Chapter 3: Part 2
“You, seriously, cut it out.”
On a certain day in June, Sorata was called to the staff room, where he encountered an extremely irate Chihiro.
”Let me just say one thing”
She had led off with that. And then, reclining in her chair with her legs and arms crossed, and with her usual annoyed expression, she had gone on to tersely tell Sorata exactly what was on her mind.
“Well, what a coincidence. I was thinking that I should cut it out too.”
Sorata was trying to lighten the mood a bit, but all his remark did was make the glint in Chihiro’s eyes all the more sharper.
“This isn’t about the career survey, is it?”
Sorata tested the waters by asking a question he already knew the answer to. (1)
“Why in the world would I call you up here for something stupid like that?”
“Well, I think that even something like keeping room in the fridge so you have space to put eggs is important.”
What Chihiro was referring to was the heavy mood that hung about Sakurasou lately, much like the overcast skies outside. Even when there was a spot of sunshine, the sun was soon covered by heavy clouds, and a sense of melancholy filled the air. And, just like those rainclouds that wouldn’t go away, for more than a month, the atmosphere in Sakurasou had been gloomy and persistent.
It was all Sorata’s fault.
“I’m going to leave. I’ve been meaning to do that from the start.”
It all started when he had said that.
He thought of those words day in and day out. And each time he thought about them, he suddenly found it harder to breathe. He knew all his troubles would fade away if he could just make a decision. However, whether he could actually decide, even knowing that, was another problem entirely.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, Jin had been coming back to Sakurasou four days out of the week ever since they had that conversation, as if he was trying to show that his offer was serious. In this month, he had also made huge progress in finding owners for Sorata’s cats, and just that morning had told Sorata that he had found prospective owners for four of them.
Call it a difference of personality, but he didn’t seem to be taking any of this hard at all, and every morning, in place of wishing Sorata good morning, he said:
“No, I’m still thinking.”
Sorata would respond like that, at which point…
“Ahh, well, just make sure you think hard about it, kouhai-kun.”
And Misaki would come over and pat him on the back.
Thanks to these things, Sorata was able to keep himself from sinking into a sea of despair. He was being run around by Misaki as usual, and every morning he still got to chat with Ryuunosuke.
However, Ryuunosuke had sent off a warning shot three days ago.
This poisonous atmosphere that has been hanging around Sakurasou lately is coming from Kanda. It urgently needs to be dealt with. Do not bother responding. Just fix it.
That mail suddenly appeared in Sorata’s mailbox.
Sorata desperately conjured up a bunch of excuses, and sent a rather nonsensical response back, when…
If you keep saying boring things, you’re going to find yourself sinking in Sagami Bay. From Maid-chan, who recommends Sagami Bay because it is closer than Tokyo Bay.
He just got that unhumorous response back.
And his relationship with Mashiro also became a problem. Their same, strange daily routine of Sorata waking her up, making her lunch, and then giving her baumkuchen when prompted still remained the same, but their conversations felt strangely off tempo.
“It’s morning, Shiina.”
“… Good morning.”
“Ah, good morning.”
Sorata couldn’t help but overanalyze these gaps of silence in their conversations.
“Nice weather we’re having.”
“Yes, nice weather.”
Sorata wondered whether she was trying to hold back from saying something she wanted to say. Conversely, the thought that she felt absolutely nothing at all also put Sorata into a complicated state of mind.
At the beginning, Sorata paid no heed to this little hole in their relationship, but it just grew larger and larger with time, and soon enshrouded all of Sakurasou in thick, dark clouds.
And then, not being able to take this atmosphere anymore, Chihiro had called Sorata to the office. She had cited the reason as the entire affair being annoying, but for the very laissez-faire Chihiro, meddling with Sakurasou’s affairs was not a daily occurrence. In fact, it was unprecedented.
“Kanda, are you listening?”
“Mmm.” That’s all Sorata responded with as Chihiro came at him like a drunkard with her complaints.
“Isn’t it just sad that I have to deal with living in a house that feels like it’s in the middle of a divorce trial?”
“You know, Takatsu-sensei’s wife went back to her parents’ home last month, and he’s giving us a fierce glare right now. Show a bit more tact.”
“Well, they’re married, so it’s not like his wife can escape from him.”
“Sounds like you’re just completely jealous.”
“You know, for me, it’s none of my business if something might make someone else happy, but please allow me to humbly take my leave if it seems I’m going to get wrapped up in it too.”
“Is that something a teacher should be saying in the staff room?!”
“I spent all my life being tactful and I’m still single, so I don’t really care.”
“Also, sensei, didn’t you say you were only going to say one thing?”
“Sensei, you really should care a bit more about the details!”
All ears were on Chihiro and Sorata in the staff room. Sure, everyone was feigning apathy and going about their work, but all the other teachers were clearly eavesdropping, and gave fleeting glances over at them every once in a while.
From their standpoints, this was, as Chihiro loved to say, “none of their business,” and as expected nobody interrupted their conversation.
“Hehehe, you’re in trouuuuuble~~. This is what you get for always sleeping in my class.”
Well, no, one person was interrupting.
She was sitting across from Chihiro. The Japanese teacher Shiroyama Koharu was looking at Sorata with a smile on her face and her chin resting in her hands. She didn’t seem like she wanted to make anything better. No, she was watching the war unfold from prime seats.
“Koharu, shut up. The only reason everyone sleeps in your class is that none of the students take your seriously.”
“OooOoooOoo. I thought Chihiro-chan was on my side…”
She puffed out her cheeks childishly. To think that a thirty-year-old woman behaving like that actually seemed pretty fitting…
“I’m giving you an assignment.”
“It’s punishment for making me unhappy.”
“Uwaah, you sound just like a dictator.”
“I don’t care whether you end up deciding to leave or not, but whatever you choose, make sure you wipe your own ass. I definitely don’t want to be the one wiping your unripe ass for you.”
“If you can’t, then as punishment, I’m going to make you marry me or Koharu.”
“Uwaah, that’s so extreme…”
“Kanda-kuuuun, what do you mean by that~~??”
“Yes yes, Kanda. I’m just as good a girl as I look, and even though Koharu looks like an idiot, she always boasts that she’s just amazingly fierce in bed, so I’m sure you’ll have fun with that.”
“Sensei, what the hell are you saying right in the middle of the staff room?!”
“Don’t worry. Teachers are adults, so they can tell when I’m joking.”
If that’s the case, then why was the world history teacher over there now coughing violently after seemingly choking on the sweet-potato paste he was in the middle of eating? And, oh look, the physics teacher just overturned his teacup and is now hopping up and down to deal with the burns. And it must be Sorata’s imagination, but all the male teachers seemed to be glancing at Koharu, trying to gauge if what Chihiro had said was true.
“Hmm… Kanda-kun, huh…? I’d prefer someone a bit cuter, to be honest… but I guess Kanda-kun just barely makes the cut. I mean, nobody’s been keeping me company lately eitherrr~~.”
“Chihiro-sensei, please stop her. She’s completely crazy!”
“I dun wanna. Stop bothering me.”
Is what Sorata thought she would say. But instead…
“More importantly, that girl, she’s waiting for you, isn’t she?”
When Sorata looked out the staff room window, he saw Mashiro waiting for me in front of the school gate. She was holding a red umbrella that didn’t suit her at all, and standing there stock still.
“Just don’t be any more of a bother than you already have.”
Being sent off by that warm and fuzzy farewell, Sorata left the staff room behind.
After stopping by the classroom to collect his bag, Sorata wordlessly exited through the school gate, upon which he heard the sound of Mashiro’s footsteps following him from behind.
Sorata walked at his own pace on the asphalt, which had been turned black and wet by the rain. Occasionally, Mashiro fell a bit behind and had to do a little jog to catch up. Even though he was aware this was happening, Sorata fully intended to leave Mashiro behind, and just continued to walk without a single pause.
All the while, he sensed Mashiro’s presence behind him, and had a feeling that she wanted to say something.
Sorata tried his damn hardest not to turn around.
However, soon a sense of guilt welled up, and quickly began to eat away at his heart.
In the end, before they had even walked half the distance to Sakurasou, it was Sorata who broke.
He stopped walking in front of an old playground he had often played at, a playground devoid of anything except a sandbox and a tier swing.
The sound of Mashiro’s footsteps also stopped.
“Something’s up, isn’t it?”
Sorata had been convinced that if he tried talking with Mashiro, she would immediately turn the conversation to the topic of whether or not he was leaving Sakurasou.
But ever since that day, Mashiro had not spoken a word about that.
Sorata also didn’t speak a word about it.
From the moment Sorata had said he was going to leave, the situation seemed to have stagnated.
Feeling completely helpless, Sorata turned around, and was greeted with a full view of a red umbrella.
“That umbrella really doesn’t suit you at all.”
“And what happened to yours?”
“Well, why don’t you buy a new one?”
“Not allowed to go shopping.”
If she was allowed out on her own, there was no telling what insane things she would do.
“If Sorata comes with me…”
“If I feel like it.”
“Did you have something else to say?”
Sorata deliberately waited for her answer.
Mashiro thought about it for a bit.
“I wanted to say this for a while.”
After mumbling that, she stared right into Sorata’s eyes.
Sorata steeled himself right down to the core to prepare for whatever words might come next.
“Up until a little while ago, I always thought that ‘mangrove’ was a naughty word.”
“Up until a little while ago, I always thought that ‘mangrove’ was a naughty word.”
“Hold on. Give me a second. I need to come to grips with what the hell just happened.”
Sorata squatted down and wrapped his arms around his head.
He took a full minute to squat there and gather his thoughts.
“Could it be that you’re just being tactful right now, and you just made a joke to lighten the mood?”
Considering this was Mashiro, the chances of that were next to none.
Which meant that, Mashiro had just said what she did in complete seriousness, and completely naturally. And for the sake of saying it, she had waited until now. Sorata had a hard time understanding that…
“Was there a point to you saying that now?! There wasn’t, right?! There definitely wasn’t, right?!”
“Then, when did you want me to say it?”
“Honestly, I wanted you to just quietly keep that to yourself!”
Sorata had gotten more-or-less used to Mashiro by now, but this was just way too much.
On the other hand, that thing Sorata didn’t want to talk about didn’t come up, so he silently breathed a sigh of relief.
He started to walk again, when…
Mashiro called him to a stop.
Still facing forwards, Sorata waited Mashiro to answer him from behind.
“Go out with me on Sunday.”
“I’m collecting data to use for background scenery, and there are places I want to go.”
“This is for that manga you’re submitting to the competition?”
“I see… but, sorry. I’m busy on Sunday.”
Sorata didn’t have any plans. He just didn’t have any free time to look after someone else’s problems. Also, if he followed her on her data collection trip, he would once again start hating himself for not making any progress on his decision. So he wasn’t exactly keen on throwing himself down a thorny ravine.
“Just ask Jin-san or something.”
Sorata sounded like a sulky child when he said that. He had wanted to sound more calm and collected, but it seemed that no matter what he tried to do at that moment, everything ended up on a path to failure.
“I understand. I’ll do that.”
Mashiro began to walk first this time. If possible, Sorata didn’t want to talk about anything anymore. However, Mashiro didn’t seem inclined to afford him that luxury.
“Where exactly do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going back to Sakurasou.”
“The dorm’s the other way!”
“… I know.”
“Liar! You seriously thought that was the right way!”
“Yes you did!”
“You’re seriously hopeless. I’m really just astonished.”
“Sorata needs to see an eye doctor.”
“You should get your head checked!”
Today, Sorata and Mashiro walked all the way back to Sakurasou, talking back and forth in their usual pointless, unproductive way.
(1) Literally, “he threw her another ball.” Baseball references are less impactful in English though, so I didn’t keep it in. No, it has nothing to do with the fact that I hate baseball. Don’t look at me like that. Seriously, this was a completely unbiased change… HEY LOOK OVER THERE AT THAT THING! *Runs away*