Chapter 2: What am I going to do?
Chapter 2: Part 1
Kanda Sorata’s morning began relatively early.
It wasn’t even six-thirty in the morning.
And before the cell phone he was using in place of an alarm clock would ring, he would be forcefully jolted back to reality by one of his cats, whether it was the white cat Hikari sticking her butt in his face, or whether it was the black cat Nozomi punching him with a paw in the face, or whether it was the spotted cat Kodama jumping on his stomach.
The cell phone alarm that range a bit later was the battle theme to an RPG Sorata used to be into back in junior high. He had set it at his alarm since April to get him pumped up in the morning. Just hearing the chorus once made him feel like he was up for anything that day.
The first thing he did after he woke up was washing his face. After that, he moved to the dining room, along with the seven cats at his feet pining for food.
Once he prepared cat food for the cats, they would go at it at full speed, and Sorata would take that time to eat some toast and gulp down some milk.
It was an ordinary, normal morning routine.
The only thing that wasn’t quite normal was that each time Sorata opened the refrigerator, he couldn’t help but feel a bit down.
The Sakurasou duty assignments were pasted to the door. And among those assignments was stuck a red note, attached via a number of colorful magnets, that was impossible to overlook.
Mashiro Duty – Kanda Sorata
That red was the red of an eternity. It signified that this assignment was forever.
While dealing with the psychological damage all this had caused, Sorata stood in the kitchen with the mini-laptop he had borrowed from Misaki. He used the laptop to look up a recipe for a bentou (1) that would be easy to make, and began to cook.
He had already planned today’s menu last night: fried tuna, a cold ham and spinach salad, and finely chopped cooked carrots. He had already gotten the menu approved by Mashiro. He didn’t really know why, but it seemed like she was ok with some fried things, but not others.
Eating another piece of toast, Sorata diligently cooked lunch.
He occasionally glanced at the computer screen to check the recipe. If there was some downtime, he would check some game developer blogs to kill time.
And of course, he didn’t forget to respond to Ryuunosuke when his chat window suddenly popped up.
–What does Kanda think of death flags?
–Oh, you mean, those? Like, when someone says in the middle of the war, “when this war ends I’m going to propose to her…”
–Yes, those. There are really quite a number of examples, but it’s a concept that holds an incredible amount of power in the storytelling world. Characters who say something careless are immediately marked for death, and whether they go out pitifully or in a blaze of glory, they end up dying. And that’s when I thought, are those people aware that these death flags exist?
–No, I don’t think they would…
Ryuunosuke was a bit of a strange fellow, but he wasn’t an unpleasant person. That was the impression Sorata got from being his online chat partner.
–If we create realistic characters that reflect the spirit of today, it is inevitable that we would come to understand human existence and the things that control that existence. But nevertheless, authors and screenwriters continue to use death flags. Don’t you think that they’re making a statement on the sadness within human nature here?”
–Hey hey, this is getting really annoying really quickly…
–And in that case, the discussion I would like to have now is whether these death flags actually exist in reality.
–So, is this going to take long then? The tuna looks like it’s about to burn.
–Well, no use in it then. Let’s talk it through at the next opportunity then, comrade.
–Ahh, right right. We’re in the same class this year, aren’t we?
–I have no interest in the arbitrary distinctions such as ‘class’ set down by other people.
Ryuunosuke left the chat.
And at the same time, everything finished cooking.
Sorata immediately began to line up the side dishes in a bento box already filled with rice. Both his portion and Mashiro’s.
“Ohh, this actually looks pretty good.”
Sorata tried a little bit of his cooking. Everything was pretty tasty.
“I guess I can do pretty well if I try. Oh, dang, I think I’m actually starting to enjoy myself.”
Sorata began to feel pretty good about himself, but he suddenly remembered exactly what he was doing and just felt empty inside.
“Wait, what the hell am I doing? Am I some naïve girl who’s getting all worked up over making lunch for her boyfriend or something?!”
In the past, Sorata had either bought his lunch or eaten it in the cafeteria. Every morning, he also got to sleep thirty minutes more. And the cause of his sleep schedule shifting and his having to prepare lunch every morning was Mashiro.
It had happened two weeks ago.
It was the second day after the new semester had just begun, and Sorata had classes until the afternoon. During lunch break, Sorata decided for some reason or another to go and check in on Mashiro, and he saw that she was sitting alone in an otherwise empty classroom.
Seeing no other option, he invited her to the cafeteria, but they stood out like a sore thumb, Mashiro was really picky about her food, everything she disliked she ended up piling on Sorata’s plate, and as a result weird rumors started circulating about them, and Sorata just couldn’t eat in peace.
And then, there was the final nail in the coffin.
“Oh, aren’t they from Sakurasou?”
“Idiot, don’t look it in the eyes!”
“It’s the first time I’ve seen them. Ohhh, amazing. It’s moving! It’s even eating lunch!”
“Uwaah, careful! If we don’t get out of here, we’re going to get Sakurasou germs on us!”
And like that, they were treated like odd animals at a zoo, and Sorata’s spirit was completely crushed.
He also considered just buying her lunch… but given his experience last time with her going around and just eating things off the shelves, he gave up on that idea before even testing it out.
And so, as far as the lunch issue went, Sorata ended up in the sad state of affairs of having to run a menu by Mashiro for approval, and then waking up each morning to make lunch.
Sorata didn’t especially like to cook, and nor was he very good at it. In Sakurasou, Jin was the most into cooking, followed by Misaki, who could make anything. Even Chihiro had a wider culinary repertoire than Sorata. Indeed, if you wanted to rank the residents of Sakurasou in order of cooking ability, Sorata was closer to the bottom than to the top.
He had asked Misaki for advice, since she prepared two bentou boxes every morning for herself and Jin, but…
“Well then, with kouhai-kun’s portion included, let’s make Russian roulette bentou! We’ll make one of the portions of rice with wasabi and send one of us straight to hell! Let’s fill our lunch breaks with a bit of thrill and suspense!”
Sorata honestly didn’t think she was kidding when she joyfully proposed that terrifying idea, so he decided to drop the subject.
Life really wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
“You know, it’s really sickening standing here and watching you cook, and then seeing you getting all happy and then all sad.”
At some point, Chihiro had shown up in the dining room, and reached for some of the leftover side dishes from across the counter.
“How can you face one of your students and call him sickening?! Who’s fault do you think this all is?! Sensei is the one who abandoned her duties as a caretaker and shoved them all onto me!!”
“Well, you know what they say. Hardship builds character when you’re young.”
Chihiro pinched a piece of fried tuna between her fingers and sent it into her mouth.
“Hey, wait a sec!”
“Well well, this is actually pretty good. Kanda, I’ll leave my lunch up to you too.”
“You’ve got some nerve…”
At that moment, yet another person joined the fray.
“What’s going on~? What’s going on~? Let me get in on some of this too~~!”
Singing a mysterious little song, Misaki seemed to almost tumble down from the second floor.
“It’s tuna! I smell tuna!”
In super high spirits from the minute she got out of bed, Misaki leapt like a cat to the counter. Leaning forwards, she nimbly snatched three pieces of food from the counter and sent them into her mouth.
“Why is everyone so damn crazy in the morning?!”
“Tasty! Alright, it’s decided! Jin and I are going to make our bentous this today as well!”
“Nobody said they were giving you anything!”
“Don’t be so stiiingy!”
Chihiro held some bentou boxes she had taken from the shelf out towards Sorata. Acting on reflex, he took them from her.
Next to her, Misaki was stuffing food into her bentou box in the energetic way that Sorata was used to.
Sorata had made extra just in case he failed the first time, but it was annoying that he had actually made enough for five. He really had made too much.
“What are you up to so early in the morning?”
Surprisingly, even though he usually was not here in the morning, Jin had woken up and walked into the room. He looked around and silently assessed the situation.
“Well, I guess this is nice every once in a while.”
He spoke brightly.
“Kouhai-kun would make a good wife, wouldn’t he?”
Sorata gave a half-hearted response as he packed Chihiro’s bentou.
He checked the clock, and saw that it wasn’t even seven yet.
April was coming to an end. They had just entered the fourth week of the month, and maybe he had just gotten used to cooking, but Sorata had finished preparing the meal more quickly than he had expected. Up until yesterday, by the time he had finished cooking, seven had already come and gone for a while and Sorata had to go and wake Mashiro up right afterwards.
Today, there was still some time left.
Sorata suddenly thought of something, and reached out for the keys on his mini-laptop.
He searched for “Shiina Mashiro.”
“What what? Looking at erotic pictures or something?”
Misaki came closer and looked at the screen.
“I don’t have the energy to get that worked up in the morning…”
The search results were soon displayed on screen.
There were a few hundred thousand hits.
Most of them were in English.
“Ohhh, looking up Mashiron~? Now that I think about it, I haven’t tried this before either.”
Sorata clicked on the first search result.
It was the homepage for an overseas art museum.
His curiosity piqued, Jin also came closer. Chihiro was the only one left at the dining room round table, and sat there alone, drinking coffee.
“It’s all in English, so I don’t really know what’s going on… oh, is this it?”
Sorata clicked on Mashiro’s name, and the screen suddenly brightened.
The design of the page was exceedingly simple.
On an ultramarine-colored background, a single piece of artwork was showing.
It was shown hanging from the wall, displayed in the art museum.
The minute he saw it, all the pores on Sorata’s body opened up. He felt almost as if all his nerves had flown from his body.
Misaki was lost for words in her admiration, and Jin gulped audibly.
Sorata could feel his consciousness being sucked into that little screen.
“What’s going on here… with this…?”
Words unconsciously spilled out from Sorata’s dry mouth.
Sorata didn’t exactly know whether his reaction to this painting was a good or a bad one. But even so, there was just something about this abstract, symbolic painting that strongly drew him in.
He couldn’t find the right words to explain it.
He could see light. He could see sound. He could see the wind. It was that kind of painting.
When he scrolled down, Sorata found comments posted by the competition’s judge. Thankfully, there was also a Japanese translation.
Light and darkness. air. I am in deep awe of this painting, for displaying such a high level of skill and sensitivity to capture and express the things which we cannot see with our eyes. It presents a unique view of the world. A view devoid of logic and reason. With this one painting, Shiina Mashiro takes her first step into the territory of genius. We cannot even begin to fathom the world in which this girl must live that allows her to paint as such.
It was extremely high praise.
This was the first time Sorata had seen someone praise someone else so highly.
For some reason, Sorata felt restless, and shut his laptop somewhat roughly.
“Kanda, isn’t it about that time?”
Chihiro’s voice brought Sorata back to reality.
Sorata heated up a moist towel, and after pushing Misaki out of the way (who had just broken out into dance whilst humming a strange song), he headed for the second floor.
“Hey, Shiina! It’s morning! Get up! Although I doubt this is going to work…”
Sorata waited for a few seconds, but there was no response.
He boldly opened the door, and boldly stepped into the room.
Like before, Mashiro was not in her bed. She was sleeping under the desk, buried under a pile of her clothes and delicates. Her head, with her head in complete disarray, was poking out from beneath the pile.
As Sorata called out for her to wake up, he pressed the moist towel he had down on her gravity-defying hair.
Mashiro still didn’t wake up.
From experience, Sorata knew that it would take around five more minutes.
The room was in a terrifying state. Even though Sorata had tidied it up before she went to bed yesterday.
Her PC had been left on.
There was barely enough room on the floor for Sorata to walk.
At that moment, Sorata came to a halt after seeing a piece of B4-sized paper.
It was a printout of a manga manuscript.
Indeed, the pages from that manuscript were scattered all over the floor.
Sorata had promised himself that he wouldn’t poke his nose into Mashiro’s business, but curiosity won over his sense of self-preservation in this case.
It might have been because he had just looked at one of Mashiro’s drawings on the art museum homepage.
He picked up the first page. And then he unconsciously picked up the rest.
He put them in the correct order.
The manga was thirty-two pages in length.
He read one page, and then another, and then another.
The artwork was amazing. It was seriously amazing. No matter what angle it was from, the characters were drawn accurately, and the art composition was really attractive. The artwork was hugely impactful.
The manga panel layout was also interesting. Sorata had never seen something quite like this, where the characters and sceneries were drawn so freely.
As his gaze followed through the carefully drawn pictures, he found himself at the end of the manga, and finished reading.
He straightened the papers up on top of the desk, and softly set them down on the side table.
“… That was boring.”
It was surprisingly boring, in fact.
It was almost funny how little substance there was in the manga.
The genre was shoujo.
In it, a completely uninteresting girl meets a completely uninteresting guy, falls in love, and without any drama happening at all, they ended up dating.
“Well, I guess that happens in real life too… but who the hell cares?!”
The manga felt so dull that it almost made him shout that aloud.
“…… Good morning.”
At that moment, Mashiro came out from under the desk.
She was wearing a checkered-pattern pajama tunic. And, almost as if she had left it in her dreams, she wasn’t wearing anything on her lower body. Her snow-like, white skin and thin, long legs threw Sorata’s state of mind into chaos.
“Shiina! Y-You… put something on down there! You trying to seduce me or something?!”
The tunic barely reached her thighs. Every time Mashiro, still only half-awake, moved her body left and right, the hem of her tunic would wave around, and the naked skin underneath would come into view. But, Sorata could have sworn that he could see even farther in. The pounding in Sorata’s chest rooted his gaze to that spot.
With uncertain footsteps, Mashiro sat down in front of her dresser, with her eyes still half-lidded.
Sorata paid no heed to his own nervousness.
“I’m going to seriously move to the mountains and become a monk if I continue to restrain myself like this…”
And what would you do then? he retorted in his head, while passing a brush through Mashiro’s hair. Her stubborn bed hair had to be forcefully held down and treated with styling mist and a hairdryer.
“Misaki told me earlier.”
“Don’t just start talking like that! You scared me!”
“That Sorata would like it if I didn’t wear pants.”
“… Hey, don’t be taken in like that. Senpai is completely loony.”
“Misaki is an amazing person…”
Mashiro still looked pretty dazed.
“You know, if I were a wolf, I’d have eaten you all up already.”
As I said that, I met her gaze through the mirror.
“But you’ve been pretty safe up until now.”
“There weren’t any wolves.”
“No, I mean, wolves are just a figure of speech. I mean boys… you know, males.”
“There weren’t any of those either.”
“Were you at an all girl’s school before? Is this the first time you’ve gone to school with boys?”
“Sorata is my first.”
“My first boy.”
“Hey hey, watch what you’re saying! Watch your phrasing! You make it sound like I’ve done something or something, if you put it like that! But I haven’t done anything, so don’t say that!”
“I’m glad I have Sorata.”
“W-What are you saying?”
“Sorata does a lot for me.”
“W-Wake up already and change clothes!”
“I’m already awake.”
Mashiro stood up, and Sorata thrust a newly-washed pair of pants and her school uniform at her.
He couldn’t really properly see her face.
As Sorata turned to leave the room, Mashiro began to strip out of her pajamas.
“Wait until I’m out of the room! Seriously, I’m seriously going to attack you!”
Sorata violently shut the door.
Mashiro said something, but Sorata ignored her.
He leaned back against one of the walls.
He was completely worn out.
“… What’s going to happen to me from here on out…?”
Nobody knew the answer.
The gods probably didn’t even know.
Shiina Mashiro was just that extraordinary.
It was just like the commentary on her painting had said.
We cannot even begin to fathom the world in which this girl must live…
As expected from an expert judge.
He had seen through to Mashiro’s true nature. He had seen through all too well.
“This isn’t funny…”
As Sorata let out a long sigh, he saw the still-unfamiliar uniformed form of Mashiro emerge from her room.
Sorata began to walk without saying anything, when…
Mashiro called out to him, almost in a whisper.
Not knowing the right words to say in this situation, Sorata smiled bitterly. Now it was all too clear. Mashiro was seriously the one who had made that manga.
“You were awake?”
“It really was boring, wasn’t it?”
Her voice carried no emotion, and her face showed none either.
Sorata had no way of knowing what exactly she was thinking.
“Kouhai-kuuuun~~! Is Mashiro awake?!”
So Sorata honestly felt relieved at Misaki’s sudden intrusion. Misaki had also changed into her unifom.
“You’re going to be late for school.”
Sorata descended to the first floor, all the while feeling a faint presence behind him. Everyone was still waiting there.
Sorata fed Mashiro some toast, and although it was unusual, all the Sakurasou residents left for school together that day.
“Akasaka~~. Take care of the place while we’re gone, alriiiiight~~?”
The only person who had been left in the house was the hikikomori, Akasaka Ryuunosuke.
“Hey, how can you leave the place to him?! He’s one of your students!!”
(1) Lunch box.