The Longing Of Shiina Ryo:Volume1 Chapter 2: Reikoku
"...Koukishin Shinzou." I finish writing my name on the blackboard. "You can call me Shin-tsu, if you want to."
I guess this is quite easy to explain. I got nicknamed Shin-tsu in one of the schools I've been, because the kanji in the end of Koukishin is the same as the one in the beginning of Shinzou. The "tsu" is the result of the Japanese pronounciation of two, I guess. I'm not so sure now. And it's not like I came up with that nickname myself.
When I turn around to face the class, I meet the gaze of those who are (from this point on) my classmates. They all seem friendly and happy to see a new student from abroad. Strangely, I can't help noticing they are all girls. Every single one of them. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen a male student since I got here. It sounds weird, but I don't think I want to any questions that could lead to a harem development right now...
In the midst of the curious looks I see Ryo waving at me from her chair at the back of the class. She looked particularly beautiful in her school uniform, and she was radiant. She radiated a wave of happiness that seemed to pass through the whole class and reach me, and I could feel an extension of her smile forming on my lips.
The teacher coughed and brought me back to reality.
"You can sit on that empty chair at the back, the closest to Kouma-san." She pointed to the back of the class where I could see the chair she assigned me to. I would sit between Kouma Yon and another empty chair. Looking back at my teacher, I noticed that when her gaze fell on the second empty chair she seemed suspiciously unpleased. This was only confirmed by a whisper following that, so low I was most likely the only one that could hear it. “Interesting.”
A girl with braids raised her hand quickly.
"But that's Minato's place, Reikoku-sensei!"
The teacher just shook her head in denial, but her brown hair didn't move a single millimeter. Almost as if the hairspray had made it solid as a rock. She probably spent hours working on that bun, and it is certainly a practical hairstyle: it makes her look serious and could defend her from a meteor falling from the sky.
"I'm afraid not." She pressed her temple. "Not anymore. I was informed this morning that Minato's family just moved, due to her father's new job in a big company."
It sounded like everyone in class had decided to talk (or rather, scream like caged monkeys at the sight of a banana mountain) at the same time. They all seemed to be so surprised with the sudden departure of their colleague that I felt like I had become old news already. The ear-shattering noise went on for a while, but it was so solid I felt like it would go on and on, forever.
The teacher raised her open hand and started to close it slowly, finger by finger. A few students noticed the quiet countdown and started warning the others as quickly as they could. They seemed to be truly afraid of what happened at the end of the countdown. Before she reached the number four, the class was silent once again.
Ms. Reikoku lowered her hand and gazed at me. At that moment I realized that she had already told me where I should seat and I was in her way to start class. I hurried to the empty chair, without knowing exactly what I was afraid of. Now that I think about it, it's much scarier when you don't know what the monster looks like.
The desk I ended up with was on the last row, located by the window. I sat by Kouma's side, and smiled shyly at her.
"Hello..." I try to think of a proper honorific to use, but I haven't been in Japan for a while and this is harder than it seems. Sometimes it's hard to think that I'm actually Japanese; I've spent most of my life living abroad. In the end, I decide to go with a neutral honorific. "...Kouma-san, right?"
She simply looks at me without a trace of expression on her face and makes the V sign with her fingers. After that, her attention just goes back to the other person sitting by her side, Ryo. She just kept talking to Ryo like I wasn't even there for a while, and now she keeps blocking my way when I try to talk to Ryo. It looks like she is jealous or something. In this moment, this Kouma girl is literally between me and Ryo.
Ryo managed to look at me and give me one of her cat-like grins when the girl with the razor cut fringe was distracted. It was just a simple gesture and nothing but one of the oldest forms of communication known by mankind, but it meant more than words to me.
After that small yet significant commotion about the girl who transferred, the day was calm. It took me a while to get used to the kanji used in class, but Ryo helped me with that and said that it was only expected since I've been living outside of Japan for a while. When the rest of the class heard Ryo saying that, they started to ask me if I needed any help and stuff. I felt a little bit like a foreigner in my own country (which is partially the truth, anyway), but they were all very helpful. So in the end, it was a great start for a first day and everyone in class was pretty much nice to me...
...and everything felt alright until lunchtime.
When the bell rang, the three of us stood up and decided to go to the cafeteria. I forgot to make a lunchbox and I was starving, so I needed to buy something to eat. Ryo saved the day by offering to show me the cafeteria. Kouma had brought her lunch from home, but she insisted in coming with us (and I'm betting that she doesn't want me to be alone with Ryo) instead of going directly to the rooftop, where they told me they usually eat. We were just about to leave class when...
"Koukishin-kun, come here for a minute."
...our teacher decided to talk to me.
I looked around to tell the girls to wait for me, but they had already vanished.
"Yes..." I said, and then remembered that I was in Japan and honorifics were the thin line between being polite or not. Which was probably the reason my teacher was staring at me with that evil look in her eyes. "...sensei?"
Ms. Reikoku proceeded, apparently satisfied.
"Because of your sudden transfer, you are the only student in this class I hadn't the chance to home visit yet. Still, I need to finish writing down the report on all students currently attending my class for the meeting tomorrow morning." She paused for a second, and I noticed that she looked a little bit angry. Probably because my transfer probably ruined her organization scheme; she seemed to be someone that liked everything in perfect order and freaked out when they weren't. "Without further ado, I'll be at your front door tonight by eight post meridian, also known as twenty o'clock. Any questions?"
I tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to me.
"Good." She waved her hand and her gaze went back to the notebooks on her desk. "Dismissed."
I bowed and walked out of the room. Ryo and Kouma were waiting for me in the hall, but after seeing my face they must have decided that it wasn't a good moment to ask about my conversation with our teacher.
We went downstairs and then moved to another building, where the cafeteria was located.
I ordered Gyudon by pointing.
We came back to the first building and went upstairs to the same floor where our class was located.
After walking through the hall we reached another stair, which led to the rooftop.
We sat on the rooftop and started eating silently.
I put my chopsticks down and breathed deeply.
As I screamed after being completely silent for several minutes, the birds on the rooftop flew away and the world seemed to stop moving. It was almost a cinematographic scene, but I didn't feel like I was going to get a golden statuette for demonstrating my despair in public.
Since I used all the air in my lungs, it took me a while to regulate my breathing. Kouma and Ryo just looked at me with curiosity in their eyes, but they did not seem shocked.
"...I guess I'm ready to talk now."
I sat down, calmer than I was a few seconds ago but still full of tension.
“Go on, it will be good for you. Talk to us." Ryo said but quickly corrected herself after looking at Kouma, whose attention seemed to be completely drawn to her Udon. "Talk to me."
"Reikoku-sensei will pay me a home visit tonight, but I haven't unpacked yet and there is so much to do that I don't think I could do it even if I skipped classes." I sighed, hopelessly. "Which is probably what I'm going to do."
"You shouldn't skip classes, Shin-tsu!" Ryo seemed genuinely angry. "It's your first day at school!"
"Why all the drama?" Kouma said suddenly joining the conversation. "Can't you just call home and ask your parents for help?"
"No, he can't because..." Ryo stopped herself.
"It's okay, Ryo." This little detail was going to show up sooner or later, so I'd better just say it and end the subject. "I can't ask my parents for help because I'm living on my own now."
There, I said it. Now what comes next is a long awkward silence and then a subject change...
"We'll help you."
...not. Ryo surprised me by subverting the common flow of the conversation.
"We will help you unpack and tidy up." Ryo seems pretty excited about this, but I can't think of a reason why. "If it's the three of us, we'll probably make it and..."
"Wait a second, Ryo-chan." Kouma interrupted. "I never said I was going to help, so don't include me in this cleaning group out of your own will."
"Oh, come on Yon-chan..."
I make a hand sign to Ryo, telling her to stop talking. I think I have a plan.
"I guess it can't be helped if Kouma-san doesn't want to come." I make a calculated pause in my speech. "Don't worry, Ryo; even if it's just the two of us, all by ourselves the whole day through, in a big flat without adults to supervise us and a romantic and astonishing view of the city, we might be able to finish tidying up." I smile maliciously to Ryo. "Unless we lose track of time while engaging in... other activities."
For a split second I thought my plan had failed miserably, but Kouma raised her hand without looking at me.
"... I'm coming."
After saying that she resumed eating her Udon silently and I kind of felt bad for having to tease Kouma like this.
No, not really. And it's not like I did it just for fun(not entirely, anyway); there's a lot to do and I certainly need all the help I can get. So, my ends justify my means(especially when it's fun).
We kept quiet for the rest of the meal, mostly because I knew that if I looked at Ryo's face at that moment we would start laughing and ruin everything up. We suppressed the laughs that wanted to be set free, ate and went back to class.
It's funny to think that I was incredibly nervous only a few seconds ago, because a few seconds before I've heard the doorbell ring I felt a wave of relief passing through me. It was sudden and apparently at random, but I felt peace, like it was the calm after the storm.
"Just a second!"
I ran through my flat to answer the door, taking care to avoid the piles of boxes I hadn't unpacked yet. Obviously I started unpacking before the girls came because, well, I didn't want to look like a lazy guy.
As soon as I realize that the door key is not in my pocket, I start searching for it in my house (which, thanks to the boxes, was a tough task). In the end, my efforts were wasted: the key had been in the door the whole time. When I saw that, I died a little bit inside.
I open the door and see two faces that are quickly becoming familiar. Kouma and Ryo came 2 minutes earlier than we planned, which is good; we have a full day ahead of us and if they were late I am not sure if we would be able to make it. I do have a lot of boxes, and even if I moved the boxes to the first and second floors, the ground floor would look rather empty(especially because the shelves and cabinets are already here). So, the teacher would come and see I live in a place with closets and bookshelves and even an antique mahogany cupboard of which I'm very proud of(but would never admit it in front of people) with absolutely nothing on them. Which would be extremely embarrassing and...
...I did it again, didn't I?
"Sorry for making you guys wait." I shake my head and wave the random thoughts away. "I had a hard time finding the key. Please come in."
"Sorry for intruding." Ryo steps in with the grace of, uh, something very gracious. You can't possibly expect me to think about clever or poetic comparisons all the time. I'm not that smart.
Kouma entered just after her, but she didn't say a thing until she noticed that she was not minding her manners...
"I'm not going to say I'm sorry for intruding because technically you invited me and I'm the one doing a favor." She says it looking directly at me. "And I only came because I didn't want Ryo to be here alone with you. If I'm sorry for anyone, it is for myself."
...and instead of doing so, she only made the situation worse by making a declaration of war under my roof without a trace of shame on her face. That's Kouma Yon for you.
"This place is huge!" Ryo wasn't paying attention to her friend, which is good. I guess. "You've got to be kidding me; you're living by yourself in a flat with three, having even a spiral staircase? A spiral staircase! I've always dreamed of a spiral staircase!" She kept running from a point to another like a little kid in a theme park. She went all the way up the stairs and screamed, her voice echoing in the second floor's empty space and finding its way to the ground level. "Look at this view! You said it was romantic, but this is simply the epitome of awesome!"
I was thinking about telling her that this place wasn't that great compared to the mansion we had at England or the château at Vallée de la Loire, but I stopped myself before I ended up sounding snobby. Let's just keep it a secret between you and me, okay?
It's interesting to compare Ryo's cheerfulness and Kouma's lack thereof. I wonder how those two ended up being friends. Well, people do say that opposites attract; I'm just not quite sure if magnetic fields are the same as relationships of any kind.
Not that I'm an expert in magnetic fields. Or relationships. Just saying.
As I closed the door, Kouma started taking steps through the ground level. Her falcon eyes made up for the lack of expression in her face. After a minute of silence, she decided to enlighten us with one of her amusing comments.
"A huge mess, really." No kidding, Sherlock. "Did you really need to bring so much stuff with you?"
"Yes, I did. I wouldn't stay away from my CD collection, my board games or my kitchen utensils." Wait, that didn't come out right. Worse than that, Ryo came along just in time to hear me talking about my girly collection. Think, boy, think! "Did I say 'kitchen utensils'? I meant my secret manly stuff. Because I'm a manly guy who likes manly stuff. I’m really manly. Like a pirate. Harr."
"...right." Kouma just looked at me with disbelief in her eyes. "So, you were here since Saturday night, right?" I nodded. "Why didn't you start unpacking at Sunday?"
"I can answer that one, matey!" Ryo raised her hand, clearly getting into the pirate character. "Me fellow Shin-tsu couldn't swab the decks of his ship at Sunday 'cuz we went down to the port for some grub and ended up singin' ol' chanteys till nite."
It took me a while to understand that she was telling Kouma about our Sunday meeting. At first I thought my Japanese skills had failed me, but I guess I talk better than I read(except when it comes to understand girls impersonating pirates, perhaps).
Kouma seemed to be having a hard time making sense of Ryo's speech, so I translated it to her...
"What our corsair Ryo was saying is that we met for the first time in real life at Sunday and after going out to eat, we spent the day together. By the time I came home, it was getting late and I was too tired to unpack, so I just slept."
...which was not such a smart move, now that I thought about it.
I felt a dark aura emanating from Kouma's body and I feared for my life. I was certain I would be killed at that moment. Curiosity killed the cat, huh? Then why am I the one who is going down? It's all Kouma's fault! She is the one who asked too many questions!
...I wonder if the cat died because he was so curious about a box that he entered it to see how it was from the inside. Probably. Then, at that very moment a theoretical physicist walked in and closed the box, making an internal mechanism release poison inside the box. Now that I think about it, I can't tell if the cat is dead or not because the box was closed when he entered it. And technically (since there were no holes to watch the cat), the cat would run out of air pretty quickly, with or without the poison.
I reach the conclusion that I don't like physicists very much, and neither do cats. I'm not sure if you noticed, but I'm trying to think of something else while Kouma kills me in the most dreadful way she can imagine(unfortunately for me, she does look like someone with an excellent imagination). Which she is going to start doing any minute now... Any minute now...
"We're wasting time here." Kouma exhales lightly. "Let's stop fooling around; we need to get this done."
Despite her obvious anger, Kouma managed to keep her control and act with much more maturity than I expected. Which is good for me, since her self-control in these situations is probably the thing that stopped her from smiting me with her bare hands. However, I am kind of disappointed now. It's not like I'm a person with suicidal tendencies or anything, but her reaction didn't quite meet my expectancies. Don't judge me, you were expecting a violent reaction yourself.
I raise my hands in defeat.
"Okay, we've played a little bit, let's get down to business."
Ryo suddenly saluted.
"Sir, permission to go to the bathroom, sir!"
It's like she is a little kid, really. Deciding to go to the bathroom just when we are about to start working...
I guess it could be considered cute if we didn't have such a tight schedule.
Twice as cute if it didn't have a toilet involved.
"...permission granted, it's the second door over there." She saluted again and walked away. "And that's not a pirate, it's a soldier!"
Once the bathroom door closed, I was alone with Kouma. You can imagine what happened.
Right, nothing did. Kouma didn't say a word since Ryo left the room, and it's quite disturbing. I mean, it's obvious that she is good friends with Ryo and once I intend to spend a great deal of time with Ryo, I'll end up spending a considerable amount of this time (probably most of it) with Kouma too. However, the girl didn't like me from the start and I haven't done much to change this situation (actually, I've met her today and I have already teased her twice).
Girls tell everything to each other and when they're close friends they can talk about any subject, right? Plus, friends can influence the others with their opinions. If someday Ryo got mad at me, she would probably talk about it with Kouma. Who would probably bad mouth me and make my situation even worse. Basically, my friendship with Ryo might depend someday on that girl's opinion on me. And I have started with the left foot. Way to go, champion.
Well, there might be still a hope: I could be incredibly nice to her from now on and make her change her mind! And this is the perfect occasion to put my plan into practice: I'm alone with Kouma, so no external interferences will affect the course of our conversation. I just need to pick a topic.
Which would be an easy task if I only knew her interests. Besides Ryo, I mean. It's kind of weird, really. The spark that glows in her eyes every time she sees Ryo makes me think of that nurse in Misery. Creepy, but she is still Ryo's best friend and I need to impress her.
Oh, I know! I could talk about her clothes! Girls love fashion, right? Also, everyone loves a compliment, so if I manage to say good things about her dressing style I might be able to score a point or two and start a friendly relationship out of this.
Alright, I'll do my best!
Gooo~od morning, Miami! Welcome to Fashion Week! On the catwalk, Kouma Yon! She is sixteen, 5'3 feet tall and a full b-cup (believe me; I have a good eye for that kind of thing)! Kouma is wearing dark skinny jeans, a brown cashmere V-neck sweater and the most fabulous silk scarf I have ever seen! Some will say it might not be the best choice of clothing to use when you're going to unpack boxes, but when this girl decides to get down to work she will most certainly do it with style!
...I could just go with the simple, straight (pun intended) way.
"You're looking really good dressed like that, Kouma-san. Err... It's a shame that our school's uniform rules won't allow you to show your true beauty."
She looks deep into my eyes.
"Please don't hit on me. You're weird and I don't have the slightest interest in 3D boys."
...I must confess that I wasn't expecting this.
"What the...? A female 2D lover? That's not even possible! There are no giggle.com results for that!" I keep struggling with the idea of a pretty girl with a great sense of fashion who is only interested in anime characters; it certainly doesn't sound right. "And I wasn't hitting on you; I was just trying to be nice! Why do you need to be like that? Have I done something wrong?" And I add, in a much lower voice. "Is teasing the only way I can get to you?"
She stayed still for what seemed to be centuries and then started muttering something unintelligible.
"What did you say?"
"...it's not personal. Really." She finally said. "Please sit down, Koukishin-kun. We need to talk."
"Okay." Her voice was a little different. We sat on the couch next to the stairs, which was probably a strategic move on Kouma's part since from that point she could observe the bathroom door. That's why I assumed that our little talk was going to be about Ryo. "And like I said earlier, you can call me Shin-tsu. No need for family names or honorifics."
"Understood, Shin-tsu." I was done with the teasing, but it still felt good to see Kouma having a hard time talking to me without being able to sound indifferent or impersonal. It obviously wasn't easy for her. "We must talk as quickly as possible, since we don't know how much time we've got."
She sighed deeply.
"I'm sorry if I made you think I had something against you. It wasn't intentional; I'm just not fond of people." Kouma stopped herself for two seconds of meditation. "This is probably the reason why Ryo-chan is my only friend in the world."
Despite her usual lack of facial expressions, that sentence showed me that the girl facing me had feelings. It kind of hurt because I was in the exact same boat as she was: currently Ryo was my only friend in the world as well. I wanted to interrupt her and say that I understood her and that we could be friends, but I know that you can't just decide something like that; it takes time and several moments together before you can form bonds with someone, and we've only met today.
Besides, she looked like she still had much to talk and not a good amount of time to do so.
"I think I have been acting childishly towards you, and I apologize." Actually, I'm the one who was having fun teasing her. Listening her apologize to me when I was also at fault made me feel bad. "I was jealous. I still am, actually. You've managed to do something I have been trying to do for months just by saying you'd come here."
"What are you talking about? What have I done?"
"You made Ryo-chan smile."
No words could describe what I felt at that very moment. Especially because I had too many mixed feelings about her statement: happy because the fact that I was moving here cheered up Ryo, concerned about the fact that she was unhappy before my announcement and particularly intrigued because I don't remember anything about Ryo being sad and we talked every day, about everything. This last one is tricky, because either Kouma is lying or Ryo has been hiding something from me. I guess I'll have to give them both the benefit of the doubt for now and investigate a little more on both sides.
I've been in this kind of situation (conflicting experiences and arguments) before, so I'm used to dealing with it. I'm just glad that, despite requiring a little bit of investigation in order to find the truth, this doesn't smell like Mystery at all (actually, it smells like teen drama, which is not much of a big deal). I'm still safe.
"So Ryo was sad before I said I was moving here, huh?"
"Yes, she had been like that for three months. She kept smiling and saying everything was okay, but I could tell that she was depressed just by looking at her." Based on what I saw today, I bet she does that a lot. "No one else seemed to notice it, but I have known her since kindergarten; if anyone can understand Ryo, it's me... or that's what I used to believe."
"What do you mean by that?"
Kouma took another breath like she was having a hard time focusing.
"I need your help."
She certainly doesn't look like the kind of person that says that a lot. Since she stopped talking at that moment and I could see that the bathroom door was still closed, I try to guess what she wants.
"You want me to find out the reason for Ryo's sadness? How am I supposed to do that? Do you want me to pray for a miniature moon or something?"
Kouma waved her hand.
"No, that task is mine. I know Ryo better than you do, and my odds of making her talk are much bigger than yours because I'm a girl and I have been by her side for the past ten years. I just need you to keep her happy until she feels comfortable to talk about that problem of hers. Just keep doing your job and she will be fine. Also, stop quoting nearly-unknown songs from the early nineties."
"You shouldn't talk like that when you're asking someone for help."
"I never asked you for help. I said I needed it, and I know you will help me because you want the best for Ryo too. I am not begging you, I am giving you a list of your tasks."
I do want the best for Ryo, but I don't enjoy being used as a toy. This Kouma girl is completely impertinent. She took it to a whole new level. I mean, how dare she say that to me in my own house?
"What if I don't cooperate?"
"If you don't want to be near her, I can't force you. I'm not very supportive of you being friends with Ryo, but I'm not against it either. Really. The more the merrier. I can even ignore your disturbing lack of honorifics towards her, if I must." She looked around and then looked at me again, staring at my jugular. "On the other hand, if you make her life just a little more painful, I'll make you wish you were dead and after I have my fun I'll grant that wish. Do you understand me?"
I wanted to talk back, I really did. However, what I saw in her eyes wasn't the same thing as before. It wasn't anger or sadness: those were mere paper masks of a deeper feeling that kept growing inside her and was consuming her soul quickly. I have seen that before, and every time I see it I just hope it's the last time. She would do anything to reach her goals (whatever they were), even if it meant killing or dying. In front of my eyes, the horrendous face of desperation.
This is starting to sound like Mystery, and I don't like it.
"Have you guys done any work yet?" Ryo said as she walked out of the bathroom wearing hair in a ponytail. I noticed that she was also wearing make-up now, which she doesn't seem to do a lot (justifying the amount of time she spent inside that bathroom). She did a surprisingly good job for someone without any experience in the field. It's not like I'm an expert or anything. "We don't have much time."
"Are you done with pirate talking already?" I turn back to Kouma and extend my arm with a smile on my face. "Come on, sailor: we need to keep up with the plan!"
Kouma understood it at once and shook my hand with tremendous force. We stood up and I did my best to pretend there was no tension between me and her. Now I'm worried about both Ryo and Kouma, but I can't let that show.
I might need to save them both in the future. Right now, the only thing I need to tidy up is my house.
"Raise the anchor! This ship is sailing!"
Ryo saluted in the cheeriest way.
"Aye aye Capt'n!"
"Guitars usually have six strings. Why does yours have only five?"
Kouma is much more talkative (and interesting) when Ryo is around. She raised a fairly decent question that probably bugged a lot of people that were too shy to ask, thinking they would be treated like idiots by the ones who knew the answer. The point is: when she is with Ryo, Kouma Yon is almost innocent.
I was about to explain it when Ryo started talking.
"While technically still a guitar, the electric bass guitar is quite different from the guitars most people are used to. The electric bass' standard tuning is an octave lower than the guitar standard tuning. Keep in mind that most bass guitars have 4 strings, which correspond to the four lower strings of the electric guitar." She took a breath, and her unexplainable burst of knowledge about an area I love was so intense that I think I lost mine. "Shin-tsu owns a five-string bass, which is a variation of the standard four-string bass tuned to the same pitches as the contrabass used mainly in symphony orchestra and jazz bands. So, his bass is not missing a string, it has an extra string that delivers an extended lower range By the way, the standard tuning for a five-string bass is B-E-A-D-G, which stands to Si-Mi-La-Re-Sol, right? Ti-Mi-La-Re-So if using the variant note name list which uses Ut as Do."
I was so astonished that I could only nod. Words failed me. Big. Time.
Let's get some things straight.
First, I was expecting anyone but Ryo to talk like a robot. Kouma doing that would have been alright, and Reikoku-sensei looks just the kind of person that says the content of encyclopedia articles during a casual conversation with a friend (and I don't even think she has one); Ryo doing it was a completely unforeseen development for that scene.
Second, I have never felt so attracted to her as I am right now. Everything was so beautifully precise and sudden that I almost cried like a baby watching scenes of a postmodern movie. Bad comparison. Nevertheless. If only she had finished that perfect explanation with a funky, mind-blowing bass solo I would be asking her to marry me right now. I swear I would.
Third... there is no third. I guess it's the second all over again. Yes, I would gladly marry her twice. Yes, I would even go as far as divorcing my geeky wife just to win her back and marry her again, making our lives seem like a romantic book end.
Strong passion burns my body and soul; I feel the urge to express my admiration, even if moderately, before it explodes and I definitely lose control over my body and eventually find myself either engaged or restrained by a police order.
"Oh wow, that was simply amazing! How did you know that, Ryo?"
She suddenly became aware of the fact that she had just given a complete lecture on music to Kouma and started to blush.
"Well, I... I have been a m-moderator at Hikkipedia for a while, s-so I have read a few articles in order to c-correct them..."
"Don't forget you have been programming synthesizers for a while, too." Kouma says, proudly for some reason. "You had to learn a thing or two about music."
"Hey, you didn't tell me you were a synth programmer!" I say, and pat her back lightly (my self-control is a little stronger than I expected).
Kouma... kind of... grins. I think she is grinning. I'm not sure; this is way too creepy to look at directly.
"So you didn't know about Ryo being a composer..." She said it like she had an advantage on me or something. "Could it be that you don't know a thing about Ryo's famous works?"
"Actually, no, I don't. Tell me about it."
I'm not going to play Kouma's little game, whatever it is. I have been talking to Ryo for only a year, so it's obvious I don't know so much as Kouma does. And I really don't, but instead of letting it get to me I'll just use this opportunity to learn more about Ryo. Kouma might be a bad winner if she wants to, but I certainly won't act as a sore loser.
"Cut it out, Yon-chan. It's not a big deal." Ryo says and turn to face me, not blushing anymore. "It's just that when I started working on Visual Novel games I didn't have a team to work along, so besides writing I had to learn how to program and compose."
"Oh, right." Kouma's grin became a chuckle. Since our roles reversed, she teases me every chance she gets, and I don't even feel bad for teasing her anymore. This is probably the beginning of a weird friendship (if I can call it that). "You do know what a Visual Novel is, right?"
"Yes I do, thank you for asking." I might have spent most of my life living abroad, but I know a thing or two about Japanese pop culture. A Visual Novel is an interactive fiction game genre pretty much similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books. Not much of a game, now that I think about it. Anyway, Visual Novels are basically stories for computer or console with anime-style graphics and multiple endings. Oh, interesting. I just noticed something. "What about the graphics, Ryo? If you write, program and compose, who draws the characters and the background images?"
"That would be me." Kouma says, and my sensors detect a good amount of arrogance and pride in her voice. "The artist in the A.R.K. game and manga developing team, 4koma!"
It was my time to get back at her and burst her bubble. Better than that, I would do it in the best way I could: by telling the truth.
"Never heard of it. By the way, how did you manage to pronounce that?"
The grin in her face faded, and the lack of expressions I quickly grew used to come back. I kind of missed it, to be honest.
"What about you?" I look to Ryo. "Do you have an uncommon pen name as well?"
She took a small notebook and a pen out of her pockets and started writing. After she finished, she handed it to me. The word written on it was SCENARIO, clearly another pun. See, Kouma Yon's nickname is pronounced yonkoma. I think it's a type of comic strips with four panels. Ryo's nome de plume is pretty much obvious: the Japanese pronunciation for that word is Shiinaryo (which is probably why she chose to write it instead of saying it).
Even after understanding the reason of their pen names, there was still something bothering me.
"Ryo... your handwriting... is surprisingly bad."
"You should have seen her draw." Kouma agreed with me. It might be sad, but we can't deny such an obvious truth. "A real abomination. My eyes were soiled. I even offered to help her after seeing a drawing she made at elementary school, and I didn't even know how to draw back then."
Ryo simply shook her shoulders.
"Well, sue me for not being a Mary Sue."
Despite the aftereffect of her rather imprecise and disturbing sentence pronounced in heavily accented English, we kept on chatting and unpacking for a while.
An hour later, Ryo raised her hands.
"How about... we take... a break?" She said, panting like she had just run a marathon. Ryo laid down on the couch until her breathing stabilized. When she noticed the worried look on my face, she tried to make a joke. "I don't have much stamina... because I have spent all of my points in intelligence."
Kouma did not seem surprised. Since they have known each other for a long time and even work together, I'm guessing Kouma experienced this situation a few times before and grew used to it. She looks at me and shakes her head.
"Don't worry; it happens once in a while. Her body isn't really strong, so she doesn't even get to participate in P.E. classes. Give her a couple minutes to rest and she will be fine."
I didn't know that about Ryo. In fact, I am starting to realize that there are a lot of things about her that I don't know. Things that matter.
"I'm so sorry, Ryo..."
She extended her arm and touched my hand lightly with her fingertips.
"It's not your fault. I decided to come by myself, so I'm the one to blame. I just need to rest a little..."
Her declaration doesn't make me feel any better about this. Ryo doesn't look well at all and she is only like that because she came to help me. I can't help but feel responsible about it. I know it's not directly my fault, but I can't get this thing out of my chest. I can't.
Kouma suddenly started moving.
"I'm hungry. We should go out and get something to eat."
"Good idea, I'm starving too." Ryo says, looking a little livelier than she was a few moments before.
"Not you." Kouma said, with surprising motherly care. "You will stay here and rest. I don't want to see you passing out on the streets."
"I can cook, you know." I say, my pride a little hurt. "And I know I didn't have time to go grocery shopping properly, but it's not like I don't have any food at home."
"I didn't mean it like that, Shin-tsu." Kouma looks at me and starts curling a lock of her hair with her index finger and thumb. "It's just that I already have something in mind since I was coming here, something I saw in the way. I'm not going to tell you what it is, so don't ask. Besides, we don't have time for cooking; there is still much to do."
"Okay, okay." I admit defeat. "Then let me at least give you some money. Paying for the snacks is the least I can do..." An idea strikes me; I can at least be useful at something. "...I can also make us some tea! Do you have a favorite flavor?"
"White tea for me!" Ryo says louder than necessary from the couch.
"So Oolong, White and...?" Kouma just kept staring at me, so I continued. "Oh c’mon, just pick a flavor and..."
"So you're not coming?" She sounded a little angry, but she started talking in a lower voice as soon as she noticed that. "Do you really think I'm going to let you here alone with Ryo?"
"We can't leave her alone, not like that. And I can't go buy the snacks you want so much because you want to keep it a secret, so you'd better chose either to trust me or telling me what you want me to buy."
There was a long time of silence between my line and her reply.
"Fine." She finally said and then sent me a glance, this one with a message within: "You'd better not try anything funny while I'm not around or I'll come after you with hellhounds and zero mercy; even if you run, I will hunt you through the mist of Nifelheim and when I find you I will obliterate your soul completely after torturing you for over two thousand years."
I handed her some money and she left, leaving me to ponder the fact that her eyes can be impressibly full of expression when she wants to. And no, I wasn't surprised when she avoided the easy solution and instead gave me a chance to prove her I'm not as bad as she thinks. Not because I have done much to deserve it but simply because, despite her everyday mask, she is probably a very impulsive person at heart.
After the door closed, Ryo sighed.
"Yon-chan worries too much. I was not that bad, just tired." She does look better now, but it doesn't change the fact that she seemed pretty unhealthy a few moments ago. "Besides, if I don't make any physical effort, how is my body supposed to become stronger?"
"Your condition will only grow worse if you make too much effort. On the other hand, if you make none, your muscles will atrophy." I breathe, suddenly realizing that I am tired too. I walk into the kitchen and put the water to boil. "You need to take it easy and start with small things, so you can gain strength and stamina little by little. So no heavy weight lifting or such for now, okay?"
"Okay!" She smiles to me as I come back to the living room and my worries start to fade away. "By the way, don't you want to sit down?"
I had the impulse to do so, especially because I am kind of tired right now. Then I remembered Kouma's threats and decided not to push my luck in my second day in town. This kind of situation seems to instantly lead to a misunderstanding and domestic violence in manga, so I guess I'll be better off without being on the couch with Ryo.
"N-no, it's okay... I'll just stand up and watch the window for a while."
"It’s your loss, anyway." Ryo looks around, looking like she is still amazed. "This flat is really something, Shin-tsu. I knew that you travelled a lot, but I wasn't expecting your family to have this kind of money."
"Oh, it's not like that. Buying and selling buildings around the world is actually my parent's job. It's a family business, so we're not really rich or anything." She still looks a little bit confused, so I try to simplify it. I guess even smart people have problems understanding subjects not related to their interest areas. "Me living here is no different from a kid who gets free candy at his father's convenience store."
"Except I don't think there is such a thing as candy whose value surpass ten million yen." She shook her shoulders. "I'm a little jealous."
"Don't be, they are just trying to compensate for not being around." I am not sure if I'm ready to talk about this with someone, but I find myself unable to hold the words back. "Actually, it has always been like this. They don't make that much money because they technically still work for my grandfather and most of the houses belonged to him to start with, but they always worked really hard to pay for all the travels and constant moving. The rest of their money ended up on compensation gifts I didn't really want." I turn around to face the window. "I know I'm being childish and unfair, but I just wish they had spent a little more time with me inste-"
It was so sudden it took me some time to make sense of it. One moment I was having one of those dramatic inner monologues said out loud and then something struck me hard enough to make me lose my breath. I felt an overwhelming heat wave pass through every bit of my body, filling me of something I can't find the word to describe right now.
Ryo was hugging me from behind. Her slender arms were around my waist and she was holding to me tightly, as if I was going to fall if she didn't hold me strongly enough. At that moment, I probably would.
"Don't worry." She rested her chin on my shoulder whispered in my ear. "I'm here. Everything will be okay now."
Now that I think about it, Ryo knows only a little bit about my life so far. She probably knows more about my personal life than I know about hers, though. It might sound weird, but she knows about my problems with Mystery. Not everything, but she knows enough. I am not sure if she believes it, but I don't think I care about that.
The weirdest thing is that this situation is familiar to me. I know this is not possible; I have only met Ryo in real life yesterday. However, I feel like we have done this a thousand times before in a distant past.
We stood like that for a while, until that beautiful moment was completely ruined by a cough. Not mine, not Ryo's. Go on, guess whose. Good job, Sherlock. Now if you don't mind, please find a way to get her into jail for what she is going to do to me. Better than that, come quickly enough to help me avoid being a murder victim. Please.
The tea kettle whistles higher and higher, as if measuring the rising anger in Kouma's once again expressive eyes. She marches through my living room, which unfortunately does look like a battlefield right now. Except the boxes won't serve as proper trenches against the fury of Kouma Yon, the Merciless Fashionista. Help!
Never mind, Kouma didn't kill me. Not yet, at least. She said she would when Ryo wasn't around, but not right now. I hope she forgets it. No, that’s being too optimistic; Yon-chan doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who forgives or forgets anything. I’m most likely doomed.
The three of us are sitting at the kitchen bar. Once the misunderstanding was explained (with much effort, I must add), Kouma revealed the contents of the paper bag she had been carrying around. Fortunately for me, it wasn't a machete or a halberd. I guess it would be a hard task to hide a machete or a halberd inside a common paper bag. Not impossible for someone with a good imagination, but quite hard for a common person. Not that I think that there's anything common with Kouma Yon.
The thing she took out of the paper bag was something fish-shaped and apparently baked. Despite its odd look, I could smell something easily recognizable to me: red bean paste. My olfactory memory is much better than my visual memory, and even if it has been a long time since I last visited Japan, the same doesn't apply to the rest of Asia. I'm not sure if it is because of the smell, but this fish-cake thing seems really familiar to me.
I pick one of them.
"What is the name of this thing?” My Japanese speaking skills are not that bad, but some words still fail me every now and then. “I can't remember."
"So you really have spent a while outside Japan, huh?" Kouma says without much interest.
Ryo looks at me, serene as the sky.
"This is a Taiyaki. It's a cake and it's delicious. Go on, try it."
I take a big bite.
"Oh, I was right about the filling!" It seems my nose didn't fool me. "This surely is chi xiao dou."
"Chi what?" The serenity in Ryo's face fades to curiosity.
"Chi xiao dou. It's the chinese name for the annual plant azuki bean, also known as Vigna angularis or Phaseolus angularis. Widely grown throughout East Asia and the Himalayas. Is a member of the Fabaceae family and has Faboideae as subfamily." She suddenly becomes aware of the fact that she was the center of attention. "What are you staring at? It's not like you have the right to get all the good lines. Besides, my grandmother is chinese."
That is the only word I can use to describe this kind of situation. Sometimes everyone is so odd and the scenario feels so dreamlike it's hard to believe that this is not fiction. And it could be; this could all be a dream, even someone else's dream. I could probably take some time to consider the theory known as Anti-Realism, but right now I happen to have something else in my mind.
And it must have shown on my face, because Ryo started to stare at me.
"What is wrong, Shin-tsu? You seem a little disturbed."
"It's just that, well... Kouma-san has known you for a long time. That classifies her as a 'childhood friend', right?"
"Yes, it does." Said Ryo, curiously.
"And she loves Taiyaki."
"Yes, I do." Said Kouma, awkwardly.
"And she is helping me unpack."
Kouma raised a fist.
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
I can only conclude this with a question.
"Did you really pay for that Taiyaki or did you just run with it?"
Ryo suddenly started laughing so hard I thought she was having a heart attack. No, maybe a soap opera dramatic heart attack. Real life heart attacks are not like that at all. Anyway, I wasn't the only one surprised by her reaction: Kouma also seemed to be completely dazed, which is indeed something rare. Ryo kept laughing for a while and it looked like she would never stopped doing so, but eventually she got tired and her laughter started to die down.
"Ha-ha, oh wow! I laughed so hard I actually cried..." She started to wipe away the tears. "My, I wasn't expecting a game reference from you..."
I was going to interrupt her and say I wasn't sure of what she meant, but I guess it would end up being at least another half an hour wasted, and right now we can't afford it.
So after eating and drinking tea, we resumed working.
She is late, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. I mean, I didn't want her to come in the first place, but after spending a whole afternoon tidying my flat up, I would become rather disappointed if she didn't show up.
Kouma and Ryo left at 17:24 p.m. because they needed to work in a project that was already late in schedule. Apparently they were going to their studio at Kouma's place. I thanked them for their help and they left in quite a hurry, making me feel a little bad for making they come when they already had other plans. After that I kept unpacking and organizing. I even went down to the market and bought the ingredients to make curry rice. I have eaten it a few times, but never tried cooking it. Now it's time to test my chef skills.
No, I'm not going to start cooking now. I already have started it. Actually, I'm just letting it simmer right now. It might take 10 minutes, so I guess I can spend some time explaining the recipe. Are you ready to rock (or rather, cook)?
First, the ingredients. Let's start with the meat; I don't like to use a single kind of meat in every meal, so for this recipe you will need a quarter of a pound of pork and a quarter of a pound of beef. One onion, two big potatoes, three carrots, three and a half cups of water, a quarter of a pound of curry roux and four or five cups of steamed rice. You will need some vegetable oil too.
Once you got the ingredients, start by cooking the steam rice while you slice the onions and cut the carrots and potatoes into small pieces. Get a deep pan and heat the oil. Saute the meat in it (some might say it's not a good idea to put both the beef and the pork together, but they would end up mixed sooner or later). Add the vegetables and saute them together with the meat. After that, pour water in the pan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and simmer the ingredients for 30 minutes. Don't forget to skim off any impurities that rise to the surface. Add curry roux and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve the curry over steamed rice.
The recipe is easy and it seems like the result is going to be really good. Thank you, Internet!
Oh, you're back.
Don't mind me, I just came because I wanted some curry.
Really? So today you didn't come to bring me down and fill my head with paranoia. You just want some curry.
Yeah, it smells divine.
You, a mysterious voice inside my head, want to eat my curry.
Pretty much; that recipe serves four portions, so you will still have more than enough for you and your teacher. Is there a problem with me wanting to eat some curry?
No, not at all. Everything is just fine. Except the obvious, of course. You don't have a mouth, a nose, a stomach or even a physical body for that matter. Just that small issue. Other than that, no problems.
The voice went silent for about ten seconds.
...well, then I won't be getting any curry. I guess it could be worse, though.
I could be you and have to find a way to pretend my legal guardians weren't around right now but would soon come soon, the whole night. And if I were you, I wouldn't even have legal guardians on the country.
Just wait a second, I...
Yet I would have to pretend and lie until she either found out the truth and made the situation weirder by telling it on school or went home for tonight and came back in a near future, eventually learning the truth and resulting in the same ending for you. So yeah, not having a body is not the end of the world. I'm really glad to be myself instead of being you.
...t-t-thank you for your kindness and cheerful words. I feel so much better now.
Once again, you're welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to leave you alone with the teacher. She will arrive in three... two... one...
The doorbell rang precisely on time.
I know my own capabilities very well and I wouldn’t be able to hear someone walking to my front door from the kitchen, especially considering the flat’s acoustics. It would be an impossible task for any human being, and it confirms a hypothesis I started working on since that little situation at the Le Ciel Bleu café; the voice on the back of my head is not mine at all.
Still astonished, I turned off the oven and went to answer the door.
"Good evening, Koukishin-kun."
The figure of the woman standing in front of me certainly didn't look like the one I have met in the classroom. While in school the teacher was simply the definition of neat, the one I see here is someone who could easily pass as a NEET. Forget the serious teacher outfit, Reikoku-sensei is fine with a hand knit sweater and white wool pants. She had let her hair down and it was surprisingly longer than I expected it to be based on the size of her bun. Her face was now calm and almost friendly and she was carrying a plastic market bag full of instant ramen. I barely recognized her.
"I'm sorry for being so late. There was a big line at the convenience store because a woman insisted that she wanted her change back. Now that I think about it, I would have done the same. Maybe not, if I was under the same circumstances. Anyway, aren't you going to let me in?"
I was a little bit too shocked. I mean, even her speaking style has changed.
"Oh, sure." I shake my head. "Yes. Please come in."
"Well, well..." She walks in and scans the whole place with her eyes. "This is a lot less messy than I thought it would be. I bet you spent the whole day trying to tidy the place."
"Yeah, I did."
"Then it's a good thing that I've bought us dinner." Reikoku-sensei hands me the bag. "You just need to add hot water and we'll be able to eat it in three minutes."
"Actually, I cooked our dinner." I say, proudly. I didn't realized at that moment that she being unaware of the fact that I had food at home(and worse than that, she had brought just two cup noodles' units with her when she wasn't supposed to assume it would be just us) was something to be concerned about. It's always easier to think about the details when the opportunity is gone, isn't it? "Tonight we'll have curry rice."
She seemed to be pondering over that.
"I guess that explains that apron you're wearing. I was starting to think you had a thing for cross-dressing or something."
"What are you talking about? Every great chef wears an apron! I-it's not like I enjoy cross-dressing or anything!"
That last bit went out on its own, and after I said it I only wished I could take it back.
"Yeah, a real chef would wear an apron. It's just that the one you're wearing is pink and frilly, and your face is not really manly. Just look at yourself; it doesn't make you look like a chef, it makes you look like a maid."
Despite being called "girly", I was actually glad she ignored my tsundere reaction towards cross-dressing. I'm pretty sure she would have a witty comment for me. I know she would. The best I could do at that moment was to distract her. I needed to be sure that she wouldn't start thinking about that, and I started to serve the curry. After doing so, I took my apron off and put on my robe and wizar-
What I meant to say is that I knelt on the floor and we started eating. The weirdest thing is that despite her sarcastic remarks, unusual questions and rather manipulative ways, she was really nice to me. Nicer than she seemed to be to everyone in class, anyway. She seemed genuinely interested in talking about trivial things, and never made a question too deep or personal (well, except that one about my kitchen utensil collection). She even helped me do the dishes after dinner. Who would have seen that coming, really?
We played a few short chess games(and when I say "short" I mean she beat me up so quickly I can only believe she was cheating, somehow), watched a zombie movie from the 60's and listened to some remastered old-school jazz recordings(unlike Ryo and me, she doesn't play any instruments or program; she just loves listening to jazz). It was a great night, after all.
Around eleven o' clock she stood up.
"I guess it's time for me to go, Koukishin-kun. We have played quite a bit and I am tired. I'm just glad I don't really need to write a report about you now, otherwise I wouldn't get my beauty sleep." She shook my hand firmly and walked to the door. "I had a great time. See you tomorrow at school."
There was only a single thing in my mind, and it was "WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?".
"W-wait! You don't need to write a report for tomorrow? Then this wasn't a routine home visit after all!" I screamed. "You haven't even met my pare- ck!"
She looked at me and her expression was clearly saying ‘gotcha!’.
"You are right about this not being a routine home visit, but I never said I was expecting to meet your parents tonight or something like that. You assumed that, and you were wrong. Please don't take me for an idiot; as a responsible teacher I had checked your documents and I already knew you were a... say, recently emancipated minor from abroad."
We both knew that wasn't quite the situation.
"Why have you come here, then?"
"You're kind of slow sometimes." She stopped for a while, probably searching for the proper words. "I came to spend some time with you, obviously. I, of all people, know how it feels to live by yourself and have to eat dinner alone every night. I also had to... emancipate myself at 15 and it was kind of depressing, so I decided to come and see if you were doing alright."
The shock made me feel really odd.
"I didn't know that."
"And how could you? Practically no one here does, and you just came yesterday. By the way, you know too much already; I'm not telling anything else about my past." She combed her hair with her fingers. "My reasons to come and spend time with you might be selfish, but I'm only trying to do what I wish someone did to me back then. Sometimes all we need is a little company, even if only for an hour."
At first words failed me.
"...thank you for coming, sensei. I really appreciate it."
"Don't worry. Now you know I'm doing it out of my own selfishness, so cut it out." Reikoku-sensei sighed. "So you'll keep my liking for splatter films a secret and I promise not to say anything about your little familial situation. Deal?"
"You also need to understand that I won't treat you any different from the rest of the class just because you are living on your own or because we are, say, friends. Not in class, though."
"I'm okay with that too, sensei."
She nodded, satisfied.
"Good. Farewell and good night, Koukishin-kun." She turned her back to me and started walking. "I might drop by to have dinner with you and play chess again someday."
I kept looking to the streets for a while after she left.
Closing the door, I go straight to my bedroom. I feel pretty tired, but this was certainly an interesting day for me. I think I found the word for that thing I felt when Ryo hugged me. It's the same thing I am feeling right now. The word is hope. I think I might have finally found my place in the world and it feels great.
After texting Ryo "good night", I fell asleep.
|Back to Chapter 1: Ryo||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 3: Kouma|