Everything was so calm and silent it was hard to believe a battle had occurred here.
Actually, no. Not really. That would be an understatement. I have been in a few battlefields before, and after the heat of the battle is gone they all seem like this. It feels like you were listening to the world's loudest and most chaotic crossover thrash metal band ever and then suddenly you go completely deaf (yes, 1997 was a good year indeed). It's weird and you cannot help but feel empty, and it doesn't matter if you were enjoying or even understanding the song at all; from the moment it stops, you'll find yourself wishing it come back even if you hated it with all your heart and soul.
Because it made you feel alive. There was action, and it was so fast and incredibly random it would seem constant to untrained eyes. It pierced your ears with its colorful riffs and striking drum hits. It made you dizzy and you felt like your head was about to explode because the song was so loud you couldn't hear yourself screaming. And then, there was nothing. Nothing, after a massive avalanche of vivid sounds.
It's just painfully awful, but so is life: we will learn to deal with it as we go and make it a pleasant experience by our very own effort, always hoping to have others that care enough to support us when we fall. This is what some of us call ‘living.’
Having that meaning in mind, I can honestly say I have never felt so alive.
“You really are tougher than most, aren’t you? To do such a brave yet stupid thing and walk out with nothing but bruises is really amazing, especially after that theatrical death speech. It was too well done for a first-timer, so I assume you’re already used to that.”
“Reikoku-sensei.” I finally opened my eyes and saw that we were outside the warehouse. “How is Ryo?”
My teacher sighed.
“Now I see why you’re not interested in Kouma-san at all.” I don’t think I understand what she meant by that or how is it relevant to this situation. At least, I think I don’t. “She is alright, just terribly worried. I sent both girls to buy us something to drink after Kouma-san finished patching you up. The way Shiina Ryo looked at you was getting on my nerves, really.”
“What do you mean by pat…” As I tried to move, I noticed that under my jacket (that was covering me like a blanket) I was not wearing my shirt. Instead, what covered my torso like a female top were bandages and I could feel the scent of herbs flowing from them. “Kouma did this to me?”
“Yes, right after I finished taking photos of you for my personal gallery.” She looked away, probably because of the lack of reaction on my side. “You’re not in the mood for jokes, I get it. Yes, Kouma took care of Morimoto Ayaka and you. She took several things out of her tiny purse of hers just to find you medicine. You’d be amazed; it was just like a magician’s number. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t believe it, and I know that because I was here and I still don’t quite believe it.” Yeah I would. “Be sure to thank the doctor when she arrives and… never mind, here she comes.”
Feeling much better than I expected to but still very stiff and sore, I stood up and looked in the direction Reikoku-sensei faced and received something that in my condition could be considered a surprise attack. I was not given a chance to fight back, and in such circumstances there is only a single thing one can do: receive the blow and hope for the best.
At that moment, I was completely overwhelmed by Shiina Ryo’s embrace.
There was no need for words. We both had a long day and a not-so-short week and there was plenty of time to strengthen the bonds that were born online, so we actually knew how each other felt. We both have done our best to overcome personal obstacles. We both had won.
That time I actually hugged her back.
We stayed like that for a while, and it didn’t felt like an eternity at all. In fact, I honestly think she let me go prematurely, but I didn’t say anything because it would sound clingy in front of Reikoku-sensei and Kouma Yon. Oh, right…
“Thank you very much for taking care of me, Kouma.” I felt somehow embarrassed by that public demonstration of affection, although I knew I shouldn’t. Maybe it’s the cultural shock of being in Japan, I’m not sure. “I wouldn’t have made it without you, partner.”
“You’re welcome.” Her face remained still. “Just keep in mind that this round is over, but not the competition.”
It didn’t take me a long time to see what she meant by those words, but it certainly took me longer than it should because I couldn’t make sense of Reikoku-sensei’s hand resting on her shoulder. Was she… being comforted? What for? I mean, I’m the one who fell upon assorted tools and mechanical parts.
As soon as Reikoku-sensei realized I could see what she was doing, she removed her hand gently enough for an untrained eye to take her gesture as natural. Then, in an obvious effort to avoid further questioning on that subject, she moved towards us and started talking to Ryo.
"You suggested a special task force to investigate and deal with Shugoshin or any other exquisite phenomena appearing in the city, right?” Reikoku-sensei looked like she was seriously considering that idea. "Sounds interesting. I suppose we can talk more about that on Monday.”
I was a little confused.
“Excuse me, what?” Did I say I was a little confused? I believe ‘borderline desperate’ fits much better. “We barely finished that monster and you are honestly considering turning this into a hobby? Not only that, isn’t it a little bit too soon to assume there are others?”
My teacher turned to face me.
“There are, and I refuse to say anything else right now.”
“Do you actually have a reason for doing so?”
“While I personally would love to, there is something slightly more important than that on my priority list right now.” She pointed to the girl who was still asleep, but not look feverish anymore. Right, there’s the Ayaka situation. “About that, I need to talk to you in private for a second.”
We took a few steps and then she whispered, presumably so neither Ryo nor Kouma would listen to her.
"I need you to take them away from here, because I will have to deal with Ayaka's parents now and that is most likely going to be the hardest part. Believe me, fighting that thing sounds like a piece of cake compared to having to explain to her parents that their daughter was technically possessed and might have problems with the local authorities, especially because of small things such as carrying weapons around. I don't think I will be home for dinner tonight, and I probably won't be able to visit you tomorrow as well. So, don’t worry about my portions, okay?" Slightly numb I nodded, honestly trying to ignore her calling my place ‘home’ once again.
We would only find out Monday morning, but Ayaka had to transfer.
I didn't pay attention to the reason given by Reikoku-sensei, but I'm pretty sure most of the class will end up buying it. A certain group of girls will probably spread extremely surreal theories about this, and most of them will be about Minato and Ayaka's moving being directly related (which would be pretty much obvious, even for a complete idiot; I don't think anyone could actually believe it was a coincidence).
For a while, I suppose everyone will be talking about a big fight over a boy (partially truth) or how a friend made her family move in order to keep living close to the other and even about a romance between the two of them. I guess the way this story will end depends on their creativity alone, since calling one of the involved girls to ask what really happened would spoil everyone’s fun. In this particular case, it’s probably for the best.
And then, just after the heat of the moment is gone, everything will go back to normal again because small but economically developing cities are pretty much like that. I suppose that is what peace truly means: not the complete lack of problems or any events whatsoever but the unusual ability to make things get back on track and reach the same outcome even when they took different trajectories, completely ignoring the fact butterflies were tiring themselves flapping their magnificent wings on the other side of the world. It's the real world's version of the literary reset button, and surely it is useful.
Thankfully, the rest of that weekend was uneventful. There were no supernatural or mysterious elements from that point on and because of that, even Kouma seemed able to enjoy herself when we decided to meet spend the rest of Saturday evening at Le Ciel Bleu after briefly heading to our respective homes to take the hot showers we deserved and needed so much. The mood lightened up and Kouma even tried to smile at a certain moment, but she wisely stopped herself when she saw the terrified look on the other customers' faces.
Sunday was calm, nearly monotonous. I woke up surprisingly early for someone who had just solved a mysterious case and fought, barehanded, a grotesque supernatural creature with reality shifting powers. From its very first moment I knew the day would be really empty and instantly grabbed my cell phone with the intention of calling Ryo. Then I remembered Ayaka's case.
It’s time for some ‘book end epiphany,’ which fits this story pretty well since I have not let go of that hypothesis yet. I have already grown a lot in a week; I learned that I should face my problems instead of running away because that's the only way I can protect the things that matter to me. If I had only learned it before, I bet my life would have been easier, but I can't change the past. I can, however, avoid making the same mistakes in the future and keep learning every day. And if I learned anything in this situation with Ayaka, it's that I should not base my happiness on other people. I am not sure if I am honestly romantically interested in Ryo yet, but even if I end up finding myself in love with her, I'd better not be too dependent on her.
Besides, there is still plenty of time for us to actually decide on how we feel towards each other and develop something that could be properly called an amorous relationship. As I evolve, so does my hypothesis, and I’m starting to believe I am actually living the beginning of a novel series.
Leaving the cell phone on the mahogany bedside table, I go to the window and once again gaze at the beautifully simple view of the city. After standing in front of the window for a while, I decide to do something I haven’t had time to do since I got here. I turn on the amplifier, the bass guitar in my arms, and get ready to practice for a couple hours.
I am certainly going to text her later, I know I will. After all, we're friends and it's not like we have much to do on a Sunday but chat. But right now I don’t feel such an unquenchable thirst for that. All I need to feel alive is my own self and a brand new jazzy tune.I'm looking forward to the next week.