Chapter 1: Part 2
The shortest way from Sakurasou to the station was via the red-brick road that led through the shopping district. It gave off the pleasant feeling of an old-school shopping street, and for Sorata who was born and raised in this town, it even once served as a place to play.
Perhaps because of that, just by walking through, Sorata was greeted one after the other by people he knew.
In front of the fishmonger:
“Hey, you’re the Kanda boy, aren’t you?! Come over, try the mackerel today!”
And at the butcher right ahead:
“Oh, if it isn’t Sorata-kun~~. Hey, are you hungry? Have some croquettes on the house.”
Like that, without even buying anything, Sorata got some croquettes from the shoptender.
“Hey Sorata, long time no see. You’re going to Suikou now, right?”
Indeed, he even bumped into a friend from his junior high days, who happened to be helping at the grocery store.
This town was bristling with the kind of close-knit camaraderie that was difficult to find in the big cities.
Part of the reason was that it wouldn’t really be to anyone’s advantage for them to push for urban development this late in the game, and part of the reason was that everyone felt pretty comfortable with how this shopping district was now.
Around three years ago, there was a huge supermarket with cheap prices and good selection that opened on the other side of the station, but Sorata continued to exclusively do his shopping at this shopping district. He just felt much more at ease here.
And perhaps because there were others who thought the same way, the shopping district had remained like this.
As he stuffed his cheeks with the croquettes he had received earlier, Sorata soon found himself in front of the station.
Even though it had been dubbed the “Geidaimae Station” (1), it would take an adult no less than fifteen minutes to walk to the school from here. Because of that, this spot was quite famous for snaring college hopefuls into arriving here just barely on time for the entrance exam, and then bringing them to tears when they realized they would be late.
It was a rather inconvenient station with only one ticket gate, which forced the people who lived on the other side to first cross the tracks via the railroad crossing to use the station.
Sorata sat down on the railing right in front of the ticket gate and waited.
He took out the photo he had put in his wallet and checked it over once more.
It was a weird name.
Chihiro had said that this was her cousin, but their ages seemed way too different.
As Sorata thought about these things, a train headed away from the city pulled into the station.
Usually, Sorata would expect to see a number of junior high students getting off the train, but because it was Spring break, there weren’t many people on the train. The only people who got off the train were people of unknown origins and unspecified age, who left the station to do God-knows-what.
Among those people, Sorata recognized a single face. The person in question seemed to recognize Sorata too, and widened his eyes in surprise. He lightly trotted over until he was standing in front of Sorata.
“What are you doing here? You waiting for me or something?”
“Not at all.”
“Didn’t think so.”
Obviously thinking something was funny, Mitaka Jin laughed aloud.
He had a full head of light brown hair. He was quite tall and also quite slim. He made quite the impact close-up, but for some reason, he generally came off as a pretty gentle guy.
His sharp-edged glasses gave him an intelligent look, and even a boy like Sorata had no issue with saying that he looked quite cool.
So Sorata could accept that he was pretty popular with the ladies. It wouldn’t surprise him even if he found a hickey on Jin’s neck. In fact, it would be pretty expected.
He lived in room 103 at Sakurasou. His special ability was being able to guess women’s three sizes by sight, even when they were wearing clothes.
“Hey hey, what’s that you got there? It smells nice.”
He turned his gaze onto the croquette bag that Sorata was holding. Quite unbecoming of someone who looked so mature and calm, a look of childhood curiosity shone from his eyes.
“It’s a croquette from the butcher. I got it on the way over.”
“Ahh, that’s nice. Give me some too. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
Jin took the croquette Sorata offered to him and ate it enthusiastically.
“Sorata really is amazing.”
“Just by walking through the shopping district, you can get delicious croquettes like this. I’m seriously impressed.”
“I’m more impressed with Jin-san, considering women tend to get pregnant whenever you walk past.”
“Hey hey, I use contraceptives.”
“Well also, Misaki-senpai’s anime… that got really big too, didn’t it?”
Jin had been the one to write the screenplay for that anime.
“That was all Misaki. She’s been a freak for as long as I can remember. Ahh, this croquette is really good… I really like it.”
Jin seemed to want to change the topic, so Sorata didn’t push the issue.
“I’ll have to remember to thank the butcher the next time I see her. Tell her that Jin praised her croquettes.”
“Ahh, now that I think about it, you’re a local, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am.”
“Why are you living in the dorms then?”
“It took you this long to ask that? Well, fine then, but it’s really not that interesting of a story.”
It was around a year ago, on the day when they announced the results of the high school entrance examinations.
Completely surprised at having passed his entrance exam, Sorata went and loudly celebrated with his friends to a karaoke bar.
Getting home right after midnight, Sorata found the imposing figure of his father standing and waiting for him in the living room.
“You’re now a high school student. So you have the right to choose.”
“Choose whether you want to go with your family to Fukuoka, or whether you want to stay here and live alone.”
As he watched his father standing there, arms crossed, Sorata couldn’t really guess what was happening.
Looking for help, he spied his mother washing the dishes and humming.
“This is pretty sudden, but your dad’s getting a job transfer.”
“Oh, I see. So?”
“So you should choose whether you want to come with us or stay here.”
“Hold on a minute. Isn’t dad just going by himself?”
“What in the world are you saying? If I did that, I would be lonely.”
“Dads shouldn’t go around complaining about unbecoming things like being lonely!”
“So that’s why I’m taking mom and Yuuko with me.”
“So what’s different about me?”
“Whether you’re there or not has no impact on whether I’m lonely.”
“Ah, I see. So, what about Yuuko’s schooling?”
“We’ve already transferred her to a new school.”
“Damn, that was fast!”
But, I mean, to Sorata, this wasn’t a bad deal. He had finally achieved his goal of living alone.
“By the way, I went to the real estate agent a little bit ago. We sold the house.”
“Hey wait! Everything is happening way too fast!”
“I’m already seeing my future, being buried in mentaiko country. (2)”
“Are you insane?! Wake up! Also, calling it ‘mentaiko country’… you should apologize to Fukuoka right now! I’m sure they have other things there too!”
“Don’t worry. I’m also a Hawks fan.” (3)
“Who the hell cares?!”
“Dear, I give up. I just can’t talk with our adult son anymore. This is why puberty is so annoying.”
“Hey hey, wait just a second! Don’t try to make this out to be my fault!!”
With a shocked expression, Sorata’s father left and headed for the bathroom. As expected, Sorata was in no mood to chase after him. Who the hell would want to see their father naked?
In his father’s place, Sorata’s mother came over and sat down in front of him.
“So, what are you going to do? This is a big decision.”
“You still get the school pamphlets, right? How much would living in a dorm cost?”
“With two meals a day included, fifty thousand yen.” (4)
Sorata’s mother looked triumphant.
“… Well, in the worst case scenario, I guess I could get a part-time job or something.”
“Ehh, wait, why why? Is oniichan not coming with us?!”
The one who suddenly interrupted us was my little sister, Yuuko, wearing a pair of pink, child-like pajamas.
She drew close to Sorata and took him by the arm, shaking it up and down as she pleaded with him.
“I don’t want to live away from oniichan~~! And oniichan is ok with living away from me too? I can’t believe it!”
She had already started the second year of Junior high school that April, but it was worrisome how childish she still acted. When she was younger, her health wasn’t the greatest, and she would always hide herself behind Sorata’s back. So it wasn’t surprising that she would have the most to say about this relocation.
“Well, I don’t want to make my high school acceptance go to waste either.”
“You’re lying! You said that you wanted to go to this high school only because it was the closest to our house! You can just go to the closest school from our house in Fukuoka!”
For a while after, Yuuko didn’t run out of steam at all, and tried with all her might to get Sorata to go with them.
Seeing that Sorata wouldn’t be persuaded, she came to the point of tears, and Sorata was at a loss as to how to deal with the situation. But in the end, one word from his mother made Yuuko quiet down.
“Come now, don’t be so selfish. You’re going to get your oniichan to not like you anymore.”
As expected from a mother with thirteen years of experience with Yuuko, she knew exactly how to handle her daughter.
“I got it… I’ll give up…”
Giving Sorata a look reminiscent of a pony who had just been sold, Yuuko went back to her room.
The next day, Sorata finished the paperwork necessary to enroll in Suikou and move into the dorms, and his family began to busily prepare for their move.
Those events of a year past seemed very distant to Sorata now.
For some time while Sorata was telling his story, Jin had been chuckling.
“I’m pretty jealous of your family.”
“Everything is my idiot dad’s fault.”
“Well, then again, I’m glad that it wasn’t something serious. I wouldn’t have been prepared if you told me something terrible.”
“Like, that our family just broke apart? Or that my dad disappeared or something?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Jin gave me a bright smile. That was the smile that he conquered so many women with, wasn’t it?
“So? What exactly are you doing here?”
“Ahh, it’s this.”
I showed Jin the photo that Chihiro had given me.
“Pretty cute girl.”
“She looks around five.”
“Yeah, I think so too.”
“Your little sister?”
“No, she’s not.”
“Hm, alright. I got it.”
“What do you mean ‘I got it’?”
“You’re going to the police, Sorata. And you’re going to go turn yourself in for being a lolicon. And you’re going to admit to being the pervert behind all the molestations that have been happening around here lately. I’ll go with you.”
“How the hell can you say all of that with a straight face?! You’re completely wrong! Sensei asked me to do this! She wanted me to go to the station to meet this girl.”
“Ah, what? It was just that? That’s so boring~~.”
“You think that it would be more exciting if I was a perv?”
“Well, it definitely would’ve been a bit more exciting.”
From Jin’s expression, Sorata couldn’t really tell how serious he was being.
As the dumb, idle chatter died down a bit, Sorata saw a black taxi enter the station. It stopped in the taxi loading zone, around ten meters away from Sorata.
Casually watching the car, Sorata saw a girl he had never seen before come out from the back, wearing a familiar Suikou uniform.
The uniform looked brand new and clearly hadn’t been broken in yet. She held a light brown suitcase in front of her with both hands, and looked bored as she watched her taxi (which had a Narita license plate) leave the station.
Perhaps because of the slight upwards slant of her eyes, she came off as looking pretty mature, but because of her uniform, Sorata inferred that she had to be around the same age.
Her almost-transparent skin was so white that its color almost seemed to almost seep into the space around her.
Sorata couldn’t help but be captivated by her beauty. His mind went blank, and only an infinite, white landscape remained in his heart. He became blissfully unaware of his surroundings, his breathing grew labored, and he even forgot where he was at that moment.
The girl was standing alone in the middle of a pure white field of snow. Sorata was enslaved by that vision.
“She certainly gives off some interesting vibes, that girl. Don’t you think so, Sorata?”
Sorata felt that Jin was trying to say something to him, but the words went in one ear and out the other.
The girl quietly began to walk. If she were a cat, she would be an Iriomote mountain cat. She gave off a definitive sense of presence, but at the same time had an air of danger about her, almost like an endangered species. Sorata was impressed with a sense of unease, as if she would disappear the moment he took his eyes off her.
The girl silently walked over to a bench on the side of the station, and almost lifelessly sat down.
She was around six meters from Sorata.
Sorata didn’t know why he felt so nervous. Giving in to his nervousness, he gulped loudly.
“You know, I don’t care how cute she is, but it’s not polite to stare like that. I’ll admit that I don’t blame you for getting this way though…”
“Doesn’t she just make you want to go over and protect her, sitting there like that?”
“Alright. Let me show you what I’m made of. Let’s see… her height is 162 cm (5), she weighs around 45 kg, and her three sizes are definitely 79, 55, and 78 from top to bottom. ‘Flatchested,’ you say? Don’t be so pessimistic. Just as much as her waist is thin, she’ll have plenty chest to show if she strips down. Trust me.”
Sorata heard Jin’s voice coming from a bit in front of him.
“… What are you going on about, Jin-san?”
“I was saying how easy you are to read.”
Even after he had returned from the land of dreams, Sorata didn’t take his eyes off the girl. Looking at the girl’s face, Sorata felt like he should be remembering something, and he tried to figure out what it was.
And then, he realized it quite suddenly and unexpectedly.
“Don’t worry about it, man. No reason to be shy.”
“No no. It’s about that girl.”
The minute Sorata vocalized his thoughts, he grew even more convenience.
“Huh? What are you going on about now?”
“I had thought she would be coming by train though…”
“Seriously, is your brain ok?”
“No, no, no, no. It’s this photo!”
Sorata thrust the photo he had been given by Chihiro into Jin’s face.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sorata got up off the railing, and walked towards the girl on the bench.
“Hey, what color would you want to be?”
It took a while before Sorata realized that the question had come from the girl.
If he hadn’t been focusing his attention on the girl, Sorata had no doubt that he wouldn’t have heard her.
The girl looked up at Sorata, and their eyes met. That was enough to shake Sorata to his core.
She gave a small nod.
“I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Well, think about it then.”
“I can’t say for sure about the future, but for now, I guess I’d want to be iridescent.”
“That’s a color?”
“I guess it sort of means rainbow-colored, but with the nuance of also being a bit unclear.”
“And what about you?”
“What color would you want to be?”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“What the hell?”
“For today, I would probably be white.”
“Hmm, just like your name.” (6)
She looked at Sorata with eyes that showed slight surprise.
“Sorry. I’m probably acting pretty suspicious right now. I’m Kanda Sorata. Chihiro-sensei asked me to pick you up… she told you about that, right?”
“Chihiro-sensei asked you?”
“Ugh, she completely screwed this up, didn’t she?”
Sorata compared the girl in front of him with the girl on the photograph. It wasn’t easy to tell from a single glance. But for some reason, Sorata knew. Because the feeling he got from both girls were the same.
And so, this girl was definitely Shiina Mashiro.
“How old of a photo did she give me? You have to be three times older…”
(1) Literally translates to “in front of the University of the Arts,” but as it is a proper noun I will just keep it like this.
(2) Mentaiko is the marinated caviar of Pollack, and Fukuoka City is quite famous for it.
(3) Japanese baseball team in Fukuoka. Interestingly enough, they are owned by SoftBank, which is basically the major cell-phone service provider in Japan.
(4) Around $500. I’m assuming this is per month.
(5) Around 5’ 4’’.
(6) Mashiro means “pure white.”