Chapter 3
A general feeling of Might as well not do anything emanated from the classroom after school.
Forced to stay behind after classes, the students of Class 2-C kept coldly silent. The desks and chairs were pushed to the back of the classroom while they all sat on the floor, legs folded, looking reluctantly at Haruta, who was standing at the podium.
Were they looks of admonishment? No, even that wasn't too bad, because right now everyone just looked as though they did not want to get involved with anything. They just wanted to pretend as though nothing had happened, trying to get away from this foolish situation as quickly as possible. Everyone had their self-preservation instincts fully activated.
"Um... can you please pass this towards the back...?"
The culprit, Haruta, trembled and lowered his head, trying to avoid everyone's stares as he began to distribute the mysterious booklets. But no one was willing to take them from him. Haruta was then forced to come off the podium and personally hand a booklet to each student, and to those that refused to take one, he simply placed the booklet on the floor beside their feet. As if they had all agreed beforehand, nobody opened their booklet, simply letting it lie on the floor. If anyone were to open it, it'll be game over. Even if it's out of curiosity... The somber mood permeated the classroom like incense in a graveyard.
"I feel that I'm responsible for this, so... I made these... The script... for the pro-wrestling show... It's got some serious battle scenes... so have a look..."
Nobody asked him to, but Haruta began his unnecessary explanation, even though no one wanted to know.
A most terrifying thing had happened. Class 2-C was really going to have to perform a "Pro-Wrestling Show". Whether it was her jealously of young people, or her anxiety getting the better of her, Miss Single (aged 30), unnecessarily using her influence as their homeroom teacher, submitted the crappiest proposal ever thought out to the School Festival Organizing Committee, bringing trouble to the lives of all involved.
To even mention writing a script in such a situation, where no one felt like saying anything, they gave a look of indifference, deliberately not looking at the cover of the stapled booklet. Even Haruta's good buddies Noto and Ryuuji were not in a forgiving mood either, as they both huddled grossly together by the corner of the classroom.
"A script written by Haruta, now that's scary."
"Yeah, looks like it'll be a mess..."
Ryuuji and Noto whispered quietly. Ryuuji's eyes moved around, shooting Haruta a dangerous, lightning-like glare that felt like it could strike him dead. Sensing Ryuuji's gaze, Haruta did not dare to look at him... In truth Ryuuji was actually sympathizing with Haruta, thinking that he must be having a hard time as well... Although, was it even possible for Haruta to feel this good will?
Sitting in front of Ryuuji was Kitamura, who would always lead the class whenever there were activities in class. But now he looked tired, his glasses hanging from his nose as he mumbled to himself, "There's no way anyone will get excited... There goes my plan to get everyone fired up for the festival..." Minori sat in front of him with her legs folded, while Taiga laid on her back, looking completely relaxed as she placed her entire weight onto Minori.
"Ugh... Y... you're heavy... Taiga..."
"Phew... Ugh.. Min..."
"Did you say something? Wha...!"
Taiga had turned into an animal that was bereft of any thought, and squirmed about like a worm, leaving her scent all over Minori. Maya boldly laid flat on the floor, toying with the tip of Kitamura's shirt that stuck out from his trousers, while pointing at his underwear that was revealed above his belt and giggled quietly with the other girls. Even Nanako had brought out her mirror and comb and began to tidy her hair using her hairclips.
"Come on... Can you guys please get ahold of yourselves? We don't have much time..."
Haruta's teary voice echoed vainly through the classroom.
"Hey, Kitamura, say something! You're the class rep! You should be responsible for bringing up the atmosphere! Did you forget that it was me that saved you from getting your ass stabbed?"
"Ugh, for you to even say that, I guess I can't say anything. Then allow me to dance with you..."
Kitamura stood up despondently, and then it happened. Just what happened? Without a belt, Kitamura's trousers fell from his waist onto the floor.
For some reason, Maya, who had led the screaming, was holding the belt. Thanks to her little prank, Kitamura didn't even know his belt had been yanked off.
As Kitamura's underwear was exposed before everyone's eyes, the classmates all backed off as though hit by the shockwave created by an explosion. "Gross!" "What the hell do you think you're doing!?" Exclamations of disgust began to fly from all directions. "Why..." Kitamura grunted. "EEEEK!!!" Taiga yelled like a blowing whistle, while Minori covered Taiga's eyes and lamented, "The trauma caused by the seaweed incident has returned..." "Whoa...!" Ryuuji maintained a distance from Kitamura, as his image of "Kitamura the Psychotic Exhibitionist" had again been reinforced. Ami simply said coldly, "The pervert has arrived."
Instead of bringing up the atmosphere, the class had now descended into chaos by the sudden appearance of a half naked man showing off his lower half. Haruta wrapped his head and laid it on the podium as Kitamura quickly pulled his trousers up, but the unforgettable image had forever been etched into everyone's memories.
"That's it! I'm going home!"
"This is so boring! It's a waste of my time!"
"I'm sorry, but I'm out!"
"Alright, let's all go home!"
The tense atmosphere that originally bound the class had snapped thanks to Kitamura's accidental exposure. Everyone grumbled as they stood up, picking up their bags and moving their desks back to their original positions. It seemed like everyone was planning on going home now.
"W, wait a minute! Come on! Don't leave!"
No one took notice of Haruta's pleads, and simply allowed his empty words to echo in the air. Nobody had any idea of how this would end up.
It was at this moment...
Help came from the most unexpected person. Upon hearing that incredibly sweet voice, everyone stopped their plans to head home and listened intently. Some even quickly turned around.
"Hmm... Ahh... This seems rather interesting. Everyone gets their own character, it's even got dialogue as well. Hey~ Haruta-kun, I never knew you were this good~"
The watery-eyed angel of Class 2-C, Kawashima Ami, had already turned her eyes from her childhood friend's half naked body towards the script.
"Hohoho, so I'm the lead character? Wow! I'm so happy~"
Ami stood beside Haruta and smiled gently, her squinting eyes forming two lines. Ryuuji, who was about to head home like everyone else, shot a glare that looked as though his eyes were reaching critical point towards Ami's suspicious smile. It wasn't as if Ryuuji was trying to scan at Ami's body with his X-ray vision, but rather, he was simply surprised.
Shouldn't Ami be leading the crowd in dissing this amateur's script? Tearing it up to shreds, burning it to a crisp, spitting on it, and spreading its remaining ashes on a decaying tree? She should be laughing haughtily in a high-pitched voice and saying, "Instead of wasting your time on such worthless stuff, wouldn't you be better off adoring Ami-chan's beauty? You ugly fools! Oh, and don't forget to keep your ugly eyes shut, because they simply can't withstand Ami-chan's good looks, so you'll have to rely on your imagination! What do you mean you can't imagine it? Just think of something beautiful like a diamond or the stars in the sky! Ahahahaha!" Isn't she that kind of woman?
After her classmates, who were all about to go home, heard Ami look happy as she talked about it, one by one they turned back into the classroom and put down their bags, and surrounded Ami enthusiastically.
"You see? The script in this page is awesome!"
Ami merely gave things a little stir...
"Eh? Where? Where? Which page are you talking about?"
And everyone began going through the script that was handed to them...
"Hey... you're right... It's not bad..."
"Haruta, you jackass, don't get so cocky... Hmm, so I'm Ami-tan's Bodyguard C..."
"Whoa! Haruta can actually spell properly! The word processor's spelling checker sure is amazing now."
"Hey, I'm Ami-tan's Strategist! I've got quite a few lines!"
Ami smiled elegantly and glanced satisfyingly towards the whole class. Haruta was close to tears as he stared gratefully at Ami with adoring eyes, to the point that he would gladly lick her shoes if he was asked to. "Hee hee," Ami winked towards Haruta and said,
"Alright! Haruta-kun, let's do our best! Now shall we begin rehearsing?"
"We'll need to set up the wrestling stage with duct tape, right?"
"Give me all your money, okay?" "Yeah!" "Go and strip a piece of clothing, alright?" "Yeah!" "How about pulling out a kidney?" "Yeah! The mood had developed to the point where no matter what Ami said, they were all gladly cooperative. It was only a while ago when the class nearly lost its bearings as a result of a series of bizarre events, and Ami had managed to manipulate things around with her hyper healthy smile." "This could turn out to be fun..." "What role are you playing?" Everyone now sat back on the floor, holding a copy of the script in their hands and looked all fired up.
Just what is her intention? thought Ryuuji, knowing all too well Ami's true mischievous nature, and couldn't help but look suspiciously at her.
"Eh? Ehhh? Huh~? What's wrong? Really, Takasu-kun, why are you staring at me~?"
"I'm not staring at you."
Noticing Ryuuji's glare, Ami's eyes began to glimmer in mischief, seemingly having found something to make fun of him with as she said,
"The show hasn't started yet, so there's no need to get into character so quickly, Supporting Male Lead!"
"What? Supporting Lead?"
Ryuuji's mind went blank. "Heh heh!" He noticed Haruta sticking his tongue out and smiling, which was hardly cute at all. What's the meaning of this!? Ryuuji quickly opened his script copy...
"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!!!???"
But Taiga had already yelled out before he could.
Under the leadership of Ami, the students of Class 2-C were getting along well with each other.
"Oh my~ this seems like fun..."
"The hell is this? What do you mean 'getting along well with each other'? And where are they supposed to get along well? At school? What about their homes? Won't their parents say anything?"
"It's been getting ridiculous since the moment Bakachi took over as leader."
Yet there were some that detested this peace, and they were the Incarnation of Evil - the Palmtop Tiger, and her henchman - Takasu Ryuuji the Delinquent.
"Oh no~ How scary~!"
"Why do I have to be her delinquent henchman!? I can't accept this!"
"Incarnation of Evil!? Me!? Why!? I wouldn't mind if it was Ryuuji, but this is going too far!"
The Palmtop Tiger and the Delinquent made their assault on Class 2-C, while Ami could only resist in vain as the class was getting brainwashed by the Palmtop Tiger.
"Oh no~ This is bad~"
The students of Class 2-C had turned into minions of the Palmtop Tiger, causing mischief everywhere. But thanks to Ami's efforts of persuasion, some managed to have their brainwashed condition "dissolved". With everybody's help, they finally managed to work together to chase away the Palmtop Tiger and the Delinquent. All's well that ends well, and they all lived happily ever after.
"Oh dear~ It got dissolved~"
"As if dissolving would work! Wouldn't they melt instead!?"
"What a giant plot hole... How stupid can you get?"
But the class applauded and sat outside the square-shaped wrestling stage that was set-up with duct tape, all praising Haruta the scriptwriter.
"Hey, it's not too bad at all. Good work, Haruta!"
"Simple yet dramatic enough, I never knew you had it in you!"
The nerve-wracking situation from a while ago was now totally reversed, and Haruta happily ruffled his messy long hair,
"Heh heh heh, really? I didn't know I was that talented. Seriously, are you guys telling me to become a writer? Oh man, this could be troublesome..."
"As if you are!"
Ryuuji quickly whacked Haruta in the butt with his script copy. He had originally wanted to kick Haruta with his foot, but he didn't want his shoe sullied by Haruta's butt and decided not to.
"OW! What was that for!?"
"That script is too crap for you to be even troubled by it, moron! Besides, what's all this got to do with wrestling anyway!? And why do I have to play the bad guy!?"
"Eh!? Takasu, I never knew you had such poor skills of comprehension. This script has everything to do with wrestling. First there's the 'assault on Class 2-C', and then there's 'Ami could only resist in vain' here, followed by 'the students of Class 2-C... causing mischief everywhere'. So is 'Ami's efforts of persuasion' and 'work together to chase away the Palmtop Tiger and the Delinquent'. Can't you tell by everyone else's reaction to it?"
There was nothing more humiliating than being lectured at having "poor skills of comprehension" by Haruta of all people. Ryuuji trembled, unable to withhold the anger that was burning within his body, his legs quavering as it consumed him. On the other hand, Ryuuji's boss, Taiga, the Incarnation of Evil, yelled,
"I'M HAVING NONE OF THIS!!!"
She roared while crouching on the floor like a wild beast.
"Aisaka-san, you, musn't, be, naughty~!"
"This has got to be a joke! Not only the Campus Queen, but this as well!? Why must I do all these ridiculous things!? This is all your fault! YOUR FAULT!"
"Oh dear~ How could you say such terrible things... ow ow ow ow ow!"
WHAM! Taiga had leapt onto Ami in a single breath, and elegantly locked up all four of her limbs.
"THIS, IS, ALL, YOUR, FAUUULLLTTT!!!"
"OW OW OW OW OW! That... hurts...!"
Taiga had performed aon Ami. If Ami tried to wiggle, Taiga would simply apply her weight on Ami, causing her to yell in pain. It was a perfectly executed move.
"Wow, the Palmtop Tiger really seems fired up for it."
"Getting to rehearsal already, how diligent."
"That Cobra Twist is just brilliant! It's too perfect!"
"What a memorable scene... she's a priceless limited edition model!" (TL: As in robot model, not fashion model)
"WHOA!!!" Hearing everyone applauding her in awe, Taiga quickly let go of Ami and kicked her in the butt,
"SHUT UP YOU GUYS! I'm not doing this! This is just bullying! You all want to make fun of me by making me look foolish, don't you!? This is ridiculous! RIDICULOUS! Forget it! I've thought about it, and it'll be alright as long as I kill you all!"
Her murderous intent was reaching critical mass as she swept the whole class with her fiery tiger eyes. She licked her lips while thinking, Should I start from the right... No, I'll start with the nearest person. Everyone quickly backed off and tripped frantically as they prepared to flee. Taiga set her sights on the group that fell together, charging up her energy on her feet, she was ready to pounce when...
"Aisaka-san! You mustn't! Palmtop Tiger, haven't you understood the situation yet?"
A calm and collected voice echoed throughout the chaotic classroom.
"What did you say!?"
It was none other than Ami. She was still wobbling from Taiga's Cobra Twist attack a while ago, and struggled to stand properly. Her eyes glittered with mercy as well as anger. She spread her arms like an angel, and stood in the way of the tiger that was about to bare her fangs. The blood lust in Taiga's eyes became even greater,
"You shut up, Bakachi! You were the one who started all of this!"
"OW! That hurts!"
SLAP! Ami refused to back off even after getting slapped by Taiga. She bit her lips while caressing her face and said,
"If hitting me is going to make you feel better, than go ahead! But if you do, then..."
"Alright! I'll do it!"
Taiga pulled the tip of Ami's nose, and as she fell forward, Taiga quickly flicked her finger on Ami's forehead and gave her the legendary Finger Flick. But no matter how many times she fell, Ami still stood up. She lifted her pure white face and even managed to make a soft smile,
"I... can't believe you actually did it... But now... you should be... feeling better... right?"
"The hell is this!? Stop being such a cocky chihuahua!"
Someone yelled, "Stop it Ami-tan! It's useless!" "You'll be killed by the Tiger!" But Ami simply smiled and replied, "I'll be fine!" and moved a step closer to Taiga, whose bloodthirsty eyes glared savagely as she approached. It was an intense moment, but Ami remained calm,
"Aisaka-san, I only have one thing to tell you. Afterward, you can do whatever you like... I did all of this just for you... because you couldn't get along with your classmates... who always look at you from a distance... Maybe they're scared of you... But I genuinely wish that a violent midget... sorry, a poor girl like Aisaka-san would be able to get along with her classmates. That's why I used this chance for you to be in contact with them! How about it? In that empty heart of yours which knows only violence, can you feel the warmth given by everyone else?"
"What's with all this moody preaching? Who says I couldn't get along with the class!?"
"Ugh... we... get along... Yup... we do... get along..." The classmates shivered as they tried to appease her fury. Noticing this, Taiga turned her neck stiffly and said,
"W, why is everyone looking so scared?"
"You see? It's that simple."
Ami closed her eyes and shook her head, holding her hand up to motion to the whole class, "That's enough." The classmates obediently fell silent together. For some time, Ami had turned into a host of a long-running afternoon TV programme, completely manipulating the mood of the audience.
"Anyway, I wanted to tell you not to think so negatively... Alright? You understand now? Good, let us start by opening to page 4 of the script, in Act 2 where Aisaka-san makes her awesome appearance. Wham! 'Entering with Takasu-kun from the right of the stage, she brainwashes the whole class.'"
"I-ALREADY-SAID-I'M NOT DOING THIS!!! I won't do it! Besides, I've never brainwashed anyone!"
"W, well it's not like you're really brainwashing anyone! You just need to pretend, that's all. Give it a try. Okay! Tiger! Your brainwashing line!"
"Wha!? So sudden... let me see... 'DIE!'"
"Seriously... forget it, can you not use 'Die'?"
"Huh, oh, there's dialogue... 'The Tiger roars as she enters the stage!'"
"Those are not dialogue... those are script instructions."
"What are script instructions?"
After some commotion, even Taiga had begun to listen to Ami's instructions, and the whole class was immersed in watching Taiga and Ami's passionate performance and applauded and cheered. Ryuuji didn't join in because he didn't know his lines. Wasn't she just questioning her a while ago? Why is she now suddenly acting according to the script? If Taiga were more steadfast in her stance, there might be a chance out of this, and now even she has...
At the moment, Taiga seems to be enjoying her shouting match with Ami. Oh well... Ryuuji had completely given up. It seemed like everyone was enthusiastic about it, and moaning about it alone wasn't going to change anything.
All he could do now was be his obedient self. If nothing can be changed, then there's nothing I can do. At the very least, I can't give everyone anymore trouble. Anyway, let's practice the part where I enter the stage... And so Ryuuji began to read his script.
"Fight... fight... fight...! YOU-ARE-THE-KING-OF-"
Ryuuji gave an awkward look, so did the classmate beside him as he tilted his head.
"W... what are you playing?"
"Eh!? Oh, this? Well... even I'm not sure myself."
Minori was squatting by the side of the stage, excitedly observing the shouting match between Taiga and Ami. Although it was only the first day of rehearsal, she had already put on her make-up; she was wearing a bald cap, an eye patch, buck tooth, and a cloth around her waist, and was entirely immersed into her character.
"Haruta-kun says this is to make up for throwing me to the Morgue, so he arranged a pretty awesome character for me. He's even prepared a costume for me. Heh heh, I never knew Haruta-kun was such a nice person."
"Is that... so?"
Minori shyly removed her bucktoothed false teeth, and beamed brightly at Ryuuji while still wearing her bald cap and eye patch. It had been a long time since he last saw such a glowing smile that was as warm as the sun in summer. Ryuuji's shoulders widened like flowers basking in the sunlight.
Minori's smile is indeed the source of all the liveliness in this world, so smooth and shiny... No, I don't mean her bald head is shining... Ryuuji found he could not move his eyes away from Minori.
"Takasu-kun, can I ask you..."
And she's even speaking to me! Minori, who's been keeping a distance from me for some reason, is now willing to speak to me. I don't care if she's still wearing an eye patch and bald cap, if she wants to talk, go ahead. Ryuuji's eyes widened to the point of nearly splitting. If possible, I hope she mentions that... The towels that she promised to send to me once school resumes after summer vacation. I've been taking turn using those beautiful deep blue and khaki-coloured towels since then, washing them in soft detergent.
"Amin's been behaving differently lately."
"Yeah, that towel, it's... huh? You're talking about Kawashima?"
Why is she talking about Ami? Ryuuji felt extremely depressed.
"Speaking of which... It does seem that way."
Ryuuji nodded and agreed, taking a quick glance at Ami, who was instructing Taiga on her acting. Her beauty, pretentiousness and popularity were no different than when she first transferred...
"She wouldn't have preemptively approached a crowd before. Normally she would always..."
Be more cautious.
Ryuuji realized he nearly said that, and quickly shut his mouth. For Ryuuji, this too was a sudden and unexpected realization.
So that's why, Ryuuji thought, I always see Ami as always being worried or scared. To prevent the shell she has created from damage and shock, Ami would surround herself with walls, setting up mines everywhere in order to blow up any intruder that approached. This was her defense mechanism to prevent anyone from discovering her true self, but now, she had indeed changed a bit, though she's still wearing her pretentious mask, it's just that...
"I already said that's not correct! Hmm... Could it possibly be that... Aisaka-san's... a bit dumb... You poor thing..."
"You have no right to criticize me, Bakachi!"
Ami stood in the centre of the classroom and teased Taiga while smiling maliciously. I can tell that though her mask was a bit off and looked forced as she maintained it, she's still trying her best to integrate herself with the classmates. Ryuuji couldn't understand just what compelled her to be like that.
Now's not the time to think about such stuff. Besides, there are too many bystanders. Ryuuji kept his thoughts to himself. Rather, he looked skeptically at Ami, attempting to change the subject,
"I have no idea what that mischievous woman is up to."
"Hey... how can you say that!? Amin's a good girl!"
Minori smiled and removed her bald cap, and gently knocked Ryuuji's arm. Ryuuji dodged her attack and said what he really thought,
"You too, you seem different from before."
"EHH!? M, m, m, m, me!?"
Does she need to freak out like that? Minori yelled suddenly as she stared at Ryuuji. Taking off her eye patch and reverting to her original form, Minori approached Ryuuji frantically,
"Really!? H, how have I changed? Is it for g, good?"
"You should know the answer to that question."
"EHHHH!? How am I supposed to know!? Just what's going on, I'm getting nervous. Why are you suddenly saying this, Takasu Boy?"
Weren't you the one keeping a distance from me for some reason!? Ryuuji did not say that, and simply picked up the bald cap Minori had dropped to the floor, casually dusting it off, and attempted to place it back on her head, while thinking Our relationship should be able to allow us to be this intimate.
Minori screamed like a crow that was being assaulted by a cat, shaking her head a lot with the bald cap tilted, and kept a distance from Ryuuji.
W, what just happened?
Was I too intimate? Maybe, but did she really have to back off so far? Ryuuji felt hurt inside, and maybe because he carelessly wore his expression on his face...
"Oh no, no, no, no... I didn't mean it that way! Really... um..."
Minori's way of comforting him was strange. She waved her arms and made one small step forward to approach Ryuuji. As their eyes met, even Ryuuji was lost for words, and could only look suspiciously at her.
"No, no, no, no... This, this, this... how should I say... well, you know."
Minori backed off again... Whatever, in any case, please decide whether you want to put on or take off that tilted bald cap on your head.
Ryuuji could only lower his head anxiously as he looked at Minori, he didn't even notice that someone was watching them.
For the past few days, Ryuuji and Taiga's relationship had grown even frostier. When they walked home together, even the rustling leaves blown by the autumn wind felt chilly.
Ever since "that night", there was hardly any cheerful laughter between them (not that there was any to begin with). Even then, Taiga would still go to school with Ryuuji every morning, and have dinner at the Takasu residence every night. She even accompanied Ryuuji to the supermarket on the way home. If you're really feeling that pissed off, then don't hang out with me already! Ryuuji thought, and even said so, but Taiga would always give her standard Taiga-like reply, "I'm not pissed off! I have no reason to! If you think I looked pissed off, that's because you keep on going about how pissed off I am!" But he could tell just by looking at how she ignored everything around her that she was indeed pissed off.
"What are we having tonight?"
"Yellowtail fish, we just bought that, remember?"
"How are you going to cook that?"
"By braising it."
"Braising it, huh?"
Whoosh. An atmosphere that was colder than the freezing wind blew pass beneath their feet as they kept at within a metre from each other while walking forward. It was so cold that one could freeze.
It was already six after they finished their rehearsal for the school festival and shopping at the supermarket. As it was mid-autumn, the days were getting shorter, so the sky was already covered in a dark-gray blanket. The night was so silent that one would get goosebumps as the street lamps began to light up, one by one.
Ryuuji pulled up his gakuran collar, and upon seeing Taiga turn her face away, he turned his away as well. You can be pissed off all you like, you selfish tiger. I don't have to waste my time getting pissed off with you. But even as Ryuuji averted his eyes, Taiga's fluttering hair would still enter his field of vision. Her soft, light-coloured hair looked a bit gray and fluttered, covering Taiga's face one moment, and then blown off the next. It moved so smoothly in tandem with her soft footsteps, that it seemed hard to catch its movement...
"OW! OW! OW! OW! OW!"
I caught it! Ryuuji couldn't resist grabbing a chunk of Taiga's hair with his palm. Taiga roughly pulled back her hair and yelled,
"What do you mean 'Whoa', you long hair fetishist! You asking for a beating!?"
"You'd better be! You short-haired dog! Always with that mean-looking face, get lost already!"
Staring at Ryuuji, Taiga's eyes were burning with the flames of hatred. I am indeed in the wrong here, but did she need to get this mad? Taiga turned and walked away furiously. Although Ryuuji didn't want to involve himself any more, he still chased after her... As for why, it was because his home was in the same direction.
Wouldn't things be much more simple if that old man had grabbed at her hair like I did? Ryuuji of course could not say this out loud, or he would definitely end up as the Palmtop Tiger's instant meal. So he could only look at her tiny figure from behind, and thought to himself, What an idiot.
It had been a few days since "that meeting", but it seemed that Taiga still hadn't got in touch with her father. Ryuuji couldn't tell her directly that "Your dad wants to live together with you..." because Taiga would blow her top if the word "dad" was even uttered... On the other hand, however, Ryuuji's unintentional silence would still be interpreted by Taiga as "What is it you want to say already!?", and then she would get mad and the matter would be forgotten.
"There's a limit to being stubborn..."
Ryuuji began to mumble to himself, thinking she wouldn't hear, but...
"Who you calling stubborn!?"
It was in only times like these that Taiga obtained superhuman hearing, picking up every single word Ryuuji said. She swung her bag and attacked him,
"So what!? What're you going to do about it!? I'm feeling pissed right now! If you have something to say, SAY IT!"
"OW! That hurts!"
Being hit by a hard bag, Ryuuji could say nothing besides yelling in pain. Seeing his house up ahead, Ryuuji pathetically escaped from the beechwood path that he walked on every day. Needless to say, Taiga chased behind rapidly like a cyborg.
"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE! I'VE HAD ENOUGH! The school festival as well! Why are all these annoying things happening lately!?"
"And it's my fault!?"
"Of course it is! Wah...!"
As she swung her bag with her tiny figure, Taiga's clumsy side showed again as she lost her balance and fell towards the lid of the drainage by the sidewalk. Just as she was about to fall, she managed to grab a traffic pole placed to redirect traffic nearby with her hand, and attempted to steady herself, but...
Is this her retribution? As the pole was not anchored to the ground, Taiga fell straight towards the pedestrian path, so did the metallic pole. Taiga's yell and the sound of the pole crashing on the ground echoed throughout the neighbourhood.
"Are you alright? You look pretty pathetic..."
"S, SHUT UP! Whose fault do you think it is!?"
"As if I have anything to do with that."
What a dummy. Ryuuji mumbled as he picked up the bag Taiga threw. No matter how much Taiga belittled him, whenever he saw Taiga fall down so embarrassingly, he just couldn't resist the urge to pick Taiga back up. He approached Taiga, who was looking riled-up and struggling while blushing furiously, and was just about to gave her a helping hand...
"I, it's been a while..."
A hand slightly smaller than Ryuuji's, but slightly larger than Taiga's, had reached out and grabbed Taiga's hand before Ryuuji could.
Parked before Taiga's apartment block was a gorgeous convertible Mercedes, with its roof completely opened, basking in the beauty of this season.
From the silhouette standing with his back facing the setting sun, Ryuuji could tell that it was a short middle-aged man.
Taiga looked up, and her eyes glittered in a cold flare.
Although he looked small, he had the strength expected from a man in his forties. He pulled Taiga up with all his strength, letting her stand up and dust off the dirt from her skirt.
"I'm sorry, I've been waiting here for you. Well... I have something to... OW!"
"GET LOST, YOU STALKER!"
Taiga's merciless ankle had thrusted deep into the forbidden zone between his legs. The silhouette, Taiga's father that is, knelt straight on the ground, unable to say anything as he twitched in pain. As a male himself, Ryuuji could only watch with a pale expression. He even felt a part of his own body hurting just looking at Taiga's father. As for the culprit, his daughter Taiga that is, she didn't even turn around to look at the tragedy that she had just caused.
"Ryuuji! Let's go home! It's too dangerous here!"
"You're more dangerous than anyone here!"
Ryuuji stood fixated, forcing Taiga to grab him by the arm and drag him towards the stairs leading to Ryuuji's apartment.
"H, hold it! Wait! W, w, wait! You just gonna leave him like that!?"
Ryuuji grabbed hard on the staircase railing, trying to support himself with his legs. Although it had nothing to do with him, and the image of that "ball-breaking" execution was still etched in his mind, But how can I let things end like this? I can't leave him behind like that! I can't go home with Taiga like that! This is serious! Something is happening! Your dad is really coming to pick you up! Today! Right here! Right now! Even then, the terrifying-looking Taiga still attempted to drag Ryuuji along with the railing he was grabbing into the apartment...
From the veins appearing on his forehead, one could tell that the railing which Ryuuji desperately clung onto was squeaking loudly. If this goes on, not only will my shoulder get dislocated, but the whole house might fall apart. With a determined look on his face, Ryuuji turned and grabbed Taiga's shoulders,
"Dammit! You troublesome fellow! You can only go so far with your stubbornness!"
"What!? How dare you speak so arrogantly for a dog like you!?"
He wasn't going to let go, even if it meant getting his face punched. Instead, he pulled in Taiga closer to him, and pushed her off-balance body towards the wall. Their distance was so close that their breaths were overlapping, and exchanged froth as they began yelling at each other.
"Wha... What do you think you're doing!? Let me go!"
"You were the one who grabbed onto me first! I won't allow you to enter my house like that! Absolutely not!"
"Your dad's coming to fetch you! At least hear what he has to say! Just who do you think he is!? He's your dad!"
"No, he isn't! That's a stalker! I don't want to be with a stalker!"
"What is this nonsense!? Weren't you crying because you were abandoned? Be more honest with yourself! No matter what, you go and talk with that old man first! Look at his face!"
"A, are you on his side now? You betrayed me! And I thought only you were on my side... TRAITOR!"
"It's because I'm on your side that I'm saying this! This is all for you! Isn't this what you wanted!? Your dad's come to fetch you home! Didn't you want to go home!? Didn't you want to go live with him!? The stepmother that you hated is no longer there!"
"W... why you, just what do you think you know!? I no longer expect anything from that person! It's all in the past! It's all over! I don't need that person anymore! When a person that's not needed suddenly appears, he'll only bring trouble! Who's going to be happy seeing trash that's been thrown away returning to their room!?"
Ryuuji's hands had unknowingly began to apply force on Taiga, and no matter how much her tiny hands struggled in pain or how much she yelled, he still refused to reduce his strength,
"He's standing there waiting for you to return. Is that person really just trash to you!? Do you know that no matter how much I hope for it, my dad will never return..."
I should never have said that...
Putting my own situation with the situation at hand is just too egotistical.
Ryuuji bit his lips and let go, backing off some distance away from Taiga, releasing the heated breath that was close to burning as he muttered repeatedly, "This is for Taiga, this is for Taiga..." What the, I've actually said it.
By getting Taiga, who had no relation to him, to attain her happiness, Ryuuji was merely using her to fill up the void in his heart caused by being abandoned for the past 17 years. He knew very well that he was saying this as a lame excuse to console himself.
Maybe I really am a boring and nosy stupid dog.
Accompanied by the loss in his heart, Ryuuji lowered his head in shame. He rubbed his eyes regretfully, unable to make any sound due to his throat choking up. He felt so shallow that he even wanted to spit his own innards out. If Taiga were to slap me like she used to, then I wouldn't feel such self-pity right now.
"... That's enough... I understand now."
Taiga's voice still contained anger, but she still reached her hand and gently touched his lips which he had bitten till blood trickled out. Ryuuji held his breath at the touch of her cold and soft fingers.
Taiga's fingertips slid down his face and grabbed his chin, which was unable to say anything, and lifted up his pathetic face just like that. Her sharp glare looked fearlessly at Ryuuji and said,
"Since you say that... Then so be it, so stop making such a face."
Grip! Taiga clutched onto Ryuuji's face and forcefully pulled him up.
"Didn't you say it's a good thing? I'll make it a good thing... No matter what I really think about it, if you say it that way, then I have to treat it as a good thing."
Taiga furrowed her brow as she released her fingers from Ryuuji's face, and slowly squinted her eyes.
"Don't say anymore..."
Taiga caressed his face with the back of her hand like a cat.
The knees that were close together were now moved apart.
Taiga placed her palm on Ryuuji's stomach and pushed him off, and slid her tiny shoulder from under his body.
Ah, couldn't grab her... That was what Ryuuji thought.
Taiga's shoulders, hair, and skirt fluttered like the fallen leaves on the ground, her hair wagging softly like the tail of a beast returning to the forest before Ryuuji's eyes. He subconsciously tried to grab her, but he could not grab anything, and his body felt exhausted by the emptiness in his hand. I see, I no longer need to grab onto Taiga, and bring her here.
Finally free, Taiga ran down the stairs like a bullet out of pistol, and towards the middle-aged man standing by the door of his imported convertible and said something. Looking surprised, the man turned and faced Taiga, at this moment, there was no need to say anything anymore.
Trembling slightly, he embraced Taiga tightly, leaning his face on her shoulder and nodded non-stop. Taiga started out looking a bit reluctant, but gave up resisting in the end, and gently patted the man's back and relaxed herself, before finally throwing herself into her father's embrace.
Upon seeing this, Ryuuji slowly climbed back on the crummy old steel staircase and muttered "Thank goodness, all is good, all is good..." like an old man.
"Whoa!? You gave me a fright!"
The door suddenly opened and Ryuuji found his mother sticking her head out to welcome him back. Yasuko did not have any make-up on, and she was wearing Ryuuji's junior high PE T-shirt.
"Why are you dressed like that? You're still not prepared yet? You've got work today, right?"
"Yeah... but I heard some noises just now... D, did you get into a fight?"
Yasuko, without her make-up, furrowed her brow and clutched her chest worryingly.
"No, I didn't."
It seemed like Yasuko was startled by him and Taiga shouting outside earlier, and had eavesdropped behind the door. Her worried face, which hardly looked like that of a woman in her thirties (not to mention the mother of a high school student), was close to tears as she dilly-dallied around the entrance.
"Alright, let's go back inside."
Despite the urging of her son, Yasuko still stuck her neck out and took a peek outside, as though she was going to go out like that without wearing a bra and wearing only slippers. Placing his hand on her shoulders, Ryuuji roughly pushed her back into the apartment.
"We really didn't get into a fight, so don't worry and get to work already. It's after six now, I'd better prepare dinner as well. Go comb your hair, it looks messy."
"You're right... but, what about Taiga-chan? Is she going to change and come over?"
"She won't be coming today."
"EHHH!? Why not!?"
How am I supposed to answer that? Ryuuji thought while elegantly tidying up his surroundings. He swiftly piled up the mail-order magazines that Yasuko was reading, and placed them into the spot designated for recycled trash before Yasuko ordered anything funny from them. He then picked up her empty mug and quickly gave it a wash in the marble sink, as well as greeting Inko-chan that he was home. Within a few minutes, the narrow living room was reverted to the tidy state it was in that morning.
"No reason, and it's not really that bad."
Ryuuji's answer was quite laid-back.
"Yes~ it's bad! If Taiga-chan doesn't come, Ya-chan will get lonely~! We're a family~! Wouldn't Ryuu-chan get lonely as well~? It's no good if Taiga-chan won't come, so go get her~!"
Unable to agree, Yasuko sat on the cushion and rested her head on the short table, sticking her cheek on the surface like a teenage girl while twisting her body and pouting "I don't wanna!" Ryuuji took a glance at her with the corner of his eye, he entered his room and said,
"For Taiga, this is the best outcome. And it's not like she won't be coming anymore... I think."
Biting the sleeve of her PE T-shirt, Yasuko continued to hug the short table. She simply moved her large eyes and stared at her son as she asked,
"Really...? The best outcome...? Is that the best...?"
"Yeah, it's the best outcome."
Ryuuji wasn't lying. He put down his bag in its regular spot, placed his cell phone on the charger, and took off his gakuran jacket.
"This is the best for Taiga. The main reason she comes to our place was originally to prevent her from starving, but now that problem has been solved, she won't be coming... That's how it should be."
"What is as it should be~?"
Ryuuji hung his jacket on the hanger, sprayed some anti-mold spray on it as usual and then placed them into the cupboard in a clean-cut fashion. At the same time, he was thinking about how to cook the yellowtail fish he had bought. Maybe I'll have one piece as tomorrow's lunch. After deciding what to do with the ingredients, Ryuuji's thoughts gradually became clearer.
"Taiga's dad is downstairs right now. He wanted to get a divorce with her stepmother, who she didn't get along well with, and live with her again. Isn't that a good thing?"
Ryuuji explained clearly and concisely.
Unexpectedly, Yasuko didn't seem to agree. She widened her large childish-looking eyes, and looked at Ryuuji who had just changed and emerged from his room,
"I just feel that her dad seems a bit self-centered..."
"What do you mean?"
"Well... I just feel that way~"
Mincing her words, Yasuko seemed like she thought of something and didn't want to continue. "Forget it." She shrugged, and walked to the bathroom in her PE T-shirt and prepared to go to work, and said in her usual care-free tone, "Ya-chan has no right to comment on other people's dads~." Ryuuji could only stare at his mother's back in silence.
Upon hearing his mother calling Taiga's father "self-centered", Ryuuji couldn't answer back.
But still, it's great that Taiga is able to return to her dad... was what Ryuuji thought.
He remembered something that happened long ago, when he was much shorter than he was now, and was always looking at Yasuko's back.
That morning, Yasuko suddenly said, "Let's take a holiday from the kindergarten!" And the two of them went traveling by train. After changing many trains, they arrived at an unfamiliar place. Ryuuji felt tired, so Yasuko bought anfrom the platform store for him. Coming out of the station gates, Yasuko held Ryuuji's hand and arrived at a residential area with plenty of old large houses lined up beside each other. After turning around countless similar corners, they came to a park bench and sat down. During this time, Yasuko would stand and stare at a house surrounded by pine trees. After many hours, she would still stand and look at the second floor windows which could be seen from there. "Mom~" Even when Ryuuji tried to call her, she still would not move. Ryuuji called her again, "Mom~" And still Yasuko did not respond. So Ryuuji thought it better not to call her, and the two of them went silent just like that. It was soon evening before they knew it, and when night came, Yasuko finally turned around and smiled, "I'm sorry." And then they held each other's hands and returned to where they used to live.
At that time Ryuuji had no idea what was going on, but thinking back now, he realized that was where Yasuko's family lived. That time was when the Takasu family was in a tight situation financially. In order for Ryuuji to attend kindergarten, Yasuko had to work from day until night, and got very ill as a result. He didn't know what illness it was, but for some time she had to regularly visit the hospital. Ryuuji would often be all by himself in the hospital nursery for hours back then.
This is unbearable, I want to go home, but I can't, and I couldn't... Yasuko, who was only twenty back then, hesitated for hours as she looked at the window of her family house, while holding the hand of the forbidden child, unable to return.
Poor Yasuko, So thought that forbidden child. That girl was around the same age as Ryuuji was right now. Just how did she see the husband that did not return, and the home that she could not return to? Did she ever wonder which choice was correct, and which choice was wrong?
Did she ever regret it at all?
"Ryuu-chan~! Ugh! There's no more hair-gel~!"
"We've still got some back-up! It's under the sink!"
... She must have.
Standing inside the kitchen, Ryuuji opened his shopping bag and took out the three pieces of yellowtail fish with his just-washed hands. With the skin facing downwards on the chopping board, he began to season the fish in an exquisite way, while at the same time pouring a cup of sauce, sake and seasoning as he prepared the miso soup. There wasn't any need to cook any rice, as there was still plenty in the refrigerator.
Ryuuji hoped he could help her as much as he could, because she could not rely on her parents, and so could only rely on her son. Ryuuji only hoped she would be glad that he's around, and not regret the choice that she made. In that case, he could comfort the sadness within himself... That was what he had hoped all along.
Thus Ryuuji did not wish to see another girl facing the same sadness as he had. When he saw her running off, he kept on repeating the same words over,
This is the best outcome. They've been apart for so long, so it's not possible for them to get together right away, but they could take things one step at a time.
This definitely is the best outcome.
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