Chapter 2: Love Letter
Asaba’s morning was a complete mess.
Asaba, having survived first period, felt the need to offer Iriya an explanation. He’d explain to her what kind of activities the Newspaper Club partook in, the President’s personality, and, if despite all of that, she still wanted to join, then he’d welcome her, otherwise—
If it came to that, then he’d try and invite her himself one more time.
Probably because he just saw Suizenji’s amazingly bold moves, he steeled his resolve relatively quickly. Asaba stood up and turned around—
She was gone.
Iriya wasn’t in her usual seat at the far back of the classroom, three seats from the side of the hallway. All that was there was the bouquet of sunflowers placed in a bucket labeled “2-4” lying next to her desk. Asaba looked around in a panic. He barely caught a glimpse of Iriya’s backside as she was leaving the classroom.
“I wonder where she’s going,” he thought.
Asaba chased after her. When he almost caught up with her, he slowed his pace, and followed her after putting a little bit of distance between the two of them. He was nervous. “How should I call out to her? Where should I begin to explain?” While he was spacing out thinking, they had arrived at the main entrance on the first floor. There were dusty shoe lockers for visitors, slippers scattered over old wooden boards, a receptionist window with thousand-year-old curtains drawn over it, and three public telephones to the side of the window.
Iriya walked over to the far right telephone, and pulled out a grey card from her wallet.
Asaba’s heart skipped a beat.
There was no doubt about it. It was that mysterious grey card that looked and felt like a telephone card.
Iriya lifted the telephone receiver, and slid the card into the slit.
Asaba focused his eyes. He stared at the movements of Iriya’s fingers.
#, 0, 6, 2, 4.
Iriya punched in those numbers, and remained silent with the receiver pressed against her ear.
Iriya remained that way for almost a minute. Maybe nobody answered, or maybe she was listening to some kind of information service. Before long, she put down the receiver, pulled out the card that was ejected from the telephone, and turned around much sooner than Asaba had predicted.
Their eyes met.
Iriya practically froze. Asaba immediately covered up with a nonchalant expression.
“You were on the phone, so it was a little hard to call out.”
Iriya remained silent. She didn’t even blink.
“U-Um, sorry about this morning. That was pretty surprising, huh? That guy who suddenly came bringing flowers, that’s our President. I talked with him about you yesterday, and he said that he really wanted you to join our club. He does pull some crazy stunts from time to time, but he’s really not a bad person, so—”
“So, uh, I’m also part of the Newspaper Club. Sudou Akiho—do you know her?—she’s also a member. Right now the only members are the President, Akiho, and me, but—”
Asaba paused for a moment and took a breath. Summoning up courage from the pits of his stomach, he spit it out. “So basically, um, if you join the club, it’d become four members.”
That being said, that completely random statement was Asaba’s absolute best attempt at inviting Iriya to join the club.
Having said all that he could, Asaba lowered his gaze and stared at his toes. The silence persisted. Unable to stand the silence, Asaba spoke. “U-Um, you don’t need to decide right away, take your time and think it over—”
“I’m busy.” Iriya suddenly spoke.
Immediately after she uttered those words, she turned around. Without giving Asaba a moment to respond, she ran off, as if rejecting Asaba.
Iriya’s two words reverberated throughout Asaba’s mind.
She said it in her unique, awkward tone of voice.
“I wonder what she means,” he wondered to himself. “Does she mean, ‘I’m busy right now, so I can’t hear you out at the moment,’ or does she mean, “I’m busy with a lot of things, so I can’t participate in any clubs?’”
“Well, I’ve done all I can,” he thought.
He felt exhausted from the tension. He decided to return to class, and began to walk.
“The grey card.”
He froze in his tracks.
He looked around. There was nobody there.
This area was relatively far from the classrooms, and foot traffic was pretty sparse. The din of the school buildings sounded like distant echoes. Asaba lowered his breath, and stood in front of the public telephone on the far right that Iriya had just been using.
He pulled out the grey card that he took out of Iriya’s bag yesterday.
He pressed the receiver against his ear, and inserted the card into the slit.
There was some kind of noise, and then a familiar tone.
He slowly pressed the buttons.
#, 0, 6, 2, 4.
There wasn’t even a ringtone. The telephone line immediately connected to something.
A synthetic voice that mimicked a female tone began to speak.
“This is the Advanced JSTARS1 Datalink. A picture-call has been requested from terminal S, S, 0, 9, 8, 1, 1, 3. The current time is 1, 0, 0, 4. The AWACS2 currently in operation are: Navaho 02, Shield 01, Shield 02, Gorki 05. Situation report. Navaho 02: picture clear. Shield 01, picture clear. Shield 02, picture clear. Gorki 05, picture clear. Repeat. Navaho 02, picture clear. Shield 01—”
Somewhere nearby, cicadas were chirping.
Asaba slammed the receiver down.
He snatched the card the telephone spit out, and fled the scene.
He wanted to go somewhere without cicadas, somewhere with people.
He ran to the second floor. After blending in with the crowd of students, he finally felt a slight sense of relief. He drank from the water fountain until he felt like he would vomit. He wiped his mouth with his arm, and—
At that instant, he realized.
June 24th was, throughout the world, UFO day.
1. JSTARS: The Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) is a United States Air Force battle management and command and control aircraft. It tracks ground vehicles and some aircraft, collects imagery, and relays tactical pictures to ground and air theater commanders. The aircraft is operated by both active duty Air Force and Air National Guard units and also carries specially trained U.S. Army as additional flight crew.
2. AWACS: Airborne Warning and Control System. An airborne radar system designed to detect aircraft, ships and vehicles at long ranges and perform control and command of the battle space in an air engagement by directing fighter and attack aircraft strikes.