It has been a long while. Enjoy.
One day, Romiemarigana successfully sneaked out of Eason's room. She was careful not to get caught, or they would bring her back to the room. She began exploring the building.
Finally, she found Eason. Despite her urge to run towards him, Romiemarigana suppressed it and hid herself in a corner to look at him.
Just then, a woman appeared before Eason. Romiemarigana did not know the woman's name — she observed the two speaking intimately. From her happy expressions and her feminine charms, it was obvious to anyone that she loved Eason.
Not just the woman, Eason looked delighted as well.
Romiemarigana could only watch in silence.
At the same time, it felt as if there were a sound coming from within her body.
It was the sound of her world gradually shattering into pieces. A heartbreaking sound indeed.
<Romiemarigana's Expanding World>
From that day on, Shinonome and I hardly spoke to each other for about a week.
It might be due to the approaching exam dates. My grades aren't exactly stellar, so I'll fail rather spectacularly if I don't put any effort into studying. Should that happen, I'll have to take the make-up exams.
We do have to continue our shift during the exam periods, but Shinonome and I never really spoke at the library either. As for those cold text messages of hers, I chose to reply with equally stiff answers.
On the day when the exams were all over, while we were at the classroom, Shinonome walked towards me and called me by my name — something she has never done before.
"Are you free today?"
Due to the stares of our classmates, this isn't exactly the place for me to speak coldly to Shinonome.
I stood up after a brief reply. Seeing me get up, Shinonome returned to her seat and picked up her bag. I was already done packing up, so I grabbed my bag and walked out of the classroom together with Shinonome.
Shinonome was all quiet, so I chose not to speak as well. We walked silently on our way towards the station.
Shinonome stopped in her tracks when we reached the shopping street.
"Are you free...... tomorrow?"
Tomorrow's Friday, but school will be taking a break as we were done with the exams. Of course, there's no need to perform our librarian duties as well.
"Yeah, I probably am."
For a brief moment, I wanted to tell her I'll be busy. In the end though, I replied to her honestly. I guess I hesitate whenever it comes to lying.
"Are you interested...... in meeting up tomorrow?"
Shinonome followed up with a rather hesitant question. Similar to how she approached me and initiated a conversation earlier, Shinonome coming up with a request is just an incredibly rare event.
I couldn't answer her with an honest "Sure." Deep inside me, I was actually a little happy that Shinonome made a move first.
"Well then...... As for the time, I will message you the details later."
With that, Shinonome resumed walking. I stopped her immediately.
"Where will we be going?"
Shinonome's response was to move her eyes away from mine. With her head lowered, a mischievous smile appeared.
"It's a secret."
My eyes were locked on Shinonome for a while, who continued walking after her reply. I then snapped back to reality and caught up to her with a quick jog.
"I'm sorry for not speaking to you recently."
I said to Shinonome when I caught up to her side.
"So were you really...... avoiding me?"
"Yeah...... A little."
"...... Did I do anything...... wrong?"
It's hard to explain things to her clearly. I guess she did do something, in the sense that her actions caused me to be restless and uneasy. I'm not blaming her though; that was just me getting all worked up on my part.
"Not at all."
I murmured. After a moment of hesitation, I added,
"I was just feeling down for a bit."
That was when Shinonome stopped walking. From the faint ringtone that was coming from inside her bag, it seemed like there was an incoming call.
I stood stiffly at the side, looking at Shinonome while she spoke on the phone. From the few familiar terms which I faintly caught, the call should be from her editor. It felt like something similar had happened before. That was when I wondered — how was it going for Shinonome's novels?
The last time I asked, Shinonome mentioned she was doing a draft or something, so that probably means there should be some sort of progress, right? As I made up my mind to ask her about that after she was done with the call, Shinonome hung up the phone and kept it in her bag.
"Sorry, Minami-kun...... My editor happens to be around, so I want to discuss a few things with him."
Shinonome apologized before I could even speak. It's not like I could hound Shinonome about her novel.
"Ah, I see...... Guess this is where we part then."
"Mmm...... I will text you tonight on the plans for tomorrow."
"Well, see you then."
I looked on as Shinonome walked along the shopping street with dainty steps and into the coffee house. Hey, we could have walked together — I thought to myself. However, I stopped myself immediately just as my legs were about to move.
If Shinonome and her editor were seated next to the windows, that would mean I'll be walking past them right before their eyes. That would feel really awkward, so I changed direction and entered a small alleyway just before the shopping street.
"What on earth am I doing?"
I muttered subconsciously.
It was all just me getting toyed around with by Shinonome. The roller-coaster of emotions I'm experiencing, or the fact that I was walking sneakily in some alleyway.
It never felt like this back when I was in love with Arumi-san.
I was way too naive back then, so all I did was to dance around her. I would never get angry at her, nor would I feel any embarrassment.
So that means I'm more mature than I used to be, resulting to all these various emotions which I haven't experienced before.
I wasn't quite sure if that's a good thing or not.
What exactly should I be doing?
If I love Shinonome— If I love her, I should be satisfied just by being next to her regardless of the situation, instead of getting angry with her, right?
So I just have to get Shinonome to love me, right? To look at me happily and say,
"I love you."
Do I want her to say that? But if that's the case, then Shinonome won't be Shinonome anymore. The Shinonome Yuuko I love is someone who's slightly different from others; a girl whose thoughts I cannot read. Since this is Shinonome we're talking about, does this mean I'm doomed to have her toy with me around with my mixed emotions for all eternity?
The phone in my pocket was vibrating. It was a message from Arumi-san.
"Keisuke and I will be going to our university gathering, so I'm sorry, but Eita will have to have dinner by yourself. I have prepared some food in the fridge, so you just have to heat them up. The rice should be ready by the time you reach home."
"Hmm......" If that's the case, they probably won't be back home early tonight. Stuff like this happens occasionally, and they would always return home late. To be honest, I'm quite suspicious about the whole 'gathering' thing, but I'm not in the mood to reach the bottom of such things.
Before, when I received messages like this, it always felt like I would die from sadness. But now, I'm incredibly calm.
"Got it. Have fun."
And I can even reply her with stuff like this.
That just shows how much I have grown. Come to think about it, I more or less have Shinonome to thank for that.
Back at home, I stared blankly at the TV. After a while, I grew bored of the shows that were airing, so I made my way to Keisuke's room instead. As I looked at his room with all the messily placed books lying all around, I picked up Shinonome's favourite <Eréndira> once more.
I flipped through the book briefly, but it was way more difficult than I have imagined.
I felt a little guilty to take yet another book when I haven't even started on <Nine Stories> which I had borrowed from Keisuke, However, what I wanted to read right now was not a "short stories compilation", but Shinonome's favourite book.
I laid on my bed and began working on the first chapter of <Eréndira>.
Just as I had expected, I couldn't understand it. Similar to the short stories written by Shinonome, the only thing appearing in my mind were a series of blurry images. Still, having known that this is Shinonome's favourite novel, I pressed on.
I had no idea if the story is fiction or based on facts, but it somehow feels similar to Shinonome.
An unfathomable girl who is a little disconnected with the rest of the world, someone whose thoughts I can never understand.
Then there's me, who has fallen in love with Shinonome.
This feels like the sort of story you can expect to find in a short stories compilation, isn't it? Though it's nowhere near grandiose enough to be woven into a novel, but there should be enough to give birth to a rather intriguing story, right? I chuckled to myself on my bed.
The place to meet, as designated by Shinonome, was a station built into a giant shopping complex. Most of the time, I'm the one who would arrive earlier, but Shinonome was already there waiting for me when I walked out of the ticketing gates.
"You're very early."
Reason I said that was because I arrived ten minutes ahead of the agreed time.
"I left home slightly earlier today...... because there is something I wanted to see."
While explaining, she turned her head towards the direction of the shopping complex. One can find plenty of bookshops in the mega-complex which had just opened up a year ago, so she's probably referring to them. I replied nonchalantly with a "Right."
"Well then, where are we heading for today?"
I directed the question towards Shinonome, as she had not mentioned about our destination in any of her mails yesterday. Shinonome lifted her eyes bashfully and answered,
"Urm...... If you can accompany me while I am shopping......"
"Shopping? Sure. Books?"
I then thought to myself — she probably wanted to buy a ton of books, so she's looking for someone to help her with the bags as she won't be able to carry them all herself. I mean, speaking of 'Shinonome' and 'shopping' hand in hand, the only thing which came to my mind was books.
However, Shinonome shrunk a little as she shook her head slowly.
"No...... I am thinking of buying clothes......."
For a brief moment, I frowned as I tried to work out what Shinonome was trying to say. However, what she mean't soon dawned on me.
"Oh, so you're referring to clothes. You wanna buy clothes huh...... not bad."
Even I find that response to be really silly.
"I am not too familiar with fashion, so I was thinking...... of getting Minami-kun to help me with the selection......"
"Eh? Picking your clothes...... but I'm totally clueless about fashion as well......"
To be honest, she was putting a great deal of pressure on me. But Shinonome was urging me with, "Come on, let's go," so we began shopping.
So it seems like the 'something I wanted to see' Shinonome was referring to were clothes. That probably meant she some ideas in mind. I followed Shinonome, visiting a few stores. All of them were selling female clothing, so it's natural for all the customers to be girls.
There were a handful of guys around, but all of them looked like they were there to 'accompany their girlfriend'. That made me feel out of place.
"...... So which store do you prefer?"
Shinonome popped the question out of the blue when we were done browsing a few stores.
The reason for that weird response of mine was because Shinonome had never once sought my opinion while she was browsing the stores. It didn't feel like she had mentioned anything along the lines of "This looks pretty nice" or "Which one is better". All Shinonome did was to pick a few clothes up and placing them back on the rack before moving on to the next store.
I thought she was not pleased with the designs, so I said nothing while following her footsteps.
"Though you're seeking my opinion...... but I'm not too sure which store's better."
Upon hearing my answer, Shinonome tilted her head with a troubled look.
"...... Urm, how did you buy the dress you're wearing now?"
I asked Shinonome out of curiosity. Shinonome, fidgeting, answered with,
"Well...... The magazine request for a photo-shoot...... so I bought them online."
I understand the situation now.
Shinonome doesn't possess the experience of 'buying clothes from a store'. Either that, or she didn't spend much thought on the clothes whenever she bought them. That is just the sort of person she is.
As for me, I'm not someone who is particularly fussy with what he wear, so in a sense I'm kind of similar to her. All that mattered to me was that the clothes fit, and maybe I would pay some attention to whether they looked decent on me. There are times where I couldn't be bothered and end up seeking the store assistants for their opinions.
"OK, I got it. Let's walk through the stores once more."
I grabbed the hand of the hesitant Shinonome and headed straight to the stores which we had visited earlier. I may not be an expert when it comes to fashion, but I should be a tad bit better than Shinonome; at the very least, I know what to do while shopping for clothes.
"What sort of clothes do you have in mind? Summer wear?"
We were in that time of the year where the stores were transitioning into the summer fashion, so it was easy to find summer wear at just about everywhere. However, Shinonome shook her head.
"Well...... I am interested in more mature styles."
That was kind of vague. Similar to Shinonome, I'm no expert when it comes to fashion. At times like this, it is best to go out of the way and engage an expert.
"...... Pardon me~"
The female store assistant who was observing us at a distance away approached us with a professional smile on her face. Shinonome moved herself warily behind my back.
"Do you require my assistance~?"
Asked the assistant. I turned around and pointed at Shinonome behind me.
"Yeah...... She's looking for something that's more towards the mature side. Do you have any recommendations?"
Upon hearing my request, the assistant fixed her eyes on Shinonome.
"Let's see...... How about going for a set~?"
"What do you think?"
Shinonome remained silent, her only response was tilting her head.
"Please wait for a moment, I will select a few pieces for you to try on."
After a while, the assistant returned with a few clothes in hand.
"These are the more recent styles. The colors are on the dark side, so they should look more mature on you~"
The only one interacting with the assistant, who was speaking with a drag at the end of her sentences, was me. There was no "Mmm" or "OK" from Shinonome. Shinonome took the clothes passed to her and compared it over her body shyly, before looking at me with a helpless expression.
"I...... am not too sure, so please pick for me, Minami-kun......."
Even if you ask me, I'm not too sure about stuff like this as well — but I swallowed my words, reason being that she's depending on me right now. It doesn't feel that bad to be in such a situation.
"Why don't you try them?"
"Try them on! She can, right?"
The female assistant answered with a smile.
"Definitely! The changing room is empty~"
The assistant pushed the confused Shinonome towards the changing room.
"In any case, why don't you try one of the sets for now? It will be much easier for me to provide my thoughts."
upon she heard my explanation, Shinonome finally relented.
It was an answer which sounded like she was on the brink of tears. Shinonome stepped into the changing room and pulled the curtain. A chair was placed before the changing room, making it look like some sort of 'waiting seat'. There's no point wandering around the store filled with only female customers, so I sat myself on the chair.
There were two changing rooms situated side-by-side. The other room was not used, so the curtain was left opened.
As for the curtain which was drawn shut, that's where Shinonome was in — and I could hear the rustling sounds of clothing coming from within. I drew a deep breath.
Shinonome's changing on the other side of the curtain right now. I couldn't keep still as my imagination ran wild; I was shaking my leg subconsciously. A bystander would probably think of me as a boyfriend who was irritated with his girlfriend shopping, hoping everything would be done in a flash so that he could leave.
Then came another rustling sound from the curtain, followed by the sound of a piece of clothing falling onto the ground.
Was that her skirt? My thoughts run wild once more. I took another deep breath.
Shit, this can't do. My mind's slowly drifting towards the endless world of perverseness, despite me being in a place as stylish as this. If there's any psychic nearby reading my thoughts, he would definitely see me as a pervert.
Come on, hurry up and be done changing, Shinonome. I can barely hold on much longer — and I mean that in a lot of different ways.
While I was busy with my thoughts, I heard Shinonome clearing her throat from behind the curtain. She then asked softly,
"Urm...... Is Minami-kun around?"
"Y-Yeah...... Anything wrong?"
"I-I am done changing......"
"Ah, really? And?"
"Is it...... weird......?"
Despite her question, Shinonome remained hidden behind the curtain. There was no way I'd know.
"Well...... I wouldn't know if you don't show yourself."
The curtained moved slightly when I gave her my answer. Shinonome's face appeared through the small opening.
"Promise me you won't laugh...... even if it looks weird."
"I probably won't......"
"If you cannot promise me that, then it would be better if I don't show you. I don't think it suits me that much......"
I stood up in a hurry when Shinonome was about to draw the curtains shut.
"I won't, I promise I won't laugh at you."
Shinonome pressed her fingers against the curtain and pulled it open as if she had given it all up. She then stood before me while remaining in that position.
Wearing a sheer white blouse and black skirt, Shinonome achieved her aim of looking more 'mature' than she usually does; just as she wanted. The glean of her fair skin lit up my eyes.
"H-How is it......?"
Asked Shinonome nervously. My voice went a pitch higher than normal.
"Eh? Ah, pretty good. Yeah."
Shinonome's eyes were filled with surprise.
"Is that really...... what you think?"
"Mmm, yeah. They really do look good."
Despite my reassurance, Shinonome continued looking at me suspiciously for a brief while before putting on a smile.
"Mmm, alright. I will buy this set then."
"Eh? But there are others, no?"
"There are...... but this will do."
Hearing our conversation, as the female assistant who picked the clothes walked towards us.
"What do you think~?"
Shinonome ignored me, who was struggling with an answer, and said without hesitation,
"I will take this."
"Really? Thank you very much for your patronage~"
Shinonome continued speaking to the assistant, who was talking to us without any emotion in her voice,
"Also...... Can I wear this set right away?"
The female assistant looked at Shinonome in surprise when she heard her request.
The same applied to me as well. Upon noticing my gaze, Shinonome flashed me a shy smile.
We then made our way to the cafe.
"I would like to discuss something with you."
Said Shinonome. I guess anything can happen in this world. As we made our way to a nearby cafe, Shinonome carried the bag containing the clothes she wore just moments ago as though she were hugging a teddy bear or something. Knowing very well what the bag was holding, I knew it was nothing heavy, so I said,
"Allow me to take that for you."
Ignoring Shinonome's protest, I took the bag away from her hands. Shinonome thanked me softly. However, I'm not too confident I did that purely out of goodwill.
Part of the reason was me not wanting others to see me as someone who 'nonchalantly allows his girlfriend to carry something that huge'.
We found a slightly old cafe. While we were waiting for our items to be served to us, Shinonome's attention shifted to the clothes she was wearing.
"Do I really not look weird?"
I assured her with "Not in the slightest", but then I wondered about her sudden desire to buy a set of new clothes; moreover, her emphasis was on more mature styles.
The reason I didn't ask was because I was afraid of her answer.
A possibility came to my mind.
Could it be—
It was just a guess, but could it be for Keisuke? Once the suspicion appeared in my mind, I could no longer shake the thought away.
Shinonome visited my house, resulting in her falling for Keisuke, As such, she would do anything to close the gap between her and an older Keisuke — that explains the sudden actions taken by Shinonome.
I know very well it was all just my paranoia, but I can never shake away the inferiority complex I hold towards Keisuke, so there was no way I could avoid thinking the way I did.
Before long, Shinonome was already asking me about my family. And she was picking up pace.
"Does Arumi-san visit Minami-kun's house often?"
"Ah, yeah...... She has been coming ever since my brother's in high school. It's been five years, I think."
"So that means she has been going out with your brother ever since then?"
"Yeah. Makes me wonder what's so great about my elder brother for them to be steady for that long."
I blurted my true feelings accidentally. Shinonome tilted her head when she heard that.
"Really? Your elder brother is an exceptional person. I think they are a great pair."
I tried my best not to heave a sigh, picking up my nearly-empty coffee cup instead. There wasn't much coffee remaining inside, but there's no way I could hide the frustration within me if I didn't distract myself with something to do.
I don't want to listen to words like that.
I don't want to admit the fact that Keisuke is 'exceptional'.
"I wish...... I can become someone like Arumi-san."
Murmured Shinonome softly.
There was a loud 'thud' when I rested the cup onto the setter.
I apologized to Shinonome and lowered my head. From the way she was cowering, it seemed like she was frightened by the sudden sound.
Someone like Arumi-san huh — I thought to myself.
So she likes Keisuke that much, huh?
Despite us shopping for Shinonome's clothes and coming to the cafe - basically behaving exactly like how a pair of lovers would - it just seemed like we were separated by an invisible wall or something. A wall which I couldn't overcome, no matter what actions I take. No matter how hard I tried to scale up the wall, Shinonome's words would always be there on the other side to shove me down.
Shinonome finally spoke with an apologetic voice,
"I am currently working on a scene in the novel...... As such, there is a place where I would like to visit, so...... do you mind accompanying me?"
"...... Sure, no problem. I mean, that's the reason we were 'going out' in the first place, right?"
Given the way she made her request, there was no way I could reject her. That has always been the sort of relationship between Shinonome and I. I'm just Shinonome's pretend boyfriend for the sake of her novel — that fact was yet again forced onto me.
Shinonome was looking at the window behind me. The sun was setting. That was when I realized how long we had been out.
Said Shinonome as she stood up.
I asked. It's already too late for us to head somewhere else. I did go out with Shinonome several times before this, but most of the time, we would split up at about dinner time. The daylight lasts slightly longer since it's summer time, but it would be better if we save this for another day, right?
"Now is the perfect time."
The tone of that sentence was weird, considering it came from Shinonome. It sounded like she was pushing me, so I stood up as well.
Shinonome mentioned nothing about where we will be heading next.
I followed Shinonome in silence. We were gradually heading towards the alleys; it looked like Shinonome wanted to move away from the hustle of the city. I just couldn't see any place nearby we could visit. There are no gardens, no cinemas, much less a theme park. There were only stores with flashy billboards or drinks pavilions with hanging red lanterns.
"Where are we going?"
I asked, unable to hold back any longer. Shinonome stopped and turn around to look at me.
"It's just right ahead."
Replied Shinonome. Looking at the path before me, I failed to think of any place which Shinonome might be heading to.
I followed Shinonome in silence as Shinonome resumed her steps. For some weird reason, I recalled the fantasy scene I read in a novel yesterday — I was worried about getting thrown into some bizarre universe without me realizing it.
Looking up, the cloudy sky was dyed red by the setting sun. It probably was just me, but the air felt kind of wet. It's not going to rain, is it? Come to think of it, the weather forecast for the morning news predicted a light shower in the evening. I didn't pay it much attention back then as I had expected us to part by dinner time.
Shinonome was showing no signs of stopping. My head was hung low while we were walking, but I decided to look up just then. I failed to realize this earlier, but we were surrounded by buildings which even I could tell were those so called 'love hotels'. As it was still relatively early, the neon lights weren't lit up just yet, but you can be sure their colourful flashes will pop out all over soon enough.
Just as I was wondering how on earth did we end up walking to a place as awkward as this, Shinonome suddenly stopped in her tracks.
As she turned her head around, her expression was one which I had never seen from her; it was a complicated expression mixed with feelings, with a touch of melancholy and shyness.
Shinonome scanned the 'love hotels' around us.
"I would like to visit one of these."
It took me a few seconds to register her words.
I understood what she meant, but I couldn't digest it.
"...... What, did you just say?"
I asked in reflex. Shinonome lowered her head and repeated her sentence.
"I would like to visit one of these......"
I took another look at our surroundings in an attempt to find out if there was any other place that Shinonome could have meant with her words. However, no matter how hard I look, the only buildings that were around us were 'hotels'. And they were no ordinary hotels.
"...... We...... can't?"
Shinonome's voice was trembling slightly.
"No, it's not like we can't......"
"I-I have never entered any of these places, but I am dying to know what's inside...... so......"
True. I had never stepped into one either. Though I understood what sort of place it is.
"But...... urm...... really?"
"I honestly...... just wanted to take a look inside...... but I can't go in alone...... so......"
"No no no, that's not what I meant......"
I knew very well what Shinonome was saying — this is just part of her 'material gathering'. She mentioned that when we were leaving the cafe, so it's not that strange if she wanted to see this place with her very own eyes, especially if we're talking about Shinonome.
Still, this isn't really the right thing to do, isn't it?
"Let's forget about this if you don't like it......"
"It's not a problem of me liking it or not."
"If it's about money...... I can be the one paying for it."
"That's not the issue either......"
Shinonome grabbed my hand just as it was about to scratch my head. I took in a deep breath; her hand felt slightly clammy.
"Just a quick look at what's inside, then we'll leave......"
Shinonome walked determinedly towards the 'hotel'. With my hand in hers, I followed her footsteps meekly. The shady hotels around us were pulling in customers rather aggressively. A few men in bow ties were looking at us with enthusiasm; they probably found our conversation to be rather amusing.
There was a old soap opera I watched where a scene was about a woman rejecting the man's invitation to stay at a hotel. Shouldn't that be how things usually go? What we have here though is the total opposite. That's probably the reason why they were looking at us with laughter in their eyes, right?
As we passed through the entrance of the nearest hotel, which was shrouded by some trees, we were greeted by a rather glamorous space. Just as we were standing there wondering what we should do next, a couple in suits walked out of the elevator arm in arm. As they passed us, I could hear the woman whispering to the man, "Not bad, they look so innocent." I lowered my head in embarrassment.
"So, what should we do now......"
Asked Shinonome as she held my hand. I had no idea what our next step should be, but since this is a hotel, there should then be a check-in counter somewhere, shouldn't there? I took a look around us and realized there was something located next to the entrance which seemed kind of like what I was searching for. However, there was no one manning the place. The counter was roughly an elbow's length, and had an opening which sort of looked like a peeping hole.
We walked towards the counter. Next to the counter was an enormous board; pasted on it were the pictures of the rooms and their respective numbers. Some of the pictures were lit up by lights behind them, while others were not. Next to the pictures were buttons, which were lit up in the same condition as the photos beside them.
"Please press the button of the room you are interested in."
A voice boomed suddenly from the back of the counter — it seemed like there was someone on the other side of the wall. That was when I understood; at places like this, things can be done without any face-to-face interaction.
"...... W-What now?"
This time round, it was my turn to throw the same question at Shinonome.
The unlit rooms probably indicate that they were 'in use'. For the ones which were still lit up, the interiors looked more or less the same — or so it seems from the photos anyway. The price were not too different as well.
"...... Minami-kun, you choose."
Shinonome replied softly, so I pressed a button closest to the edge with hesitation. The light on the board went off, and a piece of paper was dropped to the opening below. I picked it up; the room number was printed on it.
"Please head straight to your room."
Came the voice from the counter yet again. How on earth did he see us — I thought to myself. Perhaps there are cameras installed somewhere? In any case, it wouldn't do for us to stand around and do nothing.
With my initial resistance outside of the hotel blown out of the water, I pulled Shinonome by her hand and walked towards the elevator. Shinonome responded with a firm grip.
Once we were in the elevator, I pressed the button leading to level 3 (since our room number was 307). As the elevator ascended in silence, Shinonome heaved a loud sigh and said,
"I am so nervous......"
I murmured and gave a wry laugh — I felt relieved all of the sudden. As the lift finally came to a stop, we resumed our way towards the room.
We were holding hands the whole time.
Led by the flashing lights, we stepped into the room which was located the deepest in. We first removed our shoes at what looked to be the entryway before taking a nervous look at the interiors of the room.
"It's so...... ordinary......"
I was expecting a more gaudy interior, but upon stepping into the actual room, I realized they chose to take on a more simplistic style.
Shinonome scanned the room and nodded.
I noticed I was still holding onto Shinonome's hand, so I let go of it gradually. My palm was wet, though I wasn't sure if it was due to Shinonome's perspiration or mine.
In the room was an LCD TV of unknown dimension, a two-person sofa which was facing the TV and a small glass table. At the corner of the room was a large bed. When I saw the two pillows placed on the bed, I directed my gaze away from how real everything seemed to be.
I sat onto the sofa and looked towards Shinonome. She remained rooted on her spot, looking around her aimlessly with a hapless expression on her face.
"I-In any case...... why don't you take a seat?"
I suggested, patting the seat next to me. Shinonome walked towards me in silence and did as I said. That movement of hers and the way the air flowed in the room caused a faint scent to whiff up my nose. Ah, it was the scent of shampoo.
My arms were spread wide apart, resting on the back of the sofa — my left hand was so close to Shinonome, I could basically touch her with the slightest movement.
Should I just hold her by her shoulders at a place like this?
Just as I was about to move my hand, Shinonome reached for the remote which was placed on the table. She then pointed it towards the TV and pressed the switch.
What was showing on the ridiculously huge screen was a naked couple entwined together. From the way it was filmed, it was obvious we were not watching a scene from a soap opera, but full fledged porn. I had no idea why they chose to air the show out of the blue, but one thing's for sure: a rather risque scene was repeating again and again before our very eyes.
Shinonome was totally frozen in the pose of pointing the remote towards the TV.
I hurriedly snatched the remote away from Shinonome's hand and pressed the button frantically to turn the TV off.
"That got me...... the TV turned on and......"
I forced a smile as I spoke. However, Shinonome's eyes remain glued to the screen.
"Right, since we are here to gather some materials, shouldn't we check out what the bathroom is like? Yeah?"
I stood up from the sofa and walked towards the bathroom. Shinonome was still sitting on the sofa, but with the way things are right now, it'll be mental torture to have Shinonome next to me. This works just fine with me.
Pushing the glass door aside, the bathroom looked way smaller but more exquisite than I had imagined. Just as I was thinking that there was nothing out of the ordinary to be found in the bathroom, a strange-looking chair came to view when I lowered my eyes.
I exclaimed in reflex.
It was a...... really perverted chair. I possessed the relevant knowledge since I had seen it in manga and on the internet, but I had no idea it actually existed.
"...... Anything wrong?"
A sudden voice came from behind me. Turning my head back, Shinonome was walking towards the bathroom. I shut the glass door in haste.
"N-Nothing. It was just an ordinary bathroom. Really ordinary."
Shinonome tilted her head in suspicion, but she pursued the issue no further.
Just as I was about to invite Shinonome back to the sofa, Shinonome stopped walking and began looking around. There should be nothing weird around us, so what now? Shinonome asked,
"Can you hear something?"
"...... A sound?"
My attention was focused to my ears, but I couldn't pick up any strange sounds. The most I could hear was faint music coming from the cable TV located outside our room.
"Is there a window somewhere?"
As she said that, Shinonome stepped forward. I followed suit.
The window next to the bed was hidden by blinds which looked strikingly similar to the walls.
Upon opening the blinds, I understood what Shinonome meant by 'sound'. Just to make sure, Shinonome unlatched the window and opened it slowly.
It was raining.
It was close to precipitating just a moment ago, but now it was raining way heavier than expected. Since it's currently in the evening, the rain may stop soon enough. However, when I popped my head out of the window to look at the sky, I could see the thundering clouds enveloping above us. It looks like the rain won't be stopping anytime soon.
Both of us didn't bring any umbrella along; moreover, the station is of a considerable distance away from the hotel. We would end up soaking wet should we leave the hotel right now.
Shinonome shut the windows and pulled down the blinds.
She then turned around to look at me, who was getting all disappointed due to the rain. With a tilt of her head, she said,
"It looks like we have no choice but to stay here...... till the rain stops."
That caused me to draw a deep breath.
The rain won't be stopping in just five to ten minutes time. An hour if we're lucky, but it may be much longer if we're not. It looks like we don't have much of an option.
In other words, Shinonome and I will have to spend our time together in this room.
Shinonome walked to my side and sat gently onto the bed. The springs of the bed creaked from her movement. When she heard that, Shinonome began bouncing herself on the bed.
"...... This bed is really old."
An innocent smile appeared on her face as she said that. The rare childish expression and behavior from Shinonome made her look incredibly cute.
I stood next to the window and swallowed a few gulps while Shinonome continued bouncing on the bed with a laugh. I finally decided to make my move and stood before Shinonome. At the moment Shinonome realized my presence and looked at me—
I pressed Shinonome down, sprawling on the bed as though I were a blanket. The springs of the bed creaked once more.
There was fear in Shinonome's whimper. I couldn't bring myself to look at her. My hands were pressing down on hers, my breathing rugged.
Shinonome attempted to escape from my grasp, but I strengthened my grip to stop her from doing so. My ears were filled with the repeated gulps of my throat, my heart was racing in an incredible speed. The deep thumps continued to reverberate in my body. "Shi...... Shinonome!"
My tongue was tied when I called out her name. I had no idea what I should be doing right now.
Shinonome said nothing, only to heave painfully twice. From my hands, I could feel Shinonome's pulse increasing — was it due to fear or nervousness? I couldn't tell.
My mind was filled with many thoughts, all sticky and gooey like lumps of paint swirling together. Can I? I can, right? I mean, we came all the way here. We are 'going out', and isn't this all for the sake of Shinonome's novel? I don't think Shinonome will reject me. She would probably take it all in silence even if she doesn't like me.
Bouts of question and answer sessions were playing in my mind. I ended up moving closer and closer to Shinonome's face. What should I do? What are the things which I have to do? I don't have the slightest clue; the only thing I felt was my desire to kiss Shinonome.
A surprised expression appeared on Shinonome's face when she realized my intent. She bit her lips gently. As I closed in, she shut her eyes as though she were about to get splashed by an incoming bucket of water.
So can I or can't I?
I pondered to myself as I remained in a position where my face was only a few millimeters above her lips.
Can I? Really? Why? Because she likes me?
We are doing this for our 'material gathering' — that's what Shinonome would probably say. She cares nothing about what I think; even if it's something she hates, will she take it just for the sake of 'experience' and her novel?
I stared at Shinonome. Her body was totally stiff and petrified. With her eyes closed shut, she looked just like a child who was about to cry.
I moved my head slowly, pulled my neck to the side and plonked my face past Shinonome's cheeks onto the bed.
Just reject me if you don't like it.
I heaved a sigh while thinking that.
Shinonome called out to me next to my ear with a hoarse voice.
I didn't answer her. Instead, I was rattling on and on in my mind as if I was mumbling a curse.
If you hate it that much; if you're so afraid that you have to bite your lips, if it hurts you to be doing such things with me, you can simply tell me as it is. How will I possible know what you're thinking if you choose to remain silent? There's no way I can remain in a zen-state when we're all alone in this room.
With that, I slowly moved my body away from Shinonome.
Shinonome sat up and looked at me in surprise. I sat beside her and heaved a sigh.
I'm fully aware that Shinonome had no such intentions in mind. The reason we came here wasn't because she 'wanted to do that', rather, it was simply out of curiosity. The reason she chose me to play pretend couple was simply out of coincidence because I stumbled upon her true identity as an author. These were the conclusions I reached no matter how I look at it.
"I went...... overboard with my actions."
I added on with an awkward laughter.
The reason I went out with Shinonome wasn't to harm her, but to help her out with her 'material gathering'. I cannot ruin Shinonome just because of my feelings and desires.
The only option was to defuse the awkward atmosphere and the various feelings in a joking manner.
"Sorry...... I won't do it again."
I apologized once again. I was unable to look straight at Shinonome, but it felt like she was shaking her head. The only thing I could do was to lower my head in silence, aghast at myself for not being able to exercise self-control.
Shinonome said nothing, so I could only feel her gaze. It felt like her gaze was reproaching me. I was afraid of confirming that fact, afraid of seeing Shinonome's expressions which were on the other end of her gaze. I lowered my head to avoid her.
That was what Shinonome finally said.
"Thanks to Minami-kun, I went to lots of places...... so you don't have to force yourself any further. I'm sorry."
"I wasn't...... forcing myself."
Shinonome was unable to continue her words. Perhaps she was thinking of how to phrase her sentence in a way which won't hurt me.
"Sigh, whatever. With the material on hand, you should be able to come up with a novel, right? I had fun as well, so let's end everything with this, okay?"
I brought up the suggestion faster than Shinonome did. I didn't want her to say anything that could hurt me, so the least I could do was to end the relationship myself.
Silence fell between us once more, but I said not a word more.
Finally, Shinonome murmured,
"Mmm...... I understand. Thank you very much for all this time."
We then waited for the rain to stop without saying anything else. The rain ended surprisingly quick, as though it were urging us to head home immediately. That pissed me off.
The fee for the room was split between us. After depositing the cash into the billing machine located at the side of the entrance, it thanked us with a mechanical "Thank you for your patronage."
That pissed me off even more.
It felt like it was thanking us for not doing anything and leaving the room in pristine condition.
After leaving the hotel, Shinonome and I walked towards the station together. We then parted and boarded our respective trains without speaking a word.
When I reached home, the sky was clear with the moon peeking out from behind a cloud — everything felt unreal.
"This is fine."
A scene which symbolizes a happy ending, leaving only me to wallow in pain.