Chapter 2: Part 2
Third period was Japanese, and it passed for Sorata in a long blink of the eye. (1)
As she moved to exit the classroom, the teacher Shiroyama Koharu hit Sorata lightly on the head with a binder, and roused him from his desk.
“Come on, don’t sleep so openly in the front roooww~~.”
A coworker of Chihiro’s, Koharu both looked like and talked like a rather fluffy fluffy type of character. For that, she drew a lot of fire from some the girls in the school, while she was insanely popular with some of the boys.
She could often be found around the school together with Chihiro, and it was quite well-known how close they were. Perhaps it was because Chihiro was often the one seen dragging the less responsible Koharu around, but Chihiro had been labeled as the level-headed one. Not that Sorata agreed with that.
“Sensei’s lullaby was just so sweet, and you know…”
“Oooooo, talking like that even though you were the only student who didn’t turn in their career survey… I’m gonna tell Chihiro-chaaaannn.”
Puffing out her cheeks in dissatisfaction, Koharu left the classroom.
Without even watching her leave, Sorata collapsed onto the table.
“Hey, Kanda-kun. Would you please refrain from being an eyesore and groaning like that in my presence? You’re going to infect me too.”
The person who had come picking a fight was Aoyama Nanami, a girl who had also been in Sorata’s class last year. Just like her tone, she had a stern-looking face. She looked every bit like an honors student, and if she had to be compared to a cat, she would be an Abyssinian. She was of average height, around 158 cm. (2) Her weight was unknown. According to Jin, her three sizes were 81, 58, and 83.
Her seating number was one. And, after Akasaka, Asano, Ikuta, Ogikubo, and Kawasaki, Kanda Sorata was number seven. So in a class with six columns of six seats each, Sorata sat right next to Nanami in the front row. They had been in the same arrangement the previous year as well.
Nanami didn’t seem like she was finished, and watched Sorata.
“Don’t sigh either!”
“The classroom is one of the only places I can feel at peace. Give me a break.”
“This is the thirty-sixth time.”
“Thirty-sixth time you’ve sighed.”
“Aoyama, you stalking me?”
“I’m going to kick your face in.”
“Nobody around here says ‘kick your face in,’ you know.” (3)
“I-I know that…”
It wasn’t just Nanami, who came from Osaka, but many students came to live in the Suikou dormitories from other areas of Japan. Around half of Sorata’s class had come from out of the prefecture to take the entrance examination.
If Nanami talked normally, she would fall into a heavy Kansai accent (4). It was like that a year ago. But now, in order to master standard Japanese, she forcibly kept her accent back. This made sense considering Nanami aspired to be a seiyuu (5), and in that line of work intonation was the most basic of the basics. Over the past year, the awkwardness of her standard Japanese had improved by quite a lot, but that didn’t mean it was impossible to detect the Kansai accent when she spoke. It seemed that over the weekends, she was in the midst of receiving special training at her office, for her accent and for other things as well.
“Ok, I’ll beat your face in then.”
“You don’t have to go back and rephrase it!”
“Well, I feel better about it now.”
“Either way, neither of those things were very lady-like, were they?”
“You’re annoying as hell. Even though you’re the one who still hasn’t turned in his career survey.”
“And I’m incredibly humbled by Aoyama-san, who can write ‘Drama Department at a University’ on her career survey as naturally as if she were writing her own name.”
“… Don’t make fun of me.”
She glared at Sorata through the corner of her eyes. Sorata was being serious though: he really was impressed with her career survey.
“So, exactly how long is Kanda-kun planning to stay in Sakurasou?”
“That’s what I want to know.”
“If you don’t get out of there soon, you’ll be too late.”
Sorata felt that it might have already been too late. The memory of his being stared at in the cafeteria like a panda in a cage was still fresh in his mind. You could say that he was getting that much attention because he was with Mashiro, or maybe because his connection with Sakurasou had already been cemented in the minds of the students. It made him just want to sigh.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
And the only reason Sorata could maintain a relatively low profile in his own class was probably because he was able to talk with the classmates like Nanami who had been in the same class last year as well. He really should be grateful.
For now, he clapped his two hands in front of him and looked reverently at Nanami.
“What the… are you making fun of me?”
She gave an icy look in Sorata’s direction.
“No, I’m trying to tell you how grateful I am.”
“If you keep on doing weird things like this, people are going to look at you and go ‘Ah, no wonder he’s in Sakurasou,’ or something, you know?”
Sorata didn’t want that, of course, so he retracted his hands.
Nanami glared at Sorata, with an even icier look than before.
“What are you still looking at me for?”
“Hmm… I was just wondering if I had something to ask Aoyama…”
“And what exactly do you expect me to say to that?”
“I’m kidding. I know what I wanted to ask you. I can at least remember that much.”
“You just spurt crazy nonsense out of that mouth of yours, don’t you?!”
“Well, I have to be an idiot sometimes. If I’m the one calling other people idiots all the time, then my mental balance would get thrown out of whack.”
“I don’t care an ounce about Kanda-kun’s ‘mental balance.’ So… what do you want?”
“Misaki-senpai wants you to help her out again.”
“So, she finished a new work?”
“All the animation is drawn.”
“As I’ve said before, that girl is insane. It was amazing. Gave me the chills.”
“… I see. Hm, I want to help… I want to help, buuut…”
For some reason, she was fumbling with her words.
“If you don’t feel like it, you can just refuse, you know.”
“Not at all. I want to do it. It was the same the last time, but this is something that I wouldn’t be able to do if I weren’t here.”
Last year, Nanami was also a part of Misaki’s anime that broke 100,000 in DVD sales. The rest of the roles were filled by members of the college drama department who took time off from studying to help Misaki.
“It’s just, well…”
“It’s just, what?”
“… I’m just wondering if it’s really alright for me to do this. Her work gets a lot of attention, right?”
“If Misaki-senpai asked me to ask you for help, then it’s fine, isn’t it?”
“And honestly, I don’t know how to deal with Kamiigusa-senpai. Her acting directions are also completely incomprehensible. Would Kanda-kun come and help me interpret?”
“When did I become the interpreter?”
“You’re not coming?”
“Well, I’m coming…”
“Well then, there’s no problem with you helping me interpret her.”
“I guess not. So, she has your okay then?”
“Yes. If she’s okay with me.”
“Well then, I’ll tell her right away.”
Sorata took out his cell phone and sent off a mail, when…
I love you!
Her response came immediately, along with the level-up fanfare from an RPG.
Sorry, but we’re going to have to break up then.
Sorata sent that response back. And then he just left his cell phone alone. He heard the level-up music again, but he didn’t want to waste his cell phone data plan or his battery, so he didn’t respond.
Nanami still looked like she wanted to say something, and continued to look at Sorata.
“Still unhappy about something?”
“Is Hikari doing well?”
“Yeah, pretty well. Pretty nice butt she’s grown into.”
Sorata showed Nanami a photo on his cell phone.
“Looks like she’s gotten bigger.”
The white cat Shiori had already been with Sorata for a year.
They had met the previous May. It was after Sorata had already become more-or-less used to the school and to the dormitory.
Still only a kitten, Hikari had been thrown away in a cardboard box and set outside the school gate. Dozens of students were crowded around the box, talking about how cute they were, or how sad they looked, but nobody reached a hand out to help.
Sorata just happened to be passing by. Nanami also just happened to be with him.
Sorata just couldn’t stand by and watch the abandoned kitten become a show for curious onlookers. To make himself feel better about it, Sorata brought he kitten back into the dorm.
He couldn’t have imagined that this would lead to his being kicked out of the normal dorm.
“I’m taking this.”
Without asking for Sorata’s permission, Nanami transferred the photo to her own cell phone using her phone’s IR sensor.
She set it as her screensaver image, and showed it to Sorata with a triumphant expression.
“Well, I was the one who took the photo…”
Nanami looked away. It seemed like she still had something to say. The whole conversation about the cat might have just been her lead-in to what she really wanted to talk about.
“The new girl.”
“There’s a new girl now, right?”
“Why aren’t you talking?”
“I’m not sure what to say…”
“She’s cute, isn’t she?”
“Well, I guess.”
“She’s really cute, isn’t she? I caught a glimpse of her a few days ago.”
“I guess any average person would say that.”
“And what would Kanda Sorata say?”
“It was like having a close encounter of the third kind.”
Nanami quickly turned the other way, seeming bored.
“I mean that in a bad way.”
“Was there a point in adding that on?”
Nanami was looking out the classroom door. Out into the hallway. For just a moment, her eyes filled with surprise.
Sorata, still collapsed onto his desk, lifted his gaze upwards.
A boy in the class, whose name Sorata still didn’t know, was looking in his direction.
“Hey, Kanda, someone’s here to see you.”
But he seemed to know Sorata’s name. Being in Sakurasou sure made you well-known.
And from behind that boy, Mashiro came out.
Sorata let out a “geh-“ unconsciously. He steeled himself and lifted his body up.
The minute Mashiro took one step into the classroom, the atmosphere around her changed. All the focus of Sorata’s noisy classmates turned to Sorata and Mashiro.
Without any additional information, Mashiro definitely just looked like a cute transfer student. This April, Mashiro’s existence had been circulating in the rumor mill. Even leaving aside the fact that she was a young, brilliant artist, the incredibly unusual atmosphere that surrounded her was enough to pique anyone’s interest. And what’s more, she was living at Sakurasou. But even then, nobody approached her and asked her about any of this to her face, probably because she was giving off her strange aura at max power, an aura that Sorata had come to know well.
Indeed, Nanami’s conversation with him just a little while ago was the first time Sorata had talked about Mashiro with anybody in the class.
Mashiro looked at Sorata.
“Sorata, I’m hungry.”
“Huh? What are you saying?”
“I want some baumkuchen.”
“Why are you telling me that?”
“You don’t have any?”
“Of course I don’t!”
“Rita gave me baumkuchen though…”
“Who the hell is that?!”
“No baumkuchen then…”
Mashiro’s stomach let out a growl, and she began to leave the room.
She stood in the doorway for a second, and seeming to still be unsatisfied, turned around again.
“I believed in you too.”
Sorata’s classmates’ stares were like needles stabbing into his gut.
Mashiro tottered away, leaving a trail of grief in her wake.
At this rate, Sorata was going to get pegged as a cold person by the girls, and his remaining two years of high school were going to turn to mud. Granted, his high school life was already pretty much mud due to his time in Sakurasou.
“Alright! Alright! My bad!”
Sorata flew out of the room and caught up with Mashiro.
“Hey, Kanda-kun! Fourth period already started!”
The bell sounded the exact moment Nanami shouted out that warning. Mashiro’s stomach gave out another growl.
“I’ll be back right away, so just find a way to cover for me while I’m gone!”
“Don’t ask me to do something like that!!”
Fully intending to skip fourth period, Sorata brought Mashiro along as he went to buy some food.
Huge clouds flowed across the blue sky.
Because it was smack dab in the middle of fourth period, the only people on the roof were Mashiro and Sorata.
Sorata had flopped himself down onto a bench, and Mashiro sat next to him, peeling and eating baumkuchen one by one.
This was unexpected. It was unimaginable. You could even say it was completely abnormal.
Sorata had expected that it would only be tough going in the beginning. In his blissful naiveté, he thought that he would get used to Mashiro eventually, just like he had gotten used to his new life and the new rules he had to follow.
He looked back on the past two weeks.
He had let her use the washing machine, and when he looked away for a second she had managed to throw an entire box of detergent in, turning the entire room into a sea of bubbles. It was a pain to clean up. It made Sorata wish someone had invented a detergent that could get rid of detergent.
When Sorata asked her to clean the bathtub, she came out dripping wet. It was impossible to tell whether she had actually cleaned the tub, or whether she had instead been cleaned by it.
When he let her go shopping on her own, she naturally got lost and didn’t come back. Sorata was relieved that Chihiro had made her carry a cell phone that had a GPS tracking function. Mashiro wouldn’t pick up if Sorata called her either, so in the end he had to go out himself to get her.
There were other headache-inducing episodes, but they were too many to count.
And the biggest problem was that Mashiro wasn’t aware of any of it.
She thought she was perfectly normal.
Because of that, it was beyond foolish to ever think that she would learn, or she would get used to doing things.
Each and every day, new problems continued to pile up, and the number of things Sorata had to deal with just continued to grow.
“Hey, Shiina, what do you have fourth period?”
“It’s fine if you don’t go?”
“It’s volleyball. I just learn by watching.”
“Why? Is your health not good? Did you get hurt?”
“I can’t injure my fingers.”
It was an answer that Sorata had never heard before. But strangely, he could see where she was coming from.
The things that had created those mesmerizing pieces of art were none other than Mashiro’s thin, long fingers.
“I wanted to play.”
“But the teacher told me no.”
“Yes, that’s right. She was pretty incredibly against it.”
Sorata almost responded with a “That’s not what I meant,” but he stopped himself.
“So, who was this ‘Rita’ you mentioned earlier?”
“From when you were in England?”
Mashiro gave a small nod.
“She was my roommate.”
“Geez, she must have been through a lot, this Rita-san…”
“I like Rita.”
“Why does it seem that we’re both talking about completely different things right now?”
Sorata lifted his body up and sat on the bench.
“Shiina sure can draw some amazing things.”
“No, really. I saw. That one that won some prize. I don’t know much about art, but it definitely left an impact on me.”
“If you want to study art, wouldn’t it be better for you to stay overseas?”
“So, why did you come back to Japan?”
Even if she decided to come back to Japan, wouldn’t it make ore sense for her to do it when she went to college?
No, in the end, if she really wanted to hone her skills, she should just stay overseas.
The last baumkuchen disappeared into Mashiro’s small mouth. She sipped some milk tea out of a straw from a paper package.
Sorata was on the verge of thinking that she had completely ignored his question, when…
“I’m going to become a manga artist.”
Mashiro made that statement in an incredibly clear, firm voice.
It wasn’t that she wanted to become a manga artist, or she was aiming to become a manga artist.
She was going to become a manga artist.
Sorata screamed that out with an intensity that surprised even himself.
She was going to become a manga artist. When he had saw her manga manuscript that morning, Sorata had thought for a second that maybe that’s what she was aiming for. But just for a second. That was impossible. It just couldn’t be.
It was an idea that was very difficult for Sorata to accept in the context of his own beliefs.
Mashiro had enough talent that she was garnering a lot of attention in the art world. The fact that even Sorata acknowledged her abilities was a testament to that.
An art competition judge even called her a genius.
Wasn’t that something to be proud of? Mashiro had something that most people could only dream of having. A way to set herself apart. A unique talent. So, why in the world would she want to become a manga artist?
“You’re going to do that along with normal art?”
Mashiro shook her head.
“Only a manga artist then?”
“My God. That’s ridiculous.”
Sorata lifted his arms over his head in a fit of exasperation, and collapsed onto his back.
“Hey you two, what are you doing?! You’re pretty brave to be skipping class out in the open up here!”
The one who had slammed open the door to the roof was Chihiro.
She stood above Sorata as he lay on the bench, and looked down at him with her arms crossed.
“Aghhh, sensei, don’t stand too close! I’ll be able to look up your skirt!”
Granted, she was wearing a tight skirt, so it really wasn’t that easy to peek.
“I have to say I’m pretty jealous of you, if you can get so worked up just by seeing someone’s panties.”
“But if I see sensei’s panties, I’m positive I’ll be turned to stone!”
Sorata hurriedly got up.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Get back to class.”
After finishing off the last of her milk tea, Mashiro stood up from the bench.
She ended up leaving first, and went back into the school building alone.
“Sensei, could I talk to you for just a bit?”
“What do you want?”
“What kind of girl is Shiina?”
Sorata stared at the door that Shiina had just disappeared through.
When Sorata turned back around, he saw a cautious glint in Chihiro’s eyes.
“I just have no idea what that girl is thinking anymore.”
“There’s no helping that. After all, before you knew how to laugh, cry, or get angry, Mashiro was already gripping a paintbrush and painting.”
“Her family was like that?”
“His father was talented enough to lecture at a college of the arts in England. Although, he wasn’t very famous as an artist. Her mother also came out of an arts college. You could say they were a family of artists. They’re all still in England though.”
“But I can’t see how that’s enough to make her as weird as she is.”
“Hmm, I wonder. If you assume that she learned how to express herself through art before she even learned how to express themselves through emotions or words, it’s not such a strange story, is it?”
Those words that Chihiro let out so naturally made Sorata stop in his tracks.
Shiina Mashiro was different from the very beginning.
She lived in the world of art. And that’s what made her like she was.
“So that’s why she doesn’t laugh?”
“That’s also one of her talents.”
“Well, then, is it really alright? For her to become a manga artist.”
“That’s Mashiro’s problem. I don’t care.”
“But I know what you want to say. Isn’t it alright? If she can become a great manga artist, that’s not a bad thing either.”
“… That’s pretty easy to imagine, but her parents were against it, right?”
“Not right now. She never told them why she came back to Japan. They think that she’s here to study ‘Japanese-ey things’ to incorporate into her new works.”
“Uwaah, that’s so irresponsible. What if she’s caught?”
“That’s not something I’m going to butt my head into. That’s between Mashiro and her family. No, not even that. This is Mashiro’s own problem. I’ll help her by giving her a place to stay here in Japan, but whatever happens past that is none of my concern. Even if she doesn’t make it as a manga artist.”
“That’s so wishy-washy…”
“And you. Stop worrying about other people and turn in your career survey already.”
“You still remember that?”
“If you don’t turn it in, I get complaints from the person in charge of your year.”
Sorata really wished she had forgotten about it.
Trying not to make eye contact with Chihiro, Sorata stared up at the sky. He watched as the big clouds swelled up and vanished.
“I guess we really all need to find something we want to do…”
Chihiro gave out a short laugh.
“At least when I look at you, I get the feeling that these career surveys have a point to them.”
“Huh? So they usually don’t have a point?”
“I’m almost positive that it’s just to see which students don’t write something like ‘For now, I just want to go to college.’ It makes the teachers feel like it’s all worthwhile.“
“You’ll understand when you get older. That if you need a word to put after ‘For now,’ the word ‘beer’ is more than enough.”
“Geez. If you need crazy people, you can find plenty here…”
At that moment, the bell sounded, signaling the end of fourth period.
Chihiro looked like she was about to say something, but seemed to give up and left the roof.
“The future, huh…?”
At present, the future was still undecided.
And Sorata hadn’t figured anything new out today.
He just continued to search hard for the answer.
“For now, let’s go eat.”
(1) By which he meant, he slept through it. Go Sorata.
(2) About 5 foot 2. Yes, I know that’s reaaaaaally short, but this is average for Japanese women.
(3) She says “Shibakitaosu,” which is more common for people in Osaka.
(4) Most commonly heard in Osaka.
(5) Voice actress.