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Cherry Coloured Note – Chapter 1
The weather’s unseasonably warm for this time of year.
Even though it’s already evening, even though I’m sitting in the shade, I can still feel beads of sweat breaking out on my forehead.
Perched on a rickety wooden bench, I rest my chin in my hands and stare moodily at the long shadow my figure’s casting on the rough concrete ground. From where I’m sitting, the dimming orange light of early evening clashes starkly with the darkness of my shadow.
Light and darkness … just as different as the life I’m leaving behind, and the one I’m about to begin.
I stretch my arms, easing the kinks from my stiff muscles, and get to my feet, just in time to watch an express train blow past the platform I’m on. For a second, I feel nothing, but the next, the slipstream from the train catches my long hair, like wild reeds buffeted by a mischievous wind.
A beginning, and at the same time, an end.
I steal a glance at the digital clock suspended above the platform. Its glowing red digits are counting down the time before I’m due to make the last leg of my journey today, the seconds and minutes slipping by like thick treacle in the hazy evening light.
Eventually, I spot another train approaching the platform I’m on. It’s barely more than a dot on the horizon. As it closes in on the station, its gleaming steel body glinting in the sunlight, I can just about make out the red characters scrolling across the sign on its front.
“Looks like this is the one.”
Once the train slides to a noiseless halt in front of me, I casually heft my backpack over a shoulder and board. The first thing that strikes me is how empty the carriages are. Aside from a couple of elementary school children – a boy and a girl – happily chattering away to each other, the only other passenger was a balding middle-aged man, snoring away contentedly in the far corner.
It’s a far cry from the packed trains that I’m used to.
Finding myself a seat by the window proves to be a simple enough task. Once I settle down and make myself comfortable, it’s only a few seconds before the doors slide shut with a quiet hiss, the train pulling out of the station as it sets out for its next destination, tracing a winding path across the peacefully slumbering countryside.
Not long now.
I let out a tiny sigh as I gaze out of the window, watching the sights of the countryside pass me by.
A quiet, tinkling melody begins to echo in the carriage. Lost in my own thoughts, it takes me a few moments to realise that I have a message on my phone.
A few seconds pass in silence as I unlock my phone and read.
‘How’s the trip, Kana-chan? Have you arrived yet?’
‘No. Still a couple of hours to go. I’ll text you once I’m there.’
It doesn’t take long for the reply to come.
‘Mhm. You make sure to stay safe out there, ‘kay?’
‘Oh, come on, I’m not a kid any more. You don’t have to be so overprotective of me.’
I smile wryly to myself as I tap the send button.
The least I can do for those who care about me is take care of myself.
By the time seven o’clock has come and gone, I’m the only passenger left in the carriage.
The warm glow of evening has long since given way to a dusky twilight, the orange sunset replaced by a nightscape studded with twinkling stars, so small in the boundless night sky.
I snap the novel I’m holding shut and stash it back in my backpack.
Even though I’ve been trying to make the most of the time, I find myself seeing, but not reading, the words; my mind keeps wandering, wandering away, to a place that’s far beyond the white pages.
I wonder if I’ll be able to call the place I’m going to my new home …
Almost before I realise it, the announcer’s tinny voice comes across the intercom.
“We will be arriving at the final stop for this line momentarily … all passengers, please make sure that you have your belongings with you. Thank you for travelling with us today.”
Guess this is where I’m supposed to get off.
With my backpack slung over my shoulder, I pad across to the doors and grab hold of a handrail, steadying myself as the train begins to decelerate. Moments later, the doors slide open before me, and I take a tentative step forward into the night, into a world I have never known before.
As expected, the platform is almost completely deserted at this time of day.
Aside from myself, there’s only a ginger tabby sitting on a bench, methodically washing her face. As I approach her, she looks up, her bright green eyes staring into mine, and lets out a rusty meow.
“… cute …”
I reach out a hand and let my fingers caress the top of her furry head. In response, the tabby gets up and rubs her face against my hand, a deep purr rumbling in her throat.
“ … you’re the first friend I’ve made here. Nice to meet you ...”
I scratch the tabby behind her ears, and she gently collapses onto her side, her eyes closed in blissful contentment. Just seeing how much she’s enjoying it brings a small smile to my face.
“I wish I could play with you a little longer, but I’ve got to go now … “
The tabby leaps off her perch and follows me for a bit, but she quickly loses interest in seeing her new human friend off. As I pass through the turnstiles, she’s already curled up into a furry ball, her tail wrapped around herself.
“Bye, kitty … see you later.”
“Umm … would you by any chance be Kanade Amamiya?”
I almost jump out of my skin.
I had been so caught up with the tabby, I hadn’t even noticed that someone else was standing just a few feet from where I stood.
Scrambling to regain a semblance of composure, I take a deep breath and size up the teenager standing in front of me.
“W-who are you?”
“Ah … sorry for startling you. My name is Ichinomiya – Kiyo Ichinomiya.”
He looked around my age – we were probably within a year or two of each other at most. In fact, he could’ve passed for a youthful salaryman were it not for his casual getup – a loose-fitting T-shirt, track bottoms, a pair of worn out sneakers.
He flashes me a cheerful smile.
“Actually, I’m here waiting for someone – wait, I guess you already know that, huh. Well, this girl I’m waiting for – Kanade Amamiya – is supposed to be arriving here by the seven thirty train, but you were the only person who got off that train just now. So, I was wondering …”
A silver earring in the shape of a cross glinted in the dim overhead light as Ichinomiya takes a step towards me, his eyes piercing me with an inquisitive stare.
“ … could you be the girl I’m waiting for?”
I nod slightly in response to his question.
The way he worded that, though … makes it sound like he was waiting for his girlfriend.
“Y-yes … I’m Amamiya. Nice to meet you, Ichinomiya.”
“Oh, no need to be so formal with me. All my friends just call me Kiyo, so you should do that too.”
“Well, in that case … nice to meet you, Kiyo.”
It really is awkward to call someone I’ve just met by their name alone …
Kiyo laughs delightedly, a wide smile splashed across his face.
“The pleasure’s all mine. Now, I guess I should explain why I’m here, just in case you were thinking of me as some creepy stalker who’s trying to kidnap you ...”
I mean, you did know my name, and the time of arrival of the train I was on board …
“ … p-please do.”
“Ah, you hesitated for a second there! Don’t tell me … you seriously thought I was a stalker?”
“W-well, you can’t blame me for thinking that. How else would you have known my name?”
Fidgeting, I edge away slightly from Kiyo.
“I still don’t know who you are …”
“Like I said, my name’s Kiyo –“
“Not that. I mean … I wasn’t told that someone would be coming to get me. And you haven’t exactly told me anything about yourself aside from your name.”
I fix Kiyo with a distrustful eye.
“So … give me a reason to believe you.”
“Man, do you have a persecution complex or do I really look like a creepy stalker?”
I decide not to answer his pointed question.
An awkward silence descends over us for a few seconds. A perplexed look comes over Kiyo’s face, as though he can’t really believe that he’s having to deal with such an uncooperative girl.
I bet that’s exactly what he’s thinking, anyway.
Yeah, I’m just a lot of trouble for anyone who has to deal with me.
Eventually, Kiyo lets out a sigh, half in frustration, half in resignation.
“Okay, okay, I can see we’re not going to get anywhere like this.”
He sits down on a bench and swings himself around so that he’s facing me.
“I’ll tell you why I’m here to get you if it’ll make you feel better. Jeez, I never thought I’d have to explain myself to a girl my age just to persuade her to come with me.”
“… just get on with it, already.”
“I’m Kiyo Ichinomiya, sixteen years old. Second year high school student at Maizono, just like you. I’m here to get you because you’re supposed to be moving into Cherry Blossom Manor today.”
I nod quietly as I lower myself onto the side of the bench opposite to Kiyo.
I remember the name Cherry Blossom Manor from the paperwork I had to fill up for my transfer. It was apparently one of the many dormitories, scattered around the main campus of the academy, that were leased from private landlords for the use of the academy’s students.
“I’m also a Cherry Blossom. It’s usually the dorm supervisor’s responsibility to pick up our new residents, but, well, our dorm supervisor’s off gallivanting somewhere again this evening. I was the only one who was free, so … I ended up having to get you instead.”
I have to force myself to bite back a laugh.
You’re also a Cherry Blossom? That makes you sound like you’re part of a cheerleading squad.
Kiyo shoots me a sideways glance out of the corner of his eye.
“What’s so funny?”
“A-ah, it’s nothing. Go on, go on.”
“There’s nothing left to say, really. I’ve been ordered to get you back to Cherry Blossom in time for dinner at eight. The other guys are probably already cooking up a storm. I think we’re going to be having sukiyaki for dinner tonight.”
Kiyo gets to his feet, wearing a wry smile, and holds out a hand towards me.
“I hope I’ve been able to assuage your concerns about my character, fair lady.”
Not without a trace of hesitation, I take his hand and pull myself to my feet.
“… you’ve done enough to earn my trust for now. Don’t even think about pulling anything funny, though.”
Kiyo heaves yet another sigh.
“Right, right. I wouldn’t even dream of it.”
Surprisingly, it doesn’t take long before Kiyo and I are walking up the path to Cherry Blossom Manor.
“Here we are. Place has a really homely feel to it, don’t you think?”
At first glance, Cherry Blossom Manor looks like a relic from a bygone age. Its façade looks like it’s mostly brickwork, built in the modernist European style, but despite that, the entire place gives off a vibe that makes it feel distinctively Japanese.
It has a decidedly lived in feel to it – there’s a small rock garden that’s been meticulously raked over, a vegetable patch with green shoots poking through the loamy soil, and a smattering of bright garden lights, illuminating a winding path to the front door.
Above the porch, there’s a sign that loudly proclaims to everyone who passes underneath it – ‘Welcome to Cherry Blossom Manor!’
“Miu made that sign for us when we first moved in. Doesn’t look very good, huh?”
“It looks good …”
Perhaps sensing that I’m just trying to be polite, Kiyo laughs.
“You must be kidding. It just looks like a three-year-old found some paint lying around and decided to have some fun with it.”
I looked closely at the paint-splattered piece of wood, together with the childish looking handwriting that adorns its surface.
“Maybe so, but I think this Miu girl really gave it her all when she made this sign.”
I can feel Kiyo glancing at me as he pushes the intercom button by the front door.
“You little … you have the cheek to talk crap about me when you can’t even draw a stick figure?”
A split second after the door opens, something – or rather someone – leaps forth from the doorway, a whirl of snarling teeth and flailing limbs.
I manage to dodge out of the way, just in time to sidestep the ball of death barrelling towards me.
Kiyo, on the other hand, was standing right in front of the door as it opened.
The poor guy really didn’t stand a chance.
“Owowowoww! Dammit, Miu, not the Miu Special Suplex again! I give, I give!”
The girl pummelling the living daylights out of the unfortunate Kiyo looks like she might have just stepped off the streets of Shibuya, looking every inch the trendy, fashion conscious teenager.
“Not before you promise not to badmouth my work behind my back ever again!”
Kiyo slaps the ground.
“Okay, okay! I surrender! I swear on my ancestors that I won’t do it again!”
“Grr … I guess I’ll let you off this time, you half-baked idiot.”
She sure doesn’t act the part, though.
Gingerly, I take a step towards Miu, who’s dusting herself off briskly after her scuffle with Kiyo.
“Err … hello?”
Looking up from her unfortunate victim, Miu seems to notice me for the first time. She blinks rapidly, as if making sure that she wasn’t just hallucinating the girl standing before her.
“Who might you be?”
“Actually, I think that’s my line right there …”
Miu doesn’t seem to hear me. In fact, she’s crouched on her haunches, fixing Kiyo – who’s still groaning on the ground – with the evil eye.
“Hold on … since when has Kiyo taken to bringing girls back to Cherry Blossom? And at this time of night too. Don’t tell me …”
A cheeky smile taking shape on her face, Miu clambers onto Kiyo’s prone body and straddles his chest.
“… you’ve got yourself a new girlfriend? Tut, tut, Kiyo, I knew you were a jerk and a playboy, but I didn’t think you could stoop so, so low.”
Kiyo seems to shrink underneath the piercing stare Miu’s fixed him with.
“L-like heck I have! Get off me already, you bonehead!”
Ahaha … these two have a weird sort of relationship going on, huh …
“Uhh … I-I’m definitely not Kiyo’s girlfriend, Miu ...”
My voice trails off as I realise Miu isn’t paying the blindest bit of notice to me. Instead, all her attention is fixated on Kiyo.
“Oh, is that so, Kiyo-poi? I mean, it would be so you to invite your new girlfriend home right after your first date …”
“What do you think I am, some sort of modern day Casanova?!”
A hot blush colours my cheeks as my imagination runs wild, defying my attempts to control it.
Don’t think, don’t think, don’tthinkdon’tthinkdon’tthink …
“… then she’d wash your back in the shower, and then after spending some time relaxing in bed, the two of you would get down to the hot, steamy – oww!”
Lalalala, I can’t hear what she’s saying, I can’t hear anything at all!
I’m about ten seconds away from spontaneously exploding when someone comes to my rescue, smartly karate chopping Miu over the head before she can finish her lewd fantasies.
“Miu, we need more hands in the kitchen. Stop fooling around and go help out already, stupid.”
“Muu … and we were just getting to the good bit.”
I breathe a sigh of relief as Miu, clutching her head and muttering to herself, wanders off.
“You’re Kanade Amamiya, yeah?”
“Y-yes! I’m Kanade Amamiya. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Standing before me is yet another girl, her dark brown hair falling over her slender shoulders. Unlike Miu, she looks like the serious, responsible type. You know, the kind of girl who always gets picked to be class rep, or the kind of girl who finishes all her homework just a week into summer vacation.
“It’s good to meet you too. My name’s Ishikawa – Rin Ishikawa. Rin’s fine by me.”
Rin flashes me a small grin and beckons me into the hallway.
“You must be tired after your journey. Come on in and make yourself at home. We’re just about ready to have dinner, but there’s time for you to take a bit of a breather before we dig in.”
“Thanks, I think I’ll do that.”
I take off my sneakers in the hallway and line them up against the wall.
“What about Kiyo, though? Is it okay to just leave him out here in the dark?”
Kiyo’s still flat on the ground. He doesn’t seem to have recovered from Miu’s bodily assault yet.
“It’s summer, an hour or two outside won’t kill him! Don’t worry, he’ll be right as rain in a bit!”
Almost immediately, Kiyo leaps to his feet like a jack-in-the-box, looking none the worse for wear.
“That’s mean, Rin! I just got knocked out by a crazed, bloodthirsty monster! Take some pity on me!”
“See, I told you he was gonna be just fine!”
The inside of Cherry Blossom Manor gives off a warm, welcoming vibe that makes me feel at home.
Instead of the stark fluorescent lights ever present in typical student lodgings, the interior décor is complemented by warm lighting that’s just bright enough – not too dim that you’d struggle to read a book, but also not as bright as to hurt your eyes. The light plays nicely with the wooden furniture, which seems to be a theme throughout the manor; the effect is to create a relaxing atmosphere that really sets me at ease.
“It’s so nice in here …”
“Isn’t it just.”
A small smile playing on her lips, Rin hands me a glass of iced water.
“We did put in a lot of work to decorate this place, after all.”
“You did the décor all by yourself …?”
“I got all the residents of Cherry Blossom to help out. This place was a real wreck just a couple of years ago. We had to spend half a month clearing out the junk and debris.”
Rin settles down on the couch next to me, hugging a kitty cushion to her chest.
“It sure was hard getting the place prettied up, but hey, I’m a creature who loves her comforts.”
“Riiiin! Get over here and help me lay the table!”
Rin rolls her eyes heavenwards and, somewhat reluctantly, gets to her feet.
“The master of the house calls. I’ve gotta run for a bit, so you stay here and put your feet up.”
“Mhm, I’ll do that.”
“Can’t have you getting your hands dirty with the housework on your very first evening here.”
“Uhh, I’d be happy to help – “
Rin just shakes her head at me.
“Nuh-uh. I appreciate the offer, but Aya would never let me hear the end of it if I made you help out. You’ll get your chance to help out soon enough, so take it easy while you can, okay?”
Rin grabs my empty glass and, with a cheery wave, sets off towards the kitchen, leaving me all alone in the spacious living room.
“Whew … today sure took more out of me than expected.”
A wave of fatigue washes over me as I watch Rin disappear around the corner.
“Oh … almost slipped my mind. Gotta let Sacchan know I’m here.”
Sinking even lower into the comfy couch I’m sitting on, I hold my phone up to the light and take a picture of my surroundings.
‘Yo, I’m at my new den. Place looks really comfy. Bet you’re totally jelly of me now hehehehe.’
As usual, Sacchan replies almost instantaneously.
‘It looks so nice and warm!’
‘I know, right? It’s so different from my old place. My new housemates seem to be nice people too.’
‘Must be nice to be you, Kana-chan … now I kinda wish I could’ve followed you there.’
I can’t help but smile to myself.
Yeah, it would be real nice if Sacchan were here with me now.
My fingers go tap-tap-tap on the screen of my phone as I compose a reply.
‘Hehehe. You can come visit me whenever you’re free. Maybe we can have a sleepover then.’
‘Really?! I’ll totally go when I have time! Wait for me, Kana-chan!’
‘Sure. Just let me know when you’re coming.’
“Kanade? Hellooo, Kanade …”
“Hmm …? What is it …”
I look up from my phone – and see Kiyo pulling a funny face right in front of me.
Instinctively, I lash out with a foot, smashing the poor guy squarely on his shin.
For the second time that evening, Kiyo crumples to the floor as if he’d been shot, moaning piteously.
“O-oww … Miu is one thing, but I-I didn’t think you would take to abusing me so quickly, Kanade …”
“U-uh … sorry, I was so focused on chatting with my friend, I didn’t notice you …”
Holding back a snort of laughter, Rin comes over and helps Kiyo to his feet.
“That’ll teach you to sneak up on people while they’re distracted.”
Eyes watering from the pain, Kiyo tries to muster up a brave smile, but for all his valiant efforts, he only manages a grotesque expression that’s halfway between a glower and a grimace.
“K-Kanade … fair lady, come hither, for I wish for you to hear my last words before I shuffle off this mortal coil …”
“Oh boy, here we go again.”
I can almost hear Rin rolling her eyes in exasperation.
I inch closer to Kiyo, who’s still being supported by Rin. He takes an ungainly step forwards and breathes his last words in my ear –
“I just wanted to let you know, Kanade … dinner … is … served.”
Once the words left him, Kiyo flails free of Rin’s grasp, like a fish struggling to get back to water, and collapses face first onto the nearest couch in the true theatrical fashion.
Wiping a bead of sweat from my brow, I glance pleadingly at Rin for help.
“Jeez, I swear Kiyo needs to keep his inner drama queen under wraps. Well, he certainly isn’t the darling of the academy’s Drama Club for nothing. He’s an incorrigible actor, that’s what he is.”
Rin shakes her head and gives a nonchalant shrug.
“Anyway, like he said, we’re just about ready to have dinner. I’m sure you’re hungry after a whole day travelling, so let’s get some food in your belly sharpish. Come on, the dining room’s this way.”
Without waiting for me to say anything, Rin unties her apron and traipses off.
Which leaves me standing over a motionless Kiyo, who’s still very much out for the count.
“Uhh … I wonder if I should try waking him up?”
I toy with the thought for a couple of seconds – but then my stomach rumbles noisily, and I remember I haven’t had a bite to eat for more than half a day.
“… guess I’ll go have dinner.”
The delicious scent of cooking food leads me right to the dining room, where Rin is busy pouring beef and shiitake mushrooms into an earthenware pot sitting atop the dining table. The spread of food laid out on the table is really impressive – there’s shirataki, spring onions, tofu and chicken breast, together with a side serving of steamed gyoza, sitting prettily on a shallow serving platter.
Looks like they really went all out for today’s dinner.
Seeing the rice cooker nearby, I get a few bowls and serve the rice for our meal.
“Come on, Kanade, what did I say about not helping out today?”
Rin grins wryly as she passes me the chopsticks, which I methodically lay on the table – one pair for every bowl of steaming rice.
“I’d feel bad if I let you do all the work … let me help this much at least.”
Picking up the clay lid, Rin carefully sets it on top of the pot, now full to the brim with food.
“Well, there’s nothing else to do now. Except wait for the food to cook, that is!”
Rin grabs her pair of chopsticks, her eyes sparkling in happy anticipation.
“Gosh, I’m starving. I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into some tender, juicy beef!”
“Good work today, Rin. Having your help really made my life a lot easier.”
From behind me, a silver-haired girl appears, bearing a platter of freshly cut fruit.
If Rin looked like a hardworking, responsible girl, then this latest resident of Cherry Blossom looked, to me, the personification of calm authority. Someone who would have an easy time commanding respect from those she came across.
“Oh, don’t mention it. It’s the least I could’ve done. We are having a welcome party for Kanade after all – I gotta do my bit to help.”
“Thank you, I appreciate that.”
The girl unhooks the apron she’s wearing and slides into the chair next to me.
“And you must be Kanade. Welcome to our humble abode. ”
“A-ah … yes, thanks.”
Rin leaps to her feet, waving her chopsticks in the air enthusiastically.
“Let me introduce you, Kanade. The stunning beauty standing before your eyes is Aya Suzutsuki, Cherry Blossom’s big sister!”
“Oh, come off it, Rin. You know you’re exaggerating.”
Her eyes closed, Aya inclines her head slightly. Even in making such a small gesture, there’s a quiet, understated elegance to her movements. It makes me feel as though I’m in the presence of an exalted personage; a noblewoman, perhaps, or the daughter of an old, moneyed family.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kanade. I hope we’ll get along with each other.”
“Incidentally, Aya’s not only our big sister, she’s also the vice-president of the student council!”
The ghost of a smile tugs at the corners of Aya’s mouth.
“I don’t think that has any bearing on my relationship with Kanade, Rin.”
Rin sticks her tongue out playfully.
“Maybe not, but hey, won’t we get along better if we got to know more about each other?”
“That’s a fair point you make. I, too, would like to get to know Kanade better. After all, we’ll be spending the next three years together in Cherry Blossom.”
Just as I’m about to say something in response, the pot lets out a high-pitched whistling sound.
“Ooh, my beef is ready to be eaten!”
Leaning over the table, Rin uncovers the pot with a wet dishcloth.
I have to resist the urge to swallow. The sight of the tender beef, sliced thinly, floating in a rich, savoury broth is almost too much for my empty stomach to handle.
“Oii, Kiyo! Get your lazy bum over here now or we won’t leave you any dinner!”
As Rin heads off to the living room to get Kiyo, Aya turns towards me, a soft smile on her lips.
“Let’s tuck in, Kanade. If you don’t mind, please, tell us all about yourself over dinner.”