Chapter 9:

The Artist's Request

Stars of Aoba

The pure white building reveals itself from afar in the afternoon sun. Even if the meeting itself is already planned, all three of Umeno, Hayato, and I, can’t help but tilt our heads in confusion and surprise at the sight before us.

Origami Hospital. That is the name on the giant sign. “Origami” surely means Origami-san, but I thought Shiraku meant something different when he said that he would arrange for us.

“So… are we going in?” Hayato is the first to break the silence.

“I… I guess…?” Umeno follows.

“Well, it’s better than just standing outside,” I let out a sigh and take a step forward. “Let’s just see for ourselves.”

The smell of chloride invades our nostrils as soon as the doors open. Yup, it’s a hospital alright; I don’t get sick to the point of being hospitalized often, so I can never get used to this scent.

The place is not a particularly large hospital. It’s in the afternoon already, but there’s barely anyone outside the rather modest white hall, and there’s only a single couple working on their transactions in front of the lone register desk.

Although, said couple’s identities have sure caught all of us by surprise.

“… Ryuuro?” Approaching the register desk, I call out.

And soon enough, the black-haired individual turns around to answer.

“Oh? I didn’t expect to meet you here, Tanaka.”

The normal greeting takes me by surprise; I think this is the first time we’re not trash-talking each other as soon as the other is in our sights. But even I know there’s a time and place for that kind of banter, seeing the giant bag full of different medicines in his hand.

“We’re planning to meet Origami-san from our class. Shiraku arranged the meeting, actually.”

“Ah, Kamiya-san, right?” Ryuuro nods in understanding, but little does he realize (or is it that he does realize but chooses to ignore it) Shizuka’s death glare right on his neck. “She should be at the back, in the children’s section.”

“Thanks. Oh, and…”

“What’s wrong?”

“Are… those for a family member?”

“Oh, these?” Raising the bag in question, the genius replies. “These are for me.”

“For you? All of them?”

“Asthma from a bad lung accident. Even my voice got changed as a result.” Ryuuro gives out a short and simple answer.

No wonder he’s more high-pitched than his twin, despite technically being the older one. And not to mention that stairway accident… Now I feel kind of bad, though. And scared.

“… Is that why Shizuka is with you? To keep you safe in case of accidents?”

“Oh, no, I’m mostly fine on my own. She just wants to tag along.”

An ominous smile creeps over our statures as the blonde in question jabs her partner on the back. If there was a knife in Shizuka’s hand, I’m sure that Ryuuro would die three times over already.

“Letting you go alone and leaving you with her? Not on my watch.”

“Haha… well, anyway, good luck with whatever you’re doing,” an awkward laugh ensues, and the genius waves us goodbye, returning us to the task at hand.

As discussed before, I step up to ask the lady at the counter.

“Excuse me, can we meet Origami Kamiya-san?”

“Kamiya-san is in the children’s corner. I’ll notify her of your arrival.”

The sound of children laughing and playing echoes through the hallways as the three of us approach the corresponding door. According to the lady at the register, this is a private hospital of the Origami family, and our target, Origami Kamiya, often helps with her parents’ job in the children's section, thanks to her pretty drawings and colorful personality. Although, I can’t really see her being ‘colorful’ at all.

“Excuse us,” Umeno knocks on the door. In the end, we have decided to let him do the negotiation as discussed before. “Is Origami Kamiya-san in there?”

“Oh, you must be the ones Shira-chan mentioned, right? Stay outside, please.”

That’s certainly an… odd choice.

“Um… do we not, like, get chairs?” I have no choice but to break my silence.

“… Oh my gosh, I forgot! I’m so, so sorry! Um, uh… there are chairs at the register counter! You can take those! Feel free to make yourself at home! Oh, wait, this is still outside the hallway! Oh, no…”

I don’t even know how I should react to the situation at hand. Now the word ‘shy’ doesn’t fit our artist’s description anymore. Should I say… socially inept? Yeah, that probably fits better.

Well, it still doesn’t change the fact that we’re pretty much on our own, so let’s make ourselves comfortable at least.

“Hayato,” turning to the speedster next to me, it’s time for me to pat him on the shoulder.

“You know just because I can run fast doesn’t mean I’m physically strong right?”

“You’re stronger than average, at least.”

“… Alright, fine.”

“Thanks a bunch,” giving him a big grin and a thumbs-up, I conclude before waving him towards the pile of chairs sitting by the corner of the registry.

Once we’re all seated, the conversation can officially begin. Even if it’s still weird sitting in front of a closed door.

“I-I’m sure you’ve heard about it… but… can you please help me with my campaign regarding the flyers?” Umeno stutters, still nervous to speak up even if there’s no one to look at him. The embarrassment from the morning is still in his mind, it seems.

“Um… no,” the answer we receive is surprising, to say the least. Not in what it actually is, but in the way our target displays it – a bit hesitant, but blunt and to the point nonetheless.

“I-If you’d please reconsider!”

“It’s not like I don’t want to help you… But the idea of me designing is already unfeasible by itself.”

“… Unfeasible? What do you mean by that?”

“I…” Origami hesitates for a bit. From outside, I can even hear a deep breath before another pause. She’s thinking long and hard about the matter at hand.

“I… don’t… know how to deal with people. Whenever I see someone, I get into a bumbling mess. The only times I can converse naturally with people are when we’re separated by something, like this door. But then if I don’t see others, I sometimes go overboard and make them angry without knowing it…”

I turn my gaze towards Umeno, who does the same towards me. Two peas in a pod, are they not? … Well, not too much, actually, but in a way, they do have something in common.

“I… I know how you feel!” Umeno firmly answers, confidence finally exuding from his posture. “I’m also having problems with communicating with others! That’s why I’m running this campaign, to overcome my weakness! Please, Origami-san, I need your help!”

“I… But I really can’t see people directly…”

“Wait,” an idea pops up in my mind as I hear her words once more. “I think we can do something about that.”

“… What do you have in mind?”

“In the end, you just don’t need to see us, right?”

“Well, yes… But designing takes a lot of time, and I need feedback to go through iterations too, I can’t just not see any of you ever during the campaign… And then there’s the matter of the children too… what if I can’t make time to design…”

“Can you draw digitally?” Seeing that the time is nigh, I go for the final shot.

“Digitally? … Oh, I get it,” Origami’s voice lights up from the other side of the door, but only for a moment. “We can organize our campaign entirely online, is that what you’re trying to say?”

“Exactly! If we just turn off our cameras, there’s no need to see one another! And doing things online means that you don’t need to go anywhere either!”

“That’s a terrible idea. What if I say something inappropriate to you?”

Ah, there it is again. But to convince her, I need to push further.

“Don’t worry, we don’t mind at all! Right, guys? Sometimes feedback needs to hurt!”

“… Yeah, this might just work!” Umeno gleefully agrees. “I wouldn’t mind it at all!”

“Y-Yeah, I’m the same too!” Hayato quickly catches on to the situation and adds to the point.

And with the three of us combined, the sturdy walls of the paper goddess’s defense finally come crumbling down.

“O-Okay, if you guys are weird like that… I guess I could help you. But on one condition: since I’m still busy with hospital work, I can only help you during the night. Is that okay?”

“Of course! You can do it at your own pace!” Umeno makes a perfect 90-degree angle bow on his chair, even if the one in front of him is just a wooden door.

“It’s a deal, then. Pleased to be working with you.”

Ei Ruan