Chapter 3
The commotion at sunrise went by like a dream and the silent morning returned to the Takasu residence.
It was already 5 am when Ryūji returned to his bed after being ambushed by the Palmtop Tiger. For a body that was still growing, it could be a pain not having enough sleep. Yawning with his mouth open wide, he roused himself and woke up at the same time as usual. There were still a lot of things to be done...
After going to the bathroom, he had to feed Inko-chan. As always, he made sure that the parrot was fully awake before removing the cloth on the cage. But...
"Morning, Inko-ch... Whoa!"
Inko-chan laid dead with his face up.
"B, but didn't you just reply just now!? Inko-chan!"
"... Ugh... ugh... ugh..."
... Nope, he was still alive. He was just lying flat at the bottom of the cage, anyone would have thought he was dead at first glance, but it looked like he was just lying there. After Ryūji yelled, he quickly stood up. For some reason his feathers looked ruffled, it was as though he felt very uncomfortable.
"I don't know what on earth you're thinking already!"
Maybe it would be better if I had owned a cat or a dog, or something that can communicate telepathically with humans. Ryūji thought while replacing Inko-chan's food tray.
Inko-chan looked straight into Ryūji's eyes, trying hard to think what it was that he wanted to say. Could it be the thing that Ryūji had been teaching him for years, but which still struggled to say?
"Could it be... you're finally going to say "Inko-chan"? Have you finally got it!?"
Ryūji looked excitedly into the birdcage. Before him, Inko-chan cheekily opened the feathers on his tail, and then...
Flap! Without thinking, Ryūji covered the cage with the cloth again. Though he may look intimidating, he was actually quite even-tempered. All hell would break loose if he were to get annoyed at every little thing. With the calm temperament of a gentleman, he went to have a look at Yasuko, who should have already gone to sleep. He opened the...
She should be sleeping, right? As he had heard the door open, Ryūji knew she had returned.
"... She came back, but this is ridiculous..."
He muttered and shut his eyes.
Yasuko was so drunk that the whole house reeked of booze when she fell asleep. But why did she have to sleep as though she had rolled forward and landed upside down? She now slept with her bottom facing upwards. Good thing she changed into her track suit; even if she was his mother... No, it was because she was his mother that he had to be strict to her. According to her son's standards, recklessly showing off her underwear was a strict no-no. It looked like she fell asleep half-way through removing her make-up. Though half of her face was now clean, the other half was still full of make-up, making her look exactly like. Not to mention she looked quite uncomfortable.
According to Ryūji's deductions, Yasuko was originally sitting by the small table next to her futon and removing her makeup, but she grew tired and fell asleep with her face flat on the.
"I'm amazed you didn't break your neck... Hey, sleep properly! You'll die if you keep sleeping like that!"
She spoke in exactly the same manner as Inko-chan.
Wondering about the hidden connection between Yasuko and Inko-chan (mainly their intelligence), Ryūji carefully placed Yasuko in a proper sleeping position on her futon. Yasuko had been wanting to get her own bed. But with such a horrid sleeping face, like hell I'll ever buy you one!
From the convenience store bag at the corner of the room he removed two melting ice-cream sticks and quietly left the room, shutting the fusuma behind him. First, he would have to quickly place these melting ice-cream into the fridge.
Next, he would have to prepare breakfast and lunch. Looking inside the fridge...
"Ah, yeah, I remember..."
Ryūji squinted his fierce eyes, not out of anger, but out of disappointment.
The Fried Rice Festival had used up all the eggs and bacon, so there went the bacon and egg breakfast. The refrigerated rice was also used up.
"... Looks like milk will have to do for breakfast; as for the bentos... it'll have to be simple today. For side dishes we've only got potatoes left."
Rice was essential, no matter what, so Ryūji decided to make some simple creole rice and salted potatoes.
After washing the rice, he made sure he added enough rice wine, some syrup and, boiled bamboo shoots and into the rice pot. After adding a suitable amount of water, he turned on the rice cooker and that was it, all that was left was for it to cook.
Next, Ryūji skillfully peeled off the potato skins at an incredible pace, placing the potatoes in a pot and simmering them until there was little water left. While he was at it, he washed the chopping board, cooking knife and cleared off the mess from the marble kitchen table. Once the boiling water in the pot had decreased and the potatoes began to emerge, he added some refined sugar, mirin, rice wine, syrup, soup powder and some noodle sauce. All that was left was to wait for everything to cook and that was it. Afterwards, he would have to switch to a smaller flame to avoid overcooking and then let it simmer till just before it was time to leave. Finally, he would spice things up with a little soy sauce. Ryūji had never really checked how it was actually done, but so far just cooking it this way was already tasty enough for him.
It was just over half an hour since he woke up, so there was still plenty of time. Ryūji poured all the milk into a glass, then turned on the TV and sat on the sofa.
Watching the morning gossip programs to kill the brief breakfast time, he listened intently to yesterday's soccer news while wiping the table. Without knowing it, Ryūji had the short table wiped sparkling clean.
After hearing that his team had won, leaving aside the fact that he only had milk for breakfast, Ryūji felt it was quite a good start to the morning. Though, it would be even better if the sun were to shine in brightly through the window like last year. Looking out the window, Ryūji sighed inside his dim room. At that moment...
The phone suddenly rang. To call at a time like this, could it be some relative? Deciding not to let Yasuko be disturbed in her sleep (since she was still the master of the house, after all), Ryūji rushed to pick up the phone.
"Hello, this is Takasu speaking..."
"You're late! Just what were you doing!?"
He hung up without even thinking.
What was I doing? Living a normal life, of course. The sudden berating caused Ryūji's mind to go blank for a moment. The phone rang again, Ryūji politely answered,
"Hello, this is Takasu speaking..."
"You just hung up on me, didn't you? Would you like me to come over right now to your place and raise hell?"
That would be bothersome. Ryūji quickly thought out the answer. Although the landlady didn't come to complain, Ryūji could hear her sweeping the floor loudly outside for a while now. She was, no doubt, waiting for Ryūji to come out and tell him off there and then. It seems the Takasus had been black listed.
To be able to talk in such a gangster-like way, there was only one person he could think of...
She possessed a gangster-like alias, the Palmtop Tiger.
"If you find it bothersome then hurry up and come over! What were you doing? Don't tell me you're breaking your promise already? Do you even know what's going on?"
"Promise? You can't be serious?"
"Didn't you say you would do anything like a dog? You swore, didn't you? So hurry up and come over! Now! Everyday before school from now on!"
"...W, wait! The thing we talked last night, you mean that right? When I said I'll help you, I mean helping you get close to Kitamura so you could talk to him more... That's what I swore!"
The phone gave a very annoyed and irritated clicking sound of the tongue.
"You were the one that said you'll do anything! I don't care, just hurry up and come! You know I mean what I say when I say I'm going to do that... as to what 'that' means, you should know already."
It seemed like Aisaka was really in a bad mood. Her voice sounded just like wailing demons from hell, which vibrated the phone receiver in an ominous way and caused Ryūji's ears to shake. There was no point arguing further with her on the phone if it had come to this.
"... A, anyway, no matter what... I will come over... but... I don't even know where you live."
"Just look outside of your window."
"Huh? Outside my window? There's nothing outside besides... WHOA!?"
Carrying the phone receiver past the ridiculously narrow living room and looking out through the dim window, Ryūji could see the Bourgeoisie-style apartment block. Yet on the second floor of that building... looking straight across from the window opposite...
"What's with those silly-looking pajamas?"
Aisaka Taiga was standing there holding a trendy phone in her hand while looking disgruntled.
"Ah! S, stop looking at me!"
Wearing Yasuko's "cuddly woolen shirt" (with heart shapes all over) since he was feeling cold, Ryūji quickly covered his shirt with his hands while looking fierce. He wasn't feeling angry, but embarrassed.
Aisaka indignantly pulled her expensive curtains up.
"Like hell I want to look at you! Hurry up and get your ass over, you stupid dog!"
Aisaka ended with this sentence, but Ryūji remembered he still had things to do,
"Wait! Just give me ten more minutes!"
"Because the creole rice bento is not cooked yet."
From the silence on the other end, Ryūji could faintly hear a thunderous growling of the stomach. It was just too loud to be ignored.
"...W, would you like to have some?"
After a long silence, the curtains on the window of that Bourgeoisie-style apartment opened about 10cm. Aisaka remained silent while nodding at Ryūji.
Yasuko, Inko-chan, and now Aisaka.
Looks like there were now three instead of two waiting to be fed by Ryūji.
This was the first time he had ever seen an automatic gate.
The atmosphere in the marble-laden entrance felt colder than the air outside. The surrounding area was eerily quiet, as though keeping a watch on Ryūji. Facing such an unfitting ambiance, Ryūji's eyes couldn't help looking more fierce as a result of staring at the device that was before him. At his waist level was a marble panel with a button, a keyhole and something like an intercom. At the other end was the automatic gate that led to the interior of the apartment block. Yet the gate did not open automatically. On his right was the security booth, but there was a sign outside that read "Cleaning in Progress", so it seemed like there was no one inside. Just how do you use this device? How am I supposed to get into the Palmtop Tiger's cage? Ryūji remained silent while at a loss as to what to do when...
A young woman emerged from the gate and greeted Ryūji, but quickly glanced suspiciously at him, wondering Who on earth is this person?
Lowering his head embarrassingly, Ryūji slotted himself through the gate before it shut. Is it really okay for me to enter like this? he wondered, though he believed it wouldn't get him into too much trouble.
He entered the elevator and pushed the button for the second floor. As the doors reopened, he found himself looking at a carpet-laden corridor that he had seen before in the hotel of one of his previous field trips.
This got Ryūji wondering, just how much was the rent here? ...Shoot, I forgot to ask what her room number is. Though that problem was quickly solved...
Because there was only one door at the end of the corridor... In other words, the entire second floor of this Bourgeoisie-style apartment building was the Aisaka residence.
"She sure is rich... Could the rumour that her father's a gangster actually be true?"
While in deep thought, Ryūji walked nervously towards the door (since even though it was Aisaka, he was still visiting a girl's place), and pushed the doorbell. However, there was no response, even after pushing several times.
There's still some time till school begins, but my time is not unlimited! He timidly attempted to push the door open.
He held his breath and then... the door opened.
"... M, morning! ... Aisaka! ... It's me, Takasu... Hello?"
He peeked in and yelled, still there was no response. Hello~! Hello~! Ryūji entered the apartment entrance as he continued yelling.
"... Sorry to bother... M, may I come in? Is that okay?"
Some balls she has, calling me over in a threatening way and then leaving me to stand here all alone! What am I supposed to do if her family sees me? Especially her dad! Ryūji removed his shoes anxiously and walked along the wooden corridor in his socks.
Ryūji sighed as he walked and looked around. Whether it was the white wallpaper, the premium wooden tiles or the uplighting, everything reflected a sense of fine taste, unlike other rented apartments around the neighborhood. In fact, for someone with much interest in interior designing, Ryūji looked with great interest at the laminated glass door as he opened it. And then...
"Wow! ... Whoa!!!"
First, he gazed in amazement, then he got struck by a very foul smell.
What amazed him was the living room, which was at least the size of 20 tatami-mats. It was laid with a pure white carpet and there was a light gray sofa, coupled with a pure white dining table and designer chairs... Facing south was a window where one could see the view that the Takasus used to see a year ago - the trees in the park nearby. The deep colored kitchenware did not affect the living room's sense of width in any way and the customized design had a posh feeling to it. This was coupled with the trendy and beautiful crystal chandelier above. What seemed strange was that there were only enough sofas and chairs for one person.
Normally, it wouldn't be strange to see five or six chairs for such a spacious living room.
And then there was the foul smell...
"Is it coming from over here...?"
It came from the beautiful European-style kitchen.
The kitchen had a large stainless steel sink, but it had been stuffed with a whole pile of dirty plates for an undetermined amount of time. Then what would the drain look like? Just thinking about it was enough to give one goosebumps. Not to mention part of the stainless steel looked misty, as it was full of...
Black mold, enough to torment a person till he fainted. As if pulled by it, Ryūji staggered towards the surface and rubbed his trembling finger over it. Needless to say, it felt slippery and thick...
I cannot allow this to happen! This is a desecration of the kitchen! A desecration to life! Even though the kitchen in my small apartment is narrow and dark, at least it's clean enough for one to lick it without getting ill. Some people work their asses off trying to keep their kitchen clean, and then there are people who have such a beautiful and well-equipped kitchen, and, and, and, turn it into... THIS!!!
Ryūji bolted out of the kitchen. I've seen enough! How dare she let me see such a thing!
"No matter what, let me... let me clean your kitchen!!!"
Something had gone off within Ryūji's heart.
His nerves showing, he ran around the living room like a bullet, but still could not find Aisaka. His eyes, glittering in excitement, noticed a sliding door.
"Is it this one!?"
He then pulled it open with great force...
... Bingo. But somehow, it felt as though... he guessed wrongly.
Aisaka Taiga was there.
Facing a sight like that, Ryūji couldn't help but cover his mouth, he even stopped breathing.
The curtains hung from the north-facing window, in the silent room with a high ceiling, lying everywhere on the pure white carpet were fluffy one-piece dresses that were thrown randomly after being taken off. In the corner was a matching pure white studying table and chair, while in the middle of the room was a princess-sized bed with white lacy curtains hanging from above.
This was Aisaka's room.
At the center of the bed, surrounded by the lacy curtains, lay Aisaka Taiga. Her long hair was spread all over the bedspread, while she cuddled her arms and legs as she slept silently.
The portable phone receiver was placed next to the pillow and beyond the curtains one could just see the Takasu residence.
"... So she went back to sleep..."
Zzzzz... Only the silent and rhythmic breathing could be heard.
Unable to approach her, Ryūji maintained this distance while looking at the sleeping Aisaka... It's not like he really wanted to look, it was just that he could not get her out of his field of vision.
Wrapped in her loose pajamas, her tiny arms and legs now looked even tinier. It was only at this moment that her calm face looked as clear as an ice sculpture, as though it was about to melt. Her small nose, slightly open little mouth, and her eyelashes extending downwards... if it weren't for her breathing, one couldn't tell whether she was alive or not... And there Aisaka slept quietly on her bed.
It wasn't because he was watching his classmate sleeping, it was just that this scenery felt like it came straight out of a fairy tale.
Ryūji felt that she looked just like Sleeping Beauty, just like any other girl. But he quickly rejected that sort of thinking.
... She's no princess.
Nope... she was just a doll that had been forgotten by a princess. Her eyes would open once you pick her up, but since she was forgotten, she could only lie there and keep on sleeping.
The doll slept in this bed, in this room, in this apartment, and yet they belonged to the princess and not the doll. This explained why everything seemed so big in comparison to the doll's size.
Yet Aisaka is a human and this is Aisaka's home... Speaking of which, where is her family?
After looking around the room, Ryūji quietly squinted his eyes. One chair, one sofa... There's no one here besides Aisaka, and here sleeps Aisaka, who merely shakes her head when being asked about her family.
Ryūji looked at his watch, there was still time before school would begin.
Feeling that it would be quite hard to wake her, Ryūji silently left the room and closed the door without making a sound. I'll call her if she's still not up just before it's time to leave.
After returning from the alternate dimension in the silent bedroom, Ryūji slowly took off hisjacket and rolled up his sleeves.
"... Let's do this!"
Before his glaring eyes was the extremely slippery utility kitchen, the time limit was 15 minutes. The battle between the man and the dirty stainless steel had begun.
When Aisaka Taiga wakes up, she probably won't believe her eyes.
Though his work was not yet complete... I'll finish the rest tomorrow! Ryūji swore to himself, the kitchen utensils and the stainless steel cupboard behind him, which was left untidied for nearly half a year, were now sparkling clean.
All that was left was the creole rice and instant miso soup breakfast.
The contents were the same. Though I brought extra. Ryūji remarked on the tightly packed and heavy bento.
All of these were made for Aisaka Taiga, who was still sleeping in her sweet dreams.
"I specifically called you to pick me up, because I didn't want to be late, why'd you leave it till this late? Just what have you been doing?"
"Wha!? Didn't I tell you to eat faster many times? Just who was it that kept asking for seconds and refusing to put down the bowl?"
"I never asked you to help me, you were the one who happily made the breakfast on your own. I thought it'd be a waste if I didn't eat it, so I was actually helping you! You ought to be grateful for my generosity!"
"Gimme back...! Gimme back that bento!"
"Shut up already! And stay away from me, you perverted dog!"
"Why you... Gimme that! I'll have you return that! Along with my kindness!"
"Shut up, you scum!"
"I, I don't have any spare creole rice for people that call me scum!"
Running shoulder to shoulder along the road to school, Ryūji and Aisaka had begun a dangerous sparring war. Under the green leaves of the trees planted alongside, there was no one else that could have created more trouble for others besides these two fighting on the road.
Ryūji attacked from the above, trying to snatch away the bento bag that Aisaka was carrying in her tiny hands; though Aisaka skillfully dodged him using her small body and slithered around like a snake, keeping her distance from Ryūji. Some innocent bystanders, not wanting to have anything to do with an evil looking high school student with a terrifying glare and a pretty girl with an innocent face, all avoided making eye contact with them.
"How can such an ungrateful girl like you exist... this is unbelievable! And after I cleaned your kitchen for you, though it's still not completely clean..."
"I already said I never asked you to do it!"
"You! Let me get this straight, you're completely ridiculous! The stagnant water clogged up in the sink was already reeking... There was nothing but slime and mold in the drain, and the rotting leftovers were an image straight from hell... Just how long have you left it unattended? The apartment stank like hell!"
"For about half a year."
"You really have no right to call yourself a human being..."
Ryūji pointed at her with his finger, while Aisaka merely replied without any expression, "What's that got to do with me?" and quickly walked ahead. He didn't clean the kitchen because he wanted to obey her commands. Ryūji just couldn't bear to see a kitchen being left in such a messy state. He wanted to make it clean, make it beautiful, make it usable... Those thoughts slowly grew in his mind and became unstoppable.
"Am I... being pathetic?"
Ryūji muttered to himself while chasing after Aisaka. Or to be precise, because he too had to go to school, he had no choice but to walk behind her. Aisaka turned her head slightly to look at Ryūji,
"Never mind the little stuff. Don't forget that you'll have to help me at school, so don't try to run away!"
Aisaka exclaimed, looking at Ryūji with her completely awakened eyes while snorting silently with her tiny nose. Is this what they call a forewarning? Ryūji hastened his footsteps and replied,
"I'll say this, I have no intention of helping someone who speaks to me in such a manner!"
Without warning, Ryūji bumped straight into Aisaka, who had stopped suddenly, and elbowed him in the stomach.
"Y, you idiot! Don't stop all of a sudden!"
Feeling pissed off, Ryūji bemoaned at the blatant disregard for his own life, but Aisaka's eyes were not looking at Ryūji at all.
"Minorin! Were you waiting for me again?"
"You're late, Taiga! Did you take a detour today as well?"
Just before he was about to trip, Ryūji caught himself. In front of Aisaka, standing at the corner of a major road-junction was none other than Kushieda Minori.
Only a small part of her face was tanned by the sun, coupled with her smooth and large eyes, she smiled innocently while waving in their direction. Her hair was illuminated by the shine of the morning sun, while her skirt fluttered in the wind... Yet her arm suddenly stopped waving and her smile disappeared, instead she widened her large eyes...
"EEEHHH~...!!!??? Wha...!? No way! Could it be!?"
"What is it, Minorin?"
"M, my ears..."
Minori yelled in a very sharp voice, while turning her glance quickly at both Ryūji and Taiga who were both going to school together.
"And you ask me what it is!? Eh, eh... I, I see... I didn't even know, that Taiga and Takasu-kun would get along so well as to come to school as a couple..."
"You've got it wrong, Minorin. Besides, what do you mean by 'as a couple'?"
"Hmm...! W, what was it called again? Um, in this kind of situation... Argh! I can't find the right word to describe it! Oh yeah, you two have 'sworn to never part'?!"
"No, no, no! We didn't swear to walk together to school! I, it's just that, we only met over there!"
Ryūji instinctively came up with an excuse like that, he then turned and said gently,
"Am I right, Aisaka?"
As she turned her head, she revealed a very ghastly gentle smile.
"What, so you two only met by chance, huh?"
"Yeah, we live very near to each other."
Aisaka began to walk shoulder to shoulder with her good friend Minori. How can I let such a good chance slip by!? Ryūji quickly caught up from behind while quickly beginning to think with his head.
Could it be that since Aisaka knows that I like Minori, she called me out in order to create a chance for me to go to school with her?
"Well then, see you later, Takasu-kun... I had wanted to say let's head to the classroom together! But it seems like you don't want to walk with us, right? Since we only just met by chance, right?"
In less than 3 seconds, Ryūji's imagination was swiftly crushed by Aisaka, who turned her head around.
"... Ah... No, Ai, Aisaka..."
"Then, I'll see you later then, Takasu-kun! Hey Taiga, did you see last night's TV..."
What just happened? But I also watched TV last night... ... Vainly trying to call them back with his arm stretched out, Ryūji received his final warning:
Don't you ever think of trying to get ahead of me! Stop being cocky, you stupid dog!
Aisaka seemed to be saying that as she turned her head once again and glared with that gloomy and heavy stare.
Ryūji was petrified by the eyes of the beast small enough to be placed on anyone's palm. She seemed to be declaring Unless you can get me to get along with Kitamura-kun, I'll do everything to stop you from getting near Minorin!
Even without her in the way, it was still only a dream for him to go out with Minori... Now why am I thinking about such sad things all of a sudden?
No! At this rate I'll end up as Aisaka's dog for the rest of my life. That was the worst possible outcome he could ever imagine...
Watching the slowly disappearing figures of the two girls, Ryūji squinted his eyes earnestly. Bring it on! Don't you underestimate me! For the first time, contempt and degradation had gotten Ryūji's fighting spirit fired up.
By getting Aisaka to get along with Kitamura, won't that mean I'll be able to close my distance with Minori!?
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