Just before 10:00 p.m., two gentle knocks sounded from the guest room door.
Watanabe heard them and quickly got up, stating that he would take care of it.
Was his initiative for our sake or for his?
“Here we are~”
Saying that, the four girls, led by Kushida, stood in front of the door.
“Hey, welcome. You’re late.”
Nervousness and anxiety, perhaps. Watanabe's movements suddenly slowed down and she fully opened the door.
“Sorry. I took a long soak in the bath, so I'm late.”
Kushida's face was indeed slightly flushed as she answered. At the same time, her hair was glossy.
It wasn't often that we got a chance to meet girls like this at night, just before bedtime. That's probably why Watanabe was having such valuable experience right now.
When the four girls entered the room, an indescribable aroma immediately spread throughout. This group of boys didn't smell bad, but it seemed like a different space now.
“Why does it smell so good...?”
“Come on, it's a mystery for sure.”
The men's baths were equipped with large shampoo and conditioner bottles made with soy milk, perhaps for commercial use. I wasn't complaining, but some aspects, such as the lather, weren't particularly great, making it seem like a relatively inexpensive product.
Normally, one would think that the same items would be placed in the women's large bath, but…
The aroma wafting from the women was clearly different from the soy milk shampoo. Or maybe they brought it on their own.
“Hey, ask them how they smell so good?”
“I'm sorry, but I can't ask that.”
Even I, who wasn’t familiar with the world, understood. If I said something like that, I was sure to receive a bad reaction.
“I'm a little nervous thinking about a boy's room.” Amikura whispered uncomfortably to the other girls as she looked around the room.
“The layout of the room may be the same, but it looks strangely different.”
“After we're done talking, why don't we go to Honami's room? They're having a girls' gathering until just before lights out.”
“Really? Yeah, I'm totally fine with that.”
Unlike Kushida, who readily agreed to the meeting, Nishino refused, seemingly uninterested.
“I'll pass. I don't have any good friends there.”
Taking advantage of this, Yamamura also lowered her head and muttered.
“I think I’ll pass too…”
“Yeah? I think everyone is welcome to join but, well, that's fine.”
Watanabe looked somewhat disappointed, knowing that the girls would soon be leaving.
There was still time to spare as lights-out was at 11:00 p.m., which was considered somewhat late. It was a school trip, and everyone wanted to let loose.
“This is how I feel about welcoming girls...”
Watanabe was intoxicated with ecstasy as he whispered.
“More importantly, Watanabe, you should follow up with the girls as soon as possible. Isn't this your chance to make a good impression?”
Just inviting them into the room was something that even I, Ryūen, and Kitō could do.
To leave a lasting impression, he would have to take it a step further.
“What? A follow-up? What?”
He was so impressed with the girls' arrival that he didn't seem to recognize what was happening. Having come the whole way to the men's room, the girls didn't know where to settle down.
“Um… Where should we sit?”
Because four futons had already been laid out in the Japanese-style room, spaced slightly apart by the customer service staff, we had no choice but to move closer to the edge of the room to sit on the tatami.
Deciding whether to force them to be cramped or to take other measures would show the person's aptitude.
“Huh? Anywhere would be fine, right? You don't really care whether or not it's on the futon, right?”
Watanabe said, not quite understanding, and removed two sets of blankets from the futon to prepare the space. The girls looked a little surprised, but there was no other suitable place, and Kushida showed her agreement.
The four of them each sat on the two sets of futons closest to the entrance.
“Well then, it's almost lights out, so let's get started. Where's Ryūen-kun?”
“Behind the shoji.”
If they opened the closed shoji, they would find a small table, two single-person sofas, and a small refrigerator.
Nishino, as was expected of someone from her class, opened the shoji vigorously. Ryūen seemed to be relaxing on the single-person sofa, fiddling with his cell phone.
“You heard me, didn't you? Gather around.”
“I'm fine right here. I can hear you just fine.”
“That may be true, but I'd like everyone to come here. I'm trying to build group solidarity.”
Without a hint of fear, Kushida motioned for Ryūen to come closer. Not liking Kushida's demeanor, Ryūen powered off his cell phone screen with a laugh.
“You seem to be all worked up, but you do understand your position, don't you?”
“What do you mean?”
“It means exactly how it sounds. If you don't get it, I can make you understand, can't I?”
The other students couldn't understand and accept the purpose of his checks and balances. As he was the person outside of the class who knew Kushida best, Ryūen's words were heavy.
“What are you talking about?”
Nishino, perhaps taking it as a sign that Kushida was simply arguing with him, pressed closer to Ryūen.
“Don't just say things that annoy me, get your ass over here.”
Nishino was neither frightened nor timid and was about to grab his arm and pull him up.
“Nishino, you've been opening your mouth a lot lately, haven't you?”
“I've always been like this. I just didn't get more involved than necessary until now.”
I guess she had no choice now that she was in a group, or something like that. I thought he was going to lay into her further from there, but Ryūen stood up in an annoyed manner and stepped toward the Japanese-style room. The air instantly became tense as Kitō looked at him.
Still, it was clear that, for the time being, eight people had gathered in one room for discussion.
“Is this something we should all gather here to do? We can just use our cell phones.”
Kitō, who hadn't said a word since the girls arrived, asked.
Surely it would be easy to notify everyone if we created a group on a messaging app.
“It seems that the other groups are making these decisions through face to face discussions.”
“Heh, that's great, Kushida-chan.”
Watanabe gave an exaggerated nod, as if impressed by her informed nature, and sat down between me and Yamamura.
Perhaps alarmed by the unexpected approach of a boy, Yamamura took a half-step backward in a hurry, as if to get away from Watanabe.
“Oh, my bad Yamamura. There you go.”
“No, don't worry about it.”
Apart from this trivial exchange, there was still a strong sense of tension from Ryūen’s confrontation.
“Forget other people. There is a certain way of doing things here.”
Kitō was probably worried about Ryūen's presence. It was clear that he feared they wouldn't be able to have a proper discussion.
“I think it's important to have a face-to-face meeting. Everyone wants to hear what the others are really thinking.”
Kushida, however, was not ready to back down, replying that there were many things that couldn't be understood through texting.
Kushida may not want to step on Ryūen's landmines, but she had her own position to protect. If Kushida, on the surface, decided that there was no backing down here, she’ll just push forward.
“Well then, let me get right to the point... About the free time after tomorrow...”
“I forgot to mention that there’s one thing we need to agree on first.”
Ryūen looked around the Japanese-style room where the futon was laid out and opened his mouth.
“I have no intention of sleeping side by side with you guys, but even so, I can't say that in this limited space. I'll sleep here.” He looked at the futon at the far end of the room.
It was the ideal position, where no one could get between you and the bedding, and where you wouldn't be disturbed if someone woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or something similar.
We certainly hadn't decided who was going to sleep where yet, but is this something that had to be decided now?
I thought it would be better to decide after the girls leave. Did he simply not read the room, or did he say that now on purpose?
Considering Ryūen's personality and actions, I can only feel it's the latter. But what about the others around us?
It was clearly an out-of-place remark, and the others seemed to think it was nothing more than selfishness.
“You don't have any objections, do you?”
He took one look at Kitō and Watanabe to make sure, and then said in a slightly more forceful tone.
“I... Well, I don't care where I sleep.”
Watanabe agreed, like a frog staring at a snake.
Now, what should I say?
While I was thinking, Ryūen had already shifted his gaze away from me.
“Hey, Kitō. If you have something to say, don't hesitate to say it, okay?”
He seemed to think that the only one who would argue was Kitō.
“I don't approve.”
His rebuttal seemed to symbolize that.
He told him not to hold back, but Ryūen tilted his head as if he was dissatisfied with the refusal.
“I won't approve of an unbiased approach. Moreover, it's not something we should be discussing now. Can't you even understand that?”
“I don't know. I don't remember allowing you such a veto.”
“I'm free to speak when, where, and how I want.”
Kitō didn't show any signs of backing down, entering a fighting stance instead.
“Well, well, well, calm down, Kitō. How about I give you a place to sleep?”
Watanabe was about to get up and stop him when he was met with a powerful glare.
With his raw looks, Kitō surpassed Ryūen in terms of intensity and power.
“I have no intention of letting this man's irrationality pass.”
“Wait, hey boys. That's not what we're talking about right now.”
Amikura tried to intervene, but Nishino stopped her by pulling her yukata’s sleeve. Shaking her head from side to side, she silently warned her not to interrupt.
“I'll say it again and again if I have to, but I'm not going to give it up without a fight.”
“What? So you're saying you want to compete for this place with me?”
“You want violence? I can make it happen, but you'll have to lie here for the rest of the trip.”
Kushida had a troubled look on her face, I looked into her eyes and I can see she’s worried we might get into deathly amounts of trouble.
“Kuku, then let's do it. You guys want to compete for this place as well?”
“I'll pass... Like I said before, I don't care where I sleep.”
Personally, I'd rather be on the edge than sandwiched in between, but I don't want to cause trouble.
Whether Ryūen or Kitō won, as soon as one of them took the edge, they wouldn't have to lie next to each other. It was more likely that Watanabe or I would be in between them as a buffer.
“I'll pass too. You can compete and decide as you like. But if you two want that end, I'll let you take the spot you want before Watanabe and me from the remaining three, okay? And please don't use violence to decide.”
If we didn't assert our natural rights, we would have another dispute later. It seems that both parties had the same preferred spot for the futon, and Watanabe and I were free to choose from the available spots afterwards.
I also had to strongly emphasize the point of violence, otherwise, we would draw too much attention. I heard that the school would be relentless in imposing restrictions on groups that cause trouble. It would be a shame if we were stuck in the inn during the school trip, even if it was pretty luxurious.
“As for me, I prefer fistfights because they're easier to understand, but I guess that's not going to happen. At any rate, I'm glad to see that you’re not afraid of violence.”
“Thanks, Ayanokōji, for saying what you did.”
“No, I didn't say anything important.”
“That's not true. I didn't say anything. At least you did. You can sleep on the edge of the bed.”
I wonder if the students in Ichinose’s class were fundamentally made up of goodness. He gave up the end of the room even though I didn't ask him to do so. The third to choose was the one who lost the game. The third one to lose the game was decided by me sleeping on the end closest to the entrance.
“I've got to build up a little tolerance too.”
Apparently, one of his reasons for giving it up was for personal reasons. I don’t think it’ll be too stimulating to be sandwiched between Ryūen and Kitō, though.
“If it's a school trip, this is the only way to go about it, isn't there?
Before I knew it, a pillow was clutched in Ryūen's hand.
“I don't have to explain the rules, do I, Kitō?”
“Of course not.”
“What? What are you doing with the pillow?”
I tilted my head, not knowing what was waiting for me at the end of the exchange.
“Well, there's only one way to combine a school trip and a pillow, isn't there?”
Only one? I had no idea... However, all the others seemed to understand, and Kushida quickly got up.
“Well, I'll be the judge then, right? It would be better to settle this in a fair way.”
Kushida, who seemed to regret being in the wrong place, offered.
“You're so disciplined, even at a time like this, aren't you, Kushida-chan?”
I'd like to get the real explanation out of her, but there were other girls nearby, as well as Watanabe.
Rather than that, I was more interested to see what he would do with the pillow.
“I'll allow you the first move.”
“Don't do that, you don't want to lose without a single throw. Come at me without regrets, Ryūen.”
Ryūen laughed as he bounced the pillow on his hand.
“Then I'll kill you without mercy, Kitō!”
Saying this, Ryūen took a big swing and threw the pillow at him, using it as a ball. The pillow filled with buckwheat chaff attacked Kitō at high speed.
Even though there was some distance between them, the pillow was thrown with such intensity it would be hard to miss. However...
Kitō calmly and surely caught the pillow.
“I'll kill you...!”
This time, Kitō himself swung and threw back a pillow with equal power. On the other hand, Ryūen also caught the pillow and immediately shifted into a throwing position.
“Kukuku! I’m going to show you true pain!”
The pillow was returned again.
“It's a pillow fight. Ayanokōji-kun, haven't you ever done this before? I thought that all the boys did this in their elementary and junior high school trips.”
That was new to me. No one tossed pillows at last year's camp, either.
“Darkness ball!” Kitō bellowed.
“Eat him, you ravenous serpent!” Ryuuen screamed.
Darkness, serpents, and other things had been shouted to change that pillow into various other things.
“This is still… a pillow fight, right?” Amikura muttered as she looked at the pillows flying left and right.
Rather than a pillow-throwing contest, this was a one-on-one killing game... in which others were not allowed to participate. The deathmatch continued for several minutes with no signs of a winner. Neither side was exhausted, and it looked as if the long battle would only continue.
However, we learned that there were other things to worry about as well.
“Is that pillow going to be okay after being thrown so hard for so long? It's already very tattered, isn't it?”
Kushida calmly muttered, and everyone's eyes were drawn to the pillows.
I didn't need to explain, but a pillow isn’t a tool to be thrown. There was no way the pillows wouldn't accumulate damage, as they weren't throwing it at each other lightly, but rather continuing to catch and throw a series of stiff fastballs without restricting their power.
“Come to think of it, whose pillow is that?”
At Watanabe's comment, we suddenly checked the futons on the floor.
Of the four futons, the pillow was missing from the one at the end that Watanabe had given me.
“Is that… Mine?”
What should’ve been on my futon wasn't there. Right now, it looked as if Kitō was clutching it in his hands and infusing more dark power into it than ever before. I could feel the pillow screaming.
“I'm going to have nightmares if I sleep on that pillow.”
No, to begin with, there was no guarantee that the pillow would maintain its shape, which was terrifying. Whichever side won, I hope my pillow returned in one piece.
The pillow was filled with an unprecedentedly dense killing intent. Perhaps because Kitō's thick fingers had dug into it so forcefully, it burst open the moment it left his hand. The cloth was torn, and the buckwheat straws inside scattered throughout the room.
The sound of the buckwheat straws flying through the air caused everyone to fall silent. The pillow that was supposed to gently support my head had met a miserable end.
The pillow… I strongly wished for its safety, but it didn’t come back intact…
I would like to express my condolences to the victims who were scattered so cruelly on the battlefield.
“I can't help but think that boys are really just children, aren't they?”
The two boys, without seeming to care, reached for the new pillow at hand, whereupon Nishino raised her voice.
“You know, we don't have time for this. We're busy, so can't we discuss things later? It's annoying.”
Ryūen ignored the warning and was about to continue, but Kitō seemed to be different. He sat there silently and decided to stop. His heated thoughts cooled and he sensed the frustration in his surroundings.
“Does that mean you've lost, Kitō?”
“I'm not going to continue if I'm bothering others.”
He was so quick to draw back, which was hard to imagine from the atmosphere he usually radiated. Well, if this was going to be the result, I wish he hadn't done it from the beginning.
At least the sacrifice of the pillow, its straws scattered in cold blood, could’ve been avoided.
“Well, for now, let's just finish cleaning up, and then we can start talking.”
With the help of all the boys, except Ryūen, and all the girls, we succeeded in collecting the pillow’s remnants without spending much time.
We'll have to get a new pillow from the innkeepers later. I’ll have to decide whether or not to tell the truth. I collected the scattered buckwheat straws and placed them in a clear plastic bag set in the trash, and began to discuss the original topic.
“We're free to go anywhere as long as we return to the ryokan by 19:00, the final time for dinner, right?”
First, as a matter of course, Kushida began speaking for the group.
“Yes. So it's really like a free day.”
Amikura immediately joined the conversation.
“I guess we could take a train or a bus and go out to some extent, but what should we do...? Nishino-san, do you have any ideas about where you want to go?”
“I'm thinking about skiing. I've only been practicing and haven't done enough actual skiing yet, and there's the resort at the corner of the mountain.”
“I agree with Nishino.”
We just learned to ski, and it would be a shame to let it end after only half a day or so.
Kitō silently raised his hand in agreement.
“There are quite a few people who want to ski. What about Watanabe-kun and Yamamura-san?”
“I don't have any objections either. We'll be in the city on the third day, too, so isn't it fine?”
“I'm okay with anything.”
Yamamura, who still couldn't ski, didn't seem to have any particular aversion to it. Was she just trying to fit in with her surroundings, or did she simply want to become a better skier?
Her emotions didn’t seem to suggest that, though.
“How about you, Mako-chan?”
“Ummm. I'm not that good at skiing, so I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm happy, but if everyone else is skiing, that's fine. We're a group.”
With that, she showed her total willingness to concede.
Kushida didn’t offer her own opinion, but looked at Ryūen, who was sitting on the single-person sofa.
“What about you, Ryūen-kun?”
He seemed to have no particular argument and simply relinquished his right to speak.
The group was relieved that Ryūen, the most troublesome person in the group, made that decision. It was more accurate to think that Ryūen was also intending on enjoying skiing rather than being uninterested in going anywhere.