Did we just jump another chapter?
What is going on?
It couldn’t be that the number 13 was skipped due to its ominousness. In the past, Araragi-kun had said that he understood the sort of inevitability regarding skipping the number “13”, though he wondered just how influential the person who first came upon the idea of skipping “4” due to its association with “death” – and then spread this bit of wordplay around – must have been, but that didn’t mean “13” must be skipped simply because of that.
Well, it didn’t particularly inconvenience me, so let’s just move on — it was past noon by the time I awoke.
No one woke me up.
As Senjougahara-san had said, I did feel like I slept more peacefully here than at those ruins, a quiet and deep sleep that felt like it eased away the layers of fatigue that had wrapped around my soul.
Well, I was a little surprised at waking up and seeing Senjougahara-san’s sleeping face, though.
No, not just a little. I was honestly quite shocked.
The only way to call it would be a spectacle.
Her features were awfully fine — apparently, a beauty with her eyes shut can carry an almost completely different air compared to when her eyes are open.
In particular, Senjougahara-san’s smooth features, so overly-fine it looked as though she had been crafted, as though she was made from porcelain, and yet she was undeniably bewitching in a way impossible for a work of art, so that even I couldn’t help but feel my heart race.
My physical fatigue was gone, but I couldn’t possibly stay half-awake after having my blood pressure raised precipitously so soon after opening my eyes.
So Araragi-kun had always got to see this sleeping face all for himself, huh.
With just the slightest bit of adult content entering my mind, I got my face red all by myself.
I’m acting like an idiot.
I’m being an idiot.
…..Or, perhaps not.
Not even Araragi-kun could have a monopoly on this, not yet — Senjougahara-san lived with her father, after all.
The one who had seen his daughter’s sleeping face more than anyone else.
The one who watched over her more than anyone else.
It could only be her father.
Suddenly, Senjougahara-san opened her eyes.
It felt not so much like “waking” as “coming back to life”.
Or perhaps “being switched on”.
It seemed Senjougahara-san was also not the type to stay “half-awake” — even though appearance-wise you would think she suffered from low blood pressure.
Well, apparently there was no relation between low blood pressure and waking up in the morning, anyway.
If I had to suggest something, then perhaps low blood sugar would be related.
“Good morning, Hanekawa-san.”
“Good morning, Senjougahara-san.”
“Well, so we say, but it’s probably not the time for that anymore.”
“That’s true. It’s not.”
“What time is it?”
Turning my head, I once again checked the clock placed above the chest of drawers.
“A.M.? Or P.M.?”
“P.M., of course.”
How long were you planning on sleeping?
Begin flashback — after that.
After that, Senjougahara-san and I really did take a shower together — as it was my first time experiencing a shower with anybody else, I will simply report now that various embarrassing, awkward things happened.
Due to this, the initiative was completely held by Senjougahara-san, who actually did wash me here and there. She seemed very used to it, and they were clearly the skilled hands of someone experienced in the act.
She was used to playing around with girls!
That’s what it made me think.
I couldn’t sit still and do nothing after having that much done to me, though, so I started washing her back here and there.
In the bathroom that was not quite big enough, we were, literally, completely open with one another. I’m not sure how I should express it, but I certainly feel like I’ve crossed a line.
If I had been facing a line, I certainly did cross it.
You could say it was a turning point.
At the very least, there was no longer any particular reasons to hold back when I was with Senjougahara-san, or so it felt. Truthfully, I had been forcibly brought here by her, and still felt some resistance to the idea of staying at someone’s home.
But after being taken care of for just one day, I could think such things so honestly.
That was the feeling I got.
I honestly thought that.
Speaking of which, that was something I had not done for quite a long time.
What does it mean to be honest?
What does it mean to think?
It would just end up in incoherent rambling if I consider it too deeply.
Though now that I thought about it, Senjougahara-san was also the kind of person who built firm walls around her heart.
Back when she had been mistakenly called a ‘high-class daughter’, she would never have done anything like letting me stay at her place or taking a shower with me, or even running around the city searching for me in the first place.
I thought of the various things she must have overcome these few months, of their weight.
How pathetic I must be that I should experience various things myself and yet, in the end, overcome not a single thing.
I haven’t — overcome anything.
Even after the turmoil of Golden Week, or the day before the Cultural Festival.
I haven’t grown at all.
I haven’t changed.
That’s why I am so very envious of Senjougahara-san — and yet so very fond of her, and could never hate her.
I honestly thought that.
After playing around in the shower for about thirty minutes (no one was there to stop us) we left the changing room feeling refreshed.
We wiped ourselves dry and put on our underwear.
“Of course, I assume you’ll be reluctant to try on my underwear, but at least take my pajamas.”
“I’ll just go and throw out those dreadful discount-shop sweats. You can choke a chorten with those.”
“Huh? Are they that bad?”
Senjougahara-san shook her head, seemingly irritated by her dripping hair.
It was a very frank comment.
“Clothes like that weren’t made under the assumption that people would wear them… they’re for mannequins. Or to confirm the functionality of a coat hanger, perhaps.”
Was it that bad?
As there had been no mirrors in the ruins, I never had a chance to check how I looked in those clothes… but perhaps part of what made Senjougahara-san cry when she saw me sleeping in my self-made bed was because of I was sleeping in those clothes.
Well, that’s not good.
“But, can I? Borrow your pajamas, I mean.”
“It’s all right. I have quite the wardrobe.”
“In that case, thank you.”
I took out fresh underwear from the ones I bought at the shop.
After that, I put on the sleepwear taken from Senjougahara-san’s chest of drawers.
It was a strange sensation, wearing someone else’s clothes — there was a sense of openness distinct from the act of wearing clothes.
It felt as though something had been permitted.
Though, as Senjougahara-san was tall and her clothes size bigger than mine, it felt looser than it needed to be.
“But of course, the area around your bust looks uncomfortably tight. Wonderful.”
“No, it’s not really that tight…”
It’s just sleepwear. That’s normal.
It’s not a matter of course.
After waiting for Senjougahara-san to put on her pajamas, we dried each other’s hair.
That didn’t take long — though we had fairly long hair in the first trimester, by now the both of us were at the length of bob cuts.
We were soon dry.
It made me feel as though something was missing.
“But Hanekawa-san, ever since you cut your hair after the Cultural Festival, you’ve been growing it out again, haven’t you?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah. I haven’t been to a salon since then.”
“Are you letting it grow again?”
“Mmn — I don’t really know. I only really noticed after I cut it, but I didn’t realize how much time it took to look after it if you keep it long — don’t you think so?”
“Hmm. Well, you have a point, I suppose.”
“Like when you wake up.”
She’s not letting go of that, is she?
“So I’ve been wondering if it’s all right to let it grow after graduating — or something like that.”
“After graduation, hmm.”
Senjougahara-san repeated my words in a meaningful tone.
“To be honest, it still sounds a bit dubious to me. I certainly don’t believe that you need tertiary education, but it isn’t as though university is just a place for studying. As I see it, travelling around the world and going to a university are the same thing.”
This had been brought up as a topic of conversation many times now, but it made me think that, really, it’s because she could say things like this so clearly that I liked Senjougahara-san.
Yes, I wouldn’t be going to university.
That was why I didn’t need to worry about my attendance or student records.
I was set on travelling around the world for about two years once I graduate — most of the planning was already done. Arranging too detailed a schedule would make it feel like a package tour, so I made a straightforward plan through-and-through.
At this point, only Araragi-kun and Senjougahara-san know about this “future course”.
The way he was, Araragi-kun did not attempt to stop me.
The way she was, Senjougahara-san was quietly in complete opposition.
“Seeing the way you could sleep in those ruins without a care just makes me oppose this even more. Even more resolute, you could say. You do realize that not every country is safe like Japan, don’t you? By the time anything happens, it would be too late, you know. All the men in the world would be after your skin.”
“Just imagining your skin being sunburnt as you wander the tropics makes me truly feel despair.”
Senjougahara-san’s face was one of true despair.
Just why is she so attached to my skin?
“Really, perhaps I should just put a collar on you and confine you to a locked cage…”
“Senjougahara-san, Senjougahara-san. You’re suggesting doing horrible things to me in this safe country.”
“Aren’t you just being stubborn?”
Senjougahara-san ignored my quip.
Speaking of which, Araragi-kun told me that she also ignores many of his comebacks.
Maybe she’s just an airhead.
“Not that I would know who you are doing this against: Araragi-kun, Oshino-san, perhaps me — or someone else. Those parents of yours, for example.”
That shut me up for a bit.
It made me think.
Perhaps that was true — no, it’s not.
“I’m not being stubborn. I wouldn’t decide my own future based on my own stubbornness.”
“Really. If you say so.”
“I just want something that can cover for what I don’t have enough of — oh, yes, as people like to say these days, a journey to discover myself.”
“To discover yourself.”
“Of course, I already met ‘myself’ during Golden Week — so maybe it would be more correct to say ‘a journey to create myself’ and find a new me.”
“Hmm. Well, I doubt I could overturn a decision you firmly swore to yourself. I may be resolute, but you are obstinate. However,”
“If you ever feel like not going, you can stop anytime you want. You can turn back even in the middle of your journey. We would never think it shameful. Yes, ‘we’. It’s obvious that even Araragi-kun really does want to stop you.”
I was talked down.
But I wonder.
I didn’t quite entirely know how Araragi-kun felt about me — anyway, we finished drying our hair in the course of this not-really-a-girl-talk.
Senjougahara-san then took out one set of bedding from the closet.
“There is one more set, for Father, but I don’t know about that. I guess a high school girl would be reluctant to sleep in the beddings usually used by a middle-aged man into his forties. Yes, there’s no choice, sleep together with me, Hanekawa-san.”
Now that was some snap decision.
“It’s all right, it’s all right, really! Don’t worry! I won’t do anything at all! We’re only sleeping together! I won’t lay a finger on you!”
It took quite some skill, the way she was able to appeal for trust and lose it at the same time.
“I won’t treat you like a hugging pillow!”
“…I think I get why you go out with Araragi-kun now.”
The suspicion that it was possibly Senjougahara-san, and not me, who made Araragi-kun the way he is now quickly surfaced in my mind.
And when I really thought about it, back during spring break, I remember that Araragi-kun was comparatively similar.
Yeah, it’s not my fault, then.
“Okay, I get it. I wouldn’t have worried even if you hadn’t said anything.”
“Is that so? Thank you.”
Senjougahara-san thanked me for some reason.
She was a girl who ranked unnaturally high on the suspicion scale.
“Well, then use my pillow, Hanekawa-san. I’ll use Father’s.”
“? Huh? Oh, right, why can’t you just use your father’s beddings, then?”
At her age, a daughter would clearly feel some rejection towards her father, even if they’re family, or no, because they’re family, so she wouldn’t want to use the same beddings as him — was the reason I had thought of, but that didn’t seem to be the case, not when she was fine with using his pillow.
“What? But if I use Father’s beddings, I wouldn’t be able to sleep with you, now would I?”
It was an extraordinarily logical reason.
Very difficult for me to undermine.
“And since I’m actually in love with Father, if I actually try using his bedding I’ll be too aroused to sleep.”
“You’re baring too much to me.”
What kind of family is this?
Well — as I had absolutely no idea of what a ‘family’ was, this wasn’t a joke I could make at a moment’s notice.
“At any rate, every house has its own sort of familial relationship — Araragi-kun and his sisters, for instance. Isn’t their relationship clearly abnormal?”
“Yeah, it is!”
Without a thought, I enthusiastically agreed.
Plainly put, the relationship between those siblings was dangerous.
It was something that had been in constant conflict with all logic, and worse, it recently began moving towards a total victory.
The situation was extremely perilous.
“I was introduced to Karen-san and Tsukihi-san the other day, and the amount of respect in their eyes when they look at their brother… compared to that, my feelings for Father are well within range of ‘normal’.”
There was an undeniable sense that she brought up an even worse example to normalize herself, but let’s not press the issue.
Having lived in the same house, spent fifteen years together with those two, and yet unable to become a family with them in the end — it wasn’t something that I should press on.
Even that house,
was gone now.
Without a house — we cannot become a family.
“Now, shall we go to bed? Hanege… no, Hanekawa-san.”
“It’s not actually possible to mispronounce ‘Hanekawa’ as ‘Hanege’, you know.”
The only common point is the part in the beginning, and the words are vocalized differently. It couldn’t have been an accident, but ever since Senjougahara-san’s expressions became more varied, it became wholly impossible to know how serious she was being just by her appearance.
The time was 8 A.M.
We could still make it to school in time if we made a dash for it now, but I meekly reported to Hoshina my intent to be absent.
I tucked myself into bed with Senjougahara-san.
Bidding each other a good night.
Even this hadn’t been done by me in a fairly long time, and it felt as though it were the first time I said it. After all, I would say ‘good morning’ to Rumba, but I couldn’t say ‘good night’.