Gekkou Volume 1 Chapter 3
Two days later, when Youko Tsukimori came to school again, even students from other classes came in crowds to our classroom to catch a glimpse of her.
One after another they expressed their condolences, showing nothing but expressions of pity.
Kamogawa’s voice could be heard from the human ring that had formed around the center of the room.
“School without you is like a night without the moon! Please Tsukimori, cheer up and light my footsteps in the dark as tenderly as you used to do!”
Oh how I would love to see him stumble in the dark and get stuck in a gutter.
A group of guys, Kamogawa among them, were trying to appear appealing, talking wildly to her. Taking advantage of a girl’s weakness might be a usual and practical strategy, but I just couldn’t endure watching their pathetic and honorless behavior.
“You’re quite the poet, aren’t you Kamogawa-kun? Thank you for worrying about me.”
However, Tsukimori dealt with each of them with utmost politeness, not showing the slightest frown—no, even smiling. Once again I came to understand why she was so popular.
Most people wouldn’t be able to behave as she did. At least I wouldn’t have been able to. After all, I was already annoyed and I was just watching her.
As soon as the wave of visitors broke off, Tsukimori stood up and, for some reason, headed towards me with a smile on her face.
“It’s quite unusual for you to approach me spontaneously.”
“But you came to my father’s funeral, didn’t you? I wanted to say thanks.” She sat down on Usami’s empty chair and smiled cheerfully at me. “So, thanks for coming, Nonomiya-kun.”
“No, it’s nothing that would deserve your appreciation. I merely attended as a representative for the class.”
“But it is. I was somehow relieved at seeing you being as laid-back as usual.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for being such a cold-hearted guy. I was worried about you in my own way, though, you know? Too bad you didn’t notice,” I said and shrugged uncomfortably, whereupon Tsukimori laughed cheerfully: “I don’t think of you like that!”
“Have things settled down at home?”
“There are still a lot of things that need to be taken care of, but for the time being, yes.”
“I see. You must have experienced some troublesome days, I guess. Well, school must have its troublesome aspects too, for someone as popular as you.”
Tsukimori shook her head, making her soft hair sway.
“I am very grateful that everyone is so worried about me.”
“It’s nice when others feel concerned about you, indeed, but there are limits that have to be respected, right? Aren’t those fanatic fans of yours a bother? Especially Kamogawa. Or Kamogawa.”
“I’m actually quite fond of that cute side of boys.”
I tried to find out her true thoughts by agitating her, but Tsukimori’s smile remained unchanged like an iron wall.
“Your mature behavior is remarkable.”
“I am happy that you view me like that, Nonomiya-kun.”
She accepted even my rather baffled words with a happy tone.
“—Nonomiya-kun,” Tsukimori said my name all of a sudden, “do you remember your promise?”
I don’t remember ever making a promise to her.
“If I’m troubled—”
“—Ah, I see.”
In the midst of her reminding me, I recalled a certain conversation I had with her one morning.
“Right, that promise.”
“Well, I promised indeed. Ask for whatever you like, as long as I can help you with it.”
It was a seed I had sowed myself, but deep in my heart I hoped that she would not have a bothersome request.
“It is something I would rather not talk about in the classroom,” explained Tsukimori with a subdued voice so faint that no one else other than me could hear her.
The next instant, I was tense from tip to toe.
“…I’ll be waiting for you in the library after school,” she whispered and left the classroom elegantly with her hair streaming out behind her.
The palm of my hand was drenched in sweat. Apparently, I was more tense than I had thought.
Her suspicious attitude had instantly reminded me of the murder recipe.
I sensed curiosity rising in me and hoped to get to the core of this affair at last. But at the same time, I was also alarmed because nobody, naturally including Tsukimori, should have known that the murder recipe was in my hands. My tension was proof that wariness exceeded curiosity, I suppose.
“What if Tsukimori knows that I have her murder recipe…?” I thought to myself, picturing an unhappy scenario.
Her father’s funeral had been conducted without incident; she had become a character akin to the heroine of some dramatic play and was on everybody’s lips. Could one of her plans possibly fail in the first place? Looking at how she had everything, that was the impression I got.
The only two things that were in her way were the murder recipe that had gone lost and I, since I knew what was written in it.
As soon as she got rid of these two unsafe elements, she would have conducted the perfect crime and obtain her own “ideal world”.
…perhaps she was planning on killing me in due time.
I gulped and my heartbeat got faster.
And then—I laughed.
I didn’t want to die. And I also had to admit that it was quite an absurd thought, but: I was intrigued. I was intrigued by how she would hunt me down.
Where else in my environment could I find such a stimulus? Furthermore, the opponent was Youko Tsukimori—I couldn’t have wished for anyone better.
I was convinced: this was the best time I’d had in the seventeen years of my life so far.
I took a deep breath and stepped into the library.
The room was filled with the scent of paper as dry as fallen leaves. It was not a smell I disliked. At other times, I might have started leisurely browsing the library, but not now.
Even though I was moving leisurely, my eyes were restlessly searching for Tsukimori.
And before long, I found her.
She was sitting further inside at a desk for studying, reading a book with an elegant cover.
As classes had already ended and this was a library, it was already silent anyway, but that silence was even stronger around Tsukimori, as if I had entered a different realm.
Bewitched by her pure appearance that made her hard to approach, I just stood there holding my breath for a while.
Her long-lashed eyes closed and opened softly as she blinked, and from time to time she led her hand to the edge of the page and smoothly turned to the next one. Her profile looked like the finest glass work, though definitely not created by man but a miracle brought forth by god. “I would be a rich man if I could cut out this scene and frame it,” I thought.
I confirmed that nobody was there except for Tsukimori and me.
“Once again, I’m sure the recent days have been hard for you—,” I leaned against a book shelf as I addressed her, “—losing your father in an accident and all.”
Tsukimori clapped her book shut and slowly turned towards me.
“Yes, especially for my mother. I have never seen her that down-hearted.”
She gave a weak, tired laugh.
“How about you?”
“I’m sorry, but I have not recovered enough to talk about it yet.”
Tsukimori shook her head with a troubled mien. It was a rather noncommittal answer.
“No, it was a rude question on my part. I beg your pardon.”
I bowed my head.
“By the way, what is your request?” I brought up the main topic after a breath, “You specially called me out to the library for this, so I should think it’s something quite delicate?”
“You told me to ask for your help if I am troubled.”
“Yeah, and you answered that you would consult me directly.”
“Exactly. That’s why I would like to get back to your offer, Nonomiya-kun. Please lend me a hand.”
Then she spoke as if humming a tune:
“I want you to go out with me.”
Her completely unexpected words made my mind go blank.
To be sure I chose to ask, “Where to?” but Tsukimori only bewilderedly replied: “You aren’t funny,” and shook her neat chin left and right.
“I suppose I’m not the person to criticize you, having already asked a tactless question just earlier, but you do realize that you lost your father only some days ago?”
Unlike Tsukimori I had to feign composure; I was observing all of her movements with the greatest attention in order to read her intentions while my brain ran full throttle.
“Do you want to say I am imprudent?”
“If you talk in extremes, yes.”
“Then you misunderstand me! Precisely because my father has passed away, I thought that I’d need someone for support. Isn’t it romantic if you call it ‘the support of my heart’? I am not as strong as everyone believes, you know?”
Indeed, this was a good reason, but there were still too many points that didn’t match.
“Then, why does it have to be me? I fail to understand why a popular girl like you would choose someone like me.”
Tsukimori giggled, “I didn’t know you were so gauche, Nonomiya-kun. It seems you don’t understand a woman’s heart at all if you ask for a reason why she confessed.”
I found her attitude a little irritating.
“But you don’t seem to understand a man’s heart at all, either. At least I’m not so simple as to have no doubts whatsoever when a beauty asks me to go out with her all of a sudden. There’s always a catch to attractive deals, isn’t there?” I sneered at her as payback.
“Is that so? I was sure that boys never feel bad being confessed to by a girl?”
The certainty in her tone made me lose my words for a moment.
“Indeed…we are simple enough to be happy about it, but the reply is a different matter.”
I didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. I unintentionally prided myself on the confession that everyone would envy me for. Was it the difference in our experience points? My chances were awfully worse when it came to love.
“Is there a girl you are fond of, Nonomiya-kun?” Tsukimori suddenly asked—as easily as a waitress who confirms a customer’s order.
Usami’s face came to mind for a split second, but I neither liked her enough to mention her distinctly, nor was I straightforward enough to answer honestly.
“Is there a girl you are going out with, then?”
“…isn’t the order of questions a bit awry? Usually it would be the other way around, wouldn’t it?”
“Is that so? Maybe you are going out with someone you don’t love?” she answered with a wondering mien.
“…I think I finally understand why the guys say that all the rumors about you might be true.”
I shrugged over-exaggeratedly.
“Those rumors are nothing but that, rumors, and you are not the type of person that is swayed by them, Nonomiya-kun.”
“What makes you so sure? Even I watch my step if I hear some bad rumors, you know?”
“If you want, I can tell you which of them are true and which are not? In return—”
“—I hope you don’t want to make dating the condition.”
“Our chemistry is right!”
Tsukimori showed no sign of timidity, instead she even smiled brightly.
“As if I’d ever accept such an unfair condition!” This time it was me who was taken aback. “…I didn’t know you were this kind of girl.”
She made me dance to her tune from start to finish. All the possible replies I had simulated in advance for this conversation were going to waste one after another.
“This is my way of paying respect to you, Nonomiya-kun! You are the person I wish to go out with. I think there is no point in showing you only a superficial side.”
“I’m sorry about your respect, but haven’t you thought about the possibility that I might refuse?”
“I am ready to accept some amount of damage in order to obtain what I want. If you are afraid of getting hurt, you won’t obtain what you really desire. Well, revealing a few of my cards does not even count as damage anyway.”
“Exceptional self-confidence, indeed! No wonder that the girls of our grade add a ‘-san’ to your name.”
“I didn’t know you were such an uptight person either. I was rather sure you were the type to let things take their course.”
“I’m much more sensible than you may think. And a little contrary, too. And I’m definitely not daring enough to get myself involved in affairs that make no sense to me or that I can’t agree to.”
“Aren’t you just averse to doing things you are not interested in?”
“I won’t deny that! At any rate, if I go out with you, I won’t have my peace any more. I’m simply not leading my life actively enough as to take to attracting attention, that’s all.”
“It’s a shame that you are so stubborn, Nonomiya-kun…,” she said and fell silent.
We shared a painful silence.
Even the shouts of the sports clubs from the grounds seemed loud inside the soundless library and I heard the rustling of her skirt all too clearly when Tsukimori crossed her slender legs the other way around.
Tsukimori’s gaze was listlessly wandering about in the air, hesitating about something.
Even such trivial gestures looked like a scene of a movie, sweetening the time until her next words and keeping me from getting bored.
Then I saw her lips move calmly.
“—if I tell you the reason why I chose you, will you be more open towards my request?”
I gulped down. In my imagination she got straight to the point and proclaimed that the reason was that I had the murder recipe.
Such an answer would naturally be quite absurd, but as Tsukimori seemed to be an unpredictable person, I couldn’t deem it impossible any more. Tsukimori’s hidden character was bold, determined, and outstandingly clever on top of it.
That was the kind of girl approaching me. I couldn’t help but suspect some kind of catch in her request to go out with me.
“—More than now,” I replied, choosing my words carefully.
I had hardly finished speaking when she squinted one of her almond eyes and smiled mischievously.
“Because I like your looks. It would be even better if you weren’t a quibbler.”
Her reply caught me so flat-footed that I would have liked to fall on the floor, but I contained myself and launched a counterattack.
“What a coincidence. I also think you’re not half-bad, save for your personality.”
“We would make a well-matched couple then, wouldn’t we?”
“In the sense of awful, sure.”
Her constantly playing around with me had completely cooled me down.
Suspecting Youko Tsukimori to be a “father murderer” suddenly felt terribly idiotic and embarrassing.
Indeed, Tsukimori was a determined and bold girl, but I also knew that she was definitely not foolish. Even if she hypothetically had considered her father an eyesore, she would have found many other ways of getting rid of him without choosing the means of “murder”.
In the first place, could someone who had committed murder remain that composed? She was a peculiar girl, but I couldn’t sense even a shred of shadiness or malicious emotion in her.
Suddenly——something touched my bangs. I reflexively jumped backward.
After taking a look, I noticed that Tsukimori had stood up from her chair and had stretched her smooth white fingers towards me.
“Your hair looked so beautiful that I wanted to touch it very badly.”
Tsukimori gave me a bewitching smile, beautiful like the light of the moon.
—A shiver ran down my spine.
To me, that girl didn’t seem to be from the same world.
“Please think about it seriously,” Tsukimori said and moved toward the exit.
While she passed me, her hair stroked my cheek and left behind a strong scent of roses.
Even though I had planned to learn more about her, I now understood Youko Tsukimori even less than before.
Then I recalled how Kamogawa had compared her to wine.
I was intoxicated by Youko Tsukimori’s fragrance.