Setsuna is on her way out the door.
“I’m sorry, Setsuna… I really don’t know what to say…”
“Oh, honestly… Never mind that. You don’t have to see me off. Stay in bed.”
My headache and chills made it difficult to even speak.
But, it was no time to gripe about things like that. When I thought about the horrible thing I’d done to Setsuna…
“You’ve been so busy all week that you’ve barely had time to sleep, haven’t you? You should spend the weekend resting, at least.”
“I know, but… I’ve broken so many promises by now…!”
It was Friday—the day after I skipped out on her birthday party.
In accordance with our once-a-week rule, which I hadn’t been able to fulfill the day before, we had had our rendezvous at my apartment.
I was supposed to then spend today and tomorrow with Setsuna, move to the Ogiso house tomorrow night, and celebrate her birthday with her family for real this time.
“I can’t ask you to do this with me when you’re so tired. You can make it up to me once you’re feeling better.”
The day hadn’t even turned over, and now Setsuna was ready to leave my apartment.
All of the plans for tomorrow with the Ogiso family were cancelled, too.
This week of anniversaries had finally rolled around, and yet we spent a total of two hours together.
And all of it was my fault…
“Come on, don’t get so down. If you let it bother you, you’ll feel even worse.”
He starts to apologize again.
“No, no, no! No more apologizing! Have some dignity! …I guess that’s a bit unfair to say to someone who’s sick. Sorry.”
He tries to tell her he isn’t sick.
It wasn’t totally unreasonable for Setsuna to assume I was sick.
I could barely eat a bite of the dinner she made.
He’s so distracted that half of what she’s said to him has gone in one ear and out the other.
I was unquestionably pale. My forehead was sweating rivers, and I couldn’t stop shaking.
She accuses him of habitually overestimating himself, and orders him to stay in bed for the whole weekend. No working on his days off.
“So, good night, now. Oh! And… Thanks for the present.”
Feebly, he wishes her a happy birthday.
After a final, brief kiss, Setsuna turned around and walked down the hall.
With my physical condition having suddenly taken such a bad turn, she wanted to stay with me and look after me, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world…
But, right now, I couldn’t keep my heart strong enough or bold enough to accept that kindness from her.
What was wrong with me? How could I be okay with something like this…?
Something had been off with me since yesterday… No, since a bit before that.
When I thought about Setsuna…
When I thought of Setsuna, when I worried about Setsuna, when I felt guilt toward Setsuna, when I remembered the secret I was keeping from Setsuna…
When I tried to speak of my love for Setsuna, when I tried to embrace Setsuna, when I tried to betray Setsuna…
My body and heart went out of control. My flesh and spirit couldn’t maintain equilibrium. Everything… ceased to function.
“You have been connected to this number’s answering machine service. Please leave your message after the tone.”
He leaves his message: No number today. Setsuna just left, so Kazusa can come back to her apartment any time. He’ll just be asleep at his place.
He starts to think about how he betrayed Setsuna two days in a row, moving away from the self that wanted her, and toward the self that wanted Kazusa—but then, he has to laugh. What self that wanted Kazusa? He chased her out so he could bring Setsuna in.
As he is right now, he’s not sure he could even let Kazusa in. It could end up being a repeat of what just happened with Setsuna.
Then, as he’s about to open his door, he hears another sound.
It was the sound of the door to the next apartment over… The apartment that wasn’t supposed to have anybody inside.
And there she is.
Kazusa just heard his message. She heard his other one, too, earlier—the one with the number “4,” telling her to leave the apartment.
She never left. She never followed the order.
Haruki is deeply shaken. As fully aware as he was that the order in question was awful, arrogant, thoughtless, cruel, he never imagined that she wouldn’t obey it—and he can’t accept that fact, either.
Because, if Kazusa really was in the apartment next door, then that meant I had done something even more awful than giving that order.
“Wait, were you… Last week, too…?”
“…Sorry, I never did what you told me to. Finding somewhere else to sleep was too much trouble.”
Last week, and the week before that…
Every day that I fulfilled my “once a week” rule with Setsuna… Kazusa had been in the next apartment.
Setsuna’s voice, my voice, our voices at those moments… I had let her hear all of that, loud and clear.
The last person in all the world who should have been allowed to hear it…
Why couldn’t she have kept hiding it? Why did he have to find out about this now?
He knows the fact that he’s getting mad at her for it only makes everything even more awful.
“Because I was desperate to see you. I didn’t want to let this chance slip away…”
But Kazusa doesn’t shy away from being awful herself. In fact, she’s completely brazen about it.
“Because some depraved part of me was flushed all over, certain that you would choose me today, instead of Setsuna…”
All of it was for me. So that I wouldn’t feel any more guilt than I already did.
In order to build up some version of me that had simply been toyed with and used by an awful woman, Kazusa allowed a bold smile to come to the corners of her lips.
“Hey, Haruki… You should come to my room, right now. Or should I go to yours?”
She wants him to make love to her immediately. To endure it with her, in Setsuna’s place.
When he falters, she offers him a different way of looking at it: he should punish her. Discipline this naughty dog, who refused to follow her masters orders.
She tells him to.
Then, she asks him to.
She asks him again. Please.
And it arouses him, just as it does every time she acts tough, every time she talks dirty to provoke him, every time she looks up at him that way, with desire in her eyes. He loses all control and takes her in his arms, full of both excitement and despair.
Because, when Setsuna was here earlier, he didn’t respond.
As they lie together, Kazusa feels Haruki stir inside her again. He apologizes for how naughty the thing is.
“It may be naughty, but it’s a shut-in, too. …It just wants to stay inside me all the time.”
“…I’m kidding, okay? I like it. You can stay right here forever.”
The headache, chills, and nausea all seem to have vanished. The sweat is a different matter, but Kazusa is just as sweaty as he is. The sheets are soaked with it.
Kazusa suggests that he was backed up because he didn’t do it with Setsuna. It is true that he’s come inside Kazusa multiple times during this tryst, with no sign of ebbing.
And he’s still inside her now—not moving, though his body seems to have ideas of its own.
Right now, I was a beast of a man. A completely different me from what I’d been mere hours before.
Really, it wasn’t that he “didn’t” do it with Setsuna. They did everything leading up to it—having dinner, giving presents and Valentine’s day chocolate, getting undressed, kissing, caressing each other—but nothing beyond it.
And yet, now, with Kazusa…
Kazusa tells him she doesn’t mind if he sleeps with both her and Setsuna. She loves Setsuna. She doesn’t even mind that they got engaged, it just took her by surprise a little because it felt so sudden.
Haruki is having a hard time listening to all these lies. She always does this the second it seems like he’s suffering over something.
He suggests they rest. Kazusa asks if they can fall asleep just as they are, with him still inside her.
“I don’t know how it is for men, but… For women… Well, for me right now, I like it a lot. I don’t ever want it to end.”
What Haruki really wants is to hear her talk, because he knows he’s not going to be able to sleep. Not lies, not silence; he just wants to hear her voice, so he can forget everything—the wrong he’s done, the one he did it to.
She tells him to ask her questions, as though he were interviewing her.
Kazusa tells Haruki about how Martin Flügel, who taught both her and Youko at the piano (and to whom she simply refers as “the old man,” in spite of his prestige), didn’t like the idea of her coming to Japan. He thought she might skip out on practicing and lose her heart to some man. Her mother certainly set the precedent for it; that’s how Kazusa was born.
Still, Kazusa was a bit put out at being seen the same way—she never skipped any of the old man’s lessons.
“I practiced on my own time for ten hours a day… Every day. I almost never missed one.”
She’d said it when I was interviewing her. “It’s all your fault.”
“But, when I came to Japan and lost my heart to a man, my first performance was a massive failure.”
And, even with another performance bearing down on her in two weeks, she hadn’t started practicing again. Haruki points out that she was injured at the time.
“But my injury came from my involvement with a man. Even after the injuries healed, the man still had my heart.”
Haruki had a feeling things might head in this masochistic direction, though he was kind of hoping they wouldn’t…
Kazusa wonders how the old man knew this would happen, that she would end up following in her mother’s footsteps this way. It’s not as if she ever talked to him about men, or about Haruki specifically.
“I’m not like my mother. For the past five years, I haven’t let a man get anywhere near me. …You’re the only one I have.”
“I don’t have any interest in other men. From now on, and for the the rest of my life, I never will.”
Haruki tells her not to say things like that. He can’t carry her entire life that way.
“I told you before. There’s only one person in the world who I can call my man.”
“That world is entirely too narrow…”
Even if she was in that man’s embrace at the moment, I still didn’t want to hear her talk in such extremes.
It made me worry for her future. How could it not?
How can she keep talking like this—saying Haruki is the only man for her, and all other men are worthless—if, as they’ve agreed, the two of them only have two weeks left together? Will she be able to find happiness after it’s over?
How can she be so stuck on him, when he’s the most worthless man of all?
“I’m not a good match for you, and I still keep doing these awful things… I hurt you and Setsuna both.”
He tells her he just happened to be the only guy around her five years ago. That was all. He was never anything beyond that.
Kazusa points out that her world five years ago was just as big as Haruki and Setsuna’s. They went to the same school, after all. There were loads of guys around.
But only one of them chose her earnestly, faced her earnestly.
Kazusa was special, and it made some people shrink away from her, some people envy her, some people hate her. It made people look away.
“Setsuna… Out of the hundreds of men who chose her, she chose you.”
“But, for me… From the start, you were the only one who chose me.”
She can’t possibly believe in this idea of a wider world, a world with other men that could be good for her. So, she prefers to keep her feelings for the single man who chose her way back then, back when she was still “ordinary.” Keeping her feelings for him forever.
The way Haruki sees it, he didn’t really understand what made Kazusa special back then. He just saw how attractive she was, and made his attack, and then that misdirected attack wound up hitting certain vital points in his target, purely by accident.
And even now, five years later, the wounds of that time were still throbbing in Kazusa.
Every winter is agony because of it.
How can she possibly enjoy having feelings for him? All he’s done is hurt her and make her sad, over and over and over.
“But…! But, when you’re holding me like this, your feelings come through!”
She doesn’t need him to bind himself to her forever. She just wants these moments, for the flower to bloom before it falls. She tells him that his wish—for her to be happy all her life—has already been granted.
Haruki knows “this is a lie,” but he also knows she’s not going to admit it.
Kazusa suggests they sleep now, just as they are, with her lying on top of him. He welcomes her comforting weight and warmth, the feeling of her, as though she’ll never let go of him.
He hears her muttering: if he would go beyond making the flower bloom, and plant a new seed…
She doesn’t respond when he asks what she means. She could just have been pretending to talk in her sleep.
But he swears to himself not to ask again.
Kazusa attempts to wake Haruki. When he doesn’t respond to her saying his name, she wakes him up by kissing him ardently instead.
She tells him it’s 8:30. He apologizes for sleeping in so late on a Sunday; it may be a day off, but it’s also one of their precious few days together.
She tells him it’s Monday. He said the night before that since he had work in the morning, and would need to get ready, she should just sleep in his apartment with him that night.
Haruki rushes around in a panic. This is a new record for him. He’s supposed to wake up at 6:30 on weekdays. He always does. Now, he’s going to be late for his meeting with Hamada. Kazusa offers to make him “breakfast,” but Haruki flies out the door, in no mood for double entendres.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘It’s the start of the week. How are you?’
‘Did you check your temperature? What was it? Have you been to the doctor?’
‘Haruki-kun, you always grit your teeth through times like these, like nothing is wrong… It worries me. Anyway, make sure you don’t force yourself too hard, okay?’
Haruki reads through these messages from Setsuna while waiting for his train at the station. He replies, tells her he’s fine, his fever has gone down, and he is so, so sorry for what happened last week. He promises to make it up to her, and asks her to give her family his regards.
Somehow he made it to the station in time. He lets Hamada know that he’ll head straight for the conference room as soon as he gets there.
He’s meeting with the editorial department of Ensemble, to discuss the course of action for the special feature on Kazusa Touma. This is his first time bringing something directly to the editors—a big deal. Sure, it’s probably in large part because of Youko Touma’s connections, but he fully intends to make use of this chance he’s been given.
The timing is down to the wire: this feature has to be put out while excitement over Kazusa’s performance is still high. And he can only expect so much support out of Hamada and his usual colleagues, which means this is shaping up to be a very long, grueling week.
He wonders how everything will end up.
Setsuna. The Ogiso family. The future. Our promise.
But thinking about all of that won’t help him right now. Right now, he needs to work on getting things back in order, in whatever ways he can.
First, to the office, and then to work. I needed to return to my normal, natural daily routine.
My true routine…
So, I tightened up my legs, rose from the bench, and boarded the train…
Kazusa stands in the smoke-filled kitchen, wondering how Haruki always makes cooking look so easy.
“This alarm bell… How do you turn it off?”
“…Maybe Haruki was right. It’s better if I don’t try to do my own cooking…”
Haruki, having just entered the apartment, agrees aloud, startling Kazusa.
From the burning smell hanging around outside the entryway, I knew I was about to be greeted by the same tragedy as a few days prior.
Kazusa wants to know why he isn’t at work.
“We can talk later! Hurry up and open the window!”
Haruki redoes the toast himself, this time to a light golden-brown.
Burning a fried egg could be explained by a lack of skill, maybe, but charring toast black would require a pretty serious attention deficit…
She may have possessed skills on a world-class level, but her strong and weak points were as clear-cut as those of a comic book character.
Kazusa asks again why he came back. Haruki says he forgot to take his recorder with him. Says he wanted to refer to what she said about her piano teacher last week. Says he whispered what he remembered into the recorder himself, while Kazusa was asleep.
He feels her eyes boring into his back as he’s frying the eggs and realizes that even he doesn’t think his answer just now felt natural.
Haruki is supposed to head back to work after this, and Kazusa is supposed to go and practice. The atmosphere turns awkward in a way that there wasn’t time for earlier, as he was rushing out the door. Quiet. Weird and desolate. Like each of their hearts is reaching out to grab the other by the sleeve, stop them from going.
Haruki breaks the silence.
Wondering which would start the conversation, and how it would reach a resolution, wavering back and forth, I searched for the words…
“Actually… I got an exemption from my boss. He said that if I just gave him a simple report over the phone, I wouldn’t have to come in today.”
Ultimately, I fell upon the easy road.
A calm, green road, the most comfortable one for me, with no strife or discord.
“Apparently he’s going to be out gathering material this afternoon, so we wouldn’t have been able to have a full meeting anyway.”
“And I’m effectively on a business trip as it is. …Reacting to Kazusa Touma, you know.”
So, she says, what he’s doing here right now is… part of his work?
“Well, of course, I wouldn’t want it to be just that… I did come back here with work to do. …Developing that interview with you from last week, for example.”
“What I mean is, I’m going to be in my apartment today. I can do this work anywhere, as long as I can access my email.”
Kazusa asks whether he might work in her apartment instead. Promises she won’t bother him. She’ll sit in the corner of the apartment if she’s going to be too much of a distraction.
He tells her she doesn’t have to go that far, but he would rather she didn’t try to make him coffee or anything, lest she spill it on his computer. What he doesn’t do is ask about her practicing.
This is the calmest, most comfortable road for Kazusa, too. The only road that allows the two of them to be alone together.
In that way, I affirmed Kazusa’s escape.
I had no right to criticize it, after all.
I, who had come scurrying back to our own little world after half an hour outside it.
Haruki prepares to get to work.
“Aren’t you going to use your recorder?”
“I’m just going to keep all of it in my head for now.”
Even I was disgusted by how shoddy that excuse was.
“Wow… Yeah, that’s something you can do, huh.”
But Kazusa just expressed her admiration, and set her head on my left shoulder with a thump.
Haruki asks if he can write what Flügel thought of the Toumas—about the true skill that allowed them to win major competitions easily.
He also wants to include the part about how Kazusa never skipped a lesson, unlike her mother, though Kazusa feels like that would make her look far inferior to her mother. Kazusa, the hard worker. Her mother, the naturally gifted. He tells her he kind of likes that “inferiority” anyway.
Kazusa, in a bit of a sulk, starts bumping her head against his shoulder repeatedly. If she really managed to reach the same rank as her mother by surpassing her in sheer effort, then how does one explain the fact that she skipped so much school?
“What, would you rather the world thought you were a natural genius?”
“I’ve told you already, I don’t care how anybody thinks of me, apart from you.”
She’s still bumping her head against him, bugging him for attention.
“So, what about my assessment of ‘Kazusa Touma, the inferior’? That’s connected with what I think of you, right?”
“Half of me is pissed off, half of me is frustrated… And, half of me is happy.”
Haruki can’t help but point out that that comes out to three halves. Kazusa ignores it.
“You’re even more ‘inferior’ than I am, compromising your position in life to protect someone inferior like me…”
As I turned to her, she kissed me lightly on the lips, then set her head against my shoulder once more.
This time, she didn’t bump into me over and over—just pushed her hair tightly against me.
That latter comment wasn’t really of the level that I could put in an interview article, but…
Maybe it was the sort of third-rate article that I could save forever in my memories, in the memories the two of us had.
Kazusa asks if she’s annoying him, leaning on him like this. He can endure this much, right? Since they’ve only got two weeks left.
He assures her there’s nothing to “endure” about it. Ever since the day they crossed the line, the feeling of her skin, of her body heat, has never caused him any trouble. In fact, it’s contact with her—skin on skin, lips on lips, even deeper—that brings peace and stability back into his heart.
The exaltation of melting together surpassed the guilt of betrayal, making me want to do the same thing over again, twice, three times.
But, maybe that was similar to the exaltation of getting into a drug with a high risk of dependency.
As if in a fever, he takes Kazusa in his arms and pushes her down onto the floor. He wants to feel her, touch her, smell her.
Sure, it’s only ten in the morning. That means they’ve got fourteen hours still ahead of them.
This is what Haruki does to remain himself.
What I felt when the high-dependency drug known as “Kazusa” wore off…
The dizziness, headache, and heart palpitations that assailed me even this morning, the moment I started to board the train… I would drive all of that out of my body’s memory.