“Ah, really? Why isn’t anyone picking up?”
Honoka Shikibu, inside her room, grew nervous as she held the phone to her ear.
She had already been on the bus heading home when she’d realized that her cellphone was missing. She was reaching for her phone to update her blog, as she normally did, but was met with only an empty skirt pocket.
She immediately returned to school and frantically searched its entirety: in classroom desks, in corridors, and everywhere else she had been. However, she could not find her cellphone.
She’d even asked those she knew who were still at school to make a call to her cellphone, but the only response that received was a notification the cell phone was either low on battery or out of range.
What shall I do? Nobody brought it to the staff room either. Did I drop it back then?
After school, someone had suddenly barged into her as she’d been walking along the corridor.
The culprit was that classmate who sat beside her in class, the red-haired delinquent with those savage-looking eyes. As though to add insult to injury, he’d buried his face in her chest! That perverted, idiotic bastard – Akagi Koremitsu!
Maybe he’s still angry that I snatched the yakisoba bread from him during lunch break and made him hungry. The more she thought of it, the more she wanted to give him a few good kicks, and her skin grew agitated as though breaking into a rash.
The cell phone could have slipped out of her skirt pocket when she’d stomped on him earlier; it was the only possibility she could think of.
If someone were to pick it up and see its contents…
Her vision darkened and she felt as though her throat were being wrung out; her pulse quickened.
No~, anything but that!
She grabbed onto the receiver as she hung up and shook her head sideways in a contorted manner. Her bright tea-colored hair slapped her face.
It’ll be alright. Someone kind may have picked it up and brought it over to the staff room. But, but what if someone unfavorable like Akagi pick it up and saw the contents…UWAAAHH, no, no, I mustn’t think any further.
She wished to push this thought from her mind, but her stomach continued to hurt; she wasn’t able to eat much of the sweet and sour pork she loved so much.
The day after, Honoka ran to the staff room in the early morning only to find her cellphone had yet to be returned, and she could do nothing but depart for her classroom.
“You don’t look too well, Hono. Did something happen?”
Her good friend, the bespectacled class representative who wore her hair in small braids, asked worriedly,
She put her hand to her stomach and answered dazedly.
At this moment, Koremitsu Akagi walked in and sat adjacent to her silently.
Had her phone not disappeared, she would have attacked him with a barrage of insults like “pervert”, “molester”, and whatever else she could think of, but nothing came to mind. She did not want to show any signs of wavering and was about to shoot him a glare, but, for some reason, Koremitsu was already looking at her!
For a moment, Honoka’s heart nearly ceased to beat.
She hurriedly looked away.
Her chest was ringing like a morning bell.
Wh-wh-wh-wh-wh-wh-why is he looking at me!?
He looked at her with narrowed eyes, sealed lips, and furrowed eyebrows; his countenance showed his seriousness.
Her knees shook in fear and she dared not glance at Koremitsu thereafter.
Once Homeroom period ended, Koremitsu whispered to Honoka.
“Your precious thing is with me now. Come to the roof during class break.”
Her heart nearly froze again.
Koremitsu said such, and fell silent once more.
That perverted delinquent and molester, Koremitsu Akagi, definitely read through the contents of her phone.
He definitely knew Honoka’s secret.
During the break after first period, Koremitsu left the classroom.
Honoka left for the roof a minute after him, looking sick as a hospital patient.
He’s planning to use the phone to blackmail and threaten me, I guess. That’s the worst.
Exactly what sort of indulgent demands would he make?
Honoka felt extreme apprehension as she stumbled a few times, and her stomach ached as though something hard in her stomach was being kneaded.
She opened the door to the roof and found Koremitsu standing there with his hands in his pockets.
His back was arched.
His messy red hair swayed with the breeze.
Once he noticed Honoka’s arrival, he turned to face her. His sharp, vengeful seemed to challenge everything on this world as he scowled at Honoka.
No matter how one looked at him, they would see him as a delinquent, a dangerous person.
Honoka nearly fainted.
However, if she were to show him any signs of weakness, he would surely devour her, bones and all.
There was no way she could succumb to him.
She brushed her hair aside with one hand and returned Koremitsu’s scowl with a glare.
“What do you want with me? I’m quite busy.”
“This phone is yours, right?”
Koremitsu presented her the phone like the main character in Mito Kōmon displaying his seal case.
Honoka’s heart was pained.
She contemplated on whether she should smile and thank him, or whether she should resent him for not returning the phone earlier, during class.
Before she’d decided, Koremitsu said something which caught her off guard.
“Sorry, I accidentally saw it.”
“The mail topic with the name Purple Princess on it.”
“I read through this ‘Purple Princess’s Mansion’”.
She wanted to maintain her composure and ask “So what”, but her tongue would not submit to her will.
Her body fluctuated in temperature, and she was unsure of whether her face was darkening or turning pale.
HE READ THROUGH THE BLOG!
In other words, he surfed through the mobile novels and the love talk.
“So you’re the ‘love expert’ everyone talks about.”
Koremitsu brought his face nearer to Honoka’s.
Honoka was rooted to the ground.
Wha-what is he planning? This delinquent! Molester!
She truly considered kicking him off of the roof if he were to touch her.
Honoka raised herself into a defensive stance, and Koremitsu’s lips curled into a frown. He raised his eyebrows and spoke with a serious bearing,
“First, that thing yesterday was an accident. I’m not a molester, and I’m not a pervert. Back to the real topic.”
Real topic? Is he going to settle his debt with me?
“Please teach me how to persuade girls and open their hearts!”
The red-haired delinquent lowered his head, and Honoka could do nothing but gawk at him.
In fact, Honoka herself was not adept at dealing with men.
This was because, on a spring day during her first year of middle school, she met a senile voyeur.
Honoka was cheerfully walking home after school, and the sun had yet to set.
She caught sight of a man wearing shades and a coat, kneeling down by the roadside.
“Are you okay!?”
Startled, she went over to ask, but that man stood and opened his coat, exposing his stark-naked self and that erect thing down below.
Honoka screamed and ran off.
What was that?
What was that disgusting thing down at the groin?
Are all men like that? Nooo! It’s disgusting!
Ever since then, that scene would occasionally come to mind, and it was horrifying enough for her to scream.
There was a time when she would recall that pervert every time she looked at her male classmates’ faces; her body would stiffen, and she would look away, acting natural, but wondering whether she would find love if she could not forget about that incident.
If she could not bring herself to like men, she would have to accept that she’d been defeated by that pervert.
Honoka was perturbed by this, and was prideful enough to not give way.
That’s why, in order to best that pervert, she began to train in a kickboxing gym, learning techniques she could use were she to find herself in trouble, and started writing love stories in an attempt to increase her tolerance to men.
At first, she went overboard with how unrealistic and sickeningly sweet the stories were. “This kind of thing definitely won’t exist in reality! There’s no way such men will say such cliché lines here.” She would comment about them herself as she blushed and rolled around on the chair. As the days passed, her writing skills improved.
The numbers of readers increased with time, and at every update she would receive responses like, “This is really interesting.” and “Natsuno’s love story’s really touching.” Such responses filled Honoka with joy, so she would submit stories with greater frequency.
Someone left a comment on Honoka’s blog asking for help with love troubles, and once she responded to it, everyone else started sending in their own love questions.
Honoka had a “big sister” personality, and loved to help others settle their problems. She would answer all the questions put to her personally, and was unwittingly hailed as the “Love Expert”.
But, she had never dated a boy before.
The delinquent was before her, his hands at his thighs as he bowed deeply.
“Please… be my heliotrope. Be my purple fragrance.”
Honoka was stunned by such sudden words, but the boy continued to plead with her, asking how he could open Aoi Saotome’s heart, and how he could woo girls.
Really, you’re a molester. Why are you asking me so seriously?
Cold sweat gradually rolled from her pores and down her temple.
What should I do now? It looks like he really believes that I’m the ‘Love Expert’. Uh, I pretended to be the perfect woman on my blog, but I’ve never actually dated a guy before. How am I going to say such an embarrassing thing?~
Koremitsu continued to hold his head low, like a statue.
Honoka could see only his messy red hair with a swirl in the center.
Her palms were sweaty, but her caring personality forced her onward.
She may have been somewhat in the wrong for kicking him unreasonably the previous day…
He held the resemblance of a delinquent, but he might be innocent at heart…
And he saw the contents of her phone, so he had control over her weakness…
“If you swear not to tell anyone that I’m the Purple Princess, I might be able to help you.”
And so, she finally uttered these words.
♢ ♢ ♢
Thus, Honoka’s love counseling began.
“She’s not willing to hear a single word from you? And she threw brushes, buckets and pallets at you–are you an idiot? Her Highness Aoi of the Second Year is a real princess descended from actual nobles. Many of the people on our school’s campus, enrolled since kindergarten, can be classified as ‘nobles’; but she’s considered to be in a better class among them all. It’s obvious that you’ll be rejected by this flower at such lofty heights! Okay…it’s a little old-fashioned, but why don’t you try writing a love letter to her? Show that you’re serious with a passionate letter, an intellectual letter that surprises her with how refined you are.”
“…Will girls be happy when they receive some words?”
Koremitsu frowned as he grumbled.
“Not words, a letter! A note! How can anyone be happy with spoken words, which can be hastily uttered on the spur of the moment?”
Well, how is anyone going to be happy with those? After hearing her words, Koremitsu thought to himself dispiritedly and sat at the table to he write his letter to Aoi.
Under Honoka’s guidance, he put thoughts to written word, formulated the sentences from these words into paragraphs, and incorporated the body of text together to form Aoi’s letter, which Honoka revised.
Honoka was awed by Koremitsu’s artful penmanship.
The strokes of his pen were easily legible, meticulously crafted, and held a certain firmness and masculinity in their structure.
The composition of the letter was like that of an elementary schooler’s, and Honoka couldn’t help but wonder if it was beyond repair. However, she considered how such beautiful handwriting alone could be adequate in expressions of love.
Honoka herself was anxious, and after meeting Koremitsu the next morning at the station, she left for the school and slipped the letter Koremitsu had copied at home into Aoi’s shoe locker.
The two of them then went to the side to watch, and an ivory-skinned Aoi arrived.
The ebony hair draped over her shoulders made the skin look much paler, and her body looked extremely frail.
Hm, now that I look at her, she’s really a princess who doesn’t match Akagi at all. Well, she is the fiancée of Lord Hikaru after all—
She remembered the countenance of the boy christened “Lord Hikaru”, and of his commander-esque charisma for which the girls exalted him.
Honoka was not fond of dainty men, but his gentle expression and resplendent smile bred conflict within her. No matter the number of scandals in which he was involved, his grandeur and purity were perpetual. She could understand the affection of the girls who were attracted to such characters.
There was a memorial for Lord Hikaru hung on the notice board next to the staircase, and five more colored papers were stuck to it by the girls, who were still writing on his memorial to convey their sorrow.
Any guy looks ugly when compared to a smiling prince.
But the marriage was arranged by their fathers, and Her Highness Aoi doesn’t seem to have any intention of agreeing with that. Perhaps she’s annoyed by Lord Hikaru’s Casanova behaviors. In that case, we’ll have to show her our sincerity.
Next to Honoka stood Koremitsu, staring at Aoi rigidly.
He probably wished for an austere expression, but to Honoka, he looked like he had an eternal grudge.
Uu…I think he’s more obsessed than sincere here.
It was then that Aoi caught sight of the letter.
She gave a slight frown.
A line of neatly written words adjacent to the sender’s name read, “I’m not a molester.”
Upon seeing this, she tore the letter.
She stacked the two torn pieces atop one another, tore it once more, threw it into a dustbin, and took her leave.
“Hey, ‘Love Expert’, that damned girl just tore the letter without reading.”
“Ne-next plan, then.”
“Got it? Once Her Highness Aoi passes by, I’ll give you the signal, and you’ll just walk over naturally. Pretend to accidentally drop the notebook. Her Highness Aoi will pick it up for sure. In that case, use this chance to apologize to her like a gentleman.”
It was the second class break.
They were lying in wait, having anticipated Aoi’s move from her first classroom to the biology room. It was an old-fashioned method, but this classic approach would work effectively against a princess with such delicacy..
Honoka gave the signal, and Koremitsu walked out.
~~~~Why must you put your hands in your pockets!? You’re practically a delinquent now!
Koremitsu planned to, with his hands in his pockets, ‘accidentally’ drop his student notebook.
Ahhh, seriously! Don’t lower your chin and arch your back like that! Why are you glaring and pouting!?
With Honoka watching him dubiously, Koremitsu dropped his notebook.
Aoi walked in the direction of Koremitsu’s dropped notebook.
She would surely retrieve his notebook—
Instead, she stepped on it and left.
“Hey, my new notebook has a footprint on it now.”
Thusly, Koremitsu complied with Honoka’s instructions and attempted to meet Aoi by coincidence, but it seemed that Aoi was steadfast on ignoring Koremitsu no matter the situation.
Despite the number of ways Koremitsu tried to capture Aoi’s attention, she would readily ignore him by looking forward with a fictitious blank stare. She would then go on to walk away from him.
After school, on the roof.
“Your strategies aren’t effective at all, ‘Love Expert’.”
Honoka’s quibble came in response to Koremitsu’s complaint.
“Your face is too savage, okay? Everyone will be wary of you when you approach them with that face of yours!”
“You want me to get cosmetic surgery!?”
“Uuu, in that case, we’ll have to use the reverse charm by making you a decent guy despite your delinquent looks. Alright, let’s do this, tsundere delinquent!”
“I’M NOT A DELINQUENT!”
The following day, Koremitsu equipped himself with an assortment of kittens’ things.
He bore badges of kittens on his chest and shoes, his socks had kitten footprints etched on them, his phone’s keychain strap help a kitten mascot, and the head of a toy kitten protruded from his schoolbag.
From the information Honoka had relayed to Koremitsu, Aoi liked cats. Her cellphone’s screen-saver was a photo of the beloved cat she raised herself.
The name of this cherished cat was Shellblue, and it was apparently procured from a cardboard box in the park. The cat was a stray, but Aoi gave Shellblue her adulation, and the two of them would snuggle whilst abed.
Once they had ascertained that Aoi traveled to school by bus, Koremitsu and Honoka waited by the bus stop for her, and commenced their endeavor.
On that morning, Aoi’s face was as pale as ever, and she gave the impression of being notably uneasy.
The duo ambled past her, conversing loud enough to be overheard.
“Hey, Akagi. The cats you saved from drowning in the river yesterday, are they okay?”
“Yeah, that was quite a stormy night. The four cats that were in a cardboard box floating down the river are still energetic.”
“I heard you saved a cat from a crow.”
“Oh, that pregnant calico cat? I helped deliver its baby.”
“You really like cats, huh?~ I admit it’s my fault for kicking you because I thought you were a molester. There isn’t a cat lover who’s bad at heart. Oh yes, I heard that you have a collection of cat photos?”
“Oh, I can lend it to you whenever you want.”
At last, Aoi, who had been walking behind them, interrupted.
Koremitsu and Honoka’s ears twitched.
“Can you please not get in my way?”
The cold voice inquired.
Koremitsu hastily moved aside.
Aoi gave a look which evoked fear in the two of them as she passed.
“…Hey, ‘Love Expert’, I got ignored again, right?”
♢ ♢ ♢
“I say…isn’t it better for you to give up?”
It was lunch break.
Honoka and Koremitsu stood at the railing atop the school’s roof, admiring the scenery, and Honoka voiced her thoughts on the days’ happenings.
“I do feel sorry that I can’t help you out even though you’ve bowed to me and asked, but looking at Her Highness Aoi’s response, I do feel that it’s somewhat impossible.”
Honoka was reluctant to say something so discouraging, and she felt remorseful pangs to the heart as the words left her mouth.
“You’ve already tried hard. I thought you were just some delinquent molester – some bad guy, but it’s really impressive to see you being so serious about the person you like. Since you’ve done all you can, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to give up.”
Normally, it would be hard for someone to pick themselves up after being rejected by the one they liked. However, Koremitsu kept standing up no matter how many times he failed.
No matter how awkward or embarrassing Honoka’s instructions were, he would follow them steadfastly.
Even though he is a molester…
“If you don’t mind, I’ll introduce some girls who’re unattached.”
She accidentally let this slip.
This is bad…who do I introduce him to? Even though I know a lot of girls who don’t have boyfriends…well, maybe Riko can. Since she likes horror films, I think she has some resistance to a scary face…
She was mulling over whether she knew any girls who would be unaffected by Koremitsu’s appearance when she was interrupted.
“She has to be the one.”
Koremitsu’s gaze dropped to the handrail as he said this.
Honoka turned her attention toward Koremitsu and saw him frowning, his face filled with agony, and his hands trembling as they gripped the railing.
In spite of this downcast position, under the messy red hair hanging from his lowered head, his eyes bore an intense aura.
“I’ll never give up, no matter what.”
He made this declaration lucidly.
Honoka was mesmerized by both his sidelong look, and by the determination in his voice.
BA—DUM! Her heart jumped, and her face grew hot as though it were on fire.
Wha-what is it?
Why is my face turning red now!?
And my chest, it’s, feeling unbearable—what is this?
Is it because of Akagi?
Because Akagi said that he won’t give up?
Any other boy would have given long before. It was said that, after Hikaru’s death, there had been many boys to approach Aoi, but they all gave up soon after she coldly rejected them.
The boys to try and woo her were all handsome, academically outstanding, rich children, brimming with self-confidence—the children of the ‘nobles’ who had been in this school since kindergarten.
However, this Koremitsu, who was infamous for being a delinquent, who was deemed worse than a peasant, a wild dog – who fell far short of them, said that he would not give up.
Koremitsu turned his head to look at Honoka.
His foolishly straightforward expression – a resolute expression – stared right at Honoka.
“I’m really sorry to make you help me out when you’re so busy. Thank you, but I’ll try to continue on my own.”
He spoke ungracefully.
Upon hearing this, Honoka felt her face burn as her heart pounded still harder.
“Even if you try again, you might not succeed.”
Koremitsu also stiffened his face as he looked back at Honoka with fiery conviction.
“But even so, I have to try.”
The wind whisked Koremitsu’s red hair.
Honoka wavered at his determination.
Even though he’s a delinquent, a molester…
She muttered in her heart.
♢ ♢ ♢
Why am I so concerned with Akagi?
He already said that he doesn’t need my love advice…
Once classes for the day had ended, Honoka packed her things dispiritedly.
The neighboring chair was empty, and he evidently ran off to Aoi.
That idiot. He’ll definitely get dumped anyway.
“Hono… you’ve been on good terms with Akagi lately.”
Honoka’s good friend with the braided hair, Michiru, interjected suddenly, and Honoka shrieked in surprise.
“Ah, I feel the same! You’re able to talk to Akagi. Aren’t you scared of him?”
“I heard that you managed to strike up a good conversation with Akagi on the roof. Is this true?”
The girls came to approach her with an enthusiastic interrogation.
The tips of her ears were burning up.
“Wh-what are you saying? How can anything happen between me and that delinquent? Anyway, it’s impossible. I like those who’re knowledgeable, bashful—right, I like those intellectual boys.”
She gave a firm denial.
Right, what kind of joke is this? To have a rumor about me and Akagi?
“See, there have been a lot of handsome boys who confessed to you before, Honoka.”
“But you rejected them all by saying ‘let’s just be friends.’ There’s no such thing as friendship between boys and girls, right?”
Every classmate, with the exception of Michiru, simultaneously gave their consent.
Michiru looked to Honoka through her large glasses and gave her late response.
“Honoka, you shouldn’t be too picky just because you’re cool. Be careful of spending your three years in high school without a boyfriend.”
“That’s right. How about we go for a joint party? It’ll be easy to get the boys to come along if they know you’re coming with.”
“Sorry, but I’m not in the mood for this now.”
Her answer was abrupt.
“Don’t say that. How about you try it out too, class rep?”
Michiru replied to the question with a troubled smile.
“A joint party for me is a little…”
It was then that an intelligent-sounding voice rang from the back door of the classroom.
“Is Miss Honoka Shikibu still around?”
Honoka turned to face the door, and upon seeing the source of the voice, rose frantically from her seat.
Sleek, long black hair easily capable of leaving an indelible impression rested neatly over the shoulders of a tall beauty standing at the door. Her very being suppressed the surrounding atmosphere in captivating abeyance.
Her black eyes narrowly stared at Honoka in silence.
It was no glare, yet the unyielding Honoka felt her chest tighten.
Why is the president—
She felt sweat roll down her back.
She could only think of one reason for her, an upperclassman whose reputation was higher than any other ‘noble’, to visit a peasant-like student who was not enrolled until middle school, and remembering this rumor about Koremitsu and herself only served to make her stomach ache all the more.
The president of the Heian Academy High School Student Council, Asai Saiga – dubbed the Matriarch Asa – spoke to a pensive Honoka in calm authority.
“There’s something I want to ask you about. Could you please come over to the Student Council room?”
♢ ♢ ♢
Koremitsu was troubled as he stood in the arts room.
Aoi had turned her back to him and returned to painting.
Koremitsu, standing behind her, gave off the impression of a starving dog; but no matter how he agonized over things, it would not change the situation.
“Isn’t this Sunday your birthday?”
He spoke to her sincerely.
“Can’t you accompany me for just one day?”
Aoi continued to move her brush wordlessly.
On the canvas, there was a staircase on the semitransparent golden mist. The painting felt so warm, but Aoi’s back alongside looked as cold as the fluttering snowflakes. The other members of the art club were away from the two, fidgeting in their seats, uncomfortable to a point where one would have to feel sorry for them.
Darn, how am I supposed to make her look at me?
He had already told Honoka that he would handle the rest, but could he make Aoi change her mind before her birthday?
There was not much time left, and this predicament caused Koremitsu’s throat to dry up because of the anxiousness.
Your ‘girlfriend’ is too tough to handle.
He gave Hikaru a bitter look.
Hikaru responded with an equally distressed glance, but let known his determination by putting on a smile and passing by Koremitsu to stand next to Aoi.
He looked to the side of an unmoving Aoi’s face with a gentle expression, and he called out to her calmly.
“The gifting of your seven birthday presents may be an imprudent act to you, Miss Aoi, but that is a very important promise to me.”
As the warm, gentle sunlight shone in through the window—his sweet, sentimental voice flowed out like a pure fragrance.
“I’ll continue to stay here in order to fulfill the promise I made with you, Miss Aoi.”
Aoi could not hear Hikaru’s words—
But after seeing Hikaru speak so earnestly, Koremitsu’s breath caught.
Hikaru’s voice slightly weakened.
“So my voice really can’t reach Miss Aoi’s ears at all…if you hear me, even if it’s a little bit, please put a finger to your lips to indicate so.”
Damn…what’s with that expression?
It was likely that Hikaru had known since long ago that no matter whether it was his voice or his silhouette, Aoi was unable to detect it.
Even knowing it was impossible, he continued to hope that Aoi, who painted still with her back to him, would turn to him and see.
As he gazed upon the seemingly distant petite figure that looked ever forward, Koremitsu remembered something he had forgotten long ago.
The silhouette of a back, vanishing into the darkness under the weak lighting of a street lamp.
During his adolescent days, when he continued to look out of the window blankly, there was no response no matter how he called out—
That back overlapped with Aoi’s.
Neither of them would turn around.
Hikaru’s languishing voice called out once more, and ostensibly pleaded for a miracle.
In his adolescence, Koremitsu prayed for his mother to smile at him, for her to lift her head up to him, and for her to, even with the slightest smile, pat his head.
He prayed countless times in his heart
Please, please help me.
Tch, what was I thinking back then?
Nine years ago, on his mother’s birthday, he decided to gift his mother with her favorite word. After attending his grandfather’s calligraphy class, he sat atop the study table, ground some ink, and wrote the word on Japanese writing paper.
His calligraphy was not adept, so he had to rewrite it a few times.
As he wrote, he prayed to God for his gift to bring joy to his mother, and the ink with which he wrote spattered onto his hands and face.
On that night, before he could offer his present to his mother, she abandoned the young Koremitsu and ran away from home.
Her slender figure faded into darkness, and never to return.
—I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Mitsu.
He continued to write, giving it his utmost effort as he tried to both cease the tears which fell from his mother’s face as she apologized, and make her smile. In the end, he never gave her his writings.
The day after his mother left, he drew crosses on each paper he wrote on. Snot dripped from his nose as he drew cross after cross.
As he gazed upon Aoi, he felt it was not her back he was seeing, but his mother’s – the feeling stayed for but a moment.
God never answered Koremitsu’s prayers.
When Hikaru showed to him that all too familiar praying expression, Koremitsu could not help but pray for him as well.
Even if it’s for just a little while, grant this guy’s wish. I can see this so clearly; can’t you let Aoi hear a little of it too?
Just as Koremitsu’s chest began to ache like it were being crushed, Aoi dipped her brush into the dark brown color on her pallet.
The brush made a long black line diagonally down from the top left corner on the canvas.
Hikaru’s expression immediately froze.
Koremitsu felt as though he were being sliced from the front.
Aoi went on to draw a line diagonally from the top right corner.
The large black cross he had drawn when he was a child was brought to mind again, and he felt as though his eyes were set aflame.
“What are you doing!?”
Koremitsu bellowed as he grabbed Aoi by the arm.
The other members looked on with horrified expressions; the members who had been perming their hair and giving each other manicures dropped their curling irons and nail polish.
There was a large, ugly cross on the canvas that had the breath of light on it.
“Please don’t, touch me.”
Aoi shook off Koremitsu’s hand.
Her skin was a ghastly pale, and her eyes held rage and resentment.
“You…why did you do that to the painting!?”
“I can’t—talk with you. That’s what Asa told me.”
Dang! That Asa again?
Aoi turned her face away from Koremitsu as she forcefully let out these words while seemingly restraining her inner emotions.
Aoi turned away from Koremitsu as she forcefully said such, but her true emotions seemed to be withheld.
“That’s why I’m just muttering to myself…that Hikaru…”
Hikaru had been standing beside Aoi blankly, but, at the sound of his name, his shoulders jerked.
Koremitsu was filled with apprehension and held his breath.
What’s she going to say? Something worse?
“…As far as I know…Hikaru…”
Her tender lips seemed pain as she let out these words, and her hands trembled slightly.
“…He’s the most dishonest person…on this world…”
Her face steeled, and a pitiless glint showed in her eyes. Hikaru, who stood in front of her, lowered his eyebrows and looked to Aoi with pain in his eyes.
No. That’s enough, don’t say anything more.
Hikaru’s eyes were tinted with the color of agony.
Koremitsu’s heart felt like it had been slashed off.
Hikaru understood how extremely insincere he had been to Aoi, and yet, the words said in front of him, and the cross drawn on the canvas swallowed his heart whole; the agony of being refused by a person so precious brought his soul to lament.
“…! You don’t have to be so vicious, even though Hikaru himself is quite the playboy.”
Aoi folded her arms and muttered.
“That’s a fact anyway…I hated Hikaru most on this world. He angers me all the time, and he lies to me most. There’s no other guy worse than him. He’s a completely rotten man inside despite his exquisite appearance on the outside.”
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SAYING!?”
Aoi disparaging Hikaru troubled Koremitsu, and it reminded him of his unanswered prayers, and of the emotions he had experienced as a child: pain and despair. These things were wrenched from deep within his heart, and the blood rushed to his head; his veins were throbbing with rage which rose from far below his belly.
Hikaru gave an effort to allay Koremitsu, but the rage devouring him only grew fiercer. Aoi bit her lips and breathed lightly, but continued to blame Hikaru.
“I don’t know exactly how many Hikaru went out with, but that’s because I can’t count them all. He’s always with different women, and when I ask him ‘Who is that person?’, he’ll answer ‘an acquaintance’, or ‘a friend’ with that saintly smile on his face. Anyway, he’ll answer me with a gentle smile on his face, even when I’m angry—he’ll smile and carry out those dishonest acts with other girls.”
Her typically pale face was dyed red.
Hikaru gave Aoi his support and continued to plead with Koremitsu, telling him, “I’m really okay here!”
“That’s—that’s why, that low-life of a man deserves my retribution!”
Upon hearing this, Koremitsu let out a roar.
“DON’T YOU DARE SAY THAT AS A MATTER OF FACT!”
His outburst rattled the window and startled Aoi.
“Calm down, Koremitsu! I’m fine here! Okay? You see, everyone’s scared now.”
Hikaru tried what he could to stop Koremitsu, but his overflowing emotions could not be contained.
“HIKARU’S NOT SOME TRASH! HE’S DEFINITELY NOT A LOWLIFE! HE’S TRYING HIS BEST TO FULFILL HIS PROMISE WITH YOU, EVEN NOW!”
He said that it was a very important promise.
He said that she was a very important girl.
Even now, he looked at Aoi with such passion, such tenderness, such melancholy! He continued to talk to her in vain, hoping she would notice him.
His mother turned her back and walked away.
Aoi drew the large cross on the canvas.
He kept pleading with her, and kept practicing to make her happy.
Why should she just ignore and abandon it so lightly!?
After noticing the art club members were huddled together in fear, he tightly clamped his teeth together.
He reflected on the outburst he had after losing himself, but it was due to the uncontrollable rage he felt at Aoi’s words.
“Fine, that’s enough.”
He shot Aoi his worst belittling glare.
“You have no right to accept Hikaru’s feelings. Who’s willing to do so here? It’s a waste to present them to someone like you.”
Aoi bit her lips as large teardrops streamed from her eyes, and she tried to pull away from Koremitsu.
“So…be it then. Even if he’s alive, he won’t keep to this promise anyway. He’ll treat this promise like it’s nothing.”
She let out a quiet choking sound, gave Koremitsu a cold glare, and continued to speak stiffly.
“…It’ll just be a spur of moment like before anyway.”
Koremitsu could no longer endure Aoi’s denial of Hikaru, and he was not willing to let Hikaru listen any longer either. He yanked open the door and left the arts’ room.
“Hurry up, forget about that kind of woman and just go to heaven! It’s just like what gramps said, women are the worst!”
He shouted with a trembling voice as he walked down the hallway.
He was furious enough to ignore the stares that were on him. His chest felt like it had been sliced apart, and his head felt boiled. His eyes were hot, and his nose was stuffed.
“Are you crying, Koremitsu?”
Hikaru inquired in his state of awe.
“Th-this is why I say that—I don’t know how to appeal to women at all. They get sad, angry whenever they feel like it—they don’t talk when they don’t feel like it, they walk away when they feel like it—”
Despite his efforts to stop it, snot leaked from his nose, and he couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks.
“That’s why I hate to get involved with women in any way…don’t kid around with me. Damn it, she wouldn’t even try to understand other people’s intention…she’s got to be joking.”
His chest was burning, and bitter, salty tears ran down his face.
He covered his face with his hands to mask his sobbing; for him, a man, to cry was embarrassing.
“…Koremitsu, let’s go over there.”
At Hikaru’s suggestion, Koremitsu staggered off to a relatively vacant corridor and squatted down in a corner. He let out his regret, and Hikaru quietly went about consoling him.
“…Sorry Koremitsu. It’s my fault for entrusting this to you. You were hurt as a result.”
It’s not your fault. Koremitsu wanted to answer.
The wrath he felt toward Aoi was no fault of Hikaru’s. The traumatic experiences he experienced in his childhood were the source of his anger, and he only worsened his situation by pushing this rage onto Aoi.
Hikaru’s voice was all too soothing, and it, like a warm hand, calmed Koremitsu’s heart. After being calmed, he inadvertently spoke.
“Don’t say sorry or anything now.”
“I hate it when people say sorry. What can you change when you say that? Can it solve anything? It’s because nothing can be changed that we say sorry, right…!? So don’t say sorry to me.”
Until recently, receiving apologies from others was unfamiliar to Koremitsu.
His mothers ashen face was turned towards the young Koremitsu; her cheeks were wet, and time and time again she would apologize with a weak voice. “Sorry, sorry.”
Her face was blurred, and Koremitsu could not recall it.
Yet, the tears which rolled down that face, the tender voice that said sorry continually, the slender body that disappeared. He would recall these occasionally, and his heart felt as though it had been torn apart.
—I’m sorry, Mr Akagi.
His classmates would apologize to him with terror evident on their faces.
They would then leave with a ghastly complexion.
He never thought of making them apologize.
These words hurt his innermost being and created scars that could never heal.
That’s why I really hate it when you say sorry! Don’t end everything with sorry!
Koremitsu had no handle on his rising emotions, and he pouted like an unreasonable child, covering himself as he wailed. Hikaru gently laid his hand on Koremitsu’s shoulder.
Koremitsu looked to Hikaru’s hand and saw that it sank down into his shoulder. Hikaru gently lowered his gaze and approached the other half of Koremitsu’s body.
A ghost should have no body heat, but Koremitsu felt a warmth coming from the shoulder Hikaru’s hand touched; this warmth, along with Hikaru’s gentle expression, put his heart at ease.
This was his first time being comforted by another.
He had never before had a friend to listen to his complaints, even if that friend was only ‘temporary’.
“I…I’m not some ‘girl’ who’s crying.”
His protest was followed by sniffing.
“Hm, I already knew that you aren’t some pitiful poppy.”
Hikaru whispered gently.
“So, so why…must I be comforted by you? Aoi already said all sorts of unbearable things about you, and you’re dead; you should be suffering at least a hundred times more than me. In that case, I should be the one comforting you. Now I really want to cry when I see you show such a calm expression.”
Hikaru rested his hand once again on Koremitsu’s shoulder, and answered with a calm and mature demeanor.
“I can’t cry…I have no memory of crying. I don’t know how to cry.”
Hikaru looked back to the wide-eyed Koremitsu with a compassionate smile.
“My mother used to be my father’s mistress. She was frail, and she died when I was 4. Just before my mother died, she told me this. ‘Hikaru, you have to keep smiling no matter what. If you do that, everyone will love you. If anyone does anything bad to you, fill your heart with love and smile back—’”
Hikaru narrated his dead mother’s words with a clear voice, and he showed a profound and still expression.
Hikaru repeated his late mother’s words with a halcyon voice and a profound yet still mien.
“My mother definitely knew that she would not live for long, and wanted to teach me a way to get along with my relatives and father’s family.”
He closed his eyes.
There was still no tear shed below his long eyebrows.
“What does it feel like to let the tears flow?”
The question came with an expectant tone.
—Please keep on smiling, Hikaru.
—Fill your heart with love.
His mother died when he was four, so how did he live on after that…whose house was he staying in? Who was he living with?
Hikaru’s words left no uncertainty; he was never accustomed to his new family, and his life was difficult. He simply continued to follow his mother’s advice and smiled.
“Please keep on smiling.”
Certainly, a smile was Hikaru’s sole defense.
Koremitsu mused over Hikaru’s life and how he spent it alone. His crying was reinforced by this, and, even with his best efforts, he could not stop.
Koremitsu forgot how to smile when he was young.
Nobody taught Hikaru how to cry.
“It’s really hard to tell from your appearance, but you really can cry, Koremitsu. That’s too bad. If I can cry like you, the girls’ maternal instincts will kick in and they’ll start comforting me. Most will definitely give me a wonderful service too.”
Hikaru spoke nonchalantly with an affectionate smile on his lips.
He probably meant to cheer Koremitsu up this way.
Koremitsu replied gruffly and wiped his tears on his sleeves.
The corridor in front of the vacant classroom was devoid of people, and the mystical space held a rejuvenating ambience which allayed Koremitsu’s scorching face.
He managed to stop his tears, but still wanted to sit beside Hikaru for a while. He felt a complex sense of empathy and trust as he tried to express this vague emotion while cuddling his knees.
He held his tears, but still desired to sit beside Hikaru for a while longer. His complex feelings toward Hikaru held both empathy and trust, and he tried to articulate what he felt.
“…H-Hey, didn’t I say…that flowers wilt easily and aren’t edible before…they can’t be used for anything…?”
“Yeah. We agreed to go on a picnic too.”
“What kind of agreement is that—”
“Haha, didn’t I mention it?”
“Well…when I was first hospitalized, Koharu brought me some flowers.”
“They were white flowers on the stalks…and the buds were hairy. I thought that it might be a little too sinister to receive white flowers in a hospital, but my heart calmed down whenever I glanced at it from my bed…when I was anxious over the fact that I could not attend school during the start of the semester, but I just felt calm immediately after looking at them…I felt that there was nothing I could accomplish by being so anxious.”
A smile played on Hikaru’s lips, and his eyes narrowed.
His appearance gave off a happy radiance.
“Yeah, flowers do have that kind of power. It makes one happy to see them.”
“W-well…they might really have that kind of power. That’s why…I can hear you out on flowers once in awhile.”
Koremitsu’s willingness to listen to Hikaru’s talk of flowers delighted him, and he flashed a brilliant smile.
“But just once in awhile.”
“Got it. I won’t go to the extent of annoying you then. Speaking of which, I remember you’re hospitalized because you were hit by a truck, right? How did that happen? Will you give me an answer if I ask for it now?”
The question left Koremitsu dumbfounded.
Hikaru resembled a childish prankster as he awaited an answer, and Koremitsu felt Hikaru too was hoping to gauge how close the two of them had become since his first appearance as a ghost.
Koremitsu answered dazedly.
“…Some old man wanted to cross the traffic junction even though the light was red…I told him to stop, but he trotted towards the truck while yelling ‘Ogre~’. I chased after him, and got hit by the truck.”
Someone, perhaps the driver or a passerby, gave a shout to warn him of the danger, but Koremitsu was sent flying before he had time to react.
Koremitsu awoke in the hospital, and in place of the old man, Koharu stood beside his bed.
“So you saved the old man, Koremitsu. What a hero.”
“I’m not. Don’t say it like it’s some glorious thing.”
The old man ran from Koremitsu after catching sight of his terrifying visage, and Koremitsu himself was struck by the truck. This catastrophe was beyond embarrassing, and he hadn’t the gall to call himself a hero.
“Isn’t this good, hero? Your face is red, hero. You love to cry and get shy very easily, hero.”
“Alright, you had enough? Tch, let’s go home.”
Koremitsu realized that he was further flustered by his narrations, and they only fed Hikaru’s desire to tease him. Upon this revelation, he grew somber and stood.
He then turned away from Hikaru and intended to depart, but Hikaru’s chuckling was replaced with a sincere tone.
“Hey, hero, there’s a place I want to pass by. Will you come along with me? I’ll show you some cute flowers I’ve been keeping.”