In spite of what the occupant herself said, the external appearance of the apartment where Senjougahara-san lived, Warren Villa, was spectacular to the point where you would think it was a prewar building. It felt the very image of venerability.
Araragi-kun had mean-spiritedly said that, in terms of earthquake-proofing, this place was more dangerous than those ruins (though I think this was just his way of expressing his concern for Senjougahara-san) but unexpectedly, as I went up the external staircase, I found that this was not the case, and it was soundly built.
Perhaps this is what is meant when people say older buildings are sturdier than recent, instantly-built structures.
Even the security of the place was incomparable.
There was a lock on the door!
…Now that I’ve actually come to a house, I realize just how much of a danger those ruins were.
It was dangerous.
“Father has work today and won’t be coming back, so stay here for today, Hanekawa-san.”
“Oh… can I?”
“Father isn’t coming home today, actually.”
“Why did you need to restate it like we’re in a romantic comedy?”
Senjougahara-san had a rather nuanced sense of humor, both before and after her rehabilitation.
Taking off my shoes, I excused myself inside.
She really didn’t have a hallway.
It was a neat 12 x 9 room — there was no furniture except for bookshelves and chests of drawers. It seemed possible that they had tried to fit with the room’s openness by not having much furniture, but, well, Senjougahara-san didn’t seem like the type of person who would have many things in any case. I was sure that her father was the same.
“Despite appearances, I used to live in a manor — back then, I would have let you have an entire room without batting an eye, but this is all I can do for now.”
“Don’t say it like Lupin.”
“What would you think if I told you that I went around to different convenience stores and spent a total of 90,000 yen because I wanted to win Lupin’s Fiat in Ichiban Kuji that badly?”
“I would think you have horrible luck.”
I sat down.
And looked around the room.
“This place calms me down, in a way.”
“Is that so? Araragi-kun always seems very ill at ease, though.”
“I doubt there’s a boy out there who can keep his cool in a girl’s room… but it’s, well, nice here.”
Unable to summarize my thoughts, I simply said these things as they occurred to me.
“It feels like home.”
Senjoughara-san put on a face, as though she didn’t really understand.
She probably didn’t.
It was natural, as neither did I.
Though I was the one who said it.
As though talking to myself.
What is “home” in the first place? — I certainly did live for fifteen years in the Hanekawa house that was now gone, so of course, by definition, to argue the case logically, it was “home”, and, as I myself had said when I saw it burning, it was “my house”.
Why is it that I feel more calm in this Room 201 than in the hallway of that house?
Why does my heart feel at ease here?
“At the very least, I don’t feel that it’s my house. After all, it hasn’t been that long since I moved here.”
“Well, of course, my previous home is gone as well.”
The house where Senjougahara-san had lived — the house that had been known to my entire neighborhood, that truly justified the use of the word “manor”, was now an empty plot of land.
No, it wasn’t even that.
Isn’t it just — a road, now?
I clearly watched my own house burn, even if it was from a distance — how does it feel, for one’s home to become something of the past?
I don’t know.
I don’t know — so I stopped thinking about it.
I won’t be bothered by it anymore.
I won’t be bothered by my own calmness.
“Take a rest from school today, Hanekawa-san.”
Senjougahara-san said, taking off her sweat-drenched T-shirt.
Saying this as one girl to another, she puts on an extremely good show when she, well, strips.
It was worth admiring, even.
“I’ll be resting as well.”
“I’m tired. Naturally.”
Now that I looked closely, Senjougahara-san’s eyes were rather bleary.
“I could fall into the embrace of my bed right about now.”
That’s a pretty amazing way to express it.
“I may be a former member of the track and field team, but it’s been too long. My legs are shaking. And you, Hanekawa-san, it looked like you made your bed well, but there’s no way you could have slept well in a place like that.”
“Well, that’s true, maybe.”
“And your hair looks horrible.”
“Please don’t talk about my hair.”
Flustered, I turned to face Senjougahara-san.
“But it’s only the second day of the second trimester, taking a break now is,”
“You don’t think it’s abnormal for someone whose house just burnt down to mosey down to school the next day like nothing happened? ‘Insensitive’ is the word people use to describe people who think like you.”
Taking off her jeans, Senjougahara-san said this strictly, facing me in her underwear.
Her stance told me that she would stubbornly refuse any disagreement.
Though she was wearing so little, no one could appear more valiant.
And no one could appear more sensual.
“Besides, you’re not planning on studying further, yes? Then there’s no reason to care about your attendance or student records anymore.”
“Well, that’s true, but…”
But they’re rules.
I want to obey them.
Because they’re rules.
“My goodness, just rest. If you must go to school, then you’ll have to defeat me first.”
Saying this, Senjougahara-san took on a stance from Chinese martial arts.
A gratuitously perfect Praying Mantis.
“Please don’t add your own sound effects… all right, I get it. I’ll do as you say for today, Senjougahara-san. And to be honest, I really do want to rest and relax. Thank you for making me do this.”
“If you say so.”
Besides, minding other people’s business like this isn’t like me — Senjougahara-san said, somewhat embarrassingly, but I wonder. Personally, I thought this sort of officiousness was just like her.
“Oh. Oh, but, is it all right for you to take a break, too?”
“Me? Well, as for me, I plan to go on to university based on recommendations. Regardless of my attendance record, damaging my student record would be — hmm, that’s right.”
Senjougahara-san seemingly worried for an instant, then immediately took out her cellphone. Just as I wondered who she was calling, Senjougahara-san pinched her nose, faked a hoarse voice,
“Cough, cough, oh, Sir? This is… cough, this is Senjougahara. I’ve caught the flu, it seems… it might be the newest strain. Cough, yes? My temperature? It’s averaging at forty-two degrees. I just broke my air conditioner with my fever. There’s no mistake, this is because of the heat wave this year. I’m swimming in sweat. I feel like I’m coming apart… I might infect the whole class, but can I come to school? No? Oh, is that so, I understand. How unfortunate. I really wanted to hear your lesson. Well then — ”
said this, and ended the call.
And, as though nothing happened,
she said this.
We are not good. At all.
“‘The flu’…? Why did you have to lie about that? What’s wrong with just a cold?”
“The bigger the lie, the harder it is to expose. It’s all right. There’s a doctor who I’ve known for a long time now, I can have him fake a doctor’s note.”
“There’s no way he’ll help you with that.”
What kind of doctor would put his own career at risk for the sake of a high schooler and her sickout?
Senjougahara-san was good at telling lies, and yet she wasn’t.
“And can you please put some clothes back on now? It’s really a bit awkward if you keep wearing nothing but that.”
“Hm? But I’m going to take a shower now.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Aren’t you going to, too?”
“Oh. Yes, please let me borrow your shower.”
Now that she mentioned it, I felt like I was completely covered in dust.
And I sweat a fair bit in my sleep, so the underwear I bought at the shop were in quite the sorry state as well.
The size felt a bit wrong in the first place.
“But, you first, of course.”
“Why are you being so reserved? Let’s go in together.”
After my suggestion, she said this invitingly.
And with a great smile, too.
One that I doubt even Araragi-kun had seen before, a smile that shone like the Sun.
“We’re both girls, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“No, wait, stop for a second. Actually, just stop. That sounds a little inappropriate.”
“Oh, Hanekawa-san, it’s not like I have ulterior motives. Or do you not trust your friend?”
“If the friend could say something like that in a situation like this, then maybe…”
“Don’t mistake me. I’m not like Kanbaru.”
Senjougahara-san said this with a serious face.
“I just want to see you naked. Nothing more.”
It seems new character traits are being added to Senjougahara-san.
I had previously heard about Kanbaru-san’s preferences, but now I wonder about relationship of the Valhalla Combo when they were in middle school, and how it was perhaps not just a one-sided affair.
“Please, Hanekawa-san, take a shower with me!”
This Senjougahara-san was just too new a character.
Who would be able to follow this?
“If we work together, we can defeat Sengoku-chan!”
“Didn’t the story already establish that you don’t know about her yet…?”
And now metafictional remarks.
I have to be careful.
Just like how I have to be careful of Senjougahara-san.
“…Well, all right. We’re both girls, after all, so I don’t really mind that much.”
“Oh. I’m surprised you’d agree.”
Senjougahara-san returned to her usual self.
“I’m saying this as the one who invited you, but I would have thought that you were the sort of person who would have a line you’d never cross, even with a friend.”
“Ahaha, a line? What? Like someone who never lets anyone into her room, or never plays with anyone outside of school, people like that?”
“I won’t deny that.”
I have lines, too.
Perhaps you could say that I disliked others rudely intruding on my affairs despite my doing the same in return — my relationship with Araragi-kun was exactly like that.
And why it ended up like this.
“But there’s no reason to keep my distance and act aloof to someone who just slapped me while crying her eyes out.”
Senjoughara-san’s face became red.
She pouted, as though she was sulking.
She had been beautiful when she was expressionless as well, but this Senjougahara-san, her face filled with expressions, was also very beautiful.
So much so that maybe I should be the one asking her to shower with me — or is that saying too much?
It was then that the phone in Senjougahara-san’s hand rang. I thought that perhaps Hoshina did realize how unnatural Senjougahara-san had sounded and called to ask again, but that was apparently not the case.
It was the ring tone for a new message, anyway.
“Who is it from?”
“Araragi-kun. Hmm. From the contents, I think you’ll be getting the same thing.”
“Why don’t you check? You can just use the outlet there. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to pay for it.”
“Adding that line actually makes you sound really petty…”
Saying this, I took my cellphone out from my bag and plugged it in. Without waiting for it to ring by itself, I checked my mailbox.
New Messages — 957 Items.
“Oh, don’t mind those, I sent those because I was worried.”
“You sent 956 messages in one night?!”
Over half of the messages in my Received folder seemed to have been pushed out and was gone from the memory.
Is this supposed to be my fault?
Shouldn’t I be asking for an apology for this?
As I thought this, I hurried to check the latest message — it really was sent by Araragi-kun.
‘not comingback yet dont worry’
There was neither a subject nor a signature — the message was so bare, calling it ‘straightforward’ would be an exaggeration. It was an urgent mail, as though he was wrote it in such an emergency that he didn’t even want to waste time with capitals, punctuate properly, or fix the spacing.
“Perhaps this is to be expected, but it seems Araragi-kun is at it again — and this time, it appears to be quite serious.”
Senjougahara-san, having seemingly received the same message, said this, mixed with a sigh.
She seemed astounded, even.
“I don’t really know what happened then, but judging from the message, this sounds as bad as spring break, or worse.”
“You think so too?”
“Yes. Well, at least he took the time to send a message this time, so perhaps he has grown… back then, he really couldn’t see anything except what was in front of him.”
Does it — have something to do with Mayoi-chan?
Well, Mayoi-chan was only looking to have her backpack returned, and that was the only reason why she was looking for Araragi-kun, so she should be unrelated to what Araragi-kun was involved in right now —
But, for some reason, I felt that way.
And with absolute certainty.
“It’s no good. It wouldn’t connect.”
At some point, Senjougahara-san tried to call him (and with so little hesitation in the act as well) and, with almost no hint of having done something audacious, she snapped shut her cellphone and put it in its charging stand.
“Well, he’s a boy, so I suppose we don’t have to worry for him… it should be all right. Once he comes back, I’ll brag to him about taking a shower together with you.”
“I don’t think he’d be bothered by that.”
“Hanekawa-san’s body curves like this here, it goes like this there…”
It wasn’t indecent so much as it was alluring.
“But, this would mean that we have to deal with the tiger ourselves.”
The tiger — the one I saw when I went to school.
The giant tiger.
The talking tiger.
Speaking of which, that was the reason that Senjougahara-san said made her worry too much —
“But the tiger — ”
“Hm? I’d wondered if that tiger wasn’t the cause of the fire… was I wrong? Is the cause clear?”
“No, we still don’t know — ”
It — might have been arson.
That was what the firefighters had said —
The tiger — it was the reason —
” — we don’t know.”
“I see. Then it seems I should have put one foot in front of the other. As a track and field team member would.”
“Please don’t waste such a striking look on a joke of this level.”
“Now, Hanekawa-san, it’s time. We should have our shower, for him as well.”
“I don’t think we need to do this for him.”
“I will be looking at your nude body for him.”
“Please just do that for yourself.”
Senjougahara-san promptly consented.
Well, I wouldn’t know what to do even had she resisted.
“Ah, yes, now that I actually think about it, Araragi-kun can no longer feel excitement from a naked girl or her underwear.”
“Yes. He’s risen in level after the experiences of these few months. As he tells me, just the act of wearing a skirt is erotic.”
“From that point of view, there really is no way for a girl to protect her body.”
“Oh man, just look at those hemlines waving in the wind, he says.”
“So he doesn’t even need to look inside them anymore, huh…”
That is high-level.
“Well then, let’s help wash each other’s breasts.”
“You mean help wash each other’s backs, right?”
Thinking that it wouldn’t be good to stretch the conversation out any further, I hurriedly began taking off my uniform, but Senjougahara-san suddenly asked me a question.
With a face that was neither smiling nor serious.
“Do you still like Araragi-kun?”
“Yes. I still do.”
I answered her immediately.