Chapter 2: Love Letter
The next day, perhaps as the victim of somebody’s harassment, there was a live cat stuffed inside of Asaba’s shoe locker.
A morning of sleep deprivation awaited Asaba after he spent the entire night doing nothing but copying homework. For the second day in a row, Asaba again went to school running late. The tiny bike lot was already overflowing with bikes, and Asaba was forced to lock his bike against a fence quite a distance away from the roof of the lot. After school, the setting sun sits right on top of that area, so when it’s time to go home, the bike seat gets so hot that it’s impossible to sit on it. But he had no other place to park his bike. He rushed through the school building’s entrance, and placed his hands on his shoe locker door to get his indoor shoes out.
That’s where his everyday routine ended.
The instant he opened the shoe locker door, a brown tabby kitten flew out and latched itself onto Asaba’s face, and socked him with a lightning-quick one-two punch. Asaba was immediately down for the count. The kitten let out a growl and ran out the door. Asaba scrambled hastily into the classroom, and when Akiho saw his face and asked him, “What’s with that?” he realized for the first time that there was a considerable amount of blood coming from out of the scratches.
“Here, look at me,” Akiho said.
Asaba sat down sideways and hesitantly raised his face.
“Geez, who the heck would play such a cruel prank?” Akiho was fuming. Of the Band-Aids that she regularly kept inside of her bag, she took the biggest one and roughly slapped it onto the bridge of Asaba’s nose. “Poor kitty, being stuffed into such a tiny space.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” Asaba thought to himself.
“Could that brown kitten be the one that’s been wandering around the bus stop frequently? Its tail was a little crooked for about three months. Did it have a collar?” Akiho asked.
“I don’t think it did. But then again, I only saw for a moment.”
Akiho put her box of Band-Aids back in her bag. “There are two brown cats that live in that area. The little one that doesn’t have a collar is probably a stray, and the one that’s a little bigger with a collar is the Takizawa Stationery Store’s Kojirou.”
Akiho was always writing “adopt a pet” articles, so she was exceptionally knowledgeable about the dogs and cats in the areas around school.
“Not that it really matters either way, but—” Akiho continued.
Rubbing his bandaged up nose, Asaba mused absentmindedly. “Who, and why, in the world would anyone put a cat into my shoe locker?”
Right then, he suddenly sensed someone staring at him. Asaba nonchalantly turned around, which prompted Akiho to follow.
Iriya, who was gazing intently at Asaba, quickly cast her eyes downward.
“What was that?” Akiho muttered. Asaba felt somewhat uncomfortable, and returned to looking forward. Akiho, however, continued to stare. She lowered her voice, and said, “Hey Asaba, did you hear about the ‘go away?’”
“Don’t you think that’s awful? No wonder Maki-chan and the others hate her.”
“That’s just too much. If she accidentally let it slip then she should’ve just apologized. She doesn’t even think she did anything wrong. I don’t know who she thinks she is, but if she keeps that up she’ll never make any friends. And what’s with those wristbands? Does she think that they’re cool?”
Asaba looked up in surprise. This was the first time he had ever heard Sudou Akiho talk down on someone that much. However, it was Akiho after all, and she did seem surprised at the words that came out of her own mouth. She noticed Asaba’s stare, immediately covered up with a smile, and forcibly changed the subject.
“Umm, hey Asaba, did you decide on anything with the President yesterday? Like the layout for next issue’s articles?”
This time, it was Asaba who was startled. “Ah, um, we didn’t exactly decide on that, but—”
Yesterday they ended up deciding on something outrageous.
“What is it?”
For some reason, it seemed like Akiho really disliked Iriya, so Asaba felt like it would be very bad timing to bring it up right now. “But she’ll find out eventually anyway, so it’ll be less painful if I just spit it out early,” he thought.
“Let’s just get it over with,” he decided.
“I talked to the President in the clubroom yesterday about Iriya. I said that there was this kind of strange girl that transferred into our class.”
Akiho remained silent. She stared at Asaba, her expression unchanged.
“Well, when I mentioned that it seemed like Iriya was living in Sonohara Base, the President was really pleased. We can’t really write an article about just camping in the mountains, and we were talking about sneaking into Sonohara Base to take pictures anyway, so we decided that we’d pick her up before she gets taken by any other clubs—”
And then, the worst possible man appeared at the worst possible timing.
The door at the back of the classroom practically flew off. Everyone in the classroom looked up in surprise.
Suizenji was there. His silver-rimmed hipster glasses glistened brightly. His slicked back hair looked like the back of a fully-grown cockroach.
And, as unbelievable as it may seem, he was holding a bouquet of sunflowers.
Ignoring the stares of everyone around him, Suizenji walked forward with long strides and stood directly in front of Iriya’s desk. He presented the bouquet of flowers with such force that a few petals fell off, and declared,
“We, the Sonohara Radio Wave Newspaper Club, are an organization of elite journalists that provide readers with a variety of knowledge as wide as the solar system itself, at radio wave speeds! Today, in an age where the people cry out in terror in the face of the impending outbreak of war, there is a necessity like never before for journalism that strives to expose for the people the true facts of this chaotic world!! Now, together with us, become a holy warrior in the search for truth!!”
Iriya stared at Suizenji, and then shifted her gaze to the bouquet of flowers held out in front of her.
And then, in a “Well, since it’s here I might as well take it,” kind of fashion, she stretched out her arms and accepted the bouquet of flowers. However, Suizenji interpreted that as a sign of her intention to join the club.
“Welcome!!” He shouted in a booming voice and quickly spun around. He looked at Asaba and gave him a big thumbs up.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to react to that,” Asaba thought to himself.
“Well then, Correspondent Iriya, we shall meet again after school!!”
Suizenji left off with that and leisurely strolled out of the classroom, laughing loudly.
Instantaneously, the entire classroom was filled with hushed whispers that practically shook the ground.
“I gotta say something,” Asaba thought. “Long story short, what I talked to the President about was, uh, since Iriya is living in Sonohara Base, if we ask her nicely, maybe they’ll let us observe the inside of the base,” he concluded.
Akiho glared at him with a terrifying scowl. Asaba felt like he was getting strangled, and kept his mouth tightly shut. Akiho glared at Asaba, then glared at Iriya, and then finally glared at the door at the back of the classroom that Suizenji left out of. She muttered her usual phrase,
“That’s so stupid.”
Among the hushed whispers that seemed to shake the Earth, Iriya, not knowing what to do, stared at the bouquet of flowers in her arms.