“O-ho-ho. Don’t worry, it’s just a little strain,” The jovial man in the white coat told us with a smile and he patted the princess’ ankle, eliciting another stifled ‘Owie!’ from her. “You are lucky you got here before I went home.”
“We know doc, you have already said so,” I grumbled while I gently massaged the bump on the back of my head adding yet another landmark to the already hilly geography of my cranium.
Once again the situation probably speaks for itself, but let me elaborate for clarity’s sake:
So, the princess predictably fell down the stairs and I, the selfless gentleman that I am, jumped after her and tried to save her. In the end the only thing that accomplished was that we both tumbled down (thankfully without any comedic ‘landing in an awkward position’ or ‘touching an inappropriate body-part’ wackiness), but taken that we were both alive and only suffered minor injuries, I was going to shamelessly attribute that to my heroics. Yay me.
Anyways, after we landed and I confirmed that I didn’t break anything, it turned out that the princess had strained an ankle, and after much protesting she allowed me to carry her to the nurse’s office, where the annoying old man was just getting ready to leave. And thus we reached the present, where he was looking at me inquisitively.
“Stop that, I told you it’s creepy.”
“So you hit your head, young man?” He wiggled his brows, completely disregarding my request. “How are your memories?”
“Memories?” The princess looked over at us in puzzlement.
“No change,” I glared at the nurse and shooed him away. “Shouldn’t you worry about her leg instead?”
“Fine, fine.” He walked over to a cabinet and glanced inside. “O-ho-ho, it seems like we are out of pressure bandages. I better go and get some.”
Without saying a word more he put on a wide-rimmed brown felt hat and left the office. The door didn’t even have the chance to close before the princess repeated her question.
“… He is… a bit weird in the head.” I deflected, though I suppose I wasn’t entirely off the mark either. “He is obsessed with figuring out the link between head trauma and memory loss. Look, he even has a mallet he hits people with.”
She glanced over at the rubber hammer on the desk and shuddered.
“I was wondering what that was for…” Suddenly she frowned at me, as if remembering that she wasn’t supposed to have friendly conversations with me. “And you took me to a place like this!? How irresponsible can you be?”
I sighed for the umpteenth time today.
“You are aware that he is still our school nurse and the only medical expert around, right?”
She gave me a loud ‘Hmpf!’ and looked to the side. It was at this point when the awkward silence was supposed to settle down on us, but I cut it short with a question.
“So, why are you after Josh?”
As usual, the princess let out a cartoonish sound effect (it seemed like this was her character tic or something) and nearly fell off the bed.
“Ha… haha… W-What could you mean?”
“Oh please,” I shook my head. “I saved you twice today; I think I deserve a little honesty.”
The princess looked at me intently, then suddenly she averted her eyes in apparent embarrassment.
“You already know the reason,” She mumbled sulkily at the wall to the left. I could feel the corner of my mouth twitch in response.
Well, duh, of course I knew the reason. Josh was the protagonist in a harem narrative, therefore girls were attracted to him like moths to a flame. However, there had to be an in-universe reason for that attraction. Angie was a given, childhood friend romance is a staple of the genre. As for the class rep, I just discovered that they might have known each other since middle school, so their acquaintanceship was old enough to create some kind of romantic spark. But the princess? She just came out of nowhere (correction: ‘from the mainland’, which for all intents and purposes was the same thing anyway) and had no prior history with Joshua… or did she?
“Of course I know the reason,” I stated with a hint of irritation, barely stopping myself from adding ‘probably more than you do.’ “What I really want to know why ‘you in particular’ are interested in him.”
I must have hit a nerve, for she suddenly twitched and looked back at me with giant doe eyes before she turned away and began sulking again.
“I can’t tell you.”
I raised a hand and extended two fingers.
“Twice. That’s two times. One plus one. The number with the hook top and the flat bottom. That’s how many times I stopped you from breaking your neck.”
All of a sudden the princess let out a distasted groan and raised her hands into the air.
“Fine, fine! I get it, stop harping on it!”
I waited for her to stop waving her hands before I continued.
“…” For several seconds she just stared at me with a conflicted expression until she waved for me to come closer. I followed her request and sat by her side on the bed.
“… You see…”
“Well…” At last she buried her face in her hands and shook it violently for a moment before she looked at me with determined eyes. “Listen, you have to promise me that you aren’t going to tell this to anyone. Especially not him.”
“You mean Josh?” I thought about for a moment and concluded that unless what she was about to tell me posed a danger to him, which I sincerely doubted, I had no obligation to share it on the first place. As such, I gave her a firm nod. “Sure, I can promise that.”
“Do you swear?”
“Sure, I can do that too, but I don’t see…”
“Swear on the…” She paused for a moment. “Do you have a religion?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You don’t ‘think so’?”
Her mouth twisted in a small grimace. “Fine, then swear on your family.”
“I don’t really have one.”
“Oh…” For a moment her frowning grimace was overcome with a flash of sympathy, but an instant later it was back in its previous state. “Then any other symbol? Nationality?”
“Nah, I don’t really have any attachments like that either.”
“You want to tell me you don’t have anything?” Her voice was actually more stunned that frustrated, though I guess I could only tell it because I was already so familiar with her annoyed tone.
“No.” For a little while she kept blinking at me, and for some reason I couldn’t help but feel she pitied me. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable, so I let out a forced cough and made an offer. “How about we forget about the whole swearing business? You just have to trust the guy who saved you twice a third time.”
“I told you to stop harping on that. Also, you didn’t really save me the second time.”
“Oh, do you want to tell that embracing you while you were falling and putting my body between you and the cold, hard ground wasn’t even the least bit helpful? That you would have been okay without me putting my body and life on the line for your safety without a second thought?”
“Well, no, but…” She suddenly shook her head and glared at me with crimson cheeks. “Fine, I get it! I will trust you, so stop embarrassing me!”
Wait, just when was I embarrassing her? I mean, yes, I was trying to embarrass her, but not ‘embarrass’ her in that sense… Whatever.
The princess took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling, probably collecting her thoughts, before she spoke in a soft voice.
“He and I… We actually met. A long time ago.”
“When you were kids?” That much I expected. I figured she had to be a forgotten childhood acquaintance or the like.
She nodded and continued, “My father was visiting relatives in the area and he took me with him. We were staying in the same mansion I live in right now. One day I was bored and wanted to look around the neighborhood, so I asked Sebastian…” She paused for a moment and clarified, “Sebastian is my butler.”
“I know.” The princess raised an eyebrow in response, so I quickly supplied the answer: “This is a high school. Gossip runs rampant around here and a butler stands out.”
It seemed like my explanation satisfied her for now, as she nodded and began to speak again.
“There was this public park near the mansion that had a playground.”
“And that’s where you met him?”
She nodded. “Yes. He was playing with some other kids from the neighborhood, and when he saw me and Sebastian walking in the park, he just ran up to me and invited me to play.” Without any warning, the princess’ face bloomed into a smile that was both nostalgic and a little melancholic. “When I asked why he wanted to play with me, he just gave me this giant smile and told me that I was pretty.”
I chuckled. I could totally imagine a kindergarten-aged Josh doing that, and the image was somehow both hilarious and heart-warming.
“Over the next two weeks, we played in the park almost every day. I even had to sneak out of the mansion alone once. I was scolded for an hour that evening, but it was worth it.”
The princess’ pure smile seemed to be contagious, as I suddenly found myself grinning warmly at her. Over the next twenty or so minutes she gave me a jumbled, hard-to-follow but overall adorable account of her play-sessions with Josh. It was like a highlight reel of all the laidback, silly stuff every kid would do during summer vacation, yet from her mouth it sounded like some kind of life-changing experience. Then, at last, we reached the crux of the story.
“… One morning my father told me he finished with his visits and we would return home the next day. That day I went to the park again and told him we would never meet again… and…”
“Let me guess,” I said as I raised a hand. “He made you pinky-swear that you two would meet again one day…” I told her and based on her reaction I was spot on, so I decided to stretch my luck and added, “… and get married.”
Her reaction was more extreme than any of her previous freak-outs. If I didn’t reach out to her at once she would have probably completely fallen off the bed in a flailing mass of limbs.
“H-H-How did you?! Did he tell you that?! When?!”
“Calm down,” I chided her. “I just guessed.”
“How could you guess something like that?!”
“Well, it was pretty typical,” I began, but then I decided to soften my words a little, “I mean, I don’t want to undermine the weight of your promise or anything, but it is something that tends to happen between kids.”
“So… It’s not strange? You are not going to laugh at me?”
“Why would I? I think it’s cute.” At this point I was able to reflexively catch her as she began squeaking and flailing again. “I wish you would stop that…” I breathed while rubbing my face with my free hand.
Just then she stopped as abruptly as she began.
“Wait, you mean these kinds of promises are common?”
“Well…” For some reason, I felt my choice of words was very important. “I wouldn’t call it common, but it’s not unheard of.”
“So… Could it mean that… he didn’t mean it?”
I gave her a flat look.
“How should I know? You should ask him.”
“Because… it would be embarrassing. And what if he didn’t remember the promise? Or didn’t think anything of it?” She suddenly gasped. “What if he doesn’t even remember me? He didn’t seem to recognize me, what if…?”
I placed a finger in front of her mouth and she finally fell silent. I let out a hard breath. Teenagers and their over-complication of romance. But then again, what did I know? I was supposed to be a teenager too.
“So, if I may ask, what was your plan if you never wanted to directly confront him? Invite him to lunches, hang around him and hope for the best?”
“Well…” For the first time since I knew her (which admittedly was only a few hours, but still), she looked meek. “You think it won’t work?”
“Oh, it would,” I told her frankly and to her obvious surprise. “Sooner or later, I mean. But doing that would probably take a while, lead to a bunch of misunderstandings and would only really happen when something needlessly dramatic comes around. You should be better off by just telling him and be done with it.”
“I… don’t think I can.”
She gave me a flat look.
“You know all too well how complicated the situation is.”
I wanted to tell her that I didn’t, but our dear nurse chose this exact moment to barge into the room with a giant cardboard box in his hands.
I reflexively stood up to help him carry the thing.
“O-ho-ho! Thank you, young man.”
“What the heck is this?”
“Why, they are bandages, of course!”
“Do you want to turn her into a mummy?”
“O-ho-ho. Of course not. I just thought that I might as well get some spares if I was at it.”
I put down the box and asked the question that has been silently plaguing ever since he left.
“Just where did you go anyway?”
“O-ho-ho, just over to the storage room.”
“For half an hour?”
“I thought I would give you youngsters some privacy.” He leaned closer and whispered, “I hope you didn’t forget to use contraception.”
For a moment all I could do was to blink at him.
“Contraception. It is the…”
The old man began a long-winded description on the usage and benefits of contraceptives, but I didn’t really catch most of it as I was too busy fighting an inner battle deciding whether I should just brush him off or apply his own rubber hammer to his head. In the end, the calmer response won over, but only because I couldn’t have been sure that the rules of slapstick would apply if I did that, and I was in no mood to explain a hypothetical corpse with a mallet embedded in his cranium.
Once he finished his diatribe he flashed a mustachioed smile and reached for one of the rolls in the box, and without any further words he began applying it to the princess’ ankle. She squirmed a little, but didn’t seem to be in too much pain.
“O-ho-ho. That should do it. Try not to strain your leg for a few days and it should heal in a jiffy!”
“Thank you.” The princess nodded to him and then looked at me. I took it as my cue to help her onto her feet.
“Can you stand?”
She wobbled a little but managed to stand tall.
“I think I will be okay.”
“Are you sure? I could carry you again if you…”
“Out of the question!” She snapped. “Riding on you once was more than enough!”
“O-ho-ho! The vigor of youth is truly amazing!”
“She didn’t mean it that way.”
“What way?” The princess blinked blankly.
“The way you didn’t mean it,” I answered before addressing the nurse again. “Is there anything else, doc?”
“O-ho-ho. Nothing I can think of.”
“Good,” I clapped and rubbed my palms together. “We should get going then. It’s getting late.”
Without further ado I pulled the princess through the door (making sure she wasn’t straining her feet, of course), and before I knew it we were already in the main hall. I looked at her bandaged feet and asked, “Do you need any help?”
“No, I’m fine!”
“With the shoes, I mean? Wouldn’t it be hard to get your feet into them?”
“I’ll improvise,” She huffed and limped across the hall to her shoe-locker. I shrugged and went the other way to grab mine. Thankfully this time there were no letters attached to my shoes, so I swiftly slipped into my sneakers and skipped to the door to wait for her. I suppose we could have parted at this point, I wasn’t really responsible for her or anything, but it would have just felt weird if I left an injured person behind like that. After several minutes of waiting I found her peeking around the lockers and glaring at me resentfully. Once it became obvious she wouldn’t come over I silently grumbled and walked up to her instead.
“What’s up?” She didn’t say anything, just turned her face away from me with a ‘Hmpf.’ I glanced down and found the reason why she didn’t come out. “So the shoe didn’t fit after all?”
She was only wearing a shoe on one foot while the other was only halfway in there and had her walk on tip-toes. I shook my head.
“That won’t do, you are only going to hurt your feet even worse if you try to walk like that.”
“Then what should I do? Go home barefoot?”
“Well, I could still carry you.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” She pouted at me and tried to stomp her feet, but the moment she raised one she cringed and I had to catch her.
“Whoa, easy there. You are really going to hurt yourself at this rate.” Before she could say or do anything, I reached down and snatched the shoe off her injured feet.
“Give it back!”
“I will, once you are back at your place safe and sound.”
She gave me one of her most fiery glares yet, though it was slightly undermined by her pouting and the wet blotches in the corner of her eyes.
“You are infuriating! Why do you insist on getting in my way all the time?!”
I thought about the question probably a bit longer than I should have and at last I just shrugged my shoulders.
“I suppose because, against my better judgment, I am worried about you.”
She made another ‘Gyafuu!’ sound… or was it ‘Hawawa!’? One or the other. Anyways, once she got over her first overreaction she pointed her finger at my nose and yelled,
“Stop it then! Stop worrying about me! Stop complicating things!”
“… I don’t see how helping you complicates things. As for not worrying about you, that’s something you should fix yourself.”
“Yeah,” I nodded vigorously, “You are just too over-the-top and clumsy and it makes me want to look after you. I just keep getting worried that you would do something silly and injure yourself again.”
Instead of the yell I was expecting, the girl just slowly, very slowly, started getting redder and redder, and before I could even react she rushed past me towards the door.
“Hey!” I yelled after her, raising the hand holding the shoe over my head. “You forgot this! And you are going to hurt your leg if you run like…”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” She yelled back from the entranceway. The automatic door behind her opened by itself. “I hate you! You are annoying, nosy and you still smell weird!”
Before I could react to her declaration she turned around, leaped forwards… and hit the glass door with her forehead at full force. As it turns out automatic doors close after a few seconds if you don’t go through them. Who would have thought?
“Hey! Are you all right?” I rushed up to her while she was still cradling her head on the carpet and kneeled beside her. “That sounded painful. Can you stand? We should go back to the nurse’s office and…”
Before I could say anything else she looked up at me, her face still red as a lobster and tears streaking down her cheeks. Most importantly, even though she had a large lump growing on her forehead, she could only muster a blank look as she gazed at my face from up close. Then she let out another yelp, jumped back with the agility of a cat and rushed out the re-opened door.
“I will get you for this!” She shouted between stifled ‘Ow!’s as she ran down the walkway and out through the school gates. I could only stare blankly after her dust-trail.
“You will get me back for what?” I mumbled as I stood up again and hung my head. And here I thought we were actually starting to get along. That girl was about ten different flavors of weird.
I glanced at the shoe in my hand and on a whim I decided to stick it into my bag. I will give it back to her tomorrow; I thought to myself as I walked through the entrance as well. At last, I sighed, even deeper and harder than usual.
“I was right… this really turned out to be a pain in the ass.”