♢ ♢ ♢
“Please! Be my heliotrope, my purple fragrance again!”
It was a reenactment of the past as Koremitsu bowed deeply while his hands were placed on the side.
As the cloudy skies looked ready to rain upon them anytime soon, the whirl on Koremitsu’s hair appeared in front of Honoka’s eyes.
“I have to apologize to you for angering you in some way. I must have done something to offend you, and I’m really sorry for making you unhappy! If I caused you any harm, I’ll take responsibility!”
“W-well…I’m not hurt anyway.”
It was because of personal feelings that Honoka was acting aloof to Koremitsu, so she was shocked to hear this from Koremitsu.
His attitude was earnest.
“I’ll do whatever you ask of me in the future! I’m fine with being your servant for half a year! You can call me a wild dog if you want!”
(I don’t wanna! If I call you that, everyone will be glancing at me instead!)
“I can let you kick me until your anger subsides! So…”
Koremitsu lifted his head.
He stared at Honoka with a troubled look of desperation.
Honoka’s chest suddenly tightened.
His eyes narrowed painfully as he said hoarsely.
The pained expression was crushing Honoka’s heart,
“Well, please, don’t hate me.”
Upon seeing how Koremitsu was showing such pained expression, Honoka’s will weakened, and she nonchalantly commented,
“The reason why I said such things to you is because I have a bad personality.”
“Why are you talking about yourself like that…?”
Perplexed, Koremitsu said.
“Anyway, I’m not really asking you not to talk to me, so when there’s trouble, don’t beat around the bush and just tell me directly.”
“Is-is that so…?”
Honoka’s arms were folded in front of her as she showed a high and mighty attitude, but she continued to glance at Koremitsu secretly.
Koremitsu’s head was lowered, and his face was blushing as he poured out his troubles.
He mentioned of a Hikikomori girl called Yū Kanai.
That girl was retained for the year as she lacked attendance, and as of this point, she was the same year as them. He intended to advise her to continue attending school.
However, that girl would not accept his proposal, and got hurt as a result.
Even so, he felt that for her sake, this could not continue, and he definitely had to drag her out of her house.
“That damned useless Hikaru actually watched on like that! I don’t want to rely on someone like him again! He’ll definitely say that I’m too robust, that I don’t understand a girl’s heart, that it became like this because of this…I apologized through the emails, but there’s no response. I’m already at my wits end…”
Koremitsu’s rant was baffling, probably because he was overly distraught, and he would frown and mutter from time to time.
Even so, Honoka got the feeling that Koremitsu was worried about Yū Kanai, and how he wanted to bring her out of the house. Whenever she saw him wince, bite his lips, lower his head helplessly, she felt her chest ache.
Honoka too had heard of Yū Kanai.
At that time, Honoka was in her Third Year of Middle School, and Yū was in her First Year of High School. Thus, Honoka only knew that she was bullied by the girls in the same year, did not dare to go to school, did not know of any other details other than a mysterious event involving her.
Also, Honoka knew that Yū was the beloved of a particular famous person in school…
Honoka never met Yū before, but she felt that the latter was a gentle cute girl any man would want to protect upon seeing her.
For even Koremitsu too was so worried over Yū Kanai…
“I never cared about how I’m isolated and being talked about behind my back, so I’m very insensitive when it comes to such things…after returning home, I calmed down, thought through things, and understood something. Yū’s a girl, weaker than me; there’s no way she dared to go to some place without any friend. Girls need their friends to accompany them to the toilet. They eat their lunches together too… girls always eat together…”
Koremitsu seemed to be furious with himself as he scratched his head violently, and murmured,
“I can’t accompany her to the toilet, and if she follows me, others will isolate her further and say worse things about her. I’m an idiot for not thinking about that…damn it!”
Frustrated, he frowned and clenched his fists.
“Yū still needs female friends. She needs a girl who’s courageous, who doesn’t care about the eyes of the people around her, who values relationships, knows how to read the atmosphere, and help her when she’s troubled. You’re the only one I can think of.”
Koremitsu was staring right at Honoka’s eyes.
It was the same when Aoi was involved.
Such zealous eyes.
Honoka was ostensibly burned by the flaming expression that was scorching, and her body was aching within.
She did not understand why her heart was fluttering, and tried to speak in her usual tone,
“You certainly are working hard here, Akagi. Have you fallen for Kanai?”
The moment she said that, she regretted it.
For Koremitsu clearly looked astounded, and betrayed a look of weakness carelessly.
He widened his eyes, his stare lowered, he took a deep breath, and remained silent with a deected look.
Honoka’s words revealed the emotion Koremitsu himself had yet to realize, and brought his real thoughts to the surface.
Koremitsu might have thought his feelings for Yū were simply of sympathy and valor.
But at this point, he realized that there were other emotions mixed in.
And Honoka had to be the one who reminded him.
“S-stupid, why aren’t you saying anything? Your expression is really funny here. You’re pretending to look so sentimental even though you’re a delinquent.”
Honoka tried her best to sound positive.
She really wanted to treat what she said before as a joke.
“I’M NOT A DELINQUENT!”
Koremitsu too argued back with a bewildered voice.
It seemed he viewed her comment as a joke.
It’s fine, it’s fine now.
Honoka tried her best to comfort herself in her heart, but did not understand what was fine.
Then, she smiled and said,
“Fine, I can help you. You just need me to be friends with Yū Kanai? Don’t look at me like this? I used to be a girl scout, and I’m good at making friends with introverted girls. Just leave it to me!”
Upon seeing the glowing look on Koremitsu’s face as he was ostensibly basked under sunlight, Honoka suddenly felt an aching in her heart.
♢ ♢ ♢
♢ ♢ ♢
Afterwards, Honoka and Koremitsu were headed towards the apartment Yū Kanai stayed at.
On their way there, the downpour got heavier, and Honoka opened her red-purple umbrella.
“Eh? You don’t have an umbrella? The weather report says that there’s a 50% chance of it raining today.”
“Doesn’t that mean it won’t rain today?”
“Of course not. Wouldn’t anyone think of bringing an umbrella if they know that there’s a 50% chance of rain today? Guess there’s no chance. Come in.”
She moved the umbrella over Koremitsu’s head.
“I’m fine here.”
“I won’t feel good walking with a man who’s thoroughly soaked.”
She forcefully tried to get Koremitsu under the umbrella.
It was unknown if Koremitsu was embarrassed or trying to be polite as he merely moved shoulder halfway under the umbrella.
Whenever Honoka tried to move the umbrella over to his side, Koremitsu would move away a little.
He was frowning, his lips were tense, and his face was blushing.
Upon seeing him like this, Honoka suddenly had a warm, fuzzy feeling within her.
She actually did not want to meet Yū, but because of Yū, she was able to patch her relationship with Koremitsu.
Thus, it would be best not to think too much, focus on helping Koremitsu, and try her best to build a relationship with Yū.
(Shouldn’t the guy be the one holding the umbrella this time?)
Honoka muttered in her heart, and smiled.
Because her heart was wrung as she felt this boy, who was frowning and tense all over, was being so cute.
They both bought beautiful red, orange jellies as gifts, and arrived at the apartment.
With a stiff face, Koremitsu knocked on the apartment door.
“Yū, it’s me.”
Koremitsu’s gentle and deep voice had a mix of courtesy and hesitance in it; it was completely impossible to imagine he would have such a tone from his usual demeanour.
“I mentioned in the email that it was my fault yesterday, and I want to apologize to you. I want to let you meet someone…can you open the door?”
It was silent inside; Honoka and Koremitsu waited silently.
There was a cat’s purring, and the sound of the door being unlocked.
Honoka’s heart thumped loudly.
(What kind of person is Kanai…? Is she prettier than Her Highness Aoi?)
She suddenly felt tense.
The door slowly opened.
A white cat first poked its head out from the bottom of the door, and looked up at them with its clear blue eyes.
Then, a girl draped completely in blue blanket appeared in the 5cm wide gap at the door.
Shockingly white skin.
Lonely looking lips.
Thin strands of hair reaching out from under the blanket.
What caught Honoka’s attention more was that frail, fleeting nature of this girl.
These impressions immediately appeared in Honoka’s sights.
Beside her, Koremitsu heaved a sigh of relief.
“It’s great that you’re willing to open the door, Yū. This is my classmate, Shikibu…”
Honoka tried her best to show her most cheery expression, and just when she was about to greet…
Yū suddenly went pale as her expression froze, her eyes brimming with terror, and the blanket draped on her trembled like a wave in the midst of a storm.
This unexpected response startled Koremitsu.
“What’s with you?”
He said as he held the door.
But Yū was not staring at Koremitsu, but at Honoka behind him.
She was looking at Honoka…and the wet umbrella in her hands…
Her trembling lips let out these words of rejection in fear.
She held the door handle with both hands and slammed the door shut.
Cluck. The sound of the door being locked rang, followed by Yū’s sobbing.
“No…I don’t want to go to school! I don’t have an umbrella; I can’t go out! I can’t go to school! There’s nothing to cover me! I’ll be eaten! I’ll be eaten up!”
Honoka never heard such an anguished, poignant outcry before.
In her shock, she suddenly recalled the reason why Yū refused to go to school.
“Yū! What’s with you!? OPEN UP! YŪ!”
Koremitsu continued to knock on the door and twist the handle, panicking to a point where he nearly damaged the door again.
Honoka grabbed Koremitsu’s hand from behind.
“Akagi, let’s go back for today.”
“What are you saying!? Isn’t it obvious that Yū doesn’t look okay now?”
Koremitsu said with an agitated look.
“It’s probably…because of me.”
Koremitsu gave a sceptical look.
“I’ll explain later. Anyway, it’ll be better to leave this place first; Kanai can calm down if you do so. Just listen to me.”
Honoka spoke with an adamant expression and tone as she held onto Koremitsu’s cold and stiff hand tightly.
It seemed Koremitsu was unwilling to accept this predicament, but he suddenly glanced diagonally upwards in surprise, and then…
“…Yū, I’ll find you another day.”
Dejected, he leaned on the door and said this.
♢ ♢ ♢
—It’s best that you follow what Miss Shikibu says.
He showed an anguished expression, ostensibly enduring the pain.
This guy hasn’t given a single thought about Yū up till now, and now he’s pretending to be concerned? Koremitsu was actually very displeased with Hikaru, and decided not to ask the latter for help, but Honoka’s insistent tone and Hikaru’s expression were forcing him to relent, and he could only endure this heartache as he left Yū’s apartment.
Koremitsu and Honoka arrived at a park nearby.
The gardens had lush trees planted within, flowerbeds and pools with red bricks surrounding them, and a stage with a roof nearby. They went to the stage for shelter, and Honoka started talking about that incident.
“Kanai started to absent herself from school since the rainy season last year…did you know?”
Honoka herself too was in shock, but she continued to stare at Koremitsu with a worried expression.
“That time, Kanai was bullied by the others, like say, her items were hidden by people, she was looked down upon, and some deliberately said such vicious lines…the ones who kept bullying her, were all girls.”
Don’t you understand…the wry expression on Honoka’s face seemed to lament this.
“Someone once saw Kanai share an umbrella with a very popular upperclassman in High School. I guess it’s because that upperclassman is a premier noble even in the school, and Kanai was just an ordinary person who managed to enter the school through examinations in Middle School. Everyone said that Kanai approached him herself to leapfrog herself.”
“What nonsense is that? Is there a need for such vicious words just because they shared an umbrella on a rainy day!? What’s wrong about getting in through the exam? What’s wrong with being born in an ordinary family!?”
“…Hm, it’s really unreasonable, but…I did mention it the last time we talked about Her Highness Aoi. Our school really pays attention to when each student enrolls, and even segregates them in social classes like this…those people definitely won’t allow someone to break this boundary…”
— Many of the people on our school’s campus, enrolled since kindergarten, can be classified as ‘nobles’.
Koremitsu recalled the words Honoka said when she discussed about Aoi with him.
Also, when the art club members confessed their resentfulness of Aoi.
—Are you looking down on us because you think you’re a ‘noble’ who’s been in the school since kindergarten?
All the issues like family background were asinine.
Those had nothing to do with personalities.
But the undeniable fact was that the consciousness of social classes was deeply rooted in this school.
And Yū broke the rule.
As a peasant, she managed to latch on to a ‘noble’ male, and was hurt as a result.
In fact, one would have to wonder whether Yū took the initiative, or the upperclassman did…considering how introverted Yū was, Koremitsu felt it would be impossible for her to approach the upperclassman while hoping to scale up the ranks.
However, the others in the school did not care about this; they merely cared about how Yū shared an umbrella with a man of a different hierarchy. The girls with a higher standing naturally would not be happy, and the girls who were of the same social class could not forgive her for ‘having a headstart’.
— If I go to school, everyone will give me icy stares, and even say some bad things around me.
—I’ll be alone in school.
Yū was shuddering and crouched beneath the blanket when she said this.
She, who was a serene girl, must have felt unbearable upon seeing so many stares of hatred from strangers, and hearing so many spiteful words and mockery.
Koremitsu too felt as if there was a scald on his chest.
He was frustrated that he could not help Yū back then, and clenched his fists in distraught.
“The boys too pretended not to notice anything when the girls bullied her. It’s like they didn’t want to get smeared or something.”
Honoka spoke with a heavy tone.
Something happened that time.
One morning, there was a heavy downpour, and Yū’s umbrella disappeared suddenly.
Just when Yū stood in front of the umbrella rack with a crying face, the girls who loved to bully her most snickered and said lots of cruel things to her.
“Ah, your umbrella’s gone? It was there in the morning.”
“Go find a guy who’ll share one with you.”
“Yeah. Someone knows how to bewitch men anyway.”
“But upperclassman Tōjō doesn’t want to be bothered with such commoners hitching on the nobility’s position.”
And all sorts of random chatter.
Yū’s face paled upon hearing them, and could not say a single thing as she simply wept, shuddered and walked out of the school campus alone.
Many students saw her drenched completely, her expression hollow like a living corpse as she trudged on.
But nobody shared an umbrella with her.
The next day, Yū did not attend school.
“And then…another major thing happened in school that day.”
Honoka’s tone was filled with tension.
Koremitsu too held his breath in anticipation.
The clouds covered the park’s stage and lush in shadows, and the rain increased with intensity.
“Someone…saw a vengeful spirit.”
How could there be such a thing on this world? Koremitsu thought, but Hikaru’s soul was floating beside him, floating silently under the lights of the street lamps.
And Honoka’s expression was dead serious.
“The girls who mocked Kanai in front of the umbrella rack lost their umbrellas, and their umbrellas were dangling on the window sill of the chemistry classroom like dead ghosts…splashed with black water.”
Koremitsu tried to imagine that scene.
The school’s chemistry classroom.
The window covered with rain.
The dangling umbrellas and the black water that dropped.
It certainly was scary.
“Isn’t it too farfetched to say they met a vengeful spirit?”
“But that’s not all.”
“There’s still more?”
Honoka nodded with a serious look, and seemed to have difficulty talking.
“Also, someone saw…Kanai running through the rain while holding an umbrella. Her body was dirty all over, her hair was wet and messy, and her expression…didn’t seem normal. It felt very scary…”
“I thought Yū didn’t attend school that day?”
“Right, that’s why there was a rumor going on that Kanai’s living spirit came back for revenge.”
Koremitsu really could not understand.
Yū’s living spirit suddenly came out for revenge, and dirtied the umbrellas of those girls who bullied her?
How could such a thing happen?
Besides, would Yū really have the courage to take revenge? If her personality was that feisty, she would not be hiding inside the house all day long, and would have started a new life.
In fact, Yū seemed terrified of the classmates who bullied her, and he could not detect any trace of malice.
The way she exclaimed ‘I’ll be eaten up’ resembled more of an inerasable fear with regards to this intangible vengeful spirit.
(What’s going on…)
Koremitsu gritted his teeth as he thought.
The only thing he could be certain of was that because of the mass bullying, Yū was terrified of rain, and shut herself in.
And nobody stood up to protect her.
What expression would Hikaru have shown if he heard this? Koremitsu would clearly be fuming if he saw Hikaru’s forsaken expression, so he resisted the urge to look in that direction.
However, his rage rose up his throat in a surging manner, and his abdomen was throbbing.
He held his breath as he listened to Honoka’s words.
“Kanai closed the door in fear probably because she recalled that incident.”
Girl in uniform.
(How did that…)
Those triggered Yū’s fear.
Honoka saw the grim expression on Koremitsu’s face as he clenched his fists, and called out worriedly,
“I’ll find a way regarding Kanai’s matter. Don’t act impulsively for now. The Matriarch Asa and the Head of Teaching Staff have their sights on you.”
Koremitsu sighed heavily, and growled,
“Thanks for accompanying me, and sorry for dragging you into this. I’m reflecting over this, and I hope this won’t cause you any trouble.”
“I don’t find this troublesome at all! Your opinion of me is too low now! Why don’t you rely on me more!?”
Honoka glared at Koremitsu as she said that.
That was a ferocious expression Yū definitely would not have.
Koremitsu bowed to her.
“If there’s any more problems, I’ll talk with you again.”
Honoka continued to stare at Koremitsu, her expression divided between worry and scepticism.
The rain showed no signs of relenting.
“Sorry, Shikibu. You can head back first.”
“…What about you?”
“I’ll check on Yū first before heading back. I won’t do anything rash.”
Honoka gave a serious expression as she remained silent, and after a while, said,
“If I go back together…Kanai will definitely be terrified. I-I’ll accompany you until the apartment. You don’t have an umbrella anyway. I’ll wait there for you.”
“It’s fine. I’ll just buy one from the convenience store.”
Honoka raised her eyebrows as she stared at Koremitsu. Then, she pushed the handle of the wet folded umbrella into his hand.
“What about you?”
“I’ll call home and get someone to pick me up. Otherwise, I’ll go to the convenience store to buy an umbrella or a raincoat.”
“This is your umbrella. Use it for yourself.”
Koremitsu wanted to return the umbrella to Honoka, but she pushed it back at him with more force.
“No, you definitely won’t buy an umbrella. Use it now, or I’ll go with you! I won’t just follow you till Kanai’s apartment; I’ll send you to your house while holding the umbrella.”
Honoka seemed to be throwing a slight tantrum.
Do I look that feeble right now?
Just when Koremitsu was in self-doubt…
A white pretty hand rested gently on both Honoka and Koremitsu’s arms.
A clear delightful voice rang in the rain.
“Thank you. We will borrow it as a talisman.”
Hikaru showed a gentle smile that could melt the gloom in Koremitsu’s heart, and said softly,
His golden, glittering, transparent hair was not drenched as he stood under the bright road lights, and fluttered beside his clear white cheeks. He raised his lips, smiled gently, and said this to Koremitsu with a mature expression.
(Why must you interrupt here?)
Koremitsu rolled his eyes at Hikaru,
“Then…I’ll use it…as a talisman.”
He said gingerly.
I’m not listening to Hikaru’s advice. This isn’t it…
Honoka’s hands and expression immediately relaxed as she showed a teary look, but she again immediately showed her usual feisty look.
“Right, it’ll definitely work.”
Her cheeks blushed as she said cheerily, and she pushed the umbrella to Koremitsu’s chest.
She was ostensibly saying, take it.
Koremitsu’s heart immediately floated.
He said softly in an embarrassed manner, and opened the bright red and purple umbrella.
With Honoka waving him goodbye, Koremitsu walked into the cold rain and head for Yū’s apartment.
The apartment’s lights were not switched on as he could only see pitch darkness through the window.
With an uneasy feeling, he approached the door, and tapped on it,
A hoarse voice rang.
“Are you inside, Yū?”
A slight sound came from within the door; the anxiety and grief nearly caused his heart to explode.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought Shikibu along without informing you. But she’s a good person, different from those who bullied you.”
A soft sound came from behind the door.
“If you promise to go to school, Shikibu will definitely help you.”
The continual downpour drowned out Koremitsu’s voice, rendering it into fragments.
What can I say to remove Yū’s fear? What exactly can I do for her?
At this point, Hikaru too was beside Koremitsu, but the latter deliberately chose not to look in his direction, and did not want to ask for help either.
At this moment, a weak voice came from behind the door.
“…Without an umbrella…I can’t go to school.”
The voice seemed to originate from somewhere close. Yū’s was behind the door. Koremitsu’s heart immediately raised, and he pricked his ears hard.
“That umbrella’s…my talisman…something that can provide shelter for me…but the umbrella’s gone now…”
There was sobbing mixed with the voice. Yū was crying.
“I always…had the same dream…that the sea surface is rippling, that the waves are becoming tall…that there’s a black fish opening its mouth wide, and swallowed the umbrella whole. I wanted to grab onto the umbrella, but I couldn’t catch it…and then, even I was eaten up whole by the fish. I was discovered because my umbrella’s gone…I can’t escape..>”
What could he do to stop Yū’s tears?
Would Yū ever have the courage to open the door again?
Hikaru remained silent.
He was being a busybody a moment before, but at this point, he simply stood silently beside Koremitsu.
She’s someone important to you! And you’re saying that you can’t do anything because you’re a ghost! You can see and hear, and yet you’re not doing anything at all! You’re just keeping your mouth shut, frowning away!
I won’t rely on someone like you again!
Koremitsu leaned his head on the door, and exclaimed,
“DON’T CRY, YŪ! I…I’LL GET YOUR UMBRELLA BACK FOR YOU!”