Chapter 1: Part 4
“Sleeepy. I seriously might fall asleep right now.”
As he thought pointless thoughts about how annoyed he was that spring break was already over, Sorata tried to pull his heavy body out of bed.
His sleep deprivation was Misaki’s fault. In fact, everything was Misaki’s fault. Global warming, the global stock market crisis, the rising prices for the yen (1), the retiring of all the Concorde jets and Blue Trains (2) … Sorata believed that Misaki was behind it all. She definitely was.
Sorata hadn’t gotten to bed until very late because of Mashiro’s welcome party. Chihiro was still recovering from the shock of the mixer and locked herself in her room, and Akasaka Ryuunosuke also was holed in his room, so Sorata and Misaki, along with Jin, entertained Mashiro by themselves.
Surrounding the nabe that Jin had prepared, they listened as Misaki just talked on and on by herself, while Sorata tried to act as Mashiro’s shield to protect her from harm. Mashiro didn’t seem to mind Misaki’s banter, but she also showed absolutely no reaction to Jin’s tasteful attempts to make jokes, so Sorata honestly couldn’t tell what she was really thinking.
There was certainly something strange about her, but at the base of it she was a pure and tranquil character. She would disappear the minute Sorata took his eyes off her… that impression of her was reinforced in Sorata’s mind through these interactions. If he didn’t protect her, then she wouldn’t be able to survive here at Sakurasou. So Sorata vowed to himself that he would protect her.
Finishing off the nabe pot with some zosui (3), Sorata then watched as Misaki entertained Mashiro with a flipbook she had made of a gymnast swinging on a high bar and dismounting with a moonsault, all drawn in her otherwise completely unused copy of the third-year English textbook. The drawing quality was incredibly high, to the point where it could have been mistaken for genuine anime production artwork.
In response, Mashiro took a sketchbook out from her luggage, and drew the seven cats who were munching on the meal leftovers.
The minute he saw the finished product, Sorata felt goosebumps on his skin, and was left speechless. The cats drawn on the sketchbook seemed like they could jump right out of the page; they looked more real than the real thing.
Sorata ended up taping that sketch to the wall in his room.
The party broke up at around eleven, but after that Sorata was dragged along by Misaki to play games, and had stayed up until late in the night.
He couldn’t remember when exactly he had fallen asleep. In fact, it was a miracle that he had managed to wake up in the first place. Misaki was nowhere to be seen. Sorata vaguely recalled that Jin had forced Misaki to sleep in her own room and had taken her with him, but he couldn’t tell whether that had actually happened or whether he had already been dreaming.
When he left his room, he heard sounds coming from the entranceway.
Sorata peeked his head in.
Perhaps she was just really happy that the new semester was starting, but Misaki was shouting out raucously while she flew out the door. How the hell could she be so chipper? While brooding over the injustice of it all, Sorata remembered how she had run him ragged the day before, and in revenge allowed himself a good look at the light blue striped panties peeking through her skirt. But then, Jin came up behind him and gave Sorata a strong poke on the head.
While Sorata dealt with the pain, Misaki’s figure disappeared off into the distance.
“Don’t get your head into the gutter so early in the morning.”
Jin then promptly left for the dining room, leaving Sorata no time to complain at this treatment.
In Jin’s place, Chihiro showed up.
“Sensei, you’re up pretty early today.”
It was still only seven thirty. There was still close to an hour before school started.
“Kanda, people can only grow through experience. You should remember that.”
Sorata didn’t know where that comment had come from, but he guessed that she was still talking about yesterday’s mixer, so he decided to not touch the subject.
“So, I can leave Mashiro to you, right? Just take her to the staff room.”
“Well, it’s her first day, after all. I can at least show her the way to school.”
Then, Chihiro lurched forwards, and poked a finger into Sorata’s chest.
“You’re going to definitely bring her there, right? You’re going to definitely take responsibility for her, right?”
“Y-Yes, I already said I would.”
“Good. I’m counting on you, you know. I’m seriously counting on you.”
“Huh… you’re acting pretty gross right now…”
Sorata expected a counterattack, but Chihiro just gave a hmph and left.
Seeing Chihiro off and looking at the wall clock in the hallway, Sorata saw that it was just about seven forty.
Mashiro showed no signs of coming down from the second floor. Sorata felt that it was probably a good idea to go and wake her up.
“If I remember correctly, boys aren’t allowed on the second floor…”
As he went up the creaky stairs, Sorata felt a bit nervous. What would Mashiro look like in her pajamas, sleeping there? … Sorata couldn’t stop his thoughts from running wild and getting his hopes up.
It’s not like Sorata didn’t know how to deal with girls. In fact, because of Misaki, he was pretty much immune. Well, granted, he didn’t know if it was appropriate to call Misaki a girl… if he had to say what she was, Sorata would probably have to say that she was an alien.
Sorata’s nervousness peaked when he arrived in front of Mashiro’s room, and his stomach began to churn.
“I’m… seriously scared out of my wits, aren’t I?”
Sorata voiced that out loud to try to calm himself down, but even his voice was shrill with nervousness.
“H-Hey, Shiina! If you don’t get up now, you might end up being late or something maybe…”
Sorata just grew more and more miserable, hearing how awkwardly he had phrased that.
Maybe she didn’t hear him, but Sorata heard no response from inside the room.
This time, he tried knocking.
“Shiina? It’s morning! Ugh, she’s really not responding. This is quite a problem…”
He knocked even more strongly this time. Knock, knock, knock.
All that answered him was the cruel sound of silence.
He reached out for the doorknob, but then realized what he was doing.
“No no no no, wait wait wait wait. This isn’t Misaki-senpai’s room, so there’s no reason it should be unlocked…”
To test his hypothesis, Sorata twisted the doorknob gently. He didn’t feel the resistance that he would have expected should the door have been locked.
It was definitely open.
“But even so, this isn’t Misaki-senpai’s room, so it would be bad of me just to barge in…”
But at the same time, at this point, Sorata didn’t think that he was going to get anywhere by just standing outside and calling out.
“I have no other choice. I’m doing this because I have no other choice.”
As Sorata mumbled pointless excuses to himself, he took firm hold of the doorknob.
He twisted it slowly, and opened the door just a crack.
He was stunned by what he saw, and unconsciously threw the door wide open.
“What the hell is this?”
Sorata almost thought he had the wrong room. Flustered, he checked the room number just to make sure. This was room 202. Mashiro’s room. It matched. It was right. Correct. Bingo.
But the scene that unfolded in front of him bore not even the slightest resemblance to the room he remembered from yesterday.
Clothes and underwear, books and manga were scattered haphazardly across the floor. Sorata couldn’t even see the carpet. It looked like a tornado had whirled through the room.
Alarm bells rang in Sorata’s head as he tried to get a handle on the situation.
There was only one word that came to mind: burglary.
Sorata felt the panic rising within him, and sweat began to run profusely down his brow.
He hectically flew into the room.
Mashiro was not in her bed. She also wasn’t on the floor. She was nowhere to be found.
Each time he turned his gaze somewhere different, he felt progressively colder chills run down his spine.
The room was flipped upside down, and Mashiro was nowhere to be found.
It was a hopeless situation.
Shaking on his feet, Sorata put one hand on the desk. When he did that, he must have touched the mouse, because the monitor that had been sleeping suddenly flared to life. The room suddenly being lit, Sorata gave out a light scream.
Frustrated, Sorata looked at the PC monitor.
On screen was shown what looked like a sequence of comic panels, in which a good-looking guy was reciting words of love. He placed his hand on the cheek of a shy-looking girl who had her head cast downwards, and was leaning in to kiss her. The drawing was outstanding. It was drawn really well. But although the bodily proportions were done very well, the drawings didn’t carry a huge sense of realism. It’s just that there seemed to be a huge number of lines drawn, to the point where it almost felt overdrawn.
No matter how you looked at it, it looked like the manuscript for a shoujo manga.
“Why does Shiina have…?”
For some reason, Sorata was completely distracted by the computer monitor, when he heard something move at his feet.
Sorata jumped a little with fright, but then timidly took a peek under the desk.
Sheets and clothes were crammed into that cramped space, and in there Shiina Mashiro appeared to be happily sleeping. It almost looked like a hamster’s nest.
Sorata let out a sigh of relief. Thank God. Just… thank God. No, seriously… thank God.
At that point, Sorata took one look around the room.
Don’t tell me, this is… Sorata’s vision dimmed. If this wasn’t the workings of a thief, then that left only one possibility.
“Hold on… time out…” Muttering that to no-one in particular, Sorata closed his eyes. He desperately searched for an explanation that seemed even vaguely plausible to explain this situation.
She must still not be used to life in Japan.
But where was there a country that had a custom where you would act as if a tornado blew through your room…?
Maybe she rolls around a bit too much in her sleep and got over here?
A bit? She was under the damn desk.
Then she’s definitely just hiding from an alien invasion.
Well, now these ideas were just getting preposterous.
So… then all that’s left is that this is a dream, Sorata-kun. You must be still dreaming.
Ahh, yes, that had to be it. That was the most plausible explanation.
Feeling convinced, Sorata retreated from Mashiro’s room.
Closing the door behind him, he took in a deep breath and let it out.
It’s probably about time he should wake up from this dream.
Steeling himself, Sorata opened the door.
Right afterwords, Sorata looked up at the sky. Quite obviously, the state of the room had not changed.
It was unbelievable to think that someone could live here while the room was in this state.
Mashiro was weird in a few ways, but Sorata thought that she was at least similar to him. He had hoped that she would be someone he could relate to in the midst of all this craziness…
“… God, why have you forsaken me?”
As Sorata fell more and more into despair, unlike just a bit ago, Sorata looked for gaps in the clothing-laden floor and moved to the front of the desk. For any healthy high schooler in the world, seeing a girl’s clothes scattered around like this was quite an evil temptation. Vividly colored undergarments were especially dangerous.
Even as Sorata tried his best to pretend that he didn’t see anything, his eyes unconsciously darted to and fro.
Squatting in front of the desk, Sorata carefully called out.
“Umm… Shiina-san? It would be great if you could wake up.”
Only the sound of her regular breathing echoed through the room.
“I’d really be grateful if you could wake up~~.”
Running out of options, Sorata took a corner of the sheets and pulled. Perhaps because Mashiro was also gripping the sheets quite tightly, Sorata felt quite a lot of resistance. Giving up, Sorata began to shake Mashiro from the shoulder.
“Helloooo, it’s mooooorning~. Moooorning~~.”
“… Morning’s not coming.”
“No no no, it definitely came! Don’t say something so scary!”
Mashiro lifted her face out of the mountain of clothes and underwear it had been buried under. Her half-asleep eyes looked blankly into space for a little while, and close to a minute elapsed before she finally came to and met Sorata’s gaze.
Mashiro buried her sleepy-looking head once more into her nest.
“You’re going to die if you go to sleep again~! It’s your first day, so it’s really bad if you’re late~!”
“… I understand. I’ll wake up.”
“Ohhh, you’re more understanding than I thought.”
With a vacant expression, Mashiro came out from under the desk and stood up.
The sheets and clothing that were twined around her gently fell to the floor.
Her bare shoulders became exposed. Her thin arms, modestly-sized chest, waistline and rear end all came clearly into Sorata’s view.
At that moment, blood burst from Sorata’s nose.
A scream of bloody murder reverberated around the room, to the point where you might have thought that someone had found blood in their urine. It was Sorata who had screamed.
“You’re really noisy.”
Looking annoyed, Mashiro rubbed her eyes.
“Wha-?! Y-You, w-what?! Gyaaaaaaaah!!”
“Put on some clothes! Also, why the hell are you naked?! You a nudist or something?!”
Shaken to his very core, Sorata mustered every ounce of reason he had remaining and turned his back to Mashiro.
“I wonder why…”
“Come on, just think about it!”
“…… I took a bath.”
“I laid out some clothes…”
“Great, all that’s left is to put them on.”
“I laid out all the clothes I had.”
“Wait! Stop! Don’t take all of them out!!”
“And then, I thought I could just stop there…”
“What kind of thinking is that?! Also, don’t act like this is just someone else’s problem! And also, seriously, just put on some clothes! Something! Anything! Just put something on!”
When Sorata thought about the fact that a naked Mashiro was behind him, he completely lost his cool.
“In this case, just put on your uniform!”
Sorata dug out the Suikou uniform from the giant messy pile of clothes at his feet and tossed the uniform to Mashiro.
Sorata heard the sound of clothes rustling around behind him.
He honestly felt like his heart was about to explode.
“Are you ready?”
After waiting for a good amount of time, Sorata called out to Mashiro.
“Seriously, you, you need to…”
Sorata began to speak and turned around, when he suddenly stiffened, his mouth still open.
Mashiro had only draped her blouse on, and all the buttons were still undone. Many things were still exposed.
“What the hell do you mean you’re ready?!”
Sorata did an about face and turned around once again. He crouched down to the floor and held his hand in his arms.
“You know what’s wrong!”
“Are you alright?”
“You too, are you alright?!”
“No, not ‘yes’… just finish changing already!”
Once again, Sorata heard the sound of clothes rustling.
Learning from his past mistakes, he decided to give her plenty of time this time.
“Y-You finished changing?”
“What about panties?”
“Put them on!”
“Which one should I put on?”
“Don’t make me choose that!”
“In that case, I’m ready.”
“No you’re not! What are you going to do if a gust of wind blows past?! It’ll be a disaster! Put them on! Put them on now! Please put them on!”
Screaming that out and in a frenzy, Sorata picked up a pair of light green panties from the floor and threw them at Mashiro.
“I don’t like these panties.”
“You planning to show them to someone today or something?!”
“Well then, just settle for those then!!”
Having screamed essentially nonstop since the morning, Sorata felt pretty light-headed.
When he glanced at the clock on his cell phone, he saw that it was just around eight fifteen.
“Crap! Hey, Shiina, hurry up a bit!”
Turning around, Sorata saw Mashiro looking quite proud of herself for having put on her panties… as well as her horribly bad case of bed hair. Her hair was so frazzled that birds could probably nest in it, and the stark contrast between that hair and her good looks made her painful to look at.
“Your head! I mean, your hair! Fix it in the bathroom and come back! Also wash your face while you’re at it!”
“I told you yesterday right?! Here, I’ll take you!”
Sorata hastily scrambled out of the room and headed for the first floor. But, Mashiro didn’t follow him. Instead, she slowly walked out of her room, at a leisurely pace.
“Wait wait. If you’re going to wash your face, take off your blazer first!”
Taking her outerwear from her, Sorata pushed her into the washroom. Sorata took that time to return to his own room, to change into his own uniform.
It took him less than a minute to change. He also hung his empty schoolbag from his shoulder.
He hurriedly returned to the washroom, and arrived just as Mashiro was coming out.
And then, Sorata ended up yelling again.
When you wash your face, you use water, right? Her blouse was soaked through at the chest, and was sticking right to her skin.
What’s more, maybe because she was wearing no bra, you could make out the bulge of her breasts, the tip… in essence, you could see everything.
“Hey! You… you! Put something on! Something underneath!”
“Sorata didn’t give me one.”
“So it’s my fault? Are you kidding?”
Mashiro stared at Sorata blankly and cocked her head to the side.
All the common sense Sorata had grown up with seemed not to apply to her.
In any case, for the sake of his sanity, Sorata went to grab a towel from the washroom. But the washroom had also become a disaster zone. Water was gushing from the faucet like a geyser, and the entire place was flooded.
“Were you trying to take a bath in here or something?!”
“I wasn’t taking a bath.”
“It was a rhetorical question!!”
“Sorata is being a bother.”
“Me? I’m the one who’s acting funny?”
Sorata twisted the faucet knob and turned the water off. He took out all the dustcloths he could find in the area and covered the washroom floor with them.
Right then, what Chihiro had said to him yesterday flashed across his mind.
Because Mashiro belongs here.
It all made sense now.
It’ll be clear all too soon. Especially for you.
“Dammit! That lazy bum of a teacher! She’s pushed everything onto me, hasn’t she?!”
Sorata knew that he was a bit late in realizing this, but he just had to say it out loud.
“We’re going to be late for school.”
“That’s the one thing I don’t want to hear from Shiina!”
Sorata’s soul cried out, and the shout reverberated into the spring sky.
(1) Although appreciating currency might be a good thing in many cases, for Japan the yen appreciation is so pronounced that it’s hurting the Japanese export market quite a bit.
(2) A sleeper car train service that is slowly being phased out in Japan.
(3) Japanese rice soup.