SCHOOL RUMBLE: TWIST, TWIST, & TURN

By: Pizza Blade

PART ONE


07.00 AM, Sunday, Tsukamoto's Residence.

……

"Nooooooooo!"

The shocking scream echoed throughout the Tsukamoto's residence, shaking the walls and windows of the entire house.

Tsukamoto Yakumo, who at the moment was busy preparing breakfast, stood silent for a while. She didn't appear to be surprised though, as if a soul-shattering scream was one of those usual morning things on her house.

Not a moment too long later, she heard fast footsteps approaching the kitchen.

When the kitchen's door opened, standing behind it was none other than her older-sister, Tsukamoto Tenma.

"Nee-san." said Yakumo politely. "Good morning."

"Y…Yakumo…" Tenma's face was all flustered, the antennas on her hair constantly flipping upside down. "W…What time is it?"

Yakumo stared at her sister for a while.

Words like: "LATE! LATE! LATE", "WHAT TIME IS IT?", "NO! NO! NO!", and "I AM HUNGRY!" swirled around her sister's head.

Yakumo was a person gifted by an unusual ability to read other people's minds, specifically those who had some sort of feelings for her, be they romantically inclined or not. This ability usually put her into some sort of unwanted trouble, since most of the times the things she read around people's heads were all sort of stuff that she didn't want to read. She didn't know why she has this kind of unusual power, nor the reason why she owned it.

"Don't worry, Nee-san." Yakumo smiled, giving her attention back to the food she was cooking. "It's only seven in the morning. It's not too late for your date with Karasuma-sempai yet."

Tenma quickly steered her eyes to the clock nailed at one side of the kitchen walls. When she saw that the short arrow was pointing at the number 7 and the long one stopped at number 12, she gave a great sighing relief.

"Fwahhh… " she sighed while slowly walking to the eating table and tumbled herself down onto one of the chairs there. "Thank goodness I am not too late… It's not too late yet… I thought I am going to be late……"

"That is why, Nee-san, I reminded you last night, don't watch too much TV." said Yakumo gently, while putting down the breakfast on the table. She then put a plate, a fork, and a spoon in front of her sister and took the same things for herself. "Today is an important day for you."

"I know… I know…" Tenma answered, waving her hands while her eyes staring at the breakfast Yakumo had prepared. "I am sorry—but last night the show was particularly good, you know! I mean, the way they defeated all of those bad guys! HYAH! HYAH!"

Tsukamoto Tenma was a person comprised of very rare materials, indeed. Not one moment ago she was flustered and panicked, but now she's posing martial arts movements pretending that the fork and the spoon were samurai swords.

She's pretty good at her pose too.

"I know the show is very good." said Yakumo, talking about her sister's number one most favourite TV show ever: "The Three Who Were Slashed", starring Yakushamaru Kouji, yours truly. And last night was a special 3-hours show, commemorating the show's 10 years of broadcast, or something like that.

"But you shouldn't endanger a day as important like this just for a television show, Nee-san."

"Okay, sorry…" Tenma stopped her samurai pose. She sat down on the chair.

Instead of eating, however, she began to smile non-stop while the words HAPPY!, YEAH!, ALL RIGHT!, swerving around her head for Yakumo to see. It appeared like her head was now full of lots, lots, of happy thoughts.

Yakumo smiled.

She was happy to see her sister happy. For her, the happy face of her sister was one of the most treasured things in her life.

"So…" Yakumo said, starting to eat her own-made breakfast. "Where are you going to go for your date with Karasuma-sempai, Nee-san?"

"Ah, ah, come on Yakumoo…" Tenma answered, blushing furiously, waving her hands back and forth to Yakumo shyly. "You shouldn't call it a date…, we're just going out together for a while, you know… spending some time together…… doing stuff that couples usually do…"

Tenma giggled.

"…But I suppose by the definition you CAN call it a date…" She then continued her non-stop happy face paired with that dashingly irresistible cute non-stop happy smile.

"…Nee-san, you are not eating your breakfast." Yakumo pointed out.

Tenma did not answer her question, but truthfully it didn't matter much for her. As long as her sister was happy, she couldn't care less where their date was going to took place.

But you really couldn't call Tenma as Tenma unless she was able to switch her emotions almost instantaneously. Just not too long after she smiled happily, she suddenly sighed heavily.

"But you know, Yakumo…" Tenma started to eat her sister's cooking; as always, delicious and energizing. "I don't know whether Karasuma-kun was thinking that we're going out on a date or not, though…"

"What do you mean?" Yakumo asked, aware of the sudden change on the air of how her sister spoke. The words happy and such disappeared from around her sister's head.

Tenma's face turned to be serious—a rare occasion, actually, for her to think anything seriously.

"I mean…" she said. "Whenever the two of us were going out, his face was always indifferent, you know? He always seemed to be…, you know…, emotionless… I couldn't tell whether he was happy going out together with me or not… Maybe he never thought those times went together as dates, anyway… Maybe it's the same for him like for me when I went out with Eri-chan or Miko-chan…"

Tenma sighed helplessly.

"Hhhhh…" She dropped her face on the edge of the eating table. "Karasuma-kun, why does your face is sooo difficult to read?"

Yakumo stopped eating for a moment and think about what her sister just said.

She never had the chance to meet—or conversed—with Karasuma-sempai very often, other then the times she visited her sister's class to deliver her lunchbox she so frequently forgot (or accidentally switched). Other then what her sister told her every night and day about him; she really did not know much about the person himself. But from what she could see, though, although he did not appear to be a bad person, the person himself was…

Well…

……'Unusual' was clearly an understatement, really…

Every time she saw him, his face was always blank. He had this weird habit of staring out through the window, as if he could see something interesting happening on the far-far side of the world out there in the horizon. He seemed so… detached. His face, like her sister just said, was always expressionless. She wondered how it was possible for a person to even show that kind of face.

Of course, she could not read his mind either. Other then Harima-san, Karasuma-sempai was the second male on her school that she could not read even for the tiniest little bit. She's got this weird feeling, however, that even if she should able to read Karasuma-sempai's minds, all that she's going able to see inside was emptiness… or something similar like that.

"But the most important thing is Karasuma-sempai agreeing to go out with you, Nee-san." Yakumo finally said, after being drowned in her own thought. "I am sure that he is happy to be going out with you."

"Really?" Tenma's face was cheering up considerably. "You think so?"

"Yes…" Yakumo felt relieved that her sister's worries being swept away from her face. "A…, a friend told me…"

For a moment, the face of Harima flashed out in Yakumo's mind.

"…A friend told me…" she continued, trying to focus, her eyes staring at her plate. "What is, exactly, the thing called dating. That… that friend, told me that dating is when you go out sharing lots of precious moments together with the person you care about. Dating is all about wanting to be together with a loved one when you pass through those times where everything seems to be priceless, everything seems to be beautiful……"

"Hee……" Tenma stared unblinkingly at her sister, seemingly amazed at the words of her sister.

"Nee-san." Yakumo continued, staring at her sister. "You care about Karasuma-sempai, right?"

Tenma blushed, her face went all red.

"W…what are you asking me all of the sudden, Yakumo?" she said. "O… o…, of course I am!"

"Those moments when you go out with Karasuma-sempai before…, like when you…" Yakumo stopped for a while, trying to pick one of the date-with-Karasuma-sempai's stories that her sister has told her previously, "…Like when you went to see pro-wrestling together… You thought of those moments as precious, right?"

"Of course!" Tenma said confidently.

"Then those are dates…" Yakumo said with a conclusive tone. "I am sure that those are dates, just like this one, Nee-san. I am sure Karasuma-sempai is thinking the same way about it too, and I am sure that he is as happy as you are when you two going out together… He just…"

Yakumo chose her words carefully.

"…He just did not know how to show it, that's all… You don't have to worry about it…"

"Hee……" Tenma stared at Yakumo.

……

………

"Nee-san?" Yakumo took her eyes away from her plate and stared at her sister. For a brief moment, the only sound in the kitchen was the sound of her spoon and fork chiming on her plate, and the sound of singing cicadas out there through the kitchen's windows, and she was wandering why her sister just went quiet all of the sudden.

When she stared at Tenma, she found that her older sister was staring at her, both eyes wide open, sparkling anime-style.

"Nee-san?" Yakumo said again quietly. She never before had seen her sister staring at her the way she's doing it right now. Did she say anything wrong just before? Did she choose the wrong words? Did her sister misunderstand her intentions of wanting to cheer her up using all of those explanations?

"Wow." Tenma finally spoke; her eyes didn't even blink all the time she was staring at Yakumo. "Yakumo, you sure are good with this kind of stuff, aren't you?"

"Eh?" Yakumo was caught unaware by the question.

"I mean, really…" Tenma still staring at Yakumo relentlessly, "I mean, the Yakumo I usually know have had little experiences with boys and stuff like dates. I am very surprised that you seem to be so knowledgeable about these kinds of things… The way you spoke earlier…, sooo professional. Since when you became such a love-love expert, Yakumo?"

…Love-love expert?

Yakumo could see "Yakumo is so amazing!" appeared at the top of her sister's head and circling it endlessly.

"N…no…, I am not…" Yakumo replied nervously. She quickly moved her eyes away from her sister back to her breakfast plate.

I am just repeating what I heard from Harima-san back then when we drew manga together at Itoko-Sensei's place…, she thought inside her mind. It's not like I am an expert at those kinds of things…, I am merely repeating Harima-san's words and adding little bits of words here and there myself

But now that she gave it a thought, she was actually rather surprised at the fact that for a moment, she indeed sounded so…capable…at those kinds of things. It was as if the words just flowed seamlessly from her mind to her lips. She did not even paused when she spoke earlier.

She never knew that she could speak like that…

It was… quite unlike her…

"But the words you said were so beautiful!" exclaimed Tenma. "Just like those we used at the play at the Culture Festival! So sophisticated! So poetry! So…… so… umm…"

Tenma gave it a thought for a while.

"……So dashing!" she said it finally.

"No…not really…" Yakumo said quietly. She knew that no matter what she said, she couldn't change her sister's opinion, but nevertheless she felt uncomfortable by the thought of her sister calling her a love-love expert…

"Really, Yakumo…" Tenma kept pressing on the matter. She even forgot to eat her share of breakfast. "I guess many things must have happened to you while I am not looking, eh? For the inexperienced Yakumo to be able to say such things…, wow… your Nee-san is proud, Yakumo! Proud!"

Yakumo did not say anything, but her face began to blush a little.

"But since when you…" Tenma suddenly stopped.

She put her index finger on her chin; her eyes went up, posing the patented Tenma's-Thinking expression. When Yakumo peeked to her sister, the sentence such as 'Yakumo is so amazing' has disappeared, but instead now…

…"I KNOW NOW'" popped suddenly around Tenma's head.

Yakumo suddenly felt something bad was about to happen.

"I know! I know!" Tenma clapped her hands spiritedly. She's eyeing her sister teasingly, while her lips formed a mischievous smile—another undisputed bad signs for Yakumo.

"I know why you all of the sudden became such a love-love expert, Yakumo…"

"W…what do you mean?" Yakumo said nervously.

"I mean, you used to be so naïve when it comes to matters such as love, boys, and such." Tenma said, in a teasing tone. "But I bet you've been gaining information here and there since now you're dating with Harima-kun!"

Now it's the time for Yakumo to blush furiously.

"N…Nee-san…" Yakumo quickly replied, "I've been telling you many, many times…, Harima-san and I are not…"

"Oh, come on, Yakumo, I know it's because Harima-kun that now you've become such a love-love expert!" Tenma quickly demolished Yakumo's attempt to reason with her, "I mean, back then when I wanted to buy something for Karasuma-kun's birthday, Harima-kun also gave me a very good advice about this kind of stuff!"

Tenma stopped for a while, thinking again (while being oblivious to Yakumo's attempts to tell her the truth.)

"You know…" Tenma said thoughtfully, "When you look at him, you couldn't really tell that Harima-kun is a man that you could depend on about stuff like this. To tell you the truth, Yakumo, I myself was surprised when he told me about how I should deal with Karasuma-kun's birthday presents—I've never thought before that Harima-kun is so knowledgeable about love…"

Tenma quickly stared back at Yakumo, seemingly unaware that her little sister has been trying to tell her something important.

"So you see, when I think about it, it's no wonder after all!" she exclaimed happily. "I am relieved that Harima-kun's positive aspects are finally rubbing themselves on you! You two are such a kawaii couple!"

"Nee-san…" Yakumo mumbled weakly, a bit frustrated that she was unable to penetrate her sister's formidable defence, "Really, Harima-san and I are not a…"

"I KNOW!" Tenma yelled suddenly, making Yakumo jerked on her chair a bit out of surprise. Not too long for Yakumo to realize that her sister all of the sudden yelling I KNOW should soon translate as yet another undisputed bad sign for her. "I KNOW!"

"You know, what…, Nee-san?" Yakumo asked apprehensively.

"Me and Karasuma-kun were both planning to go to a new curry restaurant near our school for our date today." Tenma answered heartily. "Why don't you and Harima-san tagging along as well?"

"…"

It took Yakumo a couple of seconds to input this new information to her brain.

After that, all that she could say was…

"W…what?"

"Yes, you and Harima-kun!" Tenma pointed a finger at Yakumo.

"Me…, a…and Harima-san?" Yakumo stammered—it seemed a part of her brain just suddenly went down.

"Yup! Yup!" Tenma nodded vigorously. "You know, so we can do a double date!"

"D…double date?"

Yakumo never thought that a peaceful morning like this could have possibly turned itself this way. It was really, totally, unexpected. But then again, her sister was totally the definition of unexpected. And now, Yakumo seemed already being tangled inside her sister's formidable pace, unable to escape…

"Yes!" Tenma answered, still energetically. "You and Harima just do whatever it is that you both usually do when you guys went for a date, and I'll be watching from behind. That way I can learn things from both of you about how to date properly so that I can use it next time I go with Karasuma-kun!"

…"N…nee-san, that's…" Yakumo said, before Tenma—expectedly—cuts her off again mid-sentence.

"…And you know what, you know what, Yakumo?" Tenma said as she blushed. "If you and Harima-kun like, for example, holding hands, who knows, maybe that Karasuma-kun might be tempted to hold my hands as well…"

Tenma already went to her own happy-happy-fantasy-land.

"And if you guys kiss, who knows that maybe Karasuma-kun…"

……

Both of them blushed furiously, although of course for totally different reasons: Tenma imagining herself kissing Karasuma-kun while for Yakumo the image of she and Harima kissing each other appeared to be too much of a mental burden.

"Right! It's decided then!" Tenma exclaimed profoundly when she finally took off from her happy-happy-fantasy-land. "The four of us are going to do a double-date!"

Yakumo wanted to point the fact that the terms 'It's decided then' really should not be used since her sister was not asking her consent about the plan at all, but when she saw Tenma's excited face burning up with undefeated vigour, Yakumo suddenly felt something twitched inside her heart.

Something about she did not want to see her sister's disappointed face…

……

Maybe it's just better if she went along with the plan anyway…

More than anything else, the thing that she hated the most was to see her sister's disappointed face…

"But Karasuma-sempai might not want to do a double-date, Nee-san…" Yakumo said helplessly, as this argument would most probably be her last chance to change her sister's mind. "Harima-san might not want to do it as well. I don't even know whether he had any time for this…"

"Don't worry, don't worry!" Tenma said, giving her two thumbs up to Yakumo. "I am sure Karasuma-kun wouldn't mind, and Harima-kun should, of course, wouldn't be able to refuse the request of her beloved Yakumo! Right? I will call them right now! You'd better change, Yakumo!"

And -ZAP-, just like that, her formidable older sister ran from the kitchen to the telephone in the living room, clearly with the intentions of informing both Karasuma and Harima about her own brilliant (or so she thought) scheme.

……

For a moment, all Yakumo could do was so sit there, at the eating table, motionless, staring at the kitchen's door where her sister just zapped through.

Her sister was definitely an impressive person.

……

………

Anyway, Yakumo thought herself…

Maybe there would still a chance that this double date wouldn't be happening after all. What she said earlier might be true, after all.

Maybe Karasuma-sempai might not want to go on a double date. After all, her sister said that they would go a new curry restaurant. Enjoying a nice, spicy curry with your date was something much more enjoyable without the presence of another person…… moreover, another couple, right?

R…right?

And… and, Harima-san might not go along with this plan after all. He might have been too busy right now, working on his manga and whatnot, not enough spare time for him to leisurely go on a double date… right? That's right… he must be busy after all…

Yakumo felt nervous as she clung on this last tiny bit of rope. She ensured herself that somehow, one of those two possibilities could happen so that her sister would cancel this double date plan of hers…

Then she heard footsteps fast approaching the kitchen.

"It's decided!" Tenma exclaimed happily by the time she arrived at the kitchen. "Both of them say its okay! Get ready Yakumo! We will go at eight!"

The last tiny bit of rope had just snapped.


07.00 AM, Sunday, Osakabe Itoko's Residence.

……

"Kenji-kun." Itoko knocked Harima's door. "Kenji-kun!"

Harima opened both of his eyes; both still completely red. He did not get enough sleep last night, thanks to the magnificent 3 hours special of "The Three Who Were Slashed", starring Yakushamaru Kouji, yours truly. He just couldn't get enough of Mangoku's wicked sword-slashing action.

And after those magnificent 3 hours of samurai awesomeness, his mind was just so full with awesome new ideas for his manga, he couldn't wait for tomorrow (today) to work on them. So, for another 3 hours after that, he was completely absorbed with his manga, drawing and drawing and drawing non-stop, until finally at 1 in the morning his eyes just couldn't hold on anymore.

"Kenji-kun!" Itoko said again, this time a bit more forceful.

"Whaaaaattt?" said Harima groggily.

"Wake up already!" she said. "And open the door!"

Harima woke up from his bed, and walking numbly towards the door. His surroundings spun like crazy in his eyes, his mind kept on repeating the mantra: sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep

Harima opened the door.

"What?" he said to Itoko.

For a while, Itoko just simply stared at him.

"Itoko…" Harima grumbled. "What is it?"

"Oh, nothing." Itoko answered. "It's just I am quite amazed that even in your sleep, you are still wearing that sunglasses of yours."

"No biggie." Harima said, turning his back against Itoko and walking back to his bed in zip-zap motion, clearly with the intention of going back to sleep.

"I guess you've been wearing it too long that you just feel weird every time you're not wearing it, do you?" Itoko entered Harima's room. She rarely entered this room unless there was some sort of special occasion, but one thing that Harima always managed to subtly impress her with was the fact that the room was nearly always clean and tidy every time she's here.

Maybe, behind Harima's rugged and fearsome exterior, and aura of laziness, he really was a diligent person…

-BRUG-

Harima successfully threw himself onto his bed and by a mere 2 seconds later, starts snoring.

or maybe not, Itoko added to her thought.

……

"Hey." she said, approaching the small table where Harima's manga paper was spread. She picked them up, lining them orderly, and then started reading. "Go buy some food and drink at the grocery store. We ran out of supply."

Harima kept snoring.

"You have a bike, you can do it faster then me." said Itoko, going into the second page. "And you are a man. It's a man's duty to do this kind of work, you know? It is a man's responsibility to help a woman in need."

Harima's snoring went louder.

"I've been providing for you." said Itoko, staring at the drawing of a girl very much like Tsukamoto Tenma at the bottom of the second page. The drawings were quite good, actually. "I am also letting you stay at my apartment, so grocery shopping should not be too hard of a repayment for my kindness, right?"

Itoko went to the third page. She felt rather amused reading Harima's manga: a story about a samurai wearing sunglasses at the Edo period in a lovey-dovey situation with a klutzy princess was definitely something that you just couldn't find anywhere else.

"And you buy the groceries with my money, anyway." Itoko continued. "So you really have nothing to lose by doing this favour. In fact, by doing this you will become a nicer person."

Harima was still snoring.

"…Oh well…" Itoko said, sighing. "Guess I'll be going for myself, then. But mind you, going shopping alone is very, very, boring."

Harima's snoring just went through the roof.

"I will need some sort of distraction so that I won't be bored." Itoko said smoothly, arranging Harima's manga papers into one neat stack. "Therefore, I might take this interesting manga with me and reading them while I am shopping."

Harima's snoring suddenly stopped.

Itoko turned and walked slowly to the door.

"Right." she said. "I'll be taking this then. And the grocery shop I will go to is quite popular to the students of the school. Maybe I will meet with one or two of them, or maybe more, since this is Sunday. Of course, they might be bored doing their share of lonely grocery shopping too, so I might give them some manga to provide them with an entertainment…"

-ZAP-

Faster then a ninja, Harima already moved from his bed to the front of his room's door.

"Where's the money?" he said, with a suddenly refreshed voice, unlike a drowsy person still in need of a heavy sleep.

"In the living room." Itoko said, smiling. Threat was definitely an effective method to cure a lazy person. "It's there along with the list of things that you need to buy."

"Right then, now it's the time to do some manly job; grocery shopping." Harima said confidently. "And don't touch my manga."


07.20 AM, Sunday. The Grocery Shop.

……

Grocery shopping might be a manly job, but that did not mean by being a man then doing it would be easier.

Harima Kenji has just learned this overlooked, yet important, lesson of life, when he was shopping in a grocery store not too far from his cousin's apartment.

First of all, he needed to overlook the fact that in the eyes of practically everybody besides him, it was a strange thing that a tough looking, sunglasses wearing, delinquent-ish guy like him actually prancing around inside a grocery store, carrying shopping basket like a house wife.

"They must have thought that I am a handsome person." Harima said to himself, when—by the 20th time—a person in the grocery store was looking at him suspiciously. "Otherwise they wouldn't look at me that much. Hmph. If only Tenma-chan would think the same."

Secondly, he never realized it before that fulfilling a simple shopping list written on a small piece of paper would become a long and stressing task.

For example, one of the items one the list was "Ten Good Eggs". Now, how should he differentiate between good and bad eggs? He's standing right at the front of the eggs for sale right now, but for all the life in the world he could not tell the difference between each and every one of them. They were all looked the same for him. Round, long, egg-like. Which one was good and which one was bad?

…Sheeshh, whatever.

He picked 10 eggs randomly, telling himself that like him, Itoko wouldn't be able to tell the difference between good and bad eggs anyway.

Number three: grocery shop was a public place, and as such, people could freely come and go there at their own leisure, as long as the shop itself opens. With that in mind, there's a probability that you could meet someone you knew there. That might not be so bad in the first place, but it's a different case altogether if that someone you knew was someone you did not want to meet.

Like what happened to Harima now.

By the time he turned into the Milk section, looking for "A Fresh Milk", he spotted two of his fellow classmates, Hanai Haruki and Suou Mikoto, both wearing casual clothes, shopping together.

Now, Suou was an alright girl whom he did not have any problems whatsoever, but the four-eyes was a completely different matter. He was a nosey person, for one. Then, he represented all the characteristics of something that in a manga you could call a "Defender of Justice". Then, he excelled both in athletics and studies.

Then he… Then he…, and then…

……

Well, to cut things short, lets just say that he and Harima were a completely, totally, polar opposites. Even though Hanai was not actually a bad guy in the truest sense of the word, Harima still just couldn't afford to be comfortable being around him for more than necessary.

Just as he turned his hide away from the Milk section, careful so that both Hanai and Mikoto did not see him, he glanced back at both of them for the last time.

What are they doing anyway, doing grocery shopping together this time of morning? Are they preparing for some sort of special Sunday event or something?

But aside from that, those two looked so damn natural with each other, didn't they? Looking at those two shopping together really made them appear like husband and wife. But then again, maybe, childhood friends just had the knack of being able to be that close without being interested in each other like that.

If only Tenma-chan and I were childhood friends……, Harima thought to himself.

Imagine the possibilities then… Shopping together, playing together…

Heh, …whatever.

Harima decided that his shopping time was enough. Even though he did not yet manage to complete all the items in the list, it did not matter. He would just let Itoko shop for the missing items later on her own.

Quickly and stealthily so that Hanai and Mikoto did not spot him, he approached the paying counter, paid his shopping items, and went back to the apartment.


Around 07.45 AM, Sunday. Osakabe Itoko's Residence.

……

Well, the fourth thing that was so difficult about grocery shopping was happening not while you're doing the shopping itself, but rather when you got back from it. You see, grocery shopping usually took about 30 or 40 minutes of your life in order to be completed, and during that precious 30 or 40 minutes, something important might just happened involving you somewhere and you wouldn't be able to get involved in it, just because you were shopping at the time.

Like what happened now, to Harima Kenji.

"I am back!" Harima shouted to announce his arrival by the time he arrived at Itoko's apartment. He walked casually towards the living room, found Itoko watching TV there, and put down all of the shopping stuffs at the table not far from her.

"Welcome back." Itoko said without removing her eyes from the TV. "Have you got everything I wrote on the list?"

"No." Harima answered flatly. He walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, picking up the last can of Orange Juice, and drank it. "But the things I bought should be enough for around a month, anyway, or two months if both of us are going for a diet."

Itoko did not seem mad that Harima did not buy everything she wrote on the list—in fact, it seemed that she was kind of expecting it.

"By the way," Itoko said casually. "Tsukamoto-kun called."

-BLURP-

The mere mention of Tenma's name was enough to make Harima choking up. He immediately ran to the living room and stood up between Itoko and the TV, demanding an explanation.

"W…What?" he said, the corners of his lips still wet from the Orange Juice.

"I said Tsukamoto-kun, the older sister, called here when you went shopping." Itoko answered. "And will you please get out of the way? I am watching the show here!"

Harima did not move.

"She called?" he said again, totally shocked. "Tenma-ch… S…she called here? But why didn't she call…"

Just then, Harima remembered that he did not bring his cell phone with him while he was shopping. How s-t-u-p-i-d!

"That's because you did not bring your cell phone, thus she called here." Itoko answered, seemingly getting little annoyed because Harima was blocking the TV screen. "And I won't tell you what it's about unless you move out of the way."

"So…sorry." Harima said quickly; he side-stepped so that he didn't block the TV screen. "So, what did she say?"

"She asked whether Harima-kun had any plans for today, so I said no." Itoko paused for a moment, before continuing, "Then she asked whether Harima-kun would want to go to this new curry restaurant together with her, so I say yes."

Itoko turned her eyes away from the TV to Harima, to witness his reaction.

……

Finally! Finally! FINALLY! Harima thought to himself; while both his eyes sprouting tears-of-happiness, his lips smiling broadly, his heart bursting with explosiveness.

FINALLY THE DAY HAS COME! Harima yelled to himself again. The day when Tenma-chan finally admitted his feelings for her! She must have somewhat picking up clues along the way for his love to her by the time they've been together all these times, and BAM!—just like that, when she woke up this morning, she suddenly realized the truth!

FINALLY! FINALLY! No wonder Mangoku seemed so awesome last night! It must have been an omen for this beautiful development of his life!

FINALLY!

"By the way…" Itoko continued, "Her sister is coming too, along with a boy she called Karasuma-kun."

FI…

"What?"

And with the mention of Karasuma's name, Harima took flight from his patented happy-happy-fantasy-land back to the harsh world of reality. He quickly steered his eyes to Itoko, once again blurting a questioning, "What?"

"That's what she said." Itoko said, her eyes back on the TV. "She said that she wanted to do a double-date, with her and some boy she called Karasuma-kun, along with you and her sister, Tsukamoto Yakumo-kun."

Harima's happy-happy-fantasy-land suddenly crumbled; destroyed pieces by pieces ever so quickly.

…….

So Tenma-chan was planning to go on a date with that weird guy and she's asking me to tag along on it together with Imouto-san?

What the hell?

Harima's face quickly turned gloomy. There was this sudden dark aura surrounding his body, sapping away all of his energy and enthusiasm.

……

Of course…, he thought to himself sadly. It was rather silly to think that Tenma-chan would all of the sudden, out of the blue, reciprocate his feelings for her just like that. Fate just wouldn't allow anything to work as easily as that, you know…

Plus, it seemed like Tenma-chan still wasn't able to see the truth behind his true nature of relationship with Imouto-san, asking for a double date like that…

"If that's the case, then, I'd rather not go." Harima said heavily, his mood turned bleak. "I would like to continue my manga for today."

As much as he wanted to go out with Tenma-chan during a beautiful, clear, and sunny Sunday like this, he wouldn't want to do it if that means he must be forced to watch her clinging all the time to that guy. No way. It was just too painstakingly awful to bear.

He would rather work on his manga than that. Actually, he would rather do anything than that.

"No can do." Itoko said casually. "You have already agreed to go."

"Excuse me?" Harima replied in surprise. "What do you mean I have agreed to go?"

Itoko sighed. He turned off the TV with the remote, stood up, and stared directly to Harima's face.

"I am using this to answer the phone." she said, picking up what it seemed as a small electronic device from her pocket. She put the small device in front of her mouth, and then she spoke, "I mean, with this voice."

Harima was totally surprised. The voice he heard just now coming out from Itoko's mouth was clearly not hers: it's his voice! There's no mistaking it, it was definitely his voice!

Itoko was clearly amused by Harima's reaction. She then continued,

"This is a voice-changing device I invented." still with Harima's voice. "With this device, you can easily change the voice of which you speak with to the voice of another person whose voice already recorded within it. Of course, I have recorded your voice, Kenji-kun, among many other people…"

Wow, Harima was definitely impressed.

He knew that Itoko has this weird hobby of creating her own spy-ish electronic devices, but he would never thought before that she was capable of creating a device as neat as that. It seemed like although he's living together with her, there's still a lot that he didn't know about the woman standing in front of him right now.

This is awesome! This is just like some sort of the device he once read on a famous detective manga!

"Wow!" Harima said enthusiastically. "So with that device, you can change your voice to another person's voice when you speak? That is like, totally awesome!"

"Yes." Itoko answered matter-of-factly. "With your voice, I—well, you, according to her, actually—have already agreed on Tsukamoto-kun's invitation."

Wait a minute! Harima slapped his own forehead. This is not the time to be impressed by electronic gadgets, no matter how wicked they are! he thought to himself. There are more important matters for me to think about!

"Yo…you mean by using that device you impersonate your voice as mine?" Harima asked incredulously.

"Yes." Itoko answered.

"And you said—with my voice—that you have agreed going to this double-date with Tenm…Tsukamoto?" Harima's eyes were getting larger and larger with each question, though Itoko couldn't really see it because of his sunglasses.

"That's the gist of it." Itoko answered, still casually, and still with Harima's voice.

……

"But wh---------y would you do that?" Harima exclaimed loudly. His face filled with the word 'PANIC' right now. "I would have never agreed to an invitation like that!"

"Why?" this time Itoko spoke with her own voice. She put her own neat device on her pocket and put both her hands on each side of her waist, sensei-style activated. "I thought you would love to go out with Tsukamoto-kun on a beautiful day like this. It's better than being stuck in your room drawing that manga all day, isn't it?"

"Yeah, that's true, but that's only if me and her alone!" Harima said with a depressed voice. Now he must be willing to embrace the sight of her beloved Tenma-chan being giggly-happy around that weird guy.

Even the image was capable of sending a painful stab on his heart! He couldn't imagine what it would be like when he later sees the terror firsthand!

Itoko raised one of her eyebrows.

"So you hate Tsukamoto-kun's little sister and this Karasuma-kun, is that it?" she inquired.

"No—it's not like that!" Harima waved his hand quickly.

Clearly, he did not hate Imouto-san. In fact, he rather enjoyed the times they both spent together when they were both discussing matters of his manga. He wouldn't mind if Imouto-san tagging along should he someday having a date with Tenma-chan.

But that weird guy……

……

Did he hate him?...

……No, Harima thought to himself. He did not hate him or anything like that. In fact… hating him would most definitely make Tenma-chan hating me, should she found out about it. No, he did not hate him…

It's just that, regarding the matters of Tenma-chan, those feelings of……dislike…… just somehow always managed to creep its way to his heart every time he saw the alien guy.

He still couldn't really explain it well… But perhaps dislike was really a better choice of word rather than hate to describe his feelings to him…

Itoko just stood there and staring at her cousin as Harima was lost in his own thought.

After a short silent moment, she sighed once again. She patted Harima's shoulder, and then with the most serious-sounded voice she could muster, she spoke,

"Look." she said. "I don't know what's going on, I don't want to get involved on my students' love life or whatever, but since it is you, Kenji-kun, I will make an exception. The thing is, at first I actually thought that you would not want to receive Tsukamoto-kun's invitation, and I just this close to decline it using your voice…" She put her left palm in front of Harima's voice and moved her index and middle finger closer to each other. "But then, I thought of something…"

"What?" Harima said desperately. His mood to do anything today has been shattered already; he couldn't even put a little bit of spirit on his voice.

"I thought…" Itoko's voice rose a bit. "Hey, maybe accepting her offer would be better for you, Kenji-kun!"

"Why would you think that?" Harima said, still in a desperate tone.

"Because instead of lurking inside your room all day, crying and moaning helplessly, every once in a while you should pat yourself in the back and say, 'I must fight for love!'" Itoko said, still with the sensei-ish tone of speaking, "Why don't you just go? During the date, you show to Tsukamoto-kun just how much of a better person you are compared to the boy she's going out with!"

……Well, that's actually not so bad of an idea, Harima thought to himself.

……

"This is a perfect chance for Tsukamoto-kun to see you as a man!" Itoko continued, "Just act all gentlemanly in front of her, show to her that you are the perfect man for her, do the nicest things you can do, and by the time the double-date ends, she should probably think to herself: Wow, I've never thought Harima-kun is a such a nice person! He is so much better than Karasuma-kun! Maybe…, maybe…, wait, what is this feeling in my chest? Why does my heart feel unhappy seeing him together with my sister? Look at the way Karasuma-kun acted today! He was nothing compared to the greatness that is Harima-kun! Just look on how he treated my sister compared to how Karasuma-kun treated me! Why haven't I noticed it before? Why, oh why?"

Itoko used Tenma's voice starting from the word "Wow, I've never thought…" to enhance the effect of her words, and it seemed to have worked quite nicely. Harima took flight to his own fantasy realm, imagining that the real Tenma-chan herself saying those nice words to him, thinking that he IS a better man than that Karasuma, and why she never noticed it until now……

This might be the chance he has been waiting for all this time!

Harima grasped Itoko's shoulders so sudden that she was a bit shocked by it.

"Itoko!" he said with a fiery, manly, determined voice. "Thank you! You are really the best Itoko, ever!"

"No matter." she said, smiling, amused by Harima's abrupt change of mood. "But you'd better hurry. The meeting time is 8.30, in front of the school gates."

"Right!" Harima nodded enthusiastically. "I'd better prepare myself then! I should wear my best clothes and wear my best cologne!"

"You don't wear cologne, you use it…" Itoko said slowly, but Harima already zapped his way to the bathroom.

Itoko sighed again.

The fiery of youth, she thought to herself. Well, it doesn't mean that I am not young either…, she added quickly.

She approached the table where Harima put his shopping items before, and examining it one by one.

...Darn it, he didn't buy the Potato Chips!


08.00 AM, Sunday. Tsukamoto's Residence.

……

"Yakumooo!" Tenma yelled from the living room. "Aren't you ready yet? We must go now or we will be laaate!"

"J…Just a moment, Nee-san!" Yakumo replied from her room.

She really did not expect to be thrown into this kind of situation; going into a double-date with her sister, Karasuma-sempai, and Harima-san…

She just lost count already on how many times she tried to inform her sister that the relationship between her and Harima-san was not what her sister thought to be.

In fact, Yakumo stood silent for a moment, her eyes gazing at her own reflection on the mirror.

…In fact, she thought that Harima-san really has feelings for her sister. The resemblance of his main female protagonist on his manga with Nee-san was too striking to be called a mere coincidence, and seeing that the female protagonist fell in love with the male protagonist that looked very exactly like Harima-san—well, the conclusion was not that hard to find…

"I wonder why Harima-san hasn't confessed to Nee-san yet…… was he afraid of being rejected?" Yakumo continued to drown on her thought. But if she was Harima-san, she would most probably hesitate as well, seeing her sister's very high level of infatuation with Karasuma-sempai…

But why did Harima-san accepted her sister's invitation on a double-date such as this one? Truly, if he really liked her, seeing her getting along with Karasuma-sempai would not be the pleasant thing in the world… Or did Harima-san accept the offer just because it was her sister's request? Did he really willing to do that much just to fulfil her wants and needs?

……Not to mention there's this problem with Sawachika-sempai, who apparently harboured some sort of feeling for Harima-san…

Yakumo sighed.

At the contrast of what her sister thought of her now, she really was not an expert of love problems. Love was really a complicated thing—so many layers, so many surfaces, so many meanings…… Love was something too hard for someone like her to understand it completely…

"Yakumoo!" Tenma yelled again. "Hurry up!"

"I… I am coming, Nee-san!" she replied in a hurry. She cast a last look on her reflection to make sure that everything was appropriate, and hurried down to the living room where her sister waited impatiently.

"Hurry up, will you?" Tenma said by the time Yakumo arrived at the living room. "By the looks of it, we will be l……"

Tenma stopped mid-sentence as she gazed at Yakumo.

"W…what is it?" Yakumo felt nervous at her sister sizing her up like that. "Is something wrong, Nee-san?" She quickly examined her attire to find the reason why Tenma staring at her like that.

"Heeee…" Tenma smiled mischievously. "You seem like you don't want to go on this double-date before, but seeing that you are dressing all beautiful like that, I guess in reality you really DO want to go on this date after all."

"W…what?" Yakumo was taken aback by her sister's words. For a moment, she couldn't find anything appropriate to reply.

"I guess you really want to look all lovely for Harima-kun, eh?" Tenma said teasingly. "Well, I guess that can't be helped though. Let's go, Yakumo."

Before Yakumo could even say a word, Tenma ran behind her little sister and pushed her forward to the front door.


08.30 AM, Sunday. In Front of the School Gates.

……

"Look, Harima-kun is already there!" Tenma pointed cheerfully to Yakumo by the time both of them arrived near the front of the school gates.

Yakumo looked up, and her Nee-san was right. Harima-san was already there, standing aloofly at the front of the school gates. It seemed at the moment he was absorbed in his own thoughts, his face filled with seriousness.

"Nee-san…" Yakumo said quietly—she thought by looking at his face that Harima-san actually really dislike this idea of double-date after all. "Perhaps this double-date is not such a good idea aft…"

"Harimaaa-kuuun!" Tenma yelled cheerfully before Yakumo had the chance to finish her sentence. Harima, upon hearing Tenma's voice, quickly jerked out of his reverie, and almost immediately moved his eyes to where Tenma and Yakumo were standing.

"T…tenma-chan." he said slowly, breathlessly. Seeing Tenma dressed with ordinary clothing never failed to fasten his heart-beat. It's true, Tenma-chan really looked three times more beautiful in ordinary clothing than in school uniform; it's as if she was wearing all the stars in the sky right now—she sparkled ever so beautifully…

Truly, for Harima, she's a magnificent marvel to behold…

Tenma-chan was moving on slooo-----w motion…

Slo---ww…

"Hi!" Tenma said cheerfully when she and Yakumo arrived in front of Harima. As usual, she was completely oblivious to the fact that Harima was blushing furiously at the sight of her wearing usual clothing. "You arrived on time!"

Alright! Harima claimed inside his mind. This is the first chance for me to show off just how much of a man I am! I'll definitely show Tenma-chan that I am a much better person than that Karasuma guy!

"Of course!" Harima said with a boastful voice. "Being on time is what all man should do every time he makes promises!"

Ha! That Karasuma guy did not even come on time!

I win the first round!

"Umm..." Tenma quickly looked around. "Where's Karasuma-kun, I wonder? It's already eight thirty."

"He must be late, Nee-san." Yakumo said, stating the obvious. She peered towards Harima, and as usual, like before, his mind was impenetrable for her.

"Hm." Tenma mumbled. "Maybe he got stuck at a traffic jam, or something. He never late on our previous dates…"

The term 'on our previous dates' stung Harima's heart and nearly made his unhappy tears sprouting behind his sunglasses again. But of course, he wouldn't cry—after all, now it's the time for him to show the best of his gentlemanly side in front of his beloved Tenma-chan!

"But you know what, you know what, Harima-kun." Tenma moved closer to Harima and nudging him on the rib, smiling teasingly, "Yakumo really dressed up for this double-date, you know. First time I've ever seen her actually dressing up that long. Don't you have anything to say to her after all of her hard effort?"

"N…Nee-san!" Yakumo protested, her face went a little pink, "It's not like that! Harima-san, don't bother with what Nee-san just said, she…"

This is the moment where I should be a gentleman! Harima thought to himself. How stupid of me! The first thing a gentleman should say should be the praises for how beautiful the woman looked!

Harima stared at Yakumo.

…But you know, Harima said to himself yet again. She really looked different from the usual Imouto-san…

Well…, I guess I should praise her, then. It's a gentlemanly thing to do, right?

"Yeah." Harima said, feeling a bit awkward. He actually never praised a girl so openly before, so he got a little nervous doing it. Plus, his mind was all busy thinking what kind of praises he should give to Tenma-chan next. "You look lovely today, Imouto-san."

"T…thank you…" Yakumo replied quietly—her cheeks flushed a little bit.

Tenma just went "hee…hee" seeing her sister's slightly red face.

"Yakumo is so cute!" she said to herself.

All right! Harima's fiery determination burning up. Praising a girl was not as difficult as he thought would be, but the next one is the real thing! He shall give his best!

"B…b…" Harima's face went red as he stepped up in front of Tenma. "But… y…y…you…"

"Hm?" Tenma smiled with that amazingly cute face. Oh my God! Saying fancy stuffs to a girl is one thing, but saying fancy stuffs to a girl you love is on a whole, whole, different level altogether!

"You… y…you look mo…more b…beau…beauti…"

"Oh!" Tenma jerked up. It seemed that her eyes caught something, and immediately thereafter, her cheeks went red.

"You… you look m…more beautifu…"

"Karasuma-kuun!" Tenma yelled, waving her hands energetically. "Here! Here! We're all already here!"

"…ful…" Harima finally managed to say the words, but it was useless, since Tenma's attention was not on him at the moment.

"In here!" Tenma yelled again.

Harima sighed in disappointment.

He turned his face to see the weird guy walking to them, wearing that same flat expressionless face he always wore each and every passing day.

He felt some sort of anger surfacing inside his heart. Of all the times he could have shown himself after being late…

Yakumo, who watched Harima's expression turned sour, of course, understood what's going on, but she decided it would be best to stay quiet.

"What's going on? Why are you so late?" Tenma asked with a cheerful voice. Her mood appeared to improve very substantially now that Karasuma-kun appeared. "It was eight thirty, right?"

"I am sorry." Karasuma answered with his usual, emotionless, flat tone. "I got stuck at a traffic jam."

Hah! Such a classic and outdated reason to be late! Harima said scornfully in his mind. Can't you think of a more sophisticated reason to be late?

……Though, he's not sure whether the guy was lying or not, since that flat expression of his is so darn difficult to read……

"I thought so." Tenma nodded her head. "But anyway, since we're all here, let us make way to the new currr------rry restaurant!"

It seemed that amongst those four, only Tenma whose spirit roared high. Harima felt uncomfortable with the sight of Tenma and Karasuma together; Yakumo felt uneasy about forcing Harima-san going to a double-date he most probably didn't want to do on the first place; and Karasuma…

Well…, Karasuma was just like the usual Karasuma—nobody could tell from his face whether he's excited or not…

"Ah, before that!" Tenma clapped her hands. She walked to Yakumo, turned to the guys, and said, "Excuse me, before we go, I have something to discuss with Yakumo, so would the two of you please wait here for a moment?"

Harima said, "Sure…" and Karasuma just nodded.

So, Tenma dragged Yakumo a few distance away from the guys.

"Hello." Harima said to Karasuma by the time the girls already sufficiently far, glaring at him.

"Hi." Karasuma answered, oblivious to Harima's glare.

"What's wrong, Nee-san?" Yakumo asked her sister, though she had a vague idea of what this is all about. "What is it that you wanted to discuss with me?"

"Yakumo, remember what I said back at home, okay?" Tenma said seriously. "I want to use this chance to learn about how I should date properly with Karasuma-kun later. So don't be ashamed having me and Karasuma-kun around—just do whatever it is that you both usually did when you and Harima-kun went for dates."

"Nee-san, I…" Yakumo did not know why she bothered again and again trying to explain to her sister the truth behind her relationship with Harima, since her sister wouldn't listen anyway, just like now,

"D---ont be ashamed, okay!" Tenma said earnestly. "If you…erm…, wanted to kiss or anything like that, just do it! Harima-kun is a nice person, so I wouldn't mind if the boy you kiss is him… alright? Help your Nee-san to learn a thing or two about love, 'kay?"

Yakumo did not say anything, but she nodded weakly. She couldn't find a way later to explain this properly to Harima-san. Explaining that due to some sort of misunderstanding, now her sister wanted both she and Harima-san to become some sort of love mentor for her sister.

Not without hurting Harima-san's feelings in some way… and obviously changing her sister's mind now is out of the question…

"Good!" Tenma said cheerfully. "Let's go back to the boys then!"

They both came back to the boys, where Harima was still glaring at Karasuma but Karasuma, as always, was spacing out like there was something interesting at the clouds above that only he could see.

"Right!" Tenma said. "We're done! Let's go!"

Both Harima and Karasuma nodded, and off they go.


8.50 AM, Sunday. The Road to the New Curry Restaurant.

……

"And, the guitar you're playing with at Bunkasai is…"

Tenma, Yakumo, Harima, and Karasuma were all now walking to the new curry restaurant Tenma was talking about. Apparently, the place was close enough from their school so they did not have to take any train or anything to go there.

Tenma talked with Karasuma cheerfully about his guitar or something, while Harima stared gloomily at them from behind (him and Yakumo walked behind Tenma and Karasuma.)

Yakumo felt uneasy about this situation. Walking together with someone clouded with gloomy mood wasn't an enjoyable experience, no doubt; even more so when that person was not talking at all.

This won't do, she said to herself. I'd better talk with Harima-san about something.

But what to talk about?

The only thing that she could think of that connected both of them in some way—besides her sister, of course—was the manga. Yeah, maybe she could talk about the manga.

"Um…, Harima-san?" Yakumo said softly.

"Hm? Oh, yeah?" Harima seemed surprised when Yakumo addressed him. He was too busy staring at Tenma and Karasuma's back that for a while he forgot someone was walking beside him.

"Have you… been working on any new manga, yet?" Yakumo asked.

Harima stared at Yakumo for a while.

…Manga, eh?

Well, this might be a good time to speak about manga with Imouto-san… since he didn't have to watch Tenma and Karasuma, even if it's only for a short while. After all, besides Tenma, manga is one of his greater passions in life. Talking about manga might cheer him up a bit.

Yup.

"Yeah." Harima said confidently. "And it went quite well, too."

"That's great." Yakumo smiled; she felt relieved that her plan—at least for now—worked. The gloomy mood surrounding Harima-san before was gone. "And what's the manga about? …Are you continuing the tale of the Princess and the Knight you showed me back then before the play?"

"Nah." Harima shook his head. "I think after one hundred pages or so, I've ran out of ideas for that one. I mean, after the Knight saved the Princess, the only thing that I could think of if I wanted to continue the story was the Knight somehow got cursed and it's now the Princess' turn to save him."

Yakumo smiled again.

"That doesn't seem like a bad idea." she said. "I mean, it's quite a twist, don't you think so?"

"Yeah, at first I thought of that." Harima waved his hand. "But then again, the readers might probably not. When you think of it, although the role is reversed, the story is pretty much the same—the setting, the idea, etc, etc. One of the golden rules of the manga world is never to give a same story back to the readers over and over again. It will bore them easily."

Yakumo did not know whether such golden rule existed or not, but she nodded all the same. Besides, it seemed to be quite logical.

"So, what's the new manga all about?" Yakumo asked again.

"Oh, did you know the show called The Three Who Were Slashed?" Harima said. "You know, the famous TV show about the greatest three samurai ever lived?"

"Yes." Yakumo answered. "The show is quite popular."

"I am inspired by it." Harima said energetically. "Well, if you are an artist of some sort, you couldn't possibly NOT be inspired after watching such a great show; particularly last night. Three hours of unrivalled greatness!"

"Oh…" Yakumo replied quietly.

It seemed funny, somehow, to see that her Nee-san and Harima-san could share the exact same enthusiasm about an exact same thing. After all, her Nee-san was always this enthusiastic every time she talked about The Three Who Were Slashed. She couldn't imagine how lively it would be should her Nee-san and Harima-san were to talk together about the show.

"Yes, that show is very good."

"Indeed!" Harima nodded approvingly.

"So, your new manga is about samurai?" Yakumo enquired.

"That's the basic idea." he answered serenely. "My manga tells the story about a Ronin samurai who wandered around ancient Japan, helping innocents from the threat of evil-doers with his undefeated ancient style of sword-fighting. Sounds exciting, yeah?"

"Um… y…yes." Yakumo answered, trying her best so that Harima wouldn't be able to figure out that actually for her, that kind of story actually was not something that she would call 'exciting'. "…It sounds interesting."

"Ah, but then I realized that, a story like that has been overused already in many other mangas and animes." Harima continued. "So, I've added a little bit of twist here and there, to make my story unique and different; standing out."

"Oh?" Yakumo replied. This conversation really worked—Harima-san seemed to cheer up quite considerably…, that's good, she thought. "What kind of twist?"

"It's his sword!" Harima exclaimed excitedly. "The sword the samurai wielded is a cursed sword!"

"So, he got cursed?" Yakumo asked.

"Naturally!" Harima answered.

"What kind of curse?" Yakumo continued asking.

"Ou, are you ready to hear this?" Harima said, trembling with excitement as if he was about to reveal a very huge government secret or something like that to Yakumo, "Every time the samurai sees someone directly with his eyes, that someone will be transformed into stone!"

For a moment, Yakumo couldn't gather her thoughts about what she should say in response to that kind of twist.

"I…I see." she finally said. "That is…, quite an… interesting… curse."

"It is, isn't it?" Harima continued, "That is why, the samurai protagonist wore a special sunglasses forged by a magical blacksmith so that the curse wouldn't take any effect every time he stared at someone—because by wearing a sunglasses technically he won't be staring directly, you understand?"

"Um… yes." Yakumo answered, not bothering herself to tell Harima that a samurai in ancient Japan wearing sunglasses might be a little off and inaccurate. "But, at some point of the story the curse should be broken, I presume?"

"Of course!" Harima answered boldly. "That is actually the central of the story; the journey of the hero protagonist to search the land of a way to defeat the curse, when while doing it he also wiped clean all of the evils he encountered."

"So…" Yakumo continued to ask, "How can the hero defeat the curse?"

"Ah." Harima said. "That's actually a surprise, but since it's you, Imouto-san, I guess it's alright to tell you. The only way for the hero to break the curse is to stare directly to the eyes of a woman who is genuinely in love with him!"

"Oh." Yakumo replied quietly. That was no surprise, actually. In fact, the story did resemble the reversed-role of Princess-Knight tale they just talked about before, only in a different setting—of course, Yakumo wouldn't bother to tell Harima-san that.

"I see."

"So what do you think?" Harima asked cheerfully. Talking about his manga really managed to liven up his mood. "Do you think I should add more meat to the story or anything like that? Do you think another twist should be added? Or perhaps you have your own idea about interesting new curses for the hero?"

"Well…" Yakumo said slowly. Curses were something beyond her range of knowledge, obviously, but just for the sake of this conversation only, maybe she could think of something else.

……

"…Wouldn't it be better if the samurai had a companion he's travelling together with?" Yakumo finally said.

"A companion?" Harima said.

He took a small notebook and a small pencil from his pocket. He wrote, under the tab 'New Ideas' in the first page of that notebook, 'a companion for the hero'.

"Ah, this is my personal manga notebook." he quickly explained because Yakumo stared at the notebook questioningly. "I've always brought this with me, because you never know when new ideas might sneak their way up to your mind, right? Should they show up, I use this notebook to write them up."

"Oh… I see…" Yakumo nodded.

Harima-san is really serious about his manga, isn't he?

"So, about this companion…" Harima continued. "What kind of person will it be?"

"Um…" This conversation has turned into some sort of manga discussion session or something, but she didn't mind because it took some of Harima-san's attention away from her Nee-san and Karasuma-sempai. "Perhaps… to make it more interesting, a…… female?"

"A female, you say?" Harima said with one of his eyebrows raised.

For a moment, he seemed to contemplate Yakumo's suggestion.

"Interesting." he said finally. He wrote 'female' under 'a companion for the hero'. "So, what kind of person do you imagine this woman's going to be?"

"Um…" Yakumo mumbled quietly. Judging from Harima's continuous questions, one would think that the one making the manga was not Harima but Yakumo. But she didn't mind. In fact, she's now thinking quite seriously about this matter.

"I imagine the woman is a bit skilled in martial arts too." Harima twiddled his pencil on his hand, staring at the notebook. "Otherwise, she might be a burden for the hero to bring along while he's doing the job banishing evil."

"That will be good…" Yakumo replied. "I think it will be a lot more interesting if…, if the woman is able to stand up for herself in a time of need…"

Harima wrote 'skilled in martial arts'.

"But if she's a samurai too things would become too generic." Harima added. "If the two heroes are samurai, I would probably run out of ideas for their sword skills before my manga is finished."

He turned to Yakumo.

"Any idea of what specialization this woman will have?" he said.

Yakumo thought for a moment.

……

………

"H…how about a witch?" she blurted out the first thing she could think of. For some strange reason, the image of her wearing witch costume during the Bunkasai came out all of the sudden.

"A witch?" Harima exclaimed. He did not seem to expect this kind of answer. "……Well, it's definitely unique…, but why a witch?"

"Um…." Yakumo said; her brain working furiously searching for a proper reasoning, her eyes staring focusedly at the road. "…That's because the samurai is cursed, right? T…that's why he needs someone who is knowledgeable about curses to help him handle the side-effects of the curse during his search for the cure… Otherwise the curse might make the hero out of control or something, doing things he wouldn't do on normal conditions… "

Yakumo stopped for a moment.

"…Um…, something like that." she said.

Even according to herself her words seemed weird. Before, she thought that the idea of a samurai wearing sunglasses during the Edo period was weird, but now instead of a samurai she's suggesting a witch prancing around ancient Japan fighting evils casting magical spells. It was definitely weirder.

She nervously peeked at Harima, to see his reaction regarding her silly idea.

Unexpectedly, though, it seemed like Harima was impressed by her idea.

He patted Yakumo's left shoulder with his free hand with such force all of the sudden, it made her jump a bit.

"That's an impressive suggestion!" Harima said excitedly. "I would have never thought that kind of idea before! Imouto-san, your idea is definitely one of a kind!"

"…Y…you think so?" Yakumo said awkwardly.

"Yeah!" Harima continued. "You really do have a talent for this kind of thing. What an incredible imagination!"

Yakumo felt that Harima's praises for her were entirely misplaced and unnecessary, but nevertheless she muttered a polite, "Thank you." as a reply.

"Then… what about…" Harima added while he's busy scribbling down notes after notes onto his notebook.

The two of them were so deep in conversation; they didn't notice that Tenma was watching both of them from the front.

"Look at them, chatting all happily like that." she said to herself. "I've never thought that I would ever see the day when Yakumo could be that open to a man, but I am happy now that she is."

She changed her view from Harima-Yakumo back to Karasuma. The guy's face was still as expressionless as ever.

"I wish Karasuma-kun could talk a bit more." she continued.

She smiled.

"But I still like him no matter what."


To Be Continued