Suddenly, a month had passed since Shuuji had come face to face with the clone.
The house was still unknown to people around them, and no one seemed to have noticed the clone’s existence yet at all.
They were fortunate that the vacation house wasn’t near any other residences, and that neither one of them had a large circle of friends.
With the clone on the first floor, Shuuji slept on the second floor, and his own condo became a mere luggage depot.
He went there to pick something up every once in a while, but he never stayed there overnight anymore.
The more time passed, the less keen his sense of loss got.
His guilt at having accepted this lifestyle as a matter of routine lessened too.
Which was why Shuuji didn’t notice his attitude towards the clone softening day by day.
“I’m off to a meeting, but I’ll be back around dinnertime.
Sorry, but you’ll be on your own today…”
I’ve got cooking firmly in hand now,” the clone answered, interrupting Shuuji and brimming with confidence.
Shuuji’d already told him to eat properly yesterday when he’d put the appointment on his schedule, but it seemed like he’d just skip meals if Shuuji wasn’t there, so Shuuji tried to impress it upon him again.
Like Koutarou, the clone had an excellent memory, and he remembered every dish he’d been taught, and he was also less of a danger with a knife in his hand than he had been.
Shuuji wasn’t worried about his cooking skills, but apparently that wasn’t being conveyed.
“Is there anything you want me to pick up?”
They could get general ingredients and daily necessities in the neighborhood, but of course it was no match for the vast array of things in the city.
Shuuji asked the same question whenever he went back to his apartment, so he was just asking it out of habit.
And usually the clone answered that there was nothing particular, but today was different.
“Can I ask you to get a job listings magazine?”
“What…?” Shuuji hadn’t expected those words, and he was left speechless.
“It’s not that I’m job hunting quite yet.
I just want to know what types of jobs are in demand in the world.
I figured I’d start by seeing if there were any that I could actually do, or any that seemed like they would hold my interest.”
“Being a researcher isn’t an option?”
Shuuji was surprised to hear an echo of reproach in his own voice.
He’d liked the way Koutarou got lost in his research.
He’d liked that earnest look he got on his face when he was looking at his data.
Besides, although he’d never said it out loud before, he had been proud that Koutarou was a globally recognized researcher, and he’d respected Koutarou’s utter lack of ego about it too.
So it was hard for him to accept the clone simply giving it up.
“I can’t live as Koutarou anymore.
Given that, I’ve made up my mind and decided to find a different way of living.
Was I mistaken?”
Shuuji himself had once said almost the exact same thing to the clone, and having the clone now confirm the idea with him made the words catch in Shuuji’s throat.
True, he had said that, and as a matter of practicality, it would be impossible for the clone to participate in the same research twice, looking exactly like Koutarou.
“Why are you apologizing? I have nothing but gratitude for you, Shuuji.
You’ve taught me things I never would have realized on my own.”
The clone really didn’t seem to understand the meaning of Shuuji’s apology.
There had been moments like this with Koutarou too.
“Well, it’s easy enough to say I guess,” the clone continued.
“I can’t help but wonder if there really is anything I can do other than research though.
But maybe I can find something out there that even I can do, maybe even something engrossing.
It’s a possibility at least, right?”
“I’m sure it is.”
He had the same talent as Koutarou, so surely he’d be able to do anything if he put his mind to it.
That’s what Shuuji believed.
“Understood, one job listings magazine.
I’ll buy it.”
He had an important goal now, beyond just a business meeting.
He’d always found going out to crowded places annoying, but today, he wanted to get out there as soon as he could, so as not to dampen the clone’s enthusiasm.
He walked to the bus stop the same as always, transferred to the train, and headed into the city.
His meeting was in a coffee shop near the publishing company.
Mori hadn’t arrived yet.
Since it was so close to the publisher’s offices, there were a few other customers in pairs, no doubt author and editor, having their own meetings here.
Shuuji selected a seat next to the window, and waited for Mori to arrive, staring outside.
He gave the waitress his order, overheard other people’s phone calls, perfectly normal things happening all around him.
This was just reality, of course, but maybe because he’d gotten used to living with just the two of them, himself and the clone, he felt strangely uncomfortable here.
“Hey, my apologies.
Didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”
Mori arrived in a rush, and sat down opposite Shuuji, wiping the sweat from her forehead.
“It’s alright, I only got here a little bit ago.”
Mori requested a coffee from the waitress who came over to take her order, and then said, “It’s been a while since we’ve met face to face, I’m glad to see you looking well.”
She seemed relieved, looking at Shuuji’s face.
“Sorry I worried you the other day.”
Shuuji really regretted it, he had no choice but to apologize.
He remembered again how he’d asked Mori to call him back because he was ill, and felt a stab of guilt at having lied.
“Maybe you were just bogged down with work a little?”
“Is that what it looked like?” Shuuji asked with a bitter smile.
It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption.
The work he’d done right after he’d come back from that week away had been a storm of retakes.
Everything Mori had pointed out was perfectly justified, and it was only one week of firing blanks, but it had taken a long time to regain his intuition.
“It was kind of touch and go at first, but you pulled it off in the end.
And the author really liked it too.”
“Thank you very much.”
Shuuji was embarrassed at the unaccustomed praise.
He bowed his head bashfully.
“You added a unique charm this time, and there was kind of a nostalgic air about it, it really suited the contents well.”
Mori’s complimentary words didn’t sit quite right with Shuuji, and he could only respond with ambiguous noises.
He’d known Mori for a long time, actually she’d been in charge of the majority of Shuuji’s work, so she knew the vicissitudes of design work quite well.
The first time she’d told him his work had a unique charm was when he’d just started dating Koutarou.
“You know our company puts out a travel magazine called Tabix, right?” 1
“Oh, uh… No, sorry.”
Shuuji blurted out the truth, despite his hesitation.
He was a homebody by nature, and didn’t have much interest in traveling.
He’d never bought a travel magazine in his entire life.
“Well, people who aren’t interested in it probably would never see it.
To tell the truth, I haven’t ever really looked at myself,” Mori said offhandedly.
“But they’re putting out a travel book for hardcore folks next time, and I suggested that we ask you to do the design for it.”
“Thank you very kindly, but why me? How did you end up suggesting me, Mori?”
Almost all of the works Shuuji had been involved in were novels, so this request was for something he’d never done before.
He felt like it might be a good challenge for him as a book designer, but it was strange for this to come to someone with so little experience in the subject matter, so he double checked with Mori.
“Nagamine’s series, and the bindings you designed for it, have a good reputation within the company.
The Tabix editors wanted this travel guide to stand out, so we ended up talking about you.
How about it?”
“Absolutely, thank you very much.” Shuuji answered immediately, without any hesitation.
The reason they’d chosen him made him feel like he wanted to do it, too.
“Oh, you’re raring to go, huh, that’s unusual,” Mori said, poking fun at him and looking exaggeratedly surprised.
“Unusual, huh… I don’t usually look like I want to get to work?”
“You’re so passive I get worried sometimes about whether you can really cut it as a freelancer.”
“I’ve worried you that much…? I’m very sorry.”
Shuuji couldn’t help but bow his head in response to Mori’s concern, wondering if that’s why she’d periodically sent work his way before.
“No no, it’s better than being too busy to accept our stuff.
Just that if you told me you had to switch jobs because you couldn’t afford food, I’d be in real trouble.”
Mori’s mention of changing jobs reminded Shuuji that the clone had asked for a job listings magazine.
“I can’t do any other job anyway.”
“I know, right,” Mori agreed immediately, and Shuuji flashed a small, wry smile, thinking that it was the same with Koutarou.
“Well, if you’re so eager to get started, I’ll put together a meeting with Tabix then.
They want a designer with a sophisticated sense.”
“I just finished with the job from earlier, I’d appreciate the opportunity.”
“Jeez, you really are ready to go.”
This time, Mori’s surprise seemed genuine.
Shuuji wasn’t the quickest worker, and he was fine as long he had enough to live on, so he’d never really been in business to get more work.
But it was different now.
Shuuji had to make enough to support the clone too.
“Alright,” she said, “I’ll set up a time and give you a call.”
She gave him a business card for one of the editors at Tabix and some reference materials, and they did a final check of the design he’d just finished the other day.
“This is all approved then, thanks for all your hard work.” Mori brought the meeting to a close, only polite at times like this.
“Do you have any plans after this? If you’ve got some time, why don’t we have lunch together?”
It’s been a while since I’ve been out, so I made another appointment.”
“You really are a homebody, huh.”
Mori didn’t seem to take any offense at being turned down, and she smiled, a bit dumbfounded at Shuuji’s temperament.
Of course, there was no other appointment.
He was only buying the magazine and then going straight back to the vacation home.
He hadn’t said he’d be home at any particular hour, and the clone had said he would eat lunch on his own, but Shuuji was still worried about leaving the clone by himself.
“Well if you’ve got other appointments, there’s nothing I can do.
Let’s catch something to eat next time.”
“Thank you, for everything.”
He and Mori parted outside the shop, and Shuuji headed for the bookstore on foot.
– – –
With the meeting ended early, and having skipped lunch, Shuuji got back to the vacation house earlier than he’d planned.
Shuuji opened the door, and called out as he went in.
He immediately heard someone running down the stairs.
The clone came to greet him, a smile stretched across his whole face.
So there was someone this happy to greet him, huh.
A heat spread through Shuuji’s chest.
It’d always been Shuuji’s role to greet Koutarou, when they’d been going out.
It was only because he’d decided not to immediately abandon the clone that he was being greeted at all, and it was only because he was actually living with the clone that he’d learned how warm the words ‘welcome home’ could really be.
“Here you go.
As you requested.” Shuuji flashed an enticing smile, and offered the clone the job listings magazine, still in its bag.
I’ll peruse it later.”
“You’re not going to look at it now?”
“I’m in the middle of making dinner.”
Surprised, Shuuji checked the time on the wall clock.
It was just past two in the afternoon.
What kind of elaborate dish was Koutarou planning to make?
“I found a recipe online that uses ingredients we already had.
I’ve got the time, so I thought I should make an attempt.”
“So you’re doing it now?”
“It’s the first time on the menu, so I don’t know how long it’ll take.”
It was a very Koutarou way of thinking.
The original Koutarou used to make plans and practice everything too.
“I assume you ate lunch properly?”
“Since you made me promise.
Nevermind me, though, what about you, Shuuji?”
Shuuji hadn’t imagined he’d get counterattacked like that, and he unconsciously, and unnaturally, averted his gaze.
Worrying about meals was always Shuuji’s job, but now they’re roles had been reversed.
“I figured I’d eat when I got home…”
“So you didn’t eat after all.” The clone shrugged, dumbfounded.
“I just thought I’d be home sooner.”
“I get it.
I figured it would be like this, so I made some for you too,” the clone said triumphantly, and rushed Shuuji up to the second floor.
“I’m going to warm it up, so have a seat and wait.”
The clone fussed over Shuuji, looking quite happy from start to finish.
Was it possible, Shuuji suddenly wondered, that he used to look like that when he fussed over Koutarou?
“Here you go, sorry it took a minute.”
A plate with Chinese-style fried rice on it was placed in front of Shuuji.
The fresh steam rising off it looked delicious, and it reminded Shuuji of the hunger he’d forgotten.
The clone even poured him a glass of oolong tea, but Shuuji’s eyes caught on something white wrapped around the clone’s hand that hadn’t been there that morning.
“What happened there?” Shuuji asked, pointing to his finger, and the clone flashed a shy smile.
“I wasn’t thinking, and grabbed a pot lid with my bare hands.”
“You get burned?”
“It’s nothing serious.”
When Shuuji grabbed the clone’s wrist and pulled it closer, wanting to see, the white thing turned out to be just a damp tissue.
“If you don’t treat it properly, or it won’t heal.”
“I had some ice on it until a little bit ago.
It didn’t seem to hurt anymore, and the clone even removed the tissue wrapping.
But his finger was still red, and Shuuji rushed off to get the first aid kit.
There had to be some cream in there that would work for burns.
“You don’t have to make such a big deal out of it.”
“What are you going to do if it gets worse?”
Shuuji took the medicine he’d found and approached the clone.
“Look, sit down.”
“Nevermind that, I want you to hurry up and eat.”
“I’ll eat once this is done.”
He forced the clone to sit on a dining chair, and took the clone’s hand and applied the medicine.
Maybe it was because the red spot was a bit warmer than the rest of his hand, but the cool of the cream seemed to feel good.
The corners of the clone’s mouth pulled up faintly.
“You know where the first aid kit is, don’t you?” Shuuji said.
“Stop being so cocky and use it.”
“I understand.” The clone nodded with a meek expression, and then, “Now it’s your turn, Shuuji.
Come on, eat.”
The image of how emaciated Shuuji’d looked before was still fresh in the clone’s mind, and he was nervous that Shuuji not skip even a single meal.
Their roles were reversed from what they had been in the past because their relationship had changed.
He was starting to get used to this new lifestyle, starting to forget the fact that the Koutarou he used to pamper wasn’t here anymore.
They’d been living basically by themselves for a full month now.
Shuuji’d started back to work, but meetings like today were rare, and he did almost everything by telephone or email.
He’d never been able to enjoy this lifestyle even with the real Koutarou, and asking him not to enjoy it now was asking the impossible.
The truth was, the clone was exactly as Koutarou had always been, down to every detail, and Shuuji was the only one who didn’t think he was real.
But it was a betrayal of the original Koutarou.
The fact that he felt like he was with the real Koutarou, as opposed to a clone, the fact that he was behaving like nothing had changed, it was all a betrayal of Koutarou.
“No appetite?” the clone asked, worried, having noticed Shuuji’s change in attitude.
It’s been a while since I went out in a crowd, maybe that’s my problem.
I am a little tired.”
“That’s no good.
You need to go rest right now.”
The clone instantly got flustered, and led Shuuji to the living room sofa, urging him to lay down.
Shuuji meekly did as he was told.
He wasn’t hungry at all, and actually he didn’t want to think about anything either.
He wasn’t necessarily interested in going to sleep, but everything he saw seemed to make his mind work overtime, so he closed his eyes.
– – –
It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, but Shuuji ended up dozing off without really meaning to.
He only woke up because his nose was tickled by the aroma of dashi wafting over from the kitchen.
“What are you making?” Shuuji asked the clone, lifting himself up and seeing the clone turned away from him.
“It’s not really the season for it, but I thought we could have some hot pot,” the clone answered, turning around.
“Did the nap help any?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
More than that, he didn’t want the clone to worry too much, so Shuuji adopted a composed attitude, got to his feet, and headed into the kitchen.
He figured there might be something he could help with.
The dining room was in between the living room and the kitchen, and the fried rice was still there on the table, untouched.
You went through all that trouble to make it for me too…”
Feelings of guilt and regret came back to him, and Shuuji hung his head as he apologized.
It wasn’t just that he hadn’t been able to finish the meal, he felt bad that his uncertain attitude was hurting both versions of Koutarou.
“Don’t worry about it.
I’ll make it my dinner.
I made enough to have it for two meals in one day, no problem.”
He was probably just trying not to worry Shuuji, but there was a boastful edge to the clone’s voice too.
“I think maybe I have a bit of a talent for cooking.”
The clone left the kitchen, and his eyes stopped on the magazine that had been left at the dining room table.
It was the job listings magazine Shuuji had bought.
I could be a chef?”
The clone cracked a rare joke, flipping through the magazine.
Probably the clone was worried about Shuuji, since he didn’t seem to be feeling well, and had thought to cheer him up.
Shuuji knew it, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to laugh.
“Shuuji, what’s wrong?” the clone said, surprised, and Shuuji realized for the first time that he’d been crying.
These tears, flowing down without his conscious awareness, were an admonition from the Koutarou who had passed on to the next world.
Shuuji hadn’t meant to forget him, not even for a moment, and yet he’d been so busy enjoying the peaceful life he had now, he’d ended up turning his eyes away from reality.
But hearing about a new future that the real Koutarou could never have even discussed, he’d been reawakened to a truth he’d been trying not to see.
“You’re not Koutarou, but…”
If you can’t think of me like that, I won’t force you to.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Shuuji interrupted the clone with a strong tone.
He was the same man as Koutarou, inside and out, right down to his memories of the past.
Shuuji had loved Koutarou, and it wasn’t impossible that he would end up longing for this clone, too.
And Koutarou was the one who left the clone here for him, surely Koutarou would forgive him.
But Shuuji couldn’t forgive himself.
“I know you’re not the real Koutarou, but when I’m with you I still end up thinking you are somehow.
When you’re here, I start to forget that Koutarou died.”
His logic was selfish and inconsistent.
It wasn’t the clone’s fault, Shuuji was the one who couldn’t control his emotions.
He knew all that too, and yet it was his feeling for the deceased Koutarou that now moved Shuuji’s lips.
“I can’t let Koutarou disappear from my memory as well.
I don’t want to forget him.
I, at least, need to remember him.”
“That… It’s difficult for you to be with me, you mean?” the clone asked, and Shuuji nodded once.
This life had been empty since Koutarou passed away, and he’d been enjoying it like the accident had been just a lie.
Which was exactly why it was so hard.
I can’t live with you anymore.
I’m really sorry.”
Shuuji could only apologize.
He’d said he would stay by the clone’s side until he got back on his feet, and now he was tossing the clone aside halfway there.
His selfishness was inexcusable, and he kept his eyes on the floor, still crying.
“You haven’t done anything to apologize for, Shuuji.”
A gentle voice, and a calm warmth fell on his shoulders.
Shuuji lifted his face, and the clone flashed a tiny smile to say he understood.
“What are you smiling for? Wasn’t it Koutarou who said that if you don’t want to smile, then it’s okay not to.”
Shuuji’d spoken in rough tones, and the clone stared at him, taken aback.
“I’m doing something horrible, don’t forgive me everything, like Koutarou would.
Koutarou had always been like that.
No matter what Shuuji did, he never got mad, not even once.
Whether it was canceling their plans so he wouldn’t miss a deadline, or skimping on sleep and then passing out when they finally did manage to get together, Koutarou never once said any words of blame.
And the clone was just like Koutarou, even down to that trait.
Wanting to be blamed, asking to be told off, was all down to Shuuji’s ego.
Maybe if it was Koutarou who’d ended the relationship, rather than him, he could relax a little, but he was being spoiled at every turn, even by Koutarou’s clone.
Even the things that he’d once enjoyed were nothing but heavy burdens now.
“There’s no reason to be angry.
You’ve indulged me far too much.”
“So making a clone was supposed to be you indulging me? You thought I’d just accept it calmly, that’s how I am?” Shuuji asked, his tone reproachful, and the words seemed to get stuck in the clone’s throat.
He couldn’t make any response because Shuuji had hit a bullseye.
His attitude only made Shuuji more agitated.
His shout echoed around the quiet apartment.
The silence brought Shuuji back to himself.
He’d just negated the entire reason for the clone’s existence.
The clone had been created for him, and now he’d said he didn’t need it.
It was the one thing he should never have said, and he’d shouted it at the top of his lungs.
The clone only listened in silence.
His eyes were a bit wide, but he didn’t make any protest or rebuttal.
But there was a deep sadness in those eyes.
“That… certainly is true.”
The words the clone did eventually toss out pierced Shuuji clean through.
“It’s entirely my fault.
You told me I wasn’t Koutarou, but I still didn’t understand exactly what you meant.
I certainly never imagined my being here would cause you pain, Shuuji.”
The clone flashed a smile with a hint of self-deprecation.
It was a smile Shuuji had never seen on Koutarou.
He wasn’t a very self-confident person, but he hadn’t experienced that many hurdles, and Shuuji’d always felt that Koutarou was a fairly flexible individual.
Maybe it was because he was a clone, or possibly it was because the real Koutarou had never smiled like that, but there was no way to figure it out now.
“I’m sorry.” Words of apology came hesitantly out of Shuuji’s mouth.
He didn’t know what he was supposed to say, but he had to say something.
“What for…?” the clone asked, but Shuuji couldn’t make any answer.
The clone wasn’t just being disagreeable, he really didn’t seem to think Shuuji had anything to apologize for.
Besides, it was clear that Shuuji’s apology didn’t necessarily change the situation, and so Shuuji couldn’t reply.
“I’ve made trouble for you again, huh, Shuuji,” the clone said, letting out a deep sigh.
His expression said it was the clone who was troubled.
“But, this’ll be the last time.”
The echo of those ominous words threw Shuuji’s heart into chaos.
“Leaving? Leaving here? This is Koutarou’s house though.”
It’s the real Koutarou’s house.”
The clone decisively rejected the idea, using Shuuji’s own argument.
Shuuji had been so merciless that he had caused the words ‘the real Koutarou’ to come out of Koutarou’s own mouth.
Shuuji could only keep his mouth shut, so he wouldn’t hurt the clone any further.
The clone looked around the room and then approached the sideboard.
One drawer held the proceeds from selling off the research equipment.
It was everything the clone owned.
“Good thing I did save this, just like you said, Shuuji,” the clone said, his voice almost a mutter, and then jammed the wad of bills in his pants pocket.
Even the clone understood that he’d need money no matter where he intended to go.
In other words, he really was going to leave.
Even so, Shuuji didn’t say anything to hold him back.
“Thank you for everything.”
Even at the last, the clone wasn’t blaming Shuuji.
He only flashed a lonely smile, turned his back on Shuuji, and headed down the stairs.
The instant he heard the clone’s footsteps reach the first floor, Shuuji started after him.
He couldn’t let the clone leave like this.
“Wait!” Shuuji called out, grabbing the clone by the arm just before he opened the front door.
“If one of us has to leave, it’ll be me.”
Even if this house disappeared, Shuuji had his own apartment.
The clone didn’t have anywhere to go, he didn’t have to leave, Shuuji could just go back to his own place.
“That’s not why.
It’s not about who stays here, it’s any place that connects the two of us, I should leave them all behind.”
Shuuji had come here looking for memories of his time with Koutarou.
But it was specifically because he knew that, that the clone thought he ought to give up his place here.
And it wasn’t just memories with Koutarou anymore, Shuuji had ended up making some with the clone as well.
The clone was giving up this house to try and relieve some of Shuuji’s confusion.
“Where will you go?”
“I haven’t decided yet, but I’ll think about it while I’m walking.”
It wasn’t something he’d decided for his own sake, but for Shuuji’s, and so the clone’s will was firm.
He casually shook off Shuuji’s hand.
Staring at Shuuji with an earnest look on his face and then heaving a big breath, the clone hugged Shuuji close.
A certain warmth was transmitted from the body glued to his.
It was the same warmth as Koutarou.
“It was only for a short time, but I enjoyed being with you, Shuuji.”
The words that echoed in his ears weren’t those of the Koutarou he’d spent six years with, even though it was the same voice, they were those of the clone who’d been with him only a scant month.
The clone immediately released Shuuji, and this time he really did open the front door.
Without leaving any time for Shuuji to respond, the clone stepped into the outside world on his own for the first time.
there is an actual travel agency called Tabix, but it was founded in 2018, and this book came out in 2017, so i’m pretty sure it’s not related.
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