Senjougahara-san was most likely feeling frustrated.
In the end, I hadn’t understood even half of what Senjougahara-san had said, of what she had been trying to say, but even so, I got a feeling. That was what it felt like me.
And it really was just a feeling.
Nothing more than just a feeling.
It was lunchtime, and I left the classroom, heading to the cafeteria to have lunch — normally I would prepare a lunch box, but of course, I could only do so much in someone else’s kitchen.
No, after all the things Senjougahara-san had said to me, I probably wouldn’t be able to make lunch even in the kitchen of my own home.
My own home.
If that truly existed, then perhaps, like a normal person, my cooking would have this thing called ‘taste’ — I thought of such things.
After walking down the hallway for a while, a figure I recognize appeared directly before me — it was Kanbaru Suruga.
Kanbaru-san was coming from the other side, heading in the opposite direction as me (but even though she was just walking along, she seemed somehow happy. At this distance, I could tell that she was humming a tune) so she noticed me at the same time.
Said she, in a voice that was unthinkably loud for the hallway, and she ran up to me, at a speed that was unthinkably fast for the hallway.
An Instant Transmission-like speed.
The two tails of her hair arrived after a short delay.
“Well, well, Hanekawa-senpai! It’s been a long time, glad to see you’re still well!”
She’s very energetic, isn’t she?
It wasn’t just cheeriness.
Not knowing how to respond, I simply nodded.
Judging from her reception, it did not yet reach her that there had been a fire at the Hanekawa house. Well, considering Kanbaru-san’s personality, it didn’t seem impossible for her to be this energetic even if she knew.
She was courteous, but she had zero consideration for others.
That was the personality of Kanbaru-san.
“I’m heading to see Senjougahara-senpai right now, actually.”
Said the courteous yet inconsiderate Kanbaru-san.
“Is she in the classroom?”
This felt rather expected.
She did not even need to say it.
It never crossed my mind that Kanbaru-san would race over in such a manner due to a pressing matter concerning me — Kanbaru-san was essentially uninterested in anyone except Senjougahara-san.
To the point where she had applied for this school, Naoetsu High, simply to follow her.
Although Araragi-kun had apparently managed to widen that horribly narrow field of view of hers —
I did feel quite envious of her forwardness.
Or perhaps it should be called her single-mindedness.
At the very least, Senjougahara-san would not feel frustrated with her.
She was, strong.
She was heartening — would that not be how Senjougahara-san thought of her?
Kanbaru Suruga-san — Naoetsu High School, second-year.
The underclassman of Senjougahara-san since middle school (in other words, a schoolmate of mine from the same middle school, but I had not been acquainted with her then. I had simply, one-sidedly heard about her) and together, they were known as the Valhalla Combo.
They were the Valhalla Combo, due to the words ‘god’ (神) in ‘Kanbaru’ (神原) and ‘battlefield’ (戦場) in ‘Senjougahara’ (戦場ヶ原), and the ‘field’ (原) in both their names. I subsequently learned that Kanbaru-san came up with it herself. I had thought that it was quite a neat name, but after hearing that she named them herself, there was also the faint scent of disappointment.
She was one of the celebrities here, by the way. At this Naoetsu High, a private school aimed at future university attendants where sports and club activities were pushed to the side, she was an astounding star who guided the girl’s basketball team all the way to the nationals (though, to speak the bare truth, the teachers had seemed quite bothered by this. As though they wanted to say, couldn’t you see which way the wind was blowing?)
But, of course — as you could tell from the bandages wrapped around her left arm, she had already retired.
For Kanbaru-san, it was — a monkey, wasn’t it?
Even so, I thought.
When she had been active, Kanbaru-san had a short haircut as befitting an athlete, but the Kanbaru-san before me now had hair as long as I once had, though not yet long enough to be braided.
Putting aside the monstrous speed at which her hair grew — Kanbaru-san had become more,
Or rather, she became more charming. So I thought.
The reason she became this way — was the same as the reason Senjougahara-san became that way.
It was likely because of Araragi-kun.
Widening her field of view — was it?
“Senjougahara-san is taking a break today… she has influenza.”
…Now I had become an accomplice.
It was unavoidable, though.
If you traced it back to the source, it had been a lie that Senjougahara-san told for my sake — the only choice I had was to tell the same story.
Perhaps it would have been all right to tell Kanbaru-san the truth, but honestly, she seemed like the talkative type.
She felt like the kind of girl who was too candid and would let slip things that were best left unsaid. Worse, she would not show any remorse.
She would not even bother to argue the point, but simply leave the door open behind her.
Said Kanbaru-san, slightly shocked.
“So this is what people mean by the devil getting sunstroke, huh.”
That was a horrible way to talk about a respected upperclassman.
Courteous yet inconsiderate — or rather, as Araragi-kun would put it, Kanbaru-san was ‘courteous yet impolite’, and this just now was an easy-to-understand example.
Well, it’s likely that she was just simply using it as an expression (I doubt she understood the phrase’s true meaning).
This would be the moment when Araragi-kun unreservedly made a cutting remark and corrected her mistake, but as I wasn’t quite so intimate with Kanbaru-san, I simply returned a silent and vague smile.
“…Oh, that’s not right.”
It was a simple joy I felt.
But, hmm, it was difficult to gauge the distance with the friend of a friend (both on the Senjougahara-san route and the Araragi-kun route).
Although perhaps in this case, that friend being Kanbaru-san made it all the more problematic.
“Hmn, I see. So Senjougahara-senpai isn’t here, huh. Well, what should I do now?”
I had thought for sure that she would turn on her heels and return to her classroom once she found out Senjougahara-san wasn’t here, but Kanbaru-san instead folded her arms, appearing very troubled.
If I didn’t hurry to the cafeteria, the place would become crowded with the regular cafeteria students, but I couldn’t just leave Kanbaru-san here like this.
“Do you need something from Senjougahara-san? If you don’t mind, I can hear you out too.”
“Mmn — ”
Kanbaru-san thought about this for a moment,
“Well, I guess you’ll do, Hanekawa-senpai.”
and said this.
…That was just plain rude.
She wasn’t even courteous.
I felt I really should call her attention to this,
“I got a message from Araragi-senpai just now, actually.”
but Kanbaru-san’s forcefulness silenced me as she immediately showed me the display of her cellphone.
Using cellphones in school, not turning it off while at school, or receiving a message ‘just now’, which would mean receiving it during lessons — all these things I had wanted to bring up were suppressed.
By the contents of the message displayed.
‘Come alone to the classroom second floor at 9 tonight, I need to ask something.’
“…What do you think this means?”
“What do you mean, what does it mean…?”
There was no room for interpretation in such a short message — it was unthinkable for there to possibly be any sort of code.
The tone of the message was rough (it should be ‘second floor classroom’) but that simply meant he was in a hurry —
“Doesn’t it just mean that he has some questions for you, so he wants you to come by yourself to the second-floor classroom at nine o’clock tonight?”
“So that is what this is.”
Hmm, uttered Kanbaru-san.
Her expression was serious.
“So I guess — Araragi-senpai is going to be absent today, too, huh?”
“Yeah — ”
She was sharp in certain strange ways — or rather, she was mysteriously pinpoint at grasping the key matter of a conversation.
It’s really not something to be made light of.
” — Although in his case, it’s probably not influenza… he’s been on break ever since the second term started.”
Just to be sure, I asked our teacher about this, and apparently he wasn’t at school yesterday either. With Senjougahara-san, Araragi-kun and I absent at the same time, there had been a flurry of wild speculations among the class.
Wild speculations… I really wish they wouldn’t.
Please don’t flurry things.
Hmm, uttered Kanbaru-san once again.
“But this thing with Araragi-senpai is going to be a problem, too. Meeting ‘in a second floor classroom’ is way too vague. Does he know how many buildings we have here in Naoetsu?”
“No, not the school. He probably means that tutorial school.”
“Oh, I see.”
Said Kanbaru-san, as though she realized this just now.
She was dull in certain strange ways.
“But then, he could have just called me. I’ve been trying non-stop to call him for a while now, actually, but it wouldn’t get through.”
I stayed silent, of course, because I found fault with Kanbaru-san making callings inside school — not. It was because, due to this new information, I now had absolutely no idea what situation Araragi-kun was in.
I had thought that it was something related to Mayoi-chan, but… why would he call Kanbaru-san out?
It wasn’t just not like him…
It just didn’t make any sense.
“So basically… he’s asking me out on a date! He’s not picking up, so he must be preparing some sort of surprise!”
“Judging from the contents, don’t you think this is something a bit more serious?”
A ‘suprise’? Really? Her thoughts are so blithe.
It was all the more surprising that she was being serious.
How tiring it was just conversing with her!
“Ah, I see, I see. In that case, I understand. There was a book I wanted to read tonight, but if Araragi-senpai wants me, then there can be no other choice. I shall have to overcome all obstacles and answer his call!”
“Overcome all difficulties…?”
She said herself that she just had a book she wanted to read…
Her manner of speech was so exaggerated, not to mention so theatrical, that from the worst angle, the more serious she became, the more she appeared conversely to be mocking the speaker. Her personality was disadvantageous in that way.
It wasn’t frustrating.
But this sort of single-mindedness was worrying.
“Hm? What is it?”
I had thought of saying something, but in the end, I couldn’t put the words together, and
“Please take care of Araragi-kun.”
were the only things I managed.
“All right. Now then. Thanks for teaching me so much, Hanekawa-senpai!”
“Oh, no… you’re welcome.”
“I heard about the fire at your place, so I thought you’d be feeling down, but it doesn’t look like that’s true, so that’s good! Just what I’d expect from you, Hanekawa-senpai!”
So she really did know.
Amazing, the reception she gave me even while knowing this.
What do you mean, I don’t look like I’m down…?
“Well, stay safe!”
Kanbaru-san raised one hand, and returned in the direction she had first come from.
Not running, but walking.
I had thought of warning her about running in the hallway again, but apparently, she did not always run.
She possessed a troubling randomness.
Seeing as Kanbaru-san was now gone, I should be hurrying to the cafeteria — as under normal circumstances, I would also need to regain lost time — but I did not take a single step from where I stood.
What reverberated inside me — was not the final words of Kanbaru-san.
What entangled my mind was the situation Araragi-kun was in right now.
It was no mistake that Araragi-kun was in some sort of dillemma — that was already a definite fact. And yet, to call for Kanbaru-san in would mean that the ‘thing’ he wanted to ask Kanbaru-san was something necessary to escape from said dilemma.
He was not simply requesting help.
There was something much, much more serious.
That was why I felt it to be so absurd.
It must had been a necessity for Araragi-kun to send a message to Kanbaru-san, so to think that he would seek help, not from me, but from Kanbaru-san — that was absurd.
But I wonder.
The ‘frustration’ that Senjoughara-san felt was something that I understood very well and was about to consent to — but it was really completely unexpected for her to call me ‘white’ because of it.
Seeing as I felt envious of Kanbaru-san, who got a message from Araragi-kun.
And I certainly was angry.
I was angry — that Araragi-kun did not send a message to me.