Toradora!:Volume7 Chapter4

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Chapter 4[edit]

December 23, 4 PM.

A mini truck from Kanou Shouten Ltd. entered from the school gate, and leaving tracks on the ground, pulled up along the entrance of the gym. At that instant, men lying in wait rushed over to express their thanks to the driver, the storekeeper of “Kanouya” – the major sponsor of the Cultural Festival, and the supermarket/home of the previous Student President (In other words, Kanou Sumire’s old man). After each and everyone of them bowed once, they climbed onto the back of the truck, and let out a low cry of admiration of Ooooo...... from the amount of what it was carrying, and the beauty of the coloring of the parts sticking out from the packaging.

“Wow.....once we put this together, this is absolutely going be incredible......!”

While Ryuuji was untying the cords with the others, his eyes couldn’t help but widen. From what he could imagine from seeing these parts, the assembled form was most likely going to be considerably large and unbelievably gorgeous.

“Okay! Let’s split up and carry this stuff!”

The Preparatory Committee members, including Ryuuji, raised their fists in the air and roared a “Yeah!” in response to Kitamura’s jock voice. Even though it was the afterschool period, the tension of all was electrifying, as it should be, since what was loaded in the truck was the symbol of their party, the Christmas tree. Not only that, it was a fabulous one exceeding everyone’s imagination, so it was natural for the voltage of the Committee members to have risen.

However, while it may have been a tree, it wasn’t a real fir tree but an artificial one. The tray full of parts shined with a mysterious pearl feel, easily allowing them to imagine the beauty and magnificence of the completed tree. It even came decorated with several ball-shaped decorations, and among them, it seemed like there were ones with gold and silver tops. Someone that picked up a gold one shouted, “A big kintama! “ and accordingly, received a low kick from at the back of the knees from Kitamura. Another student stole the ball from his hands, but it turned out that he already had one golden one, and realizing this, “Ah, crap.....” Ryuuji, who had seen this and blurted, “Pffft!” somehow felt like he lost and was frustrated. The box he was lifting was probably full of lights and cables.

He could hear the laughing yakking of the first years that were passing him from behind.

“Hey, isn’t this like totally full-blown!?”

“Better yet, can we put this thing together?”

“There’s no use in worrying, let’s just do it! Let’s try our best!”

Hearing that, Ryuuji also hastily increased his pace. Ou, let’s try our best! he replied mentally.

With waves of people, each held as many parts as they could and went one by one into the gym. As constructing the tree would take time, the Committee intended to finish assembling it today, then move it behind the stage in its completed form, take it out immediately after the ending ceremony tomorrow was over, and proceed with setting up the hall – The Committee members worked under that schedule.

And it was no wonder why this tree was a ‘totally full-blown’ one, since while the person that delivered it was old man Kanou of Kanouya, the real key player that acquired it was,

“Wa~o ♥ It’s here! Guys, be sure to get all the parts together~! We can’t finish it if we’re missing even one piece! Fight, fight!”

Kawashima Ami, whom was busy with preparing small decorations with the other girls inside the gym. The girl team was also going wild at the entrance of the tree, screeched cheers of delight when they saw the parts that the men carried, and ran over to help. Ami as well, seeing Ryuuji, got up.

“What do you think!? What do you think about this tree! Are you starting to understand how amazing Ami-chan is!?”

She smiled triumphantly. Needless to say, he hung his head down and was struck with veneration for her majesty, Ami-chan.

“Yeah, I really got it. It’s the best! You really are incredible! I’ll admit it!”

“You see, you see, you see~!? Once it’s put together, it’ll really like totally, totally, totally, be beautiful!”

The tree came from a slightly early, magazine-sponsored, Christmas party for people in the fashion industry, at a new high-profile spot in the city. High-profile actors and gossiped actresses were also invited, and apparently it was a party of so large a scale that even reporters from wide shows tried to crash the party.

Ami was there as a model for the fashion show, the main event of the party, and right after finishing, she personally asked the host, “I’d like to have this tree~ ♥ If possible, for free ♥” The fine tree at the center of the hall was going to be disposed of after the party MOTTAINAI-ly, and allegedly, he happily let her have it. However, the problem was how it was going to be delivered.

Ami helped out with even the disassembly work, collected all the parts, and was given a lift by the staff of her magazine house, to bring those parts, for the moment, to the storage of her agency near the hall. Everything went well until that point. The school was a bit too far off to ask the driver to go to as a favor. Not only that, the tree was too big and had too many parts to be able to send by a delivery service. The fact that Ami tried to pay from her own pocket was soon discovered by Kitamura who wouldn’t allow it on the grounds that “it was over the amount that a high school student should spend on a school event.” Of course, if costs were seriously being charged, the already sorrowful budget would drop in an instant.

The one there to save the day was old man Kanou of Kanouya. In order to help out with the event of the school that his daughter had once literally reigned over, on a weekday with work, he vroomed his mini truck downtown and went out of his way to drive to Ami’s talent agency then doubled back, and transported the tree parts to the school completely free of charge.

An even hotter shout of appreciation leapt out into the air at the old pops, who joined the men and was carrying one package.

“Pops! Thank you!”

“That’s our Bro’s dad! You’re the ultimate man! I love you!”

“I’m, going to shop from Kanouya from now on! I’ll tell mom!”

“I think, the fish at Kanouya are the cleanest around the area. You’re also thorough about labeling your vegetables with where they come from, you’re careful to make sure we can see the faces of the producers, your Fauchon spice selection is perfect, and oh yes, that Kyoto vegetable event the other day was really fun! I bought the Manganji mustard and I was deliciously surprised by it! It would be wonderful if you ordered more! Ah, I will most certainly be going to the tuna butchering presentation! Tuna!”

One guy that strangely knew a bit too much about Kanouya was also mixed in the crowd, but the head of the Kanou family only laughed, happily and somewhat gruffly, then turned his back to the noisy kids. Over there,

“Ah. .....Aah.....Hello.....”

“......Hello.....”

He encountered Taiga, who was carrying a box with different materials from the classroom. Taiga awkwardly raised her chin up slightly, then lightly bowed her head. Of course she’d feel awkward. One month hasn’t even passed since that incident, since Taiga got into a bloody fight with his own daughter and went with her homeroom teacher to apologize to him.

But, old man Kanou remained the perfect man. He quietly murmured only, “You look well,” and looking at her from afar and nodding approvingly several times, deepened the wrinkles on his rough, sun-tanned cheeks, smiled with his eyes, and then, this time, left the gym for good.

“....Uwah, that was a surprise. Why is that Stupident’s dad.....”

Ryuuji told a petrified and eye-fluttering Taiga the new information he had just heard about yesterday.

“You know that first year girl in the Student Council? From what I hear, she’s Bro’s little sister.”

“Eh!? .....Actually, I remember hearing about that. I completely forgot.”

They passed their eyes over to one girl with a somewhat fluffy feel about her oohing and aahing at the tree with the other first years. “.....They don’t look alike.” “.....No, they don’t look alike,” they said, nodding to one another. Their backs were interrupted by two person’s worth of continuous pounding, and to finish it off,

“C’mon, come on, do your jobs! Ami-chan got the best tree out there, so go put it together!”

Wham! The girl that pushed him so much that his legs became tangled against each other was Ami. Then, once realizing – thanks to the time they had to complain about this roughness – that the other people had already started to unpack the boxes, Ryuuji and Taiga hastily went to work.

A copy of the completed drawing was handed out by Ami and as he looked over it with several people that were saying, “This is....Ah, this is for the roots, huh?” “What’s this for?” “Doesn’t that go on top?” parts were flipped over and fiddled with. It pretty much felt like they were trying to solve a gigantic puzzle.

Ryuuji, as well, grabbed one part, then

“Huh, it’s light. This is styrofoam, right?”

“The inside, yeah. Then, there’s the coating. Believe me, once it’s done, it’ll be really beautiful, and with lighting, it’ll be like glossy pearl.....Ah! That’s right, we need spotlights! Yuusaku!”

He was abandoned by Ami and lost track of where to put what. Looking around uneasily for someone with a copy,

“Ah, Takasu-kun! That probably goes with this!”

“Which? Ou! You’re right!”

Called by a person from a different class, Ryuuji scurried over. Once they fit the concave and convex parts to each other and pushed it with force, it certainly did fit completely. It’s a perfect fit, he grinned, and he was grinned back at with a thanks! He then said that he did see other parts like this one, so he’ll go pick them up, and thus, he ran off once more. As he scanned the scattered parts, one by one, he oddly thought that, no matter what happens, he sure wasn’t going to be able to demonically transmigrate.

Back during the Student President elections, he used the reputation of his feared gangster face to force a reluctant Kitamura to run – Operation “Kitamura Bait.” He demonically transmigrated together with Taiga, the Palmtop Tiger, and entered the elections as an unredeemable villain. His objective was to be hated.

But, before he knew it, he’s become completely friendly with the people from all the classes working with together in the Preparatory Committee. It was the same with Taiga too.

“Aisaka-san, you seem pretty light. Could you climb on my back and put this in?”

“Eh, but these are the shoes I wore when I went to the bathroom!? .......Well, I supposed everyone has their own fetishes....”

“....Um, please take them off....”

Taiga, at a place a little farther off, was talking and laughing about this and that with girls whose names Ryuuji hadn’t even known. Of course, there were those fans going – Tiger-san’s tights, Bare legs, This is exciting, It’s coming, her foot stamp! – and getting incomprehensively riled up, but let’s just ignore them for now.

Yeah. I’m glad.

Ryuuji was able to honestly think so. His lips gradually formed into a faint smile. Ever since the day before yesterday, when he heard about Taiga’s feelings towards Christmas, he had felt like he was choking the whole time. Taiga’s loneliness, his powerlessness, a lot of other stuff – there was really a lot of stuff that he had been thinking about aimlessly, and unable to find answers, he couldn’t breathe easily. He even went out of his house, saying he was going to the convenience store, and continued to walk for an hour, looking for stars in the night sky and thinking.

But now, he could finally breathe a sigh of relief and look at Taiga from afar. It was a fact that Taiga was standing in the abyss of a deep loneliness he still couldn’t begin to imagine. And on that matter, even now he felt completely powerless.

But, hasn’t Taiga been having a crazy but fun time with new friends this year? And, tomorrow, she’ll be having a happy Christmas with everyone, with Kitamura, right? Of course, he will be there too. He hasn’t given up on getting Minori to come either.

Taiga isn’t alone – This fact made him happy, made him feel grateful, and Ryuuji, despite how busy a time it was, stopped moving so he could watch Taiga working hard at assembling the tree. He remembered the warmth of how old man Kanou looked at her. And, that’s right. There’s the Bachelorette (30) too. Not all the adults have abandoned Taiga. Even if they won’t protect her just as her parents didn’t, they were concerned for her – they were on her side. I’m glad, he whispered inside his chest.

Even if there hadn’t been “someone” watching her for the seventeen years of her life, in this year’s Christmas Eve, everyone was here. And for this year’s Christmas, he, Yasuko, and Inko-chan were here. He’ll prepare a large feast and welcome Taiga into the Takasu family.

No matter how cruel the world may be, Taiga is smiling this year. She’s already become a part of that sparkling, happy scene. Taiga doesn’t have to wait for a “someone” that doesn’t exist and stand by herself under a tree anymore. She’ll spend tomorrow, that happy Christmas Eve that she dreamed of, noisily and busily laughing with everyone this year.

Then on the next day, they’ll have a Christmas meal at home; towards the tumultuous end of the year, they’ll do the “end-of-the-year cleaning” project that he’d been so fired up on; and on New Year’s Eve, they’ll watch stupid variety shows with Yacchan until midnight then quietly enter the New Year. New Year’s Day is the key to a successful year and he planned on definitely experiencing the midnight bell tolling and the first sunrise of the year with her. Yes, it will be a new year in just one more week. He wasn’t going to let Taiga even have a bit of time to feel any further loneliness during this turbulent time of year.

At first, Ryuuji had been diligently working so he could spend Eve with Minori. This was still his number one task. He continued to work hard because he wanted to see Minori’s smile. But, now, with importance of just about the same weight, he wanted to color Christmas Eve brightly with the smiles of everyone – what was necessary for Taiga to happily wake up to a Christmas morning.

Minori. Taiga. And, himself. Ami, the Student Council, the guys in the Preparatory Committee, Noto, Haruta, everyone, everyone here, and all those not here.

If everyone wasn’t happy – if everyone wasn’t rewarded, he couldn’t complete it. Ryuuji had pictured a ring-like relay. Someone would pray for someone’s happiness, someone would receive that someone’s happiness and then smile, and then, someone else who saw that would smile. They’ll continue to pass the baton of happiness ‘round and ‘round, and that’s when the relay will become a reality for the first time. If one person was missing, the ring will fall apart. And because of that, Ryuuji also was desperately trying to pass that baton.

He smiled and looked at the imaginary baton in his hands.

“.......Taiga! This probably goes with that!”

“Waiwaiwait....Ryuuji! What are you doing, that’s dangerous!”

Ryuuji hurled up a part with the same shape to Taiga, who was sitting on the shoulders of one of the girls and mounting the higher parts onto the tree. When she tried to catch it, she nearly lost her balance, and disapproving shouts of “Takasu-kun!” “Be serious!” came from the girls. Hihihi, he laughed and his face warped into a bloody demon crawling out from hell – He was just kidding a little of course. The days of him being feared of for no reason were over. ..... Luckily for him, he didn’t notice the uninformed boy in front that screamed “Eek!” and gulped for no reason

Before long, the Student Council brought – a bit belatedly – several step ladders, firmly boosting their efficiency. The parts haphazardly assembled from what could be understood, finally began to gradually look like a real tree,

“.....Uwaah, it’s huge!”

“This is really huge!”

Soon, it began to reach a height that no one could reach without a stepladder. This was probably larger than three meters. The role of standing on top of a fully extended ladder and doing the nerve-wracking work belonged to the Great Illuminator Deity of Broken Hearts, the Student President, Kitamura. While receiving directions from below like, “That’s wrong” “Eh....” “That’s wrong too” “Oh.....” from his childhood friend, the one person who knew what the completed tree looked like, he gradually made the intricately sharp tip of the tree.

The glossy pearl white tree was tall, however, the width of the cone which protruded out like a skirt, was also considerably big. The parts that had seemed to be like puzzle pieces, once put together, looked like fist-sized cubes pasted onto a deformed tree shape. Everyone crowded around, fitting the parts in and dressing the tree with handcrafted ornaments, mini lights, ribbons, and silkworm guts tied with bells. They may have been handmade, but the ornaments, carefully made under a silver and blue motif, should go very well with the pearl white tree. Once the enormous round decorations that were transported with it (the silver balls and kintama!) are hung on the tree, it will look even more outstanding. No longer were there any idiots that would dare to make vulgar jokes when there were girls around, either (but they’re kintama!).

Then, once Kitamura attached the final part, Taiga called out to him from below.

“Kitamura-ku-n! I brought this from home! Put it at! The top of the tree!”

“Ah, stop! Don’t throw, don’t throw! I’ll come down and pick it up!”

Kitamura smoothly climbed down the ladder and looked at the box Taiga was holding.

Then,

“.......Are you sure!? Something this beautiful.....or, more like something this expensive.....”

Kitamura asked her with widened eyes, but Taiga nodded happily.

“It’s all right. It was from my parents’ place, but it’s a little too big to put on the tree in my apartment.”

The ornament that Kitamura took out from the box with reverence was considerably larger than Taiga’s face, transparent with the tinge of strong light, and possessed a complicated three-dimensional structure – it was a star. Waa.....! the girls shouted from its beauty. Waa......! joined Ryuuji casually, as his evil eyes glimmered besides the girls.

“It’s crystal. This is....my favorite ornament. It’s a real shame not to be using it at all, so it’s okay. Could you put it on top of the tree for me?”

“.......Okay! I will! I’ll put your favorite star, at the top of the tree!”

Climbing up the ladder once again, Kitamura tightly fitted Taiga’s star at the crown of the tree. As if to see if it was firmly in place, he gently removed both of his hands and poked at it lightly with his fingers. Seemingly satisfied, he said, “ .....OK!” and pushed up his glasses and nodded. From far off, Ryuuji saw Taiga’s cheeks soften into a smile. By coincidence, their eyes met, and Taiga, laughing, “Hehe~,” rumpled her face like she was blushing. Happily wriggling her body too. It’s okay, you don’t have to worry. You can blush or wriggle as much as you want.

Then.

“.....Extension cord is set!”

“.....Outlet is set!”

“Okay, turn off the lights!”

Following Kitamura’s voice, one by one, lights began to fade out beginning at the entrance. The blackout curtains were already closed, and in this gym, so cold that it felt like his fingers were numb, darkness fell slowly.

Everyone stood there, looking at the tree silently. The exhaustion from work and their prayer-like anticipation, stole the voices from all their mouths.

“.....Power, on.”

Several power switched were clicked noisily. Soon, there was light in the darkness –

There was trembling, like an electric current, at the back of Ryuuji’s neck.

There was the shining of joy inside Taiga’s eyes.

There was the small sound of, “....We did it,” from Ami’s lips.

Smiles bloomed simultaneously on the many faces floating amidst the light. After the brief silence, someone clapped. The sound of clapping expanded as if resonating. “.....We, did it!” “It’s finished!” “Oh wow, oh wow, isn’t this beautiful!?” Shouts of cheering sprung up everywhere. Joy, excitement, applause, cheering, and smiles. Ryuuji whistled and powerfully clapped his hands. He high-fived Kitamura, who came up next to him, with his right hand, and staying in that pose, the two of them both made a fist pump. He laughed hard enough to cut his dry lips. Even Kitamura laughed so much that his glasses tilted downwards.

Shining in the darkness, the tree was truly beautiful.

White light illuminated the base of the tree, and the tree sparkled like glossy pearls. The bulbs blinked on and off in yellow, flashing off of the ornaments. And, at the top of the tree, Taiga’s shining star, catching all of the light and radiance, brightly and intensely twinkled like a real star illuminating all of a world bursting at the seams with Christmas joy. And then.

It happened.

There was a tremendous shattering noise. The curtains shook and light entered suddenly from outside.

One of the girls screamed. He heard and felt the vibrations of several tripping over in surprise. And, what happened next, was, really, something that happened in just a mere instant.

A white something, flew in from the darkness with terrible momentum and struck the top of the tree. There was an awful sound. There was screaming. All of the lights disappeared and everything went black. The enormous tree hadn’t been anchored. After all, they were about to move it away. From its unstable weight, the tree leaned over simply, and then with frightening momentum, came crashing to its side. The ornaments were a mess. The inserted parts came flying off, and several made ominous sounds.

He had no idea what happened. He didn’t want to see what happened. A fragment of something flew at his cheeks and he closed his eyes on reflex.

No one, could say anything.


“Li...light! Turn the lights on! Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!”

Only the panicked and quick voice of Kitamura disturbingly echoed throughout the large space. The lights came on from the opposite order of how they disappeared. The horrible disaster became exposed to all. Expressions disappeared from everyone’s faces.

The tree that they had just finished assembling was completely ruined.

The ornaments were all scattered on the ground and the pulled-out power cords were sprawled around like dead snakes. Pieces of styrofoam were littered about. Several of the parts forming the tree were severely broken.

And, what had been on top of the tree, Taiga’s star, was

“Ah....no....no!....No way.....”

Taiga ran to the star. She fell to her knees and quickly extended her hand out, but – “Stupid, you’re going to get hurt!” – Ami pulled her elbow back. The star that had been made from crystal and had fallen onto the hard floor of the gym from a height of three meters was shattered to pieces. The sharp pieces glittered brutally and he thought that one wrong move would have easily ripped Taiga’s skin.

What happened?

As if to force him to understand what happened, the fading sky stared at him from one of the curtains that covered a window. Not through the glass. The window was broken and pieces of the shattered glass were scattered at a place away from the tree. Thank God nobody was hit by the glass, Ryuuji thought, he thought, he thought, but, right now, he couldn’t say anything.

At that time, the door of the gym burst open. Following suit, were the footsteps of several people and – “Sorry! Is anyone hurt!?” – the penetrating voice of a girl.

He turned. Ryuuji saw. The voice belonged to Minori, dressed in a dirty uniform. Following her were two girls with the same uniform, and,

“....”

Minori shut her mouth and froze.

What was left on the floor was a ball used in softball. This thing probably –

No, there’s no mistake about it. It broke the window, knocked down and destroyed the tree, and broke Taiga’s star.

I’m sorry, Minori’s lips soon trembled. She repeated it, repeated it, and kept on repeating it. But her faint voice could barely be heard by anyone and time couldn’t roll back. The foul ball foolishly hit by the chief of the girl’s softball team couldn’t be undone.


* * *


“Minorin, it’s okay. It was an accident. These things happen. ”

“No, ....I’m sorry....I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.....”

The reason why all the members of the girls’ softball team had assembled in the gym was to undo the damage that Minori caused to the tree. “The chief’s blunder is our blunder! We’re sorry!” After bowing in concert, they had gone to the corner of the gym with thoroughly disciplined movements, and were now sitting on their heels in small groups. All were silent and moved their hands, and if there were people that were busy solving the cubic puzzle, trying to glue the broken parts together, there were also those untangling the decorations and repairing the ornaments. The tree was being reassembled in the middle of the gym by the Preparatory Committee and the Student Council. Leaving this task to the softball team would actually take more time as the softball team hadn’t seen the completed tree. Hence, this was the one thing that Kitamura refused to have Minori and her team when the girls requested that they be allowed to fix everything.

Distancing herself from the girls in the softball team and distancing herself from the people rebuilding the tree, Minori sat below the stage. She looked at Taiga and Ryuuji who came over and called out to her, then looked over at the faces of her teammates,

“....Please let me do whatever I can do. Please. Taiga, don’t worry about me. It’s my fault.....Aaa.....I can’t believe I did this......aaah.....”

- What am I doing, seriously, she said. She bit her lips so hard they became white.

Bitterly talking to herself, in her hands, she held the shards of Taiga’s shattered star and instant glue. Minori was trying to somehow repair that intricately designed star. Taiga crouched next to Minori and desperately looked at the side of her stiffened face.

“....It’s not your fault, Minorin. It absolutely isn’t. It was just an unfortunate accident.”

“No, it is my fault. It must have been because I zonked out. I hit that ball....it wasn’t an accident, my aim was off. I screwed up. I couldn’t concentrate, and, then I messed up. ....I’m sorry about your star. How could I break something so important to you... I can’t put it completely back together but.....I’m sorry. Everyone, I’m sorry....I’m sorry.”

Minori hung her head and scrubbed her face violently with the sleeve of her uniform. Her back trembled up and down, slowly but feebly from deep breathing.

Like she was at a complete loss, Taiga looked at the face of Ryuuji, standing next to her. However, Ryuuji didn’t know what to do either.

The time to be leaving school was approaching, and the situation was, to put it frankly, bad. Everyone knew that this was an accident and wouldn’t blame Minori, but that still didn’t change the fact that this was bad. The teachers had given strict orders that all the students leave the school by the end of the afterschool period. If they didn’t finish, they might not be able to hold the party. He was painfully aware of the feelings of Minori, who was frustrated on the inside but wouldn’t be blamed by anyone and ended up making even her teammates clean up her mess.

If only somebody exploded at her, screamed, cried, hit her; to Minori, that would have been far easier to stand. Having to be the one blaming yourself, has to be painful. The loop of rejection, hatred, and admonishment won’t end until you forgive yourself. The guilt won’t disappear either.

As she sat on her heels on the cold floor of the gym in her uniform, the edges of her eyes became red. She sniffed with her head drooped and her finger tips trembled not just because of the cold.

Taiga brought her hand to Minori, but, that hand wandered through the air for a short time. She gripped her fingers many times like she was hesitant, opened them, and abruptly stood up. She looked at Ryuuji’s face and said,

“....Then, Ryuuji, why don’t you help her? Okay?”

Saying that, she pushed Ryuuji’s back, but

“No!”

Minori’s shrill voice froze Ryuuji in his tracks. Taiga also froze. It resonated, virtually like a scream,

“No, stop, just stop doing that!”

And continued like that.

Minori didn’t let anyone come near her and lowered her head, once again focusing on finishing the endless puzzle.

There was no smiling, no cheerful happy Christmas atmosphere, and only the heavy silence continued to pile up like falling snow flakes inside the chilly air.

Whether the preparations could be finished in time was dubious. He understood only one thing. The reasons why Minori won’t be coming to the party, increased yet again. Ryuuji looked downward at Minori, but shut his slightly tired eyes. It was easy to endure the pain of being rejected. But, it was hard to just watch Minori be so nervous to have to shout that.

Closing her mouth, Taiga looked back and forth at Minori and Ryuuji. She bit the knuckle of her finger a little, then, once again looked at Ryuuji’s face. Their eyes met, and Taiga nodded at Ryuuji slightly. Like she wanted to say, Take care of her. Then, fluttering her hair and flipping around, she went towards the circle of people rebuilding the tree.

Ryuuji saw off her small back. Then, he continued to stand petrified without a plan next to Minori.

“......Takasu-kun, you go too. Okay? Let me work on this by myself.”

After sniffing once, Minori made a forced smile with slanted eyebrows. But Ryuuji, didn’t go.

He might not have had a plan, but he was determined to not go anywhere.

“.......Just give it to me. I’m good at this stuff.”

“Takasu-kun.....”

“First off, you don’t know what it looked like before. If you don’t like it, ignore me.”

He sat next to Minori, practically forcibly. He looked over the shards, found two large ones, and saying, “Ou, this is it,” immediately went about gluing them together. Carefully and with discretion.

“......Takasu-kun, stop it. Let me take responsibility for this. Being......being helped like this, I,”

“We don’t have time. You do your own thing. I’m not helping you, I’m doing it on my own, for my own sake.”

Minori’s face contorted like she was going to cry. But she held it back and bit her lips. Like she became unable to say anything anymore, Minori dropped her eyes to the shards before her.

Then the two, remaining silent, devoted themselves to the task of putting together the crystal shards. There was no conversation. Even though he was sitting next to his crush so close he could feel her breathing, it was too cold and his chest didn’t even throb at all. However, Ryuuji continued to stay by Minori. Even if she didn’t want him there, he continued to be there.

During Taiga’s suspension, he couldn’t have a real conversation with her. He was being avoided by Minori, Taiga had told him back when they were studying at the family restaurant. Ryuuji and Minori, for a long time, continued to walk past each other. And now, this unfortunate situation clearly split the space between them like a rift, and even if he was right next to her, his eyes and his voice didn’t reach her.

Lately, he’s only been feeling the distance between them.

Even so – No, because of that, Ryuuji wanted to stay by Minori. Because he was far from her, because he didn’t understand, because he wasn’t understood by her. That’s why, he had to keep trying. If he was being avoided, he’ll chase after her. If they were getting the wrong signals from each other, he’ll clear it up. If things get worse, he’ll fix it. That’s why, he forced himself, sitting there even if it was unnatural, and reached out his hand to her distant heart. This itself, was to Ryuuji, an act of “love.” Even if he was the only one that was holding a hand out, it was a one-sided romance, so it’s to be expected. Even if Minori only looked at him with a stiff face, even if her lips were colorless, even if she blamed herself and was close to tears, Ryuuji wanted to keep reaching out to her with his powerless hand. Praying only, that one day, it will reach her. The time he stopped extending his hand will be the time this love ends.

He picked up a shard. He found a different shard that matched it. Carefully smearing glue on it, he fit them together. Keeping them held in place for a while, he then nodded.

But because he might be bothering her, because he really didn’t want to be hated by her, Ryuuji quietly held his breath as much as possible. Right now, it was best that Minori forgot that he was there.

But, just when he thought that,

“....Takasu-kun....”

“Ou.”

Minori called Ryuuji’s name quietly. Her face was facing the ground and still not looking at Ryuuji.

“.......Takasu-kun, Takasu-kun.....”

“I hear you.”

“Takasu-kun....”

“I’m here.”

- Minori repeatedly called out Ryuuji’s name.

Each time, Ryuuji answered.

Without letting utterance go unheard, he answered each time. If Minori ever called him, he’ll always answer. If Minori also put her hand out, he’ll always grab it.

He softly glued another shard. Taiga’s shattered star gradually was restored to its original form. It wasn’t the same as before, but, it did shine without doubt.

He brought the crystal up and held it up to the light of the gym. He strained his eyes from the vivid light. Looking at the starlight, born for the purpose of shining at the center of a happy Christmas, the light which was the very symbol of happiness, Ryuuji smiled slightly. He put his arm out so that Minori could see the star and gently said,

“See. Look at it, it’s beautiful right? Things can be fixed even after they break. So cheer up.”

“......It won’t be like it was before....”

“But it’s definitely shining.”

“......I,”

Toradora vol07 181.jpg

Minori’s voice wobbled like it was sinking in water. Pretending not to notice, he waited for the rest of what she had to say.

“....I don’t know, if things can be fixed.....”

“They can be!”

Ryuuji replied strongly and looked at the shining star. Its light shined happiness. Minori should have seen it. But if she still couldn’t believe, he wanted to show it to her more clearly, more definitely. He wanted to hold it out, right in front of her.

Even if something does break and break, it can be put back together again and again – Just as his own feelings for Minori may be easily broken destroyed by little misunderstandings and delusions time and time again, they are still able to be mended and born anew by her smile and words.

Things may break, but they can be fixed.

And for each time something breaks, it can just be made all over again.

That’s why there’s no reason to cry if something breaks.

“Don’t worry – They can be fixed, as many times as it takes.”

The light he lifted up before them was a switch. He flipped the switch on and several star lights lit up in the depths of his once cowardly heart.

The Orion twinkling inside gave unlimited power to Ryuuji.

He clasped the baton he wanted to pass to Minori with that power. He held out his other hand so he could receive a baton from Minori and was already ready to take off. Then, Ryuuji’s time will accelerate. His pulse will increase and his eyes will shine. The impending limit will lose its stopper as he ran towards the limit of his overflowing feelings.

He wasn’t only going to wait with the hand he stretched out, he wanted to pass the baton, take the baton, and scream for her to run too. He wanted to show it to Minori. He wanted to show her the expanding world in his heart, the limitless stars, the unbreakable, to the bottom of his heart. That’s why he wanted her to run in the relay and not quit in the middle.

One year and half since he fell in love with Minori, Ryuuji finally wanted to shout out.



In the end, it took more than one hour to bring the tree back to something close to its original state. The seams where the shards were joined did stand out a little, and the repaired star looked like a mosaic decoration. But Taiga smiled, saying, “This is fine, it’s cuter than before,” and didn’t glomp her, but hugged her, patting her back many times. Minori, for only one moment, buried her face in Taiga’s hair, then separated herself from her. Yelling, “I’m truly sorry,” with a loud voice, she bowed to the Preparatory Committee and the Student Council. She then turned herself to face the row of softball players and said, “I’m sorry for being such a bad chief.....!” one more time.

All the softball team members then bowed together and ran out of the gym.

Ryuuji, without hesitation, chased after the departing back of Minori.

He caught up to her in the chillingly quiet connecting corridor and patted her shoulder. To Minori, who looked back in surprise, he wanted to say it as brightly as possible.

“Come tomorrow! To the party! It’ll be fun for sure! ....I want to spend it with you!”

“.......”

Minori’s throat rang like she held her breath.

Ryuuji, didn’t stop.

“If you don’t have any plans, I mean....but I want you to come!”

He waited for Minori to say Takasu-kun one more time. He waited for those words to come out from her lips with cracked and weak whispering.

But.

“.....No. I can’t go.”

Minori didn’t call out his name. She shook her head very clearly to the side, standing. Her face, beneath the darkly flickering fluorescent lights, even looked pale. .

“I caused too much trouble. I can’t go.”

“But I’ll wait for you!”

“.....Don’t wait. I won’t go.”

“I’ll wait!”

With tenacity close to a stalker, Ryuuji yelled at Minori’s back, not caring about the other softball members. He didn’t care if what he was doing was unsightly, if it was shameful, if his face became a red-faced demon king. The love that had begun running wouldn’t stop. The switch that was turned on once couldn’t be turned off again.


* * *


December 24, 4 PM.

After the ending ceremony ended before lunch and each of them satisfied their hunger with the boxed lunches they had brought with them, all of them worked like the devil to prepare for the party, leading to the present state of matters. All the members of the Student Council and the Preparatory Committee were assembled in the gym. Everyone stood and watched as the teacher in charge of the fire safety checked off items in detail with a manual in one hand. If there was something out of order here, then... – thought Ryuuji, who probably wasn’t the only one that was a little nervous and thinking the same thing.

“....Yes, this is okay, ......Circled. No problem. “

To the voice they’d been waiting for, there were relieved outbursts of, “Yay!” “We’re finished!”

“Well then, gentlemen. Be sure that no problems occur, okay? In the off-chance that there are any students violating the rules on alcohol, smoking, and such, that person will be immediately expelled. Do you understand? Great Illuminator Deity of Broken Hearts, I am expecting you in particular to fulfill your responsibilities as manager and supervisor.”

“Yes, sir!”

The person Kitamura answered with a salute was our Bachelorette (30), Koigakubo Yuri (Currently searching for real estate). She was dressed in a striking style, more mannish than usual, wearing a classy, shiny grey pantsuit, white gold bitter accessory, and hair arranged in an up-style hairdo. Dropping their guard, the first year girls began to kid around with the Bachelorette (30).

“Oh yeah, Yuri-chan-sensei, wow you’re all stylish today!”

“Could it be, a date!?”

Kya! An Eve date with a boyfriend! ....the girls rumbled in excitement, but the team of older students ignored them and were silent. After getting to know Koigakubo Yuri for this long, they knew to their bones that this thirty-year old wasn’t the romance champion that was going to get a date that easily on Christmas Eve. In the first place, the fact that she lost her most promising partner by the retrograding of Mercury still lingered freshly in everyone’s memories. And, the answer was just what the older team had expected,

“This is not a date. Today, after this, I will be going to the “Real Estate Purchasing Class for Single Women.” ....Because, I’m going to buy an apartment.....The fee to attend is 1500 yen....”

That’s reasonable – Ryuuji was very pleased with this answer and tried to burn the heroic image of dark-brown-make-up armored Bachelorette (30) in his eyes, but nope, he shifted his eyes away. He got a little too excited.

“Eh......!? Re-real estate.....?”

“....On, Eve.....? Why?”

Apparently, to the 15 and 16-year old girls, this was quite unbelievable. They must have been thinking just where the fun was in a flower lining herself up with other people on Eve to go to a class on real estate. And not just that, even having to pay an entry fee. It looks like it went beyond the scope of their understanding.

“You see, on Eve, you see, a woman that looks like she has a date, isn’t prepared yet. The dream property pops up out of nowhere, but oh, there’s nothing to intercept it with! You see. This itinerary, in other words, is our first barrier. It’s the first test for weighing the qualifications of single women trying to obtain real estate. Do you understand?”

“Uh.....”

“Um......”

“...Well then, since it feels like the interest rates have hit rock bottom as well, I’ll be leaving. Ah, the other teachers will be in the staff room for the whole time, so be sure to greet them before and after the party.“

And so, somehow, the nearly shriveled spirit of the students revived again, and all gave a hearty, “Okaay!” in response. Maybe the Bachelorette (30) as well had recovered the moisture of her heart from the cheer of her students as the corners of her desperate and raised eyes relaxed slightly. As she left, she whispered to Ryuuji with a smile on her face as she passed him.

“I’m happy the tree turned out so beautiful. Your results went up too, and I’m real happy~. I’m confident that the efforts of you guys will be rewarded.”

Ryuuji also grinned back at his Single Homeroom teacher.

“Thank you! I’m confident that you’ll find a good apartment!”

“Ah....mmm....thank you....”

We will be rewarded!

Ryuuji with secret, but powerful determination, looked up at the tree praised by the Bachelorette (30) as well. It was a little wobbly, but the tree standing right at the center of the gym was enormous, magnificent, and beautiful. It was very, very, gorgeous. The seams of the glued parts were carefully rasped, and nobody should be able to tell that it had fallen apart just by looking at it. And at the top, was Taiga’s star. It was perfect.

The tree wasn’t the only thing that was perfect. White and blue spotlights lit the floor from above and their positions were adjusted like they were intersecting each other in the sky. If the lighting in the gym is turned off and only those lights illuminated the hall, it’ll become dramatic, no doubt. The stool tests had paid off, and booths of fruit punch, sandwich, fruit, cracker, and desert were lined up grandly against the wall. While the people actually serving the food in rotations were, of course, the Preparatory Committee members, the provider was a renowned catering company. Through Ami’s connections, in exchange for sampling impressions from the partygoers on the food, they were able to rent the service complete with the equipment, free of charge.

At the center of the gathered, Kitamura shouted, “Now then!”

“There’s been a lot of trouble, but, all of the preparations are set! Guys, good work! Your enormous cooperation in the Great Illuminator Deity of Broken Hearts’ project is deeply appreciated! There’s still work to be done, but please, all of you, have fun! .....And Ami, thanks for the tree and the food.”

Surrounded by a chorus of roaring applause, Ami said, “Oh no, it’s not a big deal at aaall~!” widening her eyes and acting excited.

“There she goes again, Stupichi is really.....Ryuuji?”

“......”

“Hey, are you okay?”

“Eh? Wha, what?”

In reaction to the voice of Taiga, right beside him, Ryuuji blinked his eyes. He must have looked like he was in bad enough shape to have to be asked if he was okay. Yeah, for these few hours, he’s had to put up with non-stop work, but,

“Your eyes, are kind of looking really vacant....or I can’t tell where they’re looking at? You’re acting scary. What happened? Well, I knew that you’re worried about Minori from what happened yesterday, but if you don’t get motivated,”

“No. Other way around. Right now, I am really, really on fire. Look, the hall’s perfect. The preparations are all in order. And if only Kushieda comes, then everything is...! .......But, turns out that’s the biggest hurdle, huh. I tried inviting her and was being really persistent about it, but she only said ‘sorry.’”

Taiga crossed her arms.

“Yes, things might have been just a little easier if only that accident hadn’t happened yesterday.....no, but, if you’re that fired up then......You’ll be fine. Don’t you worry. Keep it up. Leave everything to me, Angel Taiga.”

“.....What exactly are you going to do?”

Except, his motivation is just going around in circles – Ryuuji actually sort of realized this, but looking up at that same Ryuuji, Taiga, however, gave him a confident V-sign.

“I said don’t worry. It’ll be fine. I’ve got a plan.”

The whispered exchange was for a moment, drowned out by the bustle that rose up from around them. Kitamura temporarily disbanded the group for the period until the opening of the hall. People wanting to change would go home or change in the classrooms with the clothes they brought with them, people wanting a break would head down to the classrooms or a store somewhere with friends; and so the students started walking towards each and began talking

The hall was scheduled to be opened at 5 PM. People will start entering at that time, Kitamura will make his opening presentation at 5:30, and from there, the party will officially begin! – was the plan. People could come late as they please, they could leave as they please, they could have fun as they please, and the closing ceremony was at 7:30. All must leave at 8:00, and the Preparatory Committee and the Student Council will assemble again at 8 AM in the following morning. Cleanup will be thoroughly and responsibly performed.

And so, there was only one hour left until the hall opened. So then, what to do, thought a pausing Ryuuji, but he was lightly poked at the elbow. The poker was Kitamura.

“What are you and Aisaka going to do now? The Student Council will be preparing the reception desk, but, ah, maybe you can help out!? That’ll be a real help!”

“Really? I don’t mind.”

Then, Ami put her chin over on Kitamura’s shoulder and jutted her face out.

“Just say no, you sucker. Yuusaku, you’re such a slave driver. Guys like that don’t succeed, don’t you know~?”

“Shaddup. What are you going to do Ami? How about you help too?”

“Are you kidding me? I’m going to go home, and c-h-a-n-g-e ♥ See you at the opening~!”

Taiga also tugged on Ryuuji’s sleeve like she was trying to follow Ami’s departing back.

“I’m sorry Kitamura-kun. I’m also going to go back once. Let’s go, Ryuuji.”

“Eh? Go home and do what? I’m fine with staying,”

“I said we’re going home! Walk! Hurry! Okay, I’ll see you later!”

Thus, Ryuuji was sent homeward bound, by force practically, pulled by Taiga. What was the point in going back home? Even if he asked, Taiga would ignore the question and not answer him. So it’s okay if Santa sees you ignoring people huh?

Once they arrived at the entrance of Taiga’s apartment,

“Once you get inside your own house, open the window to your room.”

“......Why?”

“Just do it. Do what I say.”

Taiga nonsensically commanded him, putting one hand to her hip and pointing one hand at the tip of Ryuuji’s nose. While thinking what was this supposed to be about,

“I’m home.”

“Ah ☆ Welcome home! How were the results?”

He tossed his grade card at Yasuko, curled up in the kotatsu without a care in the world. While being exposed to a scream of “Kya~☆” which could be good or bad for whatever he knew, Ryuuji did as he was told, went up to the bed, and opened the south window dutifully. Across from the window was Taiga’s familiar apartment, and just about when he faced himself towards Taiga’s bedroom,

“.....Here!”

“Ou!?”

The window slid open and immediately after, Taiga tossed at Ryuuji a box so big that her arms could barely go around it. He promptly put both his hands out and caught it. It wasn’t as heavy as it looked, but even still, he was pretty surprised.

“Wha, what the hell! Geez, that’s dangerous, don’t be so lazy......”

“Be sure to open it on the double. You’ll understand once you see it. I’ll come over in 30 minutes.”

Then the window to Taiga’s room was shut tight. The curtains were courteously closed as well, and Ryuuji was left alone. No, he wasn’t alone.

“What’s wrong, De Yansu ka? What’s tha~t?”

“....Taiga, threw it at me....told me to open it.....”

Facing Yasuko, Ryuuji sat on the floor and was going to open the mystery box Taiga had thrown over. The hands of mother and son both grasped the lid and pulled simultaneously. Then,

“O....Ou.....☆”

Their jaws fell at the same angle. The timing that they widened their eyes and fell silent was also simultaneous. It’s only at these sorts of times that the Takasu genes of Yasuko and Ryuuji became laid bare and that the two of them looked identical to each other.


The door made the sound of being opened, and he could hear the sound of high heels clacking from the front door. In continuation, there was the sound of brisk footsteps entering the living room as if they were in their own house,

“Huh? Ryuuji? Yacchan? Where are you?”

“Over here! The bathroom!”

When he answered, she returned to the hall from the living room and looked through the already opened door. Then, the two of them pointed at each other.

“Ah!”

“Ou!”

They let out startled voices. Ryuuji had been looking at the mirror. Crouching by his feet and wrapping the cord of a dryer, Yasuko also noticed her presence, raised her face, and looked at Taiga.

“Wo~w ☆”

She squealed and smiled. “Fantastic, fantastic~, you look so cute, Taiga-cha~n!” She softly straightened the fur around her neck. Ryuuji lost track of what he should have said and his eyes glimmered.

Taiga, in 30 minutes, transformed from a petite high school girl into a woman going to a party. Her bangs were clipped to one side and her long wavy hair was swept up to the top of her head. The whiteness of her forehead was striking, and her ruby red lips and dazzling eyes, the depths intensified by jet black mascara, looked stunning. The womanliness of Taiga’s normally delicate, French-doll-like face was stressed by the light makeup and her distinct and exquisite features stood out powerfully, turning her face into a gorgeous and beautiful one.

Sheer stockings complimented the petite, knee-length, simple, silk onyx dress fitting her beautiful figure. Her sorrowful chest needn’t bother Ryuuji, as the drape of the folded cloth covered it. Not only that, she wore long, glossy-black gloves and a youthful, short-sleeved, 7/8 fox coat. Holding a clutch bag having a swaying black-beaded fringe, and wearing a pearl choker that further brought out the slenderness of her neck, Taiga was indeed, perfect. She was beautiful and graceful from any angle and her chic black was fashionable. She was so beautiful it felt like it was a shame this was only for a party. A light smile slowly stretched across the lips of that beauty.

“....That’s great. The size is perfect.”

Ryuuji also was handsomely dressed in an outfit that was so fine, in one way, it felt like it was a shame this was for a party, truth be told.

Inside the box that Taiga threw over was a black suit, and following Yasuko’s advice, he made the knot on his necktie somewhat loose, buttoned only the middle of the three buttons of his jacket, pushed the bangs on his head up, held them down with hair wax then, oh my! Ryuuji became Prince Charming – of the underworld. Yakuza Second in Command, the Successor, names like that suited him perfectly.

But the only thing that was off was Ryuuji’s mug. The fact was the slender suit itself was well-tailored and the color was classy and black but didn’t give off the air of mourning attire.

“Is this, is this....is this really okay!? I, I, is it okay that I borrow this! I can’t s-s-s-, stop stammering.....”

It looked expensive enough to make him want to lick his dried lips and stammer. Taiga shrugged her fur-covered shoulders like it didn’t matter much and said to him straight.

“I’m not lending it. I’m giving it to you.”

“You’re going to give it to me!? R.Aisaka’s embroidered on the lining, you know!?”

“Back when I was leaving home, I told the movers to bring everything inside the closet, and they ended up bringing this with them. Don’t worry. He got it as a gift from someone, but it was too baggy for him. It looked like it was too much of a hassle for him to fix it, so he left it hanging there. If it bothers you, take the name off. Destroy the evidence.”

“No way in hell am I going to wear that bastard’s hand-me-down.”

“It’s Gucchi.”

“Guh.....”

“If you won’t wear it, I’ll have to get rid of it.”

“M, M, M, MOTTAINAI! Argh, the embroidery scissors! I’m destroying the evidence!”

While Yasuko joined up and was nodding with him, he chopped the thread. He smoothly pulled the thread out, and thus, Ryuuji officially got his Yakuza Second in Command suit. Taiga did give it to me and disposing it was MOTTAINAI........and while telling himself that, Ryuuji got carried away and looked at the mirror one more time. In it, was a charming, handsome, young man! ....which wasn’t going to be the case unfortunately, but well in its own way, his face had power to it, and it wasn’t as if it didn’t not didn’t look good on him. Er, it did. Or so he had been thinking. He didn’t know what a third party would think.

Looking at that Ryuuji through the mirror, Taiga formed a smile on her cherry lips.

“With this done, everything’s all set. But, the most important thing – you understand right? You’re going to wear this tonight, and you’ll do that thing you’re supposed to do. .... I absolutely won’t get in the way. Anyway, just believe in me and relax. And, this will be the only day I can say this, but Takasu Ryuuji, today, you are looking a lot more marginally better than usual or.......you look impressive. That’s why, keep your back straight and hold your chin up with pride.”

You’re looking pretty fine yourself tonight.

....But he wasn’t able to say that. His lips were trembling and he suddenly couldn’t bring himself to look at Taiga straight. Since he was told that, he wanted to hide his face. You’re making me blush you idiot, he quietly groaned in the depths of his throat. Knowing that Ryuuji was blushing, Taiga let out a chuckle deep in her throat.

He knows what he has to do.

So that everyone will be rewarded, so that everyone will be able to enter tomorrow with smiles, he’ll spend this Eve happily. He’ll complete the relay of happiness without missing one person. He hasn’t given up on Minori. He’ll also email her to get her to come. He’ll call her too. If Taiga’s got a plan, he’ll try believing in the blessings of Angel Taiga. Heck, there might be the blessings of the Great Illuminator Deity of Broken Hearts too.

He clenched his fists in front of the shabby washbasin and reinvigorated himself with an, “.....Okay!” He didn’t know if Taiga was thinking of Kitamura’s face or if she was thinking of her Santa dream, but she bolstered the light in her eyes.

“Oh~yeah ☆ Ehehe~, Yacchan’ll cast a grown-up spell on you two~!”

Yasuko beamed at them then left the narrow bathroom while humming. She went to her room, and when she came back, she was holding in her hands a small, purple, bottle and a worn-out leather case. Yasuko first turned to Taiga,

“Excuse me~!”

“Wah!”

After spraying liquid from the bottle onto her own fingertips and shaking her hand in the air several times, her hand then dived gently into the chest portion of Taiga’s dress. Before a shocked and speechless Ryuuji, his mother’s hand went back and forth two times through Taiga’s barren, continental shelf-like, cleavage. A little while later, a pleasant smell with a mysterious warmth reached his nose.

“Hehe, that was, perfume~☆ It’s a little on the fragrant side, more than Toilette sprays, but if you put a lit~tle on your tummy, your chest, your warm places, you won’t fail~☆

“Tha....thank you. ....Wah, it, smells really nice....real perfume, it’s like I really became an adult!”

And, twitching her nose to the scent more like an animal than an adult, Taiga smiled up at Yasuko. Yasuko, also, happily replied,

“It’ll blend with Taiga-chan’s smell, and by the time the party stats, I’m sure the fragrance will come on out just a little~! Next, I’ll give this to Ryuu-chan! Tada!”

Inside the case she opened, was an imposing men’s watch made in Japan. While it wasn’t flashy, it was a dignified watch, with no rust nor smears, and even the seconds hand moved just fine and matched the time perfectly. For something this old, it’s sure been taken care of very – ah. Ryuuji realized what it could possibly be.

“Wait......is this, Dad’s?”

“Wrongo ☆"

Breaking her son’s romantic fantasy simply, Yasuko laughed jollily.

“Once upon a time, I ran off with as many expensive things as I could carry when I was running away from home. Kimonos~, sash clips with jewels~, rings~, anything glittery that I could lay my hands on~. I brought this with me too, but it didn’t look like I could get much from it when I showed it to a pawnbroker, and so~, while I was being stingy on selling it, it managed to last till today~~”

“......A-and the other stuff......”

“They’ve a~~~ll been changed to money before Ryuu-chan turned three ☆”

.... The children automatically lost the ability to speak upon hearing the far too harsh life story of the mother. “But really~, it would have been nice if we had Papa’s Rolex ~, it would have looked good on you, with that diamond-studded combo~,” narrated Yasuko as Ryuuji fitted the watch on his wrist. The size was perfect and the stainless steel was surprisingly cold. Enough to make his heart spring.

“So, this, belongs to.....more like....was stolen from Gramps......!”

“Cor~rect! W~ow! It looks great, it look great, it looks great on you Ryuu-chan~! Ah, , I’m glad I didn’t sell it for peanuts~! I was really wondering what I should have done on that day~”

He didn’t know what day that would be, but Ryuuji kept his mouth shut for a little. His zest also calmed down, and once he came to and looked at himself, he saw that what he was currently wearing was a suit that Taiga snatched off from that detestable father and a watch that Yasuko stole from his real grandfather to survive on when she left home.

It sort of felt like his entire body was clad with things of shady origin – if “someone” was really looking, this might have been his punishment. The muscles in his back trembled unconsciously. He remembered something he wanted to forget. Daddy doesn't get rewarded, the series of lines that Ami oh so high and mightily said. His suit and his watch were filled with the thoughtlessness, the regret, the resent, and all sorts of curses left behind from fathers that abandoned their daughters.

Why.

No, just stop. I shouldn’t be thinking about resent and curses on Christmas.

December 24th, just a little before 5 PM. Yasuko had called over one of her cab-driving regulars to the front of the Takasu residence so that Taiga wouldn’t have to walk to school with her high heels.

They luxuriously entered the cab and told the driver their destination. “Ah, a date!?” teased the familiar old man, but both replied, “No, it isn’t!” Tucked firmly inside the back pocket of the suit of Ryuuji, whom was sinking on the cushion, was the small present he wanted to give to Minori.

Then, night fell in the town.

The illuminations of Christmas Eve twinkled on, as if they were a flood of lights.

His chest throbbed.

Hope and worry surged over him one after another.

Ryuuji fiddled restlessly with his necktie’s knot. Grabbing his sleeve to make him stop, Taiga quietly said to him, “I told you, you’ll be fine,” with a voice that included a smile.

The taxi that the Yakuza Second in Command in the Gucchi suit and the elegant woman – still small in spite of the 9 centimeter heels – had entered was like a magic carriage. Carrying a boy and girl different from their usual selves going to a brilliant world different from its usual self, the taxi drove off at 40 km/h in the direction of the radiant Christmas Eve town.


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