. He realized they were speaking of Kouko, something and 'idiot'. He wondered if they were Kouko's parents.

Just then a policeman stuck his head in, "Tada Mari, no... Banri. Your parents are already headed here.” --- 'Really!?' I shouted. As for the fleshly Banri, he looked up at the ceiling in silence and covered his face in his hands. He slid from the sofa, falling to the carpet as if he were kneeling.

Even his parents had been called...

By car? By bullet train? No, it didn't matter which, or how they did it... aaahhh. Aaaahhh. It's come to that, he thought.

Their son: causing such trouble, nearly dying (almost like me), worrying them sick, yet trusted and sent to Tokyo, was currently under arrest.

How badly must you disappoint your parents, Tada Banri? Or rather, me.

However, only a few minutes from that information, the same police officer (it seemed) reappeared,

"Your parents, they've turned back.”

"...Yes!?”

This time, Banri slipped down from the couch.

With the sudden appearance of her parents, you could say that Kaga Kouko's release from custody was settled. And so, with no blame attached to him, returning home quickly, he wouldn't drink anymore until he was an adult.

If he could have heard, the high-schooler victim in presenting his case for reimbursement had demanded "the most generous of settlements", so to speak. And what's more, that her friend's, that is to say Banri's, guarantee of special consideration for his so-called memory loss be dismissed. What's more, it seemed to have been made a big consideration. Kaga Kouko, also, was reflecting deeply on her actions.

And then even more, her parents were very respected doctors in the area, and as leading members of the Men's Club had contributed to society for many years. They said they would strictly supervise their daughter's behavior from now on.

Under such circumstances, it would be a miracle if she were to get off with only a light reprimand, and so on.

The Kaga household followed right behind the policemen, and upon leaving the lobby they finished up. Banri stopped without thinking, and I collided with his back. That hurt, I tried to tell the back of his head, but of course there was no reply.

Saying "We are very sorry. Our daughter has caused you so much trouble," their bodies bent nearly double, repeatedly bowing their heads, her parents seemed to be much older than his own, but their clothing showed incredibly good taste. Ordinary middle-aged men and women around here--- say, for instance, Tada Katsuhiro or Mieko-chan--- were quite clearly of a different class. That much was obvious to anybody's eyes, and to a spirit's eyes.

And then, behind the two of them, there was Kaga Kouko.

Her head hanging dejectedly, the torn knee of her tights had been repaired with a bandaid. Her flower-patterned chiffon mini-dress was stained darkly, and bandages could be seen on her white elbows and on her cheek, visible through a gap in her long falling hair. Her high-heels were hanging from her hand by their straps, and on her feet were slippers. Without heels, she was shorter, and looked completely dispirited.

"Kaga-san! Are you OK!?"

Banri spoke up without thinking.

It was at that moment.

Pfft. Making an impolite noise, the lobby's automatic door opened and the night breeze blew inside strongly. The turned-around Kouko's long hair was blown high upwards with a whoosh, like something out of a girly promotional video. From there, everything else was in slow motion.

She located Banri, and twice, three times, shook her disheveled hair wildly, and struck a pose--- squinting as if looking into the distance and opening her lips partway, she held her disordered hair back from her nose lightly with one hand while softly biting the tip of her little finger. With the suppleness of a she-panther she twisted her waist, put her other hand to her hip, and then,

""

She was whispering. Quickly. Ecstatically.

Buhaa! Banri suddenly exploded magnificently, splashing and spraying all over. Drained of strength, I crumbled to my knees. Kouko's mother pulled her hard by the belt attached to her dress, as if it were a leash.

Kouko grunted once when she was yanked back trying to get closer to Banri, but she wasn't perturbed.

Once again a pose... at a 45-degree angle. Fixing up her hair while flashing a smile. Leaning her twisted body, she spoke, her moist eyes glittering. Her chest, pushed by her arm, rose suddenly as if pushed out.

"Doesn't it feel rather like we're already having the meeting with the family?"

That the police didn't stop him was perhaps due to the speed of his fist, or a reluctance to judge. Kouko's father's right fist knocked an awful dent in the back of his boy-crazy daughter's head. Crack! At the sound echoing from her skull, Banri automatically drew back, and I disappeared behind Banri. As for Kaga Kouko, did she say "The cops... don't they stop so much as a mosquito?" or no, was it "Come to think of it, why are we still here?" She suddenly turned lightly back towards her parents and,

"Hey papa, mama, this is my boyfriend, Tada Banri-kun. Isn't he a cool guy?"

Looking quite happy, she pointed towards Banri.

Up to that moment, Kouko's parents had not yet spoken of being tired. Transported as she was, to an extreme those who dwell in my world would not find funny, her parents looked wordlessly at their broken-down daughter, their shoulders drooping.

And then Banri,

"..."

He could see that her parents were at their limit, exhausted, their heads hanging silently.

It was too many things at once, emotional and physical tatters strewn about. They couldn't even open their mouths any more.

And then I pulled back to take in the big picture.

He hadn't decided to start going out with that awful woman, had he?

Before, in this me's life, Tada Banri's, there was this girl. She was my beloved. Just now, in tears, their emotions overflowing, promising each other, these had vowed together to become an official couple.

Anyway, unable, of course, to ask such a presumptuous favor as "Could you drive me to my apartment?" Banri headed for the station by himself, as if he were fleeing, hunched over like a shrimp.

It was nearly the last train, horribly crowded inside. Jostled by drunks, Banri planted his feet firmly, closed his eyes intently, and endured the confusion and jolting.

Indeed, for things to turn out like this--- I don't know how many thousands, how many tens of thousands of times over again, I was pushed into Banri's back the very same way.

Of course, the biggest "indeed" to this point has been my death.

Having an accident, falling from a bridge shortly after graduation from high school, I, or rather my substance, was expelled from my body by the shock. That which had existed for the eighteen years up to that point as Tada Banri could no longer return, the empty body was diagnosed with "memory loss", and a new life emerged. And then I... became a casualty. As a drifting soul, no longer visible, existing like that, always at Banri's side.

As it was, he wasn't going to entertain any notions as to just how bad a relationship the living Banri was headed for.

His cell-phone buzzed, a text-message having arrived. Though he didn't want to move his arm, he opened his phone anyhow to check it. It was from his mother. With continuing details from home, it said, "We turned back before the Yoshida interchange, and we're already home." Not hitting 'reply', Banri stuffed his phone back into his pocket.

"Excuse me for worrying," his mother said over the phone while he was waiting for the train, her voice sounding very tired. "Though I intend to worry about you your whole life long," he had been told.

Not replying to the text, there were still two more. The sender for both of them: Hayashida Nana.

Linda.

---Linda.

Banri looked at the window he was facing. In the gaps between people's heads, the dark Tokyo night could be seen. Tada Banri's face, reflected in the glass, was alone, naturally.

A young, tired male face. A bad son. Tada Banri, restored to life. Taking a hard look at himself, Banri's eyes relented just a little. Looking embarassed, he gave a thin smile, but then right away a thoughtful shadow crossed his face. Little by little, the smile faded away. His gaze sadly downcast, his face reflected in the glass shook back and forth as if he were watching other people.

Thinking about his new lover, and then about his future, he's probably getting lost in confusion and fatigue.

Banri thinks of me as some kind of evil spirit, something scary--- something that despises his very existence, and is trying to drag him off into the world of the dead.

While watching my own face reflected back at me by the dark glass, I spoke softly to Banri's ear.

I've never thought of you reproachfully.

I've already resigned myself to how things have turned out. I have never thought of wanting you to die. I've not been trying to pursue you, to run you down.

Of course, there is no doubt that I am "The Ghost of the Past."

But I don't even have a reason for staying here. Thinking that I am chasing you down, about the stress of the situation, I say to myself, "There's no way I can have a healthy life from now on." It's a negative pressure, so to speak. Showing weariness of the soul (surely an illusion without substance), kind of. It's a bad dream.

Still, I simply cannot help but be here. Because I cannot disappear, I cannot help but be. That's all there is to it, really.

* * *


"Lord Ro~me~o~"

Something pure white reached towards him from the corner of his eye,

"It's time for Juliet to come on stage."

"...You..."

Suddenly Banri's left arm was entwined. Sticking to him tightly like that,

"...surprised me...! I thought somebody was sticking a mochi to me as a prank!"

"I am not a rice-cake."

It's me, c'est moi,

"I'm Kouko, your woman, your Juliet!"

A broad smile and upturned eyes.

Kouko, the white hand that had been mistaken for a mochi clinging tightly to Banri's arm still, made her eyes sparkle.

"Good morning, Tada-kun."

"Goo..."

His tongue tied, embarrassed, this time it was Banri who turned into a mochi. Smiling slackly with his whole face, his expression began to slowly melt and fall, and as ever Kouko smiled too. The two of them gazed at each other,mochi to mochi.

"...Good morning, Kaga-san."

Kouko said "good morning" once more. Banri echoed it back again. They laughed together.

Like that.

That one night unlocked the present. The two of them had started their official relationship, becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. In the school of life, being called "a couple" should earn you a credit.

Holding each other's hands, they felt like spinning round and round at this place. Though they didn't, already all the world was turning into a stage for the two of them.

This traffic jam as an orchestra, that fluorescent lamp a spot-light. This crowd as a parade of blessing, the beep of the ticket gate an angel checking out a trumpet. Looking into each other's eyes, holding hands, shrouding each other in warmth, a moment in eternity... in his nose the rich fragrance of rose eau-de-toilette sweetly overflowing, Banri would go weak in the knees. First thing in the morning, right away.

In love as he was and continued to be, it'd be fine if he fell down in front of Her Majesty's beautiful face, if she wanted him to. But this morning, just before 8:30 in the morning, the ticket gate of the nearest station to the university was the stage for the new couple's debut, at the precise time the school commute was at it's worst.

For the people going to and fro, crowded together horribly in this narrow place, stopped in a passageway, two mochi staring at each other were an infinite nuisance. If it was an older's person's throat, then the sound of the angel's trumpet was not a message of love, but just an unexpected cry of welcome. Suddenly blocking the flow of people,

"Ah, excuse us! Oh no! Sorry!"

For the most part, the bags and elbows of the angry people pummeled Banri on his back and rump. They took the opportunity to run over his feet with their carry-ons, not even excusing themselves, even making disapproving noises. Banri turned around to face them as fast as he could, apologizing while he hurriedly bent backwards, standing tiptoed, bending his body in a vain attempt to stop obstructing the flow of people.

Off to one side, Kouko maintained her pose.

"You know I waited here thirty minutes in order to say 'Good Morning?'"

She grabbed hold of the arm of Banri's shirt with both hands, tilting her head to one side, like a child pestering somebody for a toy, her adorable, large eyes sparkling.

"Thirty minutes? You waited in a place like this? You could've sent me a text..."

"I wanted to show my love. Look, err... it's like that... fuzzy thing..."

"Fuzzy?"

"It died waiting for Richard Gere..."

Showing him, Kouko brought both her softly clasped hands before her face, stuck out her tongue, said "he he he he" and looked up at Banri.

"E, e, e? D, dog?"

"Yes, a dog! Isn't it in Shibuya? Look, that dog..."

"Eh...? Are you by chance talking about Hachiko?"

"That's it, fantastic, Tada-kun! We understand each other, of course!"

Kyaa! He stared at Kouko as the lonely faithful dog, but a huge question mark was dancing around inside Banri's head. Why'd she come out with Hachiko, no, a dog, he couldn't figure out. No, no. Wait, wait, before that,

"Waited for Richard Gere... what was that about? That was maybe the first time I'd heard of it."

"Hahaa"

Kouko poked Banri's chest lightly with her index finger. "I knew it," she said, chuckling.

"You're imagining right now, inside your head, Saigou-san's dog!"

Not even being given the time to deny it,

"That one, in U-e-no. But in that case, nobody died waiting. Probably. So, let's go sometime! Take a look at Saigou-san, stroll around Ueno Park and Shinobazu Pond, walk around the art museums, and take the time we have left to see the zoo. We can skip the panda. But what a fun date it would be! Hmm, in that area, what people are out in the open air are a few and far between, though wouldn't you say they're also 'part of the scenery'?"

"In other words Ueno, I... ah, whoa...!"

Struck on the shoulder from behind by a blood-thirsty salaryman, Banri stumbled forward.

The next train leaving the platform, an ever more numerous crowd of people descended on them en masse from the ticket gate. With Banri and Kouko just standing there, facing the transfer gate, right in the middle of passage Y, just standing and talking without a care in the world, they seemed to be preventing them from getting through.

"For now, let's walk! Let's move along! We're being a nuisance... waa, sorry, I stepped on your foot!"

While taking the lead and heading out, he tried to take Kouko's hand in a manly way. However, the narrow passageway being crowded, and soon the flow of people had separated him from Kouko.

Moving helplessly forward, he was about to escape to the side of the station to wait for her a bit. Kouko, falling out of the crowd a moment later,

"Phew... Wasn't today's rush hour a bit worse than usual?"

She straightened up her slightly mussed up hair.

"It looks like the subway was running a little late, maybe that's why."

Banri tried to casually take Kouko's hand, but,

"Oh, that reminds me."

Unnoticed, Kouko had her hand deep into her bag, rummaging around for something. It looked as if she were making sure her wallet was OK, that it hadn't been lifted. And then, noticing that Banri had his hand held out,

"Eh?"

With an innocent face, she tilted her head to one side in curiosity.

"...Hmm?"

What? Though it doesn't matter? My hand was just about to scratch my head--- Strangely embarrassed that it wasn't moving, Banri pretended to scratch his head.

It was a mystery to him how he could have taken her hand so naturally just a bit ago, but now he couldn't, once more the awkward kid. The jostling and confusion must have acted to create a good mood. If that's so, and he could take her hand properly during the next rush-hour, then he had better not let go for a lifetime.

For the time being giving up on holding hands at school, Banri and Kouko stopped shoulder to shoulder in front of a pedestrian crossing. Closing her sparkling eyes a bit, Kouko said "I'm going to need a parasol soon" and held a white hand over her face. The beautiful gemstones of her rings sparkled on her slim fingers.

Today's weather being thin white clouds, Banri laughed "You're exaggerating," and stared at her. "Yes it burns, it really burns, or rather I'm being roasted," said Kouko, her hand still lifted up, stubbornly shaking her head side to side.

According to the television weather forecast, the Okinawa region was already entering into their rainy season, but in the heart of Tokyo there wasn't so much as a wind blowing, and today was strangely warm. The temperature would likely rise from now on, and what's more, he noticed the humidity was going up. Under a long-sleeve shirt, Banri's skin was wet already.

Crossing elegantly at the green light in her high-heels, Kouko peeked at Banri's face a little mischievously.

"Tomorrow I'm going to ambush you in front of your apartment. With a parasol and ThreePlus SPF 50 UV sunblock."

"By all means, by all means. Or rather, I could do without the ambush part though. If we go to school together, then we can try to calm ourselves down in a quiet place half-way there. ...Ah, just kidding. A noisy place is fine, of course. Squeezed to death by the crowds, in a busy spot."

"Because, I love..."

Going behind the narrow street's guard-rail, they walked one behind the other.

Casually checking his appearance reflected in the glass fronts of the aptitude test prep schools, Banri looked back at Kouko's white face, following close behind him. He indeed looked like a stalker. She must really love whatever she's searching for with that hand, like a private eye busy at his craft, but coming to a realization,

"...Tada-kun."

At the unexpectedly sweet words, his feet stopped automatically. I love you. Tada-kun.

"For that reason, appointments are forbidden. I don't want to waste so much as one second, one meter. I want to be together with Tada-kun from the first step of the beginning of every day, from the first second."

Kouko passed by the halted Banri, stepping out in front in her high-heels. Looking back, tilting her head in query, she asked "What's wrong? Shouldn't we hurry?"

This is only the beginning... there's a long way to go yet... and he would try to be equal to the task, and yet he found his face heating. Unable to keep a straight face, Banri laughed. A huge grin on his face, head over heels in love, turning into a mochi, at such a level he'd never seen before,

"Wahahahahahahaha!"

A laugh from deep in his belly, he laughed as hard as he could. He laughed loudly. He shook all the way to his clasped hands. Even standing lightly on his tip-toes.

The busy people going to and fro in the narrow way early in the morning did their best to ignore them, walking around at a good distance from the loudly laughing students, with their bizarre expressions, daunting stance and deep breathing.

While he was laughing, Banri was thinking.

He wondered when, normally, one would get used to it? Loving somebody, being loved by somebody, to that reality. His current self, at least, was not at all used to it. He could hardly believe that he and Kouko were going out together. Too happy, having too much fun, he couldn't help but laugh like an idiot.

Kouko laughed too, smiling, and waited for Banri, who continued laughing loudly, to return to sanity. Not Banri, nor in fact any other person passing by, seemed to be able to ignore the dazzling woman. Once more he thought, marveling: how could such a person as this love me?

Kaga Kouko was perfect. The gods selected her spirit, deliberately and carefully, giving her literally perfect form.

Look at her. Those finely shaped features, her beautiful looks.

Her womanly curves arched like a standing bow, in beautiful style. Graceful legs and feet. A delicate frame. Muscles softly outlined in shadow.

Polished milk-colored skin, a gaze that seemed to burn everything it saw and a shiny, deep red rose-colored lip gloss. The contrast between them dramatically and definitively highlighted the beauty of her face.

Next, she was wearing a long silk and linen cardigan. Slender pants which emphasized her figure and high-heeled sandals that seemed works of art. Her bag was slung from her shoulder, black calfskin leather rather squashed, perhaps due to a pocket copy of the Six Codes.

Today she had done her dark brown hair in wavy curls, with a bright emerald green silk scarf substituting for a headband hanging partway down her back in "Kaga Kouko Indeed" style. Recently, the college girls were all wearing hair-bands and scarves, something Banri thought was due to Kouko's influence. It may have been popular only around here, but at least amongst Banri's group of students, the style was introduced first by Kouko, and spread from her.

So. The woman is all-around perfect. Everybody is aware of her. Everyone looks at her.

Blessed with exceptionally good looks by nature, having good taste, unsparing of time, money or trouble, Kouko was desparately polishing herself by degrees, attaining to a state of perfect beauty. Making the effort, spending the money, taking the time, having done all those things in preparation, Kouko was now in a specially blessed place. No, if you speak of blessed, there was one more thing--- to the extent that the upper class barrier protects a person from bad things, she has not been hurt even once.

On the other hand, with regards to Banri...

Without realizing it, his laughter stopped. He looked down upon the fool he was becoming. Without even checking again in the glass wall, his was just another unrefined form.

Apart from his second-hand denims, his whole body was armored in UNIQLO, his bag hung at a slant, his Jack Purcells worn. Spiced by Koenji, brought to life at Shimokitazawa, defeated in Harajuku, he was getting blasé about branding... a typical, ordinary person's outlook carried to an extreme, he felt. Looking stylish in mass produced goods, a vague fellow that could be found anywhere. A boy punched out by a stamping press in God's subcontractor's subcontractor's subcontractor's subcontractor's factory by an old guy naked from the waist, looking the other way, a cigarette stuck into the gap where one of his front teeth had been knocked out. That was Tada Banri.

He wasn't even thinking about whether such a self would really be good for a girl's boyfriend. Which wasn't to say that he wasn't thinking. To get along together well, you need to match! He hadn't had such thoughts at first.

Hadn't, and yet,

"...As for me, getting to date Kaga-san makes me happy..."

That was the reality.

He really was dating Kouko. Without thinking about it, he murmured earnestly, as if he were chewing on his joy.

"Come now, Tada-kun..."

Kouko, moving her hand to her chest, looked back at Banri and suddenly looked sad, as if she were about to cry. Banri reached out nervously, trying to touch her shoulder softly. Even from so little as that, Kouko's eyes sparkled even more brightly, like wet gemstones.

"...I could go to meet you at your house every day, for sure. I wasn't the one who said, 'I wouldn't want to waste one second.' So as to not wander about too much, just where was the nearest station? If I can be with you, be it to ambush you or to stalk you, whatever you like."

However,

"Ah, err..."

Suddenly, sticking out her lower lip as much as Matsumoto Seichou, a strange look on her face, Kouko separated herself from him. Spinning on her heel, she started walking towards campus.

"What was that all of a sudden?"

"It's rather hard to say..."

Looking back a little awkwardly,

"Coming over to our place, not good..."

That's right. Sigh...

He forced a haphazard smile. Chasing after her, Banri called "Hold on!"

"Eh, not good!? What's this: planning to stalk me is OK, but for me to do it back is not allowed!? How selfish!"

"You misunderstand! It's not what you think. It's just, my parents don't want to see us hanging around together, it looks like..."

"Don't want to see, us!?"

While chasing quickly after Kouko, who didn't seem to want to talk straight, it suddenly dawned on Banri. His heart beating hard, he covered his mouth.

We're from different classes, they have their so-called way. 'Our Kouko and this idiot are out of control already! Isn't what's happening typical? You can't be friends with such an unknown boy, who made you steal a bicycle. Besides, he lost his memory.'

"Wow... are you serious!? They're against us going out!? No way! I'm perfectly harmless! Please smooth things over with your parents! No way, parents against our dating, there's absolutely no way, no way no way no way!"

For the happiness so hard to find, that he had at long last caught hold of, to be cut lose this way---!? Such a determined resistance was going to turn the somewhat annoying Banri into a real problem. No way no way no way no way! The way things were, their upper bodies swingly wildly forward, he and Kouko were coming together quickly and simultaneously. While casually placing her hand as a guard, Kouko uncomfortably pointed at herself.

"Whoa there, Tada-kun. Calm down. People are watching. Besides, there's the other side of it. It's a problem for me."

The other side...? Giving a big nod towards the confused Banri,

"So it is. They told me not to get close to you. Because if my strangeness stuck to you, your life was going to go amiss. They told me to go pick a new target!"

"The old target... Yana-ssan?"

Turning suddenly, he wondered if the way her big eyes could be seen spinning was an affirmation.

"Speaking out of turn, I even made problems for you this time. Or rather, after yesterday, enough already! How! Awful! You were scolded... your nose seems nearly bloodied... well, it isn't showing though."

'Oh,' holding her tongue in front of Banri, Kouko let out a sigh once more. Her shoulders sagged, downhearted.

"Between Father and Mother, in the end, they were talking about locking me up in a cell."

"Huh? You have a lockup? Isn't it enough that you have poisonous snakes? Wow, incredible, Tokyo's Mystery Zone..."

"We don't, of course. And that's probably why I'm a free woman. But, when for a moment my mother happened to look towards where she stores things under the floor, I was a bit, nervous."

After politely making a pose like a runner, Kouko took the lead and went up the stairs to the law building lobby. Pushing open the glass door, the two of them walked happily side by side into the confined atmosphere there.

Sleepy-looking students were leaving from there in twos and threes, apparently from first-period, carrying heavy-looking bags.

If he thought back to the confusion of when he'd just entered college, it seemed to him as if there were fewer people this morning. It might even be a more appropriate number of people, given the original smallness of the central city campus.

Kouko looked at her wristwatch, and once more let out a sigh.

"So, we truly have some difficulties in store. Romi-Juli it is. We cannot even be dating in open opposition to our parents, like poor Romeo and Juliet. ...Eventually even we, might even take poison together."

Banri was about to reply, 'But those two people poisoned themselves separately...' when she looked up at him,

"That reminds me, what about your parents? Did they talk to you from there yesterday? Weren't you able to say anything about us going out together?"

"No, nothing about you."

Kouko noted, "That so?"

It was last night that he'd talked with his parents. Once from the train station platform. And then he called one more time when he got to his room.

It wasn't all that much, but saying things like "There's a girl I've started going out with, and she was accused of stealing a kid's bicycle!" ...wouldn't give the right impression. How it happened they were detained by the police was not something to be explained easily, but he'd decided to say that the actors in the drama were himself and a "friend from school."

Of course, he hadn't said, "Linda was at the drinking party at the same time, the very Linda I'd been close friends with before losing my memory! I said 'Why were you pretending not to know me?' and we fought just as in the beginning."

Maybe, if he'd said such a thing, then either way they'd get to worrying too much about him being in Tokyo, he thought.

In fact, it seemed that Banri himself had gotten that way, one way or the other, and for that very reason, that mess... the bicycle theft, were to get out, he might have been told to return home already to Shizuoka, he thought.

In fact, Banri was afraid of that.

Already, he wanted to give Tokyo a good try. Things here and there were beginning to turn out difficult, and there were days where everything went every which way, and yet, somehow, he wanted to settle down here. He wanted to plant himself here and not give up.

That reason, of course,

"Well, that may have helped us, just a bit. If both sets of parents were against us, there wouldn't be much we could do."

Walking beside him was a woman. Beautiful hair lightly brushed up, Kaga Kouko smiled at Banri. This gorgeous lover was from Tokyo.

But, with a pile of problems,

"But hey, though I wasn't stuffed into a cell, they did take my credit card."

He couldn't explain everything to Kouko. He had no choice but to manage it himself. Thinking like that, and at the same time of some other matters, a certain personage of shadow floated across his brain and suddenly his heart was full to overflowing. But he kept his face still, and his voice as it had been until now.

"Oops. Is that so?"

Tada Banri's carefree face, caught up in the moment.

That so? Shugging her shoulders, Kouko pursed her lips adorably.

"For the time being, though I've got my pass card, we can't use it for a taxi. I can't go shopping either. Nor can I go to a restaurant or a beauty salon. It's not too different from being in jail, this is."

"Ah, then perhaps Ueno Park? Coming from you, I had thought that an inexpensive suggestion."

"For now, the train fare and tea money is all I have to play with... but the weather's good. How about it?"

"As for me, I've not been to Ueno. I want to see the park, at least. Afterwards, Ameyoko? That kinda thing."

"Really? Then it's decided! Next Saturday, it's a date to Ueno!"

"Then it's settled. If the weather's good, we're set. I mean, if I could say 'I'll take care of it!' at a time like this, it'd be really great. But I'm a wretch who's almost always broke..."

"It's OK, it's OK, not a problem." Kouko waved it off. "We'll go Dutch."

Kouko didn't even need to be told that basically, with the reality of their financial condition, if they didn't split the cost, they wouldn't be able to do anything, but,

"I suppose I ought to look seriously for a part time job, I should."

He remembered that in local convenience stores and taverns, there were help-wanted posters. Even some used book stores had them, if he remembered correctly.

Because it could not be said that he had a perfectly healthy body, his parents told him to devote himself entirely to his studies. They did, but if he asked for enough allowance so he could entirely devote himself as he had been told, the answer was also no.

"A job? Then we'd have less time together."

Opening her big eyes wide, Kouko stood tiptoed as if she were jumping. She brought her face close to Banri, pouting a little.

"Well, whatever, it was something that occurred to me. Everything's undecided. Speaking of which, what's the time?"

Kouko turned her wrist towards Banri, here, showing him her silver watch's tiny dial, but

"So small! It's hard to see!"

"It isn't hard to see! Look, isn't it clearly showing 8:45?"

In the little speck of a watch-face, he could only just make out the little hands. Taking hold of Kouko's wrist, he brought it close to his face, peering closely to check the time somehow,

"46 after, sure is. Wouldn't it be easier for a person to see clearly if it were a little bigger? Wouldn't it be better if the hands were like somebody jumping, like Conan-kun? It would fit, absolutely. Somebody doesn't like you, you zap them."

"Eh!? No such thing, or rather, no way! This is good! Isn't it cute!? Isn't it a Cartier Mini Panthere!? It's already been discontinued, so it wasn't easy to get! It's valuable!"

"Mini panties."

"Kyaa!"

Kouko shouted, playfully laughing, and then she clapped Banri's shoulder.

"Speaking of such things, you really like that!?"

With about the same force, he clapped her shoulder back while he laughed too.

"But that Conan-kun guy is really . Anyway, what shall we do? Head for lecture already? First period, I've got English, but Kaga-san, what'd you have?"

"French"

"Since we've got about ten minutes, shouldn't we kill the last of them in the cafeteria?"

Just saying dumb things somehow strangely fun, Banri found it hard to let go of Kouko. Kouko seemed to be thinking about the same way, so at Banri's invitation, she nodded with a happy smile.

Banri's first period was English. He was taking it together with Yana-ssan and Two Dimensions. It came to mind that there was a chance running into one or the other in the cafeteria, but saying 'It should be OK,' Banri continued walking. He had no particular intention of hiding that he and Kouko were starting to date like this. There wasn't any necessity of doing so, right?

...There wasn't, was there?

When he started thinking, he unintentionally tilted his head to one side, as if puzzled.

When she was recklessly confessed to at the drinking party, Oka Chinami cruelly rejected Yanagisawa Mitsuo. Banri felt that the wound to Mitsuo's heart had some ways to go before it healed, of course.

He wondered if wouldn't be awfully insensitive of him, to the point of disqualifying him as a friend, to wear a face like "We've just started going out, and are at the peak of happiness!" in front of him.

But, quietly lying for Mitsuo's sake, hiding the fact that they were dating as if it were an act of friendship... he had a feeling it was still somehow wrong.

He had a hunch that having a discussion like "Hey, hey Kaga-san, what shall we dooo~? Wouldn't it be pitiful, talking to Yana-ssan about how lovey-dovey we are~? Shall we hide it~?" would be a big mistake. Even without talking so affectedly, somehow, flirting openly wasn't going to help Mitsuo's bad mood.

To make matters yet more difficult, there was the reason for Mitsuo confessing when he did. To anybody else's point of view, it was just too unreasonable. Banri, for one, didn't think it was something provoked by Kouko.

Not even saying such things as 'What's a state Kouko and I are in now~, We're so happy~'... if he was trying to do some good for Mitsuo, then he was in for some discomfort.

Well then, if he were asked 'Are you hiding something?', then he felt there wasn't anything being hidden.

Getting to where he didn't know what to do, Banri, practically in reflex, was about to change their course towards the cafeteria. It was just then, while they were still in the lobby, as he tried to change Kouko's heading.

He saw it there, in the back of the lobby.

The area in front of the student affairs office bulletin board. At the table that had become the gathering place of the Omaken were several figures. Kouko must've noticed it too,

"Oh yeah, we didn't apologize to the senpais about yesterday, did we? Though I've sent a text to Linda-senpai for the time being, shouldn't we give her a better explanation?"

"N, no no, no..."

Banri desperately shook his head from side to side, hiding his trembling and forcing himself to laugh. Turning around once more, he turned towards the staircase, heading towards the cafeteria as he had previously intended. Just who was at that table, he didn't know. He hadn't been able to see clearly that far. But, his heart was suddenly beating hard enough to break. It was still impossible. His heart was not ready yet.

He couldn't yet look into that person's face.

"...Let's, let's do it later. Later, later. Another time."

Not knowing what he should do, to the nth degree, he turned towards the cafeteria, feeling that as things were he'd much rather run into Mitsuo.

* * *


When they opened the lid, or rather, when they opened the cafeteria door and looked inside, there was Two Dimensions, at a table in the corner, alone, looking down at his preparations for English class.

He was tidy, wearing a short-sleeved shirt, chino pants and his usual glasses. His face looked tired still, a little bit puffy. Feeling a little bit relieved, "Hey", Banri called out to him,

"Hey Banri"

Raising his head from the texts and turning his pen to Banri's face,

"...and, Kaga-san... is it...?"

The pen-tip slid over to the side, right beside Banri.

"Morning, Two Dimensions."

Two Dimensions looked back and forth many times between the perfectly smiling Kouko and Banri, who had a slightly vacuous smile, comparing the two of them, and then,

"...What's going on...? For some reason... it feels like... you're a couple?"

Pulling off his glasses, he folded his arms.

"Yana-ssan not here yet?"

Without even answering Banri, he uttered a sharp "Tsk!", then getting the better of himself, he leisurely pulled out the chair next to him,

"...For the moment, here you go Kaga-san, set it there. Man, your bag looks heavy."

"Thank you."

Kouko was seated there. As if she were royalty indeed, Kouko sat down gracefully in the chair next to Two Dimensions. 'Err, me, me, my chair,' Banri looked around restlessly,

"Banri, hold on. Are you humbling yourself even to the floor over there?"

...What? It was like he was being given the time for a verbal comeback.

"Well then, Kaga-san, would that be OK if I asked you a little question?"

Two Dimensions, behaving quite as if he were a doctor, or a counselor, turned his chair around so as to face directly towards Kouko. Kouko, with a graceful gesture, turned a bit towards the still standing Banri, and sent him a meaningful wink,

"All right? Whatever you want?"

Fully composed, she looked back to Two Dimensions eyes.

Putting on a show of blinking, fluttering her eyelashes, you could see her deep eye shadow. It was a deep, dramatic brown, as if in one look the world were to end.

However, today Two Dimensions wasn't defeated by Kouko's gaze. He took off his glasses and confronted her.

"Is it so?"

"That you just happened to be at the station, and all that?"

"No? I was there to ambush Tada-kun?"

"Did you want to return some money you'd borrowed, or some such special circumstance?"

"Is something wrong? That I ambushed him because I wanted to ambush him?"

"Would you please stop replying in questions to my questions?"

"Though it's OK?"

Saying that, Kouko knew quite well what she was doing.

'Fufun,' smiling happily, she looked at Two Dimensions while twirling the ends of the hair that spilled down to her chest around her finger. Settling her weight to the back of the chair, she stared at Two Dimensions in some respects defiantly while she slowly crossed her legs--- her smile was ice, if she wasn't wearing panties certainly. In all the world, how many tens of thousands, indeed, how many hundreds of millions of times had scenes just like this been played over and over again?

'If there's something you want to say, go ahead' was written on Kouko's beautiful face. I have no plans of hiding anything, it said. But since it will be known sooner or later, there's nothing can be done, right? Right? That's the way it is, right? It certainly is! So said the eyes looking at Banri. Along with what she didn't say all said the same, self-assertively, like a woman.

Even Two Dimensions looked fleetingly over at the still-silent Banri. Banri shrugged his shoulders lightly, answering "it is as you see."

"...Eh, really? Truly? Is it so?"

Two Dimensions said it quickly, as if muttering, and once more looked at Kouko's face.

Banri was thinking, "Speak a little more clearly."

So, they couldn't just hide it behind a blush. If it's going to be known anyway, then shout it out. There wasn't a reason for hesitating about whether to hide things or not from Two Dimensions--- and they were hiding it from Mitsuo, but not from Two Dimensions, which he had simply not been thinking of doing... Having come to this point, he wondered if he could no longer turn back.

We! Are! So! Dating!

In the Kaga Kouko arrangement of the score, that word was raised dramatically, to the highest level. Be the heroine to your heart's content. Whatever role you want to play was fine, be it a poisoned Juliet or a pantiless murderer.

However, contrary to what Banri was thinking, Kouko was silent. Still not saying anything, she took plenty of time, teasingly teasing them to the max, and then,

"..."

Fwip.

She opened the front of her long cardigan. Seen from the side it was, to perfection, like a flasher encountered along the road--- it had the right speed, the right abruptness, that kind of feel... but,

"Ooh..."

When it was shown to Two Dimensions, he shuddered. The heroine, as if content with the result, closed her eyes and smiled.

Inside the cardigan Kouko was holding open, a huge heart-mark had been painted. On a white T-shirt that fit her body tightly, showing the outline of her soft, full bust, right in the middle, with bright red beads crowded together tightly and glittering, a big heart-mark had been sewn.

It was a very lovey-dovey T-shirt that hardly any normal person would wear.

But Kouko, who wore it well, while turning towards Banri,

"Je, t'ai..."

Chewing on her full lower lip, she slowly traced the heart with the fingertips of both hands from the bottom up. Drawing Banri's gaze, they followed the two rounded paths without hurrying. Kouko's fingers met at the top of the heart, then suddenly turned inside out and pierced the heart,

"...me."

Her passionate look was directed straight at Banri. Her lips puckered to the shape of a kiss. And then,

"I love Tada-kun. Tada-kun loves me too. Therefore, we have started dating."

With both hands together in the form of a pistol cocked to fire, still in the pose of shooting at Banri dead-center, smiling magnificently, Kouko spoke to Two Dimensions. The defeated Banri covered his heart, and made a show of doubling over. Yes, yes, I've died, I've died again, I've been murdered by Kouko's love. I want to die, any number of times. He truly felt so, with all his heart.

As for Two Dimensions,

"..."

He suddenly grabbed his own bag, shouldered it as if it were a bazooka, and sighted Kouko through a hanging loop,

"I'm going to blow away dat pretty face!"

Not satisfied with only shouting something so ambiguous-seeming,

"Ah, I mean...! You filthy bum! You could do it!? Whatta guy! You beast~~~! Excellent~~~! Hey you, isn't school fun!?"

For some reason, he grinned broadly. Standing, he put Banri in a headlock,

"Thah... hursh...!"

It was starting to tighten up really bad. Two Dimensions was a stereotypical herbivorous fashion geek, raised in Shitamachi. He was also an unexpectedly rough guy. While the groaning Banri swayed more and more,

"Eh? Could you fill me in, the short version? Did you spend the night together? And then this morning as a couple still? That the way it was? Hmm? Was it like that? Better if you answer now..."

Stuttering, "Y, y, y, you're wrong..." while answering quicker than his dying breath,

"Last night we were arrested by the police."

The gracious smile that Kouko showed smashed Two Dimension's vulgar suspicions. That must've entered into Two Dimensions' head, because he released his arm from around the gasping Banri's neck, and he burst into laughter at once.

"A, arrested...! Caught! What were you even saying, Kaga-san!? You making a serious face was interesting, really!"

"Interesting? Me? How so?"

"It's plain as day, isn't it...?"

Muttering "Isn't it?" to Banri, who was holding his neck, Kouko nodded.

While Two Dimensions was still bent over double, continuing to laugh like an idiot, sat back down as if he were throwing himself into the chair,

"Now what're we going to do with these people, really! Hey Yana-ssan, did you hear that now!? They're dating! Banri and Kaga-san! Can you help but laugh!?"

"Eehh!?"

With a shout, Banri looked over his shoulder. He had no time to worry, nor to think. Two Dimensions waved beyond him and called, "Yo!" Yanagisawa Mitsuo, aka Yana-ssan, was standing there.

Standing there,

"Huh?"

Eyes wide, he was looking at them. That hair,

"Whaa!? Yana-ssan, you look great!"

Banri called back, that he looked even more handsome. Two Dimensions raised his voice again, "Yana-ssan is super cool!" Kouko was shouting too.

"...Eh? Like, like that?"

He seemed embarrassed at the unexpectedly high praise of his new hairstyle he'd gotten, a foreign-looking, at a glance unruly-seeming, casual, airy perm. With his handsome features, coupled with a moderately muscled, tall figure, he really seemed to be of mixed-race, or something. He was wearing only jeans and a T-shirt, but he wouldn't have looked out of place in a magazine. Whether it was on purpose, or coincidence, the cuff area of his blue-jeans were wrinkled in a particular way. He was so much not imitating anybody, it was cool.

The person in question, as a young man himself, unaccustomed to such things, was rubbing his cheeks as if he were embarrassed, and frowning as if in explanation.

"Well, in fact yesterday I thought, 'Enough with this head of mine. I'll just get it shaved.' But when I went to the barbershop, they told me 'If you're getting it cut anyway, why don't you let my new apprentice cut it for you?' and this sort of perm... I said 'well done!' out of delight, since he cut it so fast I'd wondered if it wasn't a bad job... no, or rather, eh? What? Banri and Kouko...? What's up with them?"

"They're dating! Isn't it an incredible surprise? It shook me up a bit."

Without hesitation, Two Dimensions explained for them. Banri mumbled a little, and glanced quietly over in Kouko's direction. Wh, what shall we do? Do you think we ought to give some sort of explanation to Yana-ssan about us? Such was the meaning of the look he gave, but to Banri's glance Kouko nodded "yes yes yes yes!" repeatedly,

"We really agree! That hair suits you!"

Somehow she kept her voice down. Arching her beautifully drawn eyebrows, she flicked her eyes up and down Mitsuo quickly, then gave him a great big thumbs up. Banri felt exhausted, thinking "That isn't it...," however,

"...No. For a moment, I thought 'Eh!', but I wasn't particularly surprised. To say that I knew isn't an exaggeration."

For Mitsuo to say such a thing lightly was an anti-climax.

"Or rather, I somewhat suspected that sooner or later you would get like that."

Setting his bag on the table with a thud, he put his hand to his hair, apparently unaccustomed yet to its fluffiness, and flashed Banri a grin.

"So don't make a face like that, Banri. Some might think it unpleasant, like you're about to blow up."

That graceful, spendidly handsome, beautiful face. Without thinking about it, Banri raised one finger and started scratching the cheek of his almost adult face.

"...You 'knew'... since when?"

"Yep, it was pretty certain, after you declared so furiously, 'I talked with Kaga-san, and we decided to be friends! She's a beautiful person!' I thought of that just now, though to be fair, that's after the fact."

"Some, something like that happened?"

"Banri's forgetful!", Two Dimensions laughed. Then Kouko came and glued herself tight to Banri's arm,

"Beautiful person?"

Raising her face, a spoiled expression there, she pointed at herself.

"Me, a beautiful person?"

While pointing with both her left hand and her right, she declared "Beautiful Person! Super Beautiful Person!", and Kouko, seeming even happier than before, glued herself to him.

And then, cuddling close to Banri still, she huffed. Her sweet smile disappeared as she looked over in Mitsuo's direction,

"I mean... what's with you, Mitsuo, are you feeling good? Though you always made a bad face when you were about to go out with me..."

She had one eyebrow raised, her smile icy. Resting her chin on her uplifted shoulder, Kouko's face became nasty in her private battle with her childhood friend. Though frankly, Banri didn't dislike that face either.

"Besides, your assumptions are wrong. If you say that Tada-kun and I are going out, then you were absolutely thinking the opposite of us. For the same reason my parents... even though it was like they were aiming at me, they said that Tada-kun's life was all messed up. So, has it even occurred to you to think about why you were told about it? Do you want to hear about it?"

Speaking to Mitsuo, who sat across from her, her whole face a grin, like a demon.

"No! I don't want to hear about it!"

He shook his head from side to side violently, as if he were tearing it off.

"Won't you listen for now? Well, I was destined to be with Tada-kun, from the start."

"No! I don't want to hear about it! Or rather, I'm not worried about Banri. Banri, as far as I can see, has an extraordinary capacity for waiting, and should be able to associate with you."

"Ah, that was a compliment, for now," he turned and said to the flustered looking Banri.

"And besides, as far as I'm concerned, it's a relief. Up until now, she's been a maturing evil spirit, clinging to and harassing me! It felt like that."

A person's woman was being called an evil spirit. But the Kouko in question simply snorted, and didn't seem to take any offense.

"Surprising, isn't it? If that's all you can say, it seems like you really aren't down? Mitsuo seems to be tougher than I ever thought. Though I might seem so too, am I a little worried? Saying, "Mitsuo, is he really OK?" But that day! What Mitsuo here, did with regards to that miserable, pretentious, Ultrasonic! That, I cannot forget, you see,

O! M! G! Looking up to the heavens and closing her eyes, Kouko threw her hands in the air. Banri, of course, tugged a little nervously on one of her elbows,

"Ka, Kaga-san, that's a bit much..."

"It's o-kay. Mitsuo's a strong kid. Hey, setting that aside... isn't there always something more important? Don't we each have a different second period? What are we planning to do for lunch?"

"Lu, lunch... well..."

"Our first lunch since we started dating."

If you put it like that, today was perhaps a bit special. But Kouko gave Two Dimensions the thumbs up. In that way, she promised that at lunchtime, together with Two Dimensions and Yana-ssan, they would go buy deflated lunches and eat them on a park bench. She promised that Banri would show them where "there's cheap, delicious lunches." Banri realized that Kouko had just risen in his esteem, seeing as she didn't want to even seem like someone who makes light of the friendship of somebody she'd just gotten over.

"Today I'm eating with the boy's team... sorry."

"Would you like to be tied up? Or not? I'm only asking you this once, so answer me honestly."

"Nooo... not very much..."

"Well then, I'll forgive you. Until which period is it today?"

"Third period..."

"We'll wait in the lobby after third period."

With a sweet smile, her plans made, Kouko stood up lightly with her bag in hand. "See you later!" she said, moving her hands like Her Majesty the Queen, her high heels ringing and her curls bouncing, the well-poised person he so admired left, quickly walking ahead.

He realized it was already past the first period's starting time.

"Ah, we're running late! Let's go! What's that?"

Yana-ssan and Two Dimensions started to look back, but they noticed something unusual.

"Wait for me, Banri! And drag along Yana-ssan!"

Bowled over by those last minute words from Kouko, Mitsuo fell to one knee. It was a tremendous body blow; in the moment he realized it, the pain was curling through his whole body. What's more, in resisting it all Mitsuo was not such a 'strong kid'.

"Sh...", he groaned, unable to stand up. Quickly, Banri and Two Dimensions propped him up from both shoulders, but,

"Oh...ooh, an, smi... what in the world...!?"

To the question in the deathlike voice, the other two had no answer. First of all Banri, his head tilted in puzzlement,

"...Was that 'I' ... 'cannot stand it' ... 'anymore'?"

Continuing, Two Dimensions,

" 'Chat' ... 'manga' ... 'government' ?"

'Ha ha ha ha,' 'stupid,' 'not funny,' all three of them were for now trying to laugh,

"...Haa. Or rather, really, I hurt too much that moment..."

They turned towards their classroom and, as they walked as fast as they could, Mitsuo gave a depressed sounding sigh.

At that moment, of course, it was about the first-years drinking party of the other day. Through the end of the drunken fight with Kouko, sniping at each other as hard as they could, then confessing stupidly to Chinami. Her response, "Eh? Are you an idiot?" surprising even Kouko with its sharpness, defeating him with a single stroke, settling the matter that very night.

Banri and Two Dimensions exchanged a brief glance over Mitsuo's head. That one surely, really, was watching the whole painful scene from the very start. Banri thought. Really, that "O, M, G"... if it were me, I wouldn't be able to go on.

"This is certainly going to be a bit awkward from here on out. I wonder if Yana-ssan's talked with Oka-chan since then? Or even texted?"

Though Two Dimensions was talking, he shook his head,

"Never. Nothing at all. ...I mean, there hasn't been anything from over there. But, over here, though not the way Kouko means it, really becoming 'Mitsuo the strong kid', cool, I mean, I was thinking that normally he would have no choice... But we, we even go to club meetings together. We have a lot of the same classes too. From now on, there won't be anything we don't go to together..."

That's for sure. Banri had to turn his head to avoid a pinch from his friend.

"When next I run into her, if I can try and greet her smoothly? I'll wear a face like 'the other day I was only drunk.' I'll say I was causing trouble, that's all."

"...That's right. You'd best go with that approach. ...It's even smart; making a joke of it might just work."

It had gotten a bit late, perhaps, but the door was still open. They could see students entering, and then coming right back out to the hallway.

Wondering, Banri entered halfway too and saw on the chalkboard, in big letters, "Lecture Cancelled!"

"What the!? Why!?"

Underneath, in small letters, it said the lecturer had taken ill suddenly. Two Dimensions and Mitsuo looked at it too,

"Whoa, that's something! When I finally hurried with my translations!"

"Wow. What a waste getting up... I could've slept in."

All the students, as one, did an about face then and there. It was not at all unpleasant to have first period suddenly cancelled. They could have slept in if they'd known ahead of time, but having come to school, it now occurred to them that they suddenly had time to visit.

"Shall we go back to the cafeteria? I want to ask some questions regarding Banri and Kaga-san."

"There are things that must still be discussed about your future too."

"But we just went over that, and the situation hasn't changed..."

Their faces matching, like comrade bums, they had no choice but to chat tiredly. And about love, of all things.

Some guy he recognized from the same class said, "Got time? How about it?" He was waving a tile around to tempt them, but, not knowing mahjongg, this threesome also took a pass. Walking off down the corridor, Banri for some reason turned to face the guy they'd just passed,

"I mean, shouldn't we ought to learn mahjongg? Though one of the older guys in the Omaken, from staying so long in the mahjongg parlor, didn't even come to lecture. Is it true that if you don't play, you'll get snubbed?"

"Eeh?" Mitsuo frowned as he spoke.

"Isn't 'that' no more than a money exchange? Is it all that difficult to have 'money friends'?"

"Is that so? Actually, I don't know, or rather, I can't hear clearly around those places."

"They're absolutely bad places. Ain't I right, 2D?"

Catching the sudden change in moniker, Banri burst into soft laughter. While even Two Dimensions laughed,

"Well, wouldn't there be the case where it isn't? But that wouldn't be interesting. I mean, the Mitsuo Mangrove, its..."

How ridiculous! Banri was suddenly rolling on the floor with laughter. He laughed uproariously, like a monkey's brother, while he tried to say something sensible of his own.

"...Oh..."

He stopped moving. Uh oh, he gulped. No, Banri had no need to gulp, and yet,

"...Oka-chan, she's here..."

Though she was looking this way, it was clear they had seen her petite shadow down the corridor first. Casually turning around towards Mitsuo behind him, Banri intended to point her out to him. He'd said earlier that his heart was prepared for his normal greetings to be ignored.

However,

"---There's no way, of course!"

He spoke quickly, at mach speed.

All that lacked was a sonic boom as with everything he had, Mitsuo escaped from that place. Eh? Neither Banri nor Two Dimensions could follow in running away as obviously as that, rather with the same energy that they'd been escaped from, they turned around to face before them,

"...Good morning."

Oka Chinami, standing stock still by herself, was waving at them.

A cute, childlike figure, a sugary-sweet anime voice.

"And I was just about to say, 'Class got cancelled, eh? I was taking the same one, and wound up with spare time.' Yeah."

Grin. She seemed lonely, in a way he'd never seen since he'd known her, but Banri could see a vague smile on her lips.

* * *


All of a sudden, there had been a change of tour members.

With Yanagisawa Mitsuo OUT, and Oka Chinami IN, there formed a curious trio. Returning to the cafeteria, they sat around a table to kill time. Pouring free all-you-can-drink tea for each of themselves,

"I'm beaten, I'm beaten... I might be beaten."

Chinami sighed, resting her chin in her hands. With both her hands pressing against her white cheeks, her mouth was sharpened to a beak. In the depths of her anxious eyes, a universe of thousands of twinkling stars sparkled. Her puckered lips were the prettiest.

Gazing at Chinami like that, side by side on the other side of the table, spellbound... Banri and Two Dimensions were on the verge of breaking into grins, watching as if enchanted, they sighed with a meaning entirely different from hers.

If Banri were seen by Kouko showing such a face in front of Chinami, I fear it would probably be the end of the road for him. Romeo, death by poison. In any case, Kouko, even at the best of times, loathed Chinami as much as snakes, and in a way, would hate Banri admiring Chinami from the very bottom of her heart. To say she hated her very existence would not be an exaggeration.

He understood that, and yet,

"Am I defeated~?"

Showing a sickly smile, Banri snorted. Two Dimensions, in almost the same state,

"Yes yes, defeated~... I understand that~"

Nod, nod, they bowed their heads, showing their agreement.

"It's not a laughing matter!"

Chinami sent her pout once more in the direction of the pair of jokers.

Settled into her chair at the cafetería table, Chinami had a compact sort of cuteness. Purity to the point of being slightly scary. For them, it wasn't.

Slender feet and hands on a petite body. Slim shoulders, a slender neck, a straight back. On her pure white skin, surprisingly long, fan-shaped shadows fell from her long eyelashes. Showing through her light complexion, pure lips. The bridge of her nose was narrow and her eye sockets deep.

Looking small and quiet there, in a state that defied description even just sitting down, Chinami plainly had a mysterious appeal. The cafeteria was the deep forest. They were seated on tree stumps. With the flourescent lamps the sunlight filtering down between the huge trees, Banri and Two Dimensions were the animals fawning over her. They had surely been thinking, instinctively, that they wanted to present her with walnuts they'd peeled with their front teeth, or mushrooms they'd made to ripen amongst the litter of dead leaves. And then, they wanted to see her happy face. They might even cast their bodies into the flames, if only they could snuggle close to her stomach.

Nonetheless, as least as far as Banri was concerned, such feelings were on an altogether different dimension from "love" or "caring", but Kouko would probably find them hard to understand.

Cute Chinami cast down her cute eyes,

"That Yana. Getting a perm like that..."

Murmured cutely with a cute voice. Though it would have suited her to add a chirp.

Today as ever, her full black hair spilled down long, her bangs gathered to the sides over her ears, her round forehead fully exposed.

Looking not unlike Saibaba in a loose cotton blouse and too-high-waisted Ali Baba style pants, sandals from Birkenstock and her usual rustic black day-pack, that is to say her by now familiar ambiguous fashion, all unnecessarily emphasizing the fragility of her slender wrists and ankles, Chinami was unusually feminine. Even combing her long hair down and gathering it over one shoulder with her fingers, it seemed like they would break the moment she applied any force.

"...He didn't have to run away like that. Don't you think so? Neither Banri, nor Two Dimensions left."

Looking up at the faces of the pair of two male friends, Chinami tilted her head to the side. She seemed cute to the point of truly overwhelming them.

From Banri's point of view, he wanted to take Mitsuo's side here. It seemed likely that Two Dimensions, with the same feelings, was a bit troubled watching Banri.

But Mitsuo, he was one cute living being. Awkward, pure, with fine, soft hair. The damage to his scalp from the perm was a little worrisome, but he was a pet, five foot eleven in height.

Hesitating, picking his words, Banri spoke.

"Hey, Oka-chan. You, well, are just a fluttery dagger in black..."

Two Dimensions spouted tea from his nose. Chinami's bangs, swish, fell in front of her nose.

"On the one hand Yana-ssan, seen like that, is just an innocent young man who doesn't even know where the mushrooms sprout... though on his upper body he has fuzz sprouting here and there..."

"Wh, what are you saying...? What do you mean...?"

"Of course you know the meaning of the flower below?"

Chinami sprang up. Bending over the table, she slapped Banri's hand.

"S, so! Though I told you before! I don't have any such flower blooming below! It's the truth! You'll believe me any time now!"

"It's a joke, it's a joke, in fact, the meaning is figurative. Seriously. Really. ...Yana-ssan doesn't care much, he's in such a pitiful state. Drunken, having made such a forceful confession, well, having done that sort of thing. Of course, don't we guys understand that there's nothing bad in you? But, would it have been possible, in that case, to have let him off a little easier? I mean, to make things like it never happened, to be close to him just as before."

"...I mean, hey..."

Returning to sit in her chair, Chinami turned her petite body over to the custody of her chair's back.

"To do something like that was my intention, of course. But if he's going to run away like that, I guess ignoring him (or not) isn't possible."

Passing a tissue to Two Dimensions, who was still coughing and unable to say anything, Chinami's dark, clear eyes looked at Banri.

Oh. In an instant he forgot his words, the color of those eyes was so marvelously deep. Bottomless, and surprisingly cool.

"Besides, as for me, that didn't count as 'being confessed to'. Something done while drunken is usually forgotten. And yet, running away like that, when you're no longer 'under the influence', isn't inexcusable. As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing to do with the here and now. Normally, you get hurt."

"...Oh well. So it is. Running away like that, was perhaps a little..."

With that fluffy hair style... though at the time he showed up he looked cool. Despite how cool he was, accepting the matter of himself and Kouko at once. In spite of how cool he was, enduring Kouko's attack right afterwards. Banri remembered having sympathy for him as he dashed away behind his friends' backs.

He understood the guy's feelings.

It was too much to endure, a bitter state to be in, he thought. But if he'd tried a little harder to stick around this place, and if he'd been able to keep looking cool, if he'd done so, chatting with Chinami like before, like this, they could have put things back to normal.

"...Mitsuo wasn't such a strong kid... so much."

Wiping his mouth, finally returning to the conversation, Two Dimensions followed up.

"But, beyond that, Yana-ssan has his good points. Don't you think so? Even though he's such a handsome guy, inside he's just a smelly human being, normally feeling nervous. After all, what we do, he and I, is about the same. We can't help but be ordinary people, it seems like. As it is, his looks are practically there already. But even if he were a completely and perfectly finished guy, I still think he would be rather disagreeable, myself. He's too different from the world, I mean."

That speech having a rather nice feel to it, Chinami agreed a bit, nodding towards Two Dimensions. With Banri's agreeing as well,

"Certainly. That's the way it is. Besides, with respect to Yana-ssan,"

Settling back into his chair, he related it all with a ever more knowing face,

"...!"

He saw... that person.

So surprised he suddenly lost his balance, tipping over into the chair behind him. Bang and clanging, the sound echoed. All at once, the scattered people looked towards him.

"Banri!" There were three people's voices calling his name.

Standing with Two Dimensions and Chinami, there was one more: Linda.

Linda's figure, it was there. She was standing in the entrance to the cafeteria. Her hair, though not very long, was forced into a single knot. She had a day-pack hung from one shoulder. She was wearing a navy blue jersey and a light blue cardigan, tight jeans and her usual Nikes. Her eyes opened wide. Her red... lips...

Banri got up without saying anything, tossed his bag into their scattered baggage and took off running as he was. Leaving Two Dimensions, Chinami, Linda and just about everybody else behind there, without even looking back, he ran out.

Running running, running, eyes forward he jumped into the elevator that had just arrived. He pushed '9' for the top floor to go up for now, and the door closed. Going steadily up in the elevator car, he stood frozen like a pole.

Waah... he closed his eyes. He covered his eyelids with his hot hands. It was like that. Perhaps because he'd seen Mitsuo's mach-speed escape, he'd just done the same thing. ...No, he wouldn't deceive himself with such words. He couldn't even blame his friend.

He'd fled. That was entirely due to his own weakness. Seeing that me, that person--- Linda, what must she have thought? Did she get mad? Was she hurt? Was she despising me? Saying "As I thought, that guy is useless, he's changed," will she turn her back on Tada Banri?

He had even ignored all her texts.

Are you okay? Please contact me. I'm worried! How are you doing? I'm sorry for it all. She sent him words like that, but no matter what, he couldn't answer her.

The ninth floor was professor's and graduate student's offices all lined up. He could see by the light through each office's windows, but there was nobody around. Into the deathly quiet space, Banri stepped forward unsteadily.

But what should he say back to her? What kind of expression should he make, what should he say? How should he face her, what should he say to her, to the now entirely forgotten Linda?

What was Linda thinking of him?

It was scary.

Having known his former self, what Linda thought of his current self before her, in her heart, really and truly, he did not know. ...And though he did not know, from what he could imagine, he was scared.

They hadn't simply run into each other innocently, as in "I'm happy to see you again!" That much even Banri understood. If that were the case, from the beginning, Linda would probably have spoken with him from the start.

That night, Linda had called him "Banri."

"Forgive me, I was scared!" So she had cried out.

He could not forget that voice. He could no longer think of the "gentle, reliable Linda-senpai."

At that moment, Linda was calling the old Tada Banri. It wasn't this self existing now. Calling that guy, and then begging for something. It wasn't himself. Wasn't Linda wishing for that guy to wake up and answer her, for him to return to her and stand before her eyes, that in particular?

---Scared that it seemed entirely so, Banri had fled from that place at once. It isn't you. Go away. Disappear. Being rejected like that was scarier than anything else.

And now, recognizing himself fearing such a thing was scary too. Pretending to be having fun, like everything had been forgotten, promising to date Kouko, who said she loved him, getting together to laugh and mess around with friends; he couldn't live any other way.

Really, he wasn't going to just forget that terror.

However, he was only pretending not to notice. Not looking directly at her, but rather at something else over that way, he simply continued deceiving her. Where acting like that would lead him to in the end, he didn't know. Neither did he know when it would be over. Only that he continued acting incomplete.

So, when suddenly the source of his great fear appeared before him, he didn't know another way to get away than this.

Waah. Head in his hands, he crouched down in that place. As it was, he didn't want to meet her again, even though there was just no way he could do that. To truly leave her behind, and then make things as if they never were, there was just no way. The story might be different if he were to fall down once more from a tall bridge, but he didn't believe in miracles enough to risk himself to that extent, and more than anything else, he didn't think Kouko would permit it. He wondered how far and how many times she would have chased after him on the bicycle, trying to carry him over the bridge on the handlebars. She wouldn't allow such a thing. She would hug him tightly and pull him back.

In the corner of a landing, setting his back to the wall, Banri crumbled weakly. He buried his face in the knees of his bluejeans. He wanted to see Kouko. He wanted to see her so badly, he couldn't stand it.

"...Kaga-san..."

I want to see you right away.

I want you pull me back from this scary world.

I want you to help me.

I want you to tell me in that gentle voice, "You can stay here." I want to hear your voice saying "I love you."

I want to see her.