“Anyway, she’s a very introverted girl. Ever since last year, she never left the house, and would not go to school.”
Hikaru was talking about Yū Kanai in Koremitsu’s room.
“Actually, she should be in Second Year this Spring, but because of her lack of attendance, she is unable to make the next grade, and is in First Year just like us.
Her parents divorced when she began to shut herself in. Her mother then went to Australia for work, and her father married a young woman, so they are living separately from each other. Yū’s mother wanted to bring her along to Australia, but Yū had a bad relationship with her mother, so she lived alone in that tattered…no, antique apartment.
Her father used to pay all the living expenses, but his new family had a child recently, and the burden became severe. Sometimes, there would be no funds for months, so she lived through a frugal life. The utilities were suspended twice up till now, but she never complained at all, and insisted on hiding in the house, just like a Moonflower spreading its white petals in the darkness.
Oh yes, a Moonflower is an annual vine Cucurbitace. They bloom in the evening, and radiate silently under the moonlight in the night. When the morning dawn breaks in, they will start to wilt. Those are delicate, beautiful and endearing plants; the curls on the vines are very cute too. Its floral language is ‘a night’s memory’ or ‘illusionary love’, and some people call it the Dusk grass…”
He would start a long discourse whenever it came to flowers and girls without stopping.
He was probably feeling very excited, and he was dressed in a white T-shirt, tight-fitting pants, barefooted, floating around in casual clothing and chatting away in the sky.
(Goodness, you’re still in good spirits.)
Koremitsu, who had changed into a jumper worn in the house, sat on the tatami, frowning without a word.
He really did not want to recall what happened after that introverted blanket girl fainted.
While trying to take care of her, Koremitsu ran around the room in pitch darkness, knocked into a lot of things, tumbled quite a few times, and even knocked down a few boxes and overturned other things, causing a mess.
This commotion even shocked the neighbor, who thought a thief broke in, and the police was nearly called in.
If not for the blanket girl waking up in time, he would have been indicted for sure. If it had really developed to that extent, Koremitsu’s already rock-bottom reputation would have plunged further, and in the worst case situation, he might end up being forced to drop out.
Hikaru’s knees were together as he knelt down in front of Koremitsu. His back was straightened, and his hands were placed elegantly; from his sitting posture, anyone could see that he had a good upbringing. Even Koremitsu was inadvertently amazed by the disposition of his gestures.
“Can I leave Yū’s matter to you just like Miss Aoi? No man can bear to leave such a delicate and pretty girl alone like that, no?”
Hikaru showed an innocent expression as he pleaded Koremitsu earnestly. The inexplicable expression he showed was exquisite.
“…How does she look like? I couldn’t see in such a dark place.”
“Don’t worry, she’s really pretty. I can assure that.”
“It’s none of my business whether she’s pretty or not. Anyway, what kind of promise did you make anyway, you vowing devil.”
Koremitsu glared at Hikaru, but the latter answered with a silent mature smile.
“I can’t say now.”
Can’t say? Why?
Hikaru probed his chin forward, showed a child-like innocent and frisky smile, and clapped his hands together.
“Anyway, please. Didn’t you promise Yū that you’ll repair the broken door? Given your personality, you won’t leave a girl alone after breaking her house’s door like that, right?”
Koremitsu was unable to argue back after this was mentioned.
♢ ♢ ♢
The next morning, Koremitsu left home two hours earlier than usual.
“What is this? Are you going for morning practice for some ball tournament or something?”
His aunt Koharu, just woke up with messy hair, and her jumper’s sleeves and pants were rolled up as she stared at him suspiciously.
Koremitsu answered briskly.
“You’re bringing the toolbox?”
Upon seeing the item in Koremitsu’s hand,
“If you want to fight, go fight barehandedly. Only amateurs who don’t know the rules of fighting will bring such things.”
Koharu lectured with her eyes narrowed, and turned her shoulders by the joints as she walked into the kitchen.
“Is Miss Koharu an expert in fighting?”
Hikaru asked naively.
“…Don’t ask me.”
Koremitsu answered with a scowl.
They arrived at the apartment that still looked tattered after the rain, in the morning dawn.
Koremitsu knocked on Yū’s room door. A woman with hair curlers and thick makeup walked out from the next room, and stared at Koremitsu.
“You’re here again? I’m going to sleep, so don’t make a ruckus like what you did yesterday.”
“Sorry, I’m here to repair the door…there might be some noise, but I’ll try to finish as soon as possible.”
It would be bad if the police was to be called in just like what nearly happened the previous day, so he intriguingly lowered his head courteously.
The neighbor, who seemed to be from some night life business, glowered at Koremitsu with hatred.
“Oh, make it quick then.”
After saying that, she slammed the door.
“That big sister’s fierce to me too, and even told me off with things like ‘don’t come around in the middle of the night’, or ‘a brat actually won’t go home in the middle of the night? What are the education people doing’. But she’s a beauty with quite the nice figure too~. She’s like a bright red Geranium.”
Hikaru continued on with something Koremitsu was not concerned about.
“Good thing you didn’t make a promise with that woman next door.”
Koremitsu said with spite as he glanced aside at him, and then knocked on Yū’s door lightly again.
The parts he damaged the previous day were repaired by vinyl tape and duct tape.
“Oi, Yū Kanai…are you awake? I’m here to open the door.”
After a moment of silence, the door opened slightly by 1cm or so.
A pair of black eyes and blue eyes were peering from within.
The terrified black eyes belonged to the Hikikomori girl, and the blue eyes belonged to the cool girl.
Koremitsu showed the tool box in his hand.
The door opened by another 1cm.
She looked up at Koremitsu diffidently.
Koremitsu thought it would not be good for both sides to continue staring at each other without any progress.
“Please excuse me.”
He forcefully pushed the door aside.
The weak girl draped in blue blanket backed away impetuously, and retreated to a corner of the room.
She stuck herself between the double-deckered bed and the wall as she continued to look over at Koremitsu.
Koremitsu knew from his past experiences what effects his red hair and savage expression would have on an ordinary girl. The girls in school did not dare to look at him right in the eyes.
This frail girl was evidently aghast, but she kept staring at Koremitsu with an ambivalent expression.
The white cat of hers curled its tail as it sat down at Koremitsu’s feet, and its cool blue eyes were looking up at him.
Koremitsu opened the toolbox and took out a hammer and some nails. It was excruciating to work with the stares from the human and animal on him, and he felt apprehensive.
The culprit behind this, Hikaru, kept looking at Koremitsu with a carefree look.
“Wow, your hammering technique is good, Koremitsu. As expected of you, you really are worthy of respect. Yo, capable guy.”
(You can’t bluff me no matter how pleasant you say so. You only know how to watch on.)
The sound of the hammer knocking rang in the quiet morning. Koremitsu was worried if the woman next door would run out and reproach him for being too noisy.
Yū was still hiding in the gap between the bed and the wall, and remained still like a decoration. She did not move the hair draped on the side of her face, and curled her body silently in the room.
It was morning, the window curtains were still drawn, but the sunlight shining through the curtains made the room a little brighter than it was the previous day.
There were photos of fish and seas and ostensibly computer colored pictures printouts stuck on the wall. The wind blowing in from outside the door caused the papers to flutter like waves breaking on the coast.
The electric fan, hangars, golf bag, electric stove were placed together, there were shells, marbles and glass fragments, and the edges of the double-deckered bed had blue and red vinyl ropes dangling down like sea grass.
(What…that’s really a weird interior design.)
Hikaru had stated that she locked herself in the room for a year already, and all her necessity purchases like water and food were done through the Net. She normally would not take even a single step out.
(She always has the curtains drawn, has the blanket covering her, and wouldn’t budge from such a dark and humid place. Isn’t she scared of fungi growing? This lifestyle’s too unhealthy.)
The girl’s skin shown vaguely from within the carpet was white like snow, the fingers bared outside were pure white, and even her fingernails were white. This must have been due to a lack of exposure to sunlight.
(Oh yeah…does she know Hikaru’s dead?)
Upon thinking about this, Koremitsu inadvertently felt a jolt within him.
Since she had been shutting herself inside the house, and had not interacted with anyone, she might not have known that Hikaru died.
(This is bad.)
His heart suddenly raced.
There was no doubt Yū was one of Hikaru’s many girlfriends. In other words, Hikaru would be her lover.
Would it be good for Koremitsu, a stranger, to personally say her lover died?
He stopped what he was doing, turned his stare away from Yū, and said nonchalantly (though his voice was shrill),
“Eh…well, I said so yesterday, but the reason why I’m here is because Hikaru asked me to fulfill his promise. As for why Hikaru himself can’t make it here…Hikaru, well, died stupidly in an accident a little while ago.”
“…Koremitsu, I didn’t die ‘stupidly’, you know?”
Hikaru protested unhappily.
It was a gentle voice.
Koremitsu looked back, and found that Yū, covered in the blue blanket, was looking at him.
A few strands of thin hair rested on that white face. Her face showed an emotion that was beyond despondent and tranquillity, similar to resignation.
The soft voice that nearly melted in the air calmly continued.
“…I received a mail.”
“Mail? I see. Did a friend notify you?”
Yū lowered her eyes and shook her head slightly.
“It was…an unknown address, and there…was no name on it.”
“Yū, do you still have that address? Can you show it to me?”
Hikaru asked, showing a serious look on his face.
“Do you still have the message? Do you mind showing it to me?”
Yū seemed very hesitant, and lowered her head to ponder for a while, before moving away and dragging the blanket.
There was a laptop on the round short table, and a Turkish Blue cellphone beside.
The slender white fingers reached out from beneath the carpet, picked up the phone, opened the cover, tapped on it for a while, and handed it tentatively over to Koremitsu.
Koremitsu received the cellphone, and Hikaru too read it.
The message was sent one day before Hikaru’s funeral. The obituary was rather concise and was devoid of any hint of emotion; the location and time was also stated on it.
There was no sender signature, just as what Yū said.
The beginning of the mail address was listed as ‘upvkpv’—
The intent was vague, and they seemed to be a random assortment of alphabets rather than letters with hidden intent.
Hikaru frowned, bit his lips, and pondered.
Koremitsu was about to return the phone to Yū, but was suddenly startled.
Yū was weeping quietly.
Transparent drops of liquid rolled down her white face.
There was no sign of any intense pain, but the clear black eyes were soaked with tears as she wept quietly. She continued to weep, and it seemed the tears would stop without warning.
“Wa-wah, alright, don’t cry.”
He was most fearful about seeing women cry, as it would remind him of the sight of his mother’s crying.
She once wept quietly like this too.
—I’m really sorry, Mitsu.
The emotions quivered in his heart, and he was stertorous.
Damn, why am I thinking about that…?
Koremitsu gritted his teeth with all his might, and forcefully tightened his face and eyes.
Yū said with a weak voice as the tears rolled down her cheeks.
“…It was raining…on that day, when Hikaru’s funeral took place…I couldn’t go. I couldn’t see him a final time…I couldn’t see…”
Her stuttering voice was too ephemeral, too lonely, causing Koremitsu’s heart to ache as he heard this—
He wanted to tell Yū that Hikaru was present, but Yū could not see Hikaru, and she would probably think that Koremitsu was trying to comfort her.
Hikaru embraced Yū on the shoulders as he looked on with a somber look. The pretty fingertips that were unfitting for a man entered the blanket draped upon Yū.
“I’m sorry… Yū, if only I came here to see you earlier. You and Lapis1 must have been lonely, right? I’m sorry.”
The soft voice echoed deeply, causing the pain rising in Koremitsu’s throat to be more pronounced.
Yū did not know Hikaru was embracing her.
The blue-eyed cat was sticking at her feet, ostensibly comforting her.
Yū lowered her head weakly.
Clear water droplets trickled down her face again.
“Pl-please, don’t cry already! I understand how you feel. That idiot Hikaru died out of a sudden, and you must’ve felt like crying. I’m the same here, I was reduced to a crying mess the moment I thought he could possibly disappear, so I know it’s inconsiderate to ask you not to cry, but please, don’t cry!”
Koremitsu pleaded zealously. He really could not stomach the sight of a woman crying.
His heart was ostensibly about to rip apart.
But Yū continued to cry, and Koremitsu’s resistance wore down as he finally yelled out.
“Alright! I’ll fulfil that promise in Hikaru’s place! I’ll bear all responsibility here!”
Yū lifted her head at Koremitsu.
She was probably taken aback.
Her teary eyes widened slightly, and the tears stopped.
Koremitsu stared right into her eyes, and declared with a passionate tone again,
“I’ll help him fulfil his eyes!”
His veins were popping, his eyes were frowning, and his expression must have been really horrifying. He hoped he did not scare that introverted girl.
Hikaru, who was embracing Yū, narrowed his eyes gently, curled his lips up, and stared at Koremitsu.
Yū’s eyes again showed concern and bewilderment.
She asked softly,
“Promise… ”’what promise”’?”
Koremitsu showed a startled look..
“Ah, about that.” Hikaru mumbled as he slowly retreated from Yū.
“Didn’t Hikaru make a promise with you?”
“He did say so a few times…but I’m not too certain.”
(A few times?)
Koremitsu glared furiously at Hikaru.
And the latter,
“Yo, Lapis, how are you doing?”
Continued to pat the kitten on its head.
The kitten grimaced in confusion.
“…I think he said he wanted to put a glass collar on Lapis? Or maybe he wanted to color the fan? Or maybe he wanted to play some ‘sea-themed Shiritori game’ again? Or maybe he wanted to put two straws in the glass cup with blue juice and drink together? Whenever Hikaru’s about to leave, he would give me a pinky swear and say ‘it’s a promise’…”
“Fufu, Lapis’s eyes are colored like the Earth, the Commelina-like blueish-purple is really pretty. Oh yes, the floral language for Commelina is ‘respect’ and ‘nostalgic friendship’, you know”
(Hey! What are you laughing for!? Stop playing with the cat! Is this the time for floral languages!? You promise-making devil!)
“…What did Hikaru request you to do?”
Yū stared at Koremitsu with blurry eyes, obviously curious about what Hikaru tasked Koremitsu to do.
Koremitsu murmured as he glanced over at Hikaru.
The latter smiled awkwardly and clapped his hands together to beg Koremitsu.
“Damn, it’s that, that…the most important amongst all the promises! There should be one, right? Do you know?”
“The most important…?”
“Right, the most important promise.”
Class was about to start, and the door was not repaired.
Please, hurry up and think. Just say it out. No matter how hard it is, I’ll try my best to do it.
Yū lowered her head.
“You thought of it? Great! That’s definitely it!”
Koremitsu probed his body forward,
“Maybe…it’s to change the light bulb for me?”
Whilst Yū lifted her face and and said with a serious look.
The hammer fell out from Koremitsu’s hand.
♢ ♢ ♢
“What exactly are you planning? What do you want me to do!?”
Koremitsu finally managed to repair the door, and dashed down the dirt path leading to the school as he muttered.
“I just want to fulfil a promise.”
Hikaru floated beside Koremitsu whimsically, and answered with that infuriatingly elegant expression.
“I’m asking you what sort of ‘promise’ did you make exactly!? You made some important promise with her that has to be fulfilled, right? If it’s a stupid thing like Shiritori, I’m not going to bother with you ever again.”
Hikaru’s expression immediately showed maturity.
“Hm, that’s a very important promise, and I can only ask of you, this good friend of mine. Just think of it together with Yū.”
He looked at Koremitsu with a clear expression full of trust, and said this gently. This expression caused Koremitsu to feel flustered, and he nearly fell over after tripping accidently.
(What exactly is this guy thinking?)
There were a lot of things Koremitsu wanted to ask, but it was most important to get to school on time.
Koremitsu finally managed to make it on time, and tried to catch his breath as he changed his shoes in front of the shoe locker.
“Haa…haa…anyway…if you want someone to help…at least explain what to do…how am I going to do this…wheeze…”
“Koremitsu, you just ran for 2km. Catch your breath before talking…”
Hikaru showed a wry expression as he said.
“I heard that guy’s the biggest suspect in Lord Hikaru’s murder.”
Koremitsu immediately lifted his head.
”Is Hikaru’s murderer nearby!?”
He looked around frantically, and found a human wall gathered around him without him knowing, with every person staring at him.
“Is that Lord Hikaru’s stalker?”
“I heard he has been going around declaring that he’s Lord Hikaru’s friend.”
“He must have murdered him because he was too engrossed in his own delusions.”
“Homosexual love sure is intense.”
The doubtful stares from all from caused Koremitsu’s face to twitch.
(Me? Stalking Hikaru!? I killed him because I’m delusional? Homosexual love…?)
After processing the information he heard in his mind, Koremitsu was startled.
(Does everyone think that I’m the one who killed Hikaru!?)
That certainly seemed to be the case.
The people in the school seemed to have deemed Koremitsu Akagi as the lead suspect in Hikaru’s murder, and they would even form a path for him whenever he walked down the corridor. This was a common scene, but in the past, people merely deemed him as the son of some delinquent or Yakuza mob, and now…
“That person and Lord Hikaru…”
“Such twisted love.”
Koremitsu felt his back tingle with numbness as he heard these murmurs from behind.
He finally reached the classroom, only for the noisy atmosphere within to quiet down, and h classmates were staring at him.
The class representative with braided hair, who would always greet Koremitsu even though she was very terrified of him, retreated back to her seat, and did not dare to give him a look.
Honoka, who was seated beside Koremitsu, frowned as she glanced over, was hesitantly, but panicked and looked away once Koremitsu approached, and did not dare look at him during class.
During class break.
“I heard that guy killed Lord Hikaru.”
These whisperings continued on, and Koremitsu felt that he could not bear with them any longer if he were to keep hearing them.
(How can I possibly kill Hikaru here!?)
“Because you’re too eye-catching here. That’s why everyone’s making random guesses. I’m troubled, is there a way to solve this?”
Hikaru frowned with an apologetic look beside Koremitsu.
“Well, it’ll be too stupid to take them seriously.”
Koremitsu deliberately gave a nonchalant look.
But in fact, he was already affronted, and his temples were throbbing.
At this moment…
A voice rang sternly beside him.
Honoka, who had her eyebrows raised in a disparging manner, suddenly covered her phone.
She boldly proclaimed as the classmates looked on in a confounded manner.
“You’re not kids, and yet you’re going all dizzy by such a slanderous chain message. If this person wanted to say something, he or she could have signed off. I won’t believe the words of a coward who only dares to spread rumors secretly.”
The classroom immediately descended into utter silence.
Honoka did not look at Koremitsu, and her ostensibly furious sharp eyes were glaring into space. Her tone and expression were devoid of fear, but there was an indignant sense hidden within. If one were to look closely, her hands pressing onto the table were trembling slightly.
The class representative with braids hurriedly stood up, and said,
“Tha-that’s right! Hono’s right. I-it-it’s wrong to suspect others on baseless assumptions.”
The classmates looked over at each other awkwardly.
This chancy atmosphere lingered for quite a while, before everyone returned back to what they were doing. Honoka however was surrounded by the class representative and some other friends.
“What’s the matter? Honoka?”
“Why did you say such things out of a sudden?”
Everyone asked worriedly.
“…It’s nothing. I just couldn’t stand seeing it.”
She answered with a pout on her face, and Koremitsu felt relief as he eavesdropped on her.
“There’s still another person in this class who supports you other than me, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru said delightfully.
After class, just as Honoka was walking out of the classroom, Koremitsu hurried after her.
“Thanks, for speaking up for me,.”
He felt really embarrassed to actually need a woman to help him, but he was still touched—these two conflicting emotions collided in his heart, and he really did not know what expression he should make.
Honoka immediately blushed.
(Why’s she blushing out of a sudden?)
“Yo-you don’t have to thank me, I didn’t say those words for your sake. It’s just that I just said what I thought. Don’t be mistaken, I have no intention of helping a delinquent like you.”
She stated coldly, and then chided,
“I’m not familiar with you anyway. Don’t talk to me.”
And then, she turned to leave.
Koremitsu remained rooted, unable to say anything.
(Why’s she so angry with me!? And she actually tells me not to talk with her…)
“DAMN IT! WOMEN ARE HARD TO UNDERSTAND AFTER ALL!”
He lashed out with veins popping.
“Miss Shikibu’s personality…is really pitiful. I find it easy to understand her, and really want to tease her until her face becomes as red as a Snapdragon, but this truly is too difficult for you.”
Hikaru sighed as he rattled on.
At this moment…
A shrill voice rang in Koremitsu’s ears, and a short-haired petite girl with bouncing large breasts came running over.
It was Hiina Oumi of the news club.
She had a huge variety of expressions, and her large eyes were dazzling like a boy. She grabbed Koremitsu by the arm and rattled on,
“Everyone’s saying that you’re the lead suspect in Lord Hikaru’s murder! Wah, the Delinquent King has no road to go! It’s like the Saturday Night at the Mysteries Theater! Do you want to clear your name by working with this cute partner to fish out the real culprit? Anyway, the one I suspect most now is…”
It was unknown if she was pressing her breasts on Koremitsu on purpose, but Koremitsu merely covered her mouth without saying anyway.
Hiina widened her eyes in surprise as she looked at Koremitsu, and the latter stared back as he said to her,
“All I need to know is what Hikaru said, nothing else matters.”
He said as he recalled the words Honoka just said.
It would be too foolish to be fooled by such rumors. He just need to believe the people that were important, and even if he made a mistake, he would not regret it.
Hiina widened her eyes.
She let go of Koremitsu’s hand, and looked up at him in a dumbstruck manner.
Koremitsu turned away from Hiina, and before he left, he quipped,
“Also, I’m used to hearing such stupid rambling from others ever since I was young. These rumors are as painless as a mosquito bite.”
“…That’s what he said, prez.”
Hiina blankly watched the red-haired walk down the corridor, and suddenly turned back to say with excitement,
A tall beauty with long black hair—the student council president Asai Saiga walked out form behind the corner.
Hiina then rattled on to the frown Asai in a rapid-fire manner,
“This is already a friendship beyond life and death, right? His tone indicates that he heard something from Lord Hikaru. He’s certainly not an ordinary delinquent; that’s true now that I think about it, those who can enter this high school through the entrance exams are definitely not stupid. Everyone knows that the students in this school are composed of the internal affiliated programme students whose families have connections and the external students with outstanding grades—ah, of course there are people like you who have such pedigree of growing up amongst the nobles since kindergarten and have outstanding grades! Anyway, it seems Mr Akagi get something important pertaining to Lord Hikaru; my instincts have always been sharp.”
Asai listened to Hiina’s words coldly, and the latter looked at her in a taunt manner, seemingly trying to agitate her into saying something.
“To me, it seems you’re also high up on the suspect list on who killed Lord Hikaru too, prez! Since you two are on the same position, what do you think about Mr Akagi?”
Asai did not fall for her trap.
Her expression remained as icy as ever,
“…He’s simply a wild dog whose bark annoys me.”
She said with uppity, and proceeded to leave.
At this moment, Hikaru, who was beside Koremitsu, was very excited.
“I’m so touched! If I were a girl, I would have proposed to you on the spot! Wow, you’re so cool! I’m so touched that goosebumps are rising on my skin!”
(What sort of ghost would have goosebumps? And why am I blushing!?)
Koremitsu continued to give a sullen look as he said coldly,
“Don’t be silly, it’s not that I don’t care about you hiding something from me. I just feel that, well…even if we’re friends, there’re still things you don’t want to say. I too have some things I don’t want to say…anyway, just say so when you want to…since we’re friends.”
Koremitsu got more embarrassed as he continued, and his face started to heat up. He really found it most difficult to say such things.
“Something you don’t want to say? You mean how old you were when you last wet your bed? Some embarrassing essay you wrote when you were young? You said you were the animal rearing rep in elementary school…ah! Are you implying that your first crush was young kindergarten teacher?”
“NOT! Now’s not the time to talk about me, right!?”
Hikaru showed a carefree expression on his face, and he narrowed his eyes as he gave a blissful smile.
“Ah, I see. I’ll wait for you to say it when you want to too, Koremitsu.”
”Why are you smiling so heartily? I never liked my kindergarten teacher, and do you know how much trouble you are causing me here!? Whose fault do you think is it that everyone’s thinking of me as a murder suspect and a stalker!?”
Koremitsu grumbled in his heart.
But he had no choice. He just had to have the misfortune of being harassed by such a troublesome person, and even foolishly became friends.
“You’re worried about that introverted woman now, right? If I help her out, you’ll be one step closer towards rising into Heaven, right?”
“Yeah, I guess I can be closer by 100m.”
Hikaru nodded with a beaming smile.
“Seriously, just 100m? How many thousand light years until you reach space?”
“Well, isn’t there a saying that you have to make a first step before embarking on a long journey?”
“Kuuh, I’ll become an old man on the day I finish that journey. Anyway, let’s hurry up and settle it first.”
Koremitsu reluctantly said, and upon hearing it, Hikaru again nodded his head with a sweet blissful smile on his face.
“Right, then, how about you send Yū an email first?”
“Ah? An email?”
♢ ♢ ♢
During lunch break.
Why do I have to do such a thing…Koremitsu gritted his teeth unhappily as he started tapping at his cellphone while seated at his desk.
(And I end up being led in by Hikaru, huh?)
“If it’s a sudden visit, Yū might be too scared to open the door, so you have to build up your relationship with her first. This is the moment when you should send a mail, as it’s the most suitable method to approach an introverted girl. You can also use this to practise and treat it as preparation to go out with a girl who likes to laugh.”
(Wha—you’re still trying to find a woman who likes to laugh? How many times must I tell you that I don’t need a girlfriend, and I don’t have an interest in a woman who likes to laugh!)
Koremitsu grumbled silently in his heart as he typed the message with sweat dripping down his forehead.
“If you hope for her to reply back to you, the most basic move is to end the message with a question. Also, try talking more about things she’s interested in.”
Hikaru beamed as he sat on Koremitsu’s table with his legs folded as he started teaching the latter on the skills necessary when sending messages to girls. His light brown hair continued to flutter gently in the calm wind of the classroom, and his eyes were full of exuberance.
Koremitsu however looked lethargic.
(Huh? A question? Something she’ll be interested about?)
”’Is that cat guy energetic?”’
“Koremitsu…Lapis isn’t a male, but female.”
”’Is that furball in good spirits?”’
“Furball…what kind of antique nickname is that? Be more natural with your words.”
”’What’s the name of your cat? Lapse? Lapel? Lupus?”’
“Hey, didn’t I say that it’s called Lapis? Are you listening to me?”
“Shut up. I am.”
Koremitsu grumbled irately and continued to send messages.
”’What did you eat for lunch?”’
”’Have you eaten some meat?”’
”’Remember to take in enough Vitamin C.”’
Each line was unintelligible, and as expected, Yū did not respond.
“Koremitsu, think about what sort of message you would like to receive if you’re a girl. You have to write with more elegance and emotions, just like the nobles of the Heian Era.”
“Nobles of the Heian Era?”
The school uniform on Hikaru’s body became a Heian noble’s outfit.
It was a blue-purple robe of great regal.
Hikaru, who had become a ghost, gained a completely useless ability to ‘change clothes’. This set of Heian noble clothing was his favourite, and he always loved to changed the colors and patterns on it. His profile could not be seen off the mirror, so he could not see himself, but he continued to change clothes with such enthusiasm.
“Ki no Tsurayuki2 did mention in the ”Kokin Wakashū3” that reciting poems is about pouring your soul into the words and bring the emotions to the flowers, moon, mountains. Sometimes, upon seeing the smoke on Mount Fuji, we think of our romantic love; sometimes, when we hear the chirping of crickets, we think of our close friends; sometimes, when we see the dew on the grass or the bubbles in the water, we lament that life is so fleeting—a short Waka is suffused with emotions, right, just like this poem…”
Hikaru then recited with a gentle, serene voice,
“From the first moment I heard the faint calls of the geese, my mind lingered in the skies—whilst I ostensibly hear the vague cries of the geese from the North, and after hearing your voice, my soul remains restless all day, and my heart continued to long4. The princesses of the Heian Era are hidden deep inside the Boudoirs; it would be impossible to meet them unless they have close relationships. This poem is used to express the love and admiration after hearing the other party’s voice, a longing thirst to meet, and any young lady who receives this Waka surely would want to invite the man in for the night.
Oh, there’s also this—the rising tide flow in the day may not be seen, and the sea scatters along the coast, waiting for the night5—the high tide in the day can’t be seen, so one can only wait by the coast where the sea covers—and hope that they would meet in the night. The writing of this poem is very detailed and hard to understand. Anyway, it’s probably about asking a certain lady if he could meet her in the middle of the night. It’s really romantic~”
Koremitsu could never imagine hearing the cheesy term ‘romantic’ from a boy in his teens.
(Just meet if you want to. Is there a need to make a poem out of it!? Those people in the Heian Era are really indirect.)
Koremitsu’s patience was practically eroded completely as he worked on this unfamiliar work of composing a message. He really wanted to send a message with direct words stating ‘I’ll be going over after school. Open the door later!’ However, upon thinking about Yū’s pale face under the blue blanket, her uneasy expression and teary face, he inadvertently stopped his fingers again.
He had nary an understanding of women at all, and he did not want to try to appeal to them.
This hikikomori girl had a little resemblance to his mother who left home. He really did not want to hurt her, and did not want to scare her.
— Yū’s very timid.
—If it’s a sudden visit, Yū might be too scared to open the door.
What exactly does Yū likes? What does she hope for?
The fleeting expression continued to linger in Koremitsu’s mind.
The voice she gave after pondering hard and long ‘maybe it’s to change the light bulb for me?’ kept ringing in his ears.
Right, first, I have to improve the lighting in the room, or it’ll be impossible to walk, and anyone would end up knocking into things after a few steps. Fluorescent tubes…light…something glowing…the room has photos of the sea stuck on the walls inside. Something that glows in the sea…
”’I picked up an Angler. Do you want me to bring it to you after school?”’
He typed out the words, and then sent the message.
“Koremitsu, how do you find an Angler on the roadside? Even if it is a simile, you have to find something that’s more sentimental, more elegant, more romantic. At least say it is a firefly or something.”
Hikaru immediately spoke up to correct.
Koremitsu grumbled, but he felt embarrassed
Koremitsu grumbled, ”What sort of childish thing am I doing here?” But he was actually ashamed, and he did not know what he was writing. At this moment, the phone rang.
The reply came.
Koremitsu opened the message,
This was the only message that came.
Koremitsu ostensibly heard a soft ‘yes’ in his ears, and was flabbergasted by it.
“Erm, that kind of content is okay? He should have raised his standards and have a few more goes.”
Hikaru muttered to himself, ostensibly very disapproving of this.
“What’s the matter, Hono? What are you looking at?”
Michiru called out, and Honoka turned her head around in surprise.
She was embarrassed to say she was staring at Koremitsu because she found the latter typing messages intently.
“Nothing at all.”
Honoka answered unhappily, and opened her cellphone with a blushing face.
(Akagi’s sending mails…to whom?)
♢ ♢ ♢
“Koremitsu, you seem rather happy.”
“Hm? Do I? Don’t I look normal?”
“But your lips are smiling.”
“Shut up. I said I’m being normal here.”
Koremitsu denied this in embarrassment.
With the light bulb he bought from a shop he passed by in hand, he went off to Yū’s apartment.
Koremitsu was certainly a little happy to finally get a reply after pondering high and low over what to type in his mails, but he was very embarrassed to have Hikaru point this out.
He frowned hard to hide the delight in his heart, and just when he was about to pass through the fence beside the apartment—
“What is it, Koremitsu?”
Upon seeing Koremitsu stop abruptly and look back, Hikaru asked in surprise.
“No, I just felt an uncomfortable stare.”
“The back of my neck feels itchy. Whenever I get this feeling, it’s very likely that some bastard with a chain or knife would appear.”
“You were ambushed so many times? So you really got the title of Delinquent King after going through so many battles of deadly battles, huh?”
“I’m not a delinquent!…Nobody around. Have my senses dulled?”
Koremitsu clicked his tongue in disgust, and proceeded down the path leading to the apartment.
The door beside Yu’s room was open, and the woman who was ostensibly involved in night life business, poked her head out and glared at Koremitsu.
“Men are not allowed here.”
“Never heard of that.”
“I just made this rule. Recently, a few of my money sources ran off. You brats are making a ruckus right beside my room; if there’s nothing else, just scram.”
That woman squawked unreasonably, and slammed the door shut.
“Who cares about what you think anyway!?”
The mouthful of impertinent words used and abrasive attitude shown was really similar to his divorced aunt living with him. Would all women act like this when they grow older?
“Koremitsu, Yū will be terrified if you’re too loud.”
After Hikaru reminded him, he knocked on the door softly.
“Hey, I brought the Angler.”
After a while, the door opened slightly, and the girl with the blue blanket draped over her peeked out from behind.
He greeted nervously.
The blue-eyed cat at the girl’s feet answered coldly in her stead.
Yū left the door and retreated to the back. On a closer look, she was barefooted, and was stumbling as she walked.
(A lack of exercise, huh? This isn’t good.)
Koremitsu frowned, but did not say anything as he walked in silently.
“Lend me a chair.”
He took a chair as a platform, and started changing the light bulb.
Yū was still holed in a corner of the room, watching Koremitsu get to work uneasily.
Koremitsu removed the old light bulb, and just when he was about to put it on the floor, he saw a slender hand reach for him tentatively.
To his surprise, he found that it was Yū’s hand.
Yū nodded lightly, received the light bulb, and placed it on the floor. She then retreated to the corner and looked over at Koremitsu worriedly.
Koremitsu was wondering if he should say something to her,
“When did this light bulb fail?”
He asked, and Yū merely answered flatly,
“…It started to flicker…about a month ago…and it broke down completely two days before…I received the mail informing me about the funeral…Hikaru died on that day…”
She lowered her sights dolefully, ostensibly thinking that the lifespan of the light bulb was related to Hikaru’s life. Koremitsu was really terrified at the prospect of her breaking down into tears again.
“I see, that must have been really inconvenient. But you could have changed the light bulb yourself, right?”
“No, I’m not really telling you off. Don’t apologize.”
Koremitsu was as terrified of hearing others apologize as he was of seeing others cry, and he was more flustered.
He exclaimed and leapt off the chair.
He pulled the cord, and the dim room with its curtains pulled immediately brightened. At this moment, he finally realized the color of the curtains was as blue as a tropical sea.
The photos of the fish shoals and printed images stuck on the wall could be seen clearly, and the fan, cooker, golf bag still looked intriguing under the bright light.
(This fan and stove is faulty. The fan doesn’t have any blades, and the stove doesn’t have an inner lid and pot. These aren’t household appliances, but mere decorations, right?)
Yū stood up and tottered her way towards Koremitsu.
The room was very cramped, so she merely took two, three steps.
The moment she lifted her head, the blanket covering her body slid down, her soft silky hair subsequently fell, and her small white face was revealed.
Koremitsu widened his eyes.
This was the first time he saw Yū’s face clearly, and it was like a white flower floating on the sea.
She was really beautiful—it was just as what Hikaru said, she was truly a tranquil and beautiful girl.
The ephemeral and dreamy expression was staring at Koremitsu, and the clear lips were slightly ajar like peach-colored shells.
It was a thin smile.
But she was certainly smiling.
Smiling at Koremitsu.
She smiled shyly.
The moment she thanked him softly, Koremitsu felt his heart beat wildly.
(Wh-what’s going on? Why’s my face so hot out of a sudden…)
He did not understand why his body was experiencing such a change, and eked out a voice from his dry throat.
“It-it’s nothing, and Hikaru requested me to take care of you anyway. So, well…”
Hikaru narrowed his eyes and showed an amused expression, causing Koremitsu to be more flustered than before, but he continued awkwardly.
“Is it fine if I come back tomorrow?”
The moment Yū nodded slightly, Koremitsu felt dizzy.
On the way back.
Hikaru said with a teasing look,
“Hey, she’s really a pretty girl you can find in your dreams, right?”
Upon hearing that, Koremitsu’s face started to heat up again; he was breathless, and his mouth give a frown as he did not speak up.
The next day was the same as well…
Yū, draped in the blanket, showed herself from behind the door along with the white cat.
“Please excuse me.” Koremitsu frowned as he muttered. She nodded with a nervous expression, and retreated slowly to the back backfooted.
(She hasn’t let down her guard…)
Koremitsu too removed his shoes tensely as he walked in.
The blue curtains were still shut, but the room was lit by the electric light, so it was very bright. Yū retreated into the crevice between the bed and the wall, and her black listless eyes were staring at Koremitsu.
(What do I say now…)
He had been coming here for proper business like repairing the door or replacing the light bulb, but on this day, he had nothing to do.
“Ah…have you thought of your promise with Hikaru? I’m not talking about buying a collar for the cat, but something more important.”
Yū lowered her eyes and shook her head.
“We-well, it’s probably too tough to ask you to recall immediately. That guy loves to make promises all the time anyway.”
Koremitsu finished off what he wanted to say as he glared at Hikaru, and the latter merely shrugged, acting as if he was uninvolved in this.
(Seriously, this guy…)
Whenever they talked about Hikaru, the blue-eyed cat would tilt its head to wherever Hikaru was
It was said that animals have sharp instincts, so perhaps it really detected something.
It did not matter to Koremitsu however, and his current priority was to find something to talk about.
The room was in complete silence, and Koremitsu’s palms were sweating from the tension.
Yū looked up at him from under the blanket, looking somewhat awkward as well. She raised her eyebrows, and the smile she showed the previous day did not seem to exist, disappointing Koremitsu as a result.
“A-are the stove, fan and golf bag some decoration or something?”
Koremitsu pointed at the junk of shells and glass fragments as he asked. Yū stared at Koremitsu uneasily and whispered,
“…Those are the graves of the fish, the…towers of prayer.”
“To protect…the underwater world.”
(Damn, how do I continue on?)
Is her mind drifting far away? Has she entered some fairy tale world after locking herself in the house for so long? Or are all the girls like this?
Koremitsu tried to change the topic.
“Those are photos of fish, aren’t they? Do you like them? I too prefer fish rather than meat, Yellowtail or salted Saba are pretty good.”
(Eh…I think I just went off point…)
Yū lowered her face dejectedly.
I shouldn’t have mentioned the Yellowtail collar. Don’t girls normally prefer something like smoked salmon here? He regretted.
“…Hikaru brought…the photos. He would bring something whenever he came to my house…”
Yū said with a lonely tone.
Koremitsu spotted the figure lower her eyes. Was she reminiscing over Hikaru again? She looked ready to cry again…
(T-t-t-th-thi-this isn’t good! What do girls like to talk about? Hey, harem prince, stop scratching the cat’s chin already. Help me think of something!)
Hikaru however did not respond as he continued to play with the cat with a calm smile. At his wits end, Koremitsu exclaimed,
“Speaking of Hikaru! What do you talk with him about?”
(I’m really an idiot! Why am I making her think of Hikaru again!?)
The moment he said it, he regretted his words.
“Tha-that guy has always been talking about getting a girlfriend who likes to smile for me…ah, I think I went off point.)
The more he wanted to strike up a conversation, the more awkward the situation got.
Yū raised her eyebrows slightly.
“…He often talked…about flowers.”
She said softly.
“Flowers? Oh, he’s always talking about disgusting things like how the Pansies in the garden are like, how the Narcissus beside the lakes are as delicate as girls…”
“You actually called me disgusting…”
Hikaru, who was playing with the cat, pouted unhappily. Koremitsu however was thinking, If you’re listening, help me out here!
Yū’s expression remained dreamy as she continued.
“He said…the Sakuras in the garden are as pink as a baby’s face…that the Tulips look like they’re laughing when they bloom.
Her white face gradually showed a clear radiance, and Koremitsu was astounded.
“…And also how the queenly Iris start to bloom…how the Dandelion started to grow from the cracks beside the concrete pavements…how the Rhododendron, Erigeron and Lily of the Valley charm him differently every single time…how he looked forward to the imminent blooming of the Acacia and Pyracantha…or something like that.”
Yū’s body was giving off a gentle presence, and her eyes were sparkling.
Koremitsu could imagine how those eyes looked when they saw Hikaru.
She looked leisurely as she sat with a leg pulled towards her, and her head tilted, with Hikaru ostensibly in this room.
In fact, Hikaru was certainly scratching the cat’s chin, narrowing his eyes gently, giving Yū a tender and loving look…
There was a girl speaking softly, and a boy staring at her gently.
Yū, who remained confined in her own room on her own accord, showed a light smile that caused Koremitsu’s heart to race, and he even felt his chest ache somewhat.
The dream-like gentle smile rendered him unable to look away.
“…Whenever I hear Hikaru talk about flowers…I feel that I’m strolling in the garden alongside him…both of us side by side, watching the Sakuras and Wisterias…”
Yū showed a blissful expression she never showed before.
To her, the time she spent with Hikaru was certainly full of tranquillity.
Hikaru brought Yū the colors and odor of the outside world.
Thanks to Hikaru’s gentle voice, Yū could imagine the flowers blooming outside.
And with these wonderful imaginations, she could fall asleep while draped in the soft blanket.
Waiting silently for Hikaru’s next visit.
(She confines herself to this tattered apartment, is so poor that her utilities are suspended, is living a pitiful life where she can’t even change a light bulb, and…and can actually smile so happily, so blissfully…)
The dizziness and heart throbbing that appeared the previous day intensified, and his face got hotter…
Dumbfounded, Koremitsu stared at the pure white flower-like smile on Yū’s face.
(What’s going on!? What’s with her!?)
He yelled out repeatedly in his chest.
1 Actual name of cat is こるり, little Lapis Lazuli, a deep blue precious stone.↩
2 古今和歌集, translated as ‘Collection of Japanese Poems (Wakas) of Ancient and Modern Times, is an anthology of poems commissioned by Emperor Uda. Ki no Tsurayuki was an imperial poet who led the compilation. Poems used are found here: http://www.milord-club.com/Kokin/index.htm.↩
3 Hirohiko Takada (2009). Kokin Wakashū New Edition. Japan: Kadokawa Liberal Arts Publishing. Printed on June 25.↩
4 Original source: Waka number 481, written by Ōshikōchi no Mitsune, one of the 4 commissioned to form the anthology.↩
5 Original source: Waka number 665, written by Kiyohara no Fukayabu↩