CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
THE BOUNDARY LINE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL
The everlasting summer sea. The boundless blue sky. Perfectly clear air. The rustling of the salty sea breeze that gently wraps around the body.
Here, in the heart of the Pacific Ocean without feeling the sweltering midsummer heat.
Yes, this is really a Sea Paradise.
“OHHHHHH! This is the best AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”
From the deck of a luxury liner loudly rang the screams of Ike Kanji who stood with both hands raised. Usually, complaints and phrases like “SHUT UP!” came flying from nowhere, but today of all days there was nothing and everyone finally enjoyed a blissful moment. There was a remarkable view from the best place on the deck in the reserved seats.
“What a fantastic view! I’m really super excited!!!!”
A group of girls led by Karuizawa showed up from the inboard compartments. She pointed at the ocean and with a ear-to-ear grin said: “Really, what a terrible scenery…”
Kushida Kikyō, one of the girls of the group idling about, was also ecstatic and was sighing while looking at the sea.
After overwhelming hardships, the midterm and the finals we finally welcomed summer vacation. It was waiting for us with open arms.
Koudo Ikusei Senior High School had organized for us a luxurious two-week trip. A cruise on a luxury liner.
“I’m glad I didn’t leave school, Ken. If this trip was an ordinary trip, it would’ve been definitely impossible for me. How does it feel to be someone on the verge of being kicked out, who was in the last place even in the final exam? Tell me, how does it feel?”
Even if this question was instigated by Yamauchi Haruki, Sudō Ken, far from looking blue, just howled with laughter. The fierce and cool appearance of the lone wolf merged completely into the laughing classmate’s figure. “It’s all a piece of cake if I depend on my skills. Didn’t they say I could show my ability of playing the leading role to resolve everything with my intellect?”
Despite being in agony only some time ago, this trip seems to have completely blown everything away. It surely seems like this blue sea washes away all the usual troublesome things and the difficult situations.
“I never would’ve dreamed I could be part of such a luxurious trip. And it’s 2 weeks, 2 WEEKS. When mom and dad will hear it, they will be so surprised that they will piss in their pants”.
As Sudō said, from an ordinary person’s point of view, this is a non-standard trip. In this high school, supported by the country, there’s really no need to pay for miscellaneous expenses or tuition. And naturally, even for this trip. It’s all special treatment.
And needless to say, the exterior of the liner we boarded and the facilities were also very fulfilling. From a first class restaurant and the theater where you can enjoy plays or live performance, to a classy spa fully equipped of anything. If I ever thought of travelling as an individual here, I would need to spend 100.000 yen in the off-season.
Finally, such a marvellous and commended trip starts today.
The schedule will go on like this.
In the first week, we’re going to make the most of our summer vacation by staying at a pension built on a desert island.
Then, the following week we’re going to sojourn on the cruise boat. At 5 am, the first year students will take the bus simultaneously and head towards Tokyo Bay, then the passenger ship will leave from the port where the students boarded.
While eating breakfast in the liner’s lounge, the students could behave as they pleased. Additionally, a very fortunate thing was that all the facilities on the ship could be used free of charge. For us, usually worried about points of shortage and expenses, this was a life-saver.
Suddenly, Kushida turned towards me and gave me a thoughtful look. Backed by the ocean and the blue sky, Kushida looked even more shining and I don’t know why but my heart pounded, despite being ugly.
Impossible, it can’t be that she…towards me.
“Well then, how about Horikita-san? Aren’t you always together?”
I couldn’t allow myself to be captured in the haze of her vision. It seems like she was simply thinking about Horikita.
“Come on, now. I’m not her guardian…”
I can’t remember seeing her on board after breakfast.
“You don’t seem much of a person who enjoys travelling, are you more like one who enjoys staying in the room?”
“I guess so”
“Around noon we can go on the private beach of the island and swim freely. I can’t wait!!”
It seems like this school owns a small island in the south, and we’re heading there now.
“Attention to all the students! Please gather on the deck. You’ll be able to see the island soon. For a while, you will be able to see a very meaningful and splendid scenery”. This curious announcement suddenly reverberated throughout the ship. Kushida and the others paid attention to it and calmly seemed to be looking forward to what was to come.
A few minutes after several students started to gather, the island appeared.
Ike let out a whoop of joy. The students noticed it and they began to cluster on the deck all at once. When a whole mass of people crowded the place, some bossy students came to push us so that they could take our place on the best position.
“Ah so bothersome…Hey, get out of the way! You rejects!”
In that moment, one of the very intimidating boys thrust away my shoulder. In a sudden fluster, I grabbed the balustrade of the deck to avoid losing balance and falling. Those students laughed at me in disdain.
“Hey you, what the fuck are you doing?”
Sudō became extremely upset and intimidated on the spot. Kushida, worried by the situation, came beside me. Another girl who followed behind that student and saw the scene actually had a very miserable aspect.
“You should understand this schools’ system. It’s a school based on merit. There are no human rights in class D. ‘Defectives’ have to behave obediently and submissively, like the rejects they are. This side, we’re all class A”.
The D class then departed from the bow (of the boat) like they had been kicked out. Sudō seemed displeased, still he didn’t give in to a fight and was able to endure with it, which proved that he was becoming a little more grown-up. Or was it simply because he understood and accepted class D’s inferior position?
“Hey everyone, you were all here. What happened?”
Among the students who came flocking, one boy called out to me.
Although we sensed that the situation was displeasing and unfair, there was no need to have unnecessary worries. So better to pay no heed to it.
That boy’s name was Yōsuke Hirata. Class D’s Leader.
I’m also the leader of the group to which I belong.
The rooms’ allocation in groups was about to be decided in that moment. While I was just expecting not to be called by Ike and Sudō to whom I was relatively close, the group simply ended up in over capacity.
Just when I remained alone, the entrance of Hirata kind of like a Messiah settled the situation.
“Say Hirata, how far did you get with Karuizawa?”
Ike addressed Hirata who actually never tried to get closer to Karuizawa.
“Why don’t you take the chance of this long-awaited trip and try to be more flirty with her?”
He poked fun like that, having also heard that Hirata hates when other girls look at him.
“We just go to our own pace, huh sorry. I’ll be going now. Miyake-kun seems to be in trouble”.
His mobile rang and Hirata went back to the ship while fiddling. Busy is the destiny for popular people.
“What’s with him? Is he really only worried about his classmates?”
“But Karuizawa is Karuizawa, and apparently they’ve not been much close recently so…perhaps…they’ve broken up? If it’s like that, then it sucks. Kushida-chan will have much more competition”.
Certainly, they could be less close compared to when they started dating. But I don’t feel like they’ve fought or the situation has got uglier. Because indeed they seem to get along well when I see them talking.
“I’ve decided Haruki. I…will confess to Kushida-chan on this trip”
“Well, what the fuck. If she dumps you Ike, it’s gonna be incredibly awkward. Will it be okay??”
“This is only for my selfish reasoning. In any case, isn’t Kushida-chan very cute? That’s why I think most of the boys want to ask her out. However, as she’s out of my and their league, and she’s not used to confessions I’m sure that there’s a possibility that Kushida-chan’s heart will be shaken by my sudden love confession. But there’s only a little hope there”.
“I see…you made up your mind already..”
Yamauchi wanted to burst into opposition about that, but he did nothing. He was looking over the deck restlessly as if he was searching for something.
“What’s the matter?”
“Ahhh, no nothing…”
After ignoring me absent-mindedly like that, in the end Yamauchi didn’t touch the Kushida subject anymore.
“Hey hey Kushida-chan. You got a minute?”
“Uhm? What is it?”
Ike immediately approached Kushida who was calmly looking over the sea nearby. Obviously, that was a suspicious move.
“Well…how shall I say…Hasn’t been about 4 months since we met? That’s why, before long I wonder if it’s okay to call you by your first name. You see, it sounds cold and distant when I call you by your last name”.
“Now that you mention it, Yamauchi-kun called me by my name before I realized it”
“Eh, I guess it’s bad if I call you Kikyō-chan, after all”.
Ike exclaimed a bit deflated but Kushida beamed nonchalantly.
“Of course, there’s no problem with it! Should I call you Kanji-kun too?”
“UUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHH KIKYO-CHAN AAAAAAAAHHHHHH”
Ike cried out and screamed assuming a pose of one who was going towards heaven or of someone who just received a package with Platoon the Movie.
Kushida laughed softly. I guess she saw him as strange and funny.
“First names uh?…come to think of it, what is Horikita’s first name?”
Sudō naturally asks me if I know it.
“It’s Tomiko. Horikita Tomiko.”
“Mhm Tomiko…it’s a cute name. As expected, the feeling is perfect.”
“Ah no, I was wrong. It was Suzune”
“You little…do not make more mistakes. Suzune uh? It feels perfect like Tomiko, but 100 millions times more”
Whether Horikita’s name is Sadako or Sam, it would be selfish to feel it or say it without permission.
“During this summer vacation, I will also call you by your first name. Suzune, Suzune…”
Well, it seems like the boys want to get closer to the girls during this vacation.
Meanwhile, none of the boys calls me by my first name nor I call them with theirs.
“That’s right. Hey look here, Ayanokoji. You made me try practicing. Now you practice saying Suzune’s name too”
“Practice? Why? Practice, you say…That’s not normal”.
You can’t do something like practicing saying a person’s name… unless you do it before the person himself.
Don’t tell me that the simple-minded Sudō intends to make me out to be an imaginary Horikita.
He was staring at me intensely.
Probably because he’s imagining the opposite sex, but that gaze is awfully gross.
“Say, Horikita, you got a minute? I need to talk to you a little”
“I’m not Horikita”
I became immediately disgusted and turned away with a face of disapproval.
“YOU IDIOT! It’s practice. I also don’t want to do it, but it’s necessary for me, mhm maybe or maybe not. Because if I don’t practice I can’t be good. It’s important I give it a shot either way.”
I really don’t want to hear such a horseshit talk.
Ahhh, since it can’t be helped, I’ll just go along with it and be patient.
“Horikita. It isn’t strange that we’re always treating each other as strangers? We’ve been acquainted for a long time. And it seems like others are calling each other nicely with their first name. How about we do it too soon…. gradually?”
Unconsciously, I wanted to hit Sudō’s head so much. But I endured it with patience and mentally just like an adult would do. Just like an adult would do.
“Say something! Why are you not practicing with me?”
“No, no…What do you want me to say?”
“Just something that Horikita is likely to reply. Since you’ve known her for a long time, you must know what she’d say, right?”
Our level of acquaintance is 4 months, so it’s impossible for me to know such things.
Even so, Sudō insisted that I played the part of an imaginary Horikita. I clenched my fist unconsciously as to threaten someone.
“I’m one step from becoming an adult and I should do something like this on behalf of Horikita? Feel free to practice by yourself”
Instead, Ike acted as a substitute.
While looking a bit shady, Sudō said: “Horikita…is it okay if I call you with your first name?”
“Um well…Sudō-kun is not really a handsome guy, isn’t he? I mean, it seems like he doesn’t have much money either. He isn’t really my type, can’t you see? I mean, sorry sorry, isn’t he an outcast?! ”
Ike was acting as a gyaru (t/n: a woman adhering to a fashion trend usually marked by brown or blond-dyed hair, gaudy clothes and accessories) high school student who, on the contrary, looked nothing as such. So Sudō, even while being on the deck, decided to chokehold him and making him writhe in agony.
They’re always full of vitality, these fellows. Just by looking at them, the fatigue builds up and accumulate. Still, it seems funny.
After a while, all around the gasps grew louder.
The students’ enthusiasm also increased greatly when the island could be clearly visible to the naked eye and the distance shortened more and more. I thought the ship was directed to the island, but I don’t know why we passed through the pier and the ship began encircling around the island. The area lent by the country to manage the island is 0.5 km. The highest altitude is 230m. It’s a very tiny island if seen from the perspective of Japan’s totality as a country, but if seen by a hundred and a dozen people on a cruise like us, it was even too big.
Somehow, the liner circumnavigated the island and showed it entirely. It continued to go round and round the outer perimeter without changing speed. Although the ship barely made a splash of water, it actually navigated at an unnatural high speed.
“It’s a very mysterious sight… I’m impressed. Don’t you think so, Ayanokoji-kun?”
“Oh? hmm yeah true.”
I looked at Kushida whose eyes were shining while looking at the desert island, and my heart pounded a little. Again. After all, Kushida was really cute. I wanted to protect that smile and that child-like behaviour.
“From here, we will land on an uninhabited island owned by the school. Students should change into their jerseys, check their prescribed bags and luggage properly and don’t forget to bring out their mobile phone. After that, please assemble on the deck. Please keep all your personal belongings in your rooms. Since there’s a possibility that you won’t be able to go to the toilet for some time, please settle it properly now.”
This announcement rolled around. Apparently, the docking point on the private beach is near. It seems like Ike and the others are going back to change with high spirits. I also turned my feet back to the group room. Then I dressed myself in a jersey I used during physical education class, returned to the deck and waited for the boat to reach the island. As we drew closer to the island which was directly ahead, the enthusiasm of first-year students reached its peak.
“From this point onward, starting from the students of class A, we’ll begin to descend in order. Moreover, it’s forbidden to bring mobile phones on the island. So please, hand them over individually to your homeroom teacher and go down the ship”. With the teacher’s voice on the loudspeaker, the students went down the stairs of the ship in order.
“Whew, please hurry up! Even though we’re thinly dressed, we’re all sweating here”.
The deck of the anchored ship was too exposed to the sun. No wonder many complaints came out. Class D was standing on the ship ready to go down while enduring the heat, and in the end Horikita joined them too. At first glance it seemed like a usual situation, but something has shifted. There was like a feeling of discomfort and uneasiness. Even Horikita who is usually a methodical and scrupulous person seemed to be anxious about outward appearances. Nevertheless, she kept her black hair tousled not changing completely her own aspect. She looked a bit cold and unconsciously she rubbed her arms while waiting for the landing on the island.
“What have you been up to?”
“I’ve been just reading a book in my room. “For Whom The Bell Tolls”…. You wouldn’t know”.
C’mon. It was one of Ernest Hemingway’s representative works, wasn’t it? An unparalleled masterpiece, no doubts about it. I thought about it for a long time, but Horikita’s hobby of reading this kind of books is amazing…But, I wonder about the priority of reading even during this wonderful trip. Well, in these circumstances I’m also dubious on whether I favoured the room as a good place to read books or not.
Let’s just forget about it. The person herself won’t say anything about the topic and to pry inquisitively from here would be rude.
“I’m anxious about the sequel, but if it’s forbidden to bring personal items, then I can’t do anything about it”.
Regretfully and awkwardly, I clear my throat.
These are not things that people commonly say while going down to the beach.
Going ashore and leaving the boat took longer than I thought. Probably because the teachers divided and compacted the students in two sides, and they were proceeding to check their luggage.
“Hey, strangely aren’t they being too guarded or, how should I say, careful? They should confiscate mobile phones during a test, not now. It looks like it’s even forbidden bringing too many personal items”
“Definitely. If people are only playing in the ocean, I also feel like they don’t really have to go to the extent of doing that”.
By the way, abaft there was a helicopter. Speaking of unnaturalness and strangeness, that one was unnatural too. Well, it is true that it was a little suspicious, but maybe I was thinking too much. If students brought a mobile phone to the sea, probably some of them will end up getting it wet or broken. Bringing extra personal things could also imply that all the garbage will pollute the beach. If someone suddenly fell ill, the helicopter’s dispatch could be useful and probably it wouldn’t be such an unlikely story to tell…right?
Soon our turn will come, and we will get off the ramp after receiving a rigorous inspection.
At that time, I didn’t realize yet this place was going to be the borderline between heaven and hell.
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