Chapter 1: Someone Like Me Can’t Possibly
Takarai Sosei wanted to be like a normal high school student you could find anywhere.
Sosei was washing his hands. His classmate, Hayashi Yukisada, was next to him wiping his hands.
It was something extremely commonplace for normal highschoolers. Bringing your friend with you to the toilet during the break between lessons. Washing your hands together at the sink after you guys are done with your business. There was nothing out of the ordinary at all.
“You’re kinda weird.”
Yukisada said so while snickering. Sosei directed a questioning look at him.
Yukisada turned off the tap. He had an incredulous look on his face.
“Huh? You don’t realize it?”
“No, it’s not that…”
His first response was to be noncommittal.
I am self-aware—but it hurts to hear it from other, I mean…
At the very least, he tried his utmost best to appear normal when in school. That he did.
“When you say weird, like what?”
He received an immediate reply.
“You take far too long to wash your hands, Sosei.”
He was just scrubbing in-between his fingers when Yukisada pointed that out.
“…Too long? Huh? Is it really…?”
“Yep, long long long.”
He looked like he was suppressing his laughter.
“You don’t always see people who wash their hands that carefully, I’m telling you. It’s like you’re a doctor or something. More specifically, the one about to enter the operating theater.”
It’s not that long… Muttered Sosei under his breath as he finished up his hand-washing and took out his handkerchief to dry his hands.
Now that he mention it, everyone else does seem to finish up rather quick. Like they don’t even bother. The way they do it is way too sloppy to me… But I guess that’s how it’s done normally, huh. I’ll have to take note of that…
Yukisada chuckled even more.
“You also dry your hands way too thoroughly.”
“…Is it? Huh…”
Sosei kept aside his handkerchief while only having dried his hands to 65% satisfaction.
Ugh. My hands are not completely dry yet. It feels gross…
However, if this was the standard for how dry a normal high school student wipes their hand, it must be done.
I’ll have to bear with it…
A sigh escaped from his lips.
Yukisada laughed again when he saw that. This classmate of his whom he could probably call a friend liked to laugh, though that’s not to say he often burst into laughter. Nevertheless, there was a wide variety to the way he laughs.
“By the way Sosei.”
“Do you have a girlfriend now?”
Sosei unwittingly asked back. Come on, you know what I’m saying, was the response.
“A girlfriend. Do you have one?”
Somehow, he couldn’t comprehend what Yukisada was saying, as if he was speaking in another language.
Of course, girlfriend was an actual, common word. If you break it down, you get “girl” and “friend”. Girl as in a female, and friend as in someone you are close with. So, a girlfriend is a friend who’s also female.
However, that wasn’t what Yukisada was referring to. He meant the “girfriend”, as in “boyfriend and girlfriend”. In other words, a female whom one was in a special, specifically, a romantic relationship with.
In the two years he had been in the same class as Yukisada, such a topic had never almost never come up between them. Nah, it never did, zilch.
As such, why did he suddenly brought up the question about whether or not Sosei was dating someone?
Let’s go back a bit.
There was a girl known as Shiramori Asumi in Class 2-B that Sosei and Yukisada both belonged to.
She was among the tallest of the girls with a height of nearly 170 cm. She had a slim body and a rather small head. Her body to height ratio was such that one might say she had the figure of a model. Gossip had it that either her grandfather or grandmother was a foreigner and that’s why her skin tone and hair color were lighter than the rest.
On that note, Sosei was around 170 cm in height. He had no outstanding features. Not his eyes, nose or mouth. Nothing particularly big or small. His academics were also so-so. For someone like him whose appearance screamed mediocre, Shiramori Asumi was someone far out of his reach.
Quite far in fact, far enough that he had to wonder if they were even from the same planet. Despite being such a distant existence, Sosei was actually curious about her.
It wasn’t unwarranted. Not even because she was prettier than the rest, or any sort of reason regarding her physical appearance.
It was because of her gaze.
Shiramori, who only joined the same class as him this year, kept stealing glances at him from time to time for some reason.
Am I just imagining it? It’s probably all in my head. I must have been too sensitive—Or am I?
At first, that’s what he thought. However, the act continued oftentimes enough that he was forced to conclude that it was on purpose. Shiramori very obviously stole glances at him, and at an unnaturally high frequency at that.
Could it be…
Following which, Sosei came to consider.
You can’t judge a book by its cover… Although, sometimes it might be right on the nail. Could it be that Shiramori-san is also in this profession…?
If at all possible, then at least when in school, Sosei wanted to be like a normal high school student you could find anywhere.
Putting aside quantity, so long as he could have a few friends like Hayashi Yukisada. Being able to attend lessons everyday like this, and participate in the occasional school event. This lifestyle was utterly precious to Sosei.
Saying that he was curious about Shiramori might have been the incorrect way of putting it. Sosei had suspicions about her. He was keeping his guard up about her.
And that Shiramori had coincidentally met with Yukisada on his train ride home the other day.
“We were both by ourselves. I was just listening to music with my earpiece. Oh, wait. That’s not the important part.”
Right. That was completely irrelevant.
“Shiramori-san said, ‘Say Hayashi, you’re close to Takarai, right?’ So I told her, well yeah, we’re friends.”
‘Well yeah, we’re friends’…
Sosei felt his heart scrunch up a bit at that.
Well yeah… huh. We’re friends… Sounds about right…
He did not meet Yukisada anywhere outside of school. They did exchange contact on Line and messaged each other once or twice. That was already the closest Sosei had been with anyone. To go any further, such as to go out and play after school like what normal friends do, was too high a hurdle for him.
Yukisada continued as if it was no big deal.
“She asked, ‘Do you know if he has a girlfriend?’ ”
Sosei blinked twice. Then, his eyes went wide open.
“That got me thinking, ‘Say, does that guy have a girlfriend?’ And I realized I don’t know.”
Sosei almost burst into laughter. Even though it wasn’t particularly funny or anything, he felt the urge to laugh.
“No way. A girlfriend? Me? No no no… there’s no such person. Of course there isn’t. How could there be? Someone like me can’t possibly…”
“Huh? Why? I mean, it’s me you’re talking about. How could I possibly have a girlfriend?”
“How can you possibly say it’s impossible? Ah…”
Yukisada narrowed his eyes and grinned.
“Sosei, you just refer to yourself as ‘boku’, right. That’s also something you seldom hear nowadays.”
“I-Is that so? Well… I guess I’m in the minority? Right, yeah…”
Sosei aimed to be like a normal high school student you could find anywhere. Thus, he had also tried to refer to himself using “ore” like most other boys in their mid-teens.
…It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t roll off the tongue, using “ore”. I just don’t feel like myself. I can’t see myself using it and it’s embarrassing…
“So, it’s fine if I tell her you don’t, right?”
Yukisada re-confirmed and Sosei nodded.
“Yeah. There’s no such thing to begin with…”
I want a girlfriend. There was a time when Sosei wished that.
But, it’s impossible. In the first place, no one has ever said they liked me. And there probably never will be… for the rest of my life. Someone like me can’t possibly…
Afterwards, Yukisada seemed to have reported to Shiramori that ‘Takarai Sosei does not have a girlfriend’.
Following which, he was asked by her to pass on a message. According to Yukisada, it apparently went like this, ‘Come down to the passageway alone after school today’.
…A one-on-one showdown? Is that it?
The picture of an assassin and a gunman facing each other in a duel crossed his mind.
Passageway? You mean the school’s…?
The location was strange. So was a duel between an assassin and a gunman. Actually, where the hell did they even come from?
Is this a trap…?
* * *
The instant the bell signaling the end of school rang, Sosei headed for the passageway.
There was no one there.
That was only natural, given that lessons just ended moments ago. When he had left the classroom promptly, Shiramori was still in her seat. He stood in the middle of the passageway as he waited for her.
Soon, students who were members of the athletic clubs started walking past him. Shiramori still hadn’t appeared.
Is that it?
He could hear the energetic voices of the sports club members coming from the gymnasium and sports ground. Club activities were in full throttle. The only one left in the passageway was Sosei.
Is it a prank after all…? I still have no idea what’s the trap. Shiramori-san’s not here anyway. It has to be…
He hung his head, his face turning a burning red in seconds.
…How embarrassing. This is a complete failure. I still don’t know what’s failed but I’ve failed for sure. Time to head back. Yup, let’s just go…
Sosei was about to break into a run. Just then, Shiramori appeared at the end of the passageway.
He unwittingly muttered. Shiramori looked straight at him. For a moment, it seemed as if she was about to say something, but she stopped and approached him.
Wow. Her legs are long…
Sosei couldn’t withstand facing her straight and lowered his head. In doing so, he stared at her legs instead.
He suddenly realized something.
Shiramori’s legs weren’t just long.
They were beautiful.
Too beautiful in fact. The looks of her legs made something click in his mind.
Her legs were well-maintained, but only in the aesthetic sense. Did she underwent extensive training with them? Were they capable of running at high speeds or making high jumps? Could those legs kick an enemy to death relentlessly? The answer appeared to be “No”.
In short, those pretty legs were merely for show, with zero emphasis placed on functionality.
Shiramori came to a stop in front of Sosei.
Her voice came out softly.
“…There were too many people around. You sure came quick, Takarai.”
“Oh, the crowd…”
Indeed, there was a mad rush of students and teachers up till just a while ago.
Is that why she’s late? Because she was watching from somewhere and waited until the crowd dispersed before showing up…? If that’s the case…
Sosei was skeptical.
…Is it a duel, after all?
“I heard you don’t have a girlfriend. Is that true, Takarai?”
When she suddenly stated what she should have already known, he unknowingly took a step back, bumping into one of the passageway’s pillars.
Sosei glimpsed at the side profile of her face. Her lips looked soft and plump. It was strangely glossy. Like there was something else applied to it rather than just lip balm that seemed to make it glimmer.
“…d-don’t have a girlfriend.”
“You don’t have to be so nervous.”
Shiramori chuckled lightly and brushed back her brownish hair.
Sosei squeezed his chest. Some sort of fragrance, perhaps perfume, wafted by his nose. Perhaps because of that, the area around his chest tightened.
…My heart rate is…
She started to speak, lightly tapping the floor with the heel of her left leg. She faced the floor as she spoke.
“You can reject if you’re unwilling.”
Sosei felted lightheaded.
She raised her head slightly and looked at him with upturned eyes.
The school forbade girls from wearing makeup, but Shiramori had them on currently. However, they were so light you could barely tell. If he recalled correctly, she didn’t have them on when they were still in the classroom. In other words, she had put them on in the time during the end of lesson and when she showed up. Her face was so bright-red he could tell even with the foundation she applied.
“Please go out with me!”
Sosei stood frozen to the spot for around half-a-dozen seconds.
Huh… why so flustered?
That question popped up in his mind. It hurt. He didn’t know when, but he had stopped breathing. At this rate, he would die of suffocation. Thus, he inhaled. Exhaled and inhaled again. When he finally breathed normally, he gave his answer.
* * *
Sosei left the passageway. He was about to leave for home so he had to return to the classroom to pick up his bag.
…Was that all a dream?
He told Shiramori he didn’t have instagram, so they added each other on Line and exchanged numbers. It was a bit hazy now, but he still remembered so far.
That’s right. I remember. So, that means it actually happened…?
He was about to take out his phone from his pocket, but…
I’ll know for sure if I check. But somehow, I don’t want to…
After some deliberation, he decided not to.
Back in his classroom, he was just about to pick up his bag. It was right then.
Something in the classroom clanged. He had thought the classroom after school would be empty, but it wasn’t.
Someone was there.
At the seat furthest back by the windowside.
A girl was sitting there.
Sosei jerked back in surprise. He crashed into the neighboring table, causing a racket.
The girl turned to face him, her chin resting on her hands.
The glint in her eyes was sharp. Extremely sharp. Abnormally so. It would be no exaggeration to call it knife-like. And not just any knife, but a double-edged dagger used specifically to harm others.
He hurriedly rearranged the table, then slung his bag over his shoulder.
Unless he had cleaning duties, Sosei always left the class earlier before anyone else the moment lessons ended. As such, he did not know the state of the classroom after school. One thing he knew however, was that the classroom was silent when he came back. There wasn’t a single sound or voice. Thus, he assumed the classroom was empty.
…I always imagined her to be the kind to leave quickly once school ended, just like me…
People always referred to her, Hitsujimoto Kuchina, as “Hitsujimoto-san”.
There was nothing particularly strange about that. It was the nuance behind their classmates adding “-san” to her name that was somewhat special. Beyond the usual courtesy and affection the honorific conveyed, there were other emotions behind it.
From who knows when, people in the class came to say the following about her:
Those are definitely the eyes of someone who have killed before.
Hitsujimoto had sanpaku eyes. Simply put, her gaze looked antagonistic. In addition, the color of her iris was dark, making her eyes look like a bottomless pit.
For starters, her appearance was strange to begin with. Despite it being summer, she wore full black stockings. For some reason, she also wore gloves which she never removes. Was there some sort of reason she did not want to reveal her skin? That was unknown. She probably wouldn’t answer him if he asked either.
She did not talk to anyone. The only time she spoke was when giving attendance or when called upon during lessons.
Everyone thought Hitsujimoto to be an oddball. A few tried to approach her out of curiosity in the past, but they were all shot down. Those who accidentally stood in her path were glared at ferociously by her fearsome gaze. That dagger-like glint in her eyes practically sliced one into pieces. Soon, no one dared approach her. As the saying goes, don’t poke a sleeping bear.
Sosei unconsciously took a step back. He couldn’t tear his eyes off of her. However, if he kept walking backwards, he would end up colliding with someone else’s desk again. Thus, he turned his back to her.
I wonder if she’s in any club. Probably not? Yeah, most likely…
Just before he left the classroom, he turned around to look at her again.
If it isn’t Hitsujimoto-san, it’d probably be normal to at least ask what’s wrong, wouldn’t it? It seems rude to just ignore someone like that. I should probably call out to her at least, I think…
Sosei aimed to be like a normal high school student you could find anywhere. As such, he was fixated on what it was like to be a normal high school student. He didn’t know exactly what that entailed. But still, he tried his best to live up to the image of a normal high school student.
He scrounged up his courage and spoke. At that, her shoulders shook slightly. He was surprised; he didn’t expect her to react.
He squeezed out the word as if wringing it from his throat and made to leave. Right before he exited the door, a low voice reached his ears.
He reflexively turned back and uttered.
Hitsujimoto was still leaning on the table with her chin in her hands and facing outside the window.
Sosei stayed like that for five seconds.
However, she did not even move an inch.
…Was that an auditory illusion? No, it didn’t seem like it. I definitely heard that. That must have been Hitsujimoto-san. But…
He gave a slight bow and left the classroom. When he went down the staircase, his phone vibrated.
W-W-What. M-Must be from work, right? Yes, that’s it. It’s work-related…
He took a deep breath before taking out his phone. The display showed a Line notification.
“P-Perhaps it’s Yukisada…”
Sosei swiped past the lock screen and pressed the notification. He nearly fell over the steps when he saw the sender. It wasn’t Yukisada.
Of course, it was none other than Shiramori Asumi. It couldn’t be anyone else. There was a “2” next to the “Friends” on the main Line screen and the names displayed below were “Hayashi” and “Asumi”; i.e. Hayashi Yukisada and Shiramori Asumi respectively.
He tapped on the talk page with trembling fingers.
[Can I call you now?]
He would have fallen down the stairs had he not grabbed the railings immediately.
W-W-W-What… I-I need to r-reply…? B-B-But what should I write…?
In the meanwhile, as he fumbled around doing nothing, his phone vibrated again.
This time it wasn’t a message, but a voice call.
“I-It’s from S-Shiramori-san…?!”
He reflexively pressed the pickup button.
…Shit… It really is Shiramori-san’s voice…
What do you mean shit. He was completely lost and didn’t even know who it was or what it was he was cursing at. In any case, now that he answered the call, he had to say something. There’s no way he could cut it off right after picking up, speaking in terms of what a normal high school student would do, no, as any decent human being.
‘I called you.’
‘Where are you right now?’
“…W-Where? Huh? Oh… I-I-I’m still in s-school.”
‘Huh, you’re still there.’
‘I was thinking.’
‘Can I call you by your first name?’
‘Sosei. Like that.’
“…Ah… Um… I-I mean…”
‘You don’t like it?’
“N-No… no… I-I mean y-yes… no… Um, that…”
‘I was hoping you could call me by mine too, yeah?’
“…B-B-By your f-f-first name…?”
‘My friends have all sorts of nicknames for me. Like ‘Asumick’, or like ‘Asumin’ and so on.’
‘Maybe just ‘Asumi’ is fine.’
‘The ‘Ah’ is too long.’
‘Let’s just stick with ‘Asumi’.’
Sosei had unwittingly squatted down in the middle of the staircase without realizing. His breathing was erratic. Acutely erratic. He willed with his entire mind to calm down his respiration.
…Quite some time has passed and I was silent the whole time…
This cannot be allowed to continue. He welled up his resolve.
‘…My heart just fluttered.’
Sosei instantly broke out into a cold sweat.
That’s my line…