Part 18: Encounter, Part 1
Is that a...23? Or is it 33? *sigh* Mr. Yamazaki's handwriting is atrocious.
Music: Good Friends
I knocked over my alarm clock this morning, and of course it stopped working. The very last pork sandwich sold out right before my eyes during lunch... And I was roped into a favor when I happened upon my homeroom teacher, Mr. Yamazaki, long after the school day had ended. So now, like it or not, I was on my way to deliver some notes to Ms. Yui, our homeroom T.A., who was out sick with a cold.
I'll have to make sure I apologize to Yuka later. I know how disappointed she'll be that I'm missing our shopping date. Hmm... Tenjin 5-23 number 11. Found it. As long as this doesn't actually read 6-33 number 77, anyway.
It was two stories tall and looked a little on the shabby side. Probably about 20 years old. It didn't seem very solid, nor was it particularly stylish or chic. It was a completely unremarkable structure in every way.
Apartment 207...or is that 201?
I was really getting fed up with this handwriting. And from a teacher, no less! In any case, it seemed certain the apartment was on the second floor, so I trudged up the startlingly narrow, steep stairs. The metal staircase was thoroughly blotched with patches of rust. Why would someone live in such a rundown apartment building?
Are teachers' salaries really that low?
In other words, Ms. Yui is shabby and rundown.
With that thought in mind, I turned my attention toward apartment 201.
Here we are, 201. Hmm? Yeah, this doesn't look like Ms. Yui's place.
The doorplate for the room nearest the staircase had a name I didn't recognize scribbled on it.
Guess that means we try door number two.
Passing room 201, I continued down the narrow walkway toward the end. Wandering alone around an apartment building I've never been to before made me feel kind of nervous. It wasn't like I was doing anything wrong, but my back still tensed up as I maneuvered around piled-up strollers, plastic toys and bundles of newspapers. And then finally, I arrived at the last door.
This was it. I breathed a sigh of relief. The doorplate for apartment 207 read, [Shishido]. For an adult's handwriting especially, the letters were rounded and overly cutesy. This was Ms. Yui's place all right!
Hmm? What's this?
I leaned in to read something written in small script on the corner of the doorplate.
(Shouldn't that be "Beware of Dog?" Haha! That's Ms. Yui for you.)
So how exactly does one beware a house cat? Is it even possible for a house cat to be threatening?
At any rate, I'd confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was Ms. Yui's place, so my errand was nearing its end.
(What was Mr. Yamazaki thinking, anyway? I understand taking handouts to a sick classmate, but delivering class notes to the home of an absent teacher? That just seems weird. This isn't something a student should be doing.)
But was it really appropriate to entrust a school student with confidential class notes?
(Wouldn't it be kind of a problem if I were to read these...?)
My mind kept drifting from one question to another, and I'd become acutely aware of the inherent value in these notes I held in my bag. But tempting as it was, I just couldn't bring myself to look at them. Mr. Yamazaki put his faith in me, after all. And I was stronger than that. I couldn't let this get the best of me!
At any rate, I was here. I should have just been able to drop off the notes and be on my way. Putting all my doubts and misgivings aside, I rang the doorbell.
Sound Effect: Doorbell
Huh? It did ring, didn't it?
I rang the bell again, and also tried calling out. But there was still no response.
What should I do? Maybe she's sleeping. I don't want to wake her...but I am a little concerned.
When we'd heard that Ms. Yui was staying home sick today, we were all pretty disappointed. That's why part of me was actually a little happy that I was asked to run these over to her. I figured I'd be able to check in, see how she was doing and let everyone at school know that she was feeling better.
Ms. Yui? Ms. Yui?!
...Nothing, huh? *sigh* Uh...Ms. Yui? Hello?
She was probably sleeping, or out at the doctor's or something, but...what if she were hurt? I tried opening the mail slot and peeking in. I thought maybe I could get a glimpse of the room inside.
It felt kind of wrong peeking into someone's house without their permission... But I was legitimately worried about Ms. Yui's health, so my conscience was clear on this one.
Oh! The cat.
A well-groomed cat was facing the door and staring back at me. With its head tilted slightly to the side, it let out an adorable meow. This must be the cat I was instructed to beware. And since Ms. Yui was always going on and on about her little buddy, I was pretty sure I remembered his name.
You're... Moret, right? Or no, it's Monet, I think... Yeah, Monet! What a pretty kitty you are, Monet.
Ms. Yui talked about her cat a lot in class, so pretty much the whole school had heard of him. She even had some tins of cat food hidden on a shelf in the classroom, probably because she'd bought too much and had no room for them in her apartment.
If she's home, would you mind waking her up for me? That's a good kitty!
*sigh* Yeah, didn't think that would work.
My shoulders sank. I felt defeated. What the hell was I doing? I closed the mail slot and stood back up.
She's probably just out right now or something. Which would mean the door's locked, I'm sure...
Lost in this speculation, I placed my hand on the doorknob. And with a quick twist, I turned it and pushed on the door, opening it easily.
It wasn't locked?! Crap! That's not good! I can't let Monet get out!
Music: The Everyday
Monet's whiskers twitched as I called out to him from the entranceway.
What's that, you say? "She purrrr is?" Haha. You and I are on the same page, Monet. Hahahaha... *sigh*
...Here I was talking to a cat. Was this what I'd become?
What should I do?
I was feeling pretty uneasy. Not only had I peeked into someone's home, I'd walked in without a second thought. Moreover, this was where Ms. Yui lived. Alone. In other words, a woman's apartment. No matter how many times I reminded myself that I was here on an errand, I couldn't help feeling that I'd not only crossed a line, but leaped over it.
I tried calling her name one last time. But as expected, there was no answer.
So, what now?
I was trying hard to avoid being too nosy, but my eyes inevitably began surveying the room. The apartment entrance let out immediately into the kitchen, and beyond that there was a sliding door to some other room. I could see light through the gaps. I strained my ears, but there was nothing to hear. No signs of life whatsoever. Ms. Yui really must have been out.
...One more time, I'd try calling out to her one more time, just to put my concerns at ease. I felt like I'd seem even more suspicious if I stayed silent.
Still nothing. Maybe she was asleep on the other side of that door.
Let's just have a little look-see, then... Wait, wait, wait!
Shaking my head furiously, I cast out that sudden impulse. That was a terrible idea, pure and simple. Entering the apartment unannounced was bad enough, but walking all the way in, opening that sliding door and peeking inside? That was just too much!
Man, if Ms. Yui happened to come home and find me standing here, I'd...be in pretty hot water, huh... ...No, scratch that. I'd be in plentiful, dense, scalding water!
Monet mewed, as if in agreement. Panicking, I once again surveyed my surroundings. I almost felt like there were eyes on me, staring with disdain. ...But of course, nobody was there.
Oh, right! I can just leave a note!
Wondering why I didn't think of this sooner, I dug into my bag for some paper and a pen.
"Mr. Yamazki asked me to come by." That should be enough, right? I'll just use some notebook paper.
Crouching in the doorway, I ran my pen across the page. I brought...class notes...at Mr. Yamazaki's...behest. Everyone...has been worried...about you. Sorry about...barging into...your apartment.
Please...don't forget...to lock your door...from now on.
Background Sound: Unpleasant Hum
Until just a moment ago this house had had no signs of human life in it. But now, I could feel someone standing directly ahead. Standing and looking down at me.
Fidgeting nervously, I put down my pen,
raised my head slowly
Sound Effect: Terror
She was looking right at me, but she seemed decidedly out of sorts. Her hair looked disheveled, her gaze was unsteady and her pajamas were in complete disarray. She was like a completely different person from the usual kempt educator we'd come to know and love.
Background Sound: None
I stood up frantically and held out the note I'd been writing. But...
Ms. Yui was just standing there, stupefied, with a completely vacant expression on her face.
I called out to her as gently as I could. But...
She was really dazed. She seemed almost like a ghost.
Ms. Yui! What happened to you?!
I had a sudden uneasy feeling. Worried, I walked up to Ms. Yui, grabbed her shoulders and tried to snap her out of it by shaking her. But instead...
...this just seemed to make her cough.
H-Hey! Ms. Yui!
These were wet, productive coughs, and spit was shooting out of Ms. Yui's mouth with each one. I frantically tried to shield my face from her spray, but my reaction time just wasn't quick enough.
I put a hand to her cheek, and found it thick with a slimy film of saliva.
Are you...okay, Ms. Yui?
Ms. Yui hobbled back a little, then fell to her knees with a thud. She had completely sprawled out in the hallway, moaning and groaning the whole time.
Wiping the spatterings from my own face, I leaned over and took a better look at hers.
It was bright red. Strained breathing, a stuffy nose and a visibly high fever on top of it all... She was sick as could be.
Music: Fun Times
Cold? But you're dripping with sweat!
I thought maybe her sweat had cooled her down, but then realized her disheveled pajamas certainly weren't doing her any favors. With heart pounding a mile a minute and face red as a traffic light, I set about buttoning her up.
If you're cold, you need to sleep under your covers. Otherwise, you won't get any better.
She absentmindedly extended her shaking arms like a zombie, slowly reopened her eyes and looked at me. It was the gaze of a severely fevered mind.
Ms. Yui? Umm...
Ms. Yui was clinging to me tightly. I couldn't move. I was frozen in shock. She began to weep.
You've come for me, Tsukasa!
Uhh... Who's Tsukasa?
What a lovely surprise! I...I'm so glad you're here!
Ms. Yui, wait! You've got the wrong person!
And the sensation of her chest as she held me was making it virtually impossible to fight her grip. I was utterly powerless against this opponent. I'd never realized just how soft a woman's chest really was...
God, am I that weak-willed? I had to remind myself that Ms. Yui had me confused with someone else. Mustering all the strength I could, I gripped her arms and tried to pry them off of me. But she was a lot stronger than I'd anticipated and wouldn't let me get away.
I never thought...you'd actually come.
As she squeezed me tightly, I felt as though my upper body might collapse under the pressure of her softest parts. I was blushing uncontrollably.
No! I won't!
Come on, Ms. Yui!
I struggled to wriggle free, but Ms. Yui only grabbed me tighter. Our bodies were getting more and more intertwined. And every time I squirmed, Ms. Yui would just pull me in even closer.
As her chest rose and fell erratically, droplets of sweat slid down into her cleavage. I could feel the heat of her fever radiating off of her steadily encroaching face, as well as the shoulders I'd grabbed in an effort to push away.
I'm telling you, you've got the wrong person!
Questions were swimming around in my head. Why was Ms. Yui crying? And who was this Tsukasa person? But I was most concerned about the state of her pajamas, which had become even more disheveled during our struggle.
They're sliding down!
Tsukasa... You're so warm.
Ms. Yui, please!
Realizing that not a single word was getting through to her, I sighed resignedly. I'd taken care of Yuka any number of times when she'd caught a cold and drawn a fever, but I don't recall it ever getting this bad. Ms. Yui was usually calm, collected and rational. Who would have ever imagined that a fever could leave her so thoroughly discombobulated?
I put more strength into my resistance, and finally, her arms relaxed just the tiniest bit. But her expression changed drastically.
No... No, please...
Um, Ms. Yui? I'm Satoshi Mochida, not this Tsu--
Please don't go. Please!
Ms. Yui was acting like a spoiled child. Slipping out of the shoes I'd still been wearing, I again drew close to her sprawled-out form. There was no way I could just leave her here like this.
Ms. Yui let out a lethargic groan, perhaps in response to my quiet murmurings. At my wit's end, I grabbed hold of her and did my best to carry her into the back room.
Then there was the matter of rebuttoning those pesky pajamas again. I hesitantly pulled up her pajama bottoms and brushed away the stray hairs that were plastered to her brow with sweat. I'd done my best to avoid seeing anything I shouldn't, but I am a guy, so my heart was pounding the whole time. Ms. Yui's pajamas were soaked through with sweat. She really might have been better off with a change of clothes altogether. ...But no, that would've been going way too far!
Wish I could find a towel or something so I could at least wipe some of that moisture away... Hmm?
Noticing a convenience store bag carelessly tossed to the floor, I glanced inside.
Hey, she already bought cold packs! Why wasn't she using them? Geez!
Ms. Yui? This might be a little cold, but bear with me, okay?
All right... I think that'll help.
I placed one of the compresses on her forehead and pulled the covers over her.
Ms. Yui appeared almost instantly relieved. She exhaled contentedly and her breathing became more relaxed. Finally, she was asleep.
Oh... Monet! Were you worried about your master? I don't blame you. When Mr. Yamazaki said she was sick, I had no idea it would be this bad.
Monet had coiled up on my legs without my noticing. I began absentmindedly speaking to him. He mewed in response, and and our conversation ended there, as my gaze was still fixed squarely on Ms. Yui.
Are you okay to be alone right now?
She wasn't in any condition to respond. But...
Her grip was much weaker than before. But I knew I'd probably regret it if I went home now. Ms. Yui just seemed really lonely.
Well, guess I'll settle in, then.
Without disturbing Ms. Yui's hold on me, I took a seat beside her. For the time being, I figured I'd watch over her and make sure her condition didn't worsen.
Occasionally, Ms. Yui's breathing would become ragged and she'd furrow her brow. She was in a pretty bad way.
Wasn't there anything else I could do? I glanced quietly down the hallway. I'd noticed when I carried Ms. Yui here that the kitchen near the entrance was perfectly neat and tidy. There wasn't any indication it had been used that day at all.
I wonder if she's eaten anything.
Monet's gaze shifted suddenly. I followed and saw pet bowls laid out in the corner of the room. One dish was filled to the brim with water, and the other was piled high with dry cat food.
I see someone's eating well around here, huh? Even delirious with fever, she's still taking real good care of you. But that's not good, Ms. Yui! You should be worring about your own meals first...
I shook my head at the whole situation, then glanced down at Monet, who was tilting his head as if trying to understand me. I broke into a wry smile. When I'd pulled out the cold packs, I did notice some cheap convenience store food in the bag as well. I guess that was going to be her food for the day. Not exactly the best stuff to eat when you're sick!
(Maybe I'll make egg porridge or something.)
Music: The Everyday
Ms. Yui, may I borrow your kitchen?
Her face was bright red and her half-pained, half-contented noises provided me with no clear-cut answer to my question.
Do I have your permission to use the kitchen?
Sound Effect: Meow
Excellent. Thank you!
Monet's cries helped assuage my guilt over entering a woman's apartment and borrowing her kitchen. Not that I had any reason to feel guilty. I don't think, anyway. I mean, circumstances were what they were.
Still, I had this nagging sense that I should've somehow felt bad about what I was doing.
One by one, I gently peeled off each of the fingers latched onto my pant leg. The expression on her face changed as I was doing so, from contented rest to mild annoyance, but there was nothing to indicate that she might wake up.
As I stood up, Monet mewed happily and began tagging along at my heels.
And Ms. Yui, now resting by herself in the bedroom, let out a sudden sneeze.