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In the middle of his futon, Banri opened his eyes.
Linda, he'd said.
Almost in shock, he gradually felt around his cheeks the heat of a long sigh he let out.
Was what he was seeing a dream?
The warm remnants had dripped from the core of his body into the pit of his stomach, but the aftertaste of calling out to her was simply too vivid. His heart was still beating hard.
The towel-blanket that covered him to his head was damp from his night sweat. In the thin darkness, suffused with his own body odor, he realized that he was curled up and dug deep under like an animal in a deep burrow.
As if he were twisting himself, he stuck his head out and at the same time, his cell-phone's alarm sounded beside his bed. It was morning.
The world before his eyes: his familiar one room apartment.
His own room for living alone. The interior, an idiotic beige and white, wood-tone.
As he did it, Banri thought 'what an awful mess.' Not having arisen from his bed yet, only his eyes were moving. Where there would be a television screen, there was a still open notebook computer, half-empty PET bottles and snack-food bags. And disposable chopsticks. Not wanting to get his hands dirty, Banri eats potato chips with chopsticks. And because washing the chopsticks for the sake of the potato chips was bothersome, he was using those disposable chopsticks they have set by the cash register at the convenience store for the benefit of people buying boxed lunches, by the sign saying "Please use chopsticks!" Up to this point, he had never turned them down.
Everything he couldn't tidy up was scattered aimlessly around the center cushion: a charger, gum, some bags, a wallet, comics, discarded socks, nose-blown tissues, finger wiped tissues, tissues dirtied somehow at the formation of the galaxy, and in another alternate universe were discarded clothes, lecture handouts, loose-leaf papers, and miscellaneous things stuffed in through the mail-slot.
And stretched across the floor, a parallelogram.
It was the shadow of a stool.
In the north and south, through the gaps in the yellow curtains the morning light shone through, cutting straight lines, and in them the dust in the air could be seen drifting, dancing in the beams. He thought: it’s the world of morning. The sunlight was brilliant. It looked like today’s weather would be good again.
It was already time when he had to get up and go to first period.
But, far from getting himself up, he could not, so long as he could stop the cell-phone alarm. Banri remained lying down still, his chest moving up and down with his shallow breathing.
His outstretched arms felt heavy, his legs had no strength, and he was unable to throw off his towel-blanket. The back of his head buried in the pillow still, he kept looking up vaguely at the ceiling.
The morning light on the other side of his eyelashes was dazzling. Frowning with eyebrows unkempt since the trim he’d received the previous month, Banri resisted still the shrill sound of the alarm.
In Tokyo, July had arrived.
Three months had passed already since he’d come up to Tokyo.
The stickiness of his skin was surely due to the heat of the night.
Still laying down in the bed soaked with his body heat and sweat, Banri pressed the back of his hand against his forehead. His forehead was hot and sticky, and where he touched his body felt bad.
He wondered what the heck happened overnight, where he’d gone.
Was that all--- a dream?
Blinking his eyes in the warmly humid summer morning, Banri somehow raised his bangs from where they had stuck to his forehead. He simply didn't think that it was all a dream. That was just no way, he felt.
As proof that it was not a dream, his lips throbbed painfully in time with his heartbeat. With the terrible heat and swelling, he could not close his mouth very tightly. With all due respect, one thing is Ikariya, another Matsumoto Seichou, otherwise, lips as huge as this are considered to be pretty in a tribal environment... but no, already it didn't matter. At any rate, even he understood that the swelling was obvious.
Last night, Banri had fallen flat on his face in the middle of his room.
He'd cut his lip banging his mouth on the floor pretty hard. It bled terribly, but still, he was lucky his front teeth weren't broken, and he had to believe it was the way he fell.
While trembling in pain and shock, he couldn't do more in any case than press hard on the cut with a tissue. The bleeding had dripped all the way down to his chin, but he had a feeling that rushing over to the hospital emergency room would be a bit much, and wavering over what to do, he entered once more into a sleep-like trance... it seemed like.
There were traces of blood here and there on the towel spread out over his pillow. And on the sheets. And on the front of his tee-shirt. And on the tissues scattered about also, there was the color of dried blood.
---Like a high-pitched scream, the cell-phone alarm was still sounding.
Crying and shouting like some invisible person, the sound was incredibly hurtful to his ears.
With all his might, Banri shut his eyes. It somehow seemed awfully difficult to grab the cell-phone with his right hand and kill the alarm. As things were, he got out of bed as if he were rolling out of it.
But on the wooden flooring, no strength in his knees, his body folded like an old man's, just like that. He couldn't straighten himself up. He didn't have the strength to support himself.
Crouched on the floor on his hands and knees, in a poze as if he were bowed down in worship, covering his face with hands that had dropped his cell-phone,
"...Why, like this..."
And then, like that, a flash-back--- that was the only thing you could call it, he was enduring a great wave of explosive feelings.
What was happening to him now? What had happened during the night? He didn't understand it precisely. Banri simply understood that last night, temporarily, his past self had awoken in his body.
A few hours ago, in the middle of the night, the Tada Banri from before his memory loss had suddenly and surely woken from sleep and was here in this body.
He remembered it being like a fish jumping out of the water, thinking "Aah! I'm returning! To my body!" Who had thought that, or seeing as the core personality was clearly no longer there, that it was this body, or rather this body that thought like that was something he could only barely comprehend.
It was every emotion coming at him at once: surprise and delight, bewilderment, bafflement and dismay. They were all one thing.
'I want to go back to be with Linda!'
That was all Tada Banri asked.
Mother didn't matter, father didn't matter, home didn't matter. In that time a bit ago when Banri tried with all his might to run off and return home, it was about one woman only.
That woman, formally called Hayashida Nana but answering to 'Linda', of supple build, was formerly his female friend, and was now his club senior, and now, because of that, with that,
---Every gasp was as if his heart were being grabbed and squeezed.
He wondered what kind of mechanism it was.
Cowering down still, his body twisting, Banri tried repeatedly to somehow get a good breath. He attempted to calm himself down and return to himself, to breathe slowly in and let it out. But his lungs and stomach stiffened as if he were shivering, his chest squeezed in tightly as if it were scared of something, and he couldn't get them to work together. Half in a state of panic, on the verge of suffocating and yet on the edge of hyperventilating too, Banri shook his diaphragm awkwardly and rubbed his forehead against the floor.
He was thinking, wishing to escape from reality, and that he seemed to be quite the 'keening woman.' He'd seen from the television that it was the custom somewhere in Asia. It was said they would go crazy at funerals, wailing exaggeratedly on purpose, in the so-called 'Sakura' form. While watching the professional women do their work, screaming and bawling in a virtually trance-like state, Banri had been thinking "If I tried that, I'd probably do it backwards." He was surely in such a state now, making his back go up and down violently. Like he was being hit squarely by hypersonic waves, every cell of his body was on the verge of destruction from the ferocity by which they were being made to vibrate.
Already, he was entirely mush.
He thought of his normal shape.
He had known for quite a while now that the person he was before he lost his memories had had a crush on Linda.
Just by looking at the smiling face next to Linda in the photo, that was of course the proof, himself. He told himself, that guy is in love. You're entirely exposed, you, I mean me.
And now Banri, meeting Linda-senpai once more, having become a college student, without even knowing the full situation, from the start felt her worth caring about ...no, he thought she was rather nice. As much on the outside as on the inside, and when later it became clear, as he learned more of the past, he was already thankful, from the bottom of his heart, for her support in his very existence, and as far as Banri was concerned, Linda had been a "special person" for a long time already.
If he had not met and fallen in love with Kaga Kouko, it wouldn't be strange if he were going crazy with a second crush on Linda by now.
He even knew that was how he would have thought.
But, that was all.
For no more than one night, or rather for a few moments, no, maybe just for a few seconds, his former self, from before he lost his memories, had returned to his body.
It was definitely a situation where the feelings when he started running for Linda's side, the strong attachment he must have had, built over a long time and many shared experiences, had been installed into his current self.
In the heart of the present Banri welcoming the morning, the forcefully spoken words "I want to go back!" torn out of his body as if in reckless yearning remained entirely there, though his memories had not returned.
Truly, he wanted to say 'What the heck?' He wanted to ask somebody.
In just one night, this much of his heart had been stolen away.
(I wonder what Linda is doing right now?) (Would she be thinking of me?) (What does Linda think of me, I wonder?) (Just what am I as far as Linda is concerned?)
---Really, he felt like he had been stolen away.
He was becoming unable to think of anything normally, of other things. Surprisingly, the core of his thoughts had turned to mush. Separately, Banri thought of his own problems. Though he'd never been the type to call himself sharp-witted, all things considered, his current situation was really bad.
Looking rather like a cat sitting atop a fence, he raised his stunned face in both hands. He did not understand the meaning. He realized that when Linda had been here, he had been hoping without any reason for it. He truly did not understand the meaning of it.
Looking at the stools, he thought. It would be nice if Linda were sitting over there. Looking at the kitchen, he thought. It would be nice if she were there in the kitchen. He looked at the window and thought. It would be nice if she were there by the window. Here, at my side, it would be nice if Linda were here now. And then, even this pain, this empty heart, would all be resolved.
What was he saying...
All he needed to pierce himself was sharpness, but he was too blunt. Just hitting himself viciously with the back of a heavy kitchen knife hurt, but it didn't cut!
...He would not deceive himself, not even in jest. It was like his self was being washed away.
He was in over his head, all his thoughts, his emotions, even his very self were becoming a rushing torrent, forming a whirlpool that swirled around a single woman called Linda. Whatever he did, he couldn't break out of this whirlpool. Not even breathing, trying to fight back, he had so far been unable to return to normal movement. Crammed and filled to bursting, like a balloon inflated to its limits, he was at the end of his rope, and couldn't stretch the least bit more.
He was doing really well with ordinary difficulties. He remembered the face of his former self. Even so, the troubles of the former Tada Banri, everything: his studies, sitting for exams, taking part in club activities, hanging around with his other friends, all while a state of being afflicted by emotions for one woman, were something hidden from him.
(...I flunked my exams because of such things...)
He was talking to himself like it was somebody else's problem, but even so, he thought that the face in the photo, laughing to where you could see the teeth in the back of his mouth, was clearly feeling good about things.
All of a sudden, there was a chill up his spine.
Of course, he could not set aside the matter. He realized that he didn't know where the photo taken of his face with Linda's was. For certain, it had disappeared from the place where it should have been, and given the circumstances, he could only think ‘somebody' had found it and taken it away.
And that 'somebody', should it turn out to be ‘girlfriend'...
"...Ah, ah, ah...! Enough already!"
'Horrible, horrible, horrible, I'm horrible, I'm the worst, I should die, or rather not think, or at least think properly,' Banri moaned as if in prayer, churned his hair with his hands and bounced up and down energetically.
For the moment, the world was a giant slalom. Raising his voice stupidly, "Eh!?" unable to stand, he sank to the ground once more, just like Bambi.
His vision kept spinning, as if he'd been riding on a merry-go-round. And then, though he had intended to sit straight down, of its own accord his body was rapidly listing to one side. Had he realized it, it was as if he had motion sickness, with nausea welling up from his stomach.
He was in awful shape.
Frowning silently, Banri sat foppishly, sideways with both hands on the floor, supporting a body that seemed to have collapsed. Was his bad condition due to the wound on his lip, which had been throbbing in pain the whole time? Could it be as bad as that? He considered going to the bathroom to check in mirror and see how bad his face looked, but without strength in his limbs, of course, he could neither stand up nor walk.
Frustrated, Banri shuffled, almost crawled, over to the low table in the center of the room on his knees. He remembered the gorgeous mirror that Kouko had given him. Taking hold of it desperately, clinging to it like he was drowning, he checked his face.
Described within the mirror,
A cursed, ugly face was revealed.
What the... he gasped in silence for a moment. It felt like he was that lout they called "Porco Rosso."
His first impression of the wound on his lip was that it was worse than he'd ever imagined. His entire lower lip was swollen like an over-ripe field berry... it looked something like a snake gourd. His lip must have split along a line in the shape of a letter 'Y'. Streaked vividly with dark dried blood, fresh enough to make one want to look away, they had swollen up hugely. The area which had gotten bashed was bruised deep purple. You could call it elegant, but such elegance in the old days was only permitted to the emperor--- stop it, I don't have the heart to joke about it right now.
The swelling that he wanted to avert his eyes from stretched from around his chin to his cheeks, all the way to around eyes. Banri's face was swollen to five times larger than normal.
His eyes shut just like some insolent newborn baby, his sweaty, slippery skin gleaming strangely, breathing through his nose while letting his lips droop carelessly, not wanting to admit that this was his own face, and it would be reborn seven more times yet, he had been thrown a perfectly straight, plain fast ball. Catching it was going to be a pain.
And his face was not its normal color. Flushed red and swollen up, if he tried to hold his hand against his cheek or his forehead they were hot, as if they had caught fire. Come to think of it, wasn't it too hot where he just touched his forehead?
"In other words... do I have a fever?"
The dizziness, the feeling out of sorts, and now a feverish face. He didn’t have a thermometer to check it with, but his current state was proof enough.
When he had calmed himself down and checked how he felt, more than the heat of a July morning, he felt a chill seeping out from the marrow of his bones. Now he was shivering.
Banri, somehow propping up his body against the wall, staggered towards the bathroom for now. He managed to take care of that, sitting down as if collapsing, but when it came time to leave it was on all fours. Like this, if his hair were long, he’d be just like Sadako.
Quickly falling to the floor once again, unable to get up and by will-power alone pulling his pants on about 70% of the way, he thought. This was, perhaps, really, a bit too much in a physical sense. He wasn’t going to be able to get better by himself. He had a feeling that as time went on he was only going to get worse.
There certainly had to be a clinic specializing in internal medicine in the neighborhood. He remembered spotting one while walking about.
Getting up somehow or another, he finished pulling on the remaining 30% of his pants. Grabbing his wallet (insurance card inside), his cell-phone and the house-key, and pulling some house-shorts near at hand over the lower half of his body, Banri headed unsteadily towards the door.
Stuffing his wobbly feet into sandals and opening the door, he went out into the outer corridor. The direct sunlight dazzled his eyes. The door lock didn't want to set, and he struck the door knob over and over again with the keys, to no avail. Almost seating himself there, he managed to set the lock after several tries. Starting to walk off,
Dizzyness. It was useless, of course. The world was once more a merry-go-round.
He fell to the side as if he'd had his feet kicked out from under him, hitting the next door rather hard. He sank down to the floor, unable to get back on his feet just then.
The next apartment, come to think of it, wasn't that of a stranger. Banri hit that door over and over again with his feeble fists.
Shortly, the sound of stamping feet came to Banri's ears through the door, their owner making no attempt at concealing her displeasure. The angrily opened door was stopped only by the fallen Banri's head.
Her voice was low and rough, reverberating as if from the depths of hell, but,
She seemed to realize right away that the pitiful creature fallen at her doorstep was her underclassman neighbor.
In Banri's barely open eyes, whether by chance or not, there was a perfect view, looking up at an angle from below at the figure standing there imposingly in the door.
He was absolutely not looking over that too-white skin with his gaze, over and over, up and down, as if he were licking her all over. He was feeling so sick that even if he had thought of it, he wouldn't have been able to control the movement of his eyeballs.
Over her slim body, she wore a oversize black skull and crossbones tee-shirt. Her bare toenails were painted jet black too. As much as she was sinister, there were those white thighs, boyishly firm shins and ankles. Shell-like ankle-bones. If he looked at upwards once more, it was likewise black... she was somehow wearing boxer shorts like a guy.
He wondered if he would be trampled to death, without hesitation, if he were to say something like "Wasn't there a thong hanging on the veranda when I looked the other day? Why isn't it there?" Because he understood that much, Banri turned his head limply to the side, averting his eyes from the panties.
Irritated, her scowling eyebrows were punkishly thin. Without makeup, her features were like those of a beautiful child. The jet black hair that fell to around her chin seemed strangely devoid of life. She didn't seem womanly, her body too small and thin.
Holding a cigarette pinched in her fingertips, she silently inhaled a mouthful. You could hear the little flame burning. As if she wanted her lungs to be soaked in nicotine, keeping her thin lips closed for a bit, not breathing, NANA-senpai was looking down at Banri.
Presently, smoke leaked out from her mouth.
"What are you doing?"
"...I am, in distress..."
In the rain! A failure! An abandoned dog! It seemed like that kind of situation.
Banri looked up at the person beside him, filled with many thoughts and feelings.
"You seriously, really are a super nice person! ...You were, weren't you!?"
"Your face is really ticking me off."
That voice was so ill-tempered, it could have continued "You want me to give you a bindi by cigarette burn?"
Whether it was due to her bad temper, smoking, her band or all of the above, the low, rough quality of NANA-senpai's voice, for no apparent reason, was easy on his ears. Perhaps his sense of hearing was overheating, but it seemed to Banri to belong in the same category as sonar echoing in the deeps of the sea.
NANA-senpai grabbed hold of Banri's elbow firmly and helped lift his wobbly body. She was also holding a plastic bag from the pharmacy with antibiotics prescribed for him, so he wouldn't drop it.
If you saw them up close, they were perhaps a little... no, a very suspicious looking twosome. A very ill-tempered punk woman with a pallid face and a really ugly looking guy (with a big bandage on this mouth) with feverishly glittering eyes. But from an outsider's perspective, under the clear, pleasant morning sky, they were simply walking companionably arm in arm.
The sidewalk of dull red and grey pavers combined into a checkerboard pattern relayed them on from the clinic to the combined station and shopping district, and continued onwards to the apartment building where Banri and NANA-senpai lived. A row of ginkgo trees leafed out thickly, casting dark lacy shadows about their feet.
He looked at his watch when they left the pharmacy, and it was barely nine thirty, but the sunlight coming down from above was already baking their skin. The voices of the cicadas could not be heard yet. But, he had a feeling that in this hot wind, they'd turn the volume up really loud any time now.
Moving his uncomfortable mouth carefully, Banri,
"Really, thank you very much... it seems that I misunderstood you somehow, NANA-senpai..."
Looking up at NANA-senpai, he tried earnestly to convey his gratitude.
If he were to stand straight up, Banri would actually be about ten centimeters taller, but in his current weak-legged state, Banri's nose came up to around NANA-senpai's shoulder.
The reply was one chilly snort. Without so much as a twitch of her narrow chin for Banri's sake, perhaps wanting a cigarette, she licked her lips with the tip of her tongue.
"NANA-senpai, in the wilderness of Tokyo, putting up a brave front so as not to be underestimated, truly having forgotten entirely the kind and gentle ways of neighborly love, not even accepting the Unagi-pie my mother and I had bought, just somebody from Kawaguchi, changed by the city into an extreme cosplayer..."
She may not have had the black makeup around her eyes, but her gaze was sufficiently sharp and cold as she glared back at Banri, irritated.
"I'm not from Kawaguchi! And I'm not a cosplayer."
"Ah, excuse me... but, err, or was it Kami-Nakazato?"
She growled "Wa-ra-bi," altogether like a wild animal in a cage.
But still. What to do in this odd situation?
NANA-senpai, the one that knocked down Banri and Kouko with a guitar once, the one that had that trendy, very loud poetry reading spot (though he wasn't really sure of that). And the one that took Banri is his shaky condition to the clinic. He wondered who in the world could have imagined this scene.
At the very least, it was one amazing moment, both surprising and moving. He had thought he only wanted to get some help in standing up, but he truly not expected to receive so much.
The clinic was smaller than he'd thought, and barely five minutes distance from the apartments where they lived, but though he was made to wait quite a while, it took time to check and treat him, and it even took time to get his medicine from a nearby pharmacy, NANA-senpai accompanied him all the while without a cigarette. Even beyond that: when he didn't have quite enough to pay the bill, she even lent him some money.
Because he had had the impression of this person as really scary, and terribly dangerous, somebody who shouldn't be expected to be nice to him, it had moved him all the more. It rather felt like he was a mangy stray dog out in the rain who had been randomly helped by somebody.
"...I will not forget my debt to you, my whole life long!"
Neither will I forget she's from Warabi, Banri thought of the greater Tokyo and northeastern Japan roadmap while reflecting deeply.
"Shut up. Look here, don't stagger. Walk straight, pig-face."
Still wearing a black night-shirt, worn out and torn in several places, and tired jersey pants, her flip-flops flapping, NANA-senpai put her hand underneath his arm and,
"Ugh, it's all wet! ...It's arm-pit sweat!"
As if in complete revulsion, she twisted her pallid, unhealthy-looking face. Heh, Banri laughed,
"It's arm-pit sweat!"
For a guy with a fever, he was strangely tense. Making his eyes glisten like a newborn babe's, while looking up at the 'truly gentle delinquent.' Shamelessly sticking and cuddling up to her, perhaps thinking about such extraneous things like 'the substance referred to as a bra isn't really needed in this human life.'
"Hey, what's with you!"
"It's arm-pit sweat!"
"No its not! It was a sign they were telling us about!"
"That it looks like my lip wound is starting to fester, and I'm getting feverish."
"...Hmm. That's what it looks like. Well, at a glance it looks awfully bad. ...Perhaps you got hit?"
"Huh? Indeed. Me, me. It's from me to me."
"Shut up and be quiet."
"Watcha gonna, do..."
"Shut up and be quiet, or I'm gonna kill you."
"Ma-n, NANA-senpai... you're so ..."
Being lent a shoulder was a nice thing. As it was, Banri, caught up in the moment, seeing the bones across her tee-shirt getting sharper, tried to push his nose into her slender shoulder.
"...And besides, wow, being watched really close under the eyes of NANA-senpai, the awful bear...eek!"
There being no use arguing, she grabbed a handful of hair on the top of his head as if it were a bundle of straw and tore it off. But isn't that the way it is? It was already too late to be thinking he'd gotten carried away with things. The rising screech from the pain in his scalp twisting his still painful mouth, Banri was at NANA-senpai's mercy, unable to make a sound. And in that way, without a shoulder being lent to him a second time, he was hauled back by a silent NANA-senpai, by the hair of his head, and arrived back to the apartments.
"Look, just stand up."
Tossed towards the entrance as if he were flung, shoved into the elevator and then leaving it,
Just one word. Then like a condemned criminal from a time before human rights might be simply thrown off a cliff, he was kicked in the butt by a sandal. Not the most surefooted even at the best of times, Banri fell over easily, and,
"Are, aren't you being rather mean!? Treating the injured me like this... just when I thought you are really nice, you're suddenly cold... huh!? It must be that so-called 'tsunderation', where you're prepared mentally by being dragged around by the nose..."
"...Though if it were Linda-senpai, then she'd certainly be kind to me...!"
"That'd be nice, wouldn't it? Linda, catch!"
Grabbed by the back of the neck, he was once more pushed away. Stumbling forward and clinging to the corridor wall,
That person, was there.
Feeling like he was halfway through a test of spirit, the name belonging to that person...
Not saying anything more, not even a greeting for the moment, Banri only dropped his jaw in wonderment.
That person squatted down before Banri's eyes, peered at his awful visage, and then looked up NANA-senpai's face.
"Good grief, NANA-senpai... venting your anger by beating up on your neighbor Tada Banri...?"
"He's an idiot, maybe. Dunno. He's not my type."
Looking like she was dying to have a cigarette in her mouth, NANA-senpai restlessly fiddled around with a 100-yen lighter in her hand.
"This guy did it to himself, and suddenly came asking for help. That's all."
I'm out of smokes.
Saying that point blank, NANA-senpai promptly withdrew to her own apartment.
Her door closing with a snick, those left behind, Banri and,
"She doesn't listen when I tell her she ought to stop smoking. I mean, I was surprised. What, what to do? Suddenly from NANA-senpai came an e-mail saying 'I'm taking Tada Banri to the clinic.' Already surprised, leaving the lecture I came here for now, but, I mean, are you okay? Really, what happened here? Did you get injured?"
"...Tada Banri? Can you stand?"
"...Hold on, oy? What are you looking at? Why don't you go into your room?"
When I'm in trouble, she comes running.
And now, she's here.
Somehow having gotten to where he looked like he had been crying, Banri covered his face in a hurry.
* * *
Putting Banri to bed, Linda left the room one time, but was back in only ten minutes.
"I mean, pardon me once more for the intrusion."
His body buried in the towel-blanket, Banri resisted an uncomfortable urge to jump.
In Linda's hands were a white bag from a convenience store, and a yellow one from the drug-store. She lifted them up for Banri to see.
"You didn't eat anything before taking your medicine, did you? How about it? Does anything here look good?"
On her knees at his bed-side, she was rather close. Too close.
Pretending to be acting absentmindedly due to his fever--- not at all an uncommon behavior--- Banri closed his eyes and turned his face towards the wall, dead tired.
Linda pulled one thing after another from a plastic bag to show him: sports drinks, appetizer breads shredded so he could eat them. And then by the yogurt, some cold packs.
On her knees looking down at his face,
"...Oh, and here you go!"
She twisted his upper body around and as soon as she had lifted him up, she took out a coldpack. Laughing like crazy as she did it, she ripped open the package and stuck it to his forehead. With his head returned to the pillow like that, he sluggishly stared at Linda's cheeks.
"What's with you, Tada Banri? The way you're acting..."
"Ehee, whatcha mean!?"
"...You're acting strange."
"Eh!? Whaddya mean, what!?"
"...So, what's going on here, really..."
As a matter of fact, the nervously shaking Banri couldn't honestly tell what Linda's expression was. With what kind of face, with what kind of eyes, what strange behavior she was seeing in him he had no idea.
He was flustered. And then worried. He was bewildered. He was tense. Like that, bouncing all over, he was desperately trying just to keep his expression blank. It was the best he could do.
In his own way, for now, it was like he was trying to get back to the carefree mood he had during that time he had just spent with NANA-senpai--- it was, but.
'I don't know what kind of face I should show.'
It was his good friend Two Dimensions' trademark expression. Like the time a little too much of the shared bill had been paid for him, the time he'd been given part of a side-dish in the school cafeteria, the time the trays had been cleaned up for him quickly, the time he'd been brought some water in passing, and so forth. At times like that, the guy would often have his hair all thrown forward around his face, and would say it with a flat voice, acting the part of Ayanami Rei. While this was going on, Banri would be thinking "Should I laugh?" but unable to speak the words, would just smile faintly. He could even laugh "That's not right! That's awful!" at a cliché like that, and Banri right now was surely in that state of mind.
What kind of face he should show in Linda's presence, he did not know.
To that extent, her's was the face he thought he wanted to see. She was the person he thought he wanted to be with. Somewhere in his heart, he must have been thinking, "I want to go back, I am dying to go back." In only one night, he had suddenly come to be like this.
A blank expression, or something like it, he simply could not show. That much was a given in any case.
"Hey you... is it just the fever's fault you're strange? Are you really okay?"
Linda muttered suspiciously, opened the sports drink top and held the bottle out to him. The chilled bottle, Banri's muggy room, was as wet as if it were sweating. At that moment, the drops dripping...
"Anyway, have a drink. I brought you a straw too."
---A drop of water fell, running from Linda's fingertip to her wrist.
Having seen that, or rather noticing that he had seen that, he felt ashamed at how his gaze clung to that clear water drop as it went smoothly down her skin. He was unable to take his eyes from it.
Unable to say anything more, Banri couldn't help but hang his head. He covered his eyes as if he were separating himself that way, not saying a word. His face was flushed, his breathing difficult. He was just like a little kid. He was one sad beast, having forgotten how to speak. A very embarrassed creature.
Already unable to simply pretend and laugh it off, his swollen face throbbed to the hot pulsation. If Linda were to see it, he couldn't help but die.
Without a television, the room was small, and in the quiet, Banri desperately tried to hide the sound of his breathing. 'Say something quickly, Linda,' he girlishly prayed for help from above. Please do something, anything. Break this silence for me. In a closed room like this, with no concealing shadows, where one can show their feelings openly... even though the only one getting uncomfortable was himself, doing it on his own.
Linda inserted a straw into the mouth of the bottle she held in her hands and,
With a jerk of her chin, she told him to drink. Her eyes closed partially like a cat's, she had such a face. Acting like she was older than him.
Banri looked at it and doing as he was told, as if greedily, bit down on the straw. He finished it without talking nor even thinking, in any case he did what he was supposed to. Completely engrossed, he sucked up the cold drink and gulped it down, eyes closed, as if clinging to every sensation as it passed by.
But the moment he had drank one mouthful, Banri realized just how dried-out his throat had been. The sweet, cool drink he hadn't particularly thought about wanting, and when he realized he wanted it badly, he practically drank it all in one gulp.
Unbeknownst to him, his body had been dying of thirst and craved something moist.
Looking at Banri, who was taking an instinctive breath,
"That's good, drink, drink. Well, shall we have this next?"
Linda took the empty PET bottle, and passed him a container of yogurt. Opening the foil lid halfway, she stuck the straw he'd just used into the opening and,
"You can suck this that way too; it looks like your mouth doesn't hurt so much. It's rather strange, but nobody can see you."
Banri didn't have the heart at the moment to say things like 'you seem to be watching over me.' Doing as Linda had told him, he started sucking the plain yogurt through the straw. When he pursed his swollen lips, the pain ran through them but still, it would probably hurt to eat it normally with a spoon. The bandage was a hindrance too, and it was probably all dirty.
"Can you manage some bread?"
Banri, the straw still held in his mouth, quickly shook his head side to side and with his eyes kept Linda from tearing open the other bag. As you might expect, he didn't think he was up to chewing something solid.
"I understand. Well, then when you're done drinking that, there's your medicine. Err, where'd it wind up?"
Is this it? Linda twisted her body around and reached out, grabbing hold of the pharmacy bag she found on the table. Sitting down cross-legged on the floor, her downturned head hiding her eyes, she started reading the printed instructions on the prescribed medicines. The air coming through the now emptied yogurt straw made a strange noise.
On her white complexion, free of cosmetics, her naturally long, delicate eyelashes cast a shadow like a fan,
---Like that, finally.
Finally, today, Banri felt he could look Linda straight in the face, honestly, for the first time. At last he knew. Linda, who was wearing a light blue jersey, a matching dark blue tunic, and skinny jeans. Her small lap was slim and elegantly rounded too.
Banri squeezed his voice out.
"...Thank you, Linda..."
He had muttered it so softly, Linda probably didn't even hear him. A gentle smile floating on her lips, both her lovely eyes open, Linda raised her face. Turning to that face,
"...Thank you very much, Linda-senpai. For coming out and checking on such a mess as this."
Flustered, Banri disguised his expression. He took the time to make the face of an underclassman. Not the face of a classmate with an unrequited love.
Linda's laughter rose softly, and the skin around her eyes crinkled up.
"What, so formal? It's okay like that. It seems like I've said I'll do anything to help you out."
"No, but... I've even made you skip class."
"But it's okay. I'm fine. As you are Banri, I am Linda. So this much support is natural."
In a playful manner, Linda stabbed her index finger at Banri, making it plain who she was referring to.
"And so, don't think about anything else while you get spoiled by gentle me."
You are Banri...
When he tried to laugh back, a sharp pain ran around his lips and they stiffened.
The surging pain felt horrible, as if it were piercing his very heart. You have changed. Such was his inner voice.
Putting it into words and getting it out of his mouth was hard, and so saying nothing still, Banri quietly stared at the end of Linda's chin.
He was not the "Banri" that called out for Linda.
Even while inheriting that Banri's feelings, his current self was changed into something lower, he felt. Himself before he lost his memories. The self from which the memories were lost. And then, the feelings towards Linda were passed on to this self. He felt that each had a separate existence. He thought to himself, I have completely changed.
Therefore, the Tada Banri being watched by Linda right now, though he was a guy Linda didn't know,
"Did you understand?"
Smiling with her head tilted to one side, as if to set him at ease, the standing Linda was almost certainly not feeling such things.
Not quite cured, the remnants of the fever were making Banri's breathing overly painful. Linda's back was bent over, slender and flexible, as she searched for a glass in the open kitchen cupboard. Her bare ankles. The clear shadow of her Achille's tendon. Banri messed up his hair with his hands.
Automatically letting out a sigh, Linda returned to Banri's side, as graceful as a deer. Pouring water into a glass, she returned to the bedside in her bare feet.
"What'd you say just now?"
Handing him the water,
"...Well, err... NANA-senpai, she was unexpectedly nice to me..."
At his dodging the question with those words, Linda gave a big nod, saying "Yes, yes, yes, she is."
"That's the way she is. However that person looks, she really takes care of you. You get the feeling she's helped a lot of people like me. In spite of appearances, she doesn't just ignore people in trouble. Yes, the medicine. This and this, one tablet apiece."
Placing them in the palm of his hand and watching to make sure Banri drank it down,
"There you go."
Said Linda with a tone of voice as if she were training a dog, then she nodded. Taking back the glass once more she stood, taking it back to the sink for him.
Grabbing the stool in the corner of the kitchen, she pulled it over and sat herself down, and proceeded to look all around the room, as if surveying it, as if she were slowly picking up and counting each and every thing in the room.
The look of her hair in the summer sunlight coming through the glass was the soft grey of squirrel's fur mixed with brown. Her cheeks too, they seemed to glitter whitely. Or rather, with a light voice, she talked by the side of Banri's bed.
"Oh yeah, that was it. What were you doing going out with NANA-senpai? Did you perhaps know NANA-senpai from before you knew you were neighbors?"
"Ah..., well, I've only known she was my neighbor since the other day, but my first encounter,"
The first encounter...
She offered me a cigarette.
When we went out to a café for a bowl of café-au-lait.
Crying from having been dumped by Yanagisawa, Kaga Kouko.
The present Banri's perfect girlfriend.
---What the heck am I doing?
"...In the rain!"
Suddenly with a voice like shouting,
"Doesn't she seem like a stray dog in the rain!? She's a sneaky one, isn't she!? Like that!"
Linda stared blankly back, puzzled, at Banri and the cryptic words he had spouted out.
"No, but about NANA-senpai though! Look, though she's super scary at first glance, in reality isn't she like that stray dog in the rain...!? Do you get what I'm trying to say!?"
"...Ah, well, sort of."
"Having started off with a negative impression, I've come to have a strangely high opinion of her! Isn't it like that!?"
Banri kept on raising his voice desperately. On the verge of suffocating, gasping pathetically, he didn't wait for Linda's reply, if only to be able to hide his nervousness and his shaking,
"Though I get the feeling that you're always nice to me, by nature, NANA-senpai has a super rare, more incredible 'a bit nice' feeling to her!"
"What? Are you going overboard? Are you getting full of yourself now?"
"I'm carried away! I'm excited!"
Trying to laugh like a total fool,
For an instant, he had forgotten about the cut on his lips. His wound stinging, feeling like it had split open once more, Banri reflexively turned his face to cover his mouth.
He showed the palm of his hand like either of a temple's guardian images to Linda, who was getting up from the stool as if leaping, indicating she didn't need to come over.
"Haha, I'm okay."
"You're an idiot; enough already. What're you messing around for?"
"...I seem to have gotten high. Though I think my fever is to blame."
Linda's voice sounded slightly disgusted, but she was thoroughly pampering Banri. Her smile filled with gentleness, she absolutely would not hurt Banri's feelings.
To Banri, that was scary.
'I want to go back to where Linda is!'
Even knowing how strong the feelings were that he carried, and what he himself wished for, was scary. He wondered what in the world would happen, what it would take to satisfy him. Like his throat when it wanted water, just what he would try to drink down?
He also thought of the place he wanted to be at. Where he wanted something, and was ready to try and reach his hand out for it, but which was probably not there to take his hand. So it was. From the very start he alone wanted to go back there, but there was no promise to await him there. He should make sure to get a clear word about that.
But even so, he wondered why was Linda nice to him like this. Did she miss him? Was it trauma from having lost him once?
Did she perhaps not understand that he was somebody she didn't know?
Once again in the mode of saying nothing, Banri slowly closed his eyes. He felt Linda's anxious gaze on the area of his eyelids.
"I sent a message to Ko-ko-chan earlier. She'll be coming over soon for sure."
It was as if the edge of his memories were melting out of focus.
Banri's girlfriend. Kaga Kouko. Having been able to get his unrequited love to finally, at long last, turn towards him, she was to him a completely different lover.
For the self here now, she seemed like somebody he had somehow met in a dream. Really, it was like he was wondering: is this a real person? She didn't feel real, it didn't feel like reality,
"...I want to see her..."
It was practically unconscious. Such were the words his mouth came with. His tongue didn't have a touch sweet enough to leave an impression.
If you called the particular world where Kaga Kouko lived reality, then he wanted her to try and appear before him. But in that case, then just about everything he could see was getting messed up by this high fever. He was in an embarrassing state, he felt like he should not even be there, and had a guilty conscience as well. What had been happening up to a moment ago, even if it was something he could have sworn had happened, the colors had swiftly washed out. The dream had gone pale and faded away. His dense self had a hard time accepting that it had happened like that.
Banri's words apparently not having reached Linda's ears, a low chuckle could be heard. It seemed to him that the voice tickling his ears was real.
Banri opened his fever-bleary eyes. Slowly turning his head, he looked over at Linda, seated on the stool.
"Hm? What's up?"
Linda asked, her head tilted to one side.
"Is there something you want?"
With a supple motion standing up without a sound, stepping on the flooring barefoot, she came over to Banri's side. Banri watched steadily. Perhaps he thought that Linda would take a blink of his eyes as agreement. In that silent, closed room, their eyes met, ...and it was at that moment.
Bam! The unlocked door was pushed open so hard it bounced back. Banri gasped.
He felt the summer wind, fragrant but filled with brutal heat, blow into the room all at once. It suddenly switched places with the air that was formerly confined inside.
Clack! Clack! Loudly and sharply, the sound of those high-heels were letting him know of her coming into the entrance area. 'My shoes have got to be Louboutin or Manolo. Aren't four inch heels an iron-clad rule?' --- The sweet remembered voice took a firm grip, as if dragging it from his brain. Banri's eyes opened wide. This sounded like Louboutins. His ears answered him, having been fully trained. They were probably her recent favorites, those guys with in deep blue with the black satin ribbon. When he had casually overheard the price, Banri had said nothing for all of ten seconds... not even a 'my goodness.' Oh, he was certain. They were completely for real.
And so, that person who stepped into the real world, suddenly wedging her long leg into the space between Banri's bed and Linda,
Just like with the point of a sword.
"...Are you cheating on me?"
Thrust right in front of Banri's nose as if to wake him up, there was a vivid pink bouquet of roses.
The overflowing, rich fragrance thrilled his nose. It was even aggressively strong, rose, rose, rose... rose!
It truly was reality.
Banri, practically dumbfounded, opened his eyes wide. Still laying on the bed, he stiffened.
How, he wondered, could he have thought that this person's existence may have been something out of a dream? How could he forget, he wondered?
Something so vivid, the existence of a lover so magnificent, aaah, at any rate...
"Good morning, Tada-kun. Even though you have a lover, you're together with somebody else like this. I ask you once more, perfectly, are you cheating on me?"
What should he do? The queen of roses was in full wrath. There was only one choice for the background music inside the endangered Banri's head: Dark Vader's Theme. Though you are C-3PO, the music and the character didn't go together, so he couldn't even laugh.
The contours of her cheeks were drawn perfectly. Her skin was of flawless marble. Her face was shaped beautifully and perfect.
Radiant, she was a lovely person.
Her almond shaped eyes, clearly emphasized by jet black mascara and eyeliner, sparkled like stars as they focused on Banri... or rather, glittering like those of a carnivore that had already spotted its prey, having that same terrible glint in her eyes.
She was grinning. But perfectly.
Her long and wavy hair set off her milky white skin prettily with a dark brown. She was wearing a beige satin hairband. And a white, all-lace mini one-piece dress with an ascot style collar, no slip and a high waist. She had an antique Gucci bag slung by her side, in what Kouko called her 'Jackie style'... not Chan, of course. It was not kung-fu clothing. She emulated the classic fashion model personified in Jacqueline, who was originally the wife of a president and, after his assassination, the wife of a shipping magnate. Even if her feet happened to be in rose-motif slippers (980 yen) bought expressly for her use.
In Banri's mind at present, he was imagining distinctly the setting of their meeting.
That spring morning, alighting from the taxi, a perfect woman raised a bouquet of deep red roses overhead.
Dancing in the deep blue sky, the color of flower petals.
Scattered on the cheeks of the eating Banri, cool water droplets.
And now, without any room for doubt, in a real space, before Banri's eyes, Kouko once more raised a bouquet of roses overhead.
Just like that time again, being struck--- Banri instinctively tried to shield the lower half of his injured face with his hand, but,
Kouko tossed the raised flower bouquet behind her.
Wrapping Banri's ears with her now empty hands, setting one knee on the mattress and bending half over as if jumping into bed with him, she planted a big kiss on his hot forehead.
Without thinking about it shrugging her shoulders like a little girl, she looked at the trembling Banri, her smiling, rose-pink lips like a flower bud opening. There was a lipstick mark there now, right in the middle of his forehead.
Backing away slightly, Kouko, like a child finding fault,
"Honestly Tada-kun, what in the world happened to you that you had to go to the hospital? You shouldn't be so reckless when I'm not watching you."
Lowering her voice, she scolded him like a puppy: Bad!
But one second later, she gave him that perfect smile once more.
"Anyway, since I've come, you don't have anything else to worry about, right? You can leave it all to me! To this me! The woman that I am! Precisely! Perfectly! Because I will handle nursing Tada-kun!"
And then from the entry door, squealing while picking up the bouquet that Kouko had thrown behind herself,
"I'm going to be the next one to get married!"
"No way, I'm going to be the next one married!"
Two Dimensions and Mitsuo were playing the roles of good gay friends. While they were crying airily, just in case,
"No, I will be the one getting married..."
When from the bed Banri raised his hand to try and take part, there was a chorus of "Please, please!"
Linda, sotto voce, asked "...Did you guys come to do a comedy routine?"
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