Story 6: Other Short Stories – Part 1
Author’s Note: This is a collection of stories that I’ve written for blogs and other media. I like playing around with short, little story ideas, and so I had a great time writing these. Whenever Tatsuki makes an appearance, he tends to steal all the punchlines, and so in “Side Profiles and Irises,”1 Kunieda-san gets to exact his revenge on him.
Translator Note: This part contains all of the ficlets written for Volume 1 of Yes, No, or Maybe Half?
Who Is the Child Still Up At Night?2
Kei appeared to have fallen fast asleep. So that the wheels didn’t squeak, Ushio quietly pushed his chair back to get up, heading over to squat in front of him. Kei must have been exhausted. He did look a little worn out, but even his sleeping face was as beautiful. Ushio studied his face for a while before going back to his desk. He picked up a memo pad and started sketching.
…Oh, oh, it’s looking pretty good.
Ushio nodded to himself, happy with the results, and then started to add a new drawing off in the margin.
Glasses and a facemask. The Kei on the piece of paper transformed into someone who looked both like Kunieda Kei and yet didn’t—someone different and mysterious who Ushio knew. He took a long look at the Kei over on the sofa and compared the two.
This has to be the reason. There’s no other way to explain it. Why didn’t I realize it earlier?
Ushio was half annoyed with himself and half amazed at how incredible the transformation was.
What would happen if he were to wake Kei right now and tell him that he knows? Which one of him would appear? What reaction would he get? He had a strong urge mixed with curiosity to wake him, but Kei was so exhausted that he was sleeping soundly on this uncomfortable sofa that Ushio didn’t want to pressure him even more than he already was.
What if Kei and Owari were entirely separate personalities? That both of them weren’t aware of a changeover between them? So far they had seemed like independent people—the possibility wasn’t zero. If so, could he have a mental disorder? He once saw a documentary where someone had multiple personalities, and after a long, long period of counseling, the person was slowly able to integrate them. The personalities didn’t disappear; they seemed to be mixed together, but the subject had seemed like a brand-new person. Would Kei need to have the same treatment?
“…It would be a shame,” Ushio couldn’t help saying to himself.
He didn’t want either of them to disappear; he’d feel sad if something were to happen to either one of them. He liked the Kei who was the perfect honors student, but who was stubborn about showing any of his weaknesses, and he liked the Owari who was foul-mouthed, rebellious, and rude, but whose feelings were easily hurt.
If Kei was feeling constricted by his job as an announcer, Ushio wanted to tell that he should quit. Especially if he came all the way here, unable to handle the pressure and stress from it. He could stay here forever as Owari if he wanted to.
Ushio approached Kei once again. He didn’t appear to be waking any time soon. It looked like he could sleep all the way until tomorrow night’s (well, today’s now) broadcast. He should just let him sleep.
There was the sound of something falling over at Ushio’s feet. It was Kei’s bag. Did something inside cause it to tip over? He bent down to pick it back up and caught a glance of the beat-up accent dictionary inside the open compartment.
He had said that he didn’t want to fail and have people say that he only got to where he was because of favoritism. That was why he had worked so desperately…
What can I do for you?
Ushio quietly took the dictionary out of the bag and headed to his desk holding a pencil in one hand. He didn’t know if what he could do would be useful to Kei. It might further confuse him during such a critical time at his work. But Ushio knew what he wanted to do.
It would be an important beacon for Kei.
One that would call him back to this house.
The scribbling of pencil lead on thin paper was mixed with the quiet breathing of Kei sleeping, as it whispered late into the night.
(First published in a blog post celebrating the release of Dear Plus Bunko’s “Yes, No, or Maybe Half?” in November 2014.)
Midnight Love Letter
There were times when Kei would go over to Ushio’s house at night and Ushio would be downstairs busy on the phone. Ushio would see Kei come inside, and he’d gesture to the second floor with his pencil, a sign that he should wait for him upstairs. Somewhere in a corner of the computer desk, there was always a freshly sharpened HB pencil rolled next to a black Rhodia memo pad. Ushio had often used them to take notes while he was on the phone.
Kei had seen Ushio off at the airport on their little date earlier, and for some reason he was exhausted after finishing his broadcast for the night. He couldn’t muster up the energy to go upstairs, and so he threw himself down on the downstairs sofa. Today he didn’t even return to his apartment to change into his private mode. He should get out of his nice coat so he could hang it up properly, but his body refused to budge.
Now that Kei thought about it, he hadn’t lain on this sofa since the first time he slept here overnight. That was back in the beginning of spring when Ushio had ignored Kei’s ramblings to stare at his computer monitor. Now it was already the beginning of winter, and Ushio was away. There was nothing for Kei to look at, and so he closed his eyes feeling bored.
Shit, if he slept down here, he’d seriously catch a cold. But he was so exhausted that his fingers felt like lead dangling down from the sofa.
Just when he was on the verge of falling asleep, his cell phone rang to pull him back to consciousness. It was his work cell phone, and it probably wasn’t good news. With the hard-working diligence ingrained inside of him, Kei quickly searched through his coat pockets.
“Hello, Kunieda speaking.”
He was impressed that there wasn’t even a hint of the drowsiness that was threatening to overcome him in his voice.
“Thanks for your work today. Sorry to bother you so late, but there were last-minute changes to the time and location for tomorrow’s assignment. I thought I should call and let you know.”
I’mmm soooo tired, Kei thought to himself as he said, “Thank you for taking the time to call and let me know,” mixing gratitude with humility in his voice.
“Are you ready to write it down?”
“Oh, please wait a moment.”
Something to write with, something to write with.
Kei sprang up and headed to Ushio’s desk. He picked up the simple wooden pencil and flipped open the postcard-sized memo pad, but there was already something written on the purple-lined graph paper. Kei hurried to find a blank page and placed the tip of the pencil down on it.
“…I’m very sorry for the wait, but please go ahead.”
He jotted down the information, ended his call, and once again flipped through the memo pad. He didn’t feel particularly guilty about it since there didn’t seem to be any confidential information in it. There were cubes drawn making use of the graph paper lines, squares shaded in to make a checkerboard pattern, traces of circle drawing practice… It was basically a lot of random doodles. Kei wondered if Ushio got bored during his phone calls.
Could he not keep his hand still? Kei thought in disbelief as he flipped through the pages, but then he caught sight of a drawing that was different from the others and stopped.
Kei was alone in the house, but he couldn’t help himself from saying something out loud. Unlike the other child-like doodles, it seemed like Ushio had put some effort into this drawing despite the simple touch of the lines…
…This is a portrait of me.
He was sleeping in the portrait, and his hair was in his work-mode style. It must have been from that night.
In the margin next to the Kei with his eyes closed, there was additional drawing using simpler lines with glasses and a facemask. He must have drawn all the details in the accent dictionary afterwards.
It made him feel a little restless and uncomfortable seeing a version of himself on paper that he couldn’t usually see. Was this also one “half” of him? What kind of face did Ushio make while secretly drawing this picture of him sleeping?
He flipped through more pages and saw his name start to appear with greater frequency. It looked like Ushio had written them while talking on the phone. There were hiragana versions and katakana versions of his name too.
Uh, that was probably when I asked him to return stuff for me.
Yeah, a list of errands.
What the hell? Write something better about me, dammit.
And yet, why do I want to see you so badly after looking through all this?
Kei imagined Ushio writing his name on this memo pad while talking to some unknown person on the phone. He remembered Ushio’s smile as he pointed his pencil up to the second floor.
Kei flipped to a blank page and scratched a large Ushio in pencil on it. Then he scribbled stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid all over the page. He tossed the dulled pencil aside, ran upstairs, and threw himself on the bed.
When Kei thought about Ushio still on a plane heading out of the country, he felt so worked up that he wanted to throw things. How many more nights did he have to sleep here alone?
Hurry and come home, stupid.
(First published as a gift-with-purchase bonus paper for Dear Plus Bunko’s “Yes, No, or Maybe Half?” in November 2014.)
- “Side Profiles and Irises” is a spinoff series featuring Tatsuki and his love interest. It’s very cute, and Kei and Ushio have some small cameos in it.
- The title refers to a children’s book called Nenai Ko Dare da by Sena Keiko. It’s a slightly scary story about a naughty child who’s awake at night and gets turned into a ghost to be abducted. It’s also a famous meme.