“Happy birthday, Aoi.”
Asai, dressed in simple silk pajamas, pushed aside the French floral curtain as she turned her head back and spoke to Aoi.
Aoi sat on the bed as she rubbed her eyes.
It was Sunday morning.
The bright morning sun shone in from the outside, and the weather seemed fine.
Asai stayed overnight at Aoi’s house since Saturday night.
She came to make cake and food for Aoi today, hence her need to visit and prepare on Saturday.
Asai was a reliable childhood friend, and though she was actually a few months younger than Aoi, she was taller than Aoi for as long as she could remember, smarter than Aoi, more determined, and she cared for Aoi like a true older sister.
Aoi’s father also had a lot of trust in Asai.
Whenever Asai came to visit Aoi, Aoi’s father would commend and thank her.
“Aoi has always been in your care.”
“Please continue to take care of our Aoi.”
“Just eat a little for breakfast. I’ll make some sugarless pancakes to go along with fruit yogurt, how about it? You should be able to finish it all. I’ll make some vegetable soup too so that your body won’t go cold.”
Asai had decided all this with precision.
And Aoi merely needed to abide.
Aoi took off her nightgown with laces lined on the hem, and changed into a cotton one-piece dress comfortable for her skin.
This clothing, too, was bought when she went shopping with Asai.
“That attire’s good. It suits you, Aoi.”
Even in the early days of their friendship, she only needed to listen to Asai to avoid problems.
Right, even if it was related to Hikaru—
—Hikaru’s playboy tendencies will never be cured. He’s the kind that won’t live on if he doesn’t get a new love partner.
Asai spoke of Hikaru with such a critical expression.
Though the trio often played together when they were young, Asai showed no mercy to Hikaru. She really pampered Aoi, but would deal with Hikaru in an icy cold tone and attitude.
—Hikaru’s not a match for you, Aoi.
Asai had remarked in the past.
—Hikaru is definitely not an honest man who’ll simply protect you only, Aoi. He’ll continue with all sorts of shallow love relationships with many women, and will continue to hurt you.
Aoi also thought that she was right –
that Asa’s words were always correct.
—You should tell your grandfather to cancel your marriage with Hikaru. Do you want me to help you say it?
But she could not agree to this particular line from Asai alone.
We’re merely engaged in name, and even if I don’t try to cancel it, Hikaru won’t marry me sincerely.
Of course, I won’t become Hikaru’s wife.
That was what she said, but Aoi never formally cancelled the engagement.
This was despite Asai telling her to do so many times.
She kept saying that Aoi would not have any unhappiness, any painful memories.
If she had listened to Asai’s words back then, perhaps Hikaru’s death would not be so painful to her.
Perhaps she would not feel the anguish that lacerated her heart, and she would not feel suffocated in the middle of the night.
She received the lilacs stalks two days before Hikaru’s death, and once she learned of his death, she snapped the stalks and threw them away.
This is the first present. I prepared another 6 gifts for your birthday. Please look forward to it.
Aoi was pained to realize that this promise caused her heart to race—and her body felt like it was breaking apart—
She could not forgive Hikaru for breaking the promise in the worst way possible.
She tore the letter, snapped the stalks, and said several times with a hoarse voice,
Thus, when the person proclaiming himself as Hikaru’s good friend, Koremitsu, appeared in front of her, claiming he would celebrate Aoi’s birthday in place of Hikaru, Aoi was immensely furious.
And also, Koremitsu had an outstanding red hair, a savage dog-like sharp stare, and was very crude in his words—it was impossible to imagine that a primitive person like him would be Hikaru’s friend.
He definitely was trying to lie to her, just as Asai said.
She must not believe that he was trying to convey Hikaru’s thoughts.
That was what she thought before now.
—This is the second present!
The passionate stare was looking right through Aoi,
He reached his hand out to her.
—It’s a ticket to the theme park! Let’s go there on Sunday!
He forcefully handed the envelope with the ticket over to Aoi, and exclaimed with a serious voice.
—I’ll be waiting! Definitely! You definitely must come along! I’ll hand over the remaining 5 presents!
She sat up on the bed lightly, pulled out the antique drawer with the floral carvings on it, and stared at it uneasily.
The thing placed inside the drawer was the theme park ticket Koremitsu forcefully handed to her on Friday.
She told Asai that she had already thrown it away, but in fact, she kept it with her.
Just like how she did not break up the engagement.
—You must come if you want to know Hikaru’s feelings! Aoi!
Did they really exist?
They were only engaged in name, so what kind of feelings did Hikaru have for her exactly?
When he was still alive, he would say ‘Miss Aoi’s really cute, I really love you’ as easily as if he was breathing, to a point where it was practically his greeting. Once she learnt that he would say such things to other girls too, she felt extremely angry for being fooled.
—I can’t believe your ‘love’, Hikaru.
Aoi puffed her cheeks and glared at him, Hikaru however gave an angelic smile as he stared back at her eyes, saying,
—What must I do to make you believe that I really love you, Miss Aoi?
—Then, try making the stars fall down from the sky. If you can’t do that, I won’t believe whatever you say. You’re to blame for always saying such empty words to make fun of me.
Aoi turned her back towards Hikaru, and heard his laughter from behind.
—Then, I have to think about a way to make the stars fall when I want to confess to you that ‘I love you most’.
He said that teasingly.
Even though it was impossible to make the stars fall.
…That’s why, Hikaru’s feelings—for me are like the stars in the sky falling down. They don’t exist.
She muttered hoarsely, and her chest was ostensibly ripped apart.
The cat she reared in her house, Shell Blue, meowed as it leapt onto Aoi’s knees.
It was plump, its black and white fur looked like a cow, and its face was flat. It was definitely not a pretty cat.
But she fell in love with it on first sight when she saw how it was drenched in the rain as it was placed in the cardboard box.
Aoi cuddled that heavy body tightly.
I don’t want to know about any…of Hikaru’s feelings or anything.
♢ ♢ ♢
“Argh~~~~~, why’s she not here yet!?”
It was 1.15pm.
Koremitsu suddenly grumbled as he stood at the gantry gates of the station.
The passers-by passing through the gates were shocked, and hurriedly walked away, ostensibly avoiding him.
“Damn, it’s been over 15 minutes already. Is that Aoi planning to make me wait here.”
“They’re girls, so maybe they’re late because they spent the time dolling themselves up. The longest time I spent waiting for a girl was 6 hours.”
“Tch, you really have the patience to wait, huh? Speaking of which, it’s amazing that she would appear even other you waited for her for 6 hours.”
Koremitsu was thoroughly speechless.
However, to him, who had never invited anyone out, and did not have much patience, a 15 minute wait was too long for him.
“Let me ask just to be clear. Is Aoi the type to be late because she’s dressing up?”
“Nope, she’s the type who’ll arrive 30 minutes earlier, walk around the area, return back to the appointed area 10 minutes before the time, and pout when her date appears, saying that she just came by early out of coincidence.”
“That means she’s not coming!”
Koremitsu got through the gantry and rode on the subway train that just arrived.
He could not wait for her any longer.
“If she’s not coming, I’ll go fetch her myself!”
The passengers in the train immediately looked over at Koremitsu in unison.
♢ ♢ ♢
“The cake should be almost done.”
Asai indulged herself in the tasting of the sandwich and the red tea across the white table as she looked at the clock.
It was 1:45 PM.
Aoi’s heart was hurting with every beat.
The appointed time Koremitsu promised her was 1PM.
He must have returned back angrily.
She did not have the appetite to consume the sandwich and the red tea, and merely cuddled Shell Blue as she lowered her head.
Is this really alright?
Asai said before that there was no need to listen to that man’s words.
On Friday, when she woke up in the infirmary, Asai brought in a can of milkshake and handed it unwillingly to Aoi, saying,
“It’s lukewarm. It may not be that nice to drink.”
Asai did not like the milkshake the school vending machines sold, and said that it was a drink that had preservatives and sugar mixed into the milk, that it was not good for the body, and she did not recommend Aoi to drink it.
It was true that it was not a refined taste, but Aoi loved that sweetness she could not taste at home, and bought it to drink from time to time while secretly hiding it from Asai.
“It’s okay. I’ll keep it then. Thank you, Asa.”
The milkshake had already cooled down, but she could feel the liquid gently soothing her body.
As Aoi drank the milkshake, Asai inadvertently looked over with a stern expression.
Did Koremitsu leave this can of milkshake behind?
Hikaru would gently hand her a can of milkshake from time to time,
“Keep it a secret from Asa.”
“Don’t treat me as a kid. I’ve stopped liking milkshakes since the first years of elementary school already.”
She would blush as she argues back. However, Hikaru would keep giving Aoi milkshakes, and not coffee or Oolong tea.
That was because he knew Aoi still liked milkshake.
Thus, the one who left the milkshake in the infirmary was not Asa, but Koremitsu—
No, I shouldn’t be thinking about this any longer.
The appointed time had long passed, and it would be meaningless for her to think any longer.
She would merely be adding on to her bitterness.
Right, she would simply not think about anything related to Hikaru—and forget everything about him, just like during that time after his death.
“I’ll go check on the cake.”
Asa walked out of the room.
She caressed her face on Shell Blue, which looked worried too as it let out a meow.
Suddenly, Aoi’s phone on the dressing table rang.
She picked it up, and found an unknown number calling it.
Normally, she would ignore this call.
But, maybe—this premonition rose in her heart, and she pressed the call button.
A gruff voice immediately entered her ears.
“It’s already past the appointed time!”
Why did Koremitsu know Aoi’s number?
This suspicion was unnecessary for her though, as her heart trembled the moment she heard his voice—it was not a feeling of fear of puzzlement, but something else—
“I’m now calling you in front of your house! Hurry up, get the ticket, and get out here!”
Koremitsu’s tone was very gawkish, but he was still trying to express himself.
It was the same voice he used when Aoi was surrounded by Hikaru’s fan, the same desperate pleading voice.
—HOLD IT RIGHT THERE—!
He yelled as he got in front of Aoi.
Even as Aoi was showing off the inner ugliness within her, he caught up to her no matter what.
Shell Blue on the bed let out an unhappy cry.
She opened the drawer, pinched the envelope with the ticket inside, and ran out of the room without taking her bag, cellphone, purse, monthly pass, as she dashed right down to the entrance.
The sweet smell of butter and sugar whiffed in from the kitchen.
Asai was definitely taking the cake out from the oven.
I’m sorry, Asa.
She arrived at the entrance, hurriedly latched her sandal belts, and opened the door.
She ran to the entrance while seemingly lost in herself, and when she finally arrived at the door, she found Koremitsu there, waiting with the phone held beside his ear.
The wild dog-like eyes glared at Aoi as he frowned and grumbled this line with his coarse voice.
Aoi felt an incomplete feeling in her chest.
All sorts of feelings rose up Aoi’s throat, and she looked up at Koremitsu, shuddering slightly.
“Okay, you got the ticket, right? Let’s go.”
Aoi did not move however.
“Tch, are you still hesitating?”
“I was so shocked that my legs couldn’t move…it’s all your fault.”
Her throat and eyes were heating up, and she could not process the messy thoughts within her. She begrudged Koremitsu as she looked like she was going to cry.
“Really, you really cause me quite a bit of trouble here, Princess.”
“I don’t remember asking for your care—kya!”
Aoi’s mouth let out a soft squeal.
Koremitsu carried Aoi up.
And her legs were flailing in the air.
“W-wh-wha-wha-what, what is this!?”
Koremitsu carried Aoi up in a Princess Carry.
“What are you doing? Please put me down!”
“Didn’t you say your feet can’t move? I’m moving you now! Your birthday will pass by if you dily-daly like this!”
“But you’re being too reckless here even if that’s the case! Put me down!”
“I carried you once before, so just shut up. Besides, it’s not tough for me since you’re so light.”
He actually said that he carried me before—
Koremitsu’s words caused Aoi to blush.
Speaking of which, she found herself lying on the infirmary bed when she woke up after she fainted on the stairs—Asai also said that she was not certain about Aoi’s situation before she was moved to the infirmary, so maybe, at that moment—!
Her face, ears, neck and head were burning hot, like they were on fire.
Her body shook about as Koremitsu carried her, and nearly dropped a few times; she subconsciously wrapped her arms around Koremitsu’s neck.
When Aoi got her foot injured at the tennis court at Asai’s house last year, Hikaru gently carried her in her tennis outfit back to the pain.
This pain is nothing. I can walk on my own! Don’t carry me like a kid!
As Aoi blushed and protested angrily, Hikaru gave her a gentle smile.
—But that’s because you’re a very important girl to me, Miss Aoi.
She felt embarrassed, delighted and yet furious at herself, and sealed her lips as she lowered her head, showing an unhappy look.
—She’s a very important person!
Koremitsu said the same thing as Hikaru, and Aoi felt her chest being pierced through as her inner heart was confused, not knowing what to do.
She did not want to recall.
Hikaru’s gentle smile, intoxicating voice, tender hands, flamboyant expression, his familiar movements, every word he said to her, the pain—she wanted to forget them all.
But her body was shaking in Koremitsu’s hands, her heart was wavering, and the scenery was changing. The wind caressed her face, and she kept recalling the past from deep within her memories.
When she met Hikaru for the first time, she found him to be as cute as an angel. When he told her ‘let’s play together’, Aoi was so speechless that she was unable to express her words clearly.
She would tag along with Asai whenever she visited Hikaru’s house, and observed that Hikaru seemed to be more delighted when chatting with Asai.
Asa’s wiser than me, more mature than me, and should be a better match for Hikaru than me.
This thought never disappeared within her.
Asai often said vicious things to Hikaru, but even so, it felt like the two had a consonance in their hearts, to a point where Aoi kept wondering if there was some kind of a unique bond between them.
For example, whenever she spotted Hikaru fooling around with other girls, she would give a chastising look without any signs of faltering, and would say coolly,
“I see your bad habit’s at work again. How long do you intend to keep this love line going?”
In response, Hikaru gave a warm smile and said,
“All flowers, all romances will continue to bloom within my heart.”
The moment he answered this,
Aoi felt that there was an understanding between them, to a point where there was no need for jealousy and excuses, and her heart started to ache.
Whether she met Hikaru, Aoi would keep lambasting him.
That was because he was always with another girl.
She could not remain as calm as Asai.
To Hikaru, Asai was most certainly different from the other girls—a special existence.
But Aoi kept thinking of herself as a fiancée in name because her parents engaged her in this marriage; she thought that she was not cute, and did not have any attractive charms at all.
Even so, Hikaru kept showering her with a dazzling smile.
He would talk to her with a voice full of love.
He would give her a prankster’s expression and hand over a can of milkshake.
He would often say words Aoi did not expect in a gentle tone, causing her to be confused.
Hikaru’s too much.
Hikaru’s very sly.
He’s always fooling me because I haven’t gotten used to interacting with the opposite gender.
The moment she thought this, Aoi’s chest would falter, and her face would heat up. Whenever Hikaru treated her gently, she would answer back with a cold attitude.
Aoi could not help but hate herself for drinking coffee, which she hated most, in front of Hikaru, and landed herself in such a pitiful state.
She swore to forget everything about Hikaru when she faced his smiling obituary photo, surrounded by white flowers.
If she did not do so, she would not be able to protect her inner heart.
She could not endure the despair brought about by Hikaru’s absence.
She would not celebrate whatever birthday or anything.
She would never believe that guy again.
That was what she decided.
Hikaru’s friend carried her to the station.
There were more passers-by moving through, and they were glancing over secretly. What is this? Are they filming a drama? Voices could be heard.
“It-it’s fine…I can walk on my own, so please-please put me down.”
She pleaded with a teeny-weeny voice.
“Is that so?”
Koremitsu lowered his arms gently and bent his waist.
Aoi glanced to look at the side of Koremitsu’s face, and found him completely drenched in sweat.
“Ah, I forgot to bring my purse out.”
“Since it’s your birthday, it’ll be my treat.”
Koremitsu said as he handed the train ticket he bought to Aoi.
—Consider this my treat.
She recalled the words Hikaru said when he handed her the milkshake, and her heart pounded even wilder.
This person was completely different from Hikaru,
But she was too conscious of this, and was so shy that she could not lift her head. Her neck was all hot too.
When they passed through the gantry, Koremitsu held Aoi by the hand.
“I think the train is coming.”
“Er-erm, the hand—”
Koremitsu too seemed to be at a loss of what to do as he saw the flustered Aoi, and tensed up,
“Well, he told me to hold hands.”
He glanced diagonally upwards.
“Hikaru, that is.”
—Let’s hold hands, Miss Aoi.
Aoi recalled the white slender hand Hikaru reached out to her, and her heart raced.
That was when everyone went for a picnic in the hills or swimming at the beach. Whenever Hikaru invited her, she would refuse by saying there was no need.
Koremitsu’s hand was sweaty and hard.
Hikaru’s hand, which she held in their adolescence, should be smoother and gentler.
But even so, Aoi felt his warmth and tension from his palm and fingers, and clasped the fingers back tightly.
Koremitsu widened his eyes in surprise.
Aoi looked away shyly.
Both of them continued to hold hands on the train ride.
♢ ♢ ♢
They passed through the entrance of the theme park, and the first attraction they went to was the jet-coaster.
“I’m a little bad at those thrilling stuff that make me scream.”
“Don’t worry, I never heard of any incidents like the jet-coaster rail breaking, the coaster falling off in the air or running out of the rail.”
“I’m getting uneasy just by thinking about it. Please don’t say such things!”
“That’s why I say that it’s impossible for a rail to break. It’ll be a major accident if it happens.”
“Ahhh, please don’t say it! My mind’s filled with the image of the rail breaking in two!”
Both of them were chatting away as they queued up.
Once it was time for them to get up, they latched up their safety belts,
“I shouldn’t be riding on this after all.”
“Oi, it’s not good to give up now.”
Koremitsu held onto Aoi’s timid hand.
The coaster started to move.
“No~, it’ll drop, it’ll definitely drop down. I feel that it’s going to drop down.”
“Don’t say such ominous things. Even I’m panicking now.”
“See, I said that we’re definitely going to drop~!”
“What do you mean by definitely!?”
The car let out a jerk, GATANK! After that, it started rushing down.
Aoi let out a shriek.
She held onto Koremitsu’s arm as if she was clinging onto a lifeline.
And Koremitsu too screamed,
The coaster dropped to the bottom, started to climb up due to inertia, and spun around in the air once. In the meantime, the duo continued to scream.
“NOOO~~~!! WE’RE FALLING~~~~!!”
The coaster finally came to a stop.
Aoi was collapsed onto her seat, utterly terrified and unable to get off the coaster.
With Koremitsu’s help, she finally managed to get onto the ground.
“Really, I will never…ride on that wild thing again.”
While Aoi eyes’ were swelling with tears,
“Weren’t you being all happy yapping around ‘kya kya’ like that?”
“But I’m trembling because of fear! Didn’t you make such embarrassing screams too?”
“Well, I never rode on a coaster ride ever since elementary school, and I’m a little shocked too. But a coaster ride’s meant to make us scream, so shouldn’t we be screaming our lungs out and make noise? It’s meaningless if we’re not scared of it.”
Koremitsu said as he handed over a photo.
“See, don’t you look like you’re enjoying it on the photo?””
It was a photo of them riding on the roller coaster ride, purchased from the shop near the entrance of the ride.
Aoi was holding onto Koremitsu’s arm, her mouth wide open as her eyes widened.
“Really, what’s with that weird expression?”
Even her ears were all red.
“What are you saying? This expression looks much cuter than your pouting look.”
Koremitsu took out a fine golden marker from his photo and wrote something on the photo. The bright and dazzling words were neat and pretty, completely different from the image Koremitsu’s image would imply.
The words on it were,
“Your shocked expression is really cute. Miss Aoi at 17 years old.”
Koremitsu continued to write abashedly, drew an arrow pointing at Aoi’s expression on the photo, and finished it off by writing,
He then handed it to a blushing Aoi.
“This is the 3rd birthday present.”
Aoi widened her eyes as she received the photo with both hands.
—Your shocked expression is very cute too, Miss Aoi.
At the courtyard of her house, Aoi heard someone call her name, and turned her head behind. A Holstein cattle-like fat cat with a collapsed nose was handed over to her car, scaring Aoi, and Hikaru said with a sweet expression,
—I picked up this cat from the park, but I think it like girls more than boys. Can you take care of it for me? Grandpa and the rest had agreed to it already.
Hikaru probably knew that Aoi had been feeding the cat left in the cardboard box at the park.
Please don’t do any necessary things. I intend to ask father to let me raise it.
However, Hikaru did not seem to worry too much about Aoi dampening his enthusiasm.
—Your eyes are really wide, Miss Aoi. They’re really cute. If only I could have taken a photo of it.
He chuckled as he said this.
How can such an expression be cute? Please don’t make fun of me! She argued back as she embraced the fat cat that became a part of her family.
She recalled that memory on the day Shell Blue joined her family as she looked at the photo of her shrieking on the roller coaster ride, and nearly broke into tears.
Does Hikaru still remember that incident?
She was different from her usual self; her eyes and mouth were wide open. She pressed this photo upon her chest.
The taste of sadness, mixed with a tint of bittersweet spread deep within her heart.
“Then, on to the next one! We still got many presents left! Let’s go!”
Koremitsu grabbed Aoi’s hand and pulled her to the coffee cup attraction. Aoi heaved a sigh of relief as it was not a thrilling type of attraction.
However, Koremitsu spun the steering wheel of the coffee cup too quickly, causing it to spin too quickly, and Aoi’s eyes were dazed from the spinning.
Her legs were wobbly, and her head was dizzy.
She felt nauseous.
“Ack—sorry, I never played this before.”
Koremitsu hurriedly apologized.
Aoi laid down on the bench beside the fence of the coffee cup attraction limply.
“I’ll go wet the handkerchief.”
He said as he ran off.
You don’t have to keep taking care of me like this—the moment she wanted to say this, the bright red hair had already disappeared through the crowd.
For some reason, her heart was beating hard as she waited for Koremitsu.
It felt like she was waiting for Hikaru.
Even though Hikaru was no longer on this world.
And she already realized this.
But if—if Hikaru were to be celebrating Aoi’s 17th birthday with her—this would certainly be the feeling.
He would also write a message on the photo and hand it to Aoi with a mischievous expression. When he sees her begrudging look, perhaps he would also say, “Eh, you’re very cute, you know”—
Just thinking about this alone caused her heart to race.
Finally, Koremitsu came running back, panting as he handed over the cold handkerchief.
“Thank you very much.”
Aoi, who finally calmed down, thanked as she received the handkerchief.
It was a large beige cotton handkerchief, and it felt chilly and refreshing when it touched her face.
She could not help but close her eyes.
At that moment, the fragrance of flowers came at her.
She opened her eyes, and saw Koremitsu blushing as he handed her a little bouquet of flowers.
“This is the 4th present.”
He seemed to be very embarrassed as he said this stiffly—but continued to keep his eyes upon Aoi.
“Thank you very much.”
The bouquet of pink Gerberas and Red Roses was surrounded by Baby’s Breath grass. She took this adorable bouquet, and found a pink case right in the middle.
She put the bouquet at her knees, and opened the case.
A cute pendant appeared in front of her eyes.
She let out a long gasp.
The glamorous silver chain had a mysterious milky white moonstone placed in it.
“Hikaru chose this pendant personally and left it at the floral shop in the theme park.”
Koremitsu took the pendant from Aoi’s hands, wanting to put it on her.
To Koremitsu, this was probably the first time he was doing such a thing too.
He undid the little hook as he put up a furious emotional fight that left him sweating; he brought the chain behind Aoi’s neck, accidentally caught Aoi’s hair in it, fumbled around with the hook, finally managed to latch it once, only for the chain to be twisted, and had to redo it. He groaned as he tried his best to latch the pendant on her.
During this time, Aoi’s face was nearly buried in Koremitsu’s chest a few times, and she had the urge to say that she would latch it up herself. But upon seeing Koremitsu work so hard, she found it ungrateful of her to say so. Her face was heating up, and her heart was racing.
Once the pendant was finally placed upon her, both Koremitsu and Aoi heaved a sigh of relief.
“Happy birthday. The pendant really suits you.”
Koremitsu said this with sweat dripping all over him.
—You’re like a Princess, Miss Aoi.
When she was young, Hikaru made Aoi a crown of white clovers he got from outside.
He said it with such innocence as he put it on Aoi’s head.
Aoi thought that she would not be happy when a boy cuter than her said this, and her face heated up as she said with her cheeks puffed.
—You should have a lot more Princesses other than me, Hikaru.
At that time, Hikaru looked slightly troubled as he lowered his stare.
At this point, Aoi was recollecting the past.
She recalled every single moment of how Hikaru spent the days with her, every word he said to her, every expression he made at her, every smile he made at her.
Koremitsu grabbed Aoi’s hand.
“On to the next one then.”
Whether it was the appearance or the tone, Koremitsu and Hikaru were polar opposites.
But—for some reason, she would often see the image of Hikaru appearing so often in front of her when she looked at Koremitsu. Why was it that Hikaru’s gentle voice kept echoing in her ears?
Why was it that her heart was beating so wildly?
As Koremitsu held Aoi’s hand, they arrived at the next destination. It was a restaurant inside the theme park.
The interior decoration had the fairy tale theme of Alice’s tea party, and a waiter in black butler suit invited them in.
“You’re Master Mikado who made an appointment with us, I presume? We’ve been waiting for you.”
He led them to the table right in the middle.
They got to their seats, and the waiter immediately served a small cake with candles on it and two glasses of hot milkshakes with silver handles by the side.
The candles were in the shapes of ‘1’ and ‘7’ respectively, and the candle flames flickered on them.
“This is the 5th item.”
“Hikaru said that your favorite drink is a milkshake, Aoi.”
His gentle expression resembled a little of Hikaru. Hikaru too had shown this expression when he once handed her the milkshake can.
“…Were you the one who handed me the milkshake can?”
“When you were in the infirmary? Well…it was me, but well, Hikaru told me to do so.”
He said disconcertedly.
So it was him after all.
Aoi’s heart was filled with sweetness, just like the time when she received the milkshake can from Hikaru.
“Well, after this…”
Koremitsu suddenly stammered.
He glanced up sideways in a perturbed manner, and muttered. “Am I really going to do this?” He then lowered his head, snorted, and suddenly looked over at Aoi.
“This is the 6th present. Damn it.”
Koremitsu’s face was blushing as he raised his right hand up high and snapped his fingers.
And then, the Happy Birthday melody rang.
Unexpectedly, Koremitsu actually started to sing along with the rhythm.
“Haaappy—baaaaaddaaay~~~ Miss Aoi~~~~~”
This savage and primitive-looking boy seemed like a delinquent no matter what. His neck, ears and even his eyes were red as he raised his voice.
His singing was certainly not good.
It was certainly slightly off-tune too.
But he merely shrugged his shoulders, raised his eyebrows and sang wholeheartedly.
“Haaappy—baaaaaddaaay~~~ Miss Aoi~~~~~”
Koremitsu’s singing overlapped with Hikaru’s singing voice.
It was the 3rd year of her middle school.
Aoi was dejected after the singing competition held by the school ended.
She was in charge of playing the piano in the class’ choir competition, but made a mistake midway through.
She cuddled her knees as she sat in a corner of the gymnasium’s stage, and at that moment, Hikaru arrived and sat beside her.
“I’m going to sing for you now, Miss Aoi.”
He said, and then started to sing with a delightful voice.
—Miss Aoi, Miss Aoi, a pure and white flower~~~~
He swapped out the ‘Edelweiss’ for ‘Miss Aoi’, and no matter how Aoi tried to stop him, “It’s embarrassing. Please don’t sing anymore”, Hikaru continued to sing softly and gently.
—Blooming forever, in the morning wind~~~~
—Miss Aoi~ Miss Aoi~, glowing purely~ a flower that blooms on the snowland~~~
The gym’s stage was dyed a madder red.
Hikaru tilted his head slightly as his clear eyes stared right at Aoi. His flowing hair was dazzling a golden color—
Unwittingly, Hikaru’s face was right in front of her.
She could slightly feel the breath Hikaru let out.
His expression was filled with gentleness and passion.
She thought that they were about to kiss, and her heart was racing.
Even though it was impossible, she wondered if Hikaru’s heart was racing too, and her heart beat faster.
Even though it was impossible.
Even though it was impossible for Hikaru to have feelings for her.
She saw Hikaru’s face redden a little.
Her eyes had a wavering of timidity, and her heart was beating so wildly it was about to break apart—
She could not look straight at Hikaru until he smiled and backed off.
He’s making fun of me again.
That was what she thought, but the throbbing in her heart could not cease.
Hikaru was really—
What, exactly, is he thinking?
Is he making fun of me? Or is he really—
At this point, the boy, who had the same color of red as the flickering flames on his messy hair, Hikaru’s friend was trying his best to celebrate Aoi’s birthday.
“Haaappy—baaaaaddaaay~~~ Miss Aoi~~~~~”
His rigid singing voice filled her heart, and her breath was shaken.
He was even unable to blow off the flames of the candles even after a few tries.
The customers and the employees in the shop applauded her.
Koremitsu was obviously embarrassed as he frowned.
“I’m never going to sing again. This is an exception.”
“Thank you very much. This is the best birthday song I ever heard.”
Aoi tried to hide the wavering of her inner heart as she forced a delighted smile, and Koremitsu looked away, his lips relaxing a little,
“Is that so?”
But then, he continued with emphasis,
“I won’t sing again.”
The not-so-sweet birthday cake and the sweet milkshake brought warmth and happiness to Aoi.
“Everything will end after this last one.”
The moment he said that, Aoi felt a sense of loneliness splashed onto her like cold water as her heart cooled down, just like how Hikaru stood up from the gym’s stage and pulled his distance from her.
The next item would be the 7th.
Once she received it, Aoi’s birthday would be over.
And the promise Hikaru had with Aoi up till this point would vanish without a trace.
Koremitsu suddenly realized this, and his expression turned gloomy.
Perhaps he too felt the loneliness of this event ending, just like Aoi did.
“Yeah, there’s still one more.”
He seemed to be muttering to himself.
Both of them went silent. They were unwilling to look at each other in the eyes as they lowered their heads.
The white plate had the slightly melted candles of ‘1’ and ‘7’ on it.
Koremitsu lifted his head.
He stared at Aoi with a blazing expression and a blushing face.
“The 7th present will take a while, so let’s play to any attraction you want to ride on, find anything you want to see, and go to any place you want to go to. Let’s enjoy ourselves.”
Aoi too lifted her face, and smiled.
This mysterious yet warm moment will soon end.
But before that—
Aoi nodded without hesitation.
After that, they went to challenge a few of the thrilling attractions Aoi would normally never ride on.
“I’ll never ride on this ever again! This attraction is too dangerous, spinning around, going upside-down, dropping straight down so randomly!”
Aoi insisted, but she soon pointed to another thrilling attraction and said,
“It’ll be too downhearting to complain without riding on it. Let’s try that Viking ship too?”
And then, she started shrieking again with tears flowing out.
“You really don’t learn from your lessons.”
Koremitsu was almost at a loss of words as he glanced at her, but she argued back,
“But I like challenges!”
“Really? Let’s challenge that then.”
“Ehh? Isn’t that completely upside down!? Uu, I-I’m challenging it!”
Koremitsu looked on at Aoi with an amused—and gentle expression, just like how Hikaru used to look at Aoi.
“It’s about time.”
As they were seated on the box seats of the Ferris wheel, facing each other, they looked at the sunset outside the window, and Koremitsu commented with a melancholic expression.
Aoi too was mentally prepared as she waited for the end.
♢ ♢ ♢
My mission’s about to end here.
Koremitsu thought as he looked outside the Ferris wheel window that was dyed a crimson red.
Aoi’s face was dazzling as she sat at the opposite seat, seemingly intoxicated as she looked at the sunset outside the window. She was still enjoying things until the end.
I also enjoyed myself here.
He muttered to Aoi—and the handsome friend sitting beside Aoi in his heart.
Hikaru, too, showed a gentle smile.
The past few days were full of ups and downs.
The dead Hikaru suddenly appeared in front of him in the bathtub, floated above him, said that there was something he could not let go of, and requested for help.
He accepted the request reluctantly, but as Aoi was too stubborn, Koremitsu was unable to open her heart.
After numerous challenges, he got harsh words and condescending looks in return.
—That’s why I say, women!
He yelled out his grandfather’s catchphrase several times, but was unable to change the situation.
At that time, Hikaru even tried to calm Koremitsu down,
—Miss Aoi is actually a straightforward but good girl. She’s really cute.
However, Hikaru too gave up because of Aoi’s tears and the words of his cousin Asai.
But now, Koremitsu and Hikaru were celebrating Aoi’s birthday together.
The light of the sunset lit upon Aoi’s petite and white face, dyeing it red. She looked outside the window, her eyes dazzling as her tender lips let out a smile.
—Miss Aoi’s cute, isn’t she?
At this point, he fully agreed with Hikaru’s words.
Aaah, that’s right.
Aoi kept screaming as she rode on the exciting thriller rides, and though her legs were wobbly to a point where she could not stand up, she still forced herself, grumbling as she held onto Koremitsu’s hand.
She showed that abashed expression when he handed her the photo and flowers.
She was completely red when Koremitsu struggled to put the pendant on her neck while she lowered her head, nearly buried in his chest.
After that, she smiled happily at him.
She shuddered slightly, ostensibly about to cry as she watched how Koremitsu sang her a birthday song desperately.
When she held onto the cup of milkshake,
“I can’t take hot stuff.”
She puffed a few times as she drank it.
“It’s sweet and tasty.”
She narrowed her eyes happily.
Even Koremitsu, who had been watching this from the side, felt a sense of happiness.
She would show a sniveling expression with her teary eyes from time to time, causing Koremitsu’s heart to race as it experienced sweetness. This heartbeat caused him to unexpectedly recall a few important things.
Ahh, that’s right, Hikaru.
Your Aoi is extremely cute.
The duo seated in front of Koremitsu really looked like a matching couple.
She was a cute girlfriend who was straightforward and yet a little stubborn, and he was a boyfriend who gently embraced all these aspects as he gently watched over her.
They looked like a blissful couple.
But Aoi’s eyes could not see Hikaru.
It must have been painful for Hikaru.
But he could only smile.
Koremitsu felt crushed as the sadness ate away inside, heating his body up—
I’ll pass her your feelings in your stead, Hikaru.
He muttered in his heart.
The Ferris Wheel stopped. Koremitsu held Aoi’s hand gently as he treated it as a fragile item, and supported her as she stepped onto the ground.
The sky outside had darkened, and the first star twinkled in the sky.
The street lamps lit up in the park, and the visitors that came here with their families returned home.
Koremitsu held Aoi’s hand gently as he brought her to the fountain in the middle of the theme park.
The water pillar shot into the deep blue night sky, while the scattered water droplets and the waterfall-like blue water pillar were lit by the blue, pink and bright yellow lights, dazzling like a fantasy.
Aoi was speechless, inebriated by the lights.
The light shone upon her white tender side face, and her flowing black hair looked more radiant than usual, making her look more alluring.
Her slender figure looked like it was going to dissolve into this rainbow-like light.
Hikaru stood in front of the fountain—in front of them Koremitsu and Aoi with and looked over with a gentle expression. His eyes were gradually filled with sadness.
Koremitsu harbored the same feelings as Hikaru as he looked over at Aoi.
Aoi looked towards the fountain, and suddenly spoke up,
“I’m really thankful to you for celebrating my birthday in lieu of Hikaru. I didn’t believe that you were Hikaru’s friend right from the beginning, but I feel like Hikaru’s with me when you’re standing by me, that he’s talking to me. Now I can firmly believe so.”
Aoi turned around and looked up at Koremitsu.
Her eyes were full of trust, and her face showed a light smile.
“You’re Hikaru’s friend, Mr Akagi.”
Koremitsu’s numb heart started to heat up.
A sweet feeling spread within his body.
Aoi’s words resonated with the memory Koremitsu had when he walked under the moonlight with Hikaru sidelong.
Right now, I think I look like I’m going to cry.
But no matter how happy I am, I can’t cry now. I have to pass on Hikaru’s feelings until the end.
Koremitsu swallowed the rising heat in his throat, and spoke,
“Then, as Hikaru’s friend, I’ll now present you the 7th present, Aoi. The 7th item is—Hikaru’s ‘heart’.”
Aoi widened her eyes, startled.
Koremitsu held the passion within him as he looked down at Aoi.
Hikaru was standing behind her.
He was looking at her with a gentle—sad, passionate expression.
“Hikaru loved you ever since he was young. As a friend, I can conclude that it wasn’t a lie.”
Aoi widened her eyes as her breath abated, listening on to Koremitsu’s words.
“Hikaru wanted to celebrated to your 17th birthday like this, to provide you a surprise, and to express his true feelings about you.”
Koremitsu tried his best to declare.
He declared the feelings Hikaru had, who still remained on this world with regret even after his death.
He said out Hikaru’s true thoughts.
“You’re a very important person to Hikaru, Aoi!”
Tears and bewilderment appeared in Aoi’s eyes.
She could not believe it.
Her face was contorted as she showed this disbelief on her face, and at this moment, Hikaru followed.
He said out the thoughts he never had a chance to say when he was alive.
“Miss Aoi, I always felt that I couldn’t go out with you with a nonchalant attitude. That’s why, when I sent one of the presents to the floral shop before heading to the Shinshu Villa, I decided to start afresh with you. At that time, I really hoped that you would become my most beloved. If you’re with me, Miss Aoi, I think I’ll live through every day in a fruitful manner. At that time, I wrote on the letter with a hopeful and blissful attitude.”
Hikaru said with a gentle yet depressed voice as he faced Aoi’s face, and softly narrated the words Aoi could not hear.
Aoi was very, very important to him – like a white flower blooming over a sacred field.
“You’re a special person to Hikaru, not the kind he could simply reach out to so casually. He really treasured you. You’re necessary for that blissful future Hikaru described! He really wanted to be with you forever!”
Aoi’s eyebrows and lips trembled.
Hikaru embraced Aoi from behind and confessed her passionately.
“You’re my beloved, Miss Aoi. And I really mean it.”
These words should not be able to reach Aoi’s ears—
But she raised her hands up slowly.
The water pillars shot high into the night sky, and the rainbow illuminating the fountain disappeared into thin air.
What replaced this were white, glimmering flashes that bedighted cascades of water flowing freely.
They looked like stars filling the sky!
The water, running upwards, was as dazzling as the stars in the sky, falling back to the earth in suspension and evaporating into a gleaming cloud.
Aoi’s eyes were agape.
She muttered with a trembling voice, and covered her mouth with both hands, seemingly swallowing her sobbing.
—If you hear me, even if it’s a little bit, please put a finger on your lips to let me know…
The voice back seemed to finally reach her.
Aoi cried as she put her fingers at her lips.
Hikaru narrowed his eyes too as he too was almost in tears. He gently moved his mouth a little as he let out a gentle, soft voice.
“Didn’t I promise to make the stars in the sky fall if I want to confess to you? Now I’ll surely show that I really loved you.”
Beads of tears rolled down Aoi’s large eyes.
She put her fingers at her mouth, choking a few times as she responded.
“…I love…you too.”
She confessed hoarsely.
“I too, wanted to spend more time with you, Hikaru…I love Hikaru most…I loved him more than anyone else ever since we were kids.”
The dazzling water pillars danced, now carrying with them the shimmering stars. They twinkled, smiling as they stood beside the two loves who had finally managed to express their feelings.
Koremitsu’s heart felt like it was flying in the sky as he basked in the light.
The actual 7th present was a kiss.
Actually, I intended to confess to Miss Aoi in front of the fountain and kiss her gently—Hikaru did say to Koremitsu this with a radiant smile.
And then, I’ll be real lovers with Miss Aoi.
From then on, I’ll treasure her alone.
I won’t hurt Miss Aoi. I’ll hold her hand and open a new future, creating all sorts of important memories. No matter whether it’s rain or shine, whether it’s breezy or not, we’ll laugh and love each other all the way.
We’ll head to a wonderful future—a future filled with love.
—it will be the greatest happiness for me if Miss Aoi can become my beloved.
—I’LL TREASURE MISS AOI WHOLEHEARTEDLY!
Hikaru stood behind Aoi and whispered parting words to her.
“I really love you, Miss Aoi, how you try to act tough, how clumsy you are. If I’m still alive, I’ll keep loving you. I really want to go for picnics and beach trips just like how it was when we’re young. I still want to create a flower crown for you again, Miss Aoi.”
Aoi called his name in a low wail.
Hikaru could not kiss her.
Thus, Koremitsu followed Hikaru’s lead by embracing her.
He tried to pass on Hikaru’s warmth and passion, even if it was a little, as he embraced Aoi.
Aoi’s body was petite and slender, seemingly sinking into his chest, and Koremitsu held her in his arms gently, afraid that she would break if he exerted strength.
“I’m sorry for hurting you so much, Miss Aoi. Please continue to live happily and bloom.”
Hikaru’s voice was breaking.
He could no longer continue.
Aoi, Aoi, these are Hikaru’s true feelings, his inner thoughts. The final birthday present he wanted to give you, Aoi.
Aoi kept calling Hikaru’s name as she remained in Koremitsu’s embrace, weeping.
Though Koremitsu was embracing her, it felt like Hikaru himself was the one embracing her.
Her hoarse sobbing voice continued to call out.
Hikaru made the stars above Aoi fall upon her.
He had proven to her that he loved her from the bottom of his heart, and he gave her the best birthday present on her 17th birthday.
Aoi finally admitted her love for Hikaru.
She had loved Hikaru ever since young, and her small frame was filled with sweetness, bitterness, sadness, yet she continued to yearn for their togetherness.
However, she thought that Hikaru and Asai were a better fit. He would call her ‘Asa’, while he would call Aoi ‘Miss Aoi’ like an outsider, causing Aoi to be unable to be honest with herself.
After that, she would often say begrudging things to Hikaru whenever she saw him with so many pretty ladies around him.
Every painting Aoi drew was a place Hikaru appeared before.
Hikaru’s presence was in the paintings depicting the empty gym, the staircase in the morning, the vending machine in the evening.
He smiled as he looked over at Aoi.
“I love you most, Hikaru…I really love you…love you.”
She was finally able to say the ‘I really love you’ that had been hidden in her heart for 10 years.
She was forgiven—liberated.
She was saved.
She decided to keep the presence of Hikaru on this painting, that painting, how he gave her a smiling face.
What was his expression when he looked at her?
Now, she would definitely be able to use her true feelings to draw him, to leave the proof that Hikaru lived.
Farewell, Miss Aoi.
An airy muttering fell upon her ears. Perhaps she was hallucinating?
Aoi’s voice was already hoarse, and the tears continued to flow down. Hikaru’s gentle friend continued to embrace her tightly.