Chapter 3-1

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VOLUME 1

Chapter 3: June is a Damp and Dreary Month

Chapter 3: Part 1

“… can’t sleep…”

Tossing and turning more times than he could count and now lying on his stomach with his head buried under his pillow, Sorata tried to see if putting his situation into words would help.

Of course, it didn’t. Nothing changed.

He checked the time on his cell phone. It was two in the morning. Two hours after he had gotten into bed.

Frustrated, Sorata forced himself up, and begrudgingly turned the lights on.

The bright, fluorescent lights were blinding. Even though his eyes cried out for sleep, his mind was strangely clear, and he couldn’t get rid of this feeling of disharmony.

Tsubasa, the brown tabby who had been sleeping curled up at Sorata’s feet, looked up with a slightly annoyed expression. Sorata expected a glare from Tsubasa, but Tsubasa just gave off a huge yawn and went back to sleep.

Kneeling on his bed for no particular reason at all, Sorata suddenly prostrated himself and offered up a prayer.

“God, please, just make me a bit drowsy…”

He tried shutting his eyes for a little while, but he wasn’t sleepy at all. Rather, all he accomplished was waking himself up even more by thinking about just how stupid he was acting right then.

He gave a single sigh and lifted his head up, rubbing his eyelids.

Why couldn’t he sleep, even though it was hard to even open his eyes?

For the past week, all his nights went pretty much like this.

He didn’t know how to get to sleep. He honestly couldn’t remember what he did to fall asleep before.

Even his random, pointless thoughts, if he left them alone long enough, would inevitably shift towards the issue of whether or not he was going to leave Sakurasou. And once Sorata realized where his thoughts were turning, he would try to escape them by running into the world of dreams. But he couldn’t get to sleep, so that topic would just endlessly and mercilessly swirl round and round in his head.

He thought the entire issue had already been laid to rest.

He honestly had no idea why he was so troubled by all this. And then his anxiety gave rise to new questions, which just weighed his mind down more and more. All it did was make Sorata lose sleep.

“Ugh, goddammit!!”

If he didn’t do anything, he’d end up focusing his thoughts on that one topic again and going right into a death spiral. Wanting to at least keep his hands busy, Sorata took the laundry that he had hung up to dry in his room, and threw it all into a huge pile on his bed.

He began to carefully fold the laundry, one article at a time. Only while doing something like that could he clear his head of thoughts.

However, Sorata soon finished folding his own clothes, leaving only Mashiro’s laundry.

He folded her school uniform blouse carefully, making sure not to wrinkle the collar, and organized her navy blue socks (required by the school) pair by pair. Then there were the delicates… Sorata wanted to just go about folding the delicates completely normally, but the first thing he picked up was a black, laced camisole, and Sorata knew immediately it was a lost cause.

It was just a piece of cloth… it was just a piece of cloth…

Even as he repeated that to himself, he couldn’t find a way to suppress his male instincts, and couldn’t help but imagining what Mashiro would look like wearing this. He was stricken with a sense of guilt. And, to top it all off, Sorata’s next opponent was the pair of black panties that matched the camisole. Sorata held the two ends of the panties and stiffened.

Having been knocked back to reality, Sorata mumbled.

“From the side, I must really look like a hentai.” (1)

Sorata made that rather accurate analysis of the situation.

After that, Sorata quickly folded the corners of the panties together and rolled them up. Trying to keep the undergarments out of sight as much as possible, he stuffed them between the blouse and a towel.

Of course, no matter how carefully Sorata did all this, when these things were returned to Mashiro’s room they were just going to be strewn haphazardly all over the floor again.

And cleaning up that room was part of Sorata’s job as the person assigned with “Mashiro duty.”

If Sorata ended up leaving Sakurasou, Jin would become the person entrusted to do those things.

If Jin were the one doing it, since he was already pretty used to seeing undergarments, he would be able to do these things without breaking into a nervous sweat like Sorata did. He would be able to manage everything suavely. Jin was just that kind of person.

However, the thought of Jin taking care of Mashiro like that made Sorata feel violently ill.

“But seriously, what am I thinking… it’s not like that.”

The important issue right now was whether or not Sorata was staying in Sakurasou. Sure, his duties in Sakurasou were there, but they were his problem and his alone, so Mashiro wasn’t relevant. So, why was it that, night after night, his thoughts always ended up turning towards Mashiro?

Sorata didn’t get a single reaction from Mashiro when he told her that he was leaving. For better or worse, she wasn’t behaving any differently because of it. In other words, Sorata had no idea what she thought about it.

Realizing that he would go insane if he kept on thinking about this, Sorata hurriedly stood up. If he couldn’t sleep, then he would just have to stay awake. Staying in his room was going to scramble his brains, so Sorata decided to head for the dining room for a drink of water.

********

To Sorata’s surprise, there was already someone in the dining room when he got there. (2)

A single person was sitting in front of the refrigerator and rummaging through it. It was Mashiro, in her pajamas. She looked just a bit sleepy, but still found the energy to take a carrot out from the refrigerator, closely turning it around in front of her eyes and examining it. Not appearing to be happy with her selection, she returned the rabbit food to the refrigerator, and this time took out a cucumber. Sorata wondered if she would treat the cucumber the same way she treated the carrot, when he saw her purse her lips tightly and fall into thought for a few moments. Once she was done with that, without any warning, she took a bite of the cucumber.

“You a kappa or something?!” (2)

With the piece of cucumber still in her mouth, Mashiro turned around calmly and looked at Sorata. She didn’t seem the least bit startled even though Sorata had spoken so suddenly. She just continued to chew the cucumber.

“Could it be… you were hungry?”

Slowly chewing through the peach, Mashiro gave Sorata a nod.

“Alright, alright, stop eating that! I’ll make something for you!”

At that point, Mashiro swallowed.

“I’m not a kappa.”

“I know that!”

Sorata sat Mashiro down at the dining table, and took a look in the refrigerator. Because he had been taking care of Mashiro for a while, his cooking was improving, along with his repertoire.

However, if he made too much noise, Chihiro was going to get angry at him, so he settled for a package of cup ramen from the shelf.

He boiled water using the orange electric kettle that Misaki had bought, and poured the water into the cup. And he set the cup in front of Mashiro, who was waiting at the table.

She tried to eat the noodles immediately.

“Wait three minutes!”

Sorata stopped Mashiro from continuing.

And he just stood there amazed at the fact that Mashiro didn’t seem to know what cup ramen was.

Sorata took a seat right next to Mashiro at the table.

Those three minutes felt like forever. Mashiro didn’t say a word as she stared fixedly at the cup ramen. And Sorata couldn’t say anything either.

It was pretty obvious why Mashiro was up at this hour. She had been drawing her manga today as well. And she felt hungry in the middle, so she left her room to come down here.

This was a normal day for Mashiro. Ever since she came to Sakurasou, she had been following pretty much the same pattern every day. She would work on her manga until she fell asleep, and would go to school in the morning after being woken up by Sorata. And once she got back home, she would shut herself up in her room and get right back to work on her manga.

While the other girls her age were doing things like finding boyfriends, getting dumped by those same terrible boyfriends, going around to beauty parlors, buying clothes, going to karaoke, spending all their money, worrying about their weight, and generally complaining about how life was so boring and irritating, Mashiro spent day in and day out working hard. All for the sake of reaching a goal she had set for herself.

To Sorata right then, Mashiro seemed almost blindingly bright. It was hard to look at her. Having such a brightly shining person in front of him just made Sorata much more self-conscious of his own faults.

“Sorata.”

“A-Ahh, what’s up?”

“Three minutes.”

“Go ahead then.”

Mashiro took off the lid, and began to slurp the ramen noodles. Finding the silence stifling and wanting to figure out where he fit in, Sorata spoke up.

“Umm… the competition you mentioned before… is the deadline coming up soon?”

“… End of June.”

“Ah, so that’s when it is.”

“… Yes.”

There was around a month and a half left.

“So, in that case, I mean… there isn’t much time left, is there?”

“……”

“Ahh, well, that’s fine though…”

“… Mmm.”

“Oh, right. How many submissions do they usually get?”

“Seven hundred, maybe eight hundred…”

“Ah, so that much.”

“… Yes.”

The conversation didn’t seem to be going anywhere. And that was Sorata’s fault.

Why does it matter to you, when you’re leaving?

Sorata was waiting for Mashiro to say something like that, and that made him much more awkward and timid.

Even after she finished eating, Mashiro stayed in her seat. Sorata missed his chance to make a clean getaway, and found himself unable to move. An air of awkwardness fell between Sorata and Mashiro.

As time passed, Sorata found it harder and harder to look Mashiro in the face. When their eyes did end up meeting accidentally, Sorata felt a sense of guilt tighten his chest for reasons he did not understand, and had to restrain himself from letting out a whimper.

He really wanted to leave that place as soon as possible.

However, if he stood up and left first, it would seem like he was running away, and he didn’t want that.

Try your best!

That’s all he had to say, and then he could return to his room. But he couldn’t. In fact, that was the one thing he couldn’t say.

He was in no position to cheer someone else on. He was the one that had to try his best. Mashiro had her own goals, and was advancing towards that goal. She was already trying her best. And exposing that emptiness in his own life at that moment was too agonizing for Sorata to bear.

As Sorata was about to be crushed under a giant pillar of self-pity, he heard a sound coming from the entranceway. Turning around, he saw Jin standing there, stifling a yawn. As always, lipstick marks could be seen on his collar.

As soon as Jin saw Sorata and Mashiro, he spoke.

“What are you doing?”

He led with the obvious question to ask.

“Ah, nothing really.”

“Nothing… then why do you look like a man who just about to get his divorce papers stamped?”

“Hah, is that what this looks like…?”

“Hey hey, that was a pretty bland reaction to a pretty good comeback, you know.”

At that point, Mashiro stood up.

“Thanks for the meal.”

Ending with only those words, Mashiro left the dining room. She was probably going back to her room to get back to work. Jin watched the silent Mashiro leave and waited for the ring of her last words to die down. He then casually spoke up.

“Hey, Sorata.”

“What?”

“If you’re not going to make a move, I’m taking Mashiro-chan for myself.”

“…!!”

Sorata couldn’t put his feelings into words. But his body just instinctively reacted, and he looked at Jin straight on. No, rather, he glared at Jin. A smile broke on Jin’s face, and he seemed to be enjoying Sorata’s reaction.

“The standard response here would be to say ‘Why are you telling that to me?’”

“Why are you telling that to me?”

“If you don’t want her to be taken away, then you should get to her first.”

“It’s not like I think of Shiina like-“

“Well, then, what in the world is it?”

“What is it…”

Sorata felt like he knew the answer to that question, but he didn’t have the confidence to say it out loud. The minute he put his feelings into words, he couldn’t make excuses anymore. There would be nowhere to run. However, would that mean he would finally come to terms with his own feelings? Finally come to terms with where his feelings were leading him…?

“Oh? Jin, you’re back. Welcome home~~.”

As Sorata struggled with his words, he was saved by a somewhat drowsy-looking Misaki who had come down from the second floor. Seeing that she was gripping a pencil in her hands, Sorata guessed that she had been busy drawing for her anime.

“Ah, yeah, I’m home.”

“Ooh, I’m thirsty~~.”

Completely ignoring the tension in the air, Misaki hobbled noisily over to the refrigerator, and took out a 2-liter bottle of water, starting to drink straight from the bottle. She looked over at Sorata.

“Kouhai-kun, want some?”

Misaki held out the water towards Sorata. Sorata unconsciously reached out to take the bottle, but Jin cut in the middle and snatched the water away.

Jin drained the rest of the bottle dry, handed the empty bottle back to Misaki, bid everyone goodnight, and left the dining room.

Misaki, now left in the room with Sorata, looked at the lip of the plastic bottle and stiffened.

“K-Kouhai-kun, what should I do…?”

Misaki seemed to be completely distracted by her own thoughts.

“I-I just got kissed indirectly by Jin…”

Her question seemed to be rhetorical, because before Sorata could answer, she ran back upstairs on wobbly legs, knocking into the refrigerator, the table, and then the wall on her way up.

Left behind in the dining room, Sorata didn’t have enough energy to move anymore, and just collapsed in his chair. He was directly facing the duty assignments posted on the refrigerator.

And the first place he looked was the “Mashiro duty” listing.

When he was close to Mashiro, he felt consumed by her brilliance, watching as she advanced towards her goal. Yet, he didn’t want to leave Sakurasou and entrust her care to Jin. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and he was desperate to find a way out…

The more he thought about it, the more his thoughts and feelings mixed with each other, and the more confused he became.

The clock showed that it was three in the morning.

With the same, steady pace, the clock needles advanced towards the morning.

And that morning would dawn for everyone.

However, it would be a lot longer before the deep darkness in Sorata’s heart cleared up.

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TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

(1) Not that anyone shouldn’t know what this means at this stage of the game, but hentai means pervert in this context.

(2) Japanese mythical creature. They lurve cucumbers.

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