At the Edge of the World
Disclaimer: CCS is not mine.
Chapter Forty One – Sonomi
I wake before my alarm, nestled deep in a cocoon of blankets. My body, legs drawn to foetal position, has warmed the mattress. I'd like to stretch out but am put off by the knowledge that everything beyond this circumference will be freezing. The autumn chill has settled without my realising it. Wasn't it only just summer? Surely we should be afforded some sort of transitory period, to accommodate to the changing weather? I should probably pull these blankets off my head; get some fresh air.
I hear the sound of running water. I turn, eyes still full of sleep, to Nadeshiko, and see that her bed is empty. A quick glance at my bedside table tells me that the alarm will not go off for another fifteen minutes. The sun is still a thin, burning line on the horizon. Nadeshiko emerges from the bathroom, her face glistening with water. Her eyelashes have clumped together. I watch as she presses a towel to her skin and draws it up around her neck. Her feet are bare against the wooden floor and make no noise when she moves softly past our beds to the dresser. As she brushes her hair she sees me in the mirror, and notices that I am awake.
"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"
I shake my head. The blankets around my ears rustle loudly. She smiles, then moves to turn off our alarm.
"You're up early," I croak by way of observation. I try very hard to keep my tone even and uncoloured by suspicion.
"I wanted to work on a few pieces before class began."
Nadeshiko starts pulling on her uniform. There's something strange and other-worldly about the scene – it begs not to be touched - as if she were a nymph or a fairy who could vanish in an instant. Perhaps it's just the light. I watch the gentle slope of her arms shift as she moves; find myself oddly drawn to the goosebumps rising on her skin in the morning chill.
Then her foot gets caught in her skirt and she almost falls face-first to the floor.
I roll my eyes, and hide my grin under the covers. I decide that I am too tired and that she is too endearing to inquire further.
Third period – English - is spent in the library because Ayuzawa-sensei is absent. Worksheets have been faxed over to be completed during the lesson, but Nadeshiko has (irresponsibly) opted to spend her time in the studio. I am terribly bored in her absence, but am determined to get the darn thing over and done with like the good little Honors student that I am. I look down at my paper, resting my head in my hands. The little black characters blur and swim across the page when I squint my eyes. I wish I could be outside, but it looks like it's about to rain.
Alright, Sonomi. Focus.
Please write a summary (in english) of an english book of your choice (500 words). Due next week.
Oh, Lord. With a tired sigh, I heave my body out of its seat and make my way through the stacks. I don't know much about english literature. What would be good? What would be easiest? I'm in no frame of mind to take on a challenge. I hover by the classics. If I chose of one these, at least I'd be guaranteed to find a Japanese translation. Or perhaps something simpler – a children's book?
"You might try 'The Little Prince'."
Startled, I step back and nearly stumble into Kinomoto-Sensei, smiling benignly.
"Whoops," he says, voice just above a hush. "Mind your step!"
"It's been a while, eh, Amamiya-san?"
I nod. Neither of us speaks for a long moment. There's a fleck of dirt on the carpet by my shoe that seems incredibly interesting. Yes, I'd much rather look at that than Kinomoto-Sensei's stupid face. We haven't spoken in so long that this encounter seems strangely suspicious. Was he lying in wait for me? A snake in the grass? I look up again and his pleasant expression remains unchanged. Hah. As if.
"Did you need something, Sensei?"
No sense in beating 'round the bush.
"Not particularly," he says, "but I was wondering how you were doing. Then I noticed you here. Are you looking for something to read?"
No, I'm leafing through books in the library stacks because I was actually feeling like a light snack. I turn away from him and continue browsing.
"We have to write a book review."
"Any book in particular?"
"Then I stand my ground. 'The Little Prince'. It's a favourite of mine. It manages to be both simple and profoundly complex in the best way."
"What's it about?" I ask before I can stop myself.
"Hm? A pilot crash-lands in the desert and meets an alien prince who's trying to get back home."
Kinomoto Sensei smiles in that curious, unreadable way. I want to slap him. "Only on the surface. In truth, it is one of the most honest and beautiful things I've ever read."
"Even though you're an adult?"
He permits a quiet chuckle. "Perhaps especially so. Would you like me to help you find it?"
A quick glance tells me he is being sincere. No snake in the grass today, then.
"Wonderful," he says.
We walk together to the children's books. Kinomoto Sensei leads with some tedious historical text in hand, one long finger keeping place between the pages. I stare guardedly at the span of his back, trying to gauge his intentions. The fabric of his shirt is creased like a spiderweb. I wonder where he's left his jacket, then chastise myself for thinking about something so irrelevant.
"How are you doing these days, Amamiya-san?"
"Huh? Oh. I'm doing well."
He pauses by a shelf and picks out our book, then turns to me. His expression is one of concern, eyebrows meeting in a crease.
"Things okay at home?"
I look up confusedly. "I'm fine."
Kinomoto Sensei's features relax. I reach out my hand for the book, but he does not hand it to me.
"Don't be angry, Amamiya-san. I only ask because I haven't seen much of you lately – especially now that the play's done."
"Yeah, well, all things must end."
"Indeed. I was only worried that I had done something to offend you."
Instead of speaking I reach out for the book again. Kinomoto Sensei relinquishes it. When I look at him his eyes are kind. He turns on his heel and begins to walk away.
"Tell me what you think of it! Don't be a stranger!"
As he turns the corner, I feel my lips twitch and smile despite myself.
Mizuki's hair sticks up at the back. I notice this as Nadeshiko laments the presence of mud on her skirt – the product of sitting inside a flower bed rather than outside it.
"Oh, bother!" she exclaims, twisting round to view the offending stain. She pulls at the back of her skirt and the hem rises above her knees. What an idiot.
"I'll be right back," she says, "just need to wash this off. Wait for me, 'kay?"
We are three-quarters of the way through our lunch break, unwisely having chosen to sit outside after a long, damp morning (rather, Nadeshiko wanted to eat outside, and didn't listen to me when I told her it was a bad idea - as usual - and now she's got mud all over her butt. Karma is real). Although still seemingly entranced by Mizuki's ridiculous hair, all I can think about is my encounter with Kinomoto-Sensei. What did he want from me? Why am I so flustered? What does any of this mean? Should I talk to Nadeshiko about it? For some reason, I'm reluctant to do so.
"You sure make some interesting expressions," says Mizuki, flopping next to me. "Urgh, mud!"
"How's it going?"
I think about Kinomoto. "What does it mean when someone you haven't been speaking to tries to be friends with you again?"
Mizuki gives me a disbelieving look. "It means they want to be friends with you."
"But what if you weren't even really friends to begin with?"
"Is this a boyfriend or something?"
"No!" I shout, hotly.
"Right. But it's someone you're in love with?"
"Then I don't understand what the problem is. Surely if someone wants to be your friend, then you should just let them?"
"I mean, what else could this person want from you?"
I wrack my brains for possibilities. Nadeshiko's face flashes in my mind's eye. No way, I think. "Er..."
Mizuki wipes his hands on his trousers. "Maybe it's not something that's meant to be analysed. Perhaps you should just go with it?"
"Maybe...unless the whole thing is just a coincidence that I'm reading too much into. We ran into each other at the library. It's unlikely he was lurking behind a shelf, waiting for me to show up."
"There's no such thing as coincidence," says Mizuki very seriously. "Only hitsuzen." He looks at me as if there is a weight of wisdom behind his eyes. For someone who gives off the impression of being simple, he is surprisingly enigmatic.
"I'm going to take your advice," I tell him, after a moment of consideration.
"Good thing, too. If you ask me, you could use a few more friends."
"I have friends!"
"Hmph. You're ridiculous."
He raises his eyebrows as if to say: "You know I'm right." For a moment I seriously consider pushing him into a flowerbed. Piece said, Mizuki stands up and makes a motion to leave, but I interrupt.
"Hey, are we friends?"
He looks at me again, his expression thoughtful. A beat. "Yeah, I'd say so." Then he grins. I mirror him. "See you around."
I wave, and turn just in time to see Nadeshiko hurrying back. In addition to the dirt she's missed, there is also a massive damp patch on the back of her skirt that makes her look like she's had an accident. All of the sudden I see the lighter side of everything, and, in the wake of her bewilderment, succumb to side-splitting laughter.