It wasn’t that Souji thought that his hobbies were normal. Goodness, he knew perfectly well that he was a bit odd in the head.
It was just that everyone in Inaba was really, really… strange.
As it turned out, biking into trashcans wasn’t an accidental occurrence with Yosuke. Not too often, at least.
“That has to be bad for your health,” Souji said.
“What?” Yosuke said. “No, not at all. The stuff inside softens the blow, you know? The real problem’s when you end up in ones that have just been emptied, because then you get banged up everywhere.”
“…” said Souji. Oh. There was Rise, walking by. Better say hello.
“Once I get a motorcycle, I’m going to—hey, partner, where are you going?”
“You just gotta keep stirring it, senpai,” Kanji said.
“I am,” Souji said. His wrist hurt. He was beginning to regret doing this. He didn’t mind the sewing so much, but the baking… the baking was brutal. This was their fourth batch of cakes in two hours. Kanji was planning on making an eight-layer cake. Or an eight-door cake. One of them. Were they the same thing? “What are we doing, exactly?”
Kanji unrolled a blueprint. It was… very elaborate.
“Making a robot cake,” Kanji said. “Y-y’know. In case Naoto stops by and wants something to eat. She looks like the kind of guy who likes cake. Y’think so, senpai?”
“What if Naoto-kun prefers pie?” Souji said.
Kanji’s crumpled the blueprint and yelled, “Damn it!” Then he stormed out of the kitchen. Souji, unsure of what to do, kept stirring the batter. A minute later, Kanji marched back in, armed with drafting paper and a pencil. “Okay! Gotta be prepared! You up for making some pie crusts, senpai?!”
Chie invited Souji over to her house. Souji, assuming that they were going to watch Bruce Lee DVDs, accepted the invitation without a second thought.
Unfortunately, she had invited him over for training. Food training. She told him a bit of trivia as she poured him a particularly noxious-looking stew: most of the mushrooms on the mountains by the Amagi Inn were poisonous.
“Yeah, I had to get my stomach pumped a whole bunch of times,” Chie said. “It took me like three years until I could pick out the right mushrooms, but I think I got it right this time.” Chie picked up her own bowl, and raised it to the air. She looked at him expectantly.
“You want me to…” he said, gesturing.
“Yeah,” she said. “Come on, Souji-kun. I made it especially for you after I heard that Yukiko was cooking stuff for you.”
“Why is there a squirrel in the pot?”
“This is a Bruce Lee-approved soup, okay. He ate this when he was back in Hong Kong.” She took a long swig. “See?” she said. “I’m still standing.”
“…” Farewell, cruel world, Souji thought, and drank.
“See?” Yosuke said as Teddie crashed into Souji’s neighbor’s trash bin. “Teddie likes it, too.”
Teddie was now rolling down the hill. Souji watched, slack-jawed.
“Oh, man, is that a car?” Yosuke said, squinting down the road. “You think the metal’s going to be like armor or…”
“I. I don’t know.”
Souji felt Naoto’s approach. More specifically, he felt the rubber dart go into his eye.
“Argh!” he groaned as his retina popped off the back of his eyeball.
“You’ll have to put on a better performance than that to trick me,” Naoto said from the top of the stairwell, still aiming the Nerf gun at his face. “I am well-versed in the art of false injuries, so you will not be able to deceive me with such a weak—”
“I. I think I’m bleeding,” Souji said.
“Wh… oh. Indeed you are.” There was an awkward pause, where Naoto realized that Souji wasn’t faking and where Souji considered killing someone. Maybe Naoto. Maybe someone else. “I. I shall contact the nurse, then. You truly are not—”
“Yes. Well, then.”
He shot her in the back with his Nerf gun, anyway.
It didn’t come as much of a surprise that Yukiko had done a whole host of “proper young lady” activities as a child: calligraphy, traditional Japanese dancing, flower arrangement, the art of walking along riversides in kimonos while looking suitably solemn—that last one wasn’t technically something that young women were taught, but Yukiko could do it well despite that. And given her stubborn, rebellious streak, Souji almost expected her to have some strange, outrageous hobby, like collecting porn or drawing particularly frightening horror manga or going bungee jumping without a cord. Finding a new poker partner in Yukiko had been unexpected, but the nice kind of unexpected.
He would have liked to keep his watch, but she had given him the option of keeping his fingers or his jewelry, and he really, really liked having his fingers.
“She wasn’t really going to cut off your finger,” Chie said. Souji checked Chie’s hands. Chie jammed them into her pockets. “What kind of person do you think she is?!”
“She had a knife,” Souji said.
“It was just for show.”
“She said that she’d get the Inn’s staff to hold me down if I tried to escape.”
“That was a joke! I think.”
“She made me put my hand on a cutting board.”
“Maybe she thought your fingers looked like sausages?”
“…” Souji looked at his hands.
“Yukiko’s not that hard to beat once you figure her out. I think. She’s never let me play a game against her before. Something about the underground or overworld or—or her reputation as a boss? I don’t know, it got kind of confusing—”
“Are you going to be all right?”
“It’ll be fine,” Chie said. “I’ll get your watch back for you. I’ll bet my life on it.”
“… Maybe… Maybe you shouldn’t.”
“It’s a pretty nice collection, right?” Rise said. “I mean, first I started collecting because the sponsors kept giving me sample products, but then I started buying things myself, and… voila! Every Risette product ever sold in Japan! Pretty impressive, if I do say so myself!”
It said something about his friends that Rise having a collection of blowup dolls with her face on each one didn’t faze him at all.
“It’s very impressive,” Souji said. What impressed him most was that no one’s life was being put at risk. But that was a separate matter.
“I know,” Rise said. Then she giggled. “You didn’t notice it, senpai?” Souji stared. Rise sighed. “Pull my hair.”
Souji, confused, took a hold of one of her pigtails and gave it a little tug. The hair fell right off, revealing electrodes and blinking lights beneath the wig. He put the wig back onto the android’s head. A second later, the real Rise stepped out from behind the closet.
“You’re no fun, senpai,” Rise said. “Yosuke-senpai at least screamed.”
“I’ve seen weirder,” he said. Ayane, proving that she could fit inside a tuba. Sayoko’s secret passion for bull riding. Kou, demonstrating that he not only liked polishing balls, but also swallowing swords. Eri’s ability to produce pigeons out of thin air. Nanako and her thankfully tiny collection of bottle caps.
“You’re a hard one, senpai,” Rise said. “Maybe I should’ve brought out the Risette horse—”
“Seriously?” Yosuke said. “Fishing?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Souji said, casting his line.
“It’s an old man sport,” Yosuke said. “Thought you’d want to do something exciting, now that your retina’s been reattached. Like get on my bike while I—”
“I really, really like fishing,” Souji said. “It’s almost as satisfying as sex.”
“I can show you, if you’d like.”
“Okay,” Yosuke said.
Well. That had gone well. Souji reeled the line in. Ah. A goldfish.
“Wait,” Yosuke said. “Do you mean the fishing thing or the sex thing?”
Souji, who had been shot at, poisoned, and scared within an inch of his life in the last few weeks, gave Yosuke a pointed look, then slid his hand into Yosuke’s back pocket.
“… Huh,” Yosuke said. Yosuke peered into Souji’s eyes for a second; then leaned onto Souji’s shoulder. “Yeah. I’d like that.”