Chapter 2: Part 4
Just as she said, Mashiro didn’t let Sorata sleep that night.
Until five AM rolled around and Mashiro fell asleep, Sorata lay on top of the bed, doing as he was told and occasionally getting more actively involved as he helped Mashiro perform her various investigations.
Because of that, he was able to witness what happened when that being called Shiina Mashiro fell asleep. After all, he couldn’t help but wonder how she ended up sinking under the desk like that every night.
Mashiro stayed at her desk, working diligently on her manga, until the moment right before she fell asleep. As she worked on and her limit slowly crept up on her, she would instinctively roll deftly onto the floor. And then, wanting to escape from the light of the fluorescent lamps, she would use the last of her power to crawl along the floor, sinking under the desk while rolling herself into a bundle of clothes and underwear.
It wasn’t as if she just spontaneously fell asleep. Call it a trait or a habit, but it felt more animalistic. She probably fell asleep like that every day. She would put her all into her manga until her HP approached zero, and would leave herself with insufficient energy to even reach her bed. Geez, even the way she got her sleep was ridiculous.
Looking down at Mashiro as she slept there in the fetal position, Sorata dropped his shoulders.
“Don’t sleep so carefree right in front of a guy… geez…”
She looked completely at peace as she slept. Her face was hidden but her butt and her legs were not. Sorata tried to cover her with a blanket, but she seemed to find it itchy and resisted.
Sorata wanted to air his grievances, but it would be sad for him to just talk to himself, so he dragged himself languidly out of the room.
The crystal-clear feeling of early morning permeated the hallway of Sakurasou.
But, given how sleep-deprived he was, Sorata had no time to stop and appreciate the refreshing atmosphere.
He tottered unsteadily down the stairs. The holidays were already over, and he would be starting school that day, but Sorata could think of nothing other than returning to his room and sleeping. Anybody would sympathize with him if they knew what he’d been through, right? So, nobody could blame him if he slept the day away.
But Sorata suddenly stopped when he heard voices.
The possibility that it was a thief crossed Sorata’s mind, but in his current state he couldn’t even muster up the energy to be alarmed. He followed the voices and poked his head into the dining room.
“No, I’m pretty sure I’ve told this to you already, but Misaki doesn’t work on group projects. She’s the kind of person that just draws the storyboards out in her head and then suddenly decides to draw it all out on paper. No, it’s not like I’m trying to monopolize her. You can ask her directly yourself. Also, I’m not Misaki’s manager or anything, so don’t contact me about things like this!”
The one sitting at the round table and raising his voice was none other than Jin.
He cut off his phone call, and then tossed his cell phone nonchalantly onto the table. He tilted his chair back and threw his head over the chair, at which point he saw Sorata.
“What’s wrong? What are you doing at this hour? You look terrible.”
“Shiina wouldn’t let me sleep.”
Sorata gave off a single yawn.
“Wow, you work really quickly. I’m surprised.”
“No, it was none of the kind of ‘fun’ Jin likes to have. I was just helping her with writing her manga.”
“Although, doesn’t saying that just make you feel empty inside? You know, as a healthy high school boy.”
“Even if that’s true, don’t point it out… you’re just going to get me depressed.”
Jin also had a tired look in his eyes.
“And what happened with your birthday party?”
“Well, because Sorata ran away, I had to deal with the cabbage carnival all by myself. It was an endless cycle of eating and ‘un-eating’… and suffice to say I got pretty well-acquainted with the toilet. Honestly, after four hours of that, I really started to think that the round toilet seat seemed pretty sexy…”
“Sounds like a disease.”
“So I have to take the remaining cabbage tomorrow… or I guess it’d be today already… but I have to take that cabbage and start handing it out at school.”
Jin laughed humorlessly. He was probably imagining himself going to school carrying a huge pile of cabbage. And there was no doubt in Sorata’s mind that he would also have to get involved. He really would prefer not to though…
“And what was up with that phone call?”
“A producer from the anime company. Said they wanted Misaki to do an anime with a better screenplay. Granted, it’s pretty see-through that all they want to do is use Misaki to animate their own work and make themselves famous.”
“You got a phone call about that at this hour?”
“That’s pretty normal. For that industry, at least.”
At that, Sorata saw that Jin’s eyes were signaling for him to take a seat.
He sat himself down one spot away from Jin.
Sorata was supposed to be sleepy, but seeing Jin made him want to talk.
“How should I put it… Shiina is pretty messed up, but she’s also pretty amazing.”
“You’re saying that this late in the game?”
“I’m not saying that she’s just amazing at drawing… more about how she can throw herself into her work completely and almost seems to block out the outside world.”
“I see. And seeing something like that made Sorata insecure.”
Sorata really didn’t want to agree to that head-on. So he just kept quiet.
“It just feels like, I’m the only person who doesn’t have anything to do. I mean, here at Sakurasou.”
Misaki made anime, and Jin wrote the screenplays. Ryuunosuke was working as a programmer, and Mashiro has her manga.
And then, what did Kanda Sorata have?
What was he himself?
What he wanted to do… what he wanted to become… he knew none of that.
“You’re misunderstanding the situation.”
“It’s not like I was always absolutely, positively sure that I wanted to continue writing screenplays for the rest of my life.”
“It was just that in the beginning it seemed interesting, so I tried writing a screenplay. It was fun, so I continued with it and eventually got serious about it. It happened like that. Granted, to get to Mashiro’s or Misaki’s level requires something extra like insight, and I don’t have what it takes to have insights like that… but yeah, that’s how it is.”
“But I don’t even have something I’m interested in like that.”
“You’re the one dragging your feet. Why don’t you just try something random for the hell of it… I don’t know, sort of like how ramen shops start making chilled Chinese noodles during the summer.”
“You should apologize to all the ramen shop owners for that comment.”
“I mean, when you talk about ‘starting something,’ then isn’t it natural to think of making chilled Chinese noodles in the summer?”
“I don’t follow how you got to that conclusion at all.”
“You’re a strange one, aren’t you? Sometimes I can’t understand you at all.”
“I think I’m pretty normal compared to everyone else in Sakurasou though.”
“Well, when it comes to other people, people might think they’re moving faster than lightning, but when it comes to themselves, they might think that they’re moving slower than molasses.”
“It’s possible. I mean, you can’t stand to see a kitten abandoned on the street, right? And even when it comes to Mashiro-chan, even though it was completely forced on you, you’ve been taking care of her properly for this entire month. You get up early, make her lunch, give her baumkuchen when she asks for it, and go running to her whenever she does something crazy… if it were me, I wouldn’t spend all that energy doing all that. When it comes to helping other people, Sorata can go a hundred percent… he’s almost like a hero of justice in those situations.”
“That’s because nobody helps me with it!!”
“But, you know…”
Jin’s tone of voice dropped.
“That’s just you trying to push the blame onto others. If you decide to do something but then get to bring other people into it, then even if you fail you have an excuse. ‘Oh, well it’s not my fault. I couldn’t help it,’ you could say. If you couldn’t say that, then it would be painful. Painful when you fail and have to deal with the fact that all of it was your fault. Painful when you have nowhere to run.”
“That’s not why I’m trying to…”
“Well then, Sorata. Why don’t you get out of Sakurasou?”
Jin’s words blindsided Sorata. For reasons beyond Sorata’s comprehension, his heart leapt into his throat. It was as if Jin had hit some nail on the head. Trying to calm himself down, Sorata came back instantly with an excuse.
“Well, it’s impossible while I have Shiina and the cats.”
“I’ll find owners for the cats. And I’ll take care of Mashiro-chan instead.”
Sorata couldn’t just laugh that off as a joke. Jin’s gaze was piercing right through Sorata. He couldn’t even look away. The glint in Jin’s eyes seemed to be warning Sorata not to run away.
“Then there’s no problem, right?”
Jin broke the tension and lightheartedly shrugged his shoulders.
“No, I mean…”
“You know, I really like you, Sorata.”
“I really didn’t think that my first confession would come from another guy…”
“Well, you can actually handle being around someone as headache-inducing as Misaki, and you can interact with a difficult person like Ryuunosuke. You don’t seem to hate someone as unpopular with the guys as I am. Same with Mashiro-chan. Also, when someone says something crazy, your retorts aren’t bad at all.”
“Well then, maybe we should pair up as a comedy duo and take our show on the road.”
“Let’s save that dream for the next world, my friend.”
Jin gave Sorata a smile. Sorata didn’t smile back. Jin still hadn’t said what he wanted to say. So Sorata was steeling himself in preparation.
“If you say that you can’t decide what you want to do, then I’ll help you find something. But first you have to choose where you think you belong. If you want to go back to a normal dorm, then you should.”
“I don’t think I have to tell you this, but I’m not joking here. If you really want to leave, then I’ll take care of Mashiro-chan and the cats. I’ll take responsibility for them.”
“So, you should decide yourself. And whether you decide to go or decide to stay, take complete responsibility for your own decision. If you can do that much, then you should be able to set goals for yourself. There’s only two options here. Should be easy, right?”
Jin stood up, signaling that the conversation was over.
Sorata kept his head down. He just continued to look at the round table, and wasn’t able to move.
The sounds of Jin’s footsteps receded into the distance. For some strange reason, no matter how long he waited for Jin to leave, Sorata continued to feel a presence.
Sorata wasn’t sleepy anymore.
He would leave Sakurasou.
Yes. After all, he had wanted to leave. He had wanted to go back to the normal dorms. And Jin would take care of Mashiro and the cats. There was no more reason for him to stay in Sakurasou.
Shouldn’t he be happy about that?
Wasn’t that exactly what he wanted?
There was no reason to hesitate here.
But… even then… why was it that he suddenly had trouble breathing?
He felt terrible… as if he were sinking slowly into a swamp. Weights on his limbs dragged him deeper as he just continued to flap his arms and struggle. And no matter how hard he looked, there was no escape route to be found.
Not being able to take it anymore, Sorata flopped down onto the round table.
It was hard… it was painful… the clock kept on ticking as Sorata dealt with the agony in his chest.
An almost transparent-feeling voice. It was soft, but spoke firmly. That presence that Sorata had felt before had not been Jin. It had been Mashiro.
Not having enough energy to even turn around, Sorata just stayed flopped on the table and shut his eyes.
“You’re going to leave?”
“I’m going to leave. I’ve been meaning to do that from the start.”
Still clinging to his past self, Sorata managed to wring those words out.
Mashiro didn’t say anything. She didn’t leave anything behind. Without a sound, all she did was take her leave from the dining room.
“What the hell is all this…”
Sorata swung his clenched fist down onto the table. A dull pain ran up from the back of his hand. He finally came to his senses at that moment, but soon was engulfed in a torrent of chaotic thoughts, completely forgetting about the pain.
All that was there was the sickening feeling of being stuck waist-deep in viscous mud. It felt similar to guilt, but Sorata couldn’t put his hand on the proper name for it.
END CHAPTER 2