Chapter 4 – Sleeping Beauty

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At the end of the day, I’m just a high school student.

It may look like I’m always working on some Relic-related incidents, but that’s not true.

I do read manga and I do play video games just like anyone else, although I hardly ever buy any because I’m broke. And of course, I hang around with my friend after school when I’m not on shift, and I engage in silly chats during breaks. I’m happy when I get a good mark, and I’m depressed when I get a bad one. Not only do I join my buddies to some karaoke occasionally, I’ve also played billiard and dart and whatnot with them. And while I haven’t had the opportunity yet, I’m also interested in skiing and snowboarding.

I could go on like that, but the point is that I do the same things and have the same interests as any high school student.

Anyway, what I’m really getting at here is… well, I’m not generally uninterested in, um, romance.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that I would be a bit sensitive to this kind of thing, right?

When I woke up, I realized that Tokiya had pushed me down.

No, “pushed down” might be an inaccurate expression, because I must have already been asleep and lying by the time it happened.

In that case, what should I label this situation?

His right cheek was softly pressed against mine, his left hand placed on my right, his right leg between my legs, and his body was on mine.

Should I say that he was holding me down? Let’s make another quick check…

His right cheek was softly pressed against mine, his left hand placed on my right, his right leg between my legs, and his body was on mine.

Yes, “to hold down” should fit quite nicely. But wait, I thought. He wasn’t moving.

“Tokiya?” I called his name, but there was no response. He seemed to be sleeping and was breathing calmly.

Someone who’s asleep can hardly hold you down, so this expression might be inaccurate as well. But what should I call this, then? Our bodies were entwined?

Something still feels off. Wasn’t there a simple and straightforward expression for this kind of situation? For example—

We were cuddling.

“Cudd…!” I uttered unwittingly in surprise at my own thoughts.

Tokiya and I were cuddl… no, our bodies were entwi… no, he was holding me dow… anyway, we were in that specific situation.

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At 08:00 in the evening, in the living room, alone.

At 08:00 in the evening…?

I looked at the clock once again, but the display did read “PM” indeed.

The fact that Tokiya and I were cuddl… no, our bodies were entwi… no, he was holding me dow… anyway, the fact that we were in that specific situation confused me a lot already, but the time was just as startling.

I couldn’t remember taking an afternoon nap.

I wondered if I had passed out, but I was unable to confirm that; there was a gap in my memory. Calming myself down, I started tracing my memory.

I had stood up in the morning, changed into my clothes and prepared breakfast. After that, I went to wake up Towako-san, but I was told not to because her latest investigations had reversed her circadian rhythm, which is why I then had breakfast alone. And then…

Right. I noticed that the trash bin was full. Therefore, I filled the trash into a bag.

That’s where my memory cut off.

I had been taking breakfast, so it should have been about 08:00 AM.

I looked once more at the clock. It was eight o’clock in the evening. I managed to move my head—I accidentally rubbed my cheek against Tokiya’s when I did so, but I tried not to think about it—and took a look out of the window. As expected, it was dark outside; this eliminated the possibility of the clock displaying the wrong time period.

Had I fallen asleep while putting the trash out? Twelve hours even?

This is weird. What’s going on…?

I couldn’t believe that I had fallen asleep while I was filling a trash bag. Something must have happened then—

“Mhn!” A strange utter escaped my lips as Tokiya’s tickling breath found its way into my ear. I hurriedly closed my mouth.

I hope he didn’t hear that.

Now that I thought about it, Tokiya and I were cuddl… no, our bodies were entwi… no, he was holding me dow… anyway, we were in that specific situation. On top of that, Tokiya had already been asleep when I’d woken up.

In other words, we had been sleeping together like this.

…But how and why did we end up in this position?

Suddenly, my awareness of the situation jumped up. Not as words, but by feeling his touch and his warmth, I grew aware that his face, his hand, and his body were pressed against mine.

“A-At any rate, I should wake him up.”

I tried to push him away from below, but he turned out to be heavier than expected. That reminded me that I’d once read somewhere that sleeping kids were heavy.

Because his position had changed in the process, however, Tokiya started to shift about and, even worse, intertwined the fingers of his right hand with those of my left hand.

It was as though we were holding hands.

“T-Tokiya.”

I didn’t care about why I had been asleep for twelve hours anymore; this situation was far more urgent.

Anyways, I have to push him away.

However, neither did Tokiya move away, nor could I move him away.

Please, Towako-san, come down here. The moment I thought so, my savior came down the stairs.

“Saki-chaaan, I’m hungry! Is dinner ready?”

“Ah, Towako-san, you’ve come just at the right moment…” I said, asking for help with my problem—

“Sorry for disturbing!”

But my request was ignored; Towako-san made an about-turn and went back up the stairs.

Huh? Why would she just go away? Huh? Disturbing? What did she mean by “disturbing”?

For once, I shouted at the top of my lungs: “Y-You, you’ve got the wrong idea!”

After I had somehow managed to stop her, I explained the situation to her and had her move Tokiya away.

“What should I say—that was a surprise! Sure didn’t expect to find you two making love!”

“That’s a misunderstanding.”

She had clearly used a false expression.

I moved my gaze from Towako-san to Tokiya. He was still asleep and wouldn’t wake up no matter how much we shook and hit him. Is he that tired?

“By the way, do you happen to know what I’ve been doing today? I don’t remember anything between eight in the morning until now. It seems like I was sleeping, though…”

“Eight in the morning? About the time when you came to wake me up?” Towako-san asked back.

“Yes. The last thing I remember doing is having breakfast and trying to bring out the trash.”

“Hm… I also got up just now, you see. Can’t help you with that.”

“You’ve been asleep for more than twelve hours?”

“Well, that’s an all-nighter for you. The day was over by the time I got out of my bed,” Towako-san explained as she tilted her head left and right, cracking her shoulders. Apparently, she was still exhausted. Thinking like that, it might not be that strange that we would sleep for so long, either.

I suppose it’s possible to fall asleep for half a day because of exhaustion…?

“Speaking of which, what are you investigating?” I asked.

“Ah, a few things about that Censer.”

She was referring to the Relic Tokiya had brought, which allowed anyone who fell asleep while burning incense with it to control their dreams. He received the censer from a girl in his school who had fallen victim to it and decided to entrust Towako-san with it.

“More importantly, I’m hungry.”

“Ah, yes. I’ll prepare dinner right away. Just let me tidy away the trash before that…”

Because I’d suddenly fallen asleep, the trash bin was turned over and its contents were scattered about on the floor. I didn’t have time to bring out the trash, but I wanted to stuff it into a bag at least.

“Oh, I’ll take care of that. Into the kitchen with you!” To my surprise, Towako-san offered to help with the housework for once. I gathered that she was starving, not having eaten anything all day.

“Okay, can I ask you to fill the bag, then?”

“Sure!” she replied as she walked toward the trash bin—

Her face suddenly turned stern.

“Towako-san?”

She ran her finger across the floor and scowled at it.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, and noticed on a closer look that her finger was covered with dust. “Should I wipe off the dust?”

“It’s ashes.”

“Ashes?”

“I remember now. Yesterday, Tokiya threw away the remaining ashes inside the Censer into the trash bin.” Towako-san dusted off her finger. “You fell asleep when you were emptying this trash bin, correct?”

“Um, yes.”

“Didn’t that whirl up some ashes?”

“Now that you mention it…”

I remembered being bothered by the dust that was raised when I moved the contents into the bag. Right after that, I suddenly became sleepy—

“Tokiya! Wake up!” Towako-san yelled as she gave him a shake. However, Tokiya showed no signs of waking up. She proceeded to examining his hands; his fingers were covered by ashes like hers. “Maybe there’s some side effect to the ashes of that censer. Keep an eye on Tokiya; I’m looking into the matter,” she said and went back upstairs.

I gazed after her. I had to leave this matter to her.

While putting a blanket over Tokiya, I pondered over what I should do after that, since I was well rested. I also felt uncomfortable because I hadn’t kept the shop that day.

Does this mark the start of the Tsukumodo Antique Shop late night opening?

Suddenly, Tokiya turned over, pushing away the blanket. When I reached out to adjust the blanket for him, he also tried to do the same in his sleep and accidentally grabbed my hand.

I almost pulled my hand back, but I reconsidered.

His hand was bigger than I’d thought; surprisingly hard skin and big fingers made his hand appear very masculine.

I recalled the touch of our intertwined fingers, the weight of his body, his warmth.

Noticing how my face was heating up, I put my hand on my cheek to cool down a bit. Because the feel of Tokiya’s hand was still fresh, however, it felt as though his hand was stroking my cheek.

I immediately shake off those strange thoughts by physically shaking my head.

I had been a bit strange ever since that day—by “that day” I mean the day when Tokiya went to the rescue of that girl who had fallen victim to the censer—ever since Tokiya had done a certain thing to me.

However, in a sense, I also thought that there was nothing strange about that.

It may look like I’m always working on some Relic-related incidents or caring about our sales, but that’s not true.

At the end of the day, I’m just a teenager girl.

I do have them, too — those moments when you get conscious of the other sex.

I was lying around alone when I woke up.

Well, I always sleep alone, so that was completely normal. What wasn’t quite as normal was the fact that I had been sleeping in the living room at the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.

Why didn’t I sleep at home? I thought and tried to trace my memories of the previous day.

Right! When I’d come to work in the evening, I’d come across a shocking scene.

The shop was closed.

While you wouldn’t find any customers at any time throughout the year, you could be sure that the Tsukumodo Antique Shop wasn’t closed on any day in the week, unless there were special circumstances. And I hadn’t heard of any.

I entered the shop through the back door and discovered Saki collapsed on the floor in the living room. Her condition and that of the shop immediately linked in my head.

Has she been lying there since before the opening time?

Keeping my blood from running cold with all my might, I rushed into the room and raised her upper body—

Saki was sleeping leisurely; with the usual lack of expression in her face and no sign of pain.

Suddenly, a possible explanation crossed my mind: Towako-san had been investigating the censer I’d brought her the other day; Saki must have been assisting her until late at night.

After I’d let out a deep sigh, I put a blanket over Saki and reluctantly opened the shop.

Before I knew it, it was closing time. Wanting to take my leave, I tried to wake Saki up, but no matter how much I shook and nudged her, she wouldn’t open her eyes.

Slowly but surely getting suspicious, I took a look around because I feared that there was a relation to yet another Relic. However, there was nothing special to catch the eye, except maybe for the trash bin which was turned over.

When I grabbed the bin to raise it, I noticed that my hand had gotten dirty. Analyzing the touch and the smell, I found out that it was ashes—the ashes I had thrown away the other day that had been inside the censer.

The censer gave its users absolute control over their dreams, and, more importantly, the incense burnt with it was very sleep-inducing—

I realized that Saki’s deep sleep must have been caused by the censer or its ashes.

But that realization had come too late.

I had probably breathed in some when I smelled on the ashes; I was suddenly assaulted by an overwhelming wave of sleepiness I could hardly resist.

During the last moments of consciousness, I had tried to shake Saki awake—

But my thread of consciousness had been cut before I succeeded.

Most likely, I’ve been sound asleep after that, I thought after ending my flashback.

The clock revealed to me that it was shortly after eight in the morning, which would mean that I had slept for about twelve hours.

“Where’s Saki?” I muttered, unable to make out Saki, who had been sleeping here as well.

Wanting to take a look into her room, I went to the stairs, just to run into Towako-san who was coming downstairs carrying an energy drink in one hand.

“Oh, woken up?”

“Towako-san, I was…” She signaled me to stop before I could finish.

“You were charmed to sleep by that censer, no?”

I was an open book to Towako-san, as it seemed.

“Is Saki okay?” I asked.

“I’ve just taken a look into her room. She’s sound asleep.”

“All day and night?”

“No, she was awake during the night.”

“I see…” Saki had been awake while I was asleep. “Because of the censer, I suppose?”

“To be exact, it’s because of the incense burnt with it. Probably some kind of side effect. Give me some more time to find out the details.”

“Got it.”

“How are you feeling?” Towako-san asked me.

“Normal. In fact, I feel pretty well rested.”

“Doesn’t surprise me, seeing that you’ve had a good twelve hours rest. So, what are you going to do?”

“Hm?”

“Classes are starting.”

“Shit, I’m late!”

Seems like I had been still half-asleep; cruel reality blew away the cobwebs.

“Drop me a message during each break. Just in case you fall asleep at school.”

“Okay, see you!” I replied as I dashed outside. Sure got myself into some trouble again, I thought while I was running to school.

Yes, at the time, I had no idea how severe this incident truly was.

The situation became a bit clearer after a few days.

For one thing, we learned that the ashes of the Censer came with a sleep-inducing side-effect whose sleep could not be interrupted. For another thing, that sleep would always set in at a certain time of the day and last for exactly 12 hours.

In other words, I was asleep from 8 AM until 8 PM and awake from 8 PM until 8 AM. Tokiya, on the other hand, was asleep from 8 PM until 8 AM and awake from 8 AM until 8 PM, meaning that he was asleep just when I was awake and vice versa.

Tokiya could still consider himself happy: He was awake when he had to attend classes and keep the shop. The only real downside he had to deal with was a slightly increased sleep length.

However, I was different. I couldn’t work.

I would wake up just when the shop closed and fall asleep when the shop opened its doors. I was upset; I’d even asked Towako-san to provisionally extend the opening time, but in the end, there were no customers at so late an hour.

Of course, I didn’t just sit back and do nothing: I tried everything that I could to attract customers nonetheless, starting off by reading “SPECIAL ISSUE: Behind The Scenes – Night Clubs” and “Becoming A Queen Of The Night Made Easy.” However, these books were of no use for the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.

To begin with, I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol yet, nor was I a queen.

Once, I followed the advice given in “How To Snatch Customers Off The Street At Night” and tried approaching someone on the main street saying “Hey boss, fancy to take a look at one of our hot antiques?” but that person was not an executive. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to recognize superiors at a glance, and most of all, there were no people that late at night that looked like they would be leading a team.

Anyway.

Being unable to serve any customers had left me stressed and made me realize once again that I’d been born for customer service. I hadn’t expected that not being able to work would be so agonizing.

Besides—

I hadn’t met Tokiya for days. Not in an awake state, at least…

Somehow I don’t like this.

I looked at Tokiya who was lying next to me, sound asleep.

Tsukumodo_V3_269

We had decided that Tokiya would be staying here for a while because it was dangerous if he suddenly fell asleep at home when he was alone. We weren’t absolutely sure of the sleep cycles yet.

Just bear up with it a little longer, Saki, I told myself, Towako-san is searching for a solution.

“Hah…” I sighed as I poked his nose with my finger.

You could at least make an effort to stay awake once in a while!

The situation became a bit clearer after a few days.

For one thing, we learned that the ashes of the Censer came with a sleep-inducing side-effect whose sleep could not be interrupted. For another thing, that sleep would always set in at a certain time of the day and last for exactly 12 hours.

In other words, I was asleep from 8 PM until 8 AM and awake from 8 AM until 8 PM. Saki, on the other hand, was asleep from 8 AM until 8 PM and awake from 8 PM until 8 AM, meaning that she was asleep just when I was awake and vice versa.

Saki could still consider herself happy: She had a proper excuse to sleep through her shift and was free to do whatever she wanted at night. Well, I didn’t know if there was anything she would want to do, though.

However, I was different. I had to go to school and to work.

Even though I could’ve called in sick if only my sleep cycle would set in during school, I would always wake up at 8 sharp, which was, to top things off, just in time to barely make it to school somehow. Every morning I had to get up in a hurry and run there at full speed. The evenings weren’t any better, since work was calling, leaving me with not a single free minute before getting sleepy. Moreover, I had trouble following my buddies at school when they talked about the TV shows they had watched the day before for obvious reasons.

Anyway.

Having no free time for myself had left me stressed and made me realize again how much I loved my liberties. I hadn’t expected that spending all time for school, work, and school would be so agonizing.

Besides—

I hadn’t met Saki for days. Not in an awake state, at least…

Somehow I don’t like this.

I looked at Saki who was lying next to me, sound asleep.

We had decided that Saki would be sleeping in the living room for a while because it was dangerous if she suddenly fell asleep while using the stairs. We weren’t absolutely sure of the sleep cycles yet.

You won’t have to endure this much longer, I told myself, Towako-san is searching for a solution.

“Hah…” I sighed as I poked Saki’s cheeks with my finger.

Geez, try to stay awake once in a while!

After long, Towako-san finally discovered a way to break the sleeping spell that lay on us:

 

“A kiss will do.”

 

That’s what she said.

“……”

“……”

“You want me to try to hit him and fail,” I said.

“That’d be a miss.”

“You want us to become happy.”

“You’re looking for bliss.”

“That language.”

“That’d be Swiss.”

“Nothing. Just bup—”

“—kis.”

“Sounds about right, doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t. I’m talking about a smooch, a lip smack,” Towako-san repeated.

“An illicitly distilled alcoholic liquor, and a watchmaking brand dedicated solely to children.”

“Hooch and Flik Flak. You know some quite obscure stuff, don’t you? …I can see that you’re flustered, but please stop with those silly jokes. You’re not that type of character.”

Yes, it’s not typical of me to be so flustered.

However, there was no way I could keep a cool head after hearing something like that. They may say that I have no feelings or that I don’t show them, but the odds are that my confusion did show this specific time.

“Well, the only thing that can awake Snow White from her sleep is the Prince’s kiss,” Towako-san explained.

“That scene was an addition of the movie and does not exist in the original tale by the Grimm Brothers.”

“I don’t care. The point is that the same thing happened in the past and was solved that way. So come on, get on with it!”

“Y-You can talk…”

“Hey, it’s just a kiss—you’re past that stage, aren’t you?”

“We’re not!”

“Even though you were squeezing each other in my shop the other day?”

“But that’s because Tokiya…!” Because he suddenly hugged me…

Towako-san had been teasing me with that for days.

“Well, I guess it’s a bit embarrassing if I’m watching, no? I’m waiting over there.”

“No, but…”

I looked at Tokiya—at his lips. My eyes were drawn to that one point.

I felt a blush spread over my cheeks.

That’s not typical of me at all.

Recollecting myself, I raised my head, just to find Towako-san broadly grinning at me.

“I-I’m not going to do it,” I declared.

“But the spell won’t break if you don’t.”

“But…”

Towako-san held her hand against her mouth and, with an amused smile resembling that of a child who had just received a new toy, she said: “Well, then you’ll just have to wait for Tokiya do it for you.”

After long, Towako-san finally discovered a way to break the sleeping spell that lay on us:

 

“A kiss will do.”
That’s what she said.

“……”

“……”

“You want me to try to hit her and fail,” I said.

“That’d be a miss.”

“You want us to become happy.”

“You’re looking for bliss.”

“That language.”

“That’d be Swiss.”

“Nothing. Just bup—”

“—kis.”

“Sounds about right, doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t. I’m talking about a smooch, a lip smack,” Towako-san repeated.”

“An illicitly distilled…”

“I’ve already heard that!”

She beat me, but that didn’t help me to cool down. There was no way in hell I could stomach an order like that without getting all flustered, no matter how cool-headed and reasonable I always was.

“Who did you just call reasonable and cool-headed?”

“No remarks on monologues, please,” I requested.

“You were speaking aloud.”

Oh, really? See? I’m so shaken that I can’t even hold my monologues in!

“Well, the only thing that can awake Snow White from her sleep is the Prince’s kiss,” Towako-san explained.

“That was just an addition of the movie, and…”

“I’ve already hear that as well. Saki-chan did that one.”

Oho! She must have also been quite bamboozled if she really gave the same replies as me!

“Anyway, there was a case like this in the past and it was solved like that, so go ahead and give it a try. Can’t hurt, can it? Come on, get on with it!”

“Y-You can talk…”

“But you two are past your first kiss, aren’t you? Saki-chan wouldn’t tell me, though.”

“We’re not!”

“Even though you were squeezing each other in my shop the other day?”

“But that’s because Saki…!” Because I was shown a dream where she died, so I overreacted a tiny bit when I confirmed that she was safe and sound…

But Towako-san had been teasing me with that for days.

“Well, I guess it’s a bit embarrassing if I’m watching, no? I’m waiting over there.”

“No, but…”

I looked at Saki who was sleeping in the living room—at her lips. My eyes were drawn to that one point.

I felt a blush spread over my cheeks.

That’s not typical of me at all.

Recollecting myself, I raised my head, just to find Towako-san broadly grinning at me.

“I-I’m not going to do it,” I declared.

“But the spell won’t break if you don’t.”

“But…”

Towako-san held her hand against her mouth and, with an amused smile resembling that of a child who had just received a new toy, she said: “Well, time to man up then.”

It was 8 PM sharp when I woke up.

Next to me lay a sleeping Tokiya, who must have fallen asleep just now.

That meant that the spell hadn’t been broken yet—in other words, that he hadn’t kissed me.

I found myself being half-relieved and half-disappointed… R-Relieved because Tokiya didn’t turn out to be a frivolous player who would do something like that without hesitating, and d-disappointed not because he didn’t kiss me, of course, but because the curse hadn’t been broken…!

A-Anyway, it seemed like it wasn’t that simple for Tokiya, either. He needs time to prepare himself, I guessed. After all, I had been quite flustered that morning as well, atypical as it was of me.

But maybe he’ll be ready tomorrow.

What needs be done on my part? Well… I’ll be asleep by then, so I can only sleep normally.

I tried lying down on my back.

Yes, lying like this should do the trick…

Wait! Doesn’t it look like I’m waiting for him when I’m sleeping like this?

Indeed. Let’s go with a face-down position.

I turned over onto my belly.

Wait! Tokiya won’t be able to do anything like this.

How about making a compromise and sleeping sideways?

I turned myself 90 degrees.

Tokiya’s face was right before my eyes.

I jumped to my feet.

Wow, that startled me. This isn’t good for my heart. I should calm down and give it some more thought later.

Suddenly feeling exhausted, I let out a deep sigh. And then I noticed something.

Oh, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. Let’s take care of this first, yes!

I went to the bathroom and started brushing my teeth; the typical “ch-ch-ch” resounded through the room.

“Not that I have bad breath. Yesterday’s dinner was mainly vegetables, after all.”

Ch-ch-ch.

“Ah, but I added some minced onions to the omelets. I should be fine, though, since I didn’t eat them raw…”

Ch-ch-ch.

“N-Now that I think about it, I had some black tea before I went to sleep. A peculiar type, so maybe there’s still some of its fragrance left…”

Ch-ch-ch-ch.

“C-Come to think of it, I also had some tea after brushing my teeth because I became thirsty…”

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch.

“Hm? Why are you brushing your teeth?” Towako-san suddenly said from behind.

“Uh…”

Oh, I almost swallowed the toothpaste.

I finished and turned around to her.

“We didn’t even have dinner yet…” Towako-san muttered suspiciously and then flashed a mischievous smile. “Quite the impatient girl, aren’t you, Saki-chan? You still have over 11 hours left. Heh, way to go! Make sure to brush them well!”

“T-That’s not it…”

What’s not it?”

S-She’s enjoying it. She’s totally enjoying this situation.

Feigning indifference, I asked, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but does it matter who executes the method that you mentioned for lifting the curse?”

“Hm? Well, I guess it doesn’t.”

“Why don’t you do it, then, Towako-san?”

I thought that was a great idea, if I may say so myself. There was no need that it was Tokiya and me who kissed.

Towako-san put a hand to her chin, and after some thought, she said “I see” as she clapped her hands. “It can be interpreted like that indeed!”

She walked up to me, and gently lifted my chin up, making me face her, while did the exact opposite and ducked my head slightly.

“That’s cool with me, I guess, if you insist,” she said.

“Eh? Eh? Eh?” Despite being the originator of the idea, I wasn’t able to follow.

Towako-san’s womanly lips drew nearer and nearer; they were moist and beautiful because she always used a weak lipstick.

How about me? I became worried that my lips were dry. It would be embarrassing if he thought I had chapped lips.

Ah, didn’t Koumoto-san give me a lipstick back then? I thought back at the hairdresser I had visited recently. But isn’t it a bit strange to put on lipstick for sleep? No, it’s not, right?

Ah! I shouldn’t be thinking about this now!

“Oh, wait!” Towako-san suddenly said, just when I was about to look away, as she pulled her head back.

“What’s the matter?” I asked while hiding the relief I was feeling inside. It was such times that I was grateful of my lack of expression.

“I just thought I’d better keep your lips for Tokiya because he may have changed his mind by now. ‘Guess I’ll only take care of him for the time being.”

Take care of him…? That means that Towako-san is going to…

“Well, let’s strike while the iron’s hot, shall we?”

With these words, she walked toward Tokiya, but suddenly she stopped and slowly turned to me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well?” She pointed downward.

I followed her finger and noticed that I had grabbed her sleeve without noticing. Completely unwittingly.

“Eh, um, I…” I quickly pulled my hand away as I searched for words.

I had really not intended to do so. My hands had moved on their own.

Towako-san gave a light laugh and concluded, “You should really do it by the two of you.”

“Ah, no, I didn’t mean to…”

“Wouldn’t it save everyone time and costs if the kiss was just between Tokiya and you, Saki-chan?” She patted on my head and left the bathroom.

Save time and costs? She’s right. We are carrying the same curse, so it would be more effective this way. Besides, we can’t bother Towako-san with even more work when she has already done all the research for us.

I must have already come to that conclusion subconsciously, and that’s why my hand held her back.

Yes, I’m sure.

It was 8 AM sharp when I woke up.

Next to me lay a sleeping Saki who must have fallen asleep just now.

That meant that the spell hadn’t been broken yet—in other words, that she hadn’t kissed me.

I found myself being half-relieved and half-disappointed… R-Relieved that Saki didn’t beat me to it, because well, I’m the guy, so I should do it, and d-disappointed because I’d had faint hopes that the curse might be lifted conveniently through some other way…

A-Anyway, I had to seize the initiative. For one thing, it seemed unlikely to me that Saki would… do that, and for another, I felt that this was a task for the guy to do. I felt so… but that’s easier said than done.

However, my own misgivings weren’t the problem here. I didn’t care about myself so much.

I for one didn’t have any special ideas on how I wanted to experience my first kiss, nor did I want to save it for ever. Yeah, my first! Got a problem?!

Anyway, I was actually done preparing myself mentally.

The problem was how Saki felt about it.

I didn’t think that she was exactly happy, but I wondered if she was willing to swallow the bitter pill; that would’ve made things easier. What I feared, however, was that she was desperately searching for another way that didn’t involve that.

Or perhaps, she preferred to leave the curse as it was over lifting it through that method.

“Ah, dammit! Can’t we have a few minutes when we’re both awake?!”

Why are our sleeping cycles precisely 12 hours from another…?

I started chewing on a gum to calm down a bit, and finally came up with a great—or maybe decent—idea.

“I’ll leave her a message.”

That was our best bet if we couldn’t directly talk with each other.

I took a notepad and a pencil and decided to write her a message. I didn’t care that I was going to be late for school.

Okay, now what to write.

“I never know how to start this sort of thing. Um… Dear Saki, my name is Tokiya Kurusu. Okay, I guess I’m officially stupid. Dude, what’s the point in writing a full-fledged letter?”

Nom-nom-nom, I chewed on my gum.

“Straight to the point. Hmmm, hey, may I kiss you? Whoa, this is embarrassing as hell!”

Nom-nom-nom.

“You’re missing the point, dude. She knows what I’m going to do well enough.”

Nom-nom-nom.

“The main problem is… um, are you okay if your first kiss is with me? Man, you’re a wimp. You’re a total wimp, dude!”

Nom-nom-nom.

“Dammit! Nothing feels right… well, of course not! There’s not right or wrong to this sort of thing!”

Nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom-nom.

“Oh, Tokiya? Still here?” Towako-san said as she entered the living room, still drowsy with sleep.

“Ugh…”

Oh, I almost gulped down my chewing gum.

In a hurry—but while pretending to be as cool as a cucumber—I tossed the pile of memos into the trash bin.

“What’re you doing?” she asked, “Hm? You bought some candy? Now that’s something. Lemme see. ‘Freshens Your Breath’, ‘For a Good Breath’, ‘eliminates bad breath after meals’, ‘Citrus Mint.'” she read aloud the texts on the package, and flashed a mischievous grin. “Lech.”

“H-Hey, I didn’t buy them to freshen my breath or anything! They help me settle down.”

“Why do you need to settle down?”

“Eh…”

“Listen, screw that settling-down stuff and strike the iron while it’s hot. Saki-chan’s waiting, you know?”

“Mind your own business! I’m going to school!”

It was 8 PM sharp when I woke up.

Next to me lay a sleeping Tokiya who must have fallen asleep just now.

That meant that the spell hadn’t been lifted yet—in other words, that he hadn’t kissed me yet.

…so I prepared myself for nothing. Eh, not that I did anything in special; I always sleep face-up, after all, and while I did brush my teeth twice as often and long as usual, that was only a counter-measure against caries!

The lip-stick was just against dry lips, too. They have been a little chapped lately.

A-Anyway.

I gave Tokiya a reproachful look.

Coward…

These 12-hour cycles were going to continue if he didn’t do anything; we wouldn’t ever be able to talk with each other again!

Or is he okay with that…?

“!” I gasped when suddenly that thought raised a new possibility.

Yes… perhaps that’s true.

Tokiya could go to school and to work without a problem. The only things that had changed for him were that he could sleep a little bit more and that he couldn’t see me when I was awake.

Perhaps, he didn’t consider that a problem. Perhaps, he didn’t mind a change of that extent. Perhaps—

He would rather keep things as they were than fulfilling the condition needed to lift the curse.

I hadn’t thought of such a possibility; I hadn’t fathomed that Tokiya might be put off.

“Hey, Tokiya… are you really so loath to do it?”

There was no response.

I was overcome by anxiety—the desire to run away.

At the end of the day, I’m just a teenager girl.

I do have them, too — those moments when you get uneasy because you imagine being disliked.

It was 8 AM sharp when I woke up.

Next to me lay a sleeping Saki who must have fallen asleep just now.

It was about time to settle things.

Before going to sleep, I had decided that I would no longer waver when I next woke up.

I had also asked Shinjou, a classmate of mine, for advice, because—much to my chagrin—he had already had his first kiss with that manager girl. Completely dumbfounded he asked, “What? You haven’t kissed yet? Even though you’ve got such a cute girlfriend?” Saki and I weren’t in that kind of relationship, but I didn’t want to flinch in front of him.

Basically, my manly pride had accelerated my determination. While that may be a bit rude toward the other party, I didn’t care.

It was as Towako-san had said: I just had to strike the iron while it was hot.

I looked around cautiously.

Having Towako-san anywhere nearby was going to brake me, but I had to use my current momentum. Otherwise, I wasn’t going to get in motion anytime soon.

“Okay, let’s do this!” I said, bracing myself, and leaned over Saki.

Her dreaming face—her calm, defenseless face—was right before my eyes. Even her deadpan look was pretty cute when she was asleep.

While I was gazing her face, my mind was attacked by several stray thoughts. I didn’t know her eyelashes were so long. She really has silky skin.

No no, I gotta concentrate.

I looked at her delicate, slightly moist, slightly colored lips.

Was that lip-stick…? Against chapped lips, or because she had prepared herself as well?

At any rate, I was absorbed by her unexpectedly fine lips.

“Uh…” I accidentally gulped down, producing an uncomfortably loud gulping sound.

Hey, I, I don’t have any nasty thoughts!

This is for the sake of both of us.

Yeah, go! Tokiya Kurusu, if you are a man, you shall not hesitate! Go and taste them! Eh, no. Well, but yes.

Anyway, go, Tokiya, take a deep breath and get to it!

I braced my arms that were supporting my body—and noticed that I’d touched something.

It was a memo.

Since it looked like a message from Saki, I picked it up and read it.

 

How long are you going to take for something that’s no different from mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?

 

What a…

What a charmless girl…

Despite all my worries that I’d fought against for days like a complete moron, wondering if she was okay with someone like me, she didn’t seem to care in the least.

No, she considered the source of my worries to be on the same level as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She was spitting on the time I had spent worrying, saying that I should hurry up, as if she didn’t even care about my feelings.

I moved away from Saki.

I had lost momentum.

No, it had vanished.

Into thin air.

Leaving nothing behind.

It was 8 PM sharp when I woke up.

Next to me… was no one.

“Eh?”

Could this mean that we…?

Just when I was about to touch my lips, I noticed that Tokiya was sleeping at the corner. Without a blanket and turned toward the wall.

Why is that…?

Tokiya should have been awake if the curse had been lifted. If, on the other hand, the curse was still intact, I didn’t see why he would sleep so far from me. Of course, there was no reason for us to sleep in the same futon either, but we had only one down here and we wouldn’t be sleeping there at the same time anyway. Until now, Tokiya had always been right beside me when I woke up.

Just by sleeping separately and turned away from each other, I felt somehow rejected—

Suddenly, my hand bumped against something. It was the message I had written to Tokiya when I was getting anxious.

The piece of paper was crumpled as though it had been scrunched up. Perhaps, I had accidentally rolled on it while sleeping.

After some fiddling, I managed to unfold the memo, and found my message as well as an additional line with Tokiya’s handwriting and his words.

 

If it means so little to you, then do it yourself!
…So he was loath to do it, after all.

Turning his back to me was a sign of clear, unmistakable rejection.

The only reason why he was still sleeping in the same room despite that was probably to have me put an end to this already. He could still make excuses if the one actually doing it was me.

At any rate, he must absolutely hate to do it himself. So much that he couldn’t even do it when thinking of it as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Why am I adding probablies and musts?

He does hate to do it.

I had had a faint feeling that Tokiya was interested in me, but I was wrong. Perhaps, there was already a girl on his mind even.

However, I was sure that wasn’t me.

It might be wrong to think like this, since we weren’t in a relationship or anything, but I just, I just wanted him to show maybe not affection, but at least that he didn’t hate me. Not that I got my hopes up; I just wanted him to be a tiny bit attracted to me.

However, Tokiya didn’t want to. So much that he couldn’t even think of it as rescue breathing. So much that he had to push the task upon me.

He could hardly bear it if I was his partner.

But then—

 

Why did you embrace me like that?!

 

Because of that, I had been strangely aware of Tokiya the past few days. He hadn’t even given me a proper explanation.

It was no coincidence. He did not stumble.

He hugged me closely and strongly, so that I could hardly breathe.

But maybe that had nothing to do with that kind of feeling. Maybe I was alone with thinking about him all the time.

Perhaps, it had been nothing special to Tokiya.

I feel like an idiot.

I tossed the memo I had crumpled up again at the trash bin. Instead of falling into it, however, the bin fell over and distributed its contents on the floor.

Even this won’t go smoothly.

In order to bring out the trash, I stood up and started to collect the spilled contents as if to collect myself and recover from the ruffled emotions. There were lots of bubble gum wrappers and packages and scraps of paper. I noticed that I hadn’t regularly brought out the trash ever since this started.

Let’s get this over with already.

Is Towako-san awake? Once I’m done here, I’ll ask her to do what must be done Tokiya and me and be done with it.

Maybe I should just use that Censer and get the real thing?

With such silly thoughts I picked up another memo sheet. One of the many I have written and scrapped, I figured. I had composed a whole lot of them while I was racking my brains about what I should write.

Tokiya is going to bothered if he sees this; I’ll pick those out and burn them for good.
Dear Saki, my name is Tokiya Kurusu—
“Huh?”

I didn’t recognize the message written on the memo.

It’s not one of mine…?

I carefully smoothed the crumpled sheet. Though hard to read, it was Tokiya’s handwriting; he had written this memo.

I tried taking a look at the other crumpled sheets.
Hey, may I kiss you?
Are you okay if your first kiss is with me?
Won’t you regret it?
If you’d rather not, I’m absolutely okay with that!
I found countless of these messages. Written, crumpled, discarded. Written, crumpled, discarded.

I could clearly picture his uncertainty to myself.

I could clearly see how much he had thought about me, how much he had worried about me, and how much he had brooded over this matter.

I could clearly understand why he couldn’t just think of it as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation—because of me.

I almost had to laugh. No one else but Saki Maino almost had to laugh.

“You’re such a silly.”

I walked to where Tokiya was sleeping, facing the wall without even putting a blanket over himself.

Earlier, he had frightened me because he looked like he was rejecting me, but now he looked cute, like a sulking boy.

I covered him with a blanket and gently put a newly written memo into his hand.

“Hey, Tokiya…” I whispered softly at his ear, not caring that he couldn’t hear me.

It was 5 PM I had come back from school and was looking down at a sleeping Saki.

That morning, Saki hadn’t been beside me when I woke up. For a moment there I got my hopes up, but I quickly noticed her sleeping in the middle of the room, face-up; It was me who had been sleeping elsewhere and who had the blanket.

The curse had not been lifted.

Apparently, Saki was bent on pushing the job upon me, but I had not the slightest intention to do as she wanted.

I was thinking to leave it to Towako-san, who, however, seemed to be absent at the present time. She wasn’t there in the morning, either. Jeez, she’d better not be doing it on purpose.

Anyway, I had no choice but to wait for her return while praying that that would be before 8 PM. I didn’t want to stay like this forever.

I looked at Saki’s face.

It was the same carefree, expressionless face like always.

I would have loved to share even just a fraction of my worries with her. That being said, she would probably maintain her deadpan face, and reply something like, “What? You’ve been thinking about that?”

“If it’s so simple for you, why won’t you…” I started making complaints she couldn’t hear anyway, when I suddenly discovered a memo where I had been sleeping this morning.

The one I left next to her pillow yesterday…?

I had written something along the lines of “If it means so little to you, then do it yourself!

Does that mean that she didn’t read it, if it’s lying around there? Or did she read it and then throw it away?

I picked up the—to my surprise—neatly folded memo.

Didn’t I crumple it when I placed it next to Saki…?

I unfolded the sheet of paper and looked at it.

“What…”

It was a letter from Saki.

 

I woke up.

Next to me—was no one.

Tokiya was already within my field of vision when I woke up.

“Finally woken up? I was really getting worried because you wouldn’t wake up for two hours!” he explained as he let out a deep sigh of relief. “Well, but looks like the curse is gone now.”

Tsukumodo_V3_304

He showed me the time; it was 7 PM. One hour before I would usually wake up.

“If I’m not asleep in an hour, then that’s over and done with, no?” he smiled at me.

The fact that I was awake at this time meant that the curse had been lifted, which in turn meant that that certain act had been conducted, and the fact that Tokiya was standing there was speaking for itself…

So was the fact that I still felt a slightly tickling sensation on my lips…

“Saki.” Tokiya was looking at me with a serious expression.

“I-It’s fine. Don’t mind it. It’s really just like rescue breathing. Ah, no, it’s not like I’m thinking of it like that. Just, how should I put it… um, I am, yes, happy that you were…”

“Meow~”

“That you were… huh? Meow?”

An unfamiliar sound called me back to reality. A cat poked its head out on Tokiya’s arms. It was Mii, Asami-chan’s pet.

But what was Mii doing here?

“Ah, um, listen. A lot happened, you know, but to cut right to the chase…”

“Yes?”

“This little guy has lifted our curse.”

“What?”

“Well… looks like even a fellow like this can lift that curse, eh?”

I looked at Mii in his arms. It innocently licked its lips as if to give its thanks for the feast.

 

The following day, I got up at 8 AM and disposed of the trash. It was quite a lot of work because the garbage had piled up over the past few days, but I was delighted to be able to work and get up at this time.

Shortly, I would be able to make my long-awaited comeback to the world of customer service.

I was excited. Yes, I am excited! Like never before! Truly.

In the end, Tokiya also had Mii lift his curse and went home after confirming that he didn’t fall asleep at 8 PM. We had made sure to pack the ashes tightly up when throwing them into the trash, so that nothing would leak.

What a troublesome pile of ashes. Really, this can’t be said enough.

“Ah, Saki-chaan!” someone called my name.

It was Asami-chan, one of my few friends and the owner of Mii.

“Did Mii behave well?” she asked.

“…Quite so.”

“S-Saki-chan? Are you angry?”

Oh no, I became rattled for a moment.

“No, I’m not. But that aside: you’re quite early today, what’s the matter?”

“I’m here to fetch Mii.”

“Oh, I would have brought Mii to you…”

Tokiya had told me to return Mii to Asami-chan in the morning. I had been planning to go as soon as I’d taken care of the garbage and prepared breakfast.

“But I was missing Mii.”

“Let’s head back together then.” I proposed.

“Mm,” she nodded in response.

We joined our hands and walked back to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop. On the way, Asami-chan pursed her small lips and complained, “Onii-chan was a total meanie yesterday!”

She was referring to Tokiya by Onii-chan.

“He suddenly turned up in the evening and said he wanted to borrow Mii. He didn’t even tell me why!”

Apparently, Asami-chan hadn’t given Mii away willingly, which made perfect sense, since animals are not something to trade with. Tokiya must have been quite pushy to get Mii because he couldn’t just explain the situation to her.

“You must always give a reason when you ask someone to lend you something!” Asami-chan said.

“You’re right. I’ll be sure to tell him.”

I was amused to see her act so maturely.

“And I’ll have to give him some more minus points for coming in the middle of dinner,” she added.

“Oh, you were having dinner? That’s quite early, isn’t it?”

Tokiya must have gone to borrow Mii around 5 PM.

“Hm? I think it’s normal. We always eat around that time.”

“Right after you come home from school?” I asked.

“No, not really! School is already over at 5.”

“Yes, but didn’t you have dinner around that time?”

“If dinner was that early, I would get hungry at night! We always have it around 6.”

“6? That’s also when Tokiya came to borrow Mii?”

“Yeah.”

What’s the meaning of this?

I mean, I woke up at 7 PM. That means that Tokiya can’t have borrowed Mii at 6 PM.

After all…

After all…

Tokiya said:

 

I was really getting worried because you wouldn’t wake up for two hours!

 

Unless he had told me a lie, that would mean that the curse was lifted at 5 PM. But Tokiya borrowed Mii at 6 PM when Asami-chan was having dinner with her family.

If that’s true, Mii wasn’t around at 5 PM, right?

What’s the meaning of this?

Did he make a slip of the tongue? Or did Asami-chan’s memory fail her?

Or—

“Saki-chan, now you look happy somehow!”

“It’s nothing.”

Without even noticing, I touched my lips.

Phew, looks like this matter has finally been settled. What a troublesome curse. Really.

I had already seen my share of Relics, but none had exhausted me that much. I sure didn’t want to experience that ever again.

Finally, I was back at Home, Sweet Home. My cheap apartment. My castle.

Lying on the floor, I put my hand into my pocket and took out a memo along with the rattling of paper.

It was the memo Saki had addressed to me.

I felt mortally embarrassed whenever I read it.

That girl had read the drafts I had thrown away!

Dammit! I look totally stupid!

It was sort of a reply to the unsightly fight I’d had with myself. While it did put an end to the conflict, it also threw up new worries.

It made me feel even worse for doing it in such an ambiguous and hidden manner while she was asleep!

After agonizing over it for an eternity, I had finally come up with the idea of using Mii.

Leaving aside Mii for now—with the intention to apologize on another occasion—it looks like she completely bought it. That’s one thing off my shoulders.

I looked at her memo again. It was Saki’s answer.

 
Who else is there better?

 
That’s way too cute for you…

When told something like that, even someone like me will…

Lose his self-control for a moment.

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