It has been a month since Yū returned home.
Hikaru continued to remain with Koremitsu, leisurely dousing the latter with floral language.
For example, In the pure white color of Winter, the passionate red decorates it after all, or the sight of the Camellia fluttering really is riveting’, ‘do you know the 10 graces of the Camellia’, ‘the red color of the Nandina is wondering, but the bell-like red fruits hanging on the fiery, thick branches really make this a hard decision for me’, ‘The Winterberry is as adorable as a girl’s little lips, and I really cannot help but kiss it’..
Is this guy intending to haunt me for the rest of my life’ Koremitsu began to worry.
Due to that, he never did kiss Honoka ever since that moment at the riverbank.
They were officially dating, but there was no way they could become passionate lovers so suddenly.
However, whenever they were headed home together after school, or alone in the Japanese Dance clubroom, or out together during the holidays, or whenever they were to bid farewell, Honoka would shyly lift her head at Koremitsu, fidgeting, looking as though she had something to say. This would be the moment when Koremitsu would be worried about Hikaru, and play dumb, averting the topic by saying ‘Ahh, I’m hungry’. ‘I just saw a fly. There’re flies in winter?’.
Koremitsu knew that Honoka was frustrated because of his attitude, and in some sense, he too was feeling angsty.
Also, there has been lots of ‘such an atmosphere’ brewing recently, and this further tormented Koremitsu to no end.
(Speaking of which, did that Shikibu became so sexy looking out of a sudden…she would hold my hand when we’re going home together, blushing hard. She’ll peek at me from time to time when we’re in class, and that’s making me tense. The way she puffs her cheeks and look up at me causes my heart and head to heat up. Back then, I just wondered whether she wants to use the toilet whenever she was blushing and fidgeting. Now I’m having trouble holding it in.)
Once he realized his feelings for Honoka and began dating her, Koremitsu found that those legs were long and pretty, her light brown hair silky, and nice to touch, her lips looking tender and glossy, and he was getting jumpy.
He had the feeling that they could take a further step.
I might as well ignore Hikaru.
No, I don’t have any interest in exhibitionist play.
And with Hikaru being his brake, Koremitsu was able to hold in his feelings for Honoka. Without Hikaru around, he had the feeling that it would not be just a little development, and that would be a problem too—
He was seated on the tatami with his legs folded, looking glum. Hikaru floated to Koremitsu’s side asking with a dazzling face,
“This is the first time that I am spending Christmas with a friend. Do you celebrate it every year with your family, Koremitsu?”
“We’re Buddhists, so we don’t really celebrate Christmas.”
“Eh, that is a rarity. But what about this year? We do need to get Shiiko a Santa Claus.”
It would be too cruel to tell the 4th grader Shioriko we won’t have Santa visiting us’. Surely his grandpa, who dotes on Shioriko so much, would be willing to cosplay as Santa for her sake.
“Got to make this Christmas a pleasant one though. The living room has to be decorated. Ah, you have to prepare the Christmas Tree too. Order a cake, and get Miss Koharu to bake a stuffed turkey. And get a Christmas ring on the corridor too.”
Upon seeing Hikaru come up with Christmas plans with a grin, Koremitsu lamented, He’s getting so excited while ignoring how busy I’ll be However, he got up,
“Wait, I’ll take notes.”
That was because the words Hikaru confessed before lingered in his heart,
—At that moment, will someone be welcoming me like what happened to Princess Kaguya? I will have to leave in any case, so I do wish to stay till Christmas.
Once Christmas passed, would Hikaru really vanish from this Earth? Would this end up being the first Christmas they spent together—and the last?
Koremitsu had such a feeling, so he followed Hikaru’s wishes to spend a wonderful Christmas together.
And so, it was a morning, a week before Christmas Day, when Mikoto notified Koremitsu that Fujino gave birth.
The labor process was long and arduous.
The one born was a boy, named Kaoru.
That was the name Hikaru thought for his child during the commotion involving Sora—one had to wonder if it was a coincidence, or that Hikaru mentioned to Fujino or his father to name his child as Kaoru.
But when Mikoto mentioned the name, Hikaru seemed to be overwhelmed by some emotions, narrowing his eyes sadly as he raised his lips, showing an elated smile.
At this moment, he smiled silently, staring at the photos Mikoto took with her cellphone, the photos of Fujino smiling amicably, cradling her baby.
The DNA test results proved that the child was not Hikaru’s.
Mikoto noted with a stoic tone, devoid of any emotion, stating that It was undoubtedly the child of Hikaru’s father.
Hikaru did not leave anything behind on this world.
But those ethereal, precious things would surely live on in the ones Hikaru loved, and the ones who loved Hikaru.
Hikaru will continue to live on within Fujino.
But one would hope that it was not a curse, but a blessing.
Fujino’s face was tender as she cradled the baby. It was the same as when she was beaming with Hikaru under the Wisteria flowers, back when she was still a young girl, a satiated, blissful face.
One would hope for it to continue living.
And also, hope that she would use those warmth, adorable memories to reminisce Hikaru.
“Hey, Ono, you don’t have say it now, but can you tell me about the story of Fujino and Hikaru that you know of one of these days?”
He asked, and with those refreshing eyes of hers, Mikoto stared right at Koremitsu,
“Sorry, I refuse.”
“Miss Fujino only told me of her secret…when I was little, she enthusiastically told me ‘I finally met Hikaru today’. That was the start of it all, and after that, she would tell me all the stories of her with Hikaru, including all her sins. Those are important presents to me. They were startling, heavy, filled with anguish, yet filled with glitter—they are like gemstones to me, leaving me frenetic. I intend to keep them within me forever.”
Mikoto raised her hands to her chest.
Koremitsu sounded relived as he muttered.
What kind of stories did Fujino tell Mikoto?
When did she begin to realize her love for Hikaru, tormented herself, and yet continued to love him?
What sort of feelings did she have when she married Hikaru’s father?
Surely she would have suffered and despaired. Surely she would have envied and betrayed.
But surely, those were sparkling, gemstone-like stories to Mikoto, who concluded with the wise-looking eyes.
♢ ♢ ♢
A few days later, Koremitsu received Aoi’s confession on the school rooftop during lunch break.
“I should have chosen the season better.”
Aoi was wearing a uniform, not even a coat or a scarf as she cuddled herself, shivering as she waited for Koremitsu.
The sky was exceptionally clear, and though the air remained stagnant, it was frosty. Aoi’s lips began to purple, her face slightly reddened. Koremitsu got up here once his lessons ended, but one had to wonder how long Aoi waited.
“Do you want to talk inside?”
The moment Koremitsu asked, “No, we can do so here.” Aoi looked on stubbornly, saying,
“I decided to come to the roof a month back.”
She noted adamantly.
Then, she lowered her hands, and straightened her back, lifting her large black eyes at Koremitsu, saying,
“I like you, Mr Akagi. Please go out with me.”
Koremitsu lowered his head.
“Sorry. I got a girlfriend.”
Two seconds later,
Aoi answered calmly.
“Thank you for giving me a clear answer.”
She too lowered her head as Koremitsu did, and lowered eye eyes, looking a little distraught, saying,
“…Mr Akagi, assuming that I was not Hikaru’s fiancee, would you be willing to have me be your girlfriend?”
“I got Shikibu now, so no. And if you weren’t Hikaru’s fiancee, I suppose we won’t be talking like this.”
“I guess. There will not be a chance after all.”
Aoi’s face showed a clear smile.
“It really is wonderful that Hikaru has you as his friend, Mr Akagi. I know of Hikaru’s feelings thanks to you, and that I can still continue to fall in love again. I am rejected, but from now on, I still love you, just as I did for Hikaru. I will continue to love you, and I will love the one who recreate these feelings in me.”
The clear, sparkling eyes filled Koremitsu’s heart.
Hikaru, watching the duo from the side, must be feeling the same thing as well.
He was probably beaming away, watching Aoi being so energetic.
It was Aoi who taught Koremitsu that girls are cute creatures. Aoi would greet him bashfully whenever they met on the corridor, looking gaudy. It was Aoi who held his hand when he met his mother, was left at a loss, and shed tears. Back then, he once embraced Aoi on the roof when the latter acted out of impulse.
Aoi really was the good girl whom Hikaru said would be too good for him, a cute girl, a pure white Hollyhock blooming in the Sacred lands, a demure girl that would soothe others. Thus, one day, she would surely find the most wonderful love for herself.
“Yeah, do your best.”
Aoi mustered the most brilliant smile she could, and answered Koremitsu’s cheer,
“Leave it to me!”
♢ ♢ ♢
(I was dumped…)
After Koremitsu left, Aoi stared into the sky for quite a while, and forgot how cold she was.
The blue, cloudless sky became hazy, and a trail of tears trickled down both sides of Aoi’s faces.
(I do know that Mr Akagi is different from Hikaru. Once he chose a woman, he will not philander on anyone other than that woman.)
Thus, while Aoi felt really depressed, it was wonderful that she was able to continue moving forward.
She wiped her tears away, voicing out to the one behind the door Koremitsu stepped through.
“I know you are there, Asa.”
The door that was slightly ajar swung open, and Asai, wearing a coat, scowled as she walked out.
“I brought a coat for you.”
Asai coldly noted, putting the coat in her hand on Aoi’s shoulder.
A warm, fuzzy feeling engulfed Aoi’s icy body, and she tugged at the coat—
“Haha, it feels warm.”
“Asa, my romance failed.”
“I do feel relieved now though. How about you confess to Mr Akagi too, Asa?”
Asai, standing silently beside Aoi, widened her eyes immediately, and immediately frowned, scowling.
“I will not act impulsively based on love. Besides, there is no use loving a man with a girlfriend.”
Asai seemed to indicate that she had no reason why Aoi would mention the name Koremitsu Akagi, and she snorted with disdain, turning her head away.
Upon seeing Asai act this way, Aoi snuck her neck into the warm coat, looking a little blissful as she beamed.
“You really are a tough one to deal with, huh? I will comfort you when you are rejected in your love though, Asa.”
♢ ♢ ♢
(I’m definitely spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with big brother Koremitsu this year. I won’t let him be alone with Miss Shikibu!)
Shioriko made up her mind as she tied the children boots and socks on the Akagis’ corridor.
Once she knew that Koremitsu was dating Honoka, Shioriko was so shocked that she could not swallow the Baumkuchen that was her tea.
Koremitsu never did view Honoka as one of the opposite gender, so when did they have such a relationship going on?
And from the moment they first began dating Koremitsu would anxiously pull out his phone to check anxiously. Whenever Shioriko mentioned Honoka’s name, he would blush.
What is going on!? Why is he so lovestruck for Miss Shikibu!? Shioriko was very displeased as a result.
And even when she voiced her complaints to the chameleon that took Lapis’ role, the chameleon merely stuck its tongue out with a stoic face, further incensing Shioriko.
(I won’t lose! The match begins now! In another 4 years, I’ll be a beauty even Miss Shikibu isn’t a match for.)
In any case, she was headed to Tôjô’s place. She wanted to embrace the cute kittens Lapis gave birth to and heal her soul.
The hatred Shioriko had for Tôjô snatching Lapis had yet to vanish.
But whenever Shioriko went to look for Lapis and the kittens, Tôjô would line up a batch of animal cookies he personally baked, doused with an assortment of butter pancakes, and apple pies with homemade ice cream dabbed on them, trying to appease Shioriko.
Shioriko never was ensnared by the sweets, but she started to have a feeling that Tôjô was not as bad as she first thought. Once she finished all the sweets he made, his handsome face would relax slightly, looking very delighted.
(He may be a lolicon. I will eat the sweets, but I got to make sure not to let my guard down. I got big brother Koremitsu.)
She tied her shoelaces, and got out from the house. Once she stood right the doors, her eyes met a boy’s who was of her age.
It was the boy who came to spy on the Akagis, and was chased away by Shioriko with a broom. Back then, Koharu came out to say ‘stop it, Shiiko’, and the boy scampered away.
Koharu said that she did not know the boy, but looking at her response and her stammer when she spoke to Koremitsu and Masakaze, the sharp-witted Shioriko realized it.
This boy was Koharu’s son.
It was said that he was still a baby when Koharu divorced. He was taken by the paternal family, and Koharu never did meet him.
(But aunt Koharu definitely wants to meet him. I can tell from her expression.)
Koharu was very languid after that incident. Surely she was thinking of the boy.
The boy probably assumed that he would be whacked by Shioriko with the broom again, and he stared at her warily, backing away little by little. Shioriko too stared at him intently, pointing her thumb to the door, and stated coldly,
♢ ♢ ♢
“It’s almost time for Christmas Eve. Big Brother, who are you having it with?”
Shioriko sent a message stating that she could not making, so Shungo was having tea together at the fireplace. He was giving a call to Hiina, asking if she was available, and the latter responded by saying to meet at the fireplace.
Hiina got there first, saying, “Bogged down by the family, huh?’. She deliberately changed her mannerism to disguise her birthplace and accent, but at this moment, she reverted back to her usual mannerism.
Shungo showed no intention of blaming her.
“I do not have any plans for Christmas Eve.”
He answered formally, maintaining his poised tone as he laid out a piece of paper on the table, and turned to Hiina.
“I wanted to find a chance to give this to you. Since I have the time now, I wish to end this quickly for you.”
Hiina’s face looked a little glum; perhaps she had assumed it to be cash. However, a look of surprise slowly spread on her face, and the tears in the eyes continued to twirl.
Her hands were holding onto the piece of paper, and she reread the contents over and over again, her fingers and shoulders quivered, her face gradually contorted, before she finally burst into tears.
“Brother…this is, a copy of the family registration, right…? It has my name on it. Am I recognized now? Did you request for it, brother?”
A lot of realization and tactical planning was required of Shungo when he requested for Hiina to be officially recognized, knowing that his father thought of him as a hapless lad. After lots of arduous negotiations, his father finally recognized Hiina as his own daughter, and he finally felt somewhat vindicated, his entire body quivering.
“You may not reveal to the public that you are a daughter of the Tôjôs…but I shall do my best to help you out.”
“It is okay. This is fine enough for me. I am as happy as when you got me out from Shiga, big brother.”
—Are you my big brother? I have a family?
Hiina widened her eyes and stared at Shungo when they first met at an orphanage in rural Shiga, and beamed.
I am elated.
Truly, it is a wonderful thing to be born into this world.
I will do anything for the sake of my family.
While he recognized Hiina, it was not merely just out of pity of this little sister without a given name; Hiina could not call Shungo ‘big brother’ in front of everyone else.
But for Hiina, she was utterly elated, and Shungo too thought of her as a family member with the same blood flowing in him.
“Do you have any plans for Christmas Eve, Hiina?”
It was the first time Shungo called his little sister ‘Hiina’ .
Hiina’s face grew increasingly contorted.
“Then, let us spend the day together. Christmas is supposed to be spent with family.”
Hiina’s lips were quivering, perhaps unable to say anything, and she nodded over and over again.
♢ ♢ ♢
3 days before Christmas, it was the closing ceremony.
Michiru was discharged from the hospital, tampering both her genial voice and spiteful tongue as she conveyed her intents to her classroom, and as the class representative, she trained them well.
She would bicker with Honoka from time to time, but they were on good terms. The next day was the 23rd, and they intended to play at a theme park until their legs jellied.
“I have a date with you on the Eve…Akagi, so I spared some time.”
Honoka shyly explained, and reached her hand out to hold Koremitsu’s causing the latter’s heart to pound, his face red.
Tsuyako had been performing overseas all year long. The media had been paying much attention to her.
“I will continue to work hard to show everyone the red weeping cherry blossom of Japan that is highly regarded.”
She cheerfully declared.
Her alluring, riveting dance were as graceful as the red flower petals swaying, and surely, it could allur all the people of the world.
The closing ceremony ended, and Koremitsu was on the way home.
“Mr Akagi! Will you like a ride?”
A handsome bespectacled youth got out from the driver seat of a small blue car, beaming.
“There is no need to be courteous. How about a trip around? Or to the airport so that we can head off to my family resort in Hawaii and enjoy the winter break? Maybe a curise touring the Mediterranean Sea?”
“No, that’s too kind of you. My family’s tradition is that we’re to spend Christmas Eve and Day together.”
In Kazuaki’s case, it would be terrifying if Koremitsu was to get on the car with him and actually get deported overseas.
“Is that so? That is a pity~”
Kazuaki frowned a little, and shut off his car engine.
“Well then, let us have a conversation about my mother…”
He parked the car by the side, and approached Koremitsu, speaking of the ex-wife of Hikaru’s father, Hiroka.
“Mother was not that kind of a fiery person from the moment she was born. She may appear this way, but when she was young, she would write on pink slips ‘I love you, I hope that we will hurry and grow up so that I can marry you’, and personally went to the door of her first love to deliver the letter in the postbox; that was really cute of her. That person she first loved however never did choose Mother, but another woman.”
“Wait…is that Hikaru’s…”
“Yes. Mother’s first love was father, and yet the latter was so devoted to Hikaru’s mother. It was because of family reasons that Mother was able to be the main wife, but father kept clinging onto Hikaru’s mother, loving her so much, and even bore a child. Because of that, Mother was envious, and went insane.”
Koremitsu recalled meeting Hiroka at the resort.
She looked younger than she was, and had a face similar to that of Tsuyako’s; She was a beauty with red rose-like long hair.
That violent-tempered woman lashed out furiously at Fujino, stuffed the envelop in her hands to Fujino’s face, and turned around to stormed off—
That letter contained the Will filled with the feelings of Hikaru’s father.
The way Hiroka handed the letter over to Fujino was akin to her younger days, when she delivered her handwritten letter to the postbox outside the house of her first love.
“Mother still loves father, just as she did when she was young~”
Kazuaki noted with melancholy.
“So when Fujino gave birth to father’s child, I suppose the one most relieved was Mother. I saw Mother sit on the bed alone when the DNA results came out, embracing the Bible on her chest with both hands, thanking away with tears ‘Thank you, God’.”
Kazuaki again lifted the bridge of his glasses, still maintaining that melancholic figure.
Koremitsu too felt his chest tighten once he heard those words.
When he was at the resort, Hiroka admonished Fujino thoroughly for not returning even though her husband was in critical health.
Hiroka knew that she was incapable of being a replacement for the beloved to Hikaru’s father, Kiriyo, and perhaps, she was hoping for Fujino to be by the side of Hikaru’s father.
“I really cannot deal with my mother. She has an eccentric personality, and irascible in personality she is; she probably thinks of me as a tool to leash father down. But even so, when I look at her, I feel a little itchy within. This is why I came here to talk with this about you~. This is all. I shall prepare for a lonely vacation to refresh myself.”
Kazuaki ended this conclusion briefly, and adjusted his glasses, lowering his head.
His mother was still a woman after all. Koremitsu began to think of his own mother, how this woman, a conflicted person, was someone Koremitsu had a tough time dealing with. Perhaps he was grasping an inexplicable sense of forgiveness however…
Kazuaki might have been feeling spiteful yet forgiving at the same time.
“…Sorry for being unable to go on vacation with you.”
Once Koremitsu muttered this,
“Well, that is fine. I just need you to accompany me and see the Tulips in spring after all.”
He said as he got into the car, poking his head out from the window, and finally,
“But personally, I do find it a tragedy that the child that was born was not Hikaru’s.”
After ending this with a tragic note, he left.
Koremitsu looked back, and found Hikaru too to have an anguished face.
“Miss Hiroka probably wished to be with Father all this time, I suppose…”
Koremitsu too gave a frown.
“Let’s go. We got to get a present for Shiiko. In the meantime, help me choose a present for Shikibu too. Without you around, I don’t know what sort of things girls will like.”
While Koremitsu noted this anxiously, Hikaru’s face too beamed as he followed.
“Yes. Let us choose presents that will delight both Shiiko and Miss Shikibu.”
His voice clearly benign, Hikaru’s eyes began to sparkle, and Koremitsu felt a shrill feeling in his chest.
“There is still 3 days till Christmas. I thought it will take some time, but time really passes by quickly.”
“We have the Christmas tree decorated, and we ordered the cake and turkey; we are going to buy gifts today, so I will say we are completely done with the preparations.”
Why was there an abrupt forlorn feeling when he heard Hikaru’s voice?
Hikaru was supposedly chatting away excitedly.
Was it because Christmas was approaching?
(Once Christmas is over, will this guy…?)
Koremitsu felt his chest gripped, and Hikaru cheerfully spoke,
“Hey, Koremitsu, do you mind accompanying me tomorrow for the entire day?”
♢ ♢ ♢
It was 2 days before Christmas Day.
The morning sky of the 23rd was a clear blue.
The weather report noted that it was likely to snow in the afternoon, and that the white Christmas might come early.
The place Koremitsu got to early was the Church he visited with Hikaru.
Once the sermon was over, he found Sora, who was serving at the Church as a volunteer.
He called out, and Sora’s face immediately glowed.
“Mr Akagi! It has been a while!”
Her hair was cut short, and she looked prettier than before. Most importantly, her face was vibrant.
“I’m going to Italy for studies next year, taking theology, and at the same time, visiting the Churches and the art galleries! I will send you some picture postcards too, Mr Akagi.”
She began to talk about some things that will happen in the future.
Hikaru too listened cheerfully as he waited beside Koremitsu, and when they went their seperate ways.
He spoke with a tender voice.
The duo then went to the cafe where Aoi worked at.
It was Aoi’s rest day, but the pretty girl with long black hair was already there, covering her nose with a wet wipe.
“Sorry for making you wait, Beni.”
“No…I-I was here early. It was cold outside, so I entered this warm caf, and my nose got red again.”
Beni covered her face, looking a little flustered.
“It’s fine. That red nose of yours is rather cute too.”
“Y-yes…well, you already have a girlfriend, Mr Akagi. You cannot be saying such things! That will cause misunderstandings! But, thank you.”
Beni, who was so bashful to meet anyone at first, was able to converse with Koremitsu normally.
“I’ll take note next time.” Koremitsu noted, and rubbed his temples.
Having been used to Hikaru’s style of greeting, he was feeling numb inside. He did not want to end up like this with Honoka too.
After asking Beni on what she had been doing, her iconic nose got redder,
“Miss Tayū will be coming to spend the night with me on the Eve, and my classmates will be here the next day. We will have Christmas party then, and she will helping too.”
She answered heartily.
“Well, as expected of the Safflower. You made other friends too.”
“Yes, it is due to Miss Tayū’s help. And thanks to Mr Polar Star and you, Mr Akagi.”
Beni then excitedly talked about what they were going to do at the party, and once she said that she had plans on the next day, she stood up.
While Beni was being animated, Hikaru, being right beside Koremitsu, beamed with a tender expression.
“Farewell, Miss Saffloer.”
He muttered with the same tone as he showed in his expression.
“Where are we going next?”
Koremitsu asked, and Hikaru beamed, answering,
“To the Asagao Princess.”
“My my, Mr Akagi, you really had the heart to come visit me.”
Orime Gonomiya, dubbed the Asagao Princess, was in Gonomiya Residence that was surrounded by tall fences, smiling as she welcomed Koremitsu in.
It was noon, so they had lunch in the guest room facing the greenery. On the menu was a variety of refreshing foods including fragrant, grilled salmon kasuduke, turnip and cucumber pickles, steamed radish with grapefruit miso marinated on it, and clam soup. Orime too was enjoying her food with Koremitsu.
“I will be having a great-grandson in the summer.”
“Eh? Is that so? So your grandson and his wife have a kid now, Granny?”
“Yeah. It appears that they have realized that they are parents, and they do try to abide by what i teach them. They will try to find loopholes and fool me from time to time, but I intend to be strict with them, and train them little by little. My life has yet to end after all.”
Orime beamed, and Hikaru watched her with calm eyes.
After the meal, Orime chirped,
“Miss Asai will be here later.”
(Ack, Saiga’s coming!?)
For some reason, after Koremitsu and Honoka began dating, Asai’s attitude towards Koremitsu was as aloof as before, and it was troubling to the latter.
“Well then, I’ll get going, Granny.”
Hikaru then voiced out to stop Koremitsu.
“Wait, Koremitsu. Let us meet Asa too. I do intend to meet her later.”
(Wait, are you serious?)
Koremitsu again sat down.
“No, I guess I’ll continue to sit for a while.”
Soon after, Asai appeared.
Once she saw Koremitsu, her face froze, and then, she gave a little frown.
(See. She’s angry again. I don’t know why though…)
That was her default look as time passed, and she hardly talked with Koremitsu.
But when Koremitsu got up to leave the Gonomiyas with Asai, Orime whispered,
“Do try to get along with Miss Asai.”
Hikaru beamed as he turned back to watch Orime while the latter sent the duo off, and whispered,
“Farewell, Madam Orime.”
Koremitsu was frowning more than before, and walked alongside the silent Asai in the tranquil residential area.
He knew that Asai was not a bad person, but could she at least change that aloof attitude of hers? How was he supposed to ‘get along’ with Asai?
While Koremitsu was pondering, Asai said,
“Mr Akagi, I have something to say.”
Asai stared forward, her tone forced, and it appeared what she was to say next was arduous to her. At the next instance, her tone sharpened again,
“No, I shall not talk about it.”
She showed a red face to a dumbfounded Koremitsu.
“My preparations are only half-done at this point, so it is not perfect—how can I allow Aoi to simply comfort me?”
She just said some bewildering matters to him.
“Anyway, you cannot fool around with your girlfriend too much just because it is winter break, Mr Akagi.”
She glared at Koremitsu, and turned her face away, before striding away.
“What was that about…?”
While Koremitsu remained dumbfounded, Hikaru drifted by the side, giving a little snicker as he muttered,
“Farewell, Asa. I hope that you will be able to convey your feelings honestly one day.”
Koremitsu turned to the side, and was taken aback when he found Hikaru’s profile to be more transparent than usual.
(He’s body is becoming transparent? From when?)
Entering December, Koremitsu had a feeling that Hikaru’s presence was becoming more faint than before.
Back then, whenever Koremitsu talked to anyone, Hikaru would then drift to the front to interject, and voice his displeasure. Recently however, there was an increasing occurrence of him staying behind Koremitsu.
Whenever they were alone, Hikaru would cheerfully chirp on his floral knowledge, and so Koremitsu decided not to pay heed to it. He assumed that Hikaru would be worried since he had a girlfriend.
In the clear, afternoon sun, Hikaru lips curled into a beautiful smile, and he stared at Koremitsu with clear eyes.
Koremitsu swallowed down the words he was about to say, for he felt that if he was to affirm this with Hikaru, he would hear an answer he did not want.
Hikaru calmly noted,
“Shall we go to school, Koremitsu? —I do wish to view the flowers.”
♢ ♢ ♢
It was the start of winter break, and the school was dead silent, with nary a soul.
The cherry blossom trees at both sides of the main entrance would take some time before they would sprout, and at this moment, only the brown twigs accompanied the frigid winds. The arch of roses by the yard and the rose garden within were completely devoid of color.
The twigs were barren, and the dirt covering the flowerbed showed no signs of any sprout.
Hikaru strolled through the bleak landscape that showed nary a flower, looking around with a doting, tender face, appearing to be seeing the blooming flowers.
“I heard that when the cherry blossoms are waiting to bloom, the branches will show a faint pink…like a girl ready to fall in love. At the end of March, surely its branches will be littered with flowers, cheering on those preparing to embark on a new journey, a new life. In May, the rose garden will surely be filled with haughty queens, every single flowers insisting that they wer ethe prettiest, lifting their heads proudly, blooming red, yellow and orange. The flowerbed will also have Pansies, Marigolds and Kniphofias. The Leather flowers growing at the fences of the tennis courts will bloom too.”
Hikaru narrated cheerfully with his rich, sweet voice, his profile increasingly transparent. The faint brown hair looked blurred, the shoulders and limbs increasingly vague.
Hikaru too may have realized it.
But he chose not to say anything about the changes happening to his body, his face showing a warm face as he stared at the bare garden and the uneven black branches, being amped for this as he continued,
He proceeded through the school, exited the backyard, and arrived at the garden,
“There will be the cute white and orange Crocosmiiflora flowers by the feet, as adorable as the girls gossiping away! Elegant Lilies will bloom in the summer, along with the Water Lilies floating on the pond. The Chinese Trumpet Bells will bloom in a pretty, alluring manner as well.”
The clear sky was gradually shrouded by the covers, and the air was covered in a white mist. Hikaru’s body too appeared to melt within it, and it got blurry.
(Hikaru, now’s not the time to her you giggle and chat about flowers now, right? Your body’s definitely being weird.)
Koremitsu felt his throat shrink, his breathing difficult.
Hikaru too definitely realized that Koremitsu was pretending not to notice anything.
“The Golden Osmanthus will give off a sweet fragrance in the Autumn, the Cosmos will sway with the winds like an emotional maiden. There are also flowers that bloom in the winter, Koremitsu. Have a look.”
Hikaru was beaming brighter than before, and he pointed at the red Camellia.
“I do feel delighted every winter to be reunited with this old-fashioned flower.”
The grey clouds got thicker, and the coldness in the air increased. Hikaru’s body too became increasingly vague.
The faint brown hair was almost transparent.
Hikaru knelt in front of the Camellia, putting his hands on his cheeks as he beamed at it for a while.
“Koremitsu, Tsuyako should be in the clubroom. Let us go greet her.”
He looked composed, seemingly having braced himself.
Tsuyako was in the Japanese Dance clubroom, dressed in a vibrant scarlet kimono held together by a red sash, practising her dance. Once she saw Koremitsu, her eyes widened.
“What is the matter, Mr Akagi? You look really gloomy. Do you have any love troubles? Did you have a quarrel with Miss Shikibu?”
“…It’s nothing. I just want to cheer for you before you leave, senpai.”
Koremtisu could not let Tsuyako worry before she step on the stage. Hikaru’s presence grew increasingly faint beside Koremitsu, and surely, the latter would not be happy about it.
Hikaru narrowed his eyes, seemingly staring at Tsuyako while her eyes dazzled.
Tsuyako’s face showed a smile.
“Thank you. I am a little nervous, actually, so can you cast a spell on me in Hikaru’s place? Or will your girlfriend be angry about that?”
Tsuyako reached her right hand out, the scarlet sleeve swaying elegantly in the air.
Koremitsu raised Tsuyako’s hand, and drew a large fully moon on her silky palm.
Tsuyako’s lips curled into a smile, and she gratefully whispered,
“Thank you. I will be able to give my best dance. Surely Hikaru is look at me, yes, in this sky…”
This thanksgiving did not seem to be for Koremitsu’s alone; it also included Hikaru.
Hikaru brought his face close to Tsuyako’s lip, gave a lips on her lips, and whispered,
“Farewell, Tsuyako. I hope that you can continue to dance proudly. I will be in the stars, applauding you before anyone else can.”
The sky grew darker once they exited the school, and the air cooled.
According to the news report, there might be snow at night.
Hikaru’s body was finally about to vanish, his legs were practically transparent, and he looked just like a ghost.
“It appears there is not much time left. Koremitsu, do you mind giving Yū a call? It really is impossible to head off to Australia now.”
Hikaru joked as he advanced towards the school gate.
Koremitsu again was so anxious his gut was aching, and he drew his phone out, giving Yū an international call.
The phone got through immediately, and a fleeting, feeble voice rang from the receiver.
“Mr Akagi…? I was shocked…”
“It’s a bit sudden…but I thought of you. You doing okay there?”
Like his conversation with Tsuyako, Koremitsu was trying his best to sound energetic, for Hikaru was smiling.
Yū probably was perturbed that Koremitsu was giving her a call, but she chirped,
“Yes…I am decorating the Christmas Tree now…it’s summer here, so there are lots of fist ornaments. They are very cute.”
With clear eyes, Hikaru showed a smile as he listened in on Yū’s dreamy, fleeting voice through his now-transparent ears.
After talking with Yū for about 3 minutes or so, Koremitsu walked down the dim riverbank. On Hikaru’s request, he gave Michiru a phone call.
Michiru sounded very surprised.
“Ehh? Mr Akagi? Why? Are you cheating? Hono is beside me. I’m going to tell her. Erm—Hono, Akagi wants to go on a date with me and not tell you about it.”
Honoka’s faltering shriek could be heard from the other end of the phone, and it was followed by Michiru’s teasing and Honoka’s refuting.
It sounded as though they were good friends having a little bicker. Surely Hikaru too felt the same, as he let out a hearty chuckle while eavesdropping on them.
Honoka was left flustered, and surely, she would be asking what the phone call was about…
“Farewell, Miss Hanasato, Miss Shikibu…I shall leave Koremitsu to both of you.”
Hikaru said, looking relieved.
After that, it was a call to Shioriko.
“Ah, Shiiko, I’ll be a little late later. Tell Koharu that you guys can start with dinner without me.”
“Eh? Big brother Koremitsu? What’s going on? You aren’t with Miss Shikibu now, right?”
“Shikibu’s out with her friend…”
Shioriko sounded displeased, before harping excitedly,
“Ah! I got some wonderful for you as a Christmas gift, big brother. Do look forward to it.”
“I see. Santa Claus will definitely give you a present.”
“Seriously? I’m not a kid who believes in Santa Claus! I’ll be looking forward to it though!”
Hikaru raised his lips and narrowed his eyes as he watched Koremitsu converse with Shiiko.
“Farewell, Shiiko. You have to be an outstanding, fine lady.”
The night sky of pitch darkness started to snow, and Koremitsu finally arrived at Aoi’s house.
He stood at the door, calling Aoi out. The latter was dressed in a long one-piece and a knitted cardigan, white breath coming from her mouth.
“Sorry to call you out in such a cold weather. I want to hand this to you.”
Koremitsu handed over a red Poinsettia he bought from the florist on the way here, and placed it in Aoi’s hands. The latter widened her eyes.
The Poinsettia had bright green leaves, and vibrant red leaves growing on those of them. It was weared in transparent cellophane used for gifting.
“Hikaru gives you these for Christmas every year, right? So this year…”
Aoi showed a tender expression filled with memories and sadness as she lowered her head at the Poinsettia.
She probably thought of Hikaru.
Hikaru too gave a melancholic, tender stare as he watched Aoi.
If he was still alive, he would probably be spending Christmas Eve with her too.
The snowflakes began to fall, draped on Aoi’s long black hair like stars ornaments, melting fleetingly.
Tears welled in Aoi’s eyes.
But she immediately lifted her head, smiling.
“Thank you. I will accept this and think of this as Hikaru’s final Christmas gift.”
“Yes,that shall be it.”
Aoi embraced the pot of Poinsettia, her eyes sparkling as she spoke cheerfully,
There was no way Aoi could see Hikaru, and she was just bidding farewell to Koremitsu, yet the latter was taken aback by those words.”
Hikaru was so transparent the scenery behind him could be seen, and he stood beside Koremitsu as the latter whispered, tears welling in his eyes as he smiled,
“Farewell, Miss Aoi.”
♢ ♢ ♢
After leaving Aoi’s house, the duo walked past a few stations.
Soon, they arrived at a shopping street where the white snow fluttered.
There were lightings of Santa Claus and the reindeers, shops had Christmass rings on them, and the melody of ‘Jingle Bells’ could be heard with the chimes of the ringing bells.
Hikaru’s lower body had completely vanished, his face and body so faint it was like a jellyfish drifting in the sea. His moments were limp and weak, and he appeared to sway if there was a breeze.
“It appears that I have to leave Earth now.”
Transparent as he was, Hikaru muttered at the cross junction devoid of crowds.
The asphalt with glass bottle fragments littered over them was glittering, and fine snow gently fell upon them.
“Nobody from the moon will be here to pick me up, but I have a feeling that my spirit is becoming increasingly faint.”
“Ugh…you’re not going to stay till Christmas?”
The feelings Koremitsu contained all this while suddenly rose to his throat, and his face was contorted as he groaned.
Koremitsu already had a premonition when Hikaru mentioned that he wanted to see Beni and Sora. Whenever he said ‘farewell’ so tenderly, Koremitsu was increasingly anxious, angsty, his throat being choked.
It doesn’t have to be this day, right? It’s Christmas two days later. It’s the Eve tomorrow. This is too sudden!
Hikaru too smiled forlornly.
“Yes, I do wish to celebrate Christmas with all of you. However, I am already pleased to be planning this and that with you. We have chosen Shiiko’s gift, and you are spending the Eve with your girlfriend, so I have to let you two be alone. Miss Shikibu will be really pitiful to have a ghost haunting during the Eve.”
Hikaru’s presence was the reason why Koremitsu never did anything, not even a kiss, and the latter was troubled by it. At this point however, he was utterly heartbroken, tears welling in his eyes.
The melody of ‘Jingle Bells’ and the bell chimes echoed from the shopping street. It should be a hearty tune, but it sounded so painful to Koremitsu’s ears.
“Just hang on for another two days…go bid farewell to Shiiko. No need for the phone.”
Koremitsu eked his voice from his sizzling throat.
However, the top of Hikaru’s knees had vanished.
“I do find it a regret to be unable to say goodbye to Shiiko and Miss Hanasato…but I do not have my legs to support me anymore.”
“Stop being so cheery about it, you idiot.”
The tender snowflakes fluttered in the air, dampening Koremitsu’s cheeks and lips, permeating through the upper body of Hikaru.
The sky was pitch dark, the stars nowhere to be seen.
In its place were the glass fragments on the path, glittering like stars. The white snow silently landed on them.
“Thank you for everything.”
Hikaru muttered with a warm voice.
“The flowers I have in my garden will surely be more lively than when I was alive. It was all thanks to you, Koremitsu; you allowed my precious flowers to bloom, for you conveyed the important aspects to them in my stead.”
There appeared to be a garden appearing beside the now blurred Hikaru.
The pure Hollyhocks.
The fleeting Moonflowers.
The cute Comfreys.
The radiant red Weeping Cherry Blossoms.
The mysterious Safflower.
The proud Morning Glory.
The tender Broom Tree
The fragrant white Mandarin Orange flower.
And finally, the violet Wisteria that sways with the breeze, the petals slowly falling.
Hikaru stood in the middle, smiling, the golden, clear hair swaying with the breeze.
—I wish to give them a tender farewell.
Hikaru said these to Koremitsu.
—I wish for them to be far from pain and tears, headed towards the future with a cheerful heart I wish for them to have the best farewell.
Hikaru said that he had to douse the wilted flowers with lots and lots of water. With much seriousness, he said that the girls were all flowers.
The flowers Hikaru loved were all smiling blissfully. One would suppos they would continue to bloom with their might. The precious intangible Hikaru gifted them will continue to dazzle in their hearts.
“Thank you, Koremitsu. You are my hero.”
Hikaru’s figure in the snow became more blurred, and he was gradually fading.
“Thank you for meeting me again. Thank you for being my friend.”
Those were the words Koremitsu wanted to say.
Hikaru took the initiative to approach Koremitsu, whom others dubbed a wild dog, who never had single friend before then.
He sent the Magnolia to Koremitsu’s ward room. He was willing to be Koremitsu’s friend.
He’ll be with me! He’ll comfort me! He’ll encourage me!
(This is the first time I am relied on by others, the first time someone is available to listen to my grumbles, someone I could chat with when going to and back from school, someone to fool around with—it’s all the first time.)
Tears welled in Koremitsu’s eyes, and he was left speechless.
The first friend Koremitsu made was vanishing with a slight smile.
He will vanish from this Earth.
Hikaru said before that he hoped for Koremitsu to smile and bid farewell when he embarks on the journey to space.
It is a promise.
(You’re already making things difficult. H-how am I supposed to smile at this time!? You bastard—!)
Tears slid down the cheeks. The chest and throat were unbearable, pained.
(But this is my promise with you.)
For it was a friend’s wish.
Koremitsu’s eyes and lips exerted their all, and he smiled.
He wanted to tell his friend I really enjoyed my time with you! You gave me many memories! We’re always friends!
Surely he was able to smile.
The moment Koremitsu smiled, Hikaru, giving a genial smile, suddenly scowled, the tears continuing to flow from his eyes. The tears filled Hikaru’s face, his extraordinarily handsome face drubbed, and transparent tears fell to the floor with the snow.
But even so, Hikaru spoke with his rich, sweet voice. With that tender voice, he replied,
“Thank you. I really love all of you.”
Koremitsu cried as he smiled.
Hikaru smiled as wept.
His profile vanished completely—leaving behind a genial, delightful voice that rang along wit the melody of ‘Jingle Bells’.
“Thank you. Farewell.”