Well, here's chapter 6. I am actually kind of surprised how I am still going on and committing despite my work.
Gradually, Romiemarigana grasped the language Eason used.
She could communicate with him despite her stutters. Soon, the silver home they traveled in (she later learned it was called a 'spaceship') arrived on a planet.
A group of people including Eason's friends was waiting for them.
Eason's friends observed Romiemarigana in curiosity. To Romiemarigana though, only Eason deserved her trust.
She could not understand why that was so.
Even if another a man had the same looks and clothes, Romiemarigana couldn't trust him. Only Eason's voice could set her mind at ease.
And so, she and Eason began living together in a small house.
However, she could not accept what happened there.
<Romiemarigana's Expanding World>
It happened on Wednesday, a week after Shinonome and I visited the theme park.
Shinonome applied for leave on that day, informing our homeroom teacher she had caught a cold. I texted her when classes were over, but there was no response — perhaps she was sleeping or something. She's only a mortal, so it's reasonable for her to be in a daze from her cold.
I wanted to pay her a visit, but I didn't know her address. Moreover, she will most likely be troubled by that. As there was still no reply from her—
"Sorry for interrupting your rest. Please take care."
The simple message was all I could do.
Now the problem was the library shift at the counter. It's necessary that two people work together, so I wonder how things will be later on. The job is definitely not something which can be handled alone, so I guess it will be better if I inform the librarian beforehand?
I made my way to the library during lunch break, entering the librarian's room which belonged to Shiina-san. She was eating out of her tiny, intricate home-made bento.
"Oh my, Minami-kun. What a surprise. What brings you here?"
As someone who only appeared at the library during his shifts, she never expected me to show up during lunch. Shiina-san clipped her chopsticks repeatedly while staring at me.
"Well, Shinonome filed for sick leave today...... so what should we do?"
Hearing that, Shiina-san clipped her chopsticks once more.
"Ah...... I was informed about that......"
Shiina-san said. As I was thinking about how impressive it is for the librarian to be informed on the absences of the students as well, Shiina-san picked up the egg at the corner of her bento-box and popped it into her mouth. Looks like she wasn't planning to postpone her lunch till after our conversation was finished.
When she was done chewing and swallowing the egg, Shiina-san said,
"Hmm, since it's a job for two, why don't you find a replacement?"
"She will probably feel bad if we replace her with a senior, so why don't you ask Ikehara-kun for assistance?"
It seems like she's not too interested about this, and her actions more or less proved that. Shiina-san wasn't too concerned about this and began working on her meal. Looks like the conversation was over.
"I'll give it a shot."
I bowed. Shiina-san replied with a muffled "Mmm" as she chewed her food.
I sighed and left the library.
Ikehara is one of the few first-year library committee members I had spoken to before, but we're not particularly close. We sat next to each other during the meetings, so we've conversed a few times.
Still, we don't interact much since we're from different classes. It sucks to be forced to ask him a favor.
I walked to Ikehara's class to search for him. There he was laying on the table — he was probably resting after his lunch. His hair was messed up all the time, so it wasn't hard to recognize him despite not seeing his face.
I walked to his side and called him. Ikehara sat up slowly while rubbing his eyes.
"Urm, I have a favor to ask."
Ikehara looked at me in a daze. He then rubbed his eyes repeatedly before saying,
"Oh my, it's Minami...... what a surprise. What's up?"
That's yet another "what a surprise". Oh well, I have no one but myself to blame for not interacting with others. It can't be helped.
"It's about the shift duty for today. Shinonome's on sick leave, so I hope you can fill in for her."
Ikehara yawned. This guy looks sleepy most of the time — he'd sleep during meetings as well. He's one of the few committee members who's not 'too serious'. The reason Ikehara talked to me occasionally is probably because he realized we shared similar reasons for joining the committee.
"Urm....... I don't really mind...... but can Shinonome go in my stead for my next duty?"
"I'm not too sure...... how about asking her?"
"Hmm, yeah...... Hmm. I got it. So I just have to show up today, right?"
With nothing left to say, I left the classroom. Thank goodness he agreed to it readily, because I was too lazy to try to convince him.
There was nothing from Shinonome even as our classes came to an end. Just how long is she going to sleep? Perhaps she's feeling really horrible right now? I had no idea how things are in reality, but judging from appearances, she didn't seem like someone who's very healthy.
Ikehara was already there when I reached the library, and was working on the chores at the counter. After a brief exchange of gazes, I slipped into the counter as well.
There were lots of people in the library, but the amount of people borrowing or returning books had fallen drastically. It might be because the finals were just around the corner.
It was way more boring than usual.
Ikehara was sitting where Shinonome was supposed to be, staring at the screen of his cellphone blankly as he tapped his fingers hastily on the screen. He's probably busy with a puzzle game.
I followed suit in reflex and fished out my phone.
There was a text message which I had missed. I opened it. It was from Shinonome.
"I was sleeping all this time. Sorry for the late reply. The fever has toned down a little, but I think I may be applying for sick leave tomorrow as well."
It's the same emotionless words, but at the very least, she's not about to die any time soon. Relieved, I began typing my reply.
"Ikehara's covering in your absence, so can you do his next duty to make it up?"
Shinonome's reply was instant.
"Sure. Please thank him for me."
That's a job done — I turned around to look at Ikehara, only to find him looking in my direction. His vision was clearly directed not towards me, but to my cellphone instead. To be more precise, the dangle hanging from my phone — the weird monkey we bought at the theme park.
"Isn't...... that the same as the one Shinonome-san has?"
He fired the question without warning.
I exclaimed in surprise. That action of mine sparked his suspicion. His eyes were wandering between me and the dangle repeatedly.
"Eh? So? Is that what I think it is?"
"Huh, what do you mean by that? Oh, Shinonome has the same thing as well, right? The same dangle."
That was me trying to brush it off. Ikehara tilted his head in bewilderment.
"I happened to bump into Shinonome-san yesterday on my way home. She was making a call. The dangle caught my attention due to how strange it looked. It was exactly the same as this."
"Eh, really...... Well, it's just a coincidence. One in a million. You know, pure chance......"
Due to the unexpected situation, I was unable to conjure up a more convincing lie. Ikehara heaved a sigh and said,
"Oh boy...... You suck at lying, don't you?"
I was speechless.
"Not that it matters...... Hmm, I see...... So you two are dating?"
So that's what Ikehara sees.
"Nah, we're not exactly dating......"
I said that because it was the truth, but Ikehara snorted and retorted with,
"There's no way the dangles would be the same if you're not dating each other!"
I'm not too sure if that was true, but perhaps it really is.
"Yeah, typically speaking. What other reason is there to do so if you're not a couple? You two are dangling the same weird monkey, yeah? It's not like it's a fashion statement."
So the monkey does look weird — I thought to myself and stopped short of exclaiming it out loud. Now's not the time to be doing that though.
I can't explain to him my relationship with Shinonome. If I did, I'd reveal that Shinonome's an author. Shinonome wanted me to keep it a secret. But without letting him into the secret, it will be unreasonable to force him to accept the fact that we are 'just pretending to be a couple'.
"So? There's no need to hide. It's not like it matters."
"Well no, but I hope you can keep it to yourself......"
I had no real answer to that question of his. I was stumped.
"Well, it is rather embarrassing......"
"Ah, so that's why."
Before I could tell him to keep his mouth zipped, we were interrupted by a student who wanted to borrow a book. I was then bombarded by Ikehara's questions, but I could only respond with vague answers since I could not come up with anything better.
The day was spent being hounded by Ikehara about the topic. The following day, Shinonome did just as she had said in her message and took another day's leave.
Friday came. The moment Shinonome stepped into the classroom, there was an obvious group of students staring repeatedly between her and me. I couldn't help but heave a silent sigh.
Ikehara's a god damn idiot.
It spread way faster than I had expected.
Shinonome walked alone to her seat. As for me, I put on a smile and looked at her from the side of my eyes.
Upon seeing this, a few classmates stared at me with grins in their eyes.
What a bunch of gossipmongers — I cursed in silence and heaved yet another sigh.
If only we were a real couple, then I wouldn't mind the gossip.
But that's obviously something I can't say out loud.
Shinonome and I didn't interact much during classes.
When I reached home that day, I was greeted by Arumi-san in an apron.
"You're back, Eita. Would you like to have dinner or a bath?"
My response to the very wife-like question from Arumi-san was:
I then walked straight to my room. Arumi-san watched me leave with a stunned and dazed expression.
Without bothering to remove my uniform, I dropped straight onto bed.
There was a knock on the door just as I was heaving a sigh of exasperation.
My body remained still, my voice was the only reaction. On the other side of the door was Arumi-san's voice.
"Eita...... did something happen? Are you alright?"
I was planning to reply with the usual "nothing", but I unknowingly—
"You could say something happened, or you can say nothing did."
A very zen answer.
But that is the truth. Shinonome and I are embroiled in rumors, but none of the contents are real. Therefore, you could say that things are swinging both ways. It's incredibly troublesome.
"Would you like to have a chat with me?"
Arumi-san's voice sounded really dejected.
Speaking with her about this will not bring about any changes to the situation. The problem lies with Shinonome and me, and I doubt the views of a third party will be of much use for my consideration.
"Eita, am I not dependable?"
The voice beyond the door was close to crying. That's the way Arumi-san is all the time. She always thinks of me as a cold and lonely person who lives without giving much of a heck to this world — she has no idea of the pain I am suffering inside.
"That's not it."
"It's not Arumi-san's fault. It's something else altogether."
Perhaps I am a guy who's destined to stumble around in circles when it comes to girls. They may not have the intention of putting me in that situation, but I'll be spinning around stupidly by myself nonetheless.
"Okay then...... Do feel free to discuss with me anything you think you can share, alright?"
Surprisingly, I wasn't the least bit irritated when I heard what Arumi-san said. Despite my failure in suppressing my feelings of irritation towards Arumi-san in the past, I'm now able to listen to her tranquilly and respond in a calm manner.
I said that naturally.
"I'll call you when dinner's ready."
Arumi-san's voice was noticeably perkier.
After making sure that Arumi-san was a considerable distance away, I sat up and grabbed the cellphone from my pocket. Dangling from the phone was a weird monkey with its infuriating smile.
So you're the one who's messing me up.
Actually no, that should be your master instead.
I began working on the text message while imagining Shinonome teasing the monkey as its trainer.
"When do you plan to visit my house, Shinonome?"
After sending the text, I returned to rolling about in bed.
Fine, I'm a monkey too. Shinonome's the master, while I'm the monkey working hard for her. Since the master mentioned that she would like to visit my house, I will have to make the necessary arrangements. This may spark off a new wave of rumors, but what must be done has to be done.
My master replied straight away.
"How about...... next weekend?"
"Alright. Next Saturday it is."
I replied instantly and put my cellphone away. Just as I was wondering what I should do next, Arumi-san informed me that dinner was ready.
I stood up and walked towards the dining room. Keisuke was there reading the newspaper with a nonchalant expression, as usual.
As I was chewing the cabbage roll, I said to Keisuke,
"Urm, can I invite a friend over next Saturday?"
Upon hearing that, Keisuke closed the newspaper in a snap and stared at me with surprise.
"...... A friend?"
His expressions were totally saying, 'so you do have friends?' Can't blame him, since I have never once invited a friend over.
Arumi-san's gaze zoomed in on me, who was munching on the cabbage roll, right away.
"A girl? Is your friend a girl?"
I couldn't quite understand the reason behind her joy, but there's no reason for me to lie to her. So I nodded while working on the food in my mouth.
"Whoa! So it's true! Then I have to prepare a feast for that!"
I was a little irritated, to be honest. Should I leave her alone while she's high like that, she may actually prepare sekihan on that very day. [TL Note: Japanese red bean rice commonly served during celebratory events, to the point of it being virtually synonymous with 'celebration']
"Don't have to. Just the normal fares will do."
"Girlfriend? Is she your girlfriend?"
That question again. A tough question to answer. I didn't really want to.
I cracked my neck. For some reason, Arumi-san was nodding repeatedly as she exclaimed,
"Don't worry! I understand! So that's what it is! There's an awkward distance between you two! Just leave it to me! Onee-chan will do her best in assisting you!"
"No no no, you just have to treat her normally! We're not at that stage just yet!"
"There you go again. Why else is she coming over if that's not the case?"
My head is in a mess from trying to explain everything to her.
It's strange of me to invite her to my house all of the sudden without any explanation. We're talking about the weekends, days where both Keisuke and Arumi-san will be around. Things will get messy if I have to explain everything on that very day when they meet.
"In any case, you'll just have to treat her as a normal guest. No, seriously. There's no need to go all out."
Arumi-san's shoulders drooped exaggeratedly when she heard my request. However, she regained her spirits just as quickly, looked between me and Keisuke repeatedly and asked,
"Will it be better if we are to leave you two alone? How about Keisuke and I leave the house?"
"No, it's better for you two to be around......"
What Shinonome probably wanted was to 'visit a friend's house', which means it should be better if the family members are around. Probably.
Upon hearing my words, Arumi-san gave a "Uhh" and mumbled,
"The bitter-sweet feelings of love...... How nice......"
Is she a screw loose? Keisuke looked disinterested and directed his attention back to the papers.
To be honest, I'm not too keen on the idea of Shinonome using my house as a reference when Arumi-san and Keisuke are around. Moreover, my parents aren't here.
I then realized I have never once told Shinonome about my family circumstances. In any case, it would be better to inform her beforehand.
While thinking of that, I stuffed the last cabbage roll into my mouth.
Wednesday of the following week, after we were done with our duties at the counter, Shinonome and I made our way to the cafe.
Shinonome didn't open her book even after she was seated. That's probably because I had informed her beforehand I had something to say. She was looking at me in anticipation, very much like how a puppy would.
We ordered some coffee. Nothing was said until they were served to us. Shinonome remained silent. When the waiter came over and placed the cups of coffee on the table, I finally spoke.
"It's about my family."
Shinonome blinked a few times when she heard that. She probably was not expecting that from me.
"Well, you're coming over on Saturday, aren't you?"
"So I thought I should inform you beforehand. My parents aren't around."
I was worried she would interpret it wrongly and thought that my parents are dead, so I explained how my father was dispatched to America due to his work, and my mother followed along.
"...... So there's no one else at home?"
Asked Shinonome with her head tilted after she had listened to my explanation. I responded loudly with,
"My elder brother's around! It's not like we'll be alone in the house!"
It should be worrying for Shinonome if she came over and realized I was the only person at home. And that applies for me as well. I have never once encountered such a situation, so I wouldn't know what to do.
I was then reminded of something else and continued.
"Oh right. There's my brother's girlfriend too."
Shinonome tilted her head in the other direction. Despite the lack of words, I could see from her actions she was asking me why I had brought that up.
I thus had to explain to her Arumi-san's frequent visits to my house. She would nod in response while listening to me. When I was done, Shinonome finally said softy,
"That's so nice."
"I feel like I can write a story with just that."
It feels strangely real if it's Shinonome who's saying that as an author. If I fill her in about my feelings for Arumi-san, then wouldn't that allow her to write a melancholic story? But I have absolutely no plans to do that. It would be troubling if her attention's directed to that. Moreover, it's something of the past already, so I'm not too sure if I should tell her anyway.
"It's not interesting at all."
I said bluntly. Shinonome was dejected when she heard that.
Somehow, I'm acting cold to her yet again.
Ever since the trip to the theme park, for some reasons unknown to me, my heart pricks a little whenever I'm interacting with Shinonome. That won't happen if I'm not seeing her, but I'm helpless whenever I meet her.
Shinonome took out her cellphone from her bag. It was vibrating furiously in silent mode.
"May I take the call?"
I nodded in silence. Shinonome turned her head away apologetically and pressed the phone against her ear.
There was the occasional mention of the word 'draft' by Shinonome — I could easily tell she was speaking to her editor just from her attitude. Every time she speaks, the dangle on her phone would sway about as though it were bored.
Looks like the conversation won't be ending any time soon. I took out my phone in boredom to stare at it. There's the exact same dangle hanging from it.
That's quite a snobbish expression — I thought to myself. I really couldn't understand how anyone could find this thing cute.
As I looked up, I realized Shinonome was already done with the call. She was looking at me. When she saw the dangle on my phone, she smiled and said,
"I thought you already took it off."
"It's hanging there nicely...... You gave it to me, after all."
The hint of helplessness in my voice was clear as day. Shinonome probably did notice my feelings. because she was nudging the dangle on her phone dejectedly with her finger. It actually felt like she was teasing the monkey.
I couldn't help but to picture myself as the monkey once more.
Is Shinonome just playing me in her palms? Though she said everything was for her research, could that have been a lie? Perhaps it was all for the sake of watching me get flustered for her own amusement?
There was a long, awkward silence between Shinonome and me.
Shinonome placed her phone into her bag, then added some sugar into her coffee.
A sudden exclamation from me. Shinonome, who was stirring the coffee with a teaspoon, froze in shock.
Inquired Shinonome, lowering her head and peeking at me.
The exclamation of mine was due to me remembering the incident involving Ikehara a few days ago. I wasn't sure if I should tell her about it though.
Asked Shinonome worriedly. Answering with "Nothing" will make it look like I'm hiding things from her, which may result in her being even more worried instead.
"It's nothing...... Back when Shinonome was on sick leave, I mentioned how Ikehara stood in for you, right?"
"That was when Ikehara noticed we have the same dangle...... then, well, rumors about us began spreading the very next day."
Shinonome's expression told me she genuinely had no idea what I was talking about.
"Rumors about how Shinonome and I are dating......."
The regret I felt was instant. I should not have said that. I knew very well how bad it will be for my mental health regardless of Shinonome's response.
Shinonome's eyes were floating about — I couldn't see through the thoughts in her mind. She finally stared at me with her head tilted and asked,
"Are you...... troubled by that?"
"Is Minami-kun disturbed by rumors like that?"
I wonder if there's anyone brave enough to say "no" after hearing a question like that.
"Ah, nope. I don't really mind......"
"Really? Thank goodness......"
"What about Shinonome?"
The conversation should have ended with me, but I chose to chip in with a question of my own. Shinonome's eyes widened with surprise in an instant.
"Eh...... I do not...... mind......"
She then lowered her head right after. I don't understand what that meant.
What does she mean she 'doesn't mind'? Is it because she couldn't care less about baseless rumors? Or that it doesn't matter since the person's me? I could have apologized candidly with "Really? Sorry about that," if she replied with "I find it troubling."
I was about to incur psychological damage if the conversation continued, so I changed the topic instead.
"Speaking of which, have you begun working on the long story already?"
"Not the actual novel...... but I'm starting on the abstract......"
"It's sort of like a gist, if you will. First, I will have to show it to the editor. Then comes the modification before finally starting on the real story. However, it's common for short stories to do away with an abstract."
Our conversation didn't continue as planned, since there wasn't much to talk about if she hasn't even started on it yet. There's the abstract which I could delve into, but to be honest, I have no inkling about the professional world. I wasn't sure I could keep the conversation going.
I lifted my head to look at the clock hanging on the wall. It has only been thirty minutes — we would normally last an hour here.
"...... It's about time."
I suggested. Shinonome nodded faintly and stood up.
We paid for our own drinks and walked to the station together, as usual. Nothing was said between us.
At the station, as we were about to go our own ways, Shinonome turned around briefly to look at me. It seemed like she had something to say, but she shook her head instead.
"Sorry...... It's nothing. See you tomorrow."
I lifted my hand and turned away from her. As I walked up the stairs which led to the platform, I could see Shinonome standing on the opposite side. She was reading, unaware I was on the opposite platform.
When I stepped onto the platform, the train going in the opposite direction arrived, sandwiching itself between Shinonome and me. When it left the station, Shinonome was nowhere to be seen as well. A sense of loneliness hit me.
Finally, my train arrived.
As the train rattled along its path, I leaned against the window while standing. Gazing at the scenery beyond the windows, I was more or less coming to terms with my feelings.
Like how I was strangely irritated when I'm with Shinonome, or the way I was behaving calmly around Arumi-san recently.
I could sort of understand what that was all about, but a part of me was unwilling to accept it. I was held back by a whole lot of issues — the slight embarrassment, how troublesome it felt, and also this strange pride of mine.
I'm not quite sure if what I'm saying is appropriate, but it's a shame — to be honest, I'm at the point where I'm forced to admit this.
I'm actually in love with Shinonome.