Case of the Spring-Exclusive Strawberry Tart Chapter 1: Sheep’s Clothing (Full Text)

C

Prologue | Contents | Chapter 2

Table of Contents

1

If someone asked if I have confidence in myself, I would have answered in the negative.

Unless the one asking that question was a god and could guarantee that no one would think badly of me even if I told the truth. If so, I would have likely said that “I didn’t even consider the chance of failing.”

Funado High School was known as a highly selective school in the area. That said, since it was a public school, the number of examinees was regulated by the middle schools, so it had an acceptance rate of more than 80%. The numbers of the successful applicants were posted in front of the gymnasium. I went over to look at the numbers with a light-hearted air, as if I were viewing the cherry blossoms nearby, and soon found my number. I let out a small sigh, showing that I still had some degree of anxiety.

In any case, I was done with myself. However, I couldn’t relax just yet. I was still worried about another person, the comrade I had a promise with. We came here together, so she should be around here somewhere… but the crowd of people in front of the notice board made it impossible to spot her. This is hopeless. After all, this partner of mine is a tiny person, and on top of that she doesn’t stand out. I gave up searching for her with my eyes, then went a distance away from the chaos. I took out my mobile phone and started sending an email. The name registered for the address was “Osanai Yuki Mobile”.

“I passed. What about you, Osanai-san?”

The reply read,

“Where are you now?”

I spun around, searching for a landmark. It was only my second time here, with the first being the time I took the examination. After having a dilemma about which landmark to use, I replied as such:

“I’m heading for the school gate.”

“I’ll be there soon.”

With our communication complete, I kept my flip phone in my pocket. The emails we exchange are always short. Osanai-san doesn’t use face marks or emoji, and neither do I. Quite a while ago, I asked her about it, and apparently she doesn’t use that sort of thing to match my tastes. Which one of us has genuinely simple tastes, and which one of us is following the other? I think both of us are split fifty-fifty on those two traits.

Many other people were also meeting near the school gate. It seems that Osanai-san isn’t here yet… That was what I thought, when the top half of a small girl dressed in a sailor uniform peeked out from the shadow of the unappealing, concrete school gate. Who is she hiding from? I waved a hand at that girl, and lightly darted towards her. Once I had reached her, she spoke in a faint voice.

“Me too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Kobato-kun, you passed, right?”

Ah, I see. With that, I produced a wide smile.

“So you passed as well. That’s good.”

“Yes… I’ll be in your care from now on.”

It was a perfectly normal conversation that wouldn’t be troubling even if overheard by others. Even so, Osanai-san maintained her hushed voice, as if mindful of her surroundings.

Her name was Osanai Yuki. Aside from her small body, there was nothing about her outer appearance that stood out at all. She had narrow eyes, thin lips, and a small nose. The parts that made up her face, as well as her face itself, were all small. If pressed, I’d say that her ears were like fukumimi1. She had an amasogi2 hairstyle, and as if to match her thin frame, her hands and legs were slender. She was so petite that she could get onto a bus with an elementary school student’s fee. On top of the middle school sailor uniform, she was wearing a milk-colored cardigan. As for the atmosphere she gave off… she was like a small animal, a description that she liked herself.

I got to know Osanai-san from early summer of my third year in middle school.

A weak breeze blew past. It was close to spring, and while the cherry blossoms were already blooming, the air between Osanai-san and I was still quite cold. I shivered. There was no need for us to be here until the opening ceremony.

“It’s cold, so I’ll be heading home.”

“Me too.”

Osanai-san replied, then thought for a while.

“It’s cold, huh.”

“Exactly, which is why I said I’m going home.”

“How about something warm to celebrate our passing of the exam?”

That was a great suggestion. I don’t know much about this area, but Osanai-san should know a shop or two. I was about to agree and say, “Let’s go” without a second thought, when an unexpected voice was directed toward me.

“Hello.”

I looked up to see a tawdry-looking man clad in a rose gray windbreaker and holding a notebook in his hand. He had on a russet armband with the word “Reporter” in white lettering. Osanai-san immediately whirled around and hid behind me. That was a swift reaction. The man took a short glance at her, then faced me and spoke in an almost expressionless voice.

“It seems that you’ve passed. Congratulations. Could you spare a bit of your time?”

He wants to interview me? I see.

I instantly responded with a smile.

“Sorry, I still have some business to settle.”

Leaving those words, I quickly walked towards the crowd of people without waiting for a reply. Osanai-san also followed behind closely. It’s not like I especially distrusted the mass media, but I would rather not be involved with them. Osanai-san should also share that sentiment, but after we had covered a sufficient distance, she looked up at me with her eyebrows clouded in unease.

“Kobato-kun… do you think that person was angry?”

Also curious about that, I took a glance over my shoulder. The reporter was not pursuing us at all, and instead seemed to be scanning his surroundings for his next target.

“I think he’s fine. Even if he did get angry, I imagine it would be part of his job.”

“…Right.”

Even as she nodded, her expression did not thaw.

Professor Clark3 left the words, “Be gentlemen” to the students of Hokkaido University. Osanai-san and I also have a similar-sounding motto, but at a lower social class compared to “gentlemen”. It is “Be petit bourgeois4.” For the sake of everyday peace and stability, Osanai-san and I were to firmly play our roles as little citizens. But that expression was a little imprecise to describe our habits. Osanai-san would usually hide, while I would play it off.

To be a petit bourgeois, one has to watch television and read the newspapers. Making an appearance in either medium would be out of the question. We have absolutely no intention of answering in a dubious interview which may or may not be used as material. However, being a hindrance to others’ work and earning their ire is also unbefitting of a petit bourgeois. That was why we were relieved upon seeing the attitude of the man in the windbreaker.

Even so… I stopped moving and turned around to face the school gate once again. Osanai-san looked at me quizzically.

“What’s the matter?”

“No, nothing much, just that we escaped in a bad direction.”

It would be a little awkward to walk past that man again after we’d just escaped from the school gate, and I hate awkward situations. There should be other exits, but I didn’t know where they were. As I was thinking about what to do, Osanai-san hid behind me again.

“…Don’t move, Kobato-kun.”

I looked around, and realized what she was hiding from.

Naturally, many of my schoolmates from middle school had taken the entrance exam here. Up till now, I had passed a few familiar faces. Osanai-san must have spotted such a schoolmate, and I understand why she would want to hide behind my back. She would certainly feel like running away if she passed while her schoolmate hadn’t.

Come to think of it, Osanai-san’s voice was many times softer than usual when we met at the school gate. That was probably because there were other students who had failed to make the cut. Indeed, while we’re comrades walking down the path of the petit bourgeois, I’m falling behind Osanai-san in terms of consideration towards others. Appreciating her concerns, I followed her request, and stood still.


Quite some time had passed since the numbers of the successful applicants had been released. While the excitement of the crowd was gradually cooling down, there were still shouts of “Banzai!” here and there that lacked Osanai-san’s consideration. Speaking of which, it would be more accurate to say that whatever lingering enthusiasm had already died down. Just as I was thinking that it was about time to move off and have something warm as promised, a voice called out.

“Hey, you over there!”

That rude line was delivered by an impudent voice. Osanai-san immediately stiffened, and I was also fairly surprised. I don’t remember being called in such an abrupt fashion before. For the time being, I meekly turned around.

The person standing in front of me was a boy with a rowdy look that corresponded with his voice. He had wide shoulders, a tough body and was quite a lot taller than me. His presence here meant that he was in the same year as me, as well as Osanai-san. If the two of them were to be photographed together, I’m sure the caption would be “The Effect of Nutrition on Physical Development”. Both sides of his head had been trimmed clean of hair, causing his entire head, which already sported a squarish face, to look cubical. I turned towards him and broke into a sincere, hearty smile.

“Well, well!”

“That’s what you say to me? What a horrible greeting.”

“It’s way better than suddenly shouting ‘Hey, you over there!’ Anyway, long time no see, Kengo!”

Kengo just snorted, not showing any particular form of deep affection. It stood to reason that Kengo and I were old acquaintances, but thinking about it, we weren’t exactly friends.

“So you also applied for Funa High?”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“So, did you get in?”

“Somehow.”

“I see,” Kengo replied with a nod. He didn’t exactly frown, but put on a sour face as he folded his arms.

“Since you use your head, I knew you would never fail… Seems like we’re in the same school again.”

Kengo passed as well, huh. Congratulations to him, then.

By the way, Osanai-san was shying away from Kengo. Naturally, she tended to do that more to males, not to mention that the masculine Kengo was probably the type of person she couldn’t deal with. Yet again, she was gripping onto the hem of my fleece jacket and shrinking away. I often wonder if Osanai-san would be able to live an easier, more convenient life if she walked around with something to cover her face, like a cardboard box, for instance.

I turned back to look at Osanai-san, and smiled.

“He might look stern, but he’s not scary at all, Osanai-san.”

A frown finally showed on Kengo’s face.

“Who’s not scary?”

“Ah, sorry. Perhaps you were scary after all.”

“I’m just saying, don’t introduce me by using the standard of whether I’m scary or not.”

“You’re right, yeah. Sorry, I didn’t mean any ill intent.”

But the harder I tried to defend myself in all sincerity, the suspicious look on Kengo’s face only grew more pronounced.

“You…”

He started, but then swallowed his words.

Since he didn’t continue, I had no choice but to introduce him.

“Osanai-san, this is Doujima Kengo. We were in the same elementary school.”

After receiving the introduction, Osanai-san reluctantly exposed her whole body to Kengo. She bowed politely.

“Kengo, this is Osanai-san. We were in the same middle school, and we’re friends.”

Kengo, on the other hand, was exceedingly sincere. He unfolded his arms, then puffed out his chest and gave his name again.

“Nice to meet you, Osanai-san. You must be a patient person if you’re friends with Jougorou. I’m Doujima Kengo. It seems that we’ll be schoolmates, so please treat me well.”

What a cruel remark. Also, Osanai-san didn’t say anything about passing the exam.

It might have been affected to some degree by their height difference, but Osanai-san was looking at Kengo with considerably upturned eyes. Since she seemed to be having a hard time conversing with him, I thought about helping her out, but even with her stiff countenance, she still managed a smile, as well as a small nod.


As we’d discussed earlier, we went to one of Osanai-san’s favorite coffee shops and ordered something hot. I had coffee, while Osanai-san had hot lemonade and a strawberry tart on the side. It was a small-sized tart, well within the definition of a petit cake.

Wrapping both palms around the cup filled with lemonade, Osanai-san heaved a sigh. She then removed her scarlet muffler and placed it on her knee. To warm up her freezing fingertips, she repeatedly stroked the cup, then finally took a sip. Using a fork, she cut off a slice from the end of the strawberry tart and brought it to her mouth. For an instant, her usually gloomy countenance was bathed in delight. Seeing that, I laughed.

“Is it tasty?”

Osanai-san nodded deeply. She drank the lemonade for a short while, then tilted her head to the side.

“Yes, it is, but…”

“But?”

She replied with a muffled voice.

“I know an even tastier strawberry tart.”

“Uh huh.”

Since I wasn’t a fan of sweet things, I couldn’t help but give a perfunctory response. Even so, I followed the flow of conversation and asked a question.

“Where?”

A natural smile formed on Osanai-san’s lips.

“‘Alice’ has spring-exclusive strawberry tarts. They’re filled to the brim with strawberries. I’m definitely buying them this year.”

Filled to the brim with strawberries? That doesn’t sound very appetizing, I thought. Then again, Osanai-san would only smile like this when talking about something sweet.

Not wanting to rain on her parade, I replied saying that it seemed delightful.

Despite Osanai-san’s slow savoring of the small tart, it disappeared within ten minutes. During that time, I had also finished my coffee, leaving only a bit near the bottom. With the tart gone and a gloomy expression returned to Osanai-san’s face, she started asking a question hesitatingly.

“By the way, Kobato-kun.”

“Yes?”

“What kind of person is Doujima-kun?”

That’s a difficult question. I’m far from proficient at summarizing a person’s characteristics in a single phrase. I unintentionally replied with another question.

“Interested in him?”

Osanai-san looked down, then peeked at me with upturned eyes. She was probably holding back because I was a friend of Kengo. I smiled and waited for her to speak.

Her voice was so small that it came out as a whisper.

“That person… He seemed really pushy towards you. It might be bad to say this of someone I met for the first time, but he seemed overbearing.”

I can understand her concern. She must have sensed that air in our relationship. Indeed, Kengo does come off that way sometimes.

“You’re right. If he hasn’t changed in the three years since I last saw him, he’s a relatively meddlesome guy.”

“……”

The expression on Osanai-san’s face, which was already quite dark, clouded over even more. She was probably feeling that a dark cloud was hanging over her upcoming high school life. I could understand her sentiments, but I felt like defending Kengo for a bit.

“You don’t need to worry. He’s a good guy, that Kengo.”

I instantly realized that it was a stupid thing to say. As expected, Osanai-san shook her head.

“I’m even more worried that you said he’s a good guy… he won’t let me go. You’ve said that bad people are easier to handle, haven’t you?”

Ah, I see.

However, Kengo isn’t the type of “good guy” that we’re afraid of. He’s not a person who would corner us under the slogan “for the sake of…” Of course, he’s not a bad guy, either. How should I explain this?

Noticing my silence, Osanai-san hurriedly spoke.

“Are you thinking about what to say? It’s fine, you don’t have to bother. If he’s a person you can think of as a friend, he’ll probably leave us be.”

“…Yes, that’s what I think.”

Realizing that I’d given a half-hearted answer, I slowly drained the rest of my coffee. Osanai-san followed suit by taking a sip of her lemonade. Kengo and I did not exactly get along well, but I acknowledged him as a person. If possible, I wouldn’t want Osanai-san to harbor ill feelings towards Kengo, but that’s for her to decide. I shall not intervene.

Soon after, our cups became empty.

As if having made up her mind, Osanai-san spoke with determination.

“Kobato-kun, if you ever need to escape from something, use me as an excuse. You don’t need to worry about me.”

I put on a light grin.

“Of course. That’s exactly what I’ll do.”

There was no need for her to confirm at this point of time, since it was a promise that we had made. Just as I would use Osanai-san as an excuse, Osanai-san would use me as an excuse. I would use Osanai-san as a shield, and she would in turn use me as a shield. By doing that, we would create a peaceful time for us.

We would soon become high school students. We cannot let this chance go to waste.

Our bounding journey towards becoming the perfect petit bourgeois was beginning.


2

And thus, our high school life started peacefully.

For the start of the school year, most of the new students decided to just wait and see. Some observed, while others investigated and polished their basic strategies to build up human relations. Of course, there were also those who threw a strong punch right off the bat, but I managed to successfully distance myself from them.

Eventually, my classmates started gradually catching glimpses of each other’s true personalities. It was a peaceful day after school in the middle of June.

It had been raining in the day, so the ground was still wet with puddles of water. With Osanai-san accompanying me, I was walking down the staircase from the fourth floor, where the first-year classrooms were located.

“In town…”

Osanai-san started.

“…There’s a new crepe store. I’m looking forward to trying it.”

“Looking forward? In the present continuous?”

“Yes, I haven’t gone there yet, since I hate crowded places. Although I think it’s still crowded…”

I smiled.

“Shall we go together?”

“You’ll come with me?”

I was about to suggest visiting the store as we went home from school, when my phone vibrated. I retrieved it to find that it was not caused by an email, but by a phone call. After signalling for Osanai-san to wait for a moment, I answered the call.

“…Kengo?”

On the other side of the connection, Kengo spoke in an excessively loud voice.

“Jougorou? Are you still in school?”

“Yeah, I was about to head home.”

“I need a hand. Help me out.”

 Hmm. If he’s asking me to lend a hand so suddenly, something must have cropped up. I’ve just made a prior engagement, but I would feel bad for turning down his request. I looked questioningly at Osanai-san, who tilted her head a little to the side.

“How long will it take?”

She asked.

“How long do you think it will take?”

“How long… About thirty minutes, I’d say.”

“Thirty minutes, huh…”

I looked at Osanai-san again. This time, she looked down in a slightly downcast manner, and said that she would wait. She could have gone home first, but since she said she would wait, I’ll have her wait for me.

“Understood. I can help if it’ll take only about thirty minutes. It’ll be bad if it goes longer than that, though.”

“You have something else on? I won’t ask you to help any longer than thirty minutes, then. You’re at the shoe lockers, aren’t you? If so, come on over to the east-side staircase on the second floor.”

He hung up. Just to be sure, I asked Osanai-san if she would come with me, but as expected, she lightly shook her head.


If you view Funado High School from the top, you would see the character エ, with one horizontal stroke tilted to the left, and another to the right. Those horizontal strokes are known as the North Block and South Block. Since the first-year shoe lockers are in the North Block, Kengo must be referring to the second floor in the North Block.

Which one is the east-side staircase? There are signs to both the North Block and South Block, so I wouldn’t be confused over them. On top of that, there were signs on the staircase landings that said things like “1F – W” and “3F – E” which I was really thankful for.

I arrived at the agreed place to see Kengo clad in the deep green school regulation tracksuit, standing with his arms folded. Around him were two male students and one female student. One male student was wearing a tracksuit like Kengo, while the other was wearing a tsume-eri5, like me. The female student was in a sailor uniform. The male student in the school uniform and the female student in the sailor uniform had a badge on their collar and chest respectively, so I could tell that they were first-year students. That meant that the other student in the tracksuit was probably not an upperclassman.

Each of them had a difficult expression on their face.

“This seems serious.”

Kengo was also frowning.

“Well, somewhat.”

“You wanted a hand?”

“Yeah.”

Kengo nodded and unlinked his arms.

“There’s something we want to find: a pochette.”

A pochette, huh.

That can’t be owned by Kengo. I looked at the girl in the sailor uniform behind Kengo. It might not be a praiseworthy thing to say things about someone’s personality based on their outer appearance, but she seemed to give the impression of being spaced out. She had well-built, mature facial features, and I would describe her as a fragile Japanese beauty. That said, she’s definitely no match for Osanai-san in the fragility department.

Noticing my gaze, Kengo nodded.

“It’s her pochette. It was stolen.”

…Ah, that’s certainly serious.

Having a theft occur in school is not exactly unthinkable, but what makes it serious is that it caught Doujima Kengo’s attention. With his arms folded, fists clenched and a frown on his cubical face, Kengo spoke.

“So there are people here who do petty things like stealing a girl’s bag.”

“That’s petty?”

I asked, but Kengo stared at me.

“What do you mean by that?”

“No, I didn’t particularly mean anything by that.”

I started by playing it off, as usual. But Kengo didn’t believe those words, and instead jerked his chin, as if saying, “Explain.” Having no choice, I continued.

“I was just thinking that if there was money in that pochette, then it wouldn’t just be petty, but it would be a crime.”

“It’s a crime even if there was no money inside… But I suppose you’re right. Yoshiguchi, what items of monetary value were inside the bag?”

Yoshiguchi was the name of the female victim. Contrary to my impression from her appearance, she answered the question crisply and clearly.

“No, there were only things like lip cream, ball-point pens, and scissors. Ah, there was also a notebook, I think.”

“That’s all?”

“Yup, that’s all. I didn’t put anything else inside.”

With their relaxed exchange, Yoshiguchi-san and Kengo were probably from the same middle school. Anyway, there was apparently nothing of monetary value in the pochette. Meaning…

No, I’m not required to think here. If that’s the case, I shouldn’t think about it. Kengo only asked me to lend a hand. After looking at the two waiting male students in succession, I asked Kengo.

“I understand that a pochette was stolen. What are you planning to do by gathering so many people?”

“…You’re being strangely honest.”

I shrugged. Kengo frowned for an instant, but returned to normal in the next.

“I did say that it was stolen, but we still don’t know if that’s what really happened. It might have been hidden, for example. We were about to conduct a search of the entire school.”

 I see. That’s quite a calm response.

That must mean that the other two male students were                volunteers for the search squad. They were either nosy like Kengo, or were forcefully dragged over by him. One of them was built firmly and looked like he did judo or some kind of martial art, while the other was of medium height and built, and had a subservient-looking smile on his face.

“That’s how it is. Help us.”

I smiled upon hearing Kengo’s words.

“Yeah, sure, if it’s for something like this. I don’t think it’ll even take thirty minutes.”

Yoshimoto-san turned towards me.

“Thank you, er…”

“Kobato.”

“Kobato-kun.”

You’re welcome. It’s just some simple work, after all.

“So, about the pochette we’re finding. Yoshiguchi?”

Kengo asked. Yoshiguchi-san extended her arms about thirty centimeters apart. That’s quite large for a pochette.

“It’s about this big… Also, it’s deep red in color, has a thin shoulder strap and has white lining.”

I was planning to stay silent, but I instinctively spoke up.

“When did you lose it?”

“It was there until the sixth period, which was physical education. When we returned from that class, it was gone.”

I see. So she didn’t just lose it somewhere.

“Hmm, red and white, huh.”

Kengo muttered as he stroked his chin and nodded repeatedly.

“…Right, let’s begin. I’ll take the first floor. Shimomura, you’re on the third floor; Jougorou, the second floor. Takada, you do the fourth floor.”

Based on their gestures of acknowledgement, Shimomura was the one who was smiling, and Takada was the well-built one. The two of them walked up the stairs, while Kengo called out to me, “I’m counting on you!” before heading down the stairs, leaving me and Yoshiguchi-san. Before starting the search, I turned to Yoshiguchi-san with an ingratiating smile.

“Yoshiguchi-san, was it? It must be rough, huh.”

She replied, “Yes,” in an almost inaudible voice. Without dropping the smile, I continued.

“About the pochette, did Kengo… I mean, did Doujima forcibly call for a search?”

I noticed Yoshiguchi-san’s countenance suddenly relax. With a sigh, she replied.

“No, he didn’t force anything. I’m thankful that he’s willing to help me search, and I’m truly troubled that my pochette is missing. That said, seeing him be so enthusiastic about it is a bit… and having three other guys help me makes it seem like I seduced them or something… it’s quite distressing.”

To be precise, it’s distressing if her classmates think that way about her. This girl seems to be a member of my party. Here’s to glory and peace for our petit bourgeois club!

I shrugged.

“You don’t owe me anything for this, by the way. I’m not doing this for your sake, but on Kengo’s request. Yoshiguchi-san, try searching areas where guys can’t get into.”

Now, I should begin as well. If I can find it quickly, I wouldn’t have to make Osanai-san wait.


The second floor which I was assigned mainly consisted of third-year classrooms. Even if Yoshiguchi-san’s pochette was indeed hidden with ill intent, it would be difficult to imagine that it being in one of the third-year classrooms. If it was not in a classroom, then there would only be a disappointingly small number of places to look for it. In Funa High, the lockers are located at the back of classrooms, so corridors exist solely for people to walk around on, and therefore contain only a few objects. But since I’m helping out on a request, I’ll do it properly. Behind the water cooler is the boys’ toilet. There’s no way it could be there.

That’s because if the pochette was indeed stolen and hidden, the culprit cannot be a guy, and if the culprit is a girl, it would be difficult for them to hide it in the boys’ toilet. The corner where the water cooler is located is an even simpler matter. It’s not wide enough to hide anything.

Starting from the east end of the second floor of the North Block, I moved west until I reached the other end. While I was fully utilizing my powers of observation, I couldn’t find anything like it at all. I backtracked a little to the connecting walkway to the South Block, which was an open steel frame, and went through it. Come to think of it, the area in this steel frame was most suitable for hiding something. With that realization, I conscientiously returned to the connecting walkway. It had windows, from which one could view the courtyard.

I squatted and looked inside the steel frame. I stood on tiptoe and looked inside the steel frame. The floors of Funa High were made out of linoleum, which made my indoor shoes squeak. This was unexpectedly tiring.

Checking out the connecting walkway took a lot more time than I thought it would. I searched around the South Block, then returned to the North Block. There was now no where left to search on the second floor, besides the classrooms that the third-year students were using and empty classrooms that were locked. The possibility of the pochette being in either of those two places was exceptionally low. Would he still tell me to carry on searching?

I was curious as to how long I took, but I’d unfortunately forgotten to put on my wristwatch. I took out my phone, thinking of relying on the time display, when my phone vibrated. It was from Kengo. Come to think of it, I’d unconsciously left my phone in manner mode. It’ll be fine if he doesn’t need me for some urgent business, I thought as I answered the phone.

The call connected in less than a second, causing an angry voice to blast from the speakers.

“Takada?”

Thinking that he should know who he’s talking to if he just checks the display, I answered calmly.

“…Sorry, but I’m Kobato.”

I could hear an obvious sigh from the other side.

“Oh, Jougorou, huh. Where are you now?”

“Second floor, at the passageway. I’ve checked everywhere on the second floor.”

“Alright, let’s regroup. I’ll go over to you. Got that? Don’t move from that spot, no matter what.”

That was a strange thing to emphasize. If he told me not to move, of course I wouldn’t move.

“Got it.”

“I’ll be there immediately.”

Leaving those words, he hung up. Since he asked me to wait, I’ll wait obediently. Is Osanai-san also waiting like this by the shoe lockers?

Kengo’s final line was not a lie, for he appeared in less than a minute. He had a considerably grim look on his face.

Instinctively, I asked, “W-What’s the matter?”

“Nothing much… just that Takada’s scampering about and I can’t get a hold of him.”

Takada’s the guy in the search squad wearing the tracksuit, right?

“Can’t get a hold of him?”

That was when I noticed that Kengo’s breathing was a little ragged.

“He told me that he’d finished checking the area by phone, and like with you, I was going to meet up with him.

“But that idiot suddenly hung up without without properly hearing the meeting place, so he wasn’t there when I went over. After that, I called him, but he said he was on the third floor, then the fourth floor, the west, the east, the North Block, the South Block, and so on. I’ve been totally given the runaround by that guy.”

“I see.”

An image rose in the back of my mind. It was of a miniature Funa High, with its cross section exposed like a dollhouse, with Kengo and Takada scampering about while looking for each other to no avail. I think I’ve seen a similar skit a long time ago.

“…What’re you smirking at?”

“Ah, well, nothing at all. That must have been really tiring, huh.”

Kengo snorted.

“So, wasn’t there another guy?”

I asked. Kengo spat out his reply.

“If you’re talking about Shitamura, he’s already gone. He left as soon as we split up.”

“Oh…”

I checked the display on my phone again. Oh, looks like almost thirty minutes have passed. I probably won’t be needed any more, so I should take my leave. I opened my mouth, about to say as such, but I was silenced with a gesture. Was Kengo telling me to wait? It seemed that he was getting a phone call. As soon as he opened up the vibrating flip phone and answered the call, he barked in a stern voice, reminding me of our previous phone call.

“Takada, listen, don’t move. And don’t hang up, you idiot!”

At first glance, Kengo might seem simple and straightforward, but he doesn’t usually raise his voice like this. Well, he might have changed in the three year period, but that’s as much as I know. As for this situation, it looks to me that Takada’s disregard for communication caused Kengo to run around the entire school.

“Now? I’m at the passageway, on the second floor. I’ve met with Jougorou… I mean Kobato. You should also… What? You’re outside?”

Kengo exclaimed, then dashed over to the window.

Curious, I also looked outside, and spotted a guy a short distance away from the shoe lockers, facing us with his left hand by his ear and his right hand waving wildly. He was trying his best to appeal, “I am here!” I would definitely not be able to make such a performance in public, I thought absentmindedly.

“I see you. Listen, don’t hang up. Come up to the east-side staircase on the second floor in the North Block, or the place where we met with Yoshiguchi and the rest. You got it, right? Let’s finally end this game of cat-and-mouse.”

After ending the call, Kengo looked at me with a face filled with sardonicism.

“That damned Takada actually said, ‘That’s my line.’”


We rendezvoused at the first meeting area, although Shitamura was not present. Yoshiguchi-san had apparently been waiting there after doing a quick search of the area. Takada, who had run over here, was short of breath, and the hem of his tracksuit was drenched. I was worried about the time, but it seemed that the search squad was about to be dissolved, so I should stay until the end.

We were supposed to report our information, but the only piece of information we had was that no one had any information worth reporting. If they were continuing the search, I would have to ask to fall out, but fortunately, they came to the conclusion that searching any more would be pointless.

Kengo folded his arms and groaned, apparently in a bad mood.

“If it still doesn’t show up, we’ll have to bring it up to the police.”

“The police! That’s overreacting. We should first bring it up to a teacher.”

Takada exclaimed in surprise. Kengo slowly spoke to explain his reasoning.

“I’m not sure how the Student Guidance Department in Funa High is, but in nine cases out of ten it’ll be useless if we go to them… Something was stolen. It was an undeniable act of larceny! I don’t celebrate people for following the law, but I just can’t stand a person who would steal a woman’s bag.”

He also can’t stand a person who would steal a man’s bag, though.

If I had to say, I would be opposed to Kengo’s suggestion. As a petit bourgeois, it’s no joke to be involved with the police. However, just as the Student Guidance Department would probably not take action for one bag, the police probably wouldn’t, either. That was why I did not voice my opposition. If I say that it’s someone else’s problem, it wouldn’t reflect well on me, but well, that’s just how it is.

I expected Yoshiguchi-san to say that she couldn’t agree to Kengo’s suggestion. If she was also a petit bourgeois as I thought, she definitely wouldn’t want to bring the matter up to the police. However, my expectations were shattered.

“Yes, I plan to file a police report.”

It seems that her resentment for having her pochette stolen was surprisingly deep. Kengo nodded upon hearing Yoshiguchi’s agreement.

“Sorry to say this, but there’s no way police officers will conduct a search just for one pochette.”

Oh? Why, then?

“However, if the school hears that you filed a police report, the teaching staff will make their move, and that will corner the culprit. You should do it as soon as possible, like tomorrow, for instance.”

That was interesting. I piped up without thinking.

“You sure know your stuff, Kengo.”

Kengo answered calmly without displaying even an ounce of pride.

“Something like this happened in middle school.”

Well, well!

However, I was still feeling quite uneasy. The fact that we would be dragging the teaching staff in for the sake of one pochette early in the beginning of my new life just looked like nothing but a bad joke when held up against the creed of life I wished for. It was, of course, not impossible for me to escape alone, but… What should I do?

In any case, it was decided that we would wait and see for today. I checked the time display on my phone. The promised thirty minutes had already passed.


3

Osanai-san was standing and waiting by the shoe lockers. She’d been there for more than thirty minutes.

“Sorry to make you wait. I had a weird errand to run.”

Osanai-san slowly shook her head.

“It’s fine. I like waiting around.”

I’d also recently come to like waiting, because it is an action that leaves almost everything to the other party. However, I don’t like making someone else wait. Osanai-san asked in a small voice.

“Are you still going there?”

“To the crepe store, right? Let’s go. But before that, can we talk? There’s something I want to ask.”

I was met with a blank look.

“What is it?”

“Well, I’ll explain it in order.”

I explained what had happened in the last thirty minutes in chronological order.


“Urgh…”

After I had finished talking, Osanai-san groaned, as if she was in agony.

“What’s the matter?”

“Doujima-kun is, er…”

“The type of person you’re bad at dealing with?”

“Not exactly. He seems troubling when he’s close by, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him if he’s far away.”

I smiled wryly.

“That might be the best way to interact with Kengo. By the way…”

I looked around me to confirm that Kengo, Takada and Yoshiguchi were not in our vicinity, then I spoke.

“I would like to do something about this case before Kengo delivers it to the police. I don’t like the idea of it blowing up.”

“I understand, but… Kobato-kun, you’re going to do it?”

“Yup.”

Osanai-san’s eyes widened.

“You’ll become a detective?”

No, of course not. I firmly shook my head.

“No, I’ll just look for the pochette, then quietly return it to Yoshiguchi-san’s classroom. This way, it won’t be out in the open, the police need not be involved, and there should be no problems, I think.”

“Really?”

Osanai-san seemed unsatisfied.

“Kobato-kun, do you really think that’s good? Anyway, wasn’t it still not found even with 5 people searching for it for thirty minutes? Perhaps it’s not in the school anymore?”

Well, that’s the question. I vocalized the thoughts I had from the time I left Kengo and company to the time I reached this area.

“About that, I think that this case can be settled with testimony from the witnesses.”

“Witnesses… Who?”

“Before that, listen to this. Takada-kun intentionally gave Kengo the runaround.”

Osanai-san nodded, not looking surprised at all.

“Uh-huh.”

She was asking, “So what?”

Kengo and Takada missing each other so much that they would put a comedy skit to shame was unnatural enough, but the fact that it happened in the school grounds that was not wide at all made it seem even more unnatural. In any case, hanging up before listening to the meeting area and repeating that a few times would shock even the little scatterbrain6. Kengo might have been too excited to notice it, but Takada obviously had no intention of meeting with him.

Next…

“There are two strange things about this.”

“Two? Isn’t there only one, which is why he made Doujima-kun run around the school?”

Of course, that’s one of them. I grinned and nodded.

“The other one is why Takada-kun purposely went outside and waved at us. Waving your hands wildly in the middle of a crowd of students going home strikes me as a little abnormal.”

If I find that unusual, it should also sound unusual to Osanai-san. However, she gave a retort.

“But there are people like that, people who are flashy with their body language.”

“I suppose… but there was no need to go outside. If Kengo and Takada were keeping in contact via mobile phone, what was the point of showing himself?”

Osanai-san fell deep into thought. Many students who were in the midst of leaving the school were looking at us curiously, since we were conversing so amicably. It might be too self-conscious of me to say this, but declaring that the two of us to be a set might prove to be useful in the future. That said, I’m a little embarrassed by this. I pulled Osanai-san to the area outside the infirmary.

Finally, Osanai-san muttered in a fragmented manner.

“…Maybe he wanted to wave his hand? Or perhaps he wanted to put on his outdoor shoes? Or if you flip it around, he wanted to take off his indoor shoes…?”

“I don’t think so.”

Osanai-san looked up at me.

“You have an idea about it, Kobato-kun?”

I scratched my cheek.

“Yup.”

“I see… So you did make a deduction.”

I was lost for words as I heard Osanai-san’s cold voice. I hurriedly replied.

“No, that’s not it.”

With a humph, Osanai-san looked away. While I felt a little guilty, I pressed on to suppress that feeling.

“Erm, anyway, by waving his hand outside, Takada-kun could hide the location he was at.”

“…?”

“In other words… Hey, Osanai-san, did I mention that Takada-kun and Kengo were in tracksuits?”

“Yes, you did.”

“So, it was really wet outside up till just now because of the rain. What if Takada-kun didn’t go to the fourth floor as he was told, and instead went outside from the shoe locker area, unseen by Kengo? What if he ran off somewhere to quickly do something?”

Osanai-san slowly nodded.

“I see, the hem of the tracksuit got wet.”

“It would have been disastrous if we had noticed that Takada-kun’s tracksuit was wet when we met with him later. However, something wet does not dry easily. That was why Takada waited for the right timing to go outside where we could see him, and show that his tracksuit got wet from that instance. Besides that, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for him to step outside at that time.”

After a brief pause, I continued.

“Taking into account that fact that Takada-kun was not on the fourth floor when Kengo called him, it is almost undeniable that he was outside for a long time, but it would be good to have some evidence. To judge the right timing to show himself outside and wave his hands, he must have waited near the shoe lockers. My witness is the person who saw him in the act.”

Osanai-san nodded in agreement, then pointed to herself in surprise.

“Eh?”

I laughed.

“Yes. Thus, I would like to ask a question to the eyewitness.

“While waiting for me in front of the shoe lockers, was there a boy in a tracksuit who kept using his phone?”

Osanai-san carelessly answered.

“There was. He was wearing a tracksuit and had a tough-looking body.”

Bingo.

“It’s definitely him, then. Yoshiguchi-san’s pochette should be hidden somewhere in the vicinity of the school building, probably somewhere with a roof.”


“Kengo said that the pochette was stolen or hidden. If it was stolen, it would be for personal gain. If it was hidden, it would be in bad faith.”

I spoke as I walked on the asphalt that was still wet with patches of rainwater.

 “…So Takada-kun hid Yoshiguchi-san’s pochette in bad faith?”

“That doesn’t feel quite right. If he had a malicious intent, hiding the pochette would be meaningless. Simply dropping it in a trash can would have been much more effective.”

“He also couldn’t have stolen it, right? If that was the case, he wouldn’t have participated in the search and would have just left the school.”

It was the corners of the passageway and the water cooler earlier, but now I checked every nook and cranny at the planters under the eaves, as well as the shrubbery. While searching alone seems frivolous, searching in a group of two makes it look somewhat meaningful. That was one of the main reasons why I was doing this with Osanai-san.

“What do you think, Kobato-kun?”

“I think there should be an addition to the choices of stealing and hiding. Another possible motive could be rigging the pochette.”

“Rigging?”

“Something could be placed inside the pochette, or something could be taken out. Since it takes some time and effort and the pochette can’t be put back while the job is incomplete, it was temporarily hidden from Yoshiguchi-san. That’s what I mean by rigging.”

In other words, they intended to return the pochette eventually. Hence, it wouldn’t be left out in the rain, and should be in somewhere with a roof. It might not seem necessary for us to secretly search for the pochette if it would be returned eventually, but if the rigging takes a long time, or if it goes on until evening, then a police report would be filed. It would be best for us to find it.

I didn’t specifically know what kind of rigging they were planning to do with the pochette, although I did have an idea. Osanai-san replied, “Perhaps,” then wordlessly devoted herself to searching for the pochette.

We went around to the back of the school building.

At first glance, this place had something suspicious in it – a shed. A sign in front said, “No open fires in the gas cylinder storage”. The metal door at the entrance to the shed was locked, but there was enough space between the door and the concrete floor. Exchanging glances with Osanai-san, I approached the door. Paying heed to the wet ground, I crouched down and hit the jackpot. A white strap could be seen peeking out from behind a gas cylinder. I stretched my hand out to pull on it, and out came a small, red pochette. I pulled it out and showed it to Osanai-san.

She clapped her hands a few times with a face that, while a far cry from one that displayed happiness from the bottom of the heart, had a bright expression.

“As expected of Kobato-kun.”

I could feel my face becoming hot, but not because I was happy.

As I held up the pochette in my crouching position, the small Osanai-san bent her knees a little, then scrutinized the pochette.

“Will you be checking its contents?”

“Yes, although I don’t want to. But we don’t have a choice since that will determine what we’ll do.”

Sorry, Yoshiguchi-san! I apologized in my heart, then peeped into the pochette.

Yoshiguchi-san had said that there weren’t many items inside, but it looked to be filled with all sorts of things. There was a collection of multicolored ballpoint pens, and even a few fluorescent pens. There were also two notebooks that seemed to have been used occasionally. Of course, I didn’t look inside them. There was supposed to be a pair of scissors inside, so I cautiously felt around with my hand to find a pair with rounded edges, as if it were a toy. Perhaps it’s used to cut photo stickers. I also found some lip cream and a mirror in the pochette.

I removed everything from the pochette in a scramble, and noticed something at the very bottom.

“…Is this it?”

It was an envelope that was light blue, no, it was probably closer to pale blue-green in color. It was addressed to Yoshiguchi-san, and written on the back were the name “Takada Youichi”.

“What is this?”

I never expected something like this to show up. In fact, I’d actually expected a listening device or something like that to have been placed in the pochette. In my imagination, the lining of the pochette would have to be cut out so that the listening device could be sewn in. But no matter how you look at it, it’s just a simple envelope. I tried to see through it to view it’s contents, but there wasn’t enough light coming from the cloudy sky.

Indifferent to my bewilderment, Osanai-san went, “Huh…”, seemingly having grasped the situation. I was about to ask about what she thought of, when…

“You!”

A sharp voice rang out, causing me to whirl around in surprise.

“Ah, what luck.”

I murmured without thinking. Takada was standing right before us, his face bright red with rage. He looked as though he might throw a punch if I agitated him unnecessarily. I could tell that Osanai-san had slipped behind me to hide. Takada looked at the pochette in my hand, then the envelope in the other, and bellowed hatefully.

“You! Kobato, was it? What are you thinking, looking through someone’s bag!”

This is bad. If I handle this poorly, the situation could turn violent. I hate it when the police is involved, but I also hate it when violence is involved. Especially when it happens to me.

However, the troubling thing here is that I couldn’t escape. If I ran away, it would only set into place a hostile relationship between the two of us.  I certainly don’t want to make an enemy with three years left in my high school life. Takada moved closer without hesitation. Looking at his feet, I thought, The hem of his tracksuit sure is wet.

And then the pochette and envelope were taken from my hands… from behind me. Osanai-san had extended her hands from behind and suddenly stole those items away.

Takada’s eyes widened in surprise, as if he had just noticed Osanai-san, however implausible that might sound.

“Who are you?”

“…I’m Osanai. I’m a friend of Kobato-kun.”

Osanai-san gave her name in a feeble voice, causing Takada to snort. He probably saw her as someone easy to deal with. He was about to step forward again, but was sharply stopped by Osanai-san.

“Please don’t move!”

That was probably the same expression as an intimidated squirrel. Having lost momentum, a blank expression appeared on Takada’s face. Osanai-san hugged the pochette and envelope close to her chest and spoke.

“If you come any closer…”

If he comes any closer?

“I’ll run away to a place with lots of people around, and hand this over to Yoshiguchi-san. Are you sure you want that to happen?”

“……”

Takada fell silent. He would probably be faster than Osanai-san, but he probably didn’t want to forcibly take the pochette away from her, either. Anyway, if Osanai-san did run away, it would be my job to distract Takada. I have no choice, since that’s the promise I made with Osanai-san, so I really hope she doesn’t run.

The standoff lasted for a while.

Takada looked to be searching for the best move, but he eventually capitulated and sighed.

“Alright, I was wrong.”

Noticing Osanai-san relax, I was relieved. But as I was wondering what she would do next, she approached Takada and presented the two items in her hands, all on her own accord.

“Eh?”

Takada exclaimed in surprise. Unable to believe it, he looked at us and the items in turn. After handing the envelope and the pochette to Takada, she hid half of her body behind me. With me as a shield, she spoke to Takada with a small voice that barely reached him.

“That’s a love letter, isn’t it? You didn’t have the courage to directly give it to Yoshiguchi-san, so you decided to put it in her pochette. But you regretted your decision and wanted to retrieve the letter, but someone walked in on you, so you hid the pochette. Is that correct?”

With a start, Takada stiffened. Even I could tell that Osanai-san had hit the mark.

Takada had placed the love letter in the pochette while Yoshiguchi-san wasn’t looking. He’d planned to pass it to her, but regretted his decision, probably thinking that it wasn’t gentlemanly of him to do that. A person who has something snuck into their bag would usually get angry, after all. That doesn’t count as a confession. Realizing that, he tried to retrieve the letter, but with how much clutter there was in the pochette, it would take quite a lot of time. In a fit of panic, he temporarily hid the pochette. So, to deceive Kengo’s search team, he participated in the search and moved the pochette to another hiding spot outside the school building. That was probably what happened.

Another possibility that can be considered is that the letter in the envelope was something other than a love letter, since that would also bring about the same phenomena. However, the attitude of the culprit made the truth clear as day.

Osanai-san strained her voice to chide Takada.

“Since you’ve done it yourself, I don’t think you have the right to criticize Kobato-kun for looking through the contents of someone else’s bag.”

I thought he might fly into a rage again, but the strength drained from Takada’s body. In response, I also relaxed. Takada laughed in a self-deprecating manner.

“You’re right. I did a stupid thing. I don’t know what came over me…”

“It’s good that you understand. We’ll be going off, then.”

Osanai-san pulled the hem of my uniform and retreated. Takada seemed to be letting us go off peaceably, which brought me no end of relief. As we were about to turn back, Takada’s doleful voice sounded.

“You two understand, right? If you like each other, you know the feelings I had when I did this, right?”

The two of us looked at each other.

Well, that’s how it looks on the surface. We nodded at the same time in affirmation, then turned around and quickly left the area.


The crepe at the newly opened store was too sweet for my taste. With more than half of my chocolate banana crepe remaining, Osanai-san spoke.

“Kobato-kun, that’s something I don’t get. While you all were searching for the pochette, Takada-kun could have announced that he found it. Why was he so fixated on secretly returning it later on?”

I looked up to see that Osanai-san had already polished off her apple jam crepe. I licked a bit of fresh cream of my crepe and replied.

“If you were Takada, would you have done that?”

For a moment, Osanai-san tilted her gaze upward in doubt, then looked down bashfully.

“I don’t think I could. It’s too shameless… or rather, too audacious for something in the wrong.”

“…When Takada was moving the pochette out of the school building, he could have retrieved the envelope then. While there was no rush for him to do that, he forgot about it, meaning that he was completely focused on not being found out as the culprit.”

Especially since Kengo was so enthusiastic about it. I chuckled as I imagined what Kengo would be like when filled with rage.

Yoshiguchi-san wouldn’t need to file a police report the next day, since Takada would probably return the pochette to her locker today. It didn’t concern us anymore, but I would at least like to pray for his success. There’s still a long time left in our high school life. Perhaps he’ll find another chance during that time.

I heard an electronic sound. An email had arrived in my mobile phone. It was from Kengo.

“We found the pochette. We don’t know the culprit.”

That was good. It was a really good thing that the problem was settled as if it were just a minor issue. I turned my mobile phone off.

Since Osanai-san had finished eating already, she was probably bored. She gazed out the window and muttered.

“Hey, Kobato-kun… Do you understand the feeling of wanting to give a love letter, then stealing a personal belonging of that person because that’s a chance to pass her the letter?”

“……”

While I listened to Osanai-san’s words, all I could think of was that the crepe was too sweet.

“He did say that we should know…”

I gave up. I felt a little guilty towards Osanai-san, but it was impossible for me. Placing my chocolate banana crepe on the tray, I sighed.

“I don’t know. That’s a situation that I can’t relate to.”

Well, if we ever feel like understanding that feeling, the day we understand will probably come. But for now, I don’t care, either way. If Osanai-san had eaten her crepe at a normal pace, this conversation wouldn’t have happened.

Dusk was falling outside on the streets.

“Yeah… That goes for me as well.”

The dying red rays of the evening sun shone on Osanai-san’s face as she continued staring out of the window.


Prologue | Contents | Chapter 2


Captains (Tier 3) : SuperKatsu, Marieta Tan

Editors (Tier 2) : Joshua Fisher, Yazmin Arostegui, Slush56, Ashley Soffietti, Jen Murph

Assistants (Tier 1) : Karen Kronenberg, Anna, Definitelynotme, Rolando Sanchez, Kevin Kohn, _Maki, Jaime Cuellar

Thank you very much for all your support!

  1. Plump ears said to bring good fortune.
  2. A hairstyle of both nuns and young girls of the Heian Period, consisting of straight, usually cheek-length sidelocks and frontal fringe.
  3. An American professor of chemistry, botany and zoology who was hired by the Japanese government as a foreign advisor to establish Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University).
  4. Translated literally as “little citizen”, petit bourgeois refers to a member of the lower middle class.
  5. A Western-style uniform with a stand-up collar, closed with hooks or buttons.
  6. A reference to a Japanese children’s song, Awatenbou no uta (Song of the Little Scatterbrain), which was originally a German folk song, Schwefelhölzle. The gist of the song is that a scatter-brained boy keeps rushing out to do an errand, but doesn’t hear what the errand is about, forgets his wallet, and even forgets the vegetables he buys. If you’re interested, you can listen to it here. I believe the cute illustrations in the video are good enough, but if you require an English translation, you can get it here.

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