Chapter 1: Inaba
Your muscles screamed at the constant strain you’ve been putting them through. You splayed yourself out across the hardwood floor, unopened boxes towering over you like skyscrapers. The coldness of the wood did wonders on the dull ache that coursed through your body.
You always forget how painful moving was. You were so stubborn to hire movers. You promised yourself, ’next time, definitely!’ But when next time arises, you never do.
The hot, humid air does nothing but add to your misery. Every deep breath feels like your gasping underwater. Your sweat is extra sticky against your overworked skin.
Blah, who thought that moving to middle-of-no-where was a good idea? The further away from the city, the more extreme the elements are — especially in forested mountainside towns.
You rubbed away the accumulation of sweat on your brow and stared blankly at a wispy cobwebs that decorated the overhead light cover. The dull remembrance of why you’re going through this torture nags at your mind.
It’s so much cheaper outside the city. Rent is practically halved, and you’re given the freedom to work on your craft without the looming threat of money problems. Plus, it’s super quiet, much different from the usual hum and bustling from the city you hailed from.
You’re… definitely going to have to get used to it.
You were used to being able to do something new every weekend and getting cheap take-away in the evenings.
Now you actually have to stay home and cook.
You groaned inwardly at the new responsibilities.
You tried to think of the positives. You’ll be able to work without interruption! No more money problems! Cute, quiet cottage lifestyle!
… Okay, the last one is a stretch. You still landed in a dingy apartment with, what smells like, mould problems.
No point in wallowing. This was a new chance for you. You have to seize it.
With new determination, you flung yourself up, pulling at the nearest box and tearing it open. You’re going to make this apartment yours! You’re taking back your life!
Your stomach was grumbling in protest. You forced your body to go through so much work, yet you barely rewarded it with any food. Now you’re paying the penalty.
Your shoes scrape against the asphalt as you march your way through this foreign town. The shrill chirping of the cicadas was enough to grate on your ears. Your white tank top was already clinging to you with sweat.
You forgot to load up on food before your move. Now you were forced to go out and have to buy some.
In 30 degree weather.
The biggest thing in town was the department store — Junes. If that says anything about how sleepy this dreary town was, then it was definitely going to be a wake up call. You walked through the automatic doors and were greeted with the cold gust of heavenly air conditioning. You hummed contently, the scrambled thoughts in your brain becoming cognisant.
You lazily picked up a basket and began perusing the aisles.
It was nice to see familiarity in the unfamiliar. You can almost smell the smoggy scent of the city in the crowded aisles of the store.
You casually picked out some canned goods and packaged ramen. Then your inner voice chastised you, reminding yourself of a ’balanced diet.’ You huffed, resigning to pick out some vegetables.
As you cut a sharp turn to the produce section, your shoulder collided with something. Blinking out of your thoughts, you stared at the obtruding force.
You had bumped into a crestfallen, suited man with messy hair. He scrambled to try to catch an item.
You witnessed the leafy green bounce against the floor.
You gasp and clamber to help him, only to accidentally thump into him again. A heat burned your face as you resigned to him picking up the vegetable.
“I’m so sorry,” You managed to blurt out, bowing your head apologetically.
The man sympathetically patted the green, before chucking it back into his basket haphazardly. He offered a nonchalant shrug, “Eh, no harm done.”
“I-I wasn’t paying attention,” you rubbed the back of your neck in embarrassment. “You don’t need to pick a new one, right?”
He gave another shrug. “Nothin’ a little washing won’t fix.”
You sighed in relief. The struggle to find perfect produce was real. It’d be a real pain for him to have to dig through veg to find something suitable.
Or maybe that was just you being picky with your own food.
You decide to offer another quick bow before walking away, catching a quick glimpse of him waving you a farewell.
For some reason, this interaction makes you crave watermelon.
It is the perfect day for it, after all.
You chomped into the red fruit, sticky sweet juices spilling down your cheek.
You made a lot of progress unpacking. Your kitchen was mostly all organised, with maybe some miscellaneous utensils in other boxes. You freed your old box TV and futon and decided to call it a day. You’ll unpack the rest of your studio equipment tomorrow.
You sat on the floor with your TV, watching the pixels and artefacts dance across the curved screen. You didn’t have the energy to assemble the rest of your furniture, so you decided to live like this for now.
The entertainment segment of the news spoke through the static, echoing through the unfurnished room.
“… Rumour has it that you’ll be staying with your relatives, but isn’t that in Inaba where the murders have been taking place?”
You blinked. Inaba. You live in Inaba! Wait, what?
You scooted closer to the screen, taking another unceremonious chomp of your watermelon.
A young looking model was answering reporters, gaze unfocused, a deep sorrow etched across her youthful features.
“Is it true that they run a traditional tofu shop? Will you be helping out with the family business?”
You almost felt bad for her. It must be rough being an idol. You wouldn’t wish that life on anyone.
Wait, reverse, murders? Why didn’t this ring any bells? Did you really live so far under a proverbial rock that you didn’t realise there were recent murders in this tiny Podunk town? You’re really kicking yourself in the ass. No wonder rent was so cheap.
You inwardly groaned. You should really research these things next time. You glanced out of the uncurtained window across the room. Guess you won’t be going on any nightly strolls any time soon.
Chapter 2: Junes
A few days had passed since you first moved in. Your apartment has all come together. Your studio has been set up, so you had no excuse to slack off. You diligently worked on a new piece, working late into the night.
You really should take better care of yourself.
You stretched your neck as you walked to the kitchen, grabbing yourself a quick snack. Rain pattered against the windows, the sound almost enough to relax you.
That is, until the faint noise of static echoed through the living room. You glanced into the darkened room, only for it to be illuminated by the white glow of your TV. On it, a blurry vision of the idol from earlier, swaying around in a swim suit.
Another pang of guilt rumbled your tummy. Poor kids, being forced into the eyes of lecherous adults.
After finishing your snack, you decided it was best to freshen up and head to bed. Best not to think about moral dilemmas of society this late in the night.
You had gotten your futon all ready and snuggled into the cosy sheets. Your eyes began to get heavy as the rhythmic tapping of the rain lulled you.
Wait, didn’t you turn off your TV?
You glanced into the living room once again, noting it was back to the usual darkness.
The next day you decided to take a break. Stretching your legs and going for a walk was probably beneficial for you anyways. You let the summer sun warm your skin as a mountain breeze sweeps through the town. The woodsy scent of rich pine was enough to ease any worry you might’ve had.
The gentle caress of nature lifted your spirits.
Maybe the middle of no-where really did have its benefits.
You decided to take a stroll around to see what Inaba had to offer. A few streets away, you come across a central shopping district. Every other shop, however, looks to be closed.
Suppose that’s what happens when a big chain department store settles into the area. What a pity.
Down the road, you can see a commotion in front of the petrol station. A group of teenagers circled a portly man, while a familiar, scruffy suited man was pulling out handcuffs.
Oh! That’s cabbage man! You remember him!
You overheard the conversation, his voice firm and authoritative. It caused your stomach to sink into a cold pit.
“— Hey, don’t you understand what’s happening here? You’re under suspicion of murder!”
You swallowed hard, mouth suddenly dry and fuzzy. Now would be a good time to turn back, you reckon.
You swirled around, the sound of metal handcuffs clicking together behind you.
It wasn’t long before you could hear the hurried clicks of his dress shoes on the pavement as he ushered the suspect away. As the sound got closer, you decided to step out of the way.
You watched as the dishevelled man escorted the culprit, only for him to briefly make eye contact with you. He offered a sweet, lazy smile as he passed.
What a duality. Authoritative, but still smiling.
’Suppose that makes him a cop then. Interesting.
You decided to walk the opposite direction and into a side street. That was too much commotion for one day.
You occasionally watched the news every day to see if the murderer was captured.
Nothing, so far.
As you tolled away on your projects, your mind drifts back to the cop. Did he really mess up? That’s pretty hefty if he did. Open accusations like that aren’t exactly the wisest thing to do.
Wouldn’t he be reprimanded?
Wait, why do you care anyways? Well, you do care about the killer not getting caught. That’s not especially good for the community. But why should you care about some daft cop’s misfortunes?
You hated your thoughts right now. You decided to chuck on some headphones and distract yourself with a walk. Maybe Junes will help you forget about this tiny town’s troubles.
As you entered the double doors, a familiar face catches you.
The irony of the situation almost bugs you.
You see the dishevelled cop leaning against the wall, his back to the giant window at the front of the store. He looks like he was just absently people watching in the corner, off in his own world.
Until, that is, your eyes met.
His lips envelop into a wide, goofy smile as he offered a friendly wave.
You decided to wave back.
“Small world! We keep running into each other, it seems!” he called out, tone sweet and happy.
You shyly approached him, hand coming up to rub the back of your neck. “It really seems that way!”
“I’m Tohru Adachi, by the way. A detective at the local police department.”
You offer your own name in greeting. You parrot his statement, a brow raising, “A detective… so does that mean you’re on duty?”
He popped his lips together as he glanced away guiltily. “Mm…maybe? I mean,” He straightened his posture, “Yes, absolutely! Don’t worry, we’re keeping the community safe!”
You couldn’t help but smile and giggle. He definitely was slacking.
“So, Mr. Detective, does that mean you caught the killer?”
He immediately deflated, his cool cop demeanour melted away as he slouched in defeat. “Oh man, you saw that, didn’t you? I got my ass handed to me by my boss.”
A frown threatened the corner of your lips, “That’s unfortunate. That must be rough.”
He ruffled his already messy black mop of hair, “B-but don’t worry! We’re on the case! We’re working really hard to catch the bastard!”
You tried not to crack another smile. “Of course, like how you are right now?”
He huffed in response, “Of course! The killer could be anywhere!”
“He could even be in the produce section!”
“Exactly!” Adachi lit up immediately, that goofy smile of his was infectious. “By the way, sorry if this is direct, but I haven’t seen you in the community before. You new?”
You nodded. When you opened your mouth to respond, a gruff sounding voice came from behind you.
“Adachi!! Stop flirting and go back to work!” A tall, tired looking man with a three o’clock shadow approached you both.
He regarded you with kinder words, “Sorry, ma’am, if my assistant bothered you at all.”
You shook your head, “N-no, it was no problem, sir.”
You didn’t even know why you jumped straight to the formalities. This man radiated with power and authority. His rough, strict demeanour made you nervous.
Adachi fumbled his way over to the older man, “Y-yes, sir. Sorry, Dojima-san.”
You bowed your head as they started to leave. Right as they were about to pass through the double doors, Adachi mumbled a quick, “I’ll see you around!”
Then the glass closed on them.
As you watched them walk away, your shoulder’s sink as the tension leaves you.
You decided to continue to venture around Junes, browsing the expanding aisles to try to distract yourself.
But your mind falls back onto the detective.
Every time you had to make a quick shopping trip, you made sure to casually glance in the corner of the store. Eight times out of ten, you’ll see the cop with the messy hair and the crooked tie.
And every time, you stopped to say hi.
Conversations flowed easily with him. You found out an old lady was doting on him and forcing him to eat nimono. His usual diet was boiled cabbage with packet ramen. He was from the city, like you, and really found Middle-Of-Nowhere life to be a drag.
You can see yourself in him. A person who’s trying to navigate adult life, despite it throwing curve balls.
He also loved to complain about work. His loose lips probably exposed so many police secrets in just the short amount of time you’ve known him.
This time around was no different.
“Ugh, I can’t believe they’re sending special investigation support for the case,” Adachi leaned against the pane of glass, eyes downcast as he told you.
You watched him closely, mindlessly playing with the plastic bag around your wrist, “Is that a bad thing?”
“W-well, yeah! Since we haven’t been able to crack the case since April, it means the higher ups are going to scrutinise our every move.”
You hummed sympathetically to his cause. Catching a serial killer sounds like hard work.
“What’s worse is that it’s this… hot shot detective from a private agency — and he’s a kid!”
You cringe a little bit. Ugh. Kids. “Oh no, are they pretentious?”
He rolled his eyes dramatically, “You have no idea. We have to babysit this kid, all while he makes half baked ’deductions.’ Ugh, so annoying.”
From the corner of your eye, you spot the bearded superior on the other side of the glass. You breath caught as you jumped in surprise.
Oh no, if he comes in here to scold Adachi, that means less time to hang out!
It looks like he hasn’t spotted the duo yet. His hawk like eyes were on the prowl, trying to scout out the lazy detective.
You spoke in a rushed, quiet tone as you reached for Adachi’s suit sleeve, “Shh! Your boss is here. Lets go!”
Without thinking, you gave him a quick tug as you ducked behind some towering shelves.
Adachi flailed in surprise at the sudden assault, but he quickly followed your pace. His tone matched yours, “Wh-what are you doing?”
You glanced in between the gaps of items, watching as Dojima scanned the store. A fun filled adrenaline coursed through your veins, making it impossible to conceal the growing grin on your face, “Hiding you from your boss. If you can get away, the more you can relax, right?”
The way he stared at you was in utter disbelief — Eyes wide, mouth agape. It wasn’t long before he composed himself and offered a mischievous smirk. “My, you’re a naughty girl, aren’t you?”
Your heart skipped at his words. A hot blush creeped onto your face, causing you to look away. “Sh-shut up. He’s coming this way.”
Now you both simultaneously manoeuvred between the shelves until Dojima was out of sight. You both were crouched stealthily behind a freezer in the produce section. Just as you settled, the misters started to rain over the fruits and vegetables. The water droplets formed miniature rainbows over Adachi’s head, making him look near ethereal.
This candid, silly experience will definitely be immortalised in you brain.
For a long, wordless moment, you both stared at each other’s eyes.
That is, until a bubbling erupted from your stomach. Butterflies tickled your insides, causing a rapturous giggle fit to over come you. Adachi followed suit, his own deep chuckles echoing through the small department.
“This is so ridiculous,” he wiped away the corner of his eyes, swiping threatening tears as he calmed his laughter.
“But,” you were catching your breath in between giggles, “you’re free for a little bit longer now!”
“You that desperate to hang out?”
“Yeah,” a grin enveloped your face, “you’re fun!”
Your earnest response caught him off guard. The way he looked at you was as if you were a rare, foreign creature.
“Jeez, you’re an interesting woman.” He extended a hand out, “Here, give me your phone.”
You obliged, offering him your cell.
He deftly flipped it open, tapping in something. When he was done, he snapped it shut and tossed it back to you. “Text me whenever, alright?”
You glanced into the device, noticing the new contact. Tohru.
When you looked back over at him, he was already standing, offering a hand down to help you. You accepted, noticing the length of each of his calloused fingers. He effortlessly pulled you up as if you weighed nothing. It surprised you how much strength he had in his scrawny body.
“I appreciate you looking out for me,” his smile was wide and lopsided, “but I really should head back to the station. Dojima will have my ass if I slack off too much.”
You feigned disappointment, pouting, “Awe, and after such an elaborate cat and mouse chase!”
“It was more us making a ruckus for the poor staff.”
“Nah, we were totally being chased by your scary boss.”
You both snickered at the childish mischief.
A long quietness mulled over the pair. He, ultimately, was the one to break the silence first. “Well, I’ll see you around!”
You watched as his ruffled appearance disappeared behind the rows of inventory. Soon, the clicking sound of his dress shoes faded as the overhead department store music took over.
You don’t understand why your heart was beating so fast.
You chocked it up to cardio. It must be.