Volume 3, Chapter 1
Ayaka has returned.
Many things have happened, but still, she returned.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
When I pushed the rooftop door open, wind reached the dark, dusty stairs and my eyes met the clay-colored light of the sky. It was as though the silhouettes of the buildings shot right through the dark clouds. The ramen shop and detective agency where I worked at was in this five floors high building, though it was only five floors high, the landscape was completely different to the view from the ground and the view from the school’s rooftop.
“Narumi, stop spacing out. Quick, look at the state of the planters.”
After saying that, I was pushed from the back. Stepping out to the cramped rooftop, I looked around but there didn’t seem to be anything on the bare concrete floor, so I turned around and asked:
“Where are they?”
The girl with a teddy bear under her arm, wearing light-blue pajamas and having long black hair that formed a shawl around her shoulders pointed at the ceiling above the staircase.
“Up there. It’s where they get the most sunlight.”
I climbed the metal ladder and looked at the small concrete roof. Long and narrow plastic pots were lined up there. Above the soil there were narrow stems interweaving with leaves, and glossy bright red fruits dangling from them. Strawberries.
“They look ripe enough to eat.”
I bent down to look at the door and report to Alice from between my legs, while she shoved a metal bowl into my nose.
“Well then, pick them. And take care of the stumps after that while you’re at it. You’re in the gardening club after all, right?”
Apparently Min-san’s growing method was good, since the harvest was quite plentiful. There were like, around a hundred strawberries there.
As I carefully plucked them one by one, I asked Alice who was at my feet:
“Hey, but, weren’t you talking about a payday? Why are we gathering strawberries?”
This pajama-clad, self-proclaimed detective little girl is my employer. Today, I came to the NEET detective office after school and she said she was going to pay me for my work as a detective assistant, bringing me along to the rooftop.
“What do you mean by why? Those strawberries are your payment.”
I almost fell flat on my back from the roof. My upper torso dangled in the air, but I held onto the concrete edge and avoided falling down.
“Be careful! If the bowl falls, the strawberries will be ruined.”
I glanced at the sulking upside-down Alice. Worry a little about me too, will you!?
As I finished picking up my ruby-colored salary and climbed down the roof, Alice stared at the bowl.
“Just thinking that these are your salary makes people feel like eating them. How I should eat them this year? Anyways, just pluck off the stems first!”
“Hey, hold on! You’re gonna eat them?”
“Well, you looked somewhat dissatisfied with the strawberries, didn’t you?”
“No, that's not the point……”
I nearly got serious there, the problem is I don't want the strawberries as my salary!
“You have an income, right? So, why strawberries?”
“Good grief. You have before your very eyes these beautiful fruits of the earth not even comparable to ten thousand stars, yet what you actually desire is some cold-hearted money? There are many things in this world that can’t be bought with money.”
“Strawberries can be bought with money!”
Alice took a brown envelope from behind her teddy bear and shoved it into my face, then pulled the bowl out of my hands.
“Congratulations. With this, you are employed. Now you won't become a NEET even if you drop out of school. That's all for now.”
What the hell. Why don't you just be honest and hand it to me? I sat on the doorstep, counting the contents of the envelope. The amount was far more than I had expected. Is it really okay for me to take this? It made the hourly 700 yen rate of the ramen shop’s part-time job look meaningless.
“You don’t have to worry. I earn more than that.” Alice said as she squatted beside me.
“Even though you’re a NEET…”
“Like I always tell you, being a NEET and running an independent business does not contradict each other, because that's how it's defined.”
“Why did they make such a complicated definition anyway?”
Since Alice was staring at me from a close distance, it made me feel rather embarrassed. I averted my eyes and fixed them on the concrete floor.
“…This word originated from England. You know that much, right?”I nodded as Alice began her explanation.
“It all started in 1999, with a report presented by a part of the UK cabinet office called the Social Exclusion Unit named ‘New opportunities for 16-18 year olds not in education, employment or training’. That report’s objective was to assess how many 16-18 year olds were not in education, work or training, analyze the reasons, and produce proposals to reduce the numbers. You see? It was necessary to count them first, so the overwhelming minority of people under 18 who were unemployed but actually had an income weren’t differentiated nor excluded from the counting process. Even Sid Vicious would have been considered a NEET if he had been born a quarter of century later. “
Alice and I both looked up to the cloudy sky that connected us with England, thinking for a brief moment about that Punk Rocker who had died long before we were born.
“When the term reached Japan, the definition was altered, but the fundamental idea has not changed.
According to the book of Daniel, we are numbered, numbered, weighed, divided. I suppose that’s the reason why we are classified like that. Even so, we're not being categorized due to a certain reason, so the term NEET is actually just like a random label that’s stuck on a shelf. It’s more like a meaningless acronym. For this reason—“
Alice stood up, with the bowl on her right hand and the teddy bear on her left hand. Her long black hair flowed over her shoulders and back like a river in winter, and a soft smile adorned her smooth, pale face.
“For this reason, I’ve chosen this word: As a tetragramaton to define myself. As a way to not have to use my arms and legs in the name of the country. As a way to spread soil and plant seeds all over this emptiness.”
And with that, Alice gave me that stern look again. I realized she was waiting for me to say something. I sighed and shook my head.
“Sorry. I don’t get what you’re saying.”
She just smiled broadly again. Her long hair waved as she began to walk down the stairs.
“It’s fine if you don’t understand, it’s one of the reasons why you’re still by my side after all. You probably can’t even guess how much you have supported me with your stupidity and insensitivity.”
Uhh. Are you making a fool out of me or are you praising me?
“Both, of course.”
“I know that!”
We took the strawberries to the ramen store on the first floor and Min-san decided to make jam out of them.
“This breed is rather sour, so they’re perfect for jam”.
She said, putting a pot on the stove. After sprinkling sugar on the strawberries to draw the juice out of them, she began heating them up, without stirring too much so as to leave some lumps.
Min-san was the young shopkeeper of Hanamaru Ramen, the place where I worked part-time. She usually wore a sarashi and a tanktop that made her look more like one of those Yakuza women who were at gambling rooms than a chef, but she was actually an expert in confectionery.
A bittersweet scent filled the ramen shop’s kitchen. It was already way past the opening time and the soup broth was also being cooked, but still, is this okay? Wouldn’t the customers run away?
“Master, I want to eat it fresh.”
Alice was sitting on the kitchen’s backdoor step, pattering the door with her feet. She was actually a hikikomori, so it was quite unusual to see her come to the store. Just how much is she looking forward to those strawberries?
“Is jam something you have to eat freshly made?”
“I’m sure you can’t find words in your vocabulary to describe that flavor.”
She was actually right. She actually tasted the jam with warm yoghurt. The strawberry juice spreading through the whiteness made it look great.
“It’s actually so delicious while it’s warm… I didn’t know that.”
“Do you understand the reason why I left my fort to wait here now?”
Alice was unimaginably picky with her food, but when it came to sweet stuff such as Min-san’s ice creams, she would gladly eat them without any complaint.
“So, will this be Narumi’s salary? Ahh, this month has been hard, so it’s a relief.”
I heard Min-san say that while I was carrying more yoghurt to my mouth, so I almost dropped the spoon from my hand. You too?!
"Please pay me a proper salary! I work for you very seriously!"
“Fine, fine. Next I’m going to put this in a jar”
Just leave the jam already!
But Min-san really started filling what looked like an empty kimchi jar, and then a smaller one, probably a menma jar.
“It will be better to eat this as soon as possible.”
“Why are there two jars?”
“The smaller one is for Ayaka, isn’t it obvious?”
Alice who was now sitting by my side answered. I received the jar and placed it on my lap. I looked at both Alice and Min-san’s faces for an instant and then lowered my gaze to look at my own feet.
“Give it to her; it’ll give you an excuse to bring her here.”
Min-san said in a tone as if nothing happened. She might not even noticed me nodding faintly.
The girl who was once a part-time worker at this shop, and also my friend. She jumped off the school’s rooftop and had been slumbering for a long time, but she returned.
If that was a miracle,then…
Just how much of a cynic God is?
Alice pulled my sleeve as if she was reading my thoughts.
“Like I already told you, that’s not a miracle.”
I absent-mindedly looked at her face, tilting my head.
“She woke up. That’s simply the reality. This is the reason that everyone can't notice miracles,so your only choice is to accept it.”
I turned my face away from Alice and fixed my gaze on the jar on my lap. The light of the fluorescent lamp gave the jam a pigeon blood-red glow.
The shop’s door opened, a regular costumer had arrived. He ordered a shio ramen while frowning at the sweet scent that filled the air, so I left the jar and got up.
Ayaka was absent for the whole first year’s third academic term and didn’t wake up until four months after that, so she also lost around three months of her second year.
After being absent for such a long time, normally she wouldn’t be able to be promoted, obviously, but she still ended up attending class 2-4 with us because of special circumstances. I don’t really know what kind of agreement the school had with Ayaka’s parents and doctor. To be honest, I think it's better if they directly let her repeat the year.
The day after I got my payment, I put the jam jar inside my bag and went to school. I was running quite late but still somehow made it before the first bell. A group of girls were gathered three seats away from my seat. Among the crowd, I noticed a pair of metallic crutches. It was depressing just to look at them.
“Ayaka, your hair is growing really fast!”
“It’s almost the same length as before by now, isn’t it?” “Did you really have your head shaved?”
“Yup, it was completely cropped, I have a photo. See?”
“Uwah, is that really you?” “Didn't you see it already when you went to visit before this?”
“They say your hair grows faster when you’re unhealthy.” “They also say the faster your hair grows, the more perverted you are, right?” “Shouldn’t it be the opposite?” “Ah, Fujishima is here, Ayaka.”
Ah, they saw me. I pretended not to hear them, placing my bag on my desk while wishing for the bell just ring already.
At that moment, the crowd broke up, revealing Ayaka sitting in the middle. She doesn't look any different from before, as if the Angel Fix incident was just a lie.
It might have been a lie as well, at least for Ayaka, it was as if it really never happened. After all, she—
“Uhm. Good morning to you.” Ayaka said with an unnatural smile.
The girls around us started to joke about her formal tone, and everyone in the classroom looked puzzled by the situation, waiting for my response. Never mind the others, even I, myself, don't know how to respond.
I sighed,taking the jar out of my bag and handing it to her. Ayaka stared at the ruby red jam with her eyes widened.
“Uh… This is from Min-san. She asked me to give it to you.”
“I’m sorry, Min-san is…?”
I gulped as if I had just tasted rotten jam. It had been a week since Ayaka had returned to school but I hadn’t talked to her about Hanamaru at all. It was painful having to explain her question, so I could only give her a short answer.
“She’s the owner of a ramen shop.”
“The place where you work, Fujishima-san?”
You worked there too, Ayaka…… I wanted to tell her that, but I couldn't say it, so I just turned around and returned to my seat.
The bell finally rang, saving me from my dilemma.
“She speaks so formally to you and even calls you Fujishima-san, must be tough…”
My classmates who had pulled me to the bathroom during the break said that to me. I gave a faint nod. Her face was the same but not her memories and the way she talked to me, and that rendered me unable to respond to her.
“Ahh, she addresses me with san too so it’s not that bad ain’t it?” “That's because girls never spoke casually to you!”
“But why is it that Shinozaki actually remembers things like where the music room was and all that stuff?” “They say that lifestyles can't be easily forgotten.” “She also remembered me as a kind and nice person.” “She was just flattering you.”
I read something like that somewhere too when I did a little research.
Generalized amnesia. People who suffer this kind of memory loss forget about some things about their past entirely, but some other things are just partially forgotten or not forgotten at all. The special circumstances regarding her promotion to our class were probably related to her rehabilitation. It isn’t going to be easy for her to regain her lost memories about the people she used to interact with. The only problem is, I still had to see her face every day and have unnatural-sounding conversations.
I kept telling myself I had to endure it, because it is for Ayaka’s sake and it would help her remember, but I couldn’t help but find it depressing to go back to the classroom.
“But y’know, there’s this relaxed atmosphere in the classroom when Ayaka is there, that hasn’t changed.” “She can’t keep up with the class, though.” “She was already like that before this.”
“I did worse than Shinozaki in yesterday’s quiz actually, what should I do?” “Go take private lessons” “Go back to first year” “Actually, go back to elementary school”
I absent-mindedly listened to my classmates’ conversation and began to think I was the only one who was bothered. Probably because only for me this meant losing so many things. The times I spent with Ayaka. The things we laughed about and the things we cried about together.
I want her to remember, do I have any other choice but to keep talking to her in the classroom, keep spreading soil and watering the flowerbeds just like before, and wait for her memories to come back?
“So, why don’t you take her to that ramen shop?”
Some classmates suddenly started talking to me after class, taking me by surprise.
“Yeah, you wanted to say thanks for the jam, right?”
Ayaka was also confused nodded because of the atmosphere. Why is everyone in this class so eager to meddle in other people’s business…?
“Go, Fujishima.” “Maybe I should go too, I feel like getting some ice cream from that sexy owner.” “I also want to go worship the owner’s sarashi-covered breasts.”
Perfect, someone come along please, because this is really awkward. That was what I was expecting, but in the end everyone seemed to have misunderstood, and went to different directions, leaving Ayaka and me by ourselves.
Our activities of the gardening club went smoothly. Fortunately, Ayaka remembered where the watering cans, fertilizers and tools were and how to use them.
Lately our teacher/advisor Sayuri-sensei tagged along and helped with the gardening club activities, enthusiastically saying things like:
“Unlike Fujishima-kun, you're really reliable!”
I wanted to reply something like ‘I don’t want to hear that from someone who comes to meddle with soil while wearing a blouse and a tight skirt’, but I really was in no place to refute her claims. I wasn’t capable of looking after the flowerbeds properly by myself, so she was a great help.
Isn’t this basically the same as before? I caught myself thinking that while I was washing the shovels.
Of course, a few things weren’t the same. For example, Ayaka and I weren’t wearing the armband with the MGC—M High School Gardening Club— logo. I designed that logo and given that armband to her. Two days before she jumped off the roof, she left the armband in my care and I planned to give it back to her once she left the hospital, but there was no point in handing it to her now that she doesn’t remember anything about it, so I kept it inside my blazer pocket.
“Uh… Won’t I be a bother if I suddenly barge into that ramen shop where you work, Fujishima-san?”
Ayaka asked anxiously. I shook my head and denied it.
“You won’t be a bother.”
This is not the same as before at all. Keeping things the same way isn't good at all! It just doesn’t feel right for her to be worried about being a bother when going to hang out at Hanamaru, this is just plain wrong!
“I’ll be bringing Ayaka along now.”
When I reached the school gates, I gave Min-san a call to let her know. When we got there, the place was really crowded, even though it was only around 5 PM. But that might be because it's a small shop that only had five counters.
“You really don’t remember anything at all? I lent you 50000 yen before this too…”
“Lying bastard!” Min-san smacked Tetsu-senpai from behind the counter. Regardless of the season, he wore a T-shirt that showed off his perfectly toned arms. This guy used to be a student at my school and also practiced boxing, but now he was a good-for-nothing professional gambler.
“Sorry, sorry, I think it was just 20000 yen.”
“I-I… Did I really borrow that much from you?”
Ayaka actually took him seriously.
“Ah, you really believe me? I think it was a bit more than that…”
“U-uhm, like, 30000 yen?”
What do you mean by more! For an instant I seriously considered snatching away the miso ramen an office guy was carrying and pour it on Tetsu-senpai’s head.
“Oh, my. I gave you a fully detailed explanation about how to defend yourself against hand grenades, do you not remember?”
Sitting next to Tetsu-senpai was Major, who had taken his military cap off and was frantically scratching his head. Major had the appearance of an elementary school kid, he is a college student—well, more or less, since he was actually a good-for-nothing military otaku.
“That… I don’t remember at all…” Ayaka’s eyes were filled with tears. “How do you defend yourself against them?”
Hey, don’t ask! Sure enough, Major looked really happy and took a real (is it real?) hand grenade from inside his backpack and began explaining.
“The explosive power of a hand grenade in itself is no big deal. What actually wounds and kills is the shrapnel, so you have to cover the grenade with something bulky, like a human body for example. Vice-Admiral Fujishima, come here for a second.”
“I don’t want to, what are you thinking!? Hey, don’t remove the pin please!”
“It’s okay, it’s one-third slower in comparison than an original one, so don’t worry.”
“What the hell are you talking about!?”
“The detonation time.” “That’s not what I meant!” “Get out of here!”
Min-san yelled, kicking Major and almost even me out of the shop.
“We promised to stay together at a Disneyland hotel this Christmas, do you remember about that? We even made reservations and everything.”
Hiro-san nonchalantly held Ayaka’s hand as he talked to her, mumbling beside her ears. He was wearing a black shirt unbuttoned to mid-chest and a platinum chain around his neck. He looked like he belonged to one of those fancy host clubs, but he was a good-for-nothing gigolo who leeched money off women.
“U-uh, uhm… I’m sorry.”
Ayaka’s face turned red when her hand was held, she arched her eyebrows and glanced at me with a troubled expression.
“Have you even forgotten that we're going out together?”
“W-were we really?”
“Look, I even have photographs.” Hiro-san took out his cellphone. “This one is from the time when we went to Hokkaido.”
“This girl isn’t me, is she?”
“Ah, sorry, wrong photo. Here, here. At an Ikebukuro hotel.”
“This looks like another different woman.”
“Oh? How strange… This one, maybe?”
“Why are you bathing with two women?”
Hiro-san snapped his cellphone shut and airily drank a sip of beer, then let out a sigh, pretending to look all melancholic. You’re going to get stabbed by a woman one of these days, you damn sex offender!
I went to the kitchen and looked at everyone while I was washing the dishes. That group of NEETs who were hanging around at the back of the ramen shop… Now that I think about it, Ayaka had known Tetsu-senpai, Hiro-san and Major for a longer time than me. The one who brought me here for the first time and let me know all these people—it was Ayaka.
And now, this same girl was standing in a corner of the shop, wearing an awkward little smile and slowly sipping cola.
I lowered my gaze and stared at a bowl inside the bubble-covered sink.
“Eh, ah, yes?” I heard Min-san calling me and lifted my head in surprise.
“Hand over the apron to Ayaka. Shift change.”
Shift change? It took me a while to comprehend what Min-san meant, so I was staring at her with a stupefied look and my hands under the running water from the tap.
“Come on, just do as I say. Ayaka, go to the kitchen. The only customers you’ll have to serve now are these guys so don’t worry.”
Ayaka looked as bewildered as me, but I somehow had the feeling that I understood what Min-san was trying to do, so I untied the apron from my waist to hand it over to Ayaka and went back to sit in front of the counter. She entered the kitchen and glanced at the stove, the sink and the piled-up plates with an uncomfortable look on her face.
“Narumi, order something.” Min-san said with her eyes fixed on the boiling soup and pointed at Ayaka.
I thought for a moment and told the flustered girl:
“…Tsukemen, a big portion.”
Ayaka blinked with surprise, and then turned her face towards Min-san.
“Uhm… One big tsukemen.”
“Got it. Big tsukemen.”
Min-san dropped the noodles into hot water and only said “Plates!”
Ayaka was startled at first but soon after started moving on her own. She took square flat plates from the rack and served roast pork fillet and menma on them. Then she skillfully spread shredded dried seaweed over the noodles Min-san had boiled. I looked at Min-san and noticed the dumbfounded look she had on her face.
Before they knew it, Tetsu-senpai and the others had also stopped their noisy blabber, and only the sound of the boiling soup and the exhaust fan’s noise echoed through the shop. Min-san finally made eye contact with Ayaka and smiled gently at her.
“Serve it, it’s gonna get cold.”
Ayaka placed the plate with the noodles and the bowl with the soup in front of me, and she said with a somewhat tearful business smile:
“…Sorry for the wait“
I immediately averted my eyes. I picked up the chopsticks, feeling a warm pressure on my chest even though I had yet to take a bite.
Ayaka returned—she returned to Hanamaru.
Maybe everything wasn’t the same as before, but still…
Min-san served ice cream for all of us. We were eating without talking too much but enjoying a peaceful atmosphere when the kitchen’s back door creaked. The closest one to the door was Ayaka, who was sitting on a stool eating vanilla ice cream with cranberry sauce, but Min-san noticed first.
“Ayaka, someone’s behind the back door, open it up.”
Ayaka left the ice cream cup and timidly pulled the door open. Standing over there, taking a step back when the door was suddenly opened and frowning at the hot steaming smell of ramen was, of course, the NEET detective in bear pajamas and white socks.
Alice looked up at Ayaka with cautious eyes while hiding half of her body behind the door. Ayaka had her back to us, but it's not really hard to imagine her eyes glittering with curiosity.
Upon hearing Ayaka’s voice, Alice was startled and trembled like a stray cat.
Without giving Alice a chance to step back, Ayaka tightly hugged her little body, burying her face on her silky black hair. Alice cried out, trying to shake Ayaka’s arms off.
“See, Master!? It’s exactly the same utterly amazed reaction as the first time we met, I'm speechless! If she were to be reborn 7000 times without her memories she would still do the same things. Ayaka, stop squeezing me! I’m not a hugging pillow!”
“W-who is this child, is it Min-san’s child!?”
She dragged Alice inside the kitchen turning her head with her eyes sparkling as she inquired.
Oh, so their first meeting had been like that, too. Now that I think about it, Alice had mentioned something like that before.
“As if that annoying brat could be mine!”
Min-san said preparing an ice cream serving and a chair for Alice, but Ayaka sat Alice on her own knees and lifted the spoon with ice cream to her mouth while saying “Ok, say ‘aah~’”
“Don’t treat me like a child! I’ll let you stir it and I’ll eat it myself!”
Then stir it yourself too.
Min-san put the spare chair away and Alice let out a sulky “hmph…”, having to stay on Ayaka’s lap.
In that moment, someone slid the shop’s door open and entered. Wearing a black sleeveless shirt under a deep red jacket and a menacing wolf-like expression was the yakuza boss, Yondaime.
“…What’s with this noisy gathering”, he muttered in a subdued tone as he looked around. I stared at him in mute amazement. Even Yondaime is here?
“What’s that, Gardening Club kid, got fired already?”
Upon noticing Ayaka was the one in the kitchen and I wasn’t wearing the apron, Yondaime shrugged his shoulders.
“Eh--ah, no, it’s not that…” While I stammered my response, Yondaime gave something to Ayaka with a:
“Here, take this.”
Ayaka opened the present in front of Alice. It was a triangular cloth with an odd design embroidered with beautiful colored threads. It was without a doubt handmade. He was really talented and expert in those kinds of handicrafts despite his appearance, after all.
“To congratulate that you left the hospital. It’s a charm from Africa or something like that; it’s supposed to make your wounds heal sooner. But hey, are these crutches just for show or what? You aren’t using them?”
Yondaime moved aside the pair of crutches that were leaning against the seat where Ayaka had been until a while ago and sat down.
“Uh, y-yes… Uhm, my legs have been getting better lately, but I bring them with me just in case.”
“So considerate, aren’t you, Yondaime? Why don't you make me a charm that makes it easier to hit the jackpots as well?”
Tetsu-senpai said, earning a glare from Yondaime.
“Shut the hell up, why would I make something for you?”
“Why would you make something for Ayaka?”
“’Cause she’s a friend of my brother. Master, I want ice cream too.”
With a dumbfounded expression, Ayaka was exchanging looks between the embroidery in her hands and Yondaime’s face. Between Ayaka’s arms, Alice said:
“He is the fourth generation of the Hinamura family, Souichirou. You called each other Hina-chan and Aya-chan respectively, so you should call him that from now on, too.”
“Hina-cha…?” Ayaka blinked.
“Alice, cut the bullsheet.”
Hiro-san held his stomach, laughing at Yondaime’s serious and threatening tone, and in the blink of an eye everyone was laughing too. Even Min-san started calling him Hina-chan, and I also laughed. Of course, that caused Yondaime to hit me, but I was happy. That's because Ayaka was finally laughing, too.
After Min-san closed the shop, Ayaka and I left together. It was quite late already, so the shopping district avenue we were walking on was completely dark.
“Thank you, Fujishima-san.”
Around two meters ahead of me, she turned around, and I felt a suffocating déjà vu from the first time Ayaka had brought me to Ramen Hanamaru. It was just like that day, only this time our positions were reversed. Hearing her say “It was fun, they were really interesting people” as if it was the first time she had been there gave me a downhearted feeling.
“Take me along again some other time.”
“…Ayaka, you used to work there part-time.”
When I said that, her smile stiffened.
“You were friends with those people before me. Alice can’t bathe by herself so you helped her, washed her hair and all that.”
“I-is that so…?”
Still facing in my direction, she began walking backwards. Even though she was doing something a little dangerous, the look on her face was calm.
“That's great, so we got along before this.”
A little embarrassed, Ayaka said that she had suddenly embraced Alice because she thought she was cute, but even though Alice complained, didn’t she look a bit happy?
So, it’s okay for you to go to that ramen shop again, even if I don’t take you along. Even if I get fired, it’s okay. That’s what I was thinking, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“Then, isn’t it great?” Ayaka suddenly spoke.
“I was a bit like my old self, isn’t that good?”
Even though it was a May night, I felt a cold chill as I finally realized. Yes, Ayaka was that kind of person. So much stronger than I was—pretending I wasn’t a lonely person, blending into the class and acting friendly with everyone.
And now, Ayaka was the one pretending. The reason I sometimes felt sad when I looked at her was probably because I could somehow understand how she was feeling.
Nevertheless, we started walking in silence once again.
I want to believe that time would eventually ease the pain. Everything would be just like it was before, and Ayaka would remember everyone--that was the miracle I wished for.
After we parted ways at the station after passing through the bridge, I suddenly recalled the Ayaka the day before she jumped off the rooftop, so I ignored her waving at me and turned around to run away.
The next day after school, Ayaka told me that she wanted to clean up the greenhouse.
“Isn’t it perfect for the gardening club? It’s such a waste not to use such a wonderful greenhouse!”
Sitting in the classroom putting the textbooks into my bag, I averted my eyes without knowing what to say to her.
Obviously, she doesn’t remember.
There was a big glass greenhouse in the school’s courtyard, something uncommon for a public school. Ayaka no longer remembered the blue mutated flowers she grew in that place. Those flowers were a variety of opium that had served as the raw material for the drug that had made a mess of the city last winter, Angel Fix.
Alice had said that the guilt Ayaka felt upon realizing she had been cultivating narcotics was the reason she jumped off the rooftop. Whether that was true or not, it was impossible to know now. A cruel miracle had painted out the truth.
The group of drug manufacturers had been annihilated and most of its members were now either dead or disabled so the raw material supply routes hadn’t been elucidated, and almost no one knew that blue flowers with the power of invoking angels were grown in the school’s courtyard.
Because of that, Ayaka could smile without a trace of worry while saying she wanted to use that greenhouse again.
I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing. I want her to remember me, but…
“…Alright. I’ll borrow the key.”
Last year end, there was no one left to take care of the greenhouse so it had became some sort of warehouse. Some chairs, desks and a blackboard had been brought there.
“Oh, why would they do something like this?”
Ayaka got in a huff as she scanned the untidy interior of the greenhouse. Her angry gestures hadn’t changed.
“But it makes me somewhat nostalgic to see desks and a blackboard here.”
Sayuri-sensei who had came with us said.
“Nostalgic? But they brought them here recently…”
“No, I was thinking about the time when the gardening committee still existed and I was still new. There weren’t many people serious about taking care of plants, and maintaining flowerbeds is still okay, but a greenhouse is hard work.”
Sayuri-sensei looked up at the transparent ceiling.
“This place became a gathering place for delinquents, so I thought I should do something about it. I talked with the kids that hung out here and they can't seem to keep up with the lessons, so I gave them supplementary classes here. I had been a tutor when I was a college student, so I can teach almost all subj—”
“It’s wrong to use a greenhouse for that!”
Ayaka slapped a desk and looked around thoroughly.
“It’s such a nice greenhouse. It has sprinklers, a thermostat and even automatic skylight openings!”
“I-I’m sorry… But look, it has air conditioning, so it’s really comfortable.”
Sayuri-sensei said as if nothing happened. But really, how did she manage to pull such a thing off? Maybe she was popular among the delinquents since she’s pretty.
“I had fun, but many things happened…”
Her face became clouded. I wonder what had happened.
I suddenly remembered something: Ayaka told me that the gardening committee was abolished, but I didn’t know the reason. Sayuri-sensei was probably around 26 or 27 years old, so the committee still existed until 4 or 5 years ago.
“But, why the greenhouse of all places?” Ayaka said, puffing out her cheeks.
“I had to do it in secret and the greenhouse wasn’t in use. Also, don’t you think it’s nice to have a classroom full of flowers?”
Ayaka muttered a “That could be nice, but…”
“So, do you want to try it too, Shinozaki-san?”
“Your grades aren’t good enough, so you need supplementary lessons.”
Sayuri-sensei said with her eyes sparkling.
But, why do I have to join this ‘classroom full of flowers’ too?
“You skipped class a lot during the third term so your grades were bad, weren’t they, Fujishima-kun?”
“Ugh“ She has a point, so I couldn’t say anything.
From all the carelessly piled up desks and chairs, we only left three of each inside the greenhouse. We also moved the blackboard to a warehouse next to the staff room. The greenhouse supplementary class from the past had used a blackboard, but this time there are only two pupils so it isn’t needed.
The day when we started class, we lined up planters with flowers close to the wall so they wouldn’t be seen from the outside. We only stayed for around two hours after school, but Sayuri-sensei taught us one-on-one behind the desk. Even though she was a Japanese teacher, it feels like she was also better at teaching English and Mathematics.
“Back then I had to teach a larger group of people, so teaching two people is easier~” she said somewhat nostalgically. It seemed half of the reason that she taught us was because of personal interest.
With Ayaka’s desk right next to mine because we had to share the same textbook, I got a weird feeling. What was I to Ayaka right now? A person who was comfortable to be with, maybe?
But if that was the case, it would be what she felt before losing her memories.
What is Ayaka to me?
What am I to Ayaka?
I still didn’t have a clear answer in the end. Even so--
“Fujishima-kun, you did bad on the recent quiz, didn’t you? Ahh, you should motivate yourself already!”
“Fujishima-san, you have a bad memory, don’t you? Sensei explained this the other day… Ah, I’m telling you that’s not how you do it…”
Hey, since when has this become a place for these two to teach me?
Well, whatever. They look like they’re having fun anyway.
From that time, Ayaka didn’t show up to Hanamaru Ramen. It was a bit lonely, but that couldn’t be helped. Min-san didn’t tell me to bring her either.
I think it's better to wait until she decides to go by herself.
I kept going to the greenhouse every day, trying hard to pretend that Ayaka’s appearance and gestures as a whole were of someone I didn’t know. I assiduously prepared for the coming exams. Looking back now, that was probably the time I was the most diligent in my whole life. That was because she was by my side, but there weren’t many things we could talk about, so we enjoyed the air conditioning like flowers swaying in the wind.
“It’s a little weird how I’m teaching you various things, isn’t it, Fujishima-san?” she said with a smile, telling me about the different methods of watering and pruning for each kind of plant, temperature control, and even flower language.
“This big flowerbed has gone to ruin, I wonder what I should plant here… There are so many choices.”
Sorry, it’s ruined because I didn’t take care of it at all.
But I was glad that Ayaka hadn’t forgotten about gardening, because the only time in school when Ayaka’s smile wasn’t forced was when she was at the flowerbeds and the greenhouse.
We did our club activities and studied, catching up to the rest of the class. By doing that, wasn’t it like little by little we were getting back our old selves? That’s what I thought.
But of course, there's no way those days that were like tea parties under fleecy clouds would last forever.
A Wednesday in the middle of May, immediately after class ended, the school’s announcement chime sounded, and a female student’s voice came from the speaker.
'Fujishima-kun from second year, class 4, please come to the student council room urgently. I repeat: Fujishima-kun from second year, class 4, please come to the student council room urgently.'
The classroom became noisy, with my annoying classmates trying to guess what I have done.
“Wasn’t that the student council president just now?” “Fujishima, what did you do?” “Did they find out about you drawing porn in the computer room or something?”
“I stopped drawing long ago!” Wait, the problem is why do you all know about this!?
“Whatever, just go, that girl is scary when she’s angry.”
“Yeah, and she also gets angry if you don’t address her respectfully like ‘Kaoruko-sama!’”
“And her weak point is the mole below her lips, so if things get dangerous attack her there.”
After my classmates finished telling me a bunch of lies about that student council president whose face I didn’t remember, they pushed me out to the corridor. What on earth is going on? What business does the student council have with me?
The student council room (student council’s general executive management room, to be more precise) was on the third floor of the north school building. The room was divided in half by a bookshelf, and apparently the other half served as the Inspection Committee room.
“Ah, the president is at the inspection half now.”
A male member of the student council who was using the copying machine let me know that as soon as I entered the room. I glanced the interior, there were piled up pamphlets, copying equipment and a big, sloppy desk that made it look like a field hospital. I somehow had a bad premonition.
However, in sharp contrast to the disastrous other half, the inspection committee room was neatly organized. I knocked and the door was slid open by a bespectacled female student with a rabbit-like appearance. Judging by her lapel badge, she was a third year, but I knew at first glance that she wasn’t the president. There was another third year female student with long hair and a sharp expression sitting on a chair by a long desk. Her piercing look wasn’t like Yondaime’s— it was more like a cornered look.
The long-haired girl opened her mouth: “Fujishima-kun from 2-4?”
“…Ah, y-yes, that’s me. I’m here because I was called.”
The girl with glasses by her side spoke: “Sorry to make you come all the way here. Kaoruko-chan said that no matter what—“
“Be quiet, Kousaka.” The student council president interrupted. The third year named Kousaka sullenly fell silent.
Kaoruko… I remember. Yes, if I’m not mistaken, her name is Hayano Kaoruko. She assumed as student council president shortly after I transferred in November last year.
“You’re in the gardening club and the computer room, right?”
She asked somewhat bitingly. I nodded, somewhat troubled. I wonder if I did something that made the student council president angry… Then, Kaoruko-senpai’s next words confirmed my bad premonition.
“Both are scheduled to be closed on the next student council general meeting.”
“It hasn’t been decided yet.” Kousaka-senpai interjected.
“…Closed? But, why? They have the required two members.”
“Because rules are going to change on the next meeting. The minimum will be six members. By removing clubs like yours that don’t do enough activities but still eat up the funds, the budget can go to clubs that are actually active.”
“Kaoruko-chan, you don’t have to say it like that!”
“Be quiet, Kousaka. Didn't the Inspection suggest the idea in the first place? In any case”
“W-wait a second, please. The gardening club is active!”
“The flowerbeds and the potted plants were neglected for most of the third term. The student council had to dispose of the withered plants, you know?”
I had nothing to say in my defense. After the Angel Fix incident, Ayaka was hospitalized the whole time and I didn’t come to school at all. During the spring break, I got involved in Meo’s case and I completely forgot about the gardening club. Only recently I have been doing it seriously.
“In the staff room they were even talking about taking the flowerbeds and the greenhouse away. It’s pointless to waste electricity on a greenhouse that’s not in use.”
No, that’s the place that Ayaka, Sayuri-sensei and I use to study—I had to keep my mouth shut. Sayuri-sensei had told me to keep it a secret, so I couldn’t say it out loud.
“And because of that, the gardening club will be eliminated. The meeting won't be held until the end of the month, but I think it's better for you to clean up the things starting from now."
“No… No, it's not.” I suddenly stepped towards the president.
“Aren't there any other ways? It hasn't been decided yet, right? Ayaka's back, so from now on we”
My voice gradually faded because of my nervousness and I gulped without knowing what else to say, but Kousaka-senpai continued:
“He's right, that's really cruel, Kaoruko-chan, we won't know if the changes will be accepted until the meeting!”
“Kousaka, be quiet!” She said for the third time, a whole three times!
“There's no way the changes won't be approved. Even almost everyone at Management agreed.”
“Management only wants big clubs to remain, of course they would agree! To just ignore the opinions of the people concerned is”
“That can't be helped, the general meeting's purpose is to listen to people's opinions. We can't consider every single person from every single club.”
“Kaoruko-chan, have you seen the small culture club's activities? You haven't, right? I'm from inspection, so I have seen them. The Floral Arrangement Club, the Tea Ceremony Club and the Photography Club have only four or five members, but they all do their best!”
I could just stand there bewildered while they started fighting in front of my eyes, ignoring my presence as though I was air. I couldn't barge into their conversation either.
It was then that Kaoruko-senpai noticed me again, using her hands to cover Kousaka-senpai's mouth while coughing awkwardly.
“I-in any case, I called you here today so it wouldn't be so sudden if the club is abolished. The change in the rules is practically decided already, so I leave in your hands the tasks of clearing away the flowerbeds and the greenhouse.”
As soon as she finished saying that, Kaoruko-senpai walked away from the Inspection office. I lowered my head after seeing her slide the door close behind her back.
“Ahh… Sorry about all this.”
Kousaka-senpai sighed and sat down, offering me a chair too. Even though I only heard what Kaoruko-senpai had to tell me, I felt suddenly exhausted, so I sat down without even thinking twice.
The gardening club is going to be abolished? The only place Ayaka and I have left?
“It's true that it was the Inspection's idea, you know? This year I decided to investigate how every club used their budget, and found a lot of unknown charges after some investigation.”
So, Kousaka-senpai is from the Inspection Committee…
In the end, a huge fuss was made out of it by the people in charge of the Execution, no wonder nobody dares to stop them.
"No…… That doesn't really matter actually."
Six members are required for the club to continue.
“To avoid having "ghost members", the student council is planning to keep a close eye on the clubs and ask them to report their activities.”
“What's the purpose of doing that with high school clubs?”
“I don't really know, but Kaoruko-chan is determined to do it.”
Then, what can I do? Last spring there wasn't a single person who joined gardening club. Well, obviously people aren't going to join if there aren't any activities? They might not even know of the existence of the club.
“And in the staff room, everyone was really interested in the proposition of changing the rules…”
So, I don't really have anything in my favor.
“Closing down the club…… huh?”
That same day during the greenhouse classes, Ayaka was on the verge of tears as I told her about my conversation with the student council. Sayuri-sensei also knitted her eyebrows and sighed.
“I also heard about that during the staff meeting… It's such a pity……”
Ayaka clung to Sayuri-sensei, saying:
“Isn't there anything we can do? If the club disappears, who will take care of the flowerbeds and the greenhouse?”
“They won't assign money to maintain them, so they'll probably take the flowerbeds and the greenhouse away…” Sensei replied.
“That's… After all Fujishima-san and I have done…!”
Ayaka choked on her own words and a heavy silence took over the greenhouse.
I didn't really feel like studying anymore, so I made up a lie about having to leave early because of my part-time job. If I talked to one of the NEETs about this matter, maybe I can come up with some idea.
“Fujishima-kun, do you know that students are not allowed to have part-time jobs in this school?” Sayuri-sensei said with an awkward smile. Damn, so there's a rule like that?
“Well, it doesn't matter for me. But make sure the student counselor and the other teachers don't find out, okay? You're not working in an arcade or something like that, are you? Arcades and karaoke centers are a no-no.”
“No, it's a ramen shop…” That was good enough for her, apparently.
“Then, I'll give you this so you'll remember to do your homework” she said while pinning a clothespin with some sort of a tag to my shirt's pocket.
“Don't take it off until you're home!”
“Why? What's this for?”
“So you'll see it when you arrive home and take off your uniform, then you'll think 'Oh, I had to do this!' I used to do it too when I was in high school.”
That's incredibly embarrassing. Going to Hanamaru with this…
But I didn't have the heart to protest, seeing Sayuri-sensei smiling with such sweetness and enthusiasm.
As I was taking my bag and getting up to leave the greenhouse, I noticed Ayaka looking at me without saying anything. What's wrong?
“Uh… Do you want to come along, Ayaka?”
Ayaka got up enthusiastically. Huh? If you wanted to go there you didn't have to ask for my permission--
No, of course she couldn't just go by herself yet. I suddenly remembered those times when Ayaka and I had just met. It was because of Ayaka leading me there that I could blend into the radiance of Hanamaru Ramen. To a person that goes there alone, the shop is just too radiant, too warm.
“Oh my… Do you two hate studying that much?”
Sayuri-sensei joked, getting out of the greenhouse with us. When we were about to be separated, she whispered to my ear:
“Take her outside as many times as possible, okay?”
As many times as possible, huh… But Ayaka just wanted to see Min-san and Alice, it wasn't like she particularly wanted to go with me.
But if the Ayaka from before returned, if she regained her memories…
When we arrived to the shop, I took off my blazer to put on the apron. Min-san gazed at my shirt's pocket and tilted her head.
I looked downwards and remembered the tag pinned to my pocket.
“E-eh… Because of my homework, so I wouldn't forget it and all that…”
I blushed and removed the note, stuffing it back to my pocket. How unexpected, I forgot all about it so easily.
“Are you an elementary school kid or what?”
It's true. That person's more like an elementary school teacher. I smiled weakly and started to chop onions.
Min-san had asked Ayaka to take Alice her meal, to which Ayaka responded by taking the tray and exiting the kitchen looking extremely happy, not returning though it's already half an hour. I saw Min-san say something to her before she got out, perhaps asking her to feed Alice or wash her clothes?
While I was chopping some cabbage, I looked at Min-san who had her eyes glued to her soup from the corner of my eye. It might be that she cared for Ayaka, so she gave Ayaka work to do so that she could recover her memories earlier.
“I wonder if she’ll return to work here soon… She’s 100 times more useful than you, Narumi.”
“That’s the reason!?”
I unintentionally said out loud. Okay, okay, I’m dumb anyway.
Even if the gardening club disappeared, Hanamaru would still be here. That’s what I thought at first, but I shook my head. To Ayaka, this was Min-san and Alice’s place. But even if she remembered about this, her memories of me might still be buried……
That's the reason why the Gardening Club must exist to us, right?
Whatever the case… Soon, the club will disappear.
While I was thinking about that and putting vegetable scraps inside a tupper, the first customer of the day slid the door open, poking only her head in-- a surprising guest. I was dumbstruck as Min-san greeted the person with a “Welcome” and a business smile.
“A-ah, I’m sorry, I’m not a customer.” Kousaka-senpai lightly waved her hand. The steam of the shop fogged her glasses, so she took them off to wipe them and put them on again.
“Ah, Fujishima-kun, here you are.” She said, showing a relieved smile.
“Erm……” Kousaka-senpai hesitantly looked around.
“Come in. Don’t just stand there.”
Min-san said as if nothing had happened, and Kousaka-senpai walked into the shop with unsteady steps.
“Here, free of charge. You’re here to talk with Narumi? Don’t worry, have a seat.”
Ice cream with strawberries we picked before this was placed in front of Kousaka-senpai. Min-san always gave the first young customers some ice cream for free.
She sat down on a chair in front of me, looking like a rabbit trying to hide in its burrow.
“Sorry to bother you at work, Fujishima-kun, uhm, you see…”
“You should taste it before it melts.”
Kousaka-senpai was acting weird, so I encouraged her to taste the ice cream first.
“Ah, o-okay… Uwaah… It’s delicious!”
As expected from Min-san’s ice cream, it was like magic. Kousaka-senpai looked more relaxed by the time she finished eating.
“So… What’s the matter? Is it about earlier?”
I wonder if it is something urgent related to the gardening club.
“Fujishima-kun, I… have a favor to ask you.”
“Yes. Perhaps something can be done about the gardening club.”
I leaned my body towards the counter. “R-really!?”
“Uhm… I know a senpai who’s already graduated, he used to be in Inspection too, and he's in… What was it, again? That gang with black T-shirts.”
Black T-shirts gang…? Ah, Hirasaka-gumi. Led by Yondaime, the good-for-nothings of the city had formed a gang of young yakuza. Of course, some former students and dropouts from my school might be in the group too. Which meant—
“According to the rumors, Fujishima-kun the most trusted person in the gang.”
Uwah, I knew it. I quickly hid my face behind my palm.
Though I wasn’t a member of Hirasaka-gumi, but by a twist of fate I had ended up sharing sake and becoming sworn brothers with their leader, Yondaime. Even before that, everyone in the group had started calling me Aniki, even though they were older than me.
“I heard you could find out about anything just by asking you?”
“No, no, that’s a complete lie.” Rumors are scary…
“Then, you’re a client for the office?”
Min-san said by my side. Taken aback, I glanced at her and then at Kousaka-senpai, who had that scared look on her face again. I see, so that’s it.
Before I could say anything, Min-san picked up the phone of the shop.
“…Alice? A client is coming. Narumi will take her there, so tell Ayaka to come downstairs. Ahh? Let Narumi do that. Ayaka is better? Duh, I know that!”
So my existence is more useless than Ayaka with both of my employers… Wait, Ayaka is going to replace me!?
I looked at Min-san’s profile as she was hanging up the phone, and I understood. She had been looking for a chance to dismiss me and get Ayaka to work here. I get it. I understand.
“Senpai, let’s go upstairs.”
I said to Kousaka-senpai, untying my apron.
“You were looking for someone who would investigate anything they’re asked, weren’t you?”
After looking around restlessly, she nodded.
“Then I have a suitable candidate.”
Ayaka and I passed by each other on the stairs at the back of the shop. Her hair was wet and there's a fragrance of shampoo as well, so she probably just bathed with Alice.
“Uhm, Fujishima-san, her hair still hasn’t dried, so take the hairdryer and—”
She noticed Kousaka-senpai behind me, and they both exchanged confused looks. It was too much trouble to explain the situation.
“Ah, yeah, okay.”
Do I really have to do this? She hates the hairdryer, so she’ll get violent when I try to dry her hair. While thinking that, I chivvied Kousaka-senpai to the third floor.
Of course, just like everyone else who entered the NEET Detective Agency for the first time, Kousaka-senpai shivered upon feeling the coldness in the air-conditioned room and perplexedly looked at the computers and monitors filling the walls and then at the pajama-clad black-haired girl snugly seated on her bed.
Furthermore, I casually opened the fridge as if I was in my own house, took out a Dr Pepper can and handed it to Alice, then I sat on the bed and turned the hairdryer on to start drying her hair, so Kousaka-senpai just stood there, speechless.
“Oh, uhm, senpai, this is Alice. She’s a detective.”
“I’m not an ordinary detective, I’m a NEET detective. Inside this seventeen square meter fortress, the world dances on my palm. Narumi! Don’t blow hot wind on my face! Ayaka is much more careful!”
You’re asking for too much. It's because you're drinking Dr. Pepper that it's hard for me to move!
“Fujishima-kun, so y-you… have these kind of hobbies!?”
Kousaka-senpai finally spoke. What hobbies? What does she mean?
“Using the hairdryer on other people’s hair is one of your hobbies? Waa, I told you not to blow hot wind on my face!”
“It’s because you keep turning your face around!”
As I held her head from behind so she’d stay still, Alice let out a sulky “mmh” and Kousaka-senpai said something like:
“With such a small little girl…” while covering her face with her hands. Hey, what’s with the weird misunderstanding?
“You’re a client, so start telling me the contents of your request.”
Alice pointed at Kousaka-senpai who still wasn’t able to catch on to the sudden situation and could only stammer a “W-well, uhm…”
Alice’s next words, however, made senpai’s expression freeze.
“I know you are Kousaka Yukari from M High School’s third year, class 1, head of the student council’s inspection committee and friend of student council president Hayano Kaoruko since middle school.”
Moreover, just like she had done with me when I first met her, Alice fluently spoke of senpai’s height and weight, phone number and address, and even family background.
“You might be wondering why a detective would invade their client’s privacy. The main point is to show you the extent of my abilities, and I didn’t want you to waste time explaining your background— those were the two reasons.”
Befuddled, Kousaka-senpai slumped down into the cold wooden floor.
“Briefly explain just the content of your request.”
“…A gardening club is a weird club to begin with, isn’t it?”
Senpai started talking.
“There used to be a gardening committee before, do you know that?”
I nodded. Ayaka had told me about that.
“About the reason the committee was abolished, back then I still hadn’t enrolled at the school but… Something terrible happened.”
“The death of a male student named Hayano Tomohiko, right?”
Alice suddenly said, almost making me drop the hairdryer.
A death incident?
Kousaka-senpai also stared at Alice in astonishment. “…Y-you know about that?”
“Don’t take a NEET detective lightly. When you showed up on the security cameras, I confirmed your identity and subsequently made a brief search of information related to you from a few years ago.”
No matter how many times I see her do it, her information gathering skills will always surprise me. But more importantly, did she just say Hayano just now?
“So, you probably already know he was Kaoruko-chan’s older brother, too.”
“I know. Go on.”
Student council president’s older brother’s death… Was that the reason of the gardening committee’s abolishment?
Kousaka-senpai gulped before she resumed talking.
“Apparently, the gardening committee had become something like a gathering spot for delinquents. Kaoruko-chan’s brother was part of the committee too, but he had a weak heart so he skipped school often. When he occasionally showed up, he was with those delinquents a lot, apparently as some sort of gofer. On an extremely cold day, it seems he was asked to run an errand as a form of bullying— people found him collapsed in the backyard in the end. He was taken to the hospital, but he died there.”
So that’s why the Gardening Committee was abolished?
“I heard that someone dropped out of school because of this, but nobody knows the details of the whole incident. Anyways, that was how the Committee was closed down, and the flowerbeds and greenhouse were originally planned to be cleared away as well……”
There are still flowers blooming in the school up till now, why is that?
”I’m not sure about the reason, but the Gardening Club was founded that time.”
I switched off the power switch of the hair dryer, blankly combing Alice’s hair while thinking repeatedly about what Kousaka-senpai said. The birth of the Gardening Club— what is the reason for that?
”I’m not sure as well. The fees for maintaining the flowerbeds and the greenhouse were then listed into the budget of the clubs in the Student Council, and the Gardening Club officially took over the Gardening Committee’s jobs— and that continued up till now. The reason that caused Kaoruko-chan to want to change the rules would probably be because of the budget, she thinks that letting the fees that were forcibly listed into the budget continue till now is very unreasonable; of course, this might have some influence from her brother’s incident as well.”
The Gardening Committee that caused her brother to die— and the Gardening Club. She probably hates us a lot.
But if she only cares about the budget, she would only need to cancel the name of the club in the budget, and doesn’t really need to abolish the whole club.
”But the members of the Gardening Committee and the Student Council had already graduated, so we can’t find any information no matter how hard we search in school.”
”Why are you investigating these things? What do you want to know?”
Hearing Alice’s inquiries, Kousaka-senpai stayed silent for awhile, and raised her head.
”I want to know of the reason. If we just count the budget of the clubs, I don’t have a reason to object to the amendment of the case as a member of the Inspection if there’s no proper reason. Additionally, the case would probably be passed since the larger clubs agree about this. On the other hand, if there’s a proper reason, I would think of a way to stop Kaoruko-chan, because……”
Kousaka-senpai fixed her gaze on her knees.
”Doing all this is just strange, Kaoruko-chan must have some problems. If we changed the rules, more than half of the cultural clubs would disappear. Even if the structure of the club is small, it might be important to someone.”
My hand fell on Alice’s thigh with a thwack.
Even if the structure is small, it might be someone’s—
Alice turned over, facing my chest, then stared at me with her large round eyes.
”…… Mnn, sorry. It’s nothing.”
Alice rammed my chest away with her forehead, then turned over to look at Kousaka-senpai again.
”That’s your request? You only wish to get information?”
Kousaka-senpai raised her head, her eyes looking somewhat moist. Or maybe it’s just because my own eyes were moist……
”I am a NEET detective, the messenger of the dead. If only you would make a request, I would find out the truth even if I need to plunge into the Cocytus in the deepest depths of the underworld, but the only thing that we would gain in the end would only be the words of the dead. That might be able to console the living, but that’s the most that it can do. However……”
Alice’s cold hands grasped my wrist on her thighs.
”Narumi is here. He’s my assistant detective.”
I choked, unable to say anything, and could only look at Alice’s luscious long hair silently. What…… did she say about me just now?
”His ears aren’t good, eyesight is bad, he’s dumb and insensitive, and also helplessly slow. But he has something that I cannot achieve.”
It seemed that senpai was already dazed by Alice’s words, completely clueless about what she said; I’m the same about that. The things that Alice cannot do, but I can?
”The ability to crystallize truth in words from the core— that’s different from a detective’s ability to understand words from reality, or you can say that it’s completely opposite to it. Those are not even words that have faded— but ‘stories’. The crystallization of happiness and despair in reality.”
”Alice, what are you talking ab—“
”Only you are able to change Hayano Kaoruko’s decision of changing the rules ‘in a practical level’. That was what I meant.”
Alice did not turn back, continuing forcefully.
”Kousaka Yukari, no matter how you request it, the results will not change. Narumi will fight to guard his kingdom. But I still have to ask you again, is information the only thing that you wish to gain?”
Only the sounds of the cooling fans in the machines and the sounds of the air conditioning functioning remained in the room for a long time. Finally, Senpai raised her head.
”Please help me. I want to stop Kaoruko-chan.”
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