Here's chapter 4. Slow as usual, but whatever.
When she came back to her senses, the silver house was hovering in the air with a rumbling colossal force.
Romiemarigana screamed a few times in fear, but the man comforted her. Despite their language barrier, Romiemarigana knew the man was trying to calm her down.
Romiemarigana thought to herself:
What an inconceivable person he was. Romiemarigana went into a tranquil state when she heard his voice.
With that, Romiemarigana left Grando, the planet she was born and raised in.
It would be long before she came to know the name of her planet (and for that matter, the concept of a planet itself).
As she rested her gaze on the black sea beyond the window of the silver house,
This might be the reason why she was born into the world.
Not just to eat or to survive, but for that 'certain something' which was slumbering in the depths of the black ocean.
There was also the strange man who managed to calm her down.
A gargantuan hope encased her heart gently, overwhelming her unease.
<Romiemarigana's Expanding World>
Every Wednesday or Friday.
Shinonome and I would head home when we were finished with our shift duty at the counters. There were occasions where we would head straight to the station and part ways, but for the most part we would take a detour and visit the cafe — the cafe where we talked about our 'date'.
"Can we actually say we're dating with the way we are now?"
That was what I said one day while swirling the near-empty coffee cup about. As Shinonome was reading her book, her reaction was to lift her eyes upward slightly.
"Can an occasional visit to the cafe be considered as material gathering?"
Shinonome shut her book with a *pa*. Shinonome would be reading even if we are at a cafe, so all I could do was to stare at her as she read and voice my thoughts aloud once in a while. That's almost no different from the things I did to kill time at the library counter.
If you're looking for any changes outside of what I had said, I am exchanging messages with Shinonome at home. However, the contents were not the least bit lovey-dovey — just stuff which I can live without.
"What should we do then?"
While looking at Shinonome mumbling her question with her head tilted, I sent a cube of ice into my mouth and crushed it into pieces.
"I don't really know how to answer that question of yours though......."
"What are your views on how 'dating' should be like, Minami-kun?"
"I'm not too sure of the answer to that either......."
There's no way I can answer something as conceptual as that. I was only voicing the murky question I had in my mind.
"Let's see, a typical couple's probably quite unlike how we are."
"How should a typical couple be like?"
Must I spell everything out — I wondered to myself. But then again, Shinonome's not someone you'd call ordinary. Ordinary people don't ask to pretend to be a couple just so to gather materials.
Therefore, the hapless me was left with no other option but to speak.
"For example...... a couple will watch movies together, or go on a date during the weekends - things like that? I'm not too sure myself."
I listed the impressions I had in my mind. Shinonome tilted her head once again, as though thinking about something. And then?
"Let us do just that."
"Like going on a date during the weekends?"
I sought confirmation from her. Shinonome nodded.
"Are you free tomorrow, Minami-kun?"
That was pretty much out of the blue, but it's not like I had anything planned. I spent most of my weekends loitering around my house.
"I have nothing on."
"Can we meet tomorrow then?"
"Where would be a good place?"
She was firing a volley of questions, but I answered anyway.
"Like watching a movie or something......"
I wasn't dying to watch a movie, but that was the only thing I could think of.
With that, Shinonome returned to her book once more, which probably signaled the end of the conversation. I heaved a gentle, hapless sigh.
Honestly speaking, I'm not too sure about this myself.
If it was Shinonome who suggested the movie, I would have been more than willing to accompany her since I am currently her boyfriend; if it was me who wanted to go, I would have made the suggestion right from the get go. It's surprising that our conversation ended up that way.
Is this what dating is like?
I never dated a girl before, so I wasn't too sure myself.
But based on my impressions, shouldn't one be way happier and ecstatic than this? It's pretty pointless to be a 'couple' if that's not the case.
Though come to think of it, Shinonome and I ended up as a 'couple' only due to some extraordinary circumstances. There's nothing much I can do.
Love was not in the equation when we ended up as a couple.
It was all so that Shinonome could gather materials for her novel. There was no joy when we became a pair.
I sent another cube of ice into my grinding teeth while thinking about things like that. Shinonome was reading in silence.
With all that said, how is her impression of me?
I doubt she hates me, or else we would not end up the way we are.
But I don't think she loves me either.
I wondered to myself as I stared blankly at Shinonome.
How are my feelings towards her then?
I am not too certain about that either.
I don't dislike her. I find her 'interesting' due to a chance encounter, and that feeling hasn't changed.
But I am not sure if that's love.
Shinonome did mention she 'never loved anyone before'.
That's not the case for me though. I loved Arumi-san, so I have experienced the crazy emotions from being in love with another person.
In other words, my feelings for Shinonome were nowhere near those I used to have for Arumi-san.
While I was thinking in silence, Shinonome gave a tiny sneeze. It sounded very similar to the cries of a tiny animal like that of a hamster or a hedgehog, which I found to be cute. I laughed in reflex.
Shinonome noticed. She stared at me in embarrassment.
"...... Why did you laugh?"
"Nah, it's nothing."
I actually thought Shinonome was actually cute, but there's no way I'd tell her my feelings. Then again, it's not like Shinonome and I were a real 'couple'. There's no need for me to wreak my brain over how we're looking at each other.
Shinonome lifted her head to look at the clock hung in the cafe. Its arms were ushering us to head home.
"It is about time we leave."
I nodded and picked up the bill.
"Allow me to pay for it."
I ignored Shinonome's request and walked straight towards the cashier. Shinonome caught up to me as she wanted to foot the bill, but I turned around and said to her,
"Typically speaking, the girl should not be paying for this."
I had come to the cafe with Shinonome several times already, and she would pay for me every time. I could not do much against it as I didn't have much cash on me. Moreover, Shinonome would always brush it off with, "I am the one who suggested coming here".
Time and time again, she had emphasized on how it was right for her to be the one who pays, and I accepted it without much of a fuss.
However, because of the way things are working out now, I'm struck by an inferiority complex. It should be okay to treat her once in a while as well. Luckily for me, I had taken some cash from Keisuke earlier so that I could purchase some ingredients for dinner.
"Let us go Dutch."
I declined the thousand yen bill which Shinonome was stuffing insistently in my direction.
"You have already paid for the earlier drinks, so allow me to foot the bill just this once. In the future, let's go Dutch, shall we? This way, neither of us will feel awkward."
Nothing was said as we made our way towards the station.
And with that, we split up at the platforms. While on the train, I received a message from Shinonome.
"Thank you very much for the coffee and the treat."
What a formal message. I couldn't help but to shrug my shoulders.
Is that her being polite, or did she just send it as a formality — I didn't mail her anything like that during the times she paid for my drink, so I replied her immediately.
"Thanks for paying for my drinks as well. What's the plan for tomorrow?"
"I shall leave it to Minami-kun to decide. Are you alright with that?"
"Okay. I'll text you again."
What an intriguing relationship we're in — I thought to myself.
As I walked home from the station nearest to us, I made a detour to the supermarket to get some stuff. When I returned home, Arumi-san was around for some reason unknown to me. She was not supposed to be around today, and that was why I was planning to make dinner in the first place.
Arumi-san, who was welcoming me at the passageway, popped the question with a huge smile on her face.
"What will we be having for dinner, Eita?"
"Stew...... but why are you here today, Arumi-san? I heard you won't be coming."
There was a displeased expression on Arumi-san's face when she heard that from me.
"What's wrong with that? You sound like you're not happy with having me around."
"That's not what I meant."
"I had something on, but it was canceled. Then I heard Eita will be making dinner tonight, so here I am filled with much expectation."
"Oh, I see......"
At times like this, I didn't really care what her reasons were. The fact was that Arumi-san was around.
"Do you need any help?"
Asked Arumi-san while walking behind me.
All you need to do for stew is to cut the ingredients and toss everything into a pot. It's not like I needed any help with that.
"How about I accompany you while you're cooking."
"Mmm...... please do."
So it ended up with Arumi-san and me cooking in the kitchen. I could have rejected her offer, but I had more than stew in my mind. Moreover, she wouldn't be happy if I insisted on doing things alone.
When we were done cooking, Keisuke joined us for dinner. Despite Keisuke's silence, Arumi-san would always talk to him whenever the opportunity arose during the meal. Keisuke would reply with phrases like "Mmm" and "I see", which reminds me very much of my father.
My father's an uptight techie, while my mother's an outgoing person who's nice to just about everyone she meets. They met each other during their college days. Even though I am their son, I felt their personalities were so different I couldn't spot any similarities between them.
But from my mother's point of view (and it's something which she can proclaim out loud), she is deeply in love with my father. Just like the way Arumi-san is when speaking with Keisuke, my mother's the same when it comes to dealing with my father as well.
"The stew's delicious, Eita."
I snapped back to my senses with that statement and tilted my head.
"Really? But don't expect me to cook it all the time."
"Oops, so you noticed."
Arumi-san giggled. I doubt she actually had that intention in the first place. I knew very well how much she enjoyed cooking (though a large portion of it might be because it was for Keisuke's sake).
"That's because I love the stew made by Arumi-san."
It came out of my mouth without much of a thought. Arumi-san looked at me with widened eyes. A smile then appeared on her face.
"Wow, that made me happy! Really happy!"
While exclaiming that with an air of innocence, Arumi-san looked in Keisuke's direction several times. It's as though she was waiting for Keisuke to voice his thoughts as well.
But Keisuke said nothing, only glancing at me briefly.
Just as I was about to clear the table when we were done with the meal, Arumi-san stopped me.
"It's okay, just leave the dishes to me! You should rest in your room, Eita!"
With that said, she began washing the dishes while humming to a tune. It seems like my words earlier had made her really pleased.
Since she made the offer, I accepted it and made my way upstairs. However, I stopped in my tracks when I realized just how weird it was for me to say something like that to Arumi-san.
Why did I say things like that in all honesty?
Ignoring the period of time when I was clueless about Arumi-san's relationship with Keisuke, ever since I knew, I would never say anything to Arumi-san if it would involve the word 'love'. Even though I'm not explicitly saying to Arumi-san that I love her, it would still be embarrassing to use that word when speaking to her.
But a few minutes ago, I managed to say it without much of a thought. It was done naturally without hesitation.
Does that mean my wounds are gradually healing?
Can time heal...... everything?
I cracked my neck and returned back to my room. The blinking lights from the phone on the desk indicated that I had a message waiting for me. I flipped open the clamshell phone — it was a message from Shinonome.
"What are the plans for tomorrow?"
I totally forgot because of dinner. I hastily switched on the computer to check out the ongoing movies. That was a quick process, but I couldn't figure out which movies were good. I could have scourged through several review sites as a reference, but that would be too much of a hassle. Moreover, it would probably mean making Shinonome wait even longer. Therefore, I needed an option which could get me the information I required much quicker.
I hesitated for a while before walking out of my room.
When I entered Keisuke's room, he moved his eyes away from his book and up towards me. He then asked,
It was rare of Keisuke not to be smoking, but the room was filled with the smell of tobacco all the same.
"I would like to seek your opinion on something."
The reason Keisuke lifted his head was probably because he never expected me to say stuff like that. When it comes to Arumi-san or other things, there will always be a sense of inferiority within me whenever I face Keisuke. That's the reason why I seldom sought help from him.
He was probably wondering what I'd be doing next after the incident when I borrowed books from him.
"That is quite sudden. How can I help you?"
Keisuke shut his book and put a cigarette in his mouth. Perhaps he thought it would be a long conversation.
"Nothing of huge importance, really......"
Keisuke lit up the cigarette when he saw me scratching my head. He then puffed out a slithering, snake-like strand of smoke which rose into the air.
"So what's it about?"
It may look like he's urging me to speak my mind, but judging from Keisuke's personality, that's probably not what he really had in mind. Then again, that personality of his is one of the main reasons why I find it difficult to ask a favor from him.
"Are there any good movies showing in the cinema now?"
I wanted to get things over and done with, so I replied to him immediately. Keisuke looked at me with a surprised expression on his face.
It's not like I can do anything even if he is thinking on how silly it is for me to ask him about stuff like that.
"You want to watch a movie?"
Not only is Keisuke a bookworm, he is very much into movies as well. There's a huge TV in his room, and accompanying it is a pile of DVDs much like his books.
"The currently screening movies are......"
While muttering that in annoyance, Keisuke began working on the desktop PC. He said a few titles while scanning the screen, which I noted in my memory.
"Alright then. Thank you."
Keisuke stopped me just as I was about to leave the room.
"Something happened to you?"
Considering how apathetic I was towards just about everything, Keisuke's probably a little suspicious about why I have been entering his room frequently these days with weird questions for him.
"No, it's nothing......"
"I see. Alright then."
As I opened the door, I had the urge to say, "Don't tell Arumi-san about this." I was worried about her earlier harassment and her question, "So do you have a girlfriend already?" Should she smell something fishy from this, I'd have to face her relentless inquiries.
"...... What's wrong?"
Asked Keisuke hesitantly while resting his hand on the knob.
"Nah, it's nothing."
With that said, I left the room.
In the first place, it would be strange to ask him to keep it secret. If I made the wrong move, he might actually reveal it to Arumi-san instead. For things like these, it's unlikely Keisuke would tell Arumi-san if I kept silent.
Back in my room, I searched the internet for the movies Keisuke recommended and picked the safest one out of the lot. After checking out schedules, I worked back on the time when Shinonome and I should meet.
I then texted Shinonome the time and place to meet.
"Got it. See you tomorrow. Good night."
It was the usual cold reply from her, but there was this sense of accomplishment within me. I laid down on my bed.
"Is this...... a date?"
I muttered to myself subconsciously. It didn't feel quite real to me due to the typical response from Shinonome. But then again, judging from the activities which we will be having tomorrow, it is definitely a date.
I am crystal clear on the fact that we are not actually 'dating', but the word 'date' is enough to send my heart racing.
I got up spontaneously, opened my wardrobe and thought about my attire for tomorrow.
My father and Keisuke aren't crazy about leaving the house, so it's rare for us to go on an outdoor trip together as a family. As a result I don't care much about 'outdoor clothes'. It hasn't reached the point where there's nothing I can wear whenever I go out, but there's much left for consideration on whether my clothes are suitable for the date tomorrow.
After much thought, I decided to screw it all and chose whatever pleased me.
There was someone knocking on my door. When I opened the door, Arumi-san was there wiping her hands with her apron.
"Eita, would you like to have a bath now? There's no one in the bathroom right now."
Whatever works for me, but then I realized it will be great to call the night early in preparation for the date. I usually sleep till noon on most Saturdays, but I have to get up in the morning for tomorrow.
"I'll go first then."
A soft smile appeared on Arumi-san's face when she heard my answer.
"Mmm. The towel is placed at the usual place."
I grabbed some clothes and made my way to the bathroom. Then I suddenly realized how mentally stable I was today. I managed to remain calm even after seeing Arumi-san's smile.
That smile of hers used to be a source of pain for me in the past.
I arrived at the station ten minutes before the meeting time.
To be honest, I had never waited for anyone for the past few years, so waiting for someone was a pretty restless experience for me. Moreover, the fact that it was a 'date' made it even more nerve-wreaking.
Standing before the ticketing gates was me in a very safe set of casual attire. I was feeling out of place though. The youngsters around me were all dressed fashionably — you could easily tell some of them put a lot of thought into their clothes.
I then wondered about the attire which Shinonome will show up in.
I had seen Shinonome in casual once. It was from the magazine that published 'Nishizono Yūko' — the picture of Shinonome was one where she was in a casual attire. If my memories are right, it was a white dress with some simple, elegant embroidery, paired with a cardigan.
That was the reason which made me think that 'Nishizono Yūko' was 'someone who looked very much like Shinonome Yuuko'. I had only seen Shinonome in her uniform, so I wasn't dead sure if the author in casual was none other than the person herself.
As I directed my eyes to the stairs opposite of the gates leading to the platform, I could see a crowd making their way up. They were probably passengers who just got off the train which had come from the direction of Shinonome's station. I had no idea where exactly she was staying, but from one of our earlier pleasantries, I do know the nearest station from her house.
Shinonome was strolling slowly at the back of the crowd, as if she was trying to avoid them altogether. Her attire was the carbon copy of what I saw in the magazine, though she was carrying a small handbag before her chest.
Shinonome gave a small bow when she saw me. I thought that she was a little too rigid towards someone of the same age.
When she finally walked past the gate and to my side, Shinonome tilted her head and asked,
"...... Did you wait long?"
I shook my head.
"Nope, not at all."
"Let's go." With that, Shinonome and I began to move.
"That's the same clothes as those in the magazine."
Upon hearing that, Shinonome froze in her tracks and stared at her clothes. She then moved her gaze to me.
"So you do remember......"
"Yeah, cause that's the only time I've seen Shinonome in casual."
"To be honest, this is the only casual attire I own......"
Said Shinonome shyly as she lowered her head.
"Nothing to be ashamed of. I'm not too far off from your situation."
Even I know it's normal for girls to own an incredible amount of clothes. My father would enter a state of exasperation whenever my mother buys yet another set of new clothes; whenever Arumi-san comes over, it is unlikely for me to notice things like, "Oh, I've seen her in that before." It's possible she wore the same clothes more than once, but not frequently enough for me to notice.
Therefore, I can more or less understand how it might be embarrassing for Shinonome not to own much clothes. Some may find it strange for a girl to have as few clothes as she did.
But that wasn't a big deal to me. Rather, it actually felt really 'Shinonome-esque'.
We continued to make our way towards the cinema.
"Ah, as for the movie we'll be watching later......"
I realized I haven't told Shinonome about my choice of movie, so I filled her in as we walked. Shinonome broke into a smile when she heard the title of the movie.
"I actually want to watch this movie as well."
Great to hear that from her.
"It feels like Shinonome's into those deep movies, so I had a hard time deciding which movie to watch."
Quite a few of the movies recommended by Keisuke were very documentary in nature. Even as I searched for their synopsis on the internet, I would always end up thinking, "So what on earth is it about?" I was pondering if Shinonome would be pleased by those types of movies.
However, I soon noticed we are actually going on a date. I realigned my thoughts and decided that since we are dating as a simulated couple, it is best to go for a safe choice instead. The type of movie a typical couple would choose.
"I do watch typical movies as well, you know?"
Said Shinonome. But since she mentioned the words 'as well', that means she does do abstruse stuff too.
"Well, so yeah. It's a date, so shouldn't it be like this? Typical movies are much more suitable, yeah?"
My voice rose a pitch or two from the embarrassment of saying the word 'date'. It was the same for Shinonome too — she flinched briefly when she heard me.
I gave a dry cough and was silent for a brief moment.
This is quite painful, to be honest.
How on earth did we end up in a relationship like this? How did everything start? Was it me? From the moment when I asked for her autograph? That seemed to be the answer if all the knots were undone.
We arrived at the cinema without saying a word more.
Thanks to some earlier planning and the fact that the movie we were about to watch was not in the initial week of release, we managed to get our hands on a showtime not too far from now. Despite my offer to pay for everything, Shinonome's refusal meant we each paid for our own tickets.
"Ah, what about your drinks?"
I asked Shinonome before entering the cinema. Shinonome tilted her head and replied to my question with her own.
"Anything will do...... What about you, Minami-kun?"
I shook my head.
"I'm fine with anything too."
"Since we both have nothing in mind, let us forgo it."
Both of us stepped into the theater. It's not to the point where we were the only ones there, but the theater was sparsely filled. That was the reason why we managed to get our hands on a pair of middle seats.
After a few trailers, it was finally time for the main movie.
As it was a foreign film with subtitles, I was forced to focus on the screen lest I miss the contents of the show. That was especially so in the beginning due to the heavy amount of conversations, so there was no chance for me to cast my eyes elsewhere.
When we entered the action parts of the film, I was in a slight state of discomfort from having to stay in the same posture for too long. I rested my back against the chair and pushed it down a little, trying to cause as little of a disturbance as possible.
That was when Shinonome caught my eyes.
Though we had been sitting next to each other for a while, that was the first time I observed Shinonome in great detail.
We were so close.
We do sit side by side during shifts in the library and when we frequent the cafe — still, this is the closest I've ever been to Shinonome.
Shinonome was staring at the screen in all seriousness (though I'm not too sure if that's the appropriate word to use). Her emotionless expression was no different from the usual, but this was the first time I saw Shinonome being engrossed in something other than books.
And it just so happens that the movie had moved to a risque, romantic scene — as though someone had deliberately changed it. The foreign couple began kissing passionately as they were about to part unwillingly. There was no way I could have prepared myself for that, but Shinonome continued watching in earnest.
Damn that Keisuke — I cursed silently. I would have avoided movies with scenes like these if I can, but it's my fault for not telling him my criteria in the first place.
I was acting suspiciously. That was when Shinonome turned her attention to me, her head tilted in bewilderment. She then moved her face slowly towards mine.
"No...... It's nothing."
I answered, but Shinonome continued to stare at me with a baffled expression. Thankfully, the actors were now conversing; the risque scene had came to an end. Shinonome redirected her eyes to the screen. As for me, I focused on the film as if nothing happened.
But my heart was still a mess.
...... This is very problematic.
The reason was because I had suddenly realized—
Just how unexpectedly cute Shinonome was.
She is very beautiful to begin with; her facial features were flawless. I've thought of her as 'cute' on several occasions, but those feelings were more like the ones I'd harbor towards dogs and cats.
However, this 'cute' was obviously different.
Perhaps it was because of how close Shinonome's face was to mine; or maybe it's due to how dark the theater is; it could have also been caused by the risque scene of the foreign actors.
Regardless, it did not change the fact that I was thoroughly shaken by these feelings of mine.
I was unable to regain my calm even when the movie ended.
After the movie, we went to the cafe and chatted. We parted ways after that.
"I'm really happy today, so thank you. See you next time then."
That was what Shinonome said before she left.
It was still the same emotionless expression on her face, so I had no idea if she was being honest. But with those words of hers, I guess those nervous feelings of mine were well worth it.
For some unknown reason, I was devastatingly tired while I took the train home by myself. I was then reminded of the 'See you next time' which Shinonome said, which to me suggests that everything won't end with just this solitary date. Then again, it's not like our relationship would suddenly collapse when the day is over.
If that's the case, how long will this relationship last?
"So what exactly is our relationship now?"
With no answer in mind, I could only feel a sense of uneasiness within me.