The next morning, Kurisu-chan woke up before me.
“Ah, good morning, Kagoshima-senpai.”
As I descended the stairs, she flashed me a cheerful smile. She was standing in the kitchen, wearing an apron, cooking something.
“Good morning. How’s your body holding up?”
“I’m fine, thanks to you. You have my gratitude.”
“If you want to thank someone, say it to Orino-san. She even made the porridge.”
“You’re right. When I get to school, the first thing I’ll do is go straight up and thank her. That aside, I’ll make today’s breakfast, so you should just take it easy.”
“You will? Then I guess I’ll leave it to you.”
“I definitely didn’t hear about your lack of cooking skills from Orino-senpai.”
“… I don’t think you had to emphasize that point.”
Orino-san sure is harsh.
And wait, so my cooking was bad? I never had any opportunities to compare it to anyone, so I never knew. One can never learn their own worth, lest they compare it to another’s; I’m sure it’s that sort of philosophical question.
“But my mom did teach me…”
I sat at the table and watched over Kurisu-chan. Compared to Orino-san she was a little awkward, but that was also adorable. The way she seemed to be doing her best at something she wasn’t used to was wonderful.
I found myself really wanting a little sister like that. I wonder if I should ask my parents to get baby making. Those two still get along ridiculously well. Dad’s sixty-five, but he said he’s still in active service.
“It’s finished. Rice and miso soup. Fried eggs and sliced salmon as a side dish. I’ve properly studied the food here.”
It seems Orino-san set the rice to cook before she left. Hmhmm. Which means, that round machine over there is the item called a rice cooker. I never knew.
[OH, YOU WANTED AN IMAGE, DID YOU?]
“Yeah, let’s eat… Hm? Kurisu-chan? This fried egg is yellow, are you sure it’s alright to eat?”
“… Kagoshima-senpai, what color are the eggs you usually eat?”
“Ah. The salmon’s great. Kurisu-chan, did you know? Salmon, see, its body is this red, but it’s actually a white-fleshed fish. The reason its body is red is because of the organic pigment it gets from the crustacean it eats. That’s also why salmon roe is red.”
“… I have just experienced first-hand the difference between knowledge and skill. Someone with nothing but knowledge can’t make a good meal, I see…”
As we continued our fun, lighthearted breakfast, the intercom rang.
The visitor was Orino-san.
“What is it, so early in the morning?”
“I came with food. I can’t let Kurisu-chan eat anything Kagoshima-kun made, after all.”
She said as she raised the bags in both her hands. And I was being cast as an untrustworthy or rather unreliable seed of doubt.
“Ah, Kurisu-chan. I see you’re already up on your feet.”
“Thanks to you. I’m really thankful.”
“It’s fine. But more importantly that over there. Did you make it?”
“… Yes, you gave me ample warning.”
“I’m glad you understood.”
“… It really is something, isn’t it.”
“… Yes, it really is.”
The two spoke in whispers, making sure I couldn’t hear. I felt a little alienated.
“But when I went and bought ingredients, it looks like they’re going to be wasted.”
“In that case, let’s make something together. I want to learn cooking from you, Orino-senpai. That porridge was delicious.”
“Sure, I don’t see why not.”
“Ah, then I’ll also…”
Say what? Was the face they sent me. I’m sure that was the face someone would make when asked to teach the English language to a chimpanzee. Their kindness with how they discussed how to put me down without hurting me was painful, I stealthily left the kitchen and began watching the morning news in the living room.
Oh, good for me. Taurus ranks second luckiest today.
With the power of a man’s pride, I somehow crammed down that breakfast that had gone as far as to include pasta and omurice. After changing into uniform, the three of us commuted to school together.
No, what’s with me having a flower in each hand? If Kagurai-senpai were her, it’d be perfect. Orino-san and Kurisu-chan walked a step ahead of me, blooming in conversation. Ever since the previous night, I got the feeling the distance between those two was suddenly contracting. When I watched the two of them, I brightened up as well.
But I wonder why.
Ever since last night, Orino-san’s expression was faintly dark. Even when she laughed, she looked somewhat sorrowful.
When Kurisu-chan and Kagurai-senpai held up bright faces as if they had found the paths they were to tread in life, it looked like Orino-san alone was still lost.
I could only hope it was my usual imagination.
At that moment, tension raced across Kurisu-chan’s happily conversing face.
“… Eh? This magic is… the person who locked me in a barrier yesterday…”
Saying things as incomprehensible as ever,
“I-I’m sorry. I have to go ahead!”
She apologetically lowered her head and raced off at a breakneck pace.
“… I wonder what could have happened.”
The question still lingering, I tilted my head and looked to the side.
“You really don’t know, do you.”
Orino-san looked at me with scornful eyes.
Dumbfounded, and as if she had given up.
“Ah, um… what do you mean by that?”
“… Sorry. I’m going ahead.”
Covering her face, she walked off with fast feet. As if my legs were sewn to the ground, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t take… a single step.
You really don’t know, do you.
Again and again, Orino-san’s words raced around my head.
Don’t know? So I don’t know? Know what? What don’t I know? I wonder why I don’t know anything. Almost as if a curse or something was placed on me, I couldn’t notice.
I mean, I mean, I mean… there’s no way it was. No way it could be.
I mean, that person…
Something was coiled around the inside of my head. It became a chain to obstruct the development of my thoughts.
When I wanted to accept… it would reject.
“… No. No, no. That’s idiotic.”
There’s no way heroes of justice exist.
I know I shouldn’t be the one to say, it, but I think I have quite an optimistic personality. I make sure not to think about anything deeply, and it doesn’t really bother me if I leave what I don’t know as an unknown. In my personal relations, I’m careful not to do anything that’ll make them hate me, and I never think to forcefully probe into their secrets.
Because that person taught me that sort of man was the coolest.
“Kagurai-senpai… isn’t here. I’m coming in.”
Lunch break, I dropped by the ComClub room alone.
Orino-san was constantly emitting a hard-to-approach aura, and I was unable to strike up conversation with her. I had made her angry, or rather fed up with me… if that was all, it would be fine. The problem was that I couldn’t tell what Orino-san was thinking in the slightest.
I got a feeling it couldn’t just be written off as being dense.
The filter in my head taking on the name of common sense had grown firm enough to call abnormal.
“… Oh? It’s Gakuta-kun.”
Gakuta-kun had been placed atop the table. It seemed that Kagurai-senpai had forgotten him. He seemed to be her favorite, so I was sure she’d take him home with her.
I picked up Gakuta-kun, and closely inspected his face.
Something was different than usual.
Almost as if his personality data had been plugged out, he made a face that didn’t give off any vitality. No, he was a stuffed animal, so it was only obvious he wouldn’t have any to begin with. I tried equipping him on my hand. Of course, I didn’t try any terrible dirty jokes like Kagurai-senpai.
‘Hey there. I’m Gakuta!’
I tried forcing out a high voice, but it really was hard. I reaffirmed how amazing Kagurai-senpai must be.
‘Akira-kun. Why the long face? What happened to you?’
“Something just a little bit sad happened. Will you hear me out, Gakuta-kun?”
‘Of course I will. I’ll always be your friend, Akira-kun.’
… This is actually quite embarrassing. I’m surprised that senpai was able to do something so lonely. Oh, but since I was already at it, I should try doing it some more. Perhaps it would melt away some of the twists of my heart a bit.
“The truth is, I had a fight with a friend… maybe it wasn’t big enough to call a fight. We just tried to reach each other and fell short… maybe we would be better off having a fight.”
‘You mean you want to be close enough to fight?’
“The opposite. I want our relationship to be bad enough we can go at each other’s throats. I get the feeling the fact it can’t become a fight is the real problem.”
‘That’s too complicated, I don’t get what you’re saying.’
“Haha. It’s fine like that. I don’t really get it either. But you see, it’s just this feeling I have, but I don’t think me and Orino-san will ever be able to fight.”
‘Why do you think so?’
“Me aside, I think that Orino-san has something she can never tell me.”
‘And what’s that?’
“… I don’t know.”
‘What’s up with that?’
“Nothing I can do about what I don’t know. But I also get the feeling I’m not supposed to know, so maybe we’re better off like this. Orino-san probably—also Kurisu-chan, and Kagurai-senpai too, there’s something they’re hiding from me, maybe…”
‘What!? For the reputed dullard Akira-kun to say such a thing, that’s the real shocker.’
“I’m surprised too. But I just can’t do it. No matter how I try, my thoughts never move forward. The plot never advances. I get the feeling I’m not supposed to notice any more. Something like a curse is tying me up.”
‘Aren’t you imagining it? Akira-kun, writing it off as your imagination is supposed to be your specialty. What happened to you?’
“… You’re right. I’m sure it’s my imagination. Don’t mind it, don’t notice, I’m sure it’s nothing at all. That’s how I decided I would live my life.”
‘You’re talking about that day, aren’t you.’
“Right. That day… hey, you make it sound deep, but it really wasn’t anything special.”
‘The day of first love, and first broken hearts.’
“Ah, don’t say that. You sure are a naughty one, Gakuta-kun.”
“No, you’re not getting off for that one.”
‘Whah. Akira-kun got angry. Run away!’
“Wait right there, I’m not letting you go!”
‘Kyah. Someone save me.’
“Ahaha. Just you wait, you little scamp.”
Orino-san was standing in the doorway.
I-I was being watched!?
I was seen playing around with a stuffed animal on my hand!
I’m done for as a human being!
“… I can’t stand watching anymore…”
Orino-san was crying a torrent. Her hands pressed to the ground, she shed rough tears.
“I’m sorry… I, I just got a little irritable… and I ended up taking it out on you… I never thought it would break your sanity to such an extent…”
“Whoah! Don’t apologize, Orino-san! You’re wrong! I was just imitating Kagurai-senpai and practicing some ventriloquism.”
I understood how Kagurai-senpai must feel.
This is painful!
“That person isn’t a ventril… never mind. Ah… the tears won’t stop…”
“Stop, don’t look at me as if I’m some pitiful sop! I’m going to be infected with the tears!”
“It’s all my fault. I’m sorry. So cheer up, I’m begging you.”
“We managed to make up, but it’s not making me happy!”
Of course, it’s not as if such a comedy sketch could actually reconcile our relationship, and even after a week, it remained awkward between us.
We’d exchange greetings, we’d chat, but it wasn’t fun like it used to be. It was also something different from having distance between us. More so the opposite.
Orino-san was trying to close the gap that pulled us apart… I think.
To step over the comfortable line that was once there, just another step, she was coming towards me. Or perhaps, she was pulling me over to her side. I got around to thinking of it like that.
Confusion and hesitation oozed from her body.
Shown the expression of someone who had no idea what to do, I didn’t know what to do myself.
It was a week I couldn’t get excited over.
It felt awkward with Orino-san, Kagurai-senpai hadn’t returned yet, and I wasn’t close enough with Kurisu-chan to intentionally hang out with her, so I only met her on occasion.
Lately, it had been so fun to be with those three, I had forgotten how the past me ever spent his days. And now I longed for the girls who colored the boring world.
“… I wasn’t supposed to hate boredom.”
With classes over, I walked alone down the crimson-dyed residential district.
Once again, Orino-san said her ‘stomach hurt’ and left early. I thought I’d send her a message, but I never managed to.
Human relations really do have an irksome side.
If you had to experience meeting and loss to get a true taste of loneliness, perhaps it would be best to be lonely from the start. If you’re lonely to begin with, you can get it over with never noticing you were lonely at all.
It was too late, though.
I had learned a fun that wasn’t lonely.
That’s why the current situation was so tiresome.
Is there a cosplaying Kurisu-chan somewhere around here, I thought as I took every detour I could on the way back. Passing down roads I’d never walked before, entering shops I’d never been to, visiting the abandoned school to check up on the bench I smashed the other day, meaninglessly fiddling with the misanga on my right arm.
As I took it easy like that on my way home,
My feet stopped before Gentle Breeze Park.
At the entrance, a signboard reading ‘TO BE DEMOLISHED NO ENTRY’ was set up.
It was quite a disappointment. The pain really does pile up.
That was a place of memories.
No longer able to stand around, I ignored the sign and infiltrated the park. There was ‘Do Not Use’ tape plastered all over the swings, the jungle gym, the seesaw. I could no longer play on them.
That was excessively harsh. I was driven on by an urge to tear off all the tape, but I managed to contain myself. Even if I did it, it’d just tack a sense of guilt over everything else.
Even when down in the dumps, the human body has its needs. I entered the park’s bathroom and did my business.
When I left the bathroom, Orino-san was in front of the jungle gym.
She was dressed in the movie costume I’d seen once before, that somewhat erotical suit.
As she blankly stared at the sky above- while I hesitated a bit- I mustered my courage to let out a cheerful voice.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
Orino-san made a face taken by surprise. That was a reaction as if she hadn’t expected me to call out at all.
“… Ah, I see,” she accepted something, continuing her monologue. “So this park is outside of Saijou-kun’s territory… that’s a downer. His telepathy makes it so no one can see me, so I was able to use psychokinesis to get myself back with some piece of mind.”
“… Eh? Psychokinesis?”
“I flew through the sky. Whoosh, just like that. It feels nice to just let it all out sometimes. So while I was at it, I spotted this park, and used it as a landing site. You said it was your park of memories, so…”
“… Umm, you’re talking about a movie, right?”
Orino-san looked down, her mouth curving in self-derision.
“I’m talking about a movie.”
Do you want to sit down? I pointed at a nearby bench. With a space of around thirty centimeters between us, we sat side by side.
“Is your stomach alright?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.”
“That’s good. Ah, come to think of it, how’s your grandma doing? I’m hoping my old folks live long and prosper.”
“… You’re right.”
I wonder why. Whenever I talked, Orino-san made a pained face. As if she was containing her irritation, she gripped and strangled the thigh portion of her suit.
“Hey. Do you still think the world is boring?”
She suddenly tossed the question to me. While I was perplexed, I managed an answer.
That’s right. The world is boring. That’s what I’ve thought all my life. Only commonplace things ever happen, it’s a world that isn’t dramatic. I mean, back then, that person told me.
“So it’s boring… eh.”
Orino-san’s mouth formed a smile. But the only thing smiling was her mouth, and her eyes weren’t in the slightest. It was a smile of harsh self-deprecation.
“If a world where nothing happens is boring, then what is a hero of justice supposed to do? Are they supposed to snatch away everyone’s enjoyment? Unknown to all, just going off and taking care of the bad guys? I thought I was quite serious about it but… was I making a mistake?”
“An everyday life is boring, you’re charmed by the ordinary… what’s with that? To be blunt, that’s an insult you know. An injustice to all the people working on the world’s underside. You don’t notice how many sacrifices your life stands on…”
“I wanted to be as close to an ordinary high school girl as I could, I pushed myself, I even became class rep…”
As she bit her lower lip, Orino-san’s shoulders shook. Her anger and sadness were overflowing from her slender body.
“We’re not doing our best to make the world boring!”
It was a tear-laced scream
“I… we, all of us… do it because we have things we want to protect…”
“… What are you talking about?”
I couldn’t tell in the slightest why Orino-san was growing so heated.
I didn’t know.
“Why can’t you get it…”
Despair floated across Orino-san’s face. As if to cry out, ‘save me’, a fleeting expression. An intense sense of guilt welled up, but I hadn’t the slightest what I should do with it. Some deep portion of my heart rejected the very notion of understanding.
What is this?
Why… why can’t I understand anything?
Standing from the bench, Orino-san ran off. There were tears in the corners of her eyes, and I found myself giving chase. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but I chased.
“Orino-san wait! Please wait!”
“Stop following me!”
The moment I tried to grasp her arm, Orino-san turned towards me and directed her palm my way.
As if I was being pushed down by a giant unseeable hand, I crumbled onto the ground. I couldn’t move a single finger. An invisible power was suppressing me.
[INSERT IMAGE HERE]
Orino-san mouthed an apology, but along the way she turned her back to me. Released from that strange oppression I stood and chased her… what was that just now? Did my legs get tangled up? Did I get a fainting spell? No, more importantly, Orino-san. Orino-san was running at a considerable pace. It didn’t look like I could catch up, but even so, I frantically kicked at the ground.
Just ahead, Orino-san turned a corner.
“Kyah! Why did Kagurai-senpai suddenly appear when I turned the corner!?”
“Uwah!? Just when I get back from the future, Orino-san suddenly…!”
I heard two overlapping screams. It seems she bumped into Kagurai-senpai. When she got back from her parents’ house, I wonder. Well whatever. This is my chance. Hurry.
“H-huh? Kagurai-senpai, that thing in your hand is kinda acting up.”
“Hm? … Nooooooo! My T4D Card!”
“E-eh? What’s that supposed to be?”
“When time trav—aah, I don’t have time to explain that… this is bad. I just arrived, so the time axis hasn’t been stabilized yet. If that impact broke the T4D Card then…”
“Eeeh!? W-what’s going to happen!”
“Grab onto me, Orino! In another few seconds, we’ll be jumped somewhere. There’s no stopping it!”
“Stay close, or you’ll be left in the rifts of time!”
“Here it comes!”
Right after Orino-san’s scream, I finally managed to turn the corner. But neither Orino-san nor Kagurai-senpai were anywhere to be found. Before my eyes was a dark bluish haze as if space-time had been warped, but after I rubbed my eyes and looked again, there was nothing. Apparently I was just seeing things.
“Where could they have gone…”
I was at a loss, simply standing on the spot.