Romiemarigana returned to her room alone and waited for Eason patiently. As she waited, she recalled the woman with which Eason was talking to happily. If I were to become more like her, would Eason show me that bright smile too, she wondered.
And eventually when Eason came back, Romiemarigana declared to him that she was also a woman. With clumsy words, she desperately stressed to Eason that she would try her best to mirror the behavior of the woman he was smiling to and be more like her. Even as she frenetically tried to appeal to Eason by mimicking the coquettish movement of her lips, or her that wistful gaze, he did not have any reaction, however. He did not even gave her the kind smile he directed towards that woman, but only had a troubled look.
Romiemarigana heard a sound coming from within herself once more.
It was the sound of the world shattering. The sound of her one and only world collapsing.
That night, she left her room.
Romiemarigana’s Expanding World
As I entered summer break, I returned to my languid and uneventful everyday life. Arumi-san, who frequented our house as and when she pleased like always, did not ask me, ‘What’s the matter?’, like she usually did, but only looked at me with unease. She must have sensed what happened from my expression and attitude alone. I was thankful for this delicacy she rarely exhibited, but also felt somewhat lonely. I thought that the kind of endless cheerfulness Arumi-san had regardless of the atmosphere was probably what I needed right now. Well, it was selfish of me to wish that of her though.
I mainly cooped up in my room and read books.
There wasn’t anything for me to do. So, I’d just walk into Keisuke’s room and pick any book lying around at random to kill time.
Part of it may also have been out of spite at Shinonome.
The more books I read, the more I’ll become like Keisuke and the closer I’d get to Shinonome’s heart. It would be a lie to say that I didn’t have any lingering feelings for her, even if it’s too late for me to realize now.
As August came, nearing the midpoint of summer break, I woke up early in the morning to go to school. My destination was the library.
The school library was open once a week during the break, and the library committee members took turn to man the counter and help sort out books in the storage. Being that there wasn’t much visitors, each committee member helps out for one day instead of the usual two-man shifts.
And today was the day of my shift.
I wasn’t really feeling up to it, but there was no escaping work.
If I really wanted to, I could’ve found someone to replace me, but there was no one I knew who I could actually ask to take over for me. The only person I could contact from home to ask for was Shinonome.
As I passed through the side of the school field, I could hear the vibrant voices of the people from the sports clubs practising.
If I had known, then maybe I should’ve joined one of those clubs. Then, I would’ve never met Shinonome, and I could probably forget my troubles by working up a sweat when bad things happened.
When I came to the library, I found the librarian Shiina-san reading a book listlessly.
Shiina-san only seemed to notice me after I called out to her and she closed the book. Only then did I saw the cover of what she was reading. It wasn’t a book, but the literary magazine, ‘Yokata’, the magazine in which Shinonome debuted.
“Oh, Minami-kun. Good morning.”
I took a nearby chair and sat down. Trying my best not to look at the magazine, I asked Shiina-san,
“Is there any work to be done?”
She fanned at herself with the magazine and replied.
“Well, all you have to do is man the counter when visitors come. But, it seems like there’s pretty much no one coming any more since yesterday. Perhaps, it’s because the Bon Festival is coming right up.”
“Is that so……”
Unthinkingly, I let out a sigh. If it had been busy instead, it could have kept my mind off thinking about stuff.
“Hm? Do I sense some ennui coming from you? What, did you have a fight with Yuuko-chan?”
When she suddenly changed the topic, I panicked slightly.
“W-why would you suddenly bring her up……”
“Eh? Aren’t you guys dating? I heard from Ikehara-kun.”
I could not hide my surprise at how a rumor coming Ikehara could have spread so widely. Still, I feigned calmness and replied her.
“Nah, it’s not like we were dating or anything. That was just a misunderstanding on Ikehara’s part……”
At my words, Shiina-san looked down at the ‘Yotaka’ magazine in her hand.
“Really? I thought it was true for sure which was why her literary style has changed somewhat.”
Shiina-san then flipped through the magazine and flashed a certain page at me.
“Here. You haven’t read it?”
Her finger pointed to the name ‘Nishizono Yuuko’. Under the large words, ‘Newly written short story’, was the title: ‘Romiemarigana’s Expanding World’. It was apparently the latest publication in ‘Yokata’.
“No, I haven’t seen it……”
“Then, you should go and read it. It sure felt different coming from Yuuko-chan.”
However, before I could ask Shiina-san just in what way was it different, two students entered the library and I was shushed away to the counter by her. Despite telling me that I ‘should go and read it’, she didn’t pass the magazine to me, and I just stopped thinking about it as I focused on the job at hand.
No matter how different that story was from the usual, it was also not as if the relationship between Shinonome and I would change in any way.
But, what further caught my attention were the words, ‘Newly written short story’, which made me somewhat irritated.
Why did you write a short story, I thought. Wasn’t the reason we were ‘dating’ was so that you could write a full-length novel. It doesn’t matter if it’s not now, but shouldn’t you at least be working on a full novel at least. And after spending all the time with me.
More than two months had passed since the day Shinonome and I separated at the hotel. In this time, she didn’t contact me at all. No calls nor any messages. The short story published in ‘Yotaka’ was probably written in that time.
I most likely wouldn’t read it. I no longer had the interest to read Shinonome’s work. They would only make me recall all the things that happened and make me feel bitter.
After finishing my work in the library perfunctorily, I left the school.
As I walked along the streets, I kept thinking about Shinonome’s new story. I won’t read it, or so I thought to myself. But, even as I keep telling myself that, Shiina-san’s comment of ‘different’ kept pricking at my curiosity.
In the end, my feet brought me to a small bookstore in the shopping district.
I was walking around looking for the corner with literary magazines when,
A voice called out to me and I turned around to face a young man. I tilted my head slightly at the somewhat familiar face and he returned a smile.
“Didn’t we met before once?”
“Is that so……”
I had the same feeling, but just cannot recall the specifics and replied as such. The young man gave another light chuckle.
“If I recall, you are Yuuko-chan’s classmate, right?”
With that, I finally remembered who he was. He was the editor in charge of Shinonome.
“Erm…… Aikawa-san, was it?”
“That’s right. Are you returning home from club activities? It must’ve been tiring.”
What a weird place to meet a strange man, I thought. And before I realized,
“Perhaps, you are here to meet up with Shinonome?”
When I enquired, he shook his head listlessly.
“No, I’m meeting someone else today. There’s a surprising number of writers living around this area.”
When I found out that he wasn’t here to meet Shinonome, I felt relieved.
What was certain was that it felt awkward. It was not like I was particularly close to Aikawa. When he took his phone to check, I gave a slight bow and turned to leave. I could always buy the magazine another day.
However, when he saw me about to leave,
“Oh, wait up, are you free now?”
“What’s the matter?”
“It seems like the writer I’m meeting up with will be quite late. Since there’s not much to do around here to kill time, I’ll be glad if you could join me for a cup of coffee. There’s also some things I’d like to ask of you.”
“Some things……? What is it?”
I still asked anyway despite having a general idea of what it was about. After all, the only point of contact being me and Aikawa was Shinonome.
“Well, how about we bring the discussion to the cafe.”
Without waiting for my reply, Aikawa seemed to take my silence as consent and promptly left the bookstore. I had no choice but to follow him.
Of course, I had the option of declining him. If I haven’t heard about that from Shiina-san, I would’ve done that for sure. There were no benefits to be gained from drinking coffee with someone I’m not close with, and it would be uncomfortable rather.
However, I was curious about Shinonome after all. And I knew that speaking with an acquaintance of Shinonome was a shortcut to finding out more.
At the cafe, Aikawa order a coffee and heaved a deep sigh.
“It’s pretty rare to find any authors who are punctual.”
As he spoke what seemed to a mix of a joke and his true feelings, Aikawa took out a cigarette from its box.
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Sure, go ahead…… I’m used to it, since my brother also smokes.”
“I see, sorry about this.”
In the time before the coffee was served, Aikawa just smoked wordlessly. I wondered how old was he. 26? 27? Or perhaps even older?
Then, as if waiting for the waitress to finish serving our coffees, he extinguished the cigarette and spoke.
“You…… Erm, what was your name again?”
“Right, Minami-kun. Are you, perchance, dating Yuuko-chan?”
I unwittingly took a gulp, surprised that even Aikawa-san was saying such things.
“……Did Shinonome said that?”
“Nope…… that child doesn’t speak much about herself. I was just wondering. I thought, did she make a boyfriend or something recently.”
I could imagine that Shinonome and Aikawa had met up quite frequently seeing as he was her editor. But, was there such a significant change in Shinonome that would lead to Aikawa saying that she made a boyfriend?
At least, I had never observed anything like that in the time I was ‘dating’ her.
“Who know…… I don’t know either.”
At my reply, he slanted his head as if his guess was wrong.
“I see. ……I was so sure that it was you, though. From the way she’s writing.”
“The way she’s writing?”
Now, I was the one to be confused. Aikawa lit up another cigarette at my response.
“Yup. You see, she was writing a full-length novel up till recently. And the boy that showed up in it sort of reminded me of you.”
“……Full-length novel? Not a short story?”
“That’s right. Well, but in the end, Yuuko-chan herself scrapped the manuscript before it was complete. It will most likely never see the light of the day again.”
I stared blankly at Aikawa who shrugged his shoulders and sipped his coffee. In any case, my mind was in disarray.
What Shiina-san had mentioned was a short story published in the magazine. And now, Aikawa was saying that Shinonome was writing a full-length novel. In other words, it was a different work than the one published in ‘Yotaka’.
“If you had been dating her, then I would’ve requested you to get her to complete the novel. If it was completed, I’m pretty sure it would’ve been a hit.”
I should have been happy that Shinonome was writing a full-length novel. That was why we were ‘dating’ after all. But, I did not understand why did she scrapped it. It would be one thing if the editor had been the one to reject it, but even the half-completed manuscript was praised by Aikawa.
“Erm, do you think you can let me read the unfinished manuscript……?”
I asked without much hope, and as expected, Aikawa shook his head.
“That’d be impossible, I say…… Even if you are her friend, I cannot just hand over such data to an outsider. If you really want to read it, how about asking her directly?”
“I guess you’re right……”
I cast my head down as he continued.
“Even if you’re not her boyfriend, please try to persuade her around. Because I really thought that was a truly interesting novel.”
After that, we only conversed about topics at random before we parted ways.
When I returned home, Keisuke told me that Arumi-san won’t be coming over. I thought about how I missed the chance to get the ‘Yotaka’ magazine and asked Keisuke.
“Say, did you buy the latest issue of ‘Yotaka’?”
Keisuke, still engrossed in a book in the living room, merely tilted his head towards the table where a stack of books lay. I looked through the just-bought books and found the ‘Yotaka’ magazine among them.
“You mind if I borrow this?”
“Return it soon. I still haven’t read it.”
“Okay. I don’t feel like making dinner tonight, so just cook some instant noodles or something? I’ll settle my own dinner myself.”
Seeing him nod in reply, I took the magazine and went to my room.
I threw down my bag and jumped onto my bed without bothering to change. I flipped through the magazine and found the name Nishizono Yuuko early enough. ‘Romiemarigana’s Expanding World’. As always, I could not tell anything from the title alone. From just that, it gave off the feeling of something written by Shinonome.
I read through the story bit by bit.
A young girl from a frontier planet was taken away by a stranger man, and she became captivated by him.
The stiff prose was reminiscent of Shinonome’s writing style. But, this work was indeed different from all of her other works till now. That was probably due to the presence of a relationship between a man and woman. In all the publications by Shinonome thus far, there was not a single element of a man being attracted to a woman or vice versa.
However, this piece of work I was reading was precisely focusing on that issue. The young girl who was attracted to the man, which establishes a world within herself.
I had to stop myself from turning to the next page countless of times. I just can’t stop myself.
Oddly enough, I found in the protagonist of the story—the young girl with the eccentric name of Romiemarigana—a sense of empathy.
I cannot help but find myself, who feel a sense of affection for Shinonome one-sidedly while completely not understanding her, overlapping with the young girl in the story.
Like, isn’t this character totally representing me.
In the process of us ‘dating’ and spending time together, could she have completely seen through my heart? And then, had she taken those feelings and put them into the young girl as a story?
I just can’t help but think as such.
When the girl spied on the man conversing happily with an unknown woman, she could feel the world established in herself—in other words, her feelings—crumble.
That was almost certainly corresponding to me watching Keisuke and Shinonome’s conversation and feeling left out.
To make sure of that, I read through each and every word painstakingly.
But, as I approached the end of the story, I started to feel that there was something wrong.
Was this really something she wrote from seeing through my heart?
Was it really possible to see through one’s feelings so elaborately, even if they were a writer?
To begin with, isn’t it possible that she wrote it completely from her imagination. After all, it all comes down to it being a narrative. It’s not like it was non-fiction.
But, I have read all the works Shinonome had written and even heard her own thoughts. Shinonome fundamentally crafts her story from her own knowledge and experience. It was difficult to imagine her writing a story completely from scratch. All the bizarre worlds and the thoughts and emotions of the characters in the stories she had written so far felt like they were just intermediaries for her own.
And knowing that, I thought as I read through this short story.
Just how Shinonome know to depict these emotions?
Did she spy on me in great detail to write this story? But, even that was impossible just by observing me. In fact, when I avoided her due to my irritation at Keisuke and her conversing, she did not look like she understood the reason for my feeling that way. I had not told her about the reason even at the very end.
When I finished reading, I took out my mobile phone.
I pondered over what to type and eventually settled on this,
“Is it okay if I call you?”
Not even a few minutes passed since I sent the mail when my phone vibrated. I picked it up thinking that she had return a message, but found that she had called instead,
When I mumbled into the phone nervously, I could hear Shinonome reply in the same hesitating way.
“Erm, is something the matter……?”
I was so surprised by the sudden call that I totally forgot what was I going to say.
“Ah, wait a minute. Let’s start over again. I’ll call you back this time!”
I declared one-sidedly and cut the call.
Then, I took several deep breaths.
Following that, I call her back and apologized first for cutting the call so abruptly.
“Erm, I’m sorry about that…… I was not prepared since you called so suddenly.”
Unlike me, who has calmed down somewhat, I could tell from Shinonome’s timid voice that she was still nervous.
“I’ve read it. Your new short story.”
When she heard that, she went silent for a while.
“I see…… Thank you.”
And replied in a soft voice.
I was aware that I was still in a daze. What I was saying was all a mess. That wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. Without getting into the topic of the short story, I continued.
“Speaking of which, I met Aikawa-san today.”
“We coincidentally bumped into each other at the bookstore. Somehow, I heard that you were writing a full novel.”
I could tell from the silence that Shinonome was shocked. I wondered, what was she thinking about right now. I hope she wasn’t feeling bothered or depressed. I continued with those concerns in my heart.
“If you are fine with it, I was hoping you could let me read it……”
Her reply was faster than I expected.
“I can’t…… show you that……! It’s incomplete and…… also, it’s not very well done……”
“But, I heard from Aikawa-san that he thought what he read so far were pretty good……”
“N-no…… I can’t let you see it……”
I never expected that she would be so against me reading it. But, seeing that response of hers actually made me happy on the contrary.
“If you’re so reluctant…… then I guess that’s that……”
At my words, she sighed in relief.
“In return, I have a request, however.”
As I followed up, I could feel Shinonome getting nervous once again.
“W-what is it……?”
I took a gulp and slowly continued, choosing my words carefully..
“I want to…… meet up tomorrow.”
For a while, Shinonome remained quiet. I unconsciously gripped the phone harder in my hand. If she rejected, that would be the end of it. It may be that she had some appointment or something. But, even so, I hoped she would not decline. If she did, I probably wouldn’t be able to take another step. I wasn’t courageous enough.
The silence felt like it lasted forever. I could hear sound of my heartbeat in my ears just like the time when I was with Shinonome alone. I perked up my ears and waited for her reply.
I could hear the faint sound of her moving her lips. With my eyes closed, I tried to imagine the movement of her lips. On the other side of the call, Shinonome spoke.
“Okay…… Let’s meet……”
“T-then, I’ll send you a message later. About the time and place.”
After I ended the call, I felt exhausted all of a sudden.
To think I would end up like this when I haven’t even said anything I wanted to. I’m disappointed at my own patheticness. Even so, I feel like I can keep pushing on for just a bit.
I put down my phone and wiped the sweat off my temple with my sleeve.
Then, I opened up ‘Yotaka’ and begin reading through Shinonome’s short story again.
I had a feeling that this would become my favorite story ever. It would be great if it did. And in order for that to happen, I needed to meet with Shinonome tomorrow no matter what.
I chose the cafe where Shinonome and I always met up at.
I was so anxious that I arrived quite early, but Shinonome soon appeared after five minutes. When she saw me, her eyes widened in surprise.
She said when she sat opposite me.
“For some reason, I just felt like I shouldn’t be late today.”
When I replied that, she laughed lightly.
“……Me too, for some reason.”
I waited for Shinonome to order her drink, but after that, I couldn’t really find the words to speak. Whenever I looked into her face, I would be reminded of what happened at the hotel and cannot shake away the feelings of awkwardness.
“Err…… you know…… about that……”
Those were the only few words I could scrounge up as I scratched my head. Opposite me, Shinonome only listened without speaking.
“I mean…… erm……”
I folded my arms and deliberated. Just what should I talk about. I felt like I should clearly convey to her what I wanted to say, but when it comes down to it, I hesitated. Shinonome was feeling apprehensive upon seeing my indecisiveness, but was still seated upright looking at me.
Just then, the waitress brought over her coffee and our conversation was cut short. I became tight-lipped again after having my momentum interrupted. Shinonome was still staring straight at me without bothering about her coffee.
“For the time being, why don’t we take a drink?”
At my suggestion, she started to stir some sugar into her coffee with mechanical movements.
As I looked at her, I thought in a daze. Ah, so it’s just like that.
The two of us were probably similar. Even though our genders differed, and that the circumstances we were placed in were completely unsimilar, there was some ways in which we were the same. Especially how we were both faint of the heart.
That thought made me calm down somewhat, and I waited for Shinonome to take a sip before I spoke up.
“You know, I’m angry.”
That might’ve been a shocking statement to her. After all, I was feeling that same even being the one to say that. I continued before she could say anything.
“All because you decided to scrap the manuscript for the novel on a whim…… This way, wouldn’t that mean the all my cooperation would have been for naught?”
“Ah, I’m so sorry……”
I hadn’t really intended to speak in such a strong tone as if I was actually angry, but Shinonome sank into her seat with her face down. She seemed to want to raise something in defence, but I prevented that by not giving her time to speak. If I did, I felt like I would never be able to get into the real topic at hand.
“But, if you are not feeling up to it then I guess it can’t be helped. The one doing the writing is you after all.”
Shinonome looked up at me as if she was trying to gauge my true feelings. I smiled gently. I hoped that would be enough to clear up even some of her unease.
“That’s why, I have a suggestion—”
After speaking so far, I gulped down my saliva. Shinonome gazed at me. The girl with the strange name, Romiemarigana and Shinonome overlapped with my heart. That story was not depicting me. Probably. Surely.
Then, who was it? Who was the model behind the girl whose entire self was completely supported by that one man, and feared not knowing what he thought?
The answer was obvious, there was no other alternatives. It was Shinonome herself.
What if that short story was depicting Shinonome’s feelings—her feeling of the time when we were ‘dating’, wouldn’t that mean that she felt the exact same feelings as I did? What if, just like I thought she was captivated by Keisuke, she too thought that I was smitten with Arumi-san—though if that had been true in the past—and was feeling conflicted?
“Until the time when you become satisfied your novel—”
Even so, I had no confirmation. I can’t be fully certain that that was it. That was why I could only put it this way.
“I want to go out with you till then.”
Shinonome’s eyes widened in an instant.
And she unwittingly let out an utter in surprise. I just stared back at her mutely.
I prayed that she heard me as I do not want to say it another time. It had taken me a considerable amount of determination to say those words. I’d be too embarrassed to say them again.
Shinonome repeatedly looked left and right before saying,
She continued to stumble over her words for a while, making me start to feel nervous.
“So, how about it……?” Unable to repeat those words, I asked so instead, causing her to shoot up straight in her seat and look like an elementary school student forced to sit upright.
“Eh…… er…… T-then, please do……”
I could not help but smile when she said so and gave a deep bow. Just that reply alone made me happy and relieved. I had also considered the possibility of her refusing. But, seeing how Shinonome looked like a child giving thanks, all my nervousness melted and flowed away like water.
“You’ve certainly changed a bit.”
“Eh……? I-in what way?”
She tilted her head in surprise.
“Nah, that was nothing.”
“Oh…… okay. I’m sorry.”
It’d trouble me if she kept apologizing like this. I wasn’t blaming her or anything.
“It’s fine, you have nothing to be sorry for. After all, I prefer you like this.”
I could only say this so casually because Shinonome have cleared my unease.
She hung down her head in embarrassment. It felt like her cheeks were also light flushed. Although, that may also have been my imagination making it seem that way.
“Let’s go out somewhere while it’s still summer break. Since we’re nearing the end, it probably won’t be so crowded too.”
And replied with a small nod.
We left the cafe and headed to the station.
Halfway through, I reached out to hold her hand. Shinonome did not reject it.
We separated at the station, walking there without speaking and merely feeling each other’s warmth through our hands. Truthfully, I wanted to spend more time together, but there was no need to rush. We had already made a promise to meet up soon, and I’ll also be able to see her again everyday once school starts.
When I reached home, Arumi-san came over to greet me.
As I took off my shoes at the entranceway, I murmured softly to Arumi-san who did not ask too much lately due to my recent dejection.
“Hm? What is it?”
I answered her with slight hesitation.
“I might’ve made a girlfriend.”