On the final day of Golden Week, Azusagawa Sakuta encountered a wild bunny girl. It had been around twenty minutes since he had cycled away from his apartment. The townscape surrounding Shonandai Station where the Odakyu Enoshima, Sotetsu Izumino and Yokohama Municipal Subway lines intersected had come into his sight. It was a calm commuter town with relatively few of the tall buildings typical of the suburbs. As he passed the station on his left, Sakuta turned right at the lights and after less than a minute had reached his destination: the library.
Sakuta left his bike at the roughly half-filled rack and headed into the building. No matter how many times he came, he could never get used to the particular silence characteristic of libraries, and stiffened slightly.
Simply because it was the largest library in the area, there were a large number of patrons. There was a middle-aged man that Sakuta often saw in the magazine and newspaper corner, which was right next to the entrance, reading the sports section with a displeased expression. His baseball team had probably lost yesterday.
As he arrived in front of the loans counter his eyes fell on the tables which filled most of the inside. High school students, university students, and workers stood out, with laptops opened in front of them.
As he absently acknowledged their presence, Sakuta moved to the bookcases with hardcover contemporary novels. Bending down slightly he shifted his gaze across the alphabetised spines; he was looking for a book that began with ‘Yu’ and compared to Sakuta’s height of 172 centimetres, the short bookcase barely reached his waist.
He soon found the book his sister had requested. It was written by Yuigahama Kanna, its title was The Prince’s Poison Apple and it had been released four or five years ago. She had enjoyed the author’s previous work and had decided that she would chase after all of them.
Sakuta took the rather tattered book from the short bookcase. It was right at that instant, as he raised his head to take it to the loans counter, that filled his vision.
A bunny girl was standing between the bookcases.
He blinked several times, unsure if it was an illusion or something different, and took in her appearance and existence.
She had glossy black high heels on her feet. Her legs were wrapped in slightly translucent black stockings that showed her skin colour through them. Likewise a black leotard emphasised her curves and, while her chest was modest, showed off her cleavage well. Her wrists had white cuffs around them; accenting the look and, of course, a black bow-tie was around her neck.
Removing the height from her heels, she stood at around 165 centimetres. Her refined face had a somewhat bored expression upon it and an adult listlessness and sex appeal flowed from her.
At first, he wondered if there was some kind of filming going on, but when he looked around there were no adults that looked like TV staff. She was completely alone, a stray. Amazingly she was a wild bunny girl.
Of course, her presence filled the early-afternoon library. Would out of place be the term…? The only places that Sakuta could think of that were inhabited by bunny girls were Las Vegas casinos and slightly shady restaurants, but in any case: she was out of place. However, the real reason for Sakuta’s surprise was something completely different. That being that although she was in such an ostentatious outfit, no one was looking at her.
He couldn’t hold in his voice and a nearby librarian shot a glare at him, telling him to be quiet. While he nodded back at the librarian, he thought No, no, there’s someone else you should be worried about.
But that in itself was what cemented Sakuta’s strange conviction. No one was concerned with the bunny girl: there wasn’t even the restrained disturbance from ignoring something, no sign that anyone had noticed her at all.
Normally, if they had a stimulating bunny next to them, even the student that was currently grappling with statute books, his brow furrowed, would look up. The older man reading the newspaper would have kept pretending to read and stolen glances at her, while the librarian would have had to politely scold her with something like: “Those clothes are a little…”
It was strange, it was clearly strange. It was almost like she was a ghost that only Sakuta could see.
A trail of cold sweat ran down his back.
Ignoring his unease the bunny girl reached out for a book, and headed to a study corner within the library. On her way, she peered at a student’s face and stuck her tongue out, waved a hand around between a worker’s face and his tablet PC as if to make sure he couldn’t see her. When she knew that they wouldn’t react, she smiled in satisfaction and then took the empty seat that was furthest in.
The university student opposite her didn’t notice. Even when she adjusted the chest area of the leotard, that had slipped down slightly, he didn’t react in the slightest. Even though she should certainly have been in his field of view…
After a while, the student gathered up his books and started getting ready to leave. Then, as if nothing had happened, he left and as he did so he didn’t glance at the girl’s chest.
After worrying over it for a while, Sakuta sat down in place of the student that had just vacated the seat. He stared fixedly at the bunny girl. At the curves of her arms that flowed from her bared shoulders, the pale skin from her neck to her chest, at the oddly sensual, gentle motions that accompanied each of her breaths. Despite being in a library, which should give the impression of diligence, it seemed like his mood would take a strange tone. No, his mood had already gone strange enough.
After a while, his eyes met the girl’s as she raised her gaze from the book in her hand.
They both blinked twice, and the girl was the first one to open her mouth.
“This is a surprise,” her voice had an energetic impishness about it, “you can still see me.”
Her remark sounded like she expected other people to not be able to see her. But that was probably the right way to take her words, because not one of the people around had noticed the girl’s existence, which was like a mass of discordant sensations…
“In that case.”
The girl closed her book and stood. Normally, this would be where they parted, and he could chat about how he had met a strange person later. But Sakuta had a reason to avoid simply parting; what he was troubled over was the fact that he knew the girl. She went to the same school as him and was in the year above, a third year in Minegahara Prefectural High School. He knew her name too, her full name.
That was the bunny girl’s name.
“Um.” He called out quietly at her pale, departing back. She stopped dead, and asked ‘what?’ with her gaze alone. “You’re Sakurajima-senpai, right?”
He kept the volume of his voice in mind as he spoke her name.
“…” Mai’s eyes showed surprise for an instant. “If you address me like that, are you a student at Minegahara High School?”
Mai once more took her seat and stared straight at Sakuta.
“I’m Azusagawa Sakuta from class 2-1. Azusagawa Sakuta is from the Azusagawa in the ‘Azusagawa Service Area’, and the Sakuta from ‘Blooming Flower Tarou’.”¹
“I’m Sakurajima Mai, Sakurajima Mai is from the Sakurajima of ‘Sakurajima Mai’ and the Mai of ‘Sakurajima Mai’.”
“I know, you’re famous, Senpai.”
Disinterestedly, Mai put her hand to her cheek and let her gaze drift to the window. She was leaning forwards, which put emphasis on her cleavage, and naturally, drew Sakuta’s eyes in. Surely, a sight for sore eyes.
“I will give you a piece of advice.”
“Forget what you saw today,” before Sakuta could say a word, she continued further, “If you talk to someone about this, you’ll be thought of as insane and be treated as such.”
Indeed, it certainly was advice.
“And by no means should you become involved with me.”
“If you understand, say ‘yes’.”
Mai looked sullenly at him as Sakuta remained silent. However, she soon returned to her earlier listlessness, and once more stood, and after returning the book to its shelf, walked towards the exit.
In that time, not a single person paid attention to her. Even as she calmly passed right in front of the loans counter the librarian silently carried on with their work. Sakuta was the only one watching her beautiful, slender, stocking-clad legs in fascination.
When she had completely gone, Sakuta fell forwards onto the desk.
“Telling me to forget it,” he murmured to himself, “there’s no way I’d be able to forget such an arousing rabbit.”
The eroticism of her shoulders to her chest had been laid bare to see, and Mai putting her hand on her cheek had emphasised her cleavage. She had left behind a pleasing scent and the murmur of her voice had only been audible to Sakuta. He’d looked straight into her clear eyes. All of these things had stimulated Sakuta’s masculinity, and a certain part of his body had become rather energetic.
Thanks to that, he would worry about everyone’s gazes if he stood, so he couldn’t rise from the chair. He would just have to sit there quietly for a while. That was the reason why, even though he had a lot of things he wanted to ask her, he didn’t chase right after Mai.
The next day Sakuta awoke from a strange dream of being crushed by a herd of rabbits.
“I’d have thought it’d be of the bunny girl, but…” he went to get up while he complained about his dream. “Hmm?”
But he couldn’t get up, his left shoulder was awfully heavy. Rolling back the quilt, the reason for that became clear.
There was a pyjama-clad girl sleeping curled around his arm as if hugging it. She had an innocent expression as she slept. She pulled herself closer to Sakuta as if she was cold without the quilt.
This was Kaede, his younger sister that would turn fifteen this year.
“Kaede, it’s morning, wake up.”
“Onii-chan, it’s cold…”
She was still mostly asleep and didn’t show any sign of waking, so Sakuta lifted his sister and stood.
She was his real younger sister, 162 centimetres tall, she was growing well recently and her development from girl to woman was evident in the sensation in his arms.
“That’s because half of me is love for you, Onii-chan.”
“What’s with that painful setting? What are you, painkillers that are half kindness? Anyway, get up if you’re awake.”²
Even as she pouted in displeasure, Kaede got down from Sakuta’s arms. Perhaps because in the last year her looks had grown more adult-like, her appearance and actions didn’t mesh at all, so there was a strange sense of corruption to the innocent sibling skinship.
“Also, grow up from crawling into my bed already.”
While she was at it, she should grow up from her panda patterned, hooded pyjamas.
“I came to wake you up, but you wouldn’t wake up, Onii-chan.”
Her frowning face looked much younger than her age.
“Either way, you’re already getting older.”
“Ah, were you aroused this morning, Onii-chan?”
“Who lusts after their little sister?”
He lightly poked her forehead and left the room.
After that, he prepared breakfast for the two of them and ate with Kaede. Sakuta finished first and quickly finished dressing for school.
“See you later, Onii-chan.”
And, watched over by Kaede’s smiling face, he left alone.
He yawned soon after leaving the flat. Because he’d seen such stimulating things yesterday he’d been aroused and unable to sleep. On top of that, waking up with such a strange dream wasn’t particularly pleasant.
He yawned again as he passed through the residential area. On the way, he crossed a bridge. The buildings around him grew bigger as he grew closer to the train station; the number of people increased too and they were all walking in the same direction as Sakuta. Crossing at the lights at the end of the main road and passing by a business hotel and electronics wholesaler, the station was finally in sight. It had been about ten minutes since he left.
He continued down the passageway for another thirty metres or so, and arrived in front of the Oda Express Department Store. He wasn’t going to do some shopping there, the shops weren’t even open after all. To the right of those closed doors was another platform. The Enoshima Electric Railway, commonly called Enoden. It was a single route that stopped at thirteen intervening stations before it reached Kamakura. He used his season ticket and passed through the gates, boarding the train. The train had a retro feel to it, with a cream colour around the windows, bordered by green above and below. It was a short, four carriage train. Sakuta had walked to the end of the platform and gone into the first carriage.
There were many passengers in school uniforms, of elementary, middle, and high schools, the rest were suit-clad workers. It just seemed like a sightseeing line until you lived there, but it was an everyday commute for the people that called this their home.
Sakuta sat in a seat near the inner door.
And someone called out to him.
The person that arrived at his side, biting down on a yawn, was a handsome person that looked like they worked at a famous male idol office. His face had a sharp structure and there was an intimidating air about him at first glance, yet when he smiled the outer corners of his eyes moved back, giving way to a young friendliness. It was a charm the girls couldn’t resist.
His name was Kunimi Yuuma, a second year who was a regular at the basketball club. He had a girlfriend.
“Oi, oi, you shouldn’t sigh when you see someone’s face.”
“Your energy first thing in the morning is a poison to my eyes, it depresses me.”
As their usual pointless conversation unfolded the departure chime sounded and the doors closed. The train was only progressing fast enough that it still seemed to be accelerating, like someone hauling their heavy body forwards. As that came to mind it had already started to drop its speed to stop at the next station: Ishigami Station.
“You know Sakurajima-senpai—”
Even though he’d yet to really say anything, Yuuma forestalled him and placed a commiserating hand on Sakuta’s shoulder.
“What are you consoling me for?”
“I’m delighted that you’re showing an interest in a girl other than Makinohara, but we~ll, she’s just tooooo much.”
“I didn’t say I’d confess, or that I liked her.”
“I was just wondering what kind of person she was.”
“Mhhhmmmm, well, she’s famous ain’t she?”
That was right, Sakurajima Mai was a celebrity, every student at Minegahara Prefectural High School knew of her. No, it was probably more like seventy or eighty percent of the country’s population as a whole. She was a true celebrity, such that it didn’t sound like an exaggeration to say that.
“She debuted in the world of showbiz as a child actress at six-years-old. She started with a morning drama that boasted ratings and popularity on par with big hits, and became an overnight sensation, right?”
She had appeared in many movies, dramas, and adverts since that explosive start, and attained such popularity that literally not a single day passed without her being on the television. Of course, after two or three years passed since her debut, she lost the influence of being ‘Sakurajima Mai, in anything and everything’, but, on the contrary, gained even more offers for her acting talent.
Amongst the many actors that vanished after a single year, her acting career continued well, even as she entered middle school. That alone was plenty impressive, but she even had her second break. At fourteen, Sakurajima Mai had grown into a beautiful young woman with the looks of an adult, and with the movie that was showing at the time, once more rapidly gained attention, and within a week, the gravure pictures on magazine covers had been utterly buried by her smiling face.
“I liked her back in middle school. It was, you know? I couldn’t resist that mysterious blend of cuteness and eroticism.”
It wasn’t just Yuuma, many young men had had their hearts stolen by her.
Her popularity was once more on its way to its zenith but, right as that was happening, she suddenly announced that she would be taking a break from her activities. It was just before she graduated from middle school, and no specific reason was given. Since then, two years and a few months had passed.
Of course, when they found out that Sakurajima Mai went to the same school as them, they were surprised, and simply thought celebrities really are real.
“There were loads of rumours. She was that well known that she was working in the pillow trade, that she was having an affair with her producer, and stuff like that.”
“She was still a middle-schooler back then.”
“It’s since she became a middle-schooler. Besides, there was that rumour on the talk shows that her mother was her manager, and now she’s starting an entertainment office right? I saw it on TV last week.”
“Hmmm, I didn’t know that. But, as far as rumours go, they’re just baseless ramblings.”
“There’s the phrase ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, you know?”
“And we live in an age where it’s not just the person themselves that lights that fire.”
Information would spread and be shared in an instant on the internet. And even if it had no basis… The recipients placed little importance on its veracity, and just wanted to talk about it, make jokes about it, find it funny, enjoyable, or get satisfaction out of it.
“It’s really persuasive when you say it, Sakuta.”
He lightly ignored those words.
The train, trundling along as usual, passed through four stations, Yanagi-Koji, Kugenuki, Shonan Coastal Park, and Enoshima.
Looking outside of the window, they were passing through a section of road. It was a strange sight to have cars right next to the train but, the moment you would think to remark on it, you would have returned to normal tracks.
In this area the train and buildings seemed so close that they would collide, and if you put your hand out of the window you would be able to touch the walls of the houses and wonder if each garden’s leaves and branches would hit the train.
Leaving aside those worries, the train slipped leisurely through the houses and arrived at the next station: Koshigoe Station.
“But, I’ve not seen her with anyone at school.”
“Sakurajima-senpai, you were the one that brought her up.”
“She’s always alone, y’know.”
Let alone being cut off from her class, she was cut off from the school. Sakuta had that impression from her too.
“I heard from a senpai in the basketball club, but she apparently didn’t come to school at all at the start of the first year.”
“Work. Even after she announced that she was taking a break, things came out that she was already cast in.”
“Ah, that’s what you mean.”
But in that case, wouldn’t it have been better to finish everything and then announce it? There must have been something she had to say it first for, but…
“Apparently she started coming properly around when the summer holidays ended.”
“…That’s got to have been tough.”
He could easily imagine how the classroom was when Mai went to school in the autumn. During the first term, her classmates would have completely cemented the relationships and power balance within the class.
“And you can guess how it went from there.”
Yuuma was probably imagining the same as him. Once decided a class’ structure wouldn’t change so easily, relieved at finding a place, people would cling to those places and protect their standing within the class.
Mai, having started to attend in the second term, would have undoubtedly been hard to deal with. Of course; she was an actress, they would have been interested but they couldn’t thoughtlessly interact with her either. Going out of their way to talk to Mai would make them stand out, and if they stood out someone might start calling them annoying, or saying that they were getting full of themselves. For that reason she was now cut off from her class. Everyone knew that there was no coming back from that when it happened; that was the atmosphere of a school.
Because of that, Sakuta didn’t think Mai hadn’t been given a chance to get familiar with the school.
At the end of the day even though people whined about things being boring, or asked for something interesting to happen, no one really wanted any change.
Even Sakuta was the same, things were easier when there was nothing special. He enjoyed things being easy, not tiring his mind or body. Eternal tranquillity and free time were the best.
The departure chime sounded and the doors closed with a hiss. Again the train ran between the houses leisurely. Before their eyes were building walls: wall after wall, house after house and, occasionally, tiny railway crossings. Then, as they wondered if the walls would continue, their line of sight suddenly expanded right to the horizon.
The sea. The blue, endless seas were visible, sparkling as it reflected the morning sunlight.
The sky. The blue, endless skies were visible, the clear morning atmosphere creating a gradient from blue to white.
Directly between the two was the perfectly straight line of the horizon, with the power to irresistibly draw their gaze.
For a while the train ran along the Shichirigahama coastline that looked out to Sagami Bay. It was a fascinating sight, with Enoshima to the right and Yuigahama, known for its ocean swimming areas, to the left.
“But what brought her up all of a sudden?”
“Do you like bunny girls, Kunimi?”
Asked Sakuta, still looking out of the window.
“No, I don’t.”
“Then, do you love them?”
“Yeah, I love them.”
“I won’t tell you then.”
“Huh? What the hell, tell me.”
Yuuma prodded at Sakuta’s stomach.
“Let’s say you came across a charming bunny girl in the library, what would you do?”
“And then: feast my eyes.” That would be a normal person’s reaction. Or at least a normal man’s reaction. “What’s that got to do with Sakurajima-senpai?”
“I mean I guess it’s got something to do with her, but I wonder what.”
“What the hell?”
Sakuta avoided the question and, not feeling like questioning him anymore, Yuuma just laughed. Still running along the coast, the train had another station, and then arrived at the station for their school: Shichirigahama Station.
The doors opened, and the scent of salt met their noses.
Within that scent groups of students wearing the same uniform descended to the platform. There was just a single ticket gate, with a scarecrow-like figure to scan their passes on. During the day the station would have attendants, but there was no one there at the time they headed into school.
Leaving the station and going over a single crossing would put you right in front of the school.
“Oh yeah, how’s Kaede-chan?”
“You’re not having my sister.”
“How cold, Onii-sama.”
“You’ve got a cute girlfriend, Kunimi.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“She’d be angry if she heard.”
“It’s fine, I like Kamisato’s angry face too. Huh? Speak of the devil.”
Following Yuuma’s line of sight, he saw Sakurajima Mai walking alone about ten metres ahead. Her long legs, her small face and her slender, model-like build. Even though she was wearing the same uniform, she seemed different from the other students. None of it quite fit… not the black tights around her legs, nor the skirt hiding her backside, or the perfectly sized blazer. It felt like she was wearing a borrowed uniform: even though she was already a third year, the uniform wasn’t familiar to Mai at all.
In fact, the three girls near her that were chatting away wore the uniform much better. The club members energetically greeting their senior were the same, and even a male student that was lightly kicking at his friend’s back was full of energy.
The short road from the station to Minegahara High School was filled with happy voices and laughter. Within that Mai seemed oddly isolated, walking silently, alone. Like an outsider that had lost their way and ended up at a common prefectural high school. An odd existence, an ugly duckling. That was the impression that Sakurajima Mai gave here.
No, if anything no one was paying attention to her. Even though Sakurajima Mai was there, no one turned to look. Not a single student was making a fuss, this was normal for Minegahara High School.
If he had to put it into words, Mai was like the ‘atmosphere’ here. Something that everyone accepted. The sight made Sakuta remember the reactions of the people he saw in Shonandai library, and an oddly uncomfortable feeling rose in his stomach.
“You can see Sakurajima-senpai, right?”
“Yeah, clear as day. My eyes are good you know, 2.0 in both.”
A reaction like Yuuma’s was normal for that kind of question. Something had happened yesterday.
Yuuma and Sakuta were in separate classes this year, and so parted in the second-floor corridor where Sakuta entered the classroom for class 2-1. About half the students were already there.
He sat in the first seat by the windows. Thanks to his name being ‘Azusagawa’, he was in roughly the same place as in spring. As long as there wasn’t an ‘Aikawa’ or ‘Aizawa’ he would be the first by attendance number. There were somehow many disadvantages to that ‘first’, but when he came to Minegahara High School he was guaranteed the window seat, so he didn’t think it was that bad of a number.
And that was because, the sea could be seen from the windows, and several sails of windsurfers that had been after wind since that morning were visible.
“I said hey.”
He noticed a voice near him and looked up.
Standing right in front of his desk, a girl was looking down at Sakuta in displeasure. She was the centre of the most eye-catching group of girls in the class. Her name was Kamisato Saki. Her eyes were wide and beautiful and her hair reached her shoulders, curling gently inward. Her lips were a pretty pink with a slight layer of makeup, and she was famed amongst the boys for being cute.
“It’s rather rude to ignore me, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, I didn’t think there was anyone in this class anymore that would talk to me.”
“You know—” The bell sounded, and following it, the homeroom teacher entered the room. “Geez. It’s important, so come to the roof. After school. Swear it.”
She slapped her hands on his desk, and then Kamisato Saki returned to her own desk, diagonally behind his.
“Don’t I have any say in it?” He murmured to himself, and rested on his elbow, staring at the sea. The sea was there again today, but that was all there was. “This is going to be annoying…”
Even though he’d been sought after when school ended by a girl, Sakuta wasn’t happy in the slightest, his heart didn’t skip the slightest beat.
After all, Kamisato Saki was Kunimi Yuuma’s girlfriend.
After school Sakuta had headed to the shoe racks, he had pretended to forget, but then showed up on the roof as requested anyway. He had reconsidered the annoyance that would come his way if he pretended to have forgotten. It wasn’t quite the right saying, but slow and steady wins the race.
And yet, when he was immediately scolded with a “You’re late!” from Kamisato Saki, who had arrived there first, he regretted it deeply.
“I had to do the cleaning.”
“Do I care?”
“So, what do you want.”
“I’ll get right to it,” with that introduction, Saki glared straight at him, “if he’s with you, Azusagawa Whatever, Yuuma will look bad.”
“…” He’d been told something awful, she really had gotten right to it. “You know a lot about me for speaking to me for the first time today.”
He answered monotonously.
“Everyone knows about the ‘hospital incident’.”
“Yeah… the ‘hospital incident’.”
Sakuta repeated vaguely, not seeming interested.
“I feel sorry for him, so don’t talk to Yuuma anymore.”
“By that logic, I feel sorry for you now; you must be looking awful after all?”
There were other students on the roof and their sight was drawn to Sakuta and Saki, who looked like they were having a disagreement. There were people fiddling with their smartphones too, probably recording it, what a bother.
“I’m fine, it’s for Yuuma after all.”
“I see, you’re amazing, Kamisato-san.”
“Huh? What are you praising me for?”
He’d actually been teasing her, but apparently, the sarcasm didn’t get through.
“Well, I don’t think you need to worry. Kunimi’ll be fine. He won’t look bad just from being with me. He’s someone that’s always saying the lunches his mother makes him are delicious, and gives his thanks for them every day; he’s a good guy that just understands consideration that much.” Yuuma always laughed that anyone would treasure their mother if they grew up without a father, but even an idiot could tell it wasn’t that simple, and there were definitely people that would pointlessly refute it. “So don’t worry, Kunimi’s such a nice guy that he’s wasted on you, Kamisato-san.”
“Are you after a fight?”
“I’ll fight, but aren’t you the one after one, Kamisato?”
Probably because he was irritated, Sakuta left the ‘san’.
“And that! That’s annoying! Why does he call you by your name but still calls me by my surname, even though I’m his girlfriend!?”
She’d grabbed strangely onto that single word and suddenly changed topic. He stayed silent, just thinking like I care. He’d pass on being beaten by her love anymore. But the words that came to his lips instead may have been something he shouldn’t have said.
“Kamisato, are you on your period? Getting that angry about it.”
“Wha—!” In an instant, Saki’s face flushed red. “Why y— die! Idiot! Die! Just die!”
Saki headed back to the centre of the roof, having completely lost her composure, and slammed the door to the roof shut behind her.
Sakuta was left behind and, while scratching his head about it, said. “…Damn, right on the bulls-eye, huh?”
Sakuta stood in the sea breeze for a while before he left to go home, so he didn’t accidentally run into Kamisato Saki. He arrived at the shoe racks around when the sky had been dyed red.
There was already nobody left that was heading straight home, there were only students participating in their club activities now. The deserted racks were quiet and the voices that could be heard from various club members seemed awfully far away. He was certain he was the only one there.
He had the road to the station nearly entirely to himself as well, and when he arrived at Shichirigahama Station soon afterwards it was empty too. The small platform, that was filled with Minegahara High School students right after classes ended, now only had a few people on it.
Amongst them, Sakuta noticed a certain person: a female student standing, dignified, right at the end of the platform. She had an atmosphere about her that seemed to refuse contact with her surroundings, and the cord to a pair of earphones draped languidly from her ears to a pocket in her uniform.
It was Sakurajima Mai. Her face, lit in profile by the setting sun, was somehow listlessly beautiful and even though she was just standing there, she would certainly make a picture. It was enough to make him feel like staring at her for a while… but another interest drove Sakuta on now.
He called out to her as he approached.
There was no reply.
He called, louder than before.
Of course, there was no response. But it somehow felt like she had noticed Sakuta’s presence.
Waiting for the train on the quiet platform were Sakuta, Mai, and three other Minegahara students. Then, a couple in the form of sightseeing university students arrived, and showed their ‘Noriori-kun’ day passes to the station attendant.⁴
The couple got to the centre of the platform and noticed Mai before long.
“Hey, is that?”
“It’s got to be, right?”
He could hear them whisper to each other while they pointed. Perhaps Mai hadn’t noticed, as she continued to face the tracks.
“Hey, quit iiiit~”
The woman’s voice didn’t even slightly seem to be trying to stop him. The playful conversation of the couple was unavoidably harsh on the ears on the quiet platform. When Sakuta couldn’t take it anymore and turned to them, the man was pointing his smartphone at Mai.
Just before the shutter was released, Sakuta cut into the frame, and when the shutter sounded, it was definitely a close-up of Sakuta that it had captured.
“What the hell!?”
Even though he was surprised for a moment, the man came forwards confidently. He probably couldn’t let himself be shown up by a high-schooler.
“I’m a human.”
He answered with a serious expression, and he certainly wasn’t wrong.
“And you’re a creep then?”
“You’re not a kid, so stop being lame, man. Just watching you is embarrassing, as a fellow human.”
“I said I wasn’t doing that!”
“You were going to tweet the photo and boast though, right?’
Sakuta was right on the mark it seemed, as the man’s face was filled with anger and shame.
“If you want attention, I can take a photo of you and upload it with ‘I’m a creep’ if you‘d like?”
“You were told back in elementary school, right? ‘Treat others like you want to be treated’.”
“S-shut up, moron!”
Finally, after wringing that out, the man was guided by his girlfriend’s hand onto the train bound for Kamakura. Trains at this station stopped at the same platform whichever direction they were going, because the station only had a single set of tracks.
As he placidly watched the train leave, Sakuta felt a gaze on his back. He slowly turned around as Mai was tiredly removing her earphones. Their eyes met, and she spoke.
Sakuta let out a noise of surprise at Mai’s unexpected reaction.
“Did you think I’d be angry and tell you ‘don’t do pointless things’.”
“I’m contenting myself with just thinking it.”
“I’d have rather you didn’t say that either then.”
He didn’t think she was contenting herself at all when she said it right away.
“I’m used to it.”
“It’s got to be annoying even if you’re used to it.”
Maybe she didn’t expect those words, because Mai’s eyes showed a slight amount of surprise.
“Annoying… it really is.”
A small smile appeared on her lips as if she was enjoying something.
Feeling that he might be able to talk to her now, Sakuta stood next to her. But the first one to speak was Mai.
“Why are you here so late?”
“A girl in my class called me to the roof.”
“A confession? You’re surprisingly popular.”
“It was a confession of hatred though.”
“Being told ‘I really hate you’ in person.”
“That’s pretty fashionable recently.”
“At the least, it’s the first time I’ve experienced it. What about you, Sakurajima-senpai, why are you here so late?”
“I was wasting time so I didn’t run into you.”
He couldn’t tell if she was serious or joking from her face. Deciding that he’d hate it if he checked and she was serious, Sakuta decided not to ask, and looked at the timetable to change the subject.
“What time is it exactly?”
“Don’t you have a watch?” He pulled his sleeves up and showed his empty wrists. “Then check your phone.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Do you mean smartphone?”
“I don’t have a phone or a smartphone, I don’t just mean that I forgot it today either.”
He hadn’t just not brought it, he simply didn’t have one.
Mai looked at him disbelievingly.
“Really really. I used to use one, but I got pissed off and threw it into the sea.”
He could still remember it well. It was the day he had come to see the results of Minegahara High School’s entrance exam results…
It had weighed about 120 grams. That convenient telecommunications device that could connect the entire world had left his hand, drawing out a graceful parabola into the sea.
“Throw rubbish into the bin.”
She scolded him, naturally.
“I’ll do that next time.”
“You don’t have friends, right?”
You couldn’t go out with friends if you weren’t reachable by phone… that was how the world was today. Mai’s statement was correct, exchanging numbers, e-mail addresses, and IDs was the first step towards friendship, so not having any of them meant he slipped through those rules of society. In the small world of school, those that couldn’t follow those rules were left out from the start. So thanks to that, it was hard for him to make friends.
“I’ve got two friends even.”
“You’ve even got two friends?”
“Two friends are more than enough, I think. They just need to be lifelong friends.”
Sakuta’s logic was that the number of phone numbers, e-mails and IDs stored in your phone was meaningless, having many wasn’t a good thing. Besides, there was the problem… where did you draw the line of ‘friend’? Sakuta called it the kind of relationship where even if you phoned them up in the middle of the night, they’d reluctantly talk to you.
Even as she made polite noises as she listened, Mai took her smartphone from her pocket, it had a red cover with bunny ears on it. She showed the screen to Sakuta, and the time 16:37 was displayed on it. The train would be another minute. Just as he thought that, the phone began to vibrate in response to an incoming call.
‘Manager’ was written on the screen he was looking at. Mai put her finger on the reject button and the vibration stopped.
“Is that okay?”
“The train’s coming… and I know what they want whether I answer it or not.”
It might have been his imagination, but she sounded angry with the latter words.
The Fujisawa-bound train slowly pulled up to the platform.
He entered the train by the same door as Mai, and they sat in adjacent empty seats.
The doors closed and the train pulled slowly away. There were a fair number of passengers, and about eighty percent of the seats were filled, with several people standing.
Two stations passed in silence, the sea disappeared, and the train was clattering right through the centre of the residential area.
“I advised you to forget that yesterday.”
“You were too sexy in that bunny outfit, Sakurajima-senpai, there’s no way I could forget that.” He let out a controlled yawn. “Thanks to that I was aroused last night, and didn’t get any sleep at all.”
He looked reproachfully at Mai.
“H-hey! Don’t imagine me and do strange things.”
Rather than the disgusted gaze and scornful words that he expected, Mai’s face went red and she panicked. She glared up at him as if to cope with her embarrassment. It really was an adorable action. But, when she concealed her discomposure, she gave an excuse to keep up appearances.
“I-I’m fine with a younger boy imagining perverted things with me.” Her cheeks were still scarlet, and it was obvious she was bluffing. Her adult appearance might belie her unexpected innocence. “Would you move away a bit?”
Mai pushed at Sakuta’s shoulder as if she was brushing off something dirty.
“Uwaahh, that hurts.”
“I’ll get pregnant.”
“What shall we call the baby?”
“You…” Mai’s gaze hardened, it seemed he’d gotten too caught up in things. “I wasn’t telling you to forget my outfit…”
“Then what was that yesterday.”
“Hey, Azusagawa Sakuta-kun.”
“You remembered my name.”
“I make sure to remember names when I hear them.” It was an attentiveness that he’d like to learn. She had probably cultivated it while working in show-business, or it seemed so. “I’ve heard the rumours about you.”
He could guess what they were, just like he could guess why he’d been called to the roof.
“Technically speaking I saw them rather than heard them.” So saying, Mai took out her smartphone again and opened some bulletin board. “You went to middle school in Yokohama.”
“And you had a violent outburst and sent three classmates to hospital.”
“I’m surprisingly handy in fights.”
“And because of that, even though you were going to go to high school there, you moved here and went to the secondary exams for Minegahara High School.”
“There was plenty of other things, shall I continue?”
“Someone said ‘treat others like you want to be treated’ earlier.”
“It’s not really something to pry into, if anything, I’m honoured you’re so interested in me.”
“The internet is amazing, so much personal information like this is available.”
He answered bluntly.
“Well, there’s no guarantee what’s written is true.”
“What do you think, Senpai?”
“It’s obvious if you think about it a little. There’s no way a person that did something that big would just go to school as if nothing had happened.”
“I wish you’d tell my classmates that.”
“If they’re wrong, tell them yourself.”
“Rumours are like the atmosphere. The ‘atmosphere’ in ‘that kind of atmosphere’… The kind of ‘atmosphere’ that you have to read.”
“Just failing to read it gets you treated badly… And you know, the ones that create that atmosphere aren’t involved with it, so if I explained the truth, it’d probably just end up a joke with them saying ‘What’s that? Laaame’.” He wouldn’t be fighting against the people in front of him, so even if he said something there wouldn’t be any response. And yet, if he did anything, there would be a concentrated reaction from elsewhere. “And fighting against the atmosphere is ridiculous.”
“So you’re leaving the misunderstanding as it is and giving up without trying.”
“Anyway, it’s fine really, I’m not all that confident I’d be able to be friends with those simple guys that just believe rumours and posts without thinking at all or knowing who made them.”
“That’s a spiteful way of saying it.”
Mai’s smile took on a tinge of sympathy.
“It’s your turn next, Senpai.”
Mai looked unhappily at Sakuta for a moment, but after having heard about Sakuta’s circumstances, opened her mouth in defeat.
“I noticed on the first day of the four holidays.” In other words, four days prior, on the third of may, Constitution Memorial Day. “I went out to the aquarium in Enoshima on a whim.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I just wondered if you had a boyfriend.”
“I’ve never had one.”
Mai pursed her lips disinterestedly.
“Is there a problem with me being a virgin?”
Mai looked up at Sakuta, teasingly.
Their gazes met. Mai went red instantly, pure red, right to her neck. Apparently, she was embarrassed at the word ‘virgin’, even though she started it.
“Ahh, I make it a rule not to worry about that kind of thing.”
“R-right… anyway! I noticed that no one was looking at me in that aquarium, that was full of families.”
Mai’s slightly sulky expression made her look younger and adorable. Because he’d only seen her adult looks before, it was a fresh experience in several ways. If he pointed that out, he’d derail the conversation again, so Sakuta kept it within his mind.
“I thought it was just my imagination at first. It’s been two years since I was active, and everyone was engrossed with the fish.” The tone of her voice steadily lowered into seriousness. “But it was clear when I went into a coffee shop on the way home. No one welcomed me in, and I wasn’t guided to a seat.”
“Was it a self-serve?”
“It’s a traditional coffee shop, with seats at the counters, and only about four at each table.”
“Then did you go there in the past and get banned?”
“There’s no way that’s it.”
Mai’s cheek shifted in anger, and she stood on Sakuta’s foot.
“Senpai, your foot.”
“What about my foot?”
Mai asked seriously, really acting like she didn’t know, he really thought she was a pro there.
“Nothing, I’m just happy you’re stepping on me.”
He meant it as a joke, but Mai recoiled, and moved as far away from Sakuta as she could just as the man that had been sitting next to her alighted from the train.
“It’s a joke.”
“I felt at least a few percent seriousness.”
“Well yeah, as a man, I’m happy to have a beautiful senpai caring about me.”
“Right, right, I’m carrying on now, so be quiet. Where was I?”
“You were talking about how you were banned from a coffee shop.”
“You’ll make me angry.” Mai’s gaze sharpened at that, and no matter how he looked at it, she already seemed angry. To show his apology, Sakuta made a zipping motion across his mouth, and Mai continued with an unhappy expression. “Even when I spoke to the staff, they didn’t respond, and none of the other customers noticed me either. I was obviously surprised, so I ran back home.”
“To Fujisawa. But nothing happened when I got there. Everyone looked at me like normal surprised at seeing ‘Sakurajima Mai’. So I thought that it really had been my imagination, but… I was curious, so I started investigating if it happened in other places.”
“And the bunny girl thing?”
“In that outfit, if people could see me, they’d look, so much there would be no room for doubt.”
That was exactly right, Sakuta’s reaction that day proved its effectiveness.
“Then, by other places… the same thing happened in Shonandai then…”
“That’s right, now I’m just waiting until I’m invisible to the whole world.” For some reason, she looked reproachfully at Sakuta. “Everything was normal at school today… for now.”
Mai indirectly indicated the inner door, were a student in another school’s uniform was checking his phone and sneaking glances at them. Of course, his aim wasn’t Sakuta, it was Mai.
“You look like you’re enjoying yourself Senpai, even though you’re having such a strange experience.”
Sakuta gave his blunt impressions, Mai didn’t currently seem to be particularly sad about it.
“Well yes, it is enjoyable.”
“Are you sane?”
He turned a questioning gaze at her, not understanding her meaning.
“I’ve always been the centre of attention, haven’t I? Living under the gazes of others. So when I was little I made a wish, that I could go to a world where no one knew me.”
She didn’t seem like she was lying, but even if he was told it was an act, there was enough reason to believe her. She was an actress that had had the ability to become a full-fledged actress from being a child actress.
While they were talking, Sakuta noticed that her eyes moved towards one of the adverts hanging in the train. It was advertising the adaptation of a novel into a film. The lead actress was a popular woman who had been promoted recently, and he thought she was the same age as Mai. She probably had the trends in the showbiz world on her mind, or maybe she was nostalgic? No, he had a feeling that wasn’t it. He thought that Mai’s eyes, that seemed to be staring into some distant world, had some emotion smouldering in them. To put it another way, it seemed to be some kind of regret or attachment.
“I can hear you.” After a blink, Mai looked sidelong at Sakuta. “I’m happy with this situation. So don’t interfere.”
Before they noticed, the train had arrived at the terminus platform of Fujisawa Station, the doors opened, and Sakuta hurriedly followed Mai, who had left first.
“If you understand just how weird I am now, that’s fine.”
“Don’t associate with me anymore.”
Mai spoke bluntly and sped off through the ticket gate, and continued, opening up the distance between her and Sakuta after they parted.
He followed after her departing figure, because it was his way home anyway, passing through the passageway into the JR station building.³
Mai was standing in front of a coin locker in a corner, and took out a paper bag. He thought that and she then hurriedly walked off to a baker’s stand.
“One cream roll please.”
She called out to the woman manning the stall. There was no reaction, as if the woman couldn’t hear her.
“One cream roll please.”
Mai repeated her order. But, of course, the woman didn’t react. As if she couldn’t see her, the woman took a thousand yen bill from the office worker that had arrived afterwards, and as if she couldn’t hear her, handed over a melon bread to a middle-school girl.
“Excuse me, a cream roll please.”
Sakuta walked up next to Mai and spoke loudly to the woman.
“Here, one cream roll.”
Sakuta handed over 130 yen for the paper bag she passed over the counter. He walked away from the stand and handed over the package to Mai, who cast her eyes down uncomfortably.
“Are you really not bothered at all?”
“I am, bothered that I won’t be able to eat the cream rolls from here.”
“But… Do you believe the mad things I’ve been saying?”
“How should I put it, I know about that kind of thing.”
“It’s Adolescence Syndrome.”
Mai’s eyebrows raised in surprise. He hadn’t heard of anyone becoming invisible, but there were plenty of rumours of ‘being able to read minds’, ‘seeing the future’, ‘swapping bodies with someone’, and other occult like occurrences, and if you looked on that kind of discussion board, there would be plenty of others.
Normal psychologists assumed that it was a sign of instability and completely discarded it. Self-proclaimed specialists called it a new type of panic attack caused by modern society, and the general, amused thought police had opinions like ‘it’s a type of group hypnotism’.
There were also people that called it an illness of the mind brought about by the stress caused by the gap between an uncaring world and a person’s ideal. The one point of commonality was that no one took it seriously. The majority of adults passed it off as ‘just your imagination’.
Amongst that irresponsible exchange of ideas, though he didn’t know who had said it, the strange occurrences like what was happening to Mai had come to be called ‘Adolescence Syndrome’.
“Isn’t Adolescence Syndrome a common urban legend?”
Mai was exactly right, it was an urban legend. Normally, no one would believe it, and everyone would have had the same reaction as Mai. Even if they experienced something strange themselves, they’d think it was their imagination, and not accept it, because they were living where those things shouldn’t happen. But Sakuta had an undeniable basis for his belief.
“There’s something I want to show you so you’ll believe that I believe you, Senpai.”
“Something you want to show me?”
Mai furrowed her eyebrows at Sakuta in suspicion.
“Would you come with me for a bit?”
After she thought over his suggestion for a while before nodding and quietly saying.
Sakuta had brought Mai to the corner of a residential street, about ten minutes walk from the station.
“Where are we?”
Mai was looking up at a seven-storey block of flats.
A stare of mistrust and suspicion stabbed into him from the side.
“I’m not going to do anything,” he said, and then added quietly, “probably.”
“You just said something, didn’t you?”
“I said that if you tempt me, I’m not sure I’ll be able to control myself.”
Mai’s mouth pulled into a straight line.
“Oh, are you nervous, Senpai?”
“Your voice’s betraying you.”
“E-entering a younger boy’s room is nothing to me.”
Hmphing, Mai walked quickly to the entrance, and resisting a laugh, Sakuta followed right away and stood by her side.
They used the lift to go up five floors, and the third door on the right was where Sakuta lived.
There was no answer to his call in the entryway. Normally, his sister Kaede would have ambushed him, but he had come home at an unusual time today, so she was probably sulking, or maybe just sleeping, or concentrating on reading and hadn’t noticed him come back.
“Come on in.”
He invited Mai, who was standing stiffly in the entryway, with her shoes still on.
They went inside and headed straight to Sakuta’s room. Mai put the bag and paper bag she was carrying into a corner, then lowered herself to sit on the bed. When Sakuta sneaked a look into the paper bag, he saw bunny ears, she was probably planning to be a wild bunny girl somewhere else.
“Hmmm, it’s clean.”
Mai gave a weary opinion after she looked around his room.
“I just don’t have much to leave around.”
“That’s what it looks like.”
The only furniture was a desk, a chair, and a bed, and the room was otherwise empty.
Mai interrupted him.
“What is it?”
“Stop calling me ‘Senpai’, I don’t remember becoming your senpai.”
“My surname’s too long.”
“Then, Mai… ack!”
Mai had grabbed his tie and pulled him down.
“To think you’d be so bold…”
“I hate impolite people.”
For an instant, there was a tense atmosphere, caused by Mai. There was no room to joke about it. This sense of values, which seemed stiff at first glance, was surely something cultivated in the world of showbiz.
“Azusagawa doesn’t fit you, so I’ll call you Sakuta-kun.” Just what kind of image of ‘Azusagawa’ did Mai have? “Well then, what did you want to show me, Sakuta-kun?”
“If you don’t let me go, I can’t.”
Mai’s hand suddenly flew off his tie. Sakuta stood and loosened it, then unbuttoned his shirt, and naturally removed it along with the T-shirt he was wearing underneath, ending up half naked.
“W-why are you stripping!?” Mai shouted and uncomfortably looked away. “Y-you said you wouldn’t do anything. Lewd! Pervert! Exhibitionist!”
Jeering at him, Mai slowly returned her gaze to Sakuta. And then, let out an ‘ah’ of pure surprise.
There were three vivid scars carved into his chest. It looked like he had been clawed at by a huge beast, and cut from his right shoulder to his left side. They were like a huge worm across his chest, and the moment she saw them, Mai could tell they were unusual. Not even being attacked by a bear would result in this. It looked like he’d been gored by an excavator. But, unfortunately, Sakuta had never fought an excavator.
“Were you attacked by a mutant?”
“I didn’t know you were interested in American comics, Senpai.”
“I’ve only watched the movies.”
Mai stared steadily at the scars.
“Do you think I’m the kind of idiot that would do this kind of makeup?”
“Can I touch them?”
Mai stood and extended her hand, softly placing a fingertip on the opening of the wound on his shoulder.
“Hey, don’t make weird sounds.”
“I’m sensitive there, so be gentle please.”
Mai’s finger traced along the scar.
“It feels really good.”
Without changing her expression, Mai pinched at his stomach.
“Ow, ow! Let me go!”
“You look like you’re enjoying it.”
“It really hurts!”
Perhaps she thought it was pointless, as Mai let go.
“So, how did this happen?”
“Ah, I don’t really know.”
“Huh, what do you mean? Wasn’t this what you wanted to show me?”
“No, this doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it.”
“Of course it concerns me. Besides, if not, why did you strip?”
“It’s a habit to change right after I get home, so I couldn’t help it.”
As he explained, Sakuta stretched out a hand to his locked desk drawer and retrieved a photo from it before handing it to Mai.
“This is it.”
“…!?” The moment her eyes dropped to the photo, they opened wide in surprise. Her expression soon turned serious, and she looked for an explanation from Sakuta. “What is this?”
Depicted was a middle-school girl. Her arms were bared by the summer uniform, and those, along with her legs, were covered in bruises and painful looking cuts.
“My sister, Kaede.”
Sakuta knew that her stomach and back, covered by the uniform, were much the same.
“…Was she assaulted?”
“No, she was just bullied on the internet.”
“…I don’t get what you’re saying.”
That was understandable, most people would have that reaction to his sister being bullied.
“She left a message read without replying, and the ‘leader’ in her class hated her. Then her classmates wrote things like ‘you’re the worst’, ‘die’, ‘you’re gross’, ‘you’re irritating’, and ‘don’t come to school’ on the social network they used.” Sakuta undid his belt as he talked. “And then one day, that happened to her body.”
“At first, I thought someone had attacked her too. But she already wasn’t going to school then, and didn’t go outside. I actually thought Kaede might be tormenting herself with them.”
He took off his trousers and hung them over the back of his chair so they wouldn’t be creased.
“There are people that think they’re in the wrong for being bullied and blame themselves.”
Somehow, Mai was looking in another direction.
“I wanted to know what was happening, so I skipped out on school and stayed with her.”
“Hey, before you carry on?”
“What is it?”
“Seriously, why are you stripping.”
He looked at his reflection in the window, he was just wearing a pair of underwear. No, he was wearing socks too.
“I told you, it’s a habit to get changed when I get home.”
“Then hurry up and get dressed!”
He opened his wardrobe and looked for a change of clothes. While he did so, he continued talking.
“Umm, where was I?”
“You’d skipped school and were with your sister.”
“The second Kaede looked at the social network, new wounds appeared on her body. Her thighs suddenly split open, and even spurted blood… Each time she saw a post, she’d bruise, and they kept piling up.”
It almost looked like the wounds on her heart were cut into her body.
“…” Mai worried over how to accept it. “…It’s hard to believe all of a sudden, but there’s no reason to go as far as to make this photo for a made up story.”
Taking the photo back from Mai, Sakuta put it back in the desk and locked the drawer.
“Are those scars from the same time.” He nodded slightly. “A human didn’t make them.”
“I just have no idea what caused them. I woke up covered in blood and was taken to the hospital… I thought I’d die.”
“Could that be what the hospital incident was?”
“Yes, I was sent to the hospital.”
“It’s completely the opposite, you really can’t trust rumours.”
Mai let out a sigh, and sat down again.
Then, the door opened and Nasuno, a calico cat, entered the room with a meow. And behind —
“Onii-chan, are you… here?”
— Kaede peeked out from the doorway in her pyjamas.
She let out a sound of confusion.
In Sakuta’s room, she could see her brother, in his underwear, and an older woman sat on the bed.
The three were silent, and their gazes met for a moment, with just Nasuno playfully rolling about Sakuta’s feet.
Kaede was the first one to act.
As she apologised, she left the room for a moment, but soon peeped through the crack, and after looking between the two others, beckoned Sakuta over.
Sakuta picked up Nasuno and answered, standing in front of the door. Standing on her tiptoes, Kaede hid her mouth with both hands and whispered into his ear.
“I-if you’re going to call a lady of the night, let me know first!”
“Kaede, you’re seriously misunderstanding things.”
“What else could this be other than you enjoying uniform play with a prostitute!?”
“Where the hell did you learn about this?”
“In the book I read about a month ago, there was a girl that worked in that industry, she was a lovely girl that guided pitiful men to Nirvana.”
“Well, while the explanation varies between people, wouldn’t you normally see this and think that your brother had brought his girlfriend home?”
He thought that would be the much more natural assumption, but…
“I don’t want to imagine the worst case like that.”
“The ‘worst case’, little sister?”
“The worst case, so much so the Earth will be destroyed.”
“Right, then I shall get a girlfriend, and destroy the Earth!”
“Hey, can we carry on already?”
He turned back to the room when Mai called him, and Kaede took the opportunity to cling to his back. Both of her hands were on his shoulder as she hid behind his back, peeking out at Mai from time to time. But because she was tall, she couldn’t really hide. Being seen by Mai was just too much.
“Onii-chan, she isn’t scamming you, is she?”
“You didn’t promise to go look at paintings?”
“She didn’t, relax. She’s not in the date trade, she’s a senpai from school.”
“I’m Sakurajima Mai, nice to meet you.”
Kaede darted back behind Sakuta when Mai addressed her, like a small animal confronted by a carnivore. Then, she put her mouth on his back, and said something through the vibrations.
“Uh, that was ‘Nice to meet you, I’m Azusagawa Kaede’.”
“‘This is Nasuno.’ Was that one.”
He showed the cat in his arms to Mai, where it let out a meow and lolled out.
“Thank you for telling me.”
Kaede showed her face in response to her words, but then stole Nasuno from Sakuta’s arms and ran from the room like a fleeing rabbit, and the door crashed shut behind her.
“Sorry about that, she’s really shy, so forgive her.”
“Don’t worry about it, and tell her that too. I’m glad her injuries seem to have healed properly.”
Strangely, even the scars had healed. He really was glad of that, she was a girl after all. And yet, there was still the question of why Sakuta’s scars remained, but… that wasn’t what they were thinking about, so he concentrated on Mai, who leaned back onto her hands and crossed her legs.
“But it’s a rare girl that doesn’t know me.”
“Well… she doesn’t watch much TV.”
She had a vague expression, as if she didn’t quite agree.
“Then, getting back to the point… Mai-san, how serious were you when you said ‘I want to go to a world where no one knows me’, how serious were you?”
“One hundred percent.”
“…There are times I think like that, but when I can’t eat cream rolls, that’s a problem itself, and I think like this.”
Mai took the roll out, held it in both hands, and took a small bite.
“I was asking you seriously.”
“…” Mai chewed, and then after about ten seconds, swallowed and answered. “I was answering seriously, moods change over time, right?”
“Well, I guess so.”
“Then, I have a question, why did you ask me that?”
Sakuta’s eyes looked towards the door, to Kaede who had already left.
“In Kaede’s case, removing her from the internet more or less solved things.”
She couldn’t see the social networks, or post on discussion board, or use group chats. He had cancelled Kaede’s smartphone contract, and thrown it into the sea, and there wasn’t even a computer in this house.
“‘More or less’, huh?”
“The doctor said it was the same as people that thought their stomach hurt, so it actually started hurting. In the end, they decided the wounds themselves were inflicted by Kaede herself…”
Sakuta didn’t agree with everything the doctor had said, but there were parts of the explanation he could agree with. Being insulted by her friends would tear up her heart, and that would appear on her body. There was nothing else you could think from seeing Kaede, and the sensation of her mental state influencing her physical body was understandable. Everyone had experiences like… feeling bad and becoming unhealthy, feeling like they’d vomit from seeing food they didn’t like, or feeling sick around a swimming pool.
So while the scope was completely different, ‘thinking her stomach hurt and so on’ sounded relevant to Sakuta.
“The point is, the reason she was wounded was because of Kaede’s assumptions.”
“I got that. So you’re saying that has something to do with my situation?”
“After all, Mai-san, you’re playing the role of the ‘atmosphere’ at school, aren’t you?”
Mai’s expression didn’t change, and even as she showed a hint of being interested, her eyes simply said ‘so?’, coldly urging Sakuta on. Ordinary people wouldn’t have been able to manage that.
“Well, so the situation doesn’t get any worse, I think you should go back to show business.”
Sakuta quickly looked away and tried to say it lightly. There wasn’t a need for strange bargaining, even if they were fighting in the same arena, he’d have no chance of winning.
“Why is that?”
“If you stand out on TV, no matter how well you play the atmosphere, people won’t be able to ignore you, just like before your break.”
“And I think you being able to do what you want would be great too.”
Said Sakuta, as he glanced at her to judge her reaction.
“…” Mai’s eyebrows moved in surprise, it was the tiniest change, that you wouldn’t have seen without looking carefully. “And what would those things I want to do be?”
Her tone was still frank.
“To return to show business.”
“When did I say such a thing?”
Mai let out a sigh and appeared disgusted, but Sakuta thought that it was an act.
“If you’re not interested, why were you looking jealously at that advert on the train?”
Sakuta cut in immediately.
“It’s a novel I like, so I was just a little interested.”
“You didn’t want to play the heroine yourself?”
“You’re obstinate, Sakuta-kun.”
Mai gave a relaxed smile, her mask not breaking. Even so, Sakuta continued without giving up.
“I think it’s good to have something you want to do. You’ve got the ability, and you’ve got the record. On top of that, you’ve got your manager wanting you to come back, so what’s the problem?”
“…It has nothing to do with them.” She spoke quietly, but the words were controlled, with the air of a rumble behind them. As proof of that, Mai’s eyebrows had lowered into a glare. “Don’t meddle in things.”
It seemed like he’d touched a nerve.
Mai stood up silently.
“Ah, if you need the toilet, it’s out and to your right.”
Mai picked up her bag and flung the door open.
“Kya!” A scream came from Kaede, who had put brought tea on a tray and just arrived in front of the door. Even though she was in her pyjamas earlier, she was now wearing a white blouse and a skirt. “U-umm, umm… I brought tea.”
Kaede was completely panicked in front of Mai, who looked awfully angry.
Mai smiled briefly and took the cup as she thanked Kaede, before draining it in a single gulp.
“It was tasty.”
Carefully, Mai placed the cup back on the tray that Kaede was holding and headed towards the entranceway.
Sakuta hurriedly came out of the room and chased after her.
“Ah, wait, Mai-san!”
Mai was putting on her shoes.
He held up the paper bag with the bunny suit in to show her.
“You can have it!”
“Then at least let me walk—”
Just before he said ‘you home’, she spoke angrily.
“It’s nearby, so it’s fine!”
And left the entrance.
He went to chase her, but.
“Onii-chan, you’ll be arrested!”
Kaede pointed out that he was in his underwear, and he had nothing else he could do but give up.
Sakuta and Kaede were left in the entrance way.
Several seconds passed, and somehow, both of their gazes fell on the paper bag, with a full bunny girl outfit.
“What will you do with it?”
He took out the ears, and, because she was carrying the tray and couldn’t resist for now, placed them on Kaede’s head.
“I-I’m not wearing it!”
She escaped to the living room with careful steps, to avoid spilling the rest of the tea.
Forcing her was no good, so he gave up on having Kaede wear it for now. He would believe that the day she would be interested in bunny play would come, and put it in his wardrobe.
“That’s sorted.” What wasn’t sorted was Mai, she was completely angry. “I’ll have to apologise tomorrow.”