The next morning, Shuuji arrived at the vacation house before noon.
At first, he figured he’d meet Koutarou for lunch, but then he got worried that Koutarou had probably skipped breakfast.
The clone didn’t have anything to occupy himself with anymore, and Shuuji was concerned about how he would spend his time, in that house all by himself.
When Shuuji rang the intercom, the clone came to greet him with a happy smile.
“I told you I would.”
“I heard you, but this isn’t really like the promises we made before, is it? I never want to force you into anything, so I had no intention of blaming you if you didn’t come.”
It was something a normal person might have hesitated to say, but the clone put it into words clearly and without any hesitation.
The way he prioritized Shuuji’s feelings over everything, even in a situation like this – he was still Koutarou after all, inside.
“I bought a few things…” Shuuji tried to act natural, averting his gaze from the clone towards the car he’d come in.
On his way here, he’d bought a carload of food and other daily necessities at the closest supermarket.
If Koutarou was going to live here every day, not just on the weekends, the shopping he’d done previously would immediately become insufficient.
The clone shouldn’t be out in public, so Shuuji wanted to make sure he didn’t run out.
“Thanks for buying everything for me, seriously.
This is an amazing amount of stuff,” the clone said in wonder, peering into the car – Shuuji had bought so much stuff it nearly buried the back seats.
Today, same as yesterday, he’d rented a minivan.
Yesterday, it was to carry his own luggage, but today he needed it for shopping.
“Help me carry them in…”
“It’s the opposite, isn’t it? I’m the one who should be asking you, Shuuji.”
All these things were for him, so the clone took the initiative to carry the heavier stuff into the house.
Shuuji followed suit, and after three trips, the car was finally empty.
“I’ll be good for a couple of months with this, huh.”
“A couple of months is an exaggeration.”
“Is it?” The clone tilted his head curiously.
Koutarou’d never been particularly attached to eating, so he probably figured if he ran out of food stocks, he just wouldn’t eat.
Stuff like that was exactly why Shuuji couldn’t leave him alone.
“What have you been doing today?” Shuuji asked, as they headed for the living room together.
Koutarou generally lived a well-regulated life, and he was always up at six o’ clock, even on holidays.
The clone must have done the same, so Shuuji wondered what he’d been doing all by himself for five hours.
“I continued what I was doing yesterday.”
“Tidying up the lab?”
I think I’ll be able to finish it up today.”
The clone was cutting ties with the research Koutarou had been working on for more than ten years, and yet his attitude was so blithe about it, it was almost anticlimactic.
“You don’t really have to be in such a rush about it, do you?”
Not like he had anything pressing to get to, but Shuuji couldn’t say that, so he put it another way and made it sound like a suggestion.
“I don’t mean to be in a rush.
I’ve got to focus on what happens next, rather than dwell on something that’s already occurred, right?”
“So what does happen next?”
“First, I figured I should learn how to handle my daily life on my own, things like cleaning and cooking, things I never really did before.”
The clone seemed eager to get started, like he’d discovered a new avenue of research.
Koutarou had started living on his own just after he graduated from high school, but he’d always eaten out for meals, and the cleaning had been farmed out to a service, even the washing of his underpants.
When Koutarou was convinced to talk about it, he’d said that spending his spare time on things he had no interest in was a waste.
But he wasn’t saying anything like that now, and if he wasn’t even going to do his research, he’d have a veritable mountain of free time.
“Will you teach me, Shuuji?”
“Thank you.” The clone flashed a satisfied smile.
But something about that smile looked lonely too.
He’d lived his whole life without doing any housework at all, and the fact that he knew he had to do some of it now meant that he understood that Shuuji, who’d always been the one to do that kind of stuff, would someday leave.
“You should just do your own work, Shuuji, and don’t worry about me otherwise, like before.”
Shuuji didn’t think things were the way they’d been before at all, and no matter how he tried, he couldn’t hide his confusion.
Whenever he’d stayed here, Shuuji used to work upstairs, while Koutarou secluded himself in the lab.
They felt so relaxed just being under the same roof, they’d never felt the need to be right next to each other.
“Well, I’ll get to work after we make lunch.”
“I’ll just watch at first, okay? Next time I’ll try to help.”
The clone seemed to be genuinely interested in learning how to do housework.
He made his suggestion, and then followed Shuuji into the kitchen.
– – –
In the six years they’d been going out, he’d never once made a meal with Koutarou.
Shuuji had been cooking for himself since he first lived on his own, and there wasn’t much difference between one person’s portion and two, so he hadn’t had any help before, not even in washing the dishes.
“We’ll start with how to use the rice cooker.”
“We should start from the basics,” the clone said, apparently enjoying himself, watching from a little bit away while Shuuji stood at his usual place in the kitchen.
Shuuji taught him how to cook, one step after another, and the clone had such an outstanding mind that he understood everything immediately with a single explanation.
It was just that he’d never had any interest in it before.
Once he learned the basics, he’d probably be able to make most anything straight off.
“There’s so much detailed work that goes into a meal,” the clone muttered appreciatively, watching Shuuji work with a kitchen knife.
He’d been taking care of a mackerel, and was just getting to mincing it.
“You don’t have to remember everything.
Once you learn what I’m teaching, you can try just some of the more simple dishes…”
It wasn’t like the clone could just saunter out to the store, so after Shuuji was gone, he’d lose all opportunity to get ahold of raw ingredients.
Given that, learning how to cook with dry goods, things that could be stored long term, would serve him better.
“You make it because you like me, don’t you?” the clone said, apparently already knowing that he was correct, and Shuuji nodded.
Koutarou had never been a picky eater.
He’d say anything was delicious, but Shuuji had learned his favorites over time, thanks to the way his expression changed when he tasted something he particularly liked.
His separation from Koutarou had been too sudden, and he hadn’t been able to do anything for him.
So he wanted to do whatever he could for his clone at least.
Shuuji was amazed at his own ability to make whatever selfish excuses he pleased, all while repeating that the clone wasn’t the same as Koutarou.
“You’re really skilled at this Shuuji.”
Seeing Shuuji proceed through the cooking with such familiar motions despite being lost in his thoughts, the clone continued to be impressed.
“It’s a bit of an exaggeration to call this skilled.
What about the mothers out there who make meals for their entire family every single day?”
“Geniuses maybe?” the clone answered, his face quite serious indeed.
Shuuji burst out laughing.
People who could do things he couldn’t were skilled geniuses, apparently.
The clone’s thought process – exactly like Koutarou’s – was fundamentally simple.
Shuuji’s hands didn’t stop even as they spoke, and he was almost done with making lunch.
The menu was pork miso with minced mackerel, and white rice with a garnish of lightly pickled cabbage.
“And I was going to put a dash of cayenne on here too, but…”
Shuuji looked over at the spice rack, but couldn’t find the small jar that should have been there.
Now that he thought about it, he had a hunch he’d left it on the dining room table last week when they had udon for lunch.
He looked over, and sure enough, it was lined up with the other small jars of salt and stuff.
“Sorry, Koutarou, grab that for me?” Shuuji said to the clone in his usual tone, pointing to the jar.
He’d done it countless times before, there was nothing special about his behavior.
So he’d ended up naturally using Koutarou’s name.
But from the very first instant he’d seen the clone, Shuuji had decided he would never call him Koutarou.
The only person Shuuji would call by that name was the Koutarou who was no longer in this world.
Bewildered by his own behavior, Shuuji’s expression stiffened, and he stopped moving.
But the clone didn’t seem to notice anything.
“Sure, here you go,” he said, reaching over to the table, picking up the jar, and handing it to Shuuji.
“Okay then, once I’m finished, I’ll take it over.”
And then he completed the meal like nothing had happened, put it on a couple of plates, and started to carry them over to the dining table.
Honestly, he probably had noticed it.
Koutarou wasn’t interested in how other people felt, but with Shuuji, it was different.
He was always looking at Shuuji, he never missed anything, no matter how subtle.
Even so, if Shuuji didn’t bring it up, Koutarou would be apprehensive to point it out himself.
Urged on by the clone, Shuuji finally smoothed over his expression, and moved to the dining table with the plates of food, which were still in his hands.
The clone had prepared the chopsticks and drinks and everything while he wasn’t looking, and once Shuuji set the last plate down, they’d be all set to start the meal.
It was only a little, but the clone was starting to show signs of growth, that he’d be able to handle daily chores.
It was a fact that should have made Shuuji quite happy.
If the clone could start to support himself, he’d be able to leave him here without any lingering worries.
But Shuuji realized that the clone’s growth made him lonely instead.
Because he knew that his past self, the person who’d been happy to do whatever he could for Koutarou, would disappear soon too.
Shuuji’s expression sank lower and lower, and as the meal advanced, the clone cycled through some conversations, obviously for Shuuji’s sake.
Nothing had changed dramatically in the half day since they’d last seen each other, but he even talked about the TV shows he’d watched last night.
What would he do from now on, living here all by himself? The clone must have been uneasy, and Shuuji was unbearably worried and anxious about it.
At least during mealtime, he ought to let the clone be at ease.
“I got a commission for a new job.”
At the introduction of a conversation topic from Shuuji, the clone leaned forward happily.
“They said the author of a book I’ve worked with before wanted to work with me again.”
“I like your work too, Shuuji, so I wonder if my tastes might match that author’s.
What book is it?”
Shuuji offered the book title in reply, and the clone nodded like he knew it immediately.
Koutarou read basically nothing outside of specialized papers, but he had always taken a peek at every work Shuuji had been responsible for the binding on, regardless of genre.
“The contents were interesting too on that one, I’m looking forward to the next one.”
It was a book the clone had never read, but the memories in his cells allowed him to answer.
His actual experiences and memory as the clone had only started yesterday.
“Well then I’ll bring over a couple of that author’s books.
If they don’t suit your tastes, maybe there’ll be some others you’ll find interesting.”
Maybe it’ll become my new hobby.”
Shuuji knew the clone was making such forward-looking declarations because Shuuji was obviously worried, but he had to pretend he hadn’t noticed, just like earlier.
The meal, peaceful on the surface at least, concluded, and they even tidied up together.
Shuuji left the dish washing to the clone, and the same fingers that were so good at detailed lab work handled it without difficulty.
“Alright then, I’m going to get back to organizing the lab, so do your best at work, Shuuji.”
The clone finished tidying up, and quickly disappeared into the first floor.
He must have realized Shuuji’d been unintentionally tense while they were together.
Once he was alone, Shuuji heaved a long breath, and all his nervous tension unraveled.
He didn’t want to hurt the clone, so he’d been acting like nothing was wrong, but it had been mentally exhausting.
There was a work space for Shuuji in one corner of the living room, with the same computer as he used at home, even the same internet settings, so Shuuji could do some work whenever he was here.
He booted up the computer, and ran his eyes over the materials he’d been sent earlier.
Shuuji always read the book he was working on, in order to visualize the design.
This time was no different, Mori had sent him the manuscript right after he’d accepted the job.
The work was a mystery novel aimed at young boys, and Shuuji was definitely interested, especially after hearing it was related to the author’s previous work, but the letters wouldn’t get into his brain, and he couldn’t follow the story.
In the quiet room, the only thing he could hear were the faint noises of the clone working downstairs.
He’d spent time like this a week ago too.
Shuuji had been surrounded on all sides by work on an urgent deadline, and Koutarou had been secluded in the lab.
They often spent whole days like that, and just to look at them, you might not think anything had changed.
At some point, Shuuji was pulled along by the sounds from downstairs, drifting back into the daily habits of a life that should have been lost forever, and he recovered his ability to concentrate on his work.
– – –
Starting the following morning, Shuuji started taking the train to the vacation house instead of a car.
A rental car was fine for a few times, but if he was going to need it everyday, that would get rough financially.
It was about an hour and a half on the train, with the transfer to a bus, which made the round trip three hours, and Shuuji had always worked from home, he didn’t even really go for walks, he definitely wasn’t good with crowds.
So even though it was easier on his wallet, it was harder on his constitution.
He’d been coming here like that every day for a week, and his fatigue had reached its peak.
He remembered heading for the computer after lunch.
But his fatigue turned into exhaustion and attacked him, and he ended up falling asleep right where he was.
He must have slept for a little while, even in that unnatural posture, because suddenly there was something warm on his shoulders, and he startled awake.
Shuuji’s shoulders had been draped with a thin fleece cardigan.
It was the middle of June, so normally it would’ve been hot all day long, but it had been raining since this morning, so today had been a bit chilly.
The clone must have been worried about him.
“What time is it?” Shuuji asked, surprised to find it dark outside.
His head wasn’t quite fully awake yet.
“Just around seven.”
Shuuji muttered in surprise, and rushed to his feet.
On a normal day, it would have been time to start preparing their meal.
He’d meant to start dinner at six, but it was too late now, he wouldn’t be able to make anything special.
“Don’t worry, I made it.”
Shuuji couldn’t hide his surprise.
The clone had started using kitchen knives on his own over the past week, although he was still clumsy with them, but he hadn’t even attempted to cook by himself yet.
“I’ve only been watching you, but I gave it a shot.
It might be a little bland, though,” he said, smiling.
He seemed a little embarrassed, but proud somehow, too, as he turned his gaze to the dining table.
Shuuji couldn’t tell what was on the menu without getting a little closer, but there definitely were two portions set out.
“Don’t thank me until after you try it.
Maybe it’s really gross.”
“That might be fun though.”
Shuuji’d just woken up, and his nervous tension around the clone was at a low ebb.
The clone’s eyes narrowed happily at Shuuji’s joking response.
What the clone had made was a thin miso, and a veggie stir-fry, which was a little charred in a few places.
It was nothing to write the newspapers about, but for his first time, it was a good showing.
When Shuuji praised him frankly, the clone seemed to gain some confidence, and declared he’d be making another attempt tomorrow.
If Koutarou had been alive, he might have enjoyed having this kind of first time experience.
The clone was experiencing something Koutarou had never been able to do.
The clone was walking a different path through life, and Shuuji wondered what he was supposed to do about it.
If things stayed like this, the clone might well be able to live a good life, as long as he was someplace where no one knew Koutarou.
He might even be able to let go of Shuuji’s hand.
He’d been teaching the clone housework expressly for that purpose, pointing his gaze out into the wider world, but the truth was that Shuuji couldn’t imagine a situation in which the clone wasn’t by his side.
“You’re spacing out again.”
The clone called him out, and Shuuji apologized for having lost interest in the meal.
“It’s a three hour commute everyday, there and back.
Of course you’re exhausted.”
“I think I’m just getting sleep deprived from work.”
“It’s no use hiding things from me.
You forget that?”
The clone saw right through everything, and Shuuji couldn’t spit lies at him anymore.
“I haven’t been moving around much since I started this job, I think I’m losing strength.
But I’ll get used to it.”
“You don’t get used to the impossible.”
The clone was worried for Shuuji’s physical health, and said so clearly.
“I’ve been thinking about this, how about if I sleep downstairs? That way, you can sleep here, whenever you’d like.”
“You can’t do that.”
Of course he couldn’t accept that proposal.
Yes, the lab was clean and clear, what with all the research equipment having been sold off, but the clone was the one who owned the house, Shuuji couldn’t steal the man’s bedroom.
“I want you to.
I don’t want to see you running yourself ragged for me, Shuuji.”
The clone’s earnest look pierced Shuuji’s heart.
Shuuji’s reason for not staying here in the beginning had been because he couldn’t sleep in the same bed as the clone.
Once that problem was solved, maybe he wouldn’t have to be so worried about leaving the clone by himself, even just at night.
Just as Shuuji was worried about the clone, the clone was concerned about Shuuji.
And Shuuji couldn’t bring himself to just ignore it any longer.
But I’ll be the one sleeping downstairs.”
“Why? You work in the living room, and you stay up late quite often.
If you’re worried about me, I think it would be best for both of us if I was the one to sleep downstairs.”
The clone’s arguments were reasonable, and there was no room for rebuttal.
Shuuji did work late a lot, and if he had to do that with the clone sleeping on the second floor, he’d never be able to stay calm.
And it was impossible for him to finish early every single day, especially if he was on any kind of deadline.
I didn’t mean to make you worry.”
“What are you talking about? I’m the one relying on you, aren’t I?”
The clone smiled in relief, realizing that Shuuji was agreeing to the arrangement.
“Let me sleep on the sofa today.
Tomorrow, I’ll go buy a bed and mattress to put on the first floor for you.
“Use this, then.”
Who knew when he’d prepared it, but the clone pulled a bundle of folded bills from his pants pocket, and offered them to Shuuji.
“This– How did you…?”
“It’s part of the proceeds from selling off the research equipment.
The buyer stopped by earlier.”
That must have been while Shuuji was asleep.
He knew the clone had contacted a dealer about buying the equipment back after the lab was cleaned up.
It was highly technical equipment, it wasn’t like it was of any use to Shuuji.
“I always rely on you for everything, Shuuji, I want you to use this to cover some of my living expenses.”
The clone tried to hand the money to Shuuji, but even just a glance at the wad of banknotes told him there must be three hundred grand in there,1 and he couldn’t simply accept it.
“Think about it.
Maybe you don’t need it right now, but you don’t have any source of income.
If you don’t save up every little bit of cash you find, what are you going to do in the future?”
Shuuji scolded the clone in a strong tone.
Koutarou had been earning a high salary, so even if he was a bit careless with his money, it had all worked out.
It was obvious the clone hadn’t realized the fact that he wouldn’t be able to make any money anymore.
“What do you mean, what am I going to do?” the clone asked back with an expression like it was someone else’s problem, in sharp contrast to Shuuji, who was staring reality hard in the face.
Shuuji heaved a deep sigh.
He could be taught to do household chores little by little, but could he learn to correct an outlook that was fundamentally disconnected from the world at large? Shuuji started to lose confidence.
“I mean look, you can’t just go out and get another job, right? In other words, you won’t have any income.”
So that’s what you mean.” The clone nodded, apparently convinced.
Koutarou had passed away, he had no valid birth certificate anymore.
Of course, he could find somewhere to work where they didn’t need to confirm his identity, but the clone had no experience outside of research, Shuuji didn’t think any place like that would hire him.
“Definitely I’ll have to think of something for that.”
But even as he said it, Shuuji didn’t get any sense of grim resolve from the clone.
Of course, Koutarou hadn’t created the clone in order to live a long life.
It didn’t matter how hard things were, as far as the clone was concerned, as long as he could stay with Shuuji.
“Okay then, you hold on to this.”
Shuuji thrust the wad of bills the clone had left on the table back at him.
“We’re buying a bed and blankets and stuff because we need them.
Also, I talk big, but I can’t afford anything but cheap stuff, so you’ll have to bear with it.”
I can fall asleep anywhere,” the clone answered proudly, puffing out his chest.
He’d once told Shuuji that when he stayed the night at the lab, he would fall asleep in a chair.
Remembering that, Shuuji thought again that the clone would need some kind of work to keep him occupied.
“I’ll try to think of something on the work front too,” Shuuji said, offering his help willingly.
The main goal was for the clone to earn a living, but he wanted to find a job that would make at least some use of the clone’s strengths if that was possible.
He had almost no personal connections, but he intended to do whatever he could.
Somehow I’m nothing but trouble for you, Shuuji.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, you know,” the clone flashed a self-deprecating smile.
He’d created the clone for Shuuji’s sake, but he’d done nothing but cause trouble for him.
Shuuji couldn’t find the right words.
Not because the clone was right.
Quite the opposite.
Even through his confusion, the clone’s appearance, and the idea that there was something he ought to be doing had helped Shuuji recover from his grief.
But he couldn’t say it without feeling like he was going to end up forgetting the real Koutarou.
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