NARRATOR: "The next day, I take the bus into the city. It goes twice an hour starting in the morning, passing by the front gate of Yamaku at 20 minutes past and 10 to the hour. The ride takes considerably longer than the one Nomiya gave us in his car. I slowly read a book as the bus makes its rounds through the suburbs, pausing at almost every stop to pick up someone or let them out. Eventually we make it to the last stop at the city center. The city is fair-sized, but not too large, and seems too quiet. Nevertheless, I enjoy the atmosphere. Despite being slightly directionally challenged, I find my way from the bus station to the gallery without too much effort, and soon I find myself staring at the big letters saying “22nd Corner.” Inside, the gallery owner is intently studying a large painting hanging on the wall, a portrait of an old man."
HISAO: "Good afternoon."
NARRATOR: "She turns around to look at me, and a smile of recognition spreads on her lips."
SAIONJI: "Oh, aren't you the young man from the other day, Shinichi's student... Hisao, was it?"
HISAO: "That's right. Good afternoon, Mrs. Saionji."
SAIONJI: "Please, just Sae. I don't want to feel any older than I am. You know, I'm so glad that even young people show interest in art nowadays. It's so refreshing. What brings you here? Surely you aren't just on a courtesy visit, all the way from your school."
HISAO: "Ah... I actually came for Rin. I was hoping to see how she's doing."
SAIONJI: "Oh, is that right? Well then, you need to step back outside. You see, the atelier is actually at the next door on the right down the street, and up the stairwell. Just climb the stairs to the top floor. There's only one door there, you can't miss it."
NARRATOR: "I give Sae my thanks, exit the gallery and locate the door she was talking about. It leads to a dark stairwell which reminds me of the stairs leading to the roof of the school building. The stairs are steep, and even though it's only five floors, my breathing gets heavy before I reach the top. An unassuming wooden door waits for me there. It's unlocked, so I knock and enter. The atelier is really just one big room, with the ceiling lower at one end than the other because the roof of the building is gabled. There is a huge skylight in the ceiling that acts as the main source of light for the room, bringing in sunlight that reflects off the white-painted walls. I suppose it's good to use natural light for art."
NARRATOR: "There isn't much in the way of interior decoration. No surprise, since the room seems to have been used as storage for a while. All kinds of boxes and office furniture are scattered around the place. The room is dusty since it's not been in use for a while. I can see that someone has made some effort to clean up a little, but it's far from immaculate. Rin stands in the middle of the room with her back to me, staring at a half-painted canvas placed on an easel. Not working on it. Just staring, unmoving. She wears what must be second- or third-hand denim overalls over the standard school uniform shirt, much like the one I'm wearing. They look pretty worn, and are covered in paint spatters. From the way they seem to be loose or tight in places, I'm guessing that they weren't originally Rin's."
NARRATOR: "Rin doesn't judge my showing up as worthy of turning around, saying maybe something more than just a mechanical reply to my greeting, smiling, anything. She keeps on doing... whatever it is she's doing; probably some weird creative thing inside her head. Perhaps I should've expected as much. Still, I make another attempt at conversation."
HISAO: "This is a pretty cool place. Big, too."
RIN: "It is. Sae said I can use this as much as I like. I even have my own key."
HISAO: "So how's the work going?"
NARRATOR: "She doesn't answer for a while. I begin to wonder if she's already forgotten the question. As a cloud drifts over the building, shadowing the light pouring in from the skylight, the change in Rin's surroundings seems to wake her up."
RIN: "I don't know. It's like a huge ball. I don't really know which side is the right one. It's really huge. It's the hugest thing ever. Like a mountain growing inside of me. Like I swallowed a mountain whole. It's going to be hard I think. Really very hard."
NARRATOR: "I try to listen for undercurrents of stress or uncertainty in her voice, but I don't pick up anything like that."
RIN: "Why are you here?"
NARRATOR: "Her tone is not as unkind as the directness of the question would make it seem."
HISAO: "Well, you said that it'd be fine if I came to visit, so here I am. I guess it's not for any real reason, but I thought you might like company, or assistance, or maybe some—"
RIN: "Hisao. Can you be quiet for about fifteen minutes? Maybe ten is enough. Five definitely is not. You can talk afterwards."
NARRATOR: "Her tone is sharp, nothing like I've ever heard from her before. There is no command, no annoyance, no anger. But her voice pierces me all the same."
HISAO: "All right."
NARRATOR: "With the silence that falls, anxiety creeps back into my heart. I wonder if it was a mistake to come here. Murmurs of traffic filter in from outside and I start to feel more and more uncomfortable. All my thoughts keep finding themselves returning to certain things that have been swirling relentlessly in the back of my mind for some time now. I feel like those thoughts will surface out of the tempestuous sea of my mind, whether I want it or not. Desperate to divert my focus, I fixate on Rin's back as my mind races."
NARRATOR: "I don't think I've ever studied anyone's back so intently before. Her neck, hidden by copper-colored hair which is - again - in complete disarray. That relaxed yet rigid posture, reminding me that Rin's physical appearance often tends to be as awkward as her various trains of thought. Those gaunt, delicate shoulder blades, visible through the thin white fabric of her shirt. The contours of her hips, curving down to her thin thighs. It pisses me off. Rarely does she ever seem to be looking at me, whether literally or figuratively. I, on the other hand, am always watching her back, both literally and figuratively. Whenever she is painting, whenever something catches her fluttery attention, whenever I don't forcefully make her listen to me. I can't reach through to her. Rin's heart is uncharted territory, dangerous waters, the blank areas on a map. The edge of the world? If I went too close, I wonder if I would fall off."
NARRATOR: "What do I think of her? Sometimes she's aloof and distant, and it annoys me. At other times her passion for the things she thinks worthwhile shines through, and it inspires me. I can't understand her. Still, I like her and consider her my friend. I suppose part of friendship is putting up with the oddities of the people you call friends. I have to admit, there is a lot of putting up with Rin. What does she think of me? I have no idea. Last week, I thought she might have liked me romantically, what with the kiss and all. It forced me to ponder my own feelings too. This week, I am utterly confused. What would she do if I told her I liked her that way? I wonder if I really do. Damn, I can't make sense of even my own thoughts any more. It must be contagious. Even if I said a thing like that, would it matter? Nothing affects Rin. Nothing."
RIN: "I'm done."
NARRATOR: "I find her turned around, now staring straight at me. It unnerves me. I try to remember what we - or rather I - were talking about before she requested a timeout."
HISAO: "Oh, right. I just came to... I don't know..."
RIN: "You still can't finish your sentences?"
HISAO: "It's not that."
NARRATOR: "She retreats from the conversation, slipping away from me once again. She doesn't return to painting, but instead keeps looking at me with that empty poker face of hers."
HISAO: "I wanted to talk about some stuff. I've thought a lot about things."
RIN: "What things?"
HISAO: "Like, what happened last week and so on."
RIN: "What happened?"
NARRATOR: "I get the feeling she's playing with me. Why, I have no clue. It is not a game she's playing with my head. I'm pretty sure she doesn't deliberately try to screw with people. Maybe it's just my own mind playing tricks on itself. Still, Rin feels like a puzzle in the form of a girl. I feel attracted to it, compelled to solve it, the overly rational part of my brain refusing to let me give up. I can't leave her alone. I never would have believed I could be this obsessive about something. Why do I hesitate so much and keep running in circles around her? I don't have to do that. I already decided what I want to say."
NARRATOR: "Saying her name with an intention like this makes my mouth dry, as if my subconscious is fighting against what I'm going to say next. I feel like I'm going to lock up any moment now. Rin looks up from her paint-covered toes and stops wriggling them, as there isn't anyone to observe them curiously now. The hard stare of her dark green eyes seems like a portent."
HISAO: "I like you."
NARRATOR: "The lack of any reaction is like a slap to the face."
HISAO: "So... ummm... I mean, I'd like to like you as more than a friend."
RIN: "What is “more?”"
NARRATOR: "The slow, hesitant words coming from between her strawberry-colored lips are not the ones I was waiting for. Neither of the two possible answers that I'd been expecting, actually. I feel myself blushing heavily, as is par for the course in this kind of situation. My heartbeat sounds like a percussion orchestra on drugs. Rin's faux-innocent inquiry feels like I'm being grilled over hot coals."
HISAO: "You know... like, romantically and..."
NARRATOR: "Rin turns around, giving me the cold shoulder as she returns to looking at her painting. She makes a move to pick up her brush which lies forgotten on the floor, but decides against it at the last moment."
RIN: "I can't talk about that kind of thing now. So... don't talk about that kind of thing. Please. We are friends, right? So you can do that."
NARRATOR: "The silence those words leave behind is deafening. I want to say something but my mouth refuses to move. There is no way I can retain my dignity. Rin finally picks up the brush without giving any explanation for her behavior. Maybe there was something in her voice that gave away some emotion, but I couldn't say what. Her shoulders slump melancholically as her foot works the canvas in front of her. She won't let me see her face and I know it. Feeling the weight of my heart grow heavier, I stand up to leave, for I can't stay here any longer today. It's like I have opened Pandora's Box by stepping over some line that Rin didn't want me to cross, and she had to turn me down. I walk across the squeaky floor to the door leading to the stairwell. Rin's quiet voice stops me in my tracks as I'm about to open the door."
NARRATOR: "My hand, still on the brass doorknob, is waiting for me to turn it or to withdraw."
RIN: "Will you come tomorrow?"
HISAO: "... Yeah."
Next Scene: The Context of Rin