Standard Disclaimer: I don't own Oregairu and I do not make money publishing this story.
A Journey Of A Thousand Miles
'I have a girlfriend.'
A single sentence that pertains the speaker as the subject and another person as the object that is indicated to be in his possession. Of course that is not meant as literally owning another human being but more as a vague sense of belonging and forming an important part of that person's life.
For a loner a girlfriend should be a paradigm shift. The notion of having a friend without any indication of a word signifying a negative before 'have' is absurd to a loner. The emphasis on the gender of the other person makes it even more complicated because it refers to the low chance of people from opposite genders just being friends.
I wonder if this particular convention of our language was conceived after the phenomenon was observed or if the language is subconsciously creating this separation between people. In essence, a variant on the ancient question whether the environment affects the mind or vice versa.
However, the applicability of this concept can be called into doubt when discussing a loner. It depends on the definition of what a loner really is and it would be fair to say that a loner is more often alone than truly lonely. I, for one, blessed with some intellect and enough words and given time cannot silence my thoughts and my best conversations and jokes are purely for me to enjoy. Consequently, I am never lonely and have most of the company I need at hand. Therefore, the negative attributes of loneliness as defined by society just exist to vindicate the virtues of petty extroverts and people who just cannot appreciate being alone. It is as if we abandon the origins of wabi-sabi  more and more.
What I did not expect was that even with a girlfriend I would retain some aspects of being alone with my own thoughts and it makes me treasure both these moments of comfortable silence and my girlfriend who enables them all the more.
My girlfriend, one Kawasaki Saki, is currently positioned to my left on another side of the corner of the kotatsu of the Hikigaya household that is packed with our notes, writing equipment, textbooks, a small bowl full of snacks prepared by yours truly and two glasses filled with juice.
We are both peering into our textbooks and taking notes for a history assignment about the Azushi-Momoyama period .
Our current objective is to summarize the reforms of that period and argue their virtues and failings.
The last time I actually gave thought to the triumvirate that unified Japan was when I gave a lesson to Yuigahama in the clubroom about why the roots of the most overused cliché characters can be found within them.
My theory was that the hot-blooded hero, the cool and collected counterpart and the comic relief have ingrained themselves in Japanese culture from flanderized historical versions of these three men.
Although Yukinoshita objected to my 'oversimplification of modern Japanese fiction and ham-fisted historical analogies', our resident bimbo used my logic in an essay of hers that got her the best marks she has had so far. Still not even approaching mine, though. Plus, I am sure she unknowingly pandered to Hiratsuka-sensei's taste in anime for this one.
In contrast, I learned early enough that Kawasaki prefers doing things her own way.
Her diligence is truly inspiring, her notes are far longer than mine, albeit a little more erratic and she is some paragraphs behind me if my honed vision out of the corner of my eyes does not deceive me whereas my notes are far more concise and to the point.
To be honest, that is not a result of my orderly nature as my mother and dear sister who regularly have to clean up the mess I leave behind can attest to - I simply believe in not exerting myself too much.
After some more quiet minutes filled by the sound of her pen scratching paper and the sound of pages being turned, she pushes her pen down on her notes, sighs and furrows her brow in annoyance as if the history textbook in front of her somehow offended her.
"Why do these things always take so long?"
She complains to no one in particular and angrily pushes a strand of light blue hair from her bangs out of her field of vision.
I choose to remain silent and take a more direct glance at her side of the table. Her notes have grown considerably and - wow, it seems like I am nearly two pages ahead of her in the textbook.
Being the good boyfriend and study partner that I am, I try to help her.
"Maybe the problem lies with you." I suggest lamely.
The glare she is sending me promises a slow and painful demise if I cannot avoid this death flag. I should better do something before her beauty mark can serve as the foundation for a prison tattoo .
I decide for a hasty retreat. "Your notes are just too long and detailed."
She looks down at her own writing and then mine.
Now that I have dodged this bullet and managed to avert the Medusa's deadly stare I should focus her attention further away from me.
"If you take your time and compartmentalize the text, you'll get the gist of it and that should suffice."
Her eyes remain fixated on her own paper in front of her while she mulls over my words.
"But that means I could miss something important."
"It's a risk, but no one demands perfection from you."
Her features eventually soften up at that.
It is true, we are surely not the greatest pair of people around and therefore our teachers should learn to accept our limitations and imperfections.
We continue to bury our heads into our books. She is advancing through the text at a pretty steady pace now and is making far more efficient progress.
Only her right hand, now left with little to do, begins to fidget. She plays distractedly with her pen when she does not use it to take notes. Her ponytail begins to sway from side to side as she grows more restless.
At some point she tenses up but eventually relaxes and a sigh escapes her. She follows this routine maybe two more time before the tension does not subside and she turns her head to me.
"Hey, umm ..."
I answer her with a non-committal grunt to acknowledge her but she seems hesitant.
The look she gives me is pitiful and nervous and I have no idea why. You do know where the bathroom is in this house, right?
She glances downwards and steels herself.
"Um, ... is there a place anywhere around here I can smoke?"
My incredulous look gives my answer away and as a result she continues pleading with more desperation.
"I don't mean within your house, I could go outside, on the street or whatever."
She says as she rubs the sleeve of her grey hoodie. Why do you even have one of those when I am positive that your hair cannot be contained by the cowl, woman?
Sorry, but the answer is no. Not only does it go it against my rules as gentleman to throw a guest out but it would not do the neighborhood any good if there was a smoking highschool girl right outside our house.
Plus, I fear my parents or my sister might smell it on you and I would be the one to receive a lecture for that.
Therefore, I choose to answer her with a reply that cannot be possibly misconstrued as a 'yes'.
She seems dejected by that with the way her eyes grow dim. I am sorry but please see it my way, okay?
"What's there even to gain from smoking?"
I try to ask her while formulating a logical argument.
"It smells, costs money and corporate slaves use it as an excuse to stop working and take a pause."
Did I just extol the virtues of those who remain at their desk and work? No, I am verifiably concerned with efficiency which is only a little bit better. Thank you, Pops, for poisoning my mind!
However, there are more pressing matters at hand because I have hurt her with that and I can see her flinching at my words.
A little testily she replies.
"It's not that I want to get away from this or you. It ... , it's calming."
"I dunno, it gives you something to do, I guess."
She says and shrugs her shoulders.
She glances at her right hand that is on the table. It is lying on its back and she flexes it as if to prove her point and now I see what this is all about. A solution is already on my mind.
Is that all? I will definitely free you from this predicament.
"Don't worry, your boyfriend has a remedy to occupy your hand."
After a short puzzled look her eyes light up and she begins to blush at my words. In an instant her worried face is replaced with one sporting a bashful smile.
Ha, that preemptive appreciation is well-spent - now bear witness to the splendor of Hikigaya hospitality!
I make a grand gesture out of it as I push the bowl of snacks closer to her.
See, this is what this is also good for. Snacks do not only provide sustenance and a sugar rush that keeps the brain working but the wrappers can be used for a variety of purposes. You can straighten it out, scrunch it up or tear it apart. For example, I'm pretty sure I hold a personal record for how accurately I can throw candy wrappers into the trash can in my room from almost any position. It might be even one of my most regularly trained loner skills because hand-eye coordination is always useful for avoiding other people and their carelessness regarding physical contact.
She deflates at my selfless action although I am sure I took the most sensible choice.
Her hand stays motionlessly on its back on the table.
Oi, I am not feeding you! As a good and considerate boyfriend I should assume you are capable of independent action. Couples who are feeding each other are just annoying and anyway it's only a majorly embarrassing thing riajuus would do. And how do you think we can finish this assignment while doing that?
While she exhibits clear signs of betrayed hopes her fingers flex once more in a manner that reminds me of something but I am not sure at first.
It slowly dawns on me that from a certain perspective they almost form what could, perhaps, maybe, under certain circumstances, with a grain of salt, if I am not mistaken, be termed a 'beckoning motion'?
Man, I take it all back. I'm not a good boyfriend or host. I'm just new at this and I cannot do anything if you misinterpret my innocent words. Still, my pride as a man is on the line and I should do good on my declaration even if it was misunderstood.
No one should ever dare to assume that the needs of a female have been ignored in the Hikigaya household even if it is to the detriment of a male!
Somewhere far away I feel all my male ancestors nodding at that statement in a manner that is equal parts sagely and dispirited.
I lift my left hand and reluctantly put it on top of her right hand. Both of them are completely flat and our muscles and tendons are poised to retreat at the slightest indication of inconvenience from the other person.
We are both blushing furiously now, I can imagine. Certainly, I can say so for myself but right now I am looking anywhere but in Kawasaki's direction.
For a while we stay in that awkward silence that comes with embarrassment. As I slowly get familiar with that new sensation, I notice the subtle nuances of her hand. It is far softer than mine, I realize.
She obviously uses a hand cream to facilitate this difference but I can hardly notice that over the creases and crevices in her palm as my hand slowly becomes accustomed to this situation.
I also never understood before how velvety the skin on a girl's wrist is and how delicate it is.
I barely recall when I decide to move my fingers to validate these observations out of a morbid curiosity I cannot quite explain and after a small pause she begins to react and move hesitantly on her own.
Her fingers are thinner than mine and when her fingertips and nails move along the skin of my own palm I feel slightly ticklish.
We stay like this for a little while, gently caressing each other with all the trepidation and diligence that the birds that clean crocodile jaws I once read about must experience.
Over time I begin to feel how warm holding hands in this manner actually is. Actually, It is unbearably hot and my hand appears to be extremely clammy as a result.
The subsequent discomfort propels the unfinished assignment to the forefront of my mind. It is exactly how I predicted it, we forgot to finish what we originally set out to do if we behave so foolishly.
I slowly retract my hand from hers while I try to signal how apologetic I am with my eyes.
It is the first time I am actually directly looking at her since we have begun this physical exercise. She is focused solely on both of our hands and has ceased nearly all movement except for the fingers on her right hand.
As soon as she gets my intention she looks up. The extraordinary mixture of confusion and hurt on her face nearly breaks me. In a futile attempt to savor the feeling her fingers curl upwards to keep our skin in contact for as much as possible but I have made up my mind.
I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away !
If it were not for that last look and her small but desperate gesture, I would have retreated my hand completely. I do not want for her to experience the unpleasant sweat on my palm and in some small, nagging part of my brain I am reminded that we should continue with our assignment. When my fingertips are on top of hers I gently press her curled-up fingers down on the table.
For a small moment she slumps her shoulders because she is expecting the end of this little escapade.
But it never comes. Her hand and mine lie on the table but our fingertips are still in contact and brushing up against one another. I shoot her another look.
I can only do so much, please be patient with my baby steps.
Her pleading look gives way to a shy and relieved smile as soon as she recognizes that my intention is not to completely let go.
Our work can now continue, albeit at a slower pace. While I can still write with my right hand, my attention is torn between reading, taking notes and occasionally touching my girlfriend's fingertips. There is a palpable disappointment within me whenever she retracts her right hand to jot down some of her observations about the text. However, after doing so she dutifully returns her right hand to the same place just in reach of my fingertips. I am also distracted by a new discovery I make as I learn that the skin of right index finger is a little bit rougher and I rack my brain trying to think of a reason why.
When this whole study session is nearly over as I reach the last page of the relevant chapter it occurs to me that this out-of-place texture on her index finger might be due to her sewing as it would be the most likely place to hold a needle for a right-handed person. Meanwhile she has advanced considerably and is almost finished.
Curse you, unfair nature, for not giving men the ability to multitask!
With our workload done for the day we must increase the distance between us and clean the place up. Before she rises from her sitting position, Kawasaki stretches her arms which does curious things to her upper torso although like the gentleman I am I only look in her direction in order to check up on her and see how exhausted she is.
Yep, I swear!
This would be the place where the story should end in a light novel or one of my sister's shoujo mangas. Or perhaps we stumble and land in a compromising position on top of each other and I redouble my efforts to steer clear of any situation for this kind of stupid romantic comedy development.
Fiction exists to escape reality and to encapsulate what is most precious, desired or tragic. Rarely do stories concern themselves with the ordinariness of everyday life because that would be boring.
Consequently, we have to clean up as unexciting as that may be.
Standing up, I reach for my glass of juice. I gulp down its contents and move to the kitchen where the sink is.
"Ah, I'll help with that."
Kawasaki says while she is still trying to bring order to her belongings.
I am already at the sink when she joins me with her empty glass in hand.
Because I had no intention of cleaning the glasses and would have just left them in the sink for my mother or sister to take care of I oblige her gladly. With practiced motions she quickly cleans the first glass and hands it to me for the purpose of toweling it.
I do not really mind since it would not behoove me as host to put no effort into taking care of some minor task in front of my guest.
While I dry the glass in my hand I strike up a pointless conversation.
"Did you get so fast with cleaning glasses because of that job at the bar?"
"Huh, I guess so."
She mumbles distractedly as she finishes cleaning the other glass and proceeds to dry it off with another towel.
"Come to think of it, would that job not require you to know about alcoholic drinks?"
She turns to me with a bemused expression.
"Why do ya wanna know? Are you looking to get shit-faced?"
What outrageous nonsense, woman! Your boyfriend is just curious how you acquired your skills in order to become a better house-husband.
"That's not the case, I just want to know how you got the job."
"Good to hear and for the record, I would not make you any drinks because I am afraid of all the stupid things you would say while sloshed."
Ouch, that hurt.
A self-deprecating smile washes across my lips because she is right for all the wrong reasons. I totally fear that my past middle-school persona might surface when I am not on my guard.
Seeing that look on my face she offers no apology as none is really needed between us and we are not the best people for making apologies in the first place. Without missing a beat she begins to answer my original question.
"I did learn a good deal from magazines and I practiced at home."
"You mixed alcoholic drinks at home?"
I ask incredulously with a raised eyebrow.
"Not really, it was more about guessing the right amount in a glass or bottle. And I convinced my mom to show me how to mix some fruity drinks for my father and her because even if I did not get the job I could use the experience to remind them of some past vacation they had at some beach resort."
She explains nonchalantly.
That was pretty sneaky but also ultimately very well-intentioned of her.
Should I be worried?
There is another question on my mind
"Did that job pay well?"
Satisfied with the cleanliness of the glass in her hand, she sets it down and motions for me to hand her the one currently still in my hand. She inspects the glass closely and finds it wanting.
Once again she begins to towel a glass absentmindedly that is in her hands. She leans against the kitchen top as she tries to recall the details.
"Okay, I gotta say."
She shrugs her shoulders.
"The late-night-boni were the thing that made the working hours worthwhile."
Then her eyes focus on me and a mirthful smile adorns her lips.
"Not that you would know about those, ya lazy bum."
I prefer 'energy-conservationist', thank you very much.
Her eyes turn more wistful.
"But it wasn't like I was really on my best behavior as an employee."
Suddenly the tone of her voice acquires a note of bitternes.
"Especially on that day."
When she is referring to 'that day', she must mean the evening the Service Club showed up at the Angel Ladder Bar and tried to reason with her because of her brother's request. It all descended into a confrontation between Yukinoshita and her and I had to find a solution on my own.
At that point it was one of the few requests where I did solve the problem to the satisfaction of all people involved.
"It was not like I was the most suitable guest for such a high-class establishment either."
She chuckles softly at that.
"I could see that. You were visibly afraid of the prices and your whole body language practically screamed that you wanted to be elsewhere."
Gee thanks, but that compliment for my outfit should be better directed at my father who owned those clothes and my sister who chose them for me to wear that evening.
"Be fair to me, the prices were outrageous."
Her mouth loses some of its smile and her eyes turn a little harder.
"Not for all of us." She mutters darkly. "Your companions could afford them."
"That was partly the case because Yukinoshita paid for Yuigahama."
I try to defend at least one of my fellow club members.
She clicks her tongue in irritation
"They still left ya in the dirt."
Show some mercy, woman! I am thankful that you are concerned for your boyfriend but Yukinoshita is still the president of the Service Club and holding a grudge for my sake would be pointless.
"They did not think how that looked to the other patrons."
Now I was curious.
"How did it look, then?"
She finally releases the glass that must have never sparkled so much since its creation and sets it down.
"Like someone whose date just deserted him."
"We got that sometimes."
"Some guy tries to impress their companion with the locale but that did not always cover up their shitty personality or intentions."
"Not that women are all that better, mind you. Sometimes you could see some vain gold diggers trying to gauge how rich their date was by bringing them there."
She looks me in the eye and I find myself under an inspection I did not see coming.
"Your case looked like the latter. Like some sad loser who engaged in enjo-kōsai  was brought by some vapid girls to an expensive place and got deserted when it became too obvious that he was uncomfortable after perusing the menu and a short conversation with an employee."
Critical Hit! That was exceedingly and needlessly harsh towards me and although I am slightly grateful that you are an equal-opportunity person when it comes to dishing out hurt by accentuating the negative in my club mates, but please stop or I will begin to cry at this rate!
I need to defuse the situation because her poor choice of words paints this memory in a far more sinister light than it really was.
"We had other intentions at heart."
Her frustrated look loses some of its sharpness and she scratches her nose.
"You three made that clear to me but that is how it looked on the outside."
"You were obviously uncomfortable while they were dressed like eye candy and eventually they left you to rot or follow them like an obedient dog."
She sums up to give her case more weight.
This conversation topic has taken a dark turn and all because of me and my questions. I have to find a way to take the edge off of her description and shift the mood.
Is this how Hayama feels all the time?
I begin to deflect her focus from a pointless general observation that we cannot even be sure about to a specific one
"Okay, they were dressed to the nines but like you correctly noted I was more concerned about the prices. I wholeheartedly expected to be able to keep the glass with that kind of bill attached to it."
She smiles slightly in response to that stupid joke, even though the frustration does not leave her eyes. However, emboldened by that small sign I press onwards.
"And I would not even dispute that Yuigahama and Yukinoshita were objectively pretty that evening."
What I am attempting is a dangerous move but it can pay off tremendously if it succeeds.
Before she can react I continue.
"There are objective cultural norms to prettiness. Nearly all people find flowers pretty or there are certain works of art that are just universally liked within a certain culture. The same holds true for women - certain features are appreciated by many people at a certain point in time. Take the practice of ohaguro , for example."
She seems unconvinced and uncertain where I am going with this.
I need to get to the point!
"Yet they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That beholder as a singular person becomes the judge of what is really important to him and just not appreciated by many. Beauty thus holds objectively more meaning, albeit at a more subjective level. Just like Saitō Ryokuu  once said 'elegance is frigid' but I propose the corollary that elegance is not necessarily the equivalent of beauty."
I stop and gaze directly in her eyes in the hope that she has understood the meaning behind my words. At the very least I want her to appreciate the jab at Yukinoshita's expense I took with that quote.
The response is overwhelmingly positive. The moment she has fully processed my words there is no trace of the heavy subjects from before and her expression is fixed to a disbelieving, wide smile. Her cheeks are adorned with the darkest shade of red I have probably ever seen on a human face and that color stands in remarkable contrast to her light hair but is nevertheless very pleasing on the eyes. She abruptly turns away from me and hides her face behind her hands.
Not wanting to put her under further pressure and to hide my own embarrassment for staring at her face I look away from her as well.
After a moment she turns sideways and peers at me from behind her hands that are still obscuring her face.
"Ah, you're such an idiot when you ramble like this."
Underneath her hands she is still smiling so I take it as a compliment and count it as a successful diversion.
"You're also ... , from my perspective ... , not that ba ... , I mean, you're an okay guy."
Huh, what brought that on?
I tilt my head to signal my confusion but she refuses to elaborate and tries her damndest to hide her face from me.
I am your boyfriend, missy. Calling me 'okay' is not exactly the highest praise I could expect and what are you referring to exactly?
To be honest, the praise for the historical allusions should go to Zaimokuza who once ambushed me to recount all the advantages of marrying a voice actress to me for what felt like an hour. The only good idea he had was that a cute voice lasted longer than a perfectly youthful body.
Heh, sometimes even he can say something cool. I should show some gratitude the next time I meet him. Seeing as that sweaty chuuni already reminds me too much of my middle-school-self and since I want to simultaneously pat that past version of me on the shoulder and knee him in the groin I hereby vow to pat Zaimokuza's shoulder before and after I, most likely verbally, knee him in the groin.
Both of us remain standing in silence in the kitchen for a short while to cool our cheeks down.
A glance at the digital clock on our microwave reminds me of something.
"Did you not want to go home early today because of your brother?"
She turns in the direction of the clock to follow my gaze and recollects her thoughts as her arms fall to her sides.
"Why, today Taishi is not ..."
She stomps with her foot as she remembers what she told me before she came here. Her mother wanted her to watch her other brother in the evening so she could fulfill some other arrangements or something like that.
There is some curse on her family, I am sure of it. I can for the life of me not remember her other brother's name. Kawasaki Ninja? Kawasaki Voyager? Kawasaki Explorer ? Is this the reason why Japan's birthrate is declining? Are there no viable names left for our youth so we must resort to this nonsense?
"Damn, I have to go now if I wanna get home in time."
She walks out of the kitchen at a very brisk pace her ponytail just a blur behind her.
When I arrive at the kotatsu she is already finished with packing her belongings into her bag and walks past me to our door.
I wait wordlessly at the entrance while she puts her shoes on. She faces me with an expression that is still a little bit flushed.
"So, uh, yeah, that was nice."
That is true, we finished our homework and avoided anything that would have been largely unsettling. I would agree to count that as 'nice'.
"Ah, do not eat all the leftover snacks all at once when I am gone."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
I respond wryly as I make a shooing motion with my hands.
She pouts at that.
"I am serious because I know how easy you give in to temptation and I want you to stay healthy."
I cannot help but smile a little cruelly in response.
"Then it would be only fair of me to ask you not to smoke on your way home."
The returning glance in my direction is a little irritated but she ultimately relents.
"Fine, I won't have the time to do so anyway."
Her eyes linger on me and she seems unsure what to say next.
I decide to send her off with what has become our trademark goodbye.
"I did not dislike today."
She smiles in reciprocation.
I wave as she closes the door behind her.
Well, if the bowl of snacks on the kotatsu is off-limits, I wonder if I could exchange them for some sweets from Komachi's stash and eat those instead.
 This is a relatively unique Japanese notion of aesthetics that finds value in modesty, imperfection and incompleteness. "Wabi" also originally referred to the loneliness and tranquility found while living in nature.
 This period specifically denotes the final phase of the Warring States era (Sengoku Jidai) when Oda Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu unified the fractured clans of Japan.
 In the US prison population among certain gangs a teardrop tattoo below the eye is often a sign that the bearer of said mark has killed another person. I doubt the same is true for Japan but for the sake of humor I thought it appropriate and plead cultural osmosis for this one.
 Neon Genesis Evangelion reference. These words could be quite aptly called the mantra of the main character of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Ikari.
 This is Japanese for 'compensated dating' and it is sadly not an uncommon practice among teenage girls in Japan.
 This is the practice of blackening one's teeth and was once considered beautiful among Japanese women in the Meiji period (1868-1912 AD).
 Saitō Ryokuu wrote well-known aphorisms such as the one used here during the aforementioned Meiji period.
 As of the publishing date of this story we do not know the name of the fourth Kawasaki sibling. The names I have used here are all names for different models of Kawasaki motorcycles.
So yeah, that's it. I do not mind if you find this boring, dear reader. The subject matter and my depiction is as mundane as the majority of life and not as exciting as many other stories in this fandom. Still, I would appreciate feedback as to what could be done better and what worked. Because of my status as a non-native speaker I would also like to be corrected on any mistakes that make reading this story easier. I generally tried to avoid the overreliance on Saki's family and the running joke associated with her name for the most part. Furthermore, I wanted to mention a lot of other characters in a natural way and not make these two appear isolated in their own little bubble as a couple. Do not hesitate to tell me how forced or OOC that all was. For the record, I do not think there are any real hard feelings between the girls, just remember how bad and clumsy she is when speaking her mind.
I won't make any promises regarding more chapters, although I have some ideas what could be shown in a second installment. I will have to see if these ideas pan out into a story of adequate length with satisfactory style and content.
Oh, and before a review says it I will do so myself: Hachi x sweet stuff = OTP.
Changed the parts about tipping to late-night-boni, thanks to Rear Mirrors, who correctly noted that tipping is considered impolite and is consequently very uncommon in Japan.