In the end, after I assured her I was fine, Kouma went home and I had a peaceful moment to reflect on my actions and think about the future on my own.
"Shin-tsu, are you sure that you need all that chicken?"
Yeah, like that would happen.
I did manage to make Kouma stay away from my home. But, in order to do so, I had to go out with her.
No, not a date.
I'm not that popular, and I don't think she would like me. I have more than two dimensions, you see.
We just came to the market together because, apparently, all that fighting and talking made her hungry and my house smelled like an old oven. Obviously, we could just have eaten those instant ramen cups Reikoku-sensei brought me last night, but I actually felt like going out and Kouma wanted taiyaki.
What a big surprise.
She might get fat if things keep up like this. I don't think her fabulous clothes would fit anymore. Which would be a disaster. So, it’s safe to say it would be quite a waste if all those fish-shaped cakes gave her a large waist. Ha-ha.
Oh boy, that was amusing.
Anyway, I decided to make her eat something truly healthy for a change.
“Shin-tsu, did you get lost in thought again?”
Broccoli chicken salad sounded like a great idea to me because it only takes around fifteen minutes to be ready. I’m guessing she eats meat, since I don’t know any other manipulative yet extremely violent vegetarian. Biased, me? No, not really; I just happened to see the way she looked at the raw meat in the refrigerated section of the market, but didn’t want to use it as an excuse or even remember it (as a feminist, I have a certain disdain for that kind of look; it’s built-in).
That girl is most certainly a predator, anyway. Her actions and bizarre logic qualify her as either that or an alien.
“Oi, I’m still here!” She said while pinching me with such effort I felt her fingernails harshly dig and drill into my skin, despite the thick jeans jacket I wore that was supposed to suppress some of the damage caused by, say, natural forces and crazy fashion victims. Suing the company for not making armor-like, Kouma-proof clothing seems the only reasonable thing to do.
It is very hard for me not to compare her and Ryo, especially because of their contrasting actions and the way they respond differently to the same kind of impulse. Thinking how those two ended up being friends for a decade is even harder. And I don’t even want to know how hard it might be to think about having a place and a future in this town.
It’s just better not to ponder about certain things.
“Yeah, we do.” I finally reply, mostly intent on stopping her from tearing my arm apart completely. “I don’t intend to use all of it in today’s dish, though. Considering the unusual occurrences that happened to me today and the fact that both you and Ryo have promised to help me, I’m guessing I will be cooking meals for more than one person for a while.”
“We could just come to the market when we’re hungry.”
“That would be a nuisance, and it could be in the way of our train of thought. I mean, what if we get hungry just a few steps away from solving the mystery? That would be too distracting, and there is a great chance we won’t be on the same track after the sudden break.”
“Good point. What do you intend to cook?” She said as we moved towards the produce section to get vegetables.
“Let me see… Tonight we’ll have broccoli chicken salad, if that’s okay with you. For tomorrow, I was thinking about something a little bit more traditional, like Yakisoba.”
“I have no complaints about tonight’s dish, but you really should keep in mind that Ryo is not much of a fan of red-”
“-red pickled ginger.”
It was a little embarrassing for both of us to say it at the same time, but I guess it shows we have something we care about in common. Someone. “I was thinking about that earlier and I have just the right recipe, so don’t worry.”
Then I stop myself just before having another cooking show moment: that is a dangerous territory for a male’s reputation. “Is there anything you don’t like, when it comes to eating? Wait, that came out wrong…”
“No offense taken, be at ease. And no, I have no problems with eating anything.” Is it just me or Kouma is actually getting slightly less creepy and evil every minute? It’s most likely just me. “That was really considerate of you, anyway.”
“Well, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She quickly looked away, probably a side-effect of having shared a polite dialog with me without any cynicism or sarcasm.
“Oh, and Kouma?”
“You’re still pinching me.”
She gazed down to see her own fingernails deep in my arm, and then quickly brought her focus back to my face.
“It seems so, yeah.” Kouma Yon said, without letting go or even showing the tiniest bit of embarrassment, and once again sighing was all I could do.
We left the market carrying way more plastic grocery bags than I intended to (which means they didn’t have the dude-don’t-ruin-the-environment paper bags I wanted, so taking a single world-killing plastic bag would already be classified as ‘way more’) and attracting the stares of pretty much everyone. The reason, you ask.
I know you didn’t ask anything, I’m just following the script.
People were looking curiously at us because (and I only realized it when we walked next to a mirrored glass where I got to see a reflection of us) Kouma and I look like a weird couple. About looking weird, uncommon, wicked, bizarre, and maybe even grotesque to some; that doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve gotten used to that. It would be awkward if I hadn’t, wouldn’t it?
It’s the couple part that bothers me. Sort of. I mean, she sure is pretty and quite smart when not following a completely different track other than, well, reality. She is quite fashionable too, I can’t deny all that. However, she certainly is not the kind of person I want to be associated with.
Which is why I must stop this right now.
“Kouma, correct me if I’m wrong, but even in Japan locking arms is a little bit too intimate for people who just met, being a gesture reserved for lovers or close friends.” She immediately stopped walking, and remained silent for what seemed like several minutes to me. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
She sighed, apparently disappointed.
“I don’t need to correct you, since your affirmation is correct.”
Only then I realized I have probably been pointing a gun at my very own head the whole time. There seemed to be only a single way to deal with Kouma, and I think I have finally found it. Took me long enough, that’s right.
I just needed to make one last test to confirm my hypothesis.
“Could you at least stop pinching me? I will get bruises if things keep going this.”
“Yes, I could.” She made a pause, and for once I truly believed I had knocked some sense into her. “And yes, you will.”
I could easily see the trigger I needed to pull.
“Kouma Yon, stop pinching me. Please.” I said, firm and calmly. It seemed pretty obvious to me that girl was like a computer in some points and would only respond to commands and only with proper, detailed syntax. “You may as well release my arm, if that’s what you want.”
In a dream world where everything magically went just as planned, Kouma would have quickly released my arm.
Not quite as planned, she not only kept holding my arm but also held it tighter, as if I was a teddy bear in the darkest night, as if she was afraid I would vanish forever and she would end up finding herself lost and alone.
I’m not sure of how I should feel about it.
“Let’s go,” I finally said.Then we went straight back to my flat, two joined figures walking slowly with only the absence of noise as background.