Chapter 3: Seconds Before My Breath Stops
I’ve always tended to not see dreams…
Takarai Sosei was lying on his bed, staring faceup at the ceiling with the back of his right hand against his forehead.
In the first place, it was always hard for me to fall asleep. But, to think I couldn’t even catch a wink of sleep…
He could tell that the sky was brightening even through the relatively thick curtains. It was already morning. Quite some time must have passed since the sun was already up. He gave up on trying to catch any sleep and was about to get up. Just then, the phone by his pillowside buzzed.
He quickly snatched the phone. It was a Line notification.
That short sentence was all. The sender was Shiramori Asumi.
“…T-That s-surprised me. I thought who…”
He suddenly jolted up.
“N-No, wait! That’s right! I’m supposed to reply something at times like this, isn’t it…?”
Sosei grasped the phone tightly in his hands and pondered hard. In his deliberation, he had inadvertently started doing sit-ups when another message came.
[I saw a dream in which you appeared, Sosei… Wanna guess what’s it about?]
“H-HUH! A-A-A dream…? D-Dream… H-How am I supposed to k-know…”
His hands trembled. He had stopped with the sit-ups, yet he still ended up drenched in sweat.
“…W-W-What should I do? S-She’s expecting a reply, isn’t she? Must I answer it? W-What could her dream be… is it a nightmare? N-No, that would be… Argh!”
He was about to toss the phone aside when he barely caught his hand. Yet another mail had arrived from Shiramori.
[It was a great dream!]
A stamp followed after the short message. It was that of a character of a cat or something (he couldn’t tell what it was) with a bright grin on its face.
Sosei finally slumped and let out a breath. However, he still couldn’t stop his cold sweat.
“O-Oh… n-need to reply back something…”
[A pleasant morning to you. I’m glad it wasn’t a nightmare.]
“…How about something like this? Will this do…?”
He pressed the reply button.
A second later, he shook his head vigorously.
“No! This feels wrong! Not like that…!”
A reply came back in no time.
Sosei jumped out of bed and was about to smash his head against the wall when he realized.
“No… no no no! I’ll damage the wall! But… Aaaaah! It was a mistake! Oh no, oh shit, what now! She’s angry now for sure…!”
Unbeknownst to his anguish however, the message was soon followed by another stamp.
He still couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be, but it depicted a cat-like character clutching its stomach and rolling on the floor laughing.
He dropped onto his knees and held his phone up as if in prayer.
“She’s… not angry…!? Is she? She found it funny…? Why!? No, but, it’s fine… Yes, it’s fine! As long as she’s not angry…”
As he was jumping into his own conclusion, another message arrived.
[I can’t wait to see you in school.]
“…C-C-C-Ca-, can’t w-w-wait…”
He read the reply over and over again, even as his breath turned faint.
“This is bad for my heart…”
* * *
I can’t believe it… this is the first time…
As he swapped his outside shoes for his indoor shoes at the shoe rack, Sosei sighed for the umpteenth time today.
To think coming to school would be so heart-pounding…
Takarai Sosei wanted to be like a normal high school student you could find anywhere.
It’s not like I’ve never imagined what it would be like to have a girlfriend. But somehow, this feels different. Totally different. Then again, what do I know about having a girlfriend. Nothing I could possibly know…
Before entering, he spied the state of the classroom. Hayashi Yukisada was there. Then there was Hitsujimoto Kuchina, resting her chin on her hands as she stared outside the windows.
Hitsujimoto-san’s discreetly early. Was she always? I wonder. It kinda feels like she was always already in the classroom. Shiramori-san’s not here yet, huh…
He took a deep breath before heading into the classroom. When he did, several people turned to look at him.
An outgoing member of his class, Wakuya Koichiro aka Wack, greeted him with a gesture like a salute. Sosei tried his best to form a smile as he greeted him back.
“Good morning, Wack.”
That was the best he could manage.
…I wanna try that too. “ ‘Sup.” But, I can’t. It’s too embarrassing…
Despite Sosei’s seemingly lukewarm reply, Wack gave him a thumbs-up along with a wink. That was how he was like towards everyone.
It’s like he’s made of nothing but friendly energy…
When he sat down at his desk, Yukisada came over. Yukisada had this coolish high school boy look, and when lit by the morning rays, his suaveness increased exponentially.
The combination of the dazzle of Yukisada’s smile and his lack of sleep made him unwittingly narrow his eyes.
“Yeah… Morning, Yukisada.”
He leaned forwards, coming to eye-level with Sosei who was sitting down.
“How was it?”
When he asked back, Yukisada leaned even closer and whispered.
“I’m asking about yesterday. Shiramori-san confessed to you, didn’t she? How’d you reply?”
Sosei lowered his face and covered his cheeks with his hands. It felt hot.
“…Well, I guess.”
“That is… I-I guess I…”
“You gave the green light?”
“…You could say that.”
Yukisada smiled roguishly.
“I see. Then I guess you guys are dating now. Good on you.”
Sosei moved the hands covering his cheeks upwards. Now, they wrapped around his head.
“Is it… good, really?”
“Nah, I’ve got no idea. But, it’s not something bad, right?”
“Shiramori-san’s pretty cute and looks like a fun and sunny person to be with too. Ain’t that great?”
He stood up straight and patted Sosei’s shoulders before walking away.
In exchange, someone else approached his seat.
Even Sosei had several people with which he could stand around and talk with. However, Yukisada was about the only one who would walk all the way to his seat to conversate. Up until yesterday, that is.
Sosei’s eyes widened. His back straightened so much it almost bent backwards, and his hands pressed tightly against his thighs.
That person was a girl. Her legs were rather long and she was walking pigeoned-toed. She approached slowly with her hands behind her back and facing downwards.
Her last step became a hop.
Landing two feet on the ground, she twisted her upper body to the right and smiled bashfully.
Sosei blinked, if you could call a blink where your entire face scrunch up as a blink. And then, he slowly gave a nod.
Was the continuation of what he wanted to say. However, he couldn’t form the words properly, and they turned into a cough.
“*Cough* *cough* *cough* …G-Good… M-Morning…”
Shiramori Asumi clutched her stomach and laughed wholeheartedly.
Sosei laughed along. His face was cramping up. No, that wasn’t all. His entire body felt like it was convulsing.
All of a sudden, she went silent. All expression was gone from her face, which made him anxious.
…Is she angry? Did I do something strange which made her angry…?
It didn’t felt like he was alive.
…Well, I actually know what it feels like to be dead, though. And not just once or twice. I mean, I died five times alone last night. It’s weird to say that I don’t feel alive when I’m actually still alive and breathing right now…
The reason for his distress was none other than Shiramori’s silence.
Should I apologize? Will that make things right…? But, how do I even…
Just when he was about to start seriously considering how to apologize to her.
“I’ve met you.”
It was very soft. Almost like a whisper, no, a murmur.
…I’ve… met you…?
The inside of Sosei’s mind was like a gymnasium without anyone in it. Shiramori’s voice echoed endlessly in the empty gymnasium.
I’ve met you.
I’ve met you. I’ve met you. I’ve met you.
I’ve met you. I’ve met you. I’ve met you. I’ve met you. I’ve met you. I’ve met you.
The gymnasium was supposed to be empty. But in that case, who was the one hearing this voice? Isn’t it himself? If that’s the case, then Sosei was in the empty gymnasium. In other words, it wasn’t empty. To begin with, this wasn’t even the gymnasium. He was in his classroom.
What is this feeling…
Suddenly, Shiramori emitted a strange shriek. She proceeded to cover her mouth with her hands.
“Ugh, I was being creepy. Sorry, let’s start over again!”
Her face turned beet-red. She turned around and walked away briskly as Sosei looked on in a daze.
What manner of cute creature is she…
* * *
Takarai Sosei wanted to be like a normal high school student you could find anywhere. Not like this.
His classmates glimpsed at him one after another, whispering to each other. ‘What’s going on?’ ‘You’re kidding!’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘I doubt that.’ ‘How could it be.’ It was nothing like the life of a normal high school student he had in mind.
It’s not like I don’t understand why they’re feeling this way…
It all started when Shiramori waved to him without any forewarning of any kind. What exactly was going on? Could it be that there’s some special relationship between those two or something? But, is that even likely? The action had perplexed and confounded his classmates.
After all, I’m the one in question…
Sosei was so perturbed that he turned to stare at Shiramori dozens of times during lesson—specifically, 32 times.
As a result, their eyes met a number of times—six times, to be exact.
The first and second time, by the time they realized, ah, our eyes met, they had already averted their gazes.
The third time was much longer. Still, it was only about three seconds before Sosei chickened out and turned away.
The fourth occurrence was right after that.
He was decidedly still curious and peeped over. When he did, he found that she was still gazing at him. From then, they looked each other in the eye for around five seconds. The teacher started saying something then and the two had no choice but to face the front.
During the fifth time, Shiramori covered the lower half of her face with both her hands. Sosei also mimicked her by covering the area around his mouth with his right hand. At that, she seemed to be on the verge of bursting into laughter. He watched her for a full ten seconds as she bent forward trying desperately to hold back her laughter.
The sixth round was especially memorable. After looking into each others eyes for several seconds, Shiramori stated to move her lips. Of course, she didn’t make a voice since they were in the middle of lessons. She was probably trying to tell him something by the movement of her lips.
It was a three vowel word.
She mouthed the words over and over again.
Eventually, Sosei got it.
Is it my name…?
He pointed at himself, prompting Shiramori to nod with a smile.
Shiramori-san… Is she even human?
He couldn’t help but thought.
Is this level of cuteness even possible for Homo sapiens… No! She must be some kind of higher being…
Even someone like him was able to think of baby animals as something cute. They were soft and round, able to bring out the protective instincts of an adult. They literally evolved that way to inspire an urge to protect and look after them in their parents and family. This raised the likelihood of them maturing into adulthood to continue the cycle.
But, what about Shiramori-san…?
Was there something common between her and a newborn animal?
In terms of roundness, there were some overlaps, but something was different. And obviously, she wasn’t cover in fur like an animal.
I don’t know…
When the period ended and they had a five minutes interval, Sosei couldn’t take it anymore and fled the classroom.
He made straight for the toilet, but didn’t felt an urge and left straight away,
He couldn’t return to the classroom.
…I’ve got… a bad feeling…
No alternatives in mind, he walked down the corridor aimlessly. Somehow, he started walking too fast and startled the other students he passed by, so he slowed down and the five-minutes break ended in no time. By the time he returned, the teacher had already arrived, making him stand out like a sore thumb.
On his way back to his seat, he couldn’t help but feel an itch to look at Shiramori.
But, what if their eyes met again while he looked at her.
I maght jusb frize on ghe spod…
The language center in his brain short-circuited. What happened to the life of a normal high school student you could find anywhere? Actually, where was there even such a thing? Sosei didn’t know anymore. He didn’t even have any idea where to start anymore.