Chapter 1:

A Bad Day that Ends Well

Boundaries


After class, Konoko, Nanako, and Ichirou met with Kenji, who had come to visit Nanako. Ichirou suggested that they all went out together since he and Konoko haven't seen Kenji for quite a while. Though Konoko was not in the mood for hangouts and entertainment, she pondered to herself that it might do her some good after all. It was a pleasant October sunny day, but the air was still cold. They stopped at a café for something warm. Konoko could not follow her friends' cheerful conversation too long, though. Haunted by thoughts about her lack of progress with her new manga chapter while the deadline drew near, she took out a piece of paper and a pencil in a desperate attempt to try some sketches. However, instead of drawing, she found herself writing a few thoughts about the new topic she wanted to implement in her story. They were not ideas, but questions. She stared at them as if she tried to find the answers in their characters' shapes. Bookmark here

From the very beginning, she had envisioned adding a love story to her manga, but it proved more challenging than she expected. For a starter, she was too picky about the heroine. Her friends told her that she was like a mother when it came to her main character, Virgil. Nothing was good enough for him even if he was far from a perfect guy. Colleagues from the university teased her that she wanted to keep Virgil to herself. But none of these were true. She actually didn't know how to build up the relationship. To make matters worse, her editor started to pester her about the subject too. Three days have passed since she had lost all inspiration. College assignments also have been eating up a lot of her time. She began to lose sleep over disturbing ideas of failure that kept her awake at night. Every day, she became more worried and equally more tired. Bookmark here

As Konoko was consumed by these thoughts, her page suddenly disappeared from her sight. It took her a couple of seconds to understand that Ichirou had snatched it. He waved it at her with a sneer. Sitting at her chair while he stood right in front of her, she looked at him with piercing black eyes.Bookmark here

"Give it back!" she commanded in a loud threatening tone, making an attempt to recover the paper. He laughed with satisfaction while moving away. Bookmark here

"No, no! This stays with me for now! It's time for you to be here with us Konoko!"Bookmark here

Annoyed by his behavior and response, she wanted to shout at him that she didn't want to be there in the first place, but she refrained. It might have hurt Nanako and Kenji's feelings. Bookmark here

"Ok, I'll stop, but give it back," she asked in a lower tone. By Ichirou's look, it was obvious that he had no intention to return the page. He didn't believe her. Bookmark here

"Oh, come on Ichirou! Give Konoko the page back!" started Nanako in a slightly irritated tone. "You're being childish!" she added.Bookmark here

"I'm not being childish! It's not nice that she ignores us all like that!"Bookmark here

There was nothing that Konoko hated more than when someone decided how she was supposed to act! She didn't like people taking peeks at her drafts either. Possessed by a mixture of growing anger and alarm, she didn't notice when she jumped on the table to chase after Ichirou. She had intended to take advantage of the fact that he had been distracted by Nanako. Nanako shrieked in bewilderment. Bookmark here

"Come on man! That's enough! You can clearly see she's not enjoying your game!" intervened Kenji. Bookmark here

Realizing she was on the table, a powerful feeling of embarrassment made Konoko's cheeks and ears burn. She was not so worried about what Ichirou and Nanako believed. They already knew how she was since the three of them lived together. It was different with Kenji, though. Nanako's boyfriend was a very dependable young man, much too serious for his age. Tall with wavy chestnut hair and kind brown eyes, he always showed a noble demeanor that imposed some sort of reserve and respect. She had just made a fool of herself in front of him! It must have been so embarrassing for Nanako as well! On top of it, they were in a café! She immediately got down from the table while drawing a bit closer to Ichirou.Bookmark here

"Give it back!" she commanded again, this time in a whisper. She sounded a bit out of breath and her long black hair, dishevelled from the whole agitation, now covered half of her face like a thin curtain.Bookmark here

"Hehehe! Come and get it Konoko!" answered Ichirou also in a whisper, then chuckled and moved farther.Bookmark here

A waiter approached the group concerned, asking if there was any problem that he could help with. While Kenji apologized and tried to reassure the waiter, Nanako made an attempt to go to Ichirou and Konoko, who were on the other side of the table. Kenji caught her shoulder gently, stopping her from joining the conflict. Nanako gave him a worried look, but obeyed. Her golden-green eyes, now clouded from anxiety, continued to follow closely what was happening. She was ready to intervene at any moment. Distracted by the waiter's presence, Ichirou's attitude changed, however, and he moved silently toward his seat. Konoko followed him swiftly like a shadow. He didn't pay attention to her. As he sat down on his chair, Konoko seized the moment and appeared unexpectedly in front of him, snatching the paper from his hand. He didn't seem surprised, even though he didn't anticipate her move either. They briefly exchanged looks: his was questioning, hers was blank. Bookmark here

Moving away from Ichirou, with her eyes to the page that had become wrinkled, Konoko felt she could not write a love story. She was bound to fail. Her manga was to lose its hard-earned popularity! It would never become an anime! Her heart sank at these thoughts as she crumpled up the paper. None of her friends could clearly see her face, but Nanako noticed how disheartened she was. As Konoko turned to leave, Nanako called after her. She stopped for a few seconds with her face down, then left. Nanako didn't dare to call her again. She and Kenji exchanged worried looks. Then, Nanako turned to Ichirou who sat perplexed on his chair.Bookmark here

"What are you standing there for? Go after Konoko!"Bookmark here

"Why?"Bookmark here

"She's not well Ichirou! Can't you see?"Bookmark here

"And what am I supposed to do?" he replied exasperated at Nanako's persistence.Bookmark here

"She's on her motorbike, Ichirou! I don't like having her on the motorbike the way she is now! What if something happens?"Bookmark here

"I have no chance to reach her on my bike!" From his voice, Nanako and Kenji could tell that he was worried too.Bookmark here

"Let's find her together! We'll go using my car!" proposed Kenji.Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

After getting on her motorbike and driving aimlessly for a short while, Konoko became more aware of her improper behavior at the café. She felt so angry at herself that tears came out against her will. She had promised herself to keep cool under such circumstances, but on this occasion, she had failed again. She was so tired but couldn't go home because she felt too embarrassed. She had to go somewhere else where she could forget about everything for a few hours. As she decreased her speed, thinking to refuel her motorbike as well, she passed by a manga-anime fair. She faintly remembered having heard about that fair and wishing to visit it. This was the perfect occasion to forget about her troubles for a bit!Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

"It was all your fault anyway!" Nanako shook her short golden hair while pronouncing these words earnestly. She was so upset about the whole matter that she did not intend to give Ichirou a break.Bookmark here

"Can't the man joke a little? I only wanted to get her out of that air-headed mood for a change!"Bookmark here

"Well, that little game of yours was a bad idea, and you know it! Her deadline is close and she's still stressed out about her character's romance."Bookmark here

"You should stop spoiling her, you know! She's overreacting, Nako! I don't see any of us making such a fuss about our jobs! It's not like we don't have our own problems too! She should grow up a little bit, take some responsibility! Even in the house, she almost does nothing if she's not told to! You're doing most of the house work and I do most of the errands, even if she has a motorcycle! I only have a bicycle! It's not fair! You're not her second mother and I'm most certainly not her second father!" His outburst made his deep black eyes show a reddish glow.Bookmark here

"She's worn out!" intervened Kenji in a calm tone that was in contrast with the tense atmosphere of the discussion.Bookmark here

"Why should she be? She's not even working that much, at least not in the past few days! I heard that lately she's been spacing out at college too and she's started binge-watching anime or reading manga for hours at home!" insisted Ichirou.Bookmark here

"I'm certainly unaware of the particularities, but I can tell you this much: she looks like someone who doesn't sleep," Kenji continued with the same calm tone. Nanako looked at him concerned.Bookmark here

"Well, I don't know what she's doing at night... " replied Ichirou in a lower tone. Bookmark here

As they went past a park, Ichirou asked Kenji to stop.Bookmark here

"Could you please leave me here? I think it would be more productive if we searched for her separately. I'll go take my bike."Bookmark here

"We're very far from home now. You'll get tired riding your bike!" said Nanako in a small voice.Bookmark here

"Don't worry! I'll be fine! I just need to clear up my mind a little bit too. You two take care of yourselves and let me know if you find her!"Bookmark here

It was almost dark when Ichirou left his friends. After all that agitation, the refreshing cold air felt soothing. Before setting off, he remained motionless for a few minutes. Then he ran his fingers through his spiky dark hair, heaved a sigh, and put his head on the handlebar for another few minutes. Despite his demeanor, Ichirou felt actually more worried than everyone else.Bookmark here

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"What are we supposed to do now?"Bookmark here

"Go back inside of course!"Bookmark here

"I don't see how that will help! We'll be stuck dealing with her!"Bookmark here

"Oh, I know you hate it! But I'm sure we'll find a way to repair the barrier without her noticing!"Bookmark here

"Really Chie? How can you be so sure? Even the old man saw us! Luckily, his family thought he was senile!"Bookmark here

"We were spotted because we were careless! And we were careless exactly because he was old and we underestimated him! It won't be the same case with her!"Bookmark here

"She seems like a sparky girl! We'll get so tired from trying to avoid her that it will take an eternity to mend the barrier!"Bookmark here

"And what do you suggest, Saitou?"Bookmark here

"Calling for more help?"Bookmark here

"Oh that's brilliant! If there are more of us, the chances that someone will be discovered will grow!"Bookmark here

"…"Bookmark here

"We could try to steal the poster again! This time, we will bury it somewhere in an obscure place that is not frequented by people."Bookmark here

"When we hid it in that old junk car, you said no one would take it from there too!"Bookmark here

"Well, excuse me for not knowing this world so well! Normally we shouldn't even be out here! We only did it to remove the poster from the old man's house! Thank God we were in the poster when it was taken again by someone else. Otherwise we would have been in a great mess searching for it!"Bookmark here

"Unfortunately, we weren't fast enough to retrieve it again from the fair and now we have to steal it from her!"Bookmark here

"Stop being so grumpy, Saitou! Let's hurry inside! She's already taking off!"Bookmark here

*Bookmark here

It was late in the evening when Konoko entered the house. Both Nanako and Ichirou were still awake. She had sent a message to Nanako letting her know that she would return home late. Relieved that she was okay, her friends stopped searching for her. As hours passed, despite their tiredness, Nanako and Ichirou couldn't sleep. The three of them were living together only for three months and it was their first time cohabitating with people outside their own families. It had proven more difficult than they imagined, especially when it came to sharing responsibilities and handling each other's tendencies. When Nanako heard the keys, she immediately jumped from the couch and came to the door to watch Konoko with sheer curiosity. She had brought a lot of packages with her and a big roll-up poster. Seeing Konoko's innocent happy face again felt so heartwarming for Nanako! "It is so much like her!" She thought to herself. Manga volumes, art books, and anime merchandise never failed to raise Konoko's spirits whenever she felt down. Bookmark here

"But where have you been?!" asked Nanako as Konoko proceeded in the living room to proudly exhibit her new acquisitions.Bookmark here

"It was a new fair! I actually knew about it for a while, but I forgot that it had already opened! It was just a happy coincidence that I stumbled upon it while I was looking for a gas station!" She spoke with so much enthusiasm that before finishing her last sentence she was already breathless and her face became red. "It was cheap too! I've never seen such reasonable prices for these products before! I had to buy as much as I could because you never know when you will find such a bargain ever again!" She remained breathless again.Bookmark here

"Oh! That's such nice stuff Noko!" exclaimed Nanako as she was browsing a manga. "Is it new?"Bookmark here

"We can go together tomorrow if you like! I will make dinner while you're at class so we can go right after you get back!" proposed Konoko enthusiastically. Bookmark here

Though they went to the same Tokyo University of the Arts, the three had chosen different majors: Konoko and Nanako were both in Fine Arts, but Konoko was in the Design department while Nanako was in Architecture. Ichirou was in Film and New Media at the Animation department.Bookmark here

"Right! You don't have classes tomorrow! But will you be okay making dinner? You still have to work on your manga!" Nanako worriedly exclaimed.Bookmark here

Konoko remained silent for a moment as she remembered the unfinished chapter. Her bright face became a little darker and she frowned a bit. Nanako regretted that she brought up the subject.Bookmark here

"That's fine Nako! You have a job too, and you're still cooking three meals a day, and do house cleaning as well. If you can do it, I don't see why I couldn't prepare at least a meal. Besides, I really need to take my mind off that subject from time to time. Constantly thinking about it is an inspiration killer."Bookmark here

Nanako could see that Konoko was concerned. She needed some encouragement.Bookmark here

"I'm not in your position Noko! I only have a part time job and it is not nearly as pressing an environment as yours."Bookmark here

Konoko gave her a faint smile.Bookmark here

"Well, that doesn't mean I should take advantage of your kindness. And I really want to take to the fair tomorrow! It is the least I can do to make it up for today!"Bookmark here

Upon finishing her words, Konoko suddenly stopped from opening the packages and moving the objects around. She stayed still for a few seconds, with her eyes toward the ground as she thought deeply. Before Nanako knew it, she found herself in front of the most unusual view: Konoko kneeling and bowing before her.Bookmark here

"I'm so sorry Nako! I acted so foolishly today! I embarrassed you in front of Kenji too! Oh! I wish so much to take that moment back!" She sounded strange, like she was suffocating.Bookmark here

Nanako had certainly not been prepared for such a spectacle. Konoko had always had difficulties apologizing and she preferred to make up for her mistakes in different ways. Just taking her friend to the manga-anime fair like she said, or cooking dinner, were more Konoko-like methods. Nanako couldn't say a word in reply. She was too astonished. But Konoko wouldn't move from the floor. She just stayed there with her face down. Bookmark here

"Please Konoko! There's no need for this!" She couldn't say more.Bookmark here

Konoko looked at Nanako. Her eyes were watery and she had an embarrassed look. Nanako thought that she must have been really bothered about what happened since she went that far as to apologize like that. Bookmark here

"Kenji can't think ill of you Noko! You should know that! He may be different in his own way, but he is still your friend too! Actually, he was so worried about you today! He thinks you don't sleep well..." The last words were mostly whispered, so Konoko didn't understand them.Bookmark here

"Well, that's a sight!" exclaimed Ichirou who had just entered the room. He had become curious to see what the girls were up to. Bookmark here

Konoko turned her head toward him without moving from her apologizing stance. Small tears were still visible in the corners of her cloudy eyes.Bookmark here

"Don't tell me! Are you going to apologize to me too?" Ichirou's tone bore a mixture of stupefaction and disapproval.Bookmark here

"Why should I?" replied Konoko, regaining her normal loud voice and raising up. "You're the one who should apologize to me!" she added, slightly indignant. Bookmark here

"Oh, is that so? After all the time I spent searching for you today, I'd say we're at least even."Bookmark here

By her look, one could tell that Konoko felt touched hearing that he was worried about her, but she wouldn't acknowledge it. She didn't say anything and moved her eyes to the floor. Bookmark here

"What is all this stuff anyway?" inquired Ichirou in an attempt to change the uncomfortable subject. Bookmark here

Konoko's face immediately became bright again and began to frantically present her new possessions. Nanako seized the moment and went to the kitchen to prepare some snacks. Things seemed to have returned to normal as she could hear Konoko and Ichirou quarreling again about Konoko having wasted money on useless things. Bookmark here

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