“An exhibition of Chimeric Neofinetia Falcata–what’s that?”
Koremitsu was looking at the ink-written words on the signboard placed in front of the cultural hall, and read this loudly as he frowned.
On Shioriko’s insistence, he put on the dog collar unwillingly.
“The Chimeric Neofinetia Falcata is a type of Orchid native to Japan. It is a horticultural species of Orchids, bred amidst sphagnum. The 11th general of the Edo era really loved it, and its fame grew as a result, till the point where only those with wealth and skills could cultivate it, so you can say that it had become a plant that symbolizes status. Currently, it is easier to purchase them as they are cheaper, but when the economy bubble occurred, five leaves alone fetch a price of 30,000,000 Yen in auctions.”
Hikaru continued to rattle on as he stood by the side,
(Ack, leaves for 30,000,000 Yen!?)
“The delicate leaves of the Chimeric Neofinetia Falcata and the flowers filled with fragrance are filled with feeble and yet alluring beauty. To me, they are as unnaturally white as the unnaturally white skin of a prostitute who loosened her clothes to reveal a little of her shoulders. It certainly is elegant yet noble.”
Koremitsu did not really care for Hikaru’s explanation, but he was wondering what has the Chimeric Neofinetia Falcata got to do with sparrow hunting?
(Is she aiming for one of the customers walking out from the culture hall? But with so many people watching, isn’t it impossible to do what she did before?)
He had yet to see Shioriko. She had called him here, so where did she run off to?
Just when he was looking around…
“Come here, dog.”
A hushed voice came from the shrub by the road.
There was a small maple leaf-like hand reaching out from there, waving at him.
“Hurry over here!”
The hushed voice was a little anxious.
Koremitsu walked over and found Shioriko with her backpack on, crouched behind the shrub.
“Why’re you squatting here like you’re using a toilet bowl?”
“Shush! Hide yourself too!”
She pulled Koremitsu, wanting him to squat.
“Hey, what do you intend to do? What’s the monster sparrow this time!?”
“Be quiet. Don’t talk so much. Just listen to my order, you striped dog.”
(Isn’t that your fault in the first place, you damned brat!?)
Koremitsu was grumbling deep within, but upon seeing Shioriko glare at the entrance of the culture hall with such a serious expression, he could only remain silent.
Shioriko widened her large puppy eyes, showing a frown on her milky white face, and cringed her body. She was holding the grassy green pochette tightly, intently focused to a point of nearly forgetting to breathe.
Hikaru, floating in the air, watched Shioriko worriedly.
He exchanged looks with Koremitsu and shook his head, indicating that he could not understand what was going on.
(I really don’t know what to do with this damned brat.)
Koremitsu curled his lips as he squatted.
The daylight lasted longer as summer approached.
The dazzling sunlight before the sunset scorched the back of their heads, causing them to perspire.
And so, at this moment, Shioriko gasped as she said,
An old man dressed in kimono walked out from the hall, accompanied by a man dressed in suit following from the back.
Koremitsu too was shocked.
(This is the monster sparrow?)
This man was completely different from the fat middle aged man from the past; he seemed gentle, looked regal, and appeared very relaxed.
Would the honey trap of an elementary school kid work on an old man in the higher ranks of society?
From above, Hikaru murmured,
“Dog, punch me.”
Shioriko hushed her voice as she commanded.
Koremitsu then inadvertently widened his eyes upon hearing this request.
“Hurry up, you stupid dog! You lolicon of a dog! If you’re not going to listen to me, I’m going to show that dirty little thing of yours in my phone to the police!”
Shioriko stood up while grabbing the cellphone.
“Oi! Wait a moment, damn brat!”
Koremitsu hurried over.
“Damn you! Hand over the phone, now!”
Shioriko quickly raised her hand to prevent it from being taken. Just when Koremitsu was thinking of grabbing her hand…
Shioriko shouted out.
Koremitsu let out of her hand in shock, and Shioriko fell onto the middle of the stairs leading to the hall.
I didn’t use that much force, I didn’t try to lift her–and I didn’t try to push her at all. Koremitsu panicked.
“Sorry, big brother! Don’t hit me! I’m sorry!”
“What’re you saying..!”
Shioriko covered her head as she crouched down, apologizing profusely, and Koremitsu was completely flabbergasted as he watched on.
Upon hearing this shout, Koremitsu turned around and found the regal-looking old man who just walked out from the culture hall.
“Eh… wait? You mean me?”
“Are you alright, young lady?”
The old man personally bent down to help Shioriko up.
Shioriko eked out a few tears from nowhere, sobbing as she went to Koremitsu, kneeling down with her arms opened wide.
“It-It’s not big brother’s fault… don’t scold my big brother! Run away!“
“Huh? What? But…”
Shioriko latched herself onto the old man’s leg, calling for her ‘big brother’ to run away.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! It’s really not big brother’s fault!”
Koremitsu did not understand what was going on, but ran off as she ordered.
After running away for five minutes, he spent another five minutes returning to the culture center, and lost sight of Shioriko and the rest.
“Where did they go?”
He panted hard as he looked around.
The people walking out of the culture hall avoided him like a plague.
“Don’t worry. Shiiko will be fine.”
“How do you know?”
“Because the one helping Shiiko is Mr Sōichirō Kuze.”
Koremitsu curled his lips, showing a frown on his face.
“You never heard of the Kuze Corporation? He’s the ex-chairman of this Corporation. It has a lot of restaurant chains, and also manages all sorts of business. Though he is now retired, he still actively participates in charity events, and often appears on television. He is also a renowned lover of the Chimeric Neofinetia Falcata, and is known as the king of Orchids..”
“King of Orchids? Are you two friends or something?”
“Hm… We both like flowers, but his preferences are a little different from me. Anyway, he is a highly respected man; he will save an elementary grade girl from from an abusive savage looking big brother, so he is definitely protecting Shiiko now.”
“Savage big brother. You mean me!?”
Koremitsu yelled in rage.
“I suppose that is probably how you look to Mr Sōichirō. Shiiko must have planned this beforehand.”
“Humph. Shiiko wants to extort money from that old man called Kuze?”
Hikaru’s expression darkened.
“Most likely… she can definitely fetch far more money from Mr Sōichirō than any of the other sparrows from before. I guess this is what she hoped too.”
“That idiot!! That’s more dangerous!!”
It was too reckless of her to extort money from a celebrity who often appeared on television.
“She’s still a damned brat after all!!”.
At this moment, the cellphone vibrated.
He hurriedly pulled it out to check the message. It was from Shioriko.
“Everything’s going as planned. Go back for now.”
Once he saw this, Koremitsu’s rage was through the roof.
“Going as planned!? Yeah right!? You want to leave me, pretending to be an abusive big brother aside, and now you want to chase me away!? You dare to look down on High School students!?”
Koremitsu had been taking it easy on Shioriko up till this point, for she was still an elementary school student, advising her patiently, hoping that she would change for the better.
However, her actions were sporadic at best, and she showed no signs of improvement.
During this time, Koremitsu had been treated as a delinquent lolicon and an abusive big brother.
If he were to leave Shioriko alone, she would definitely be arrested and brought to counseling for trying to trick an ex-chairman of a large enterprise. If that were to happen, Hikaru’s hopes of guiding her back to the right path would be ruined.
(–Ugh, she intends to call me a stupid dog and leave me alone?)
“Hikaru, do you know where Shiiko and the rest will be going?”
“Right. It’s settled. I’m going to sternly educate her. I’m not going to take it easy even if she cries!”
♢ ♢ ♢
Shioriko’s house was a small apartment.
Though it was not as dilapidated as Yū’s apartment, it was not exceptionally luxurious. It was a simple, ordinary apartment.
It was sunset, and Koremitsu, along with Hikaru, stood near the entrance of the apartments. Hikaru had mentioned that Shioriko lived here along with her grandfather.
“Shiiko’s apartment is the one in the middle of the second level. It seems nobody else is around; I think grandfather is out at the moment.”
Hikaru stared at the window as he said.
And at that moment,
There was the sound of a car braking in the alley nearby.
Followed by the sound of a door being opened.
“Thank you very much!”
A cute childish voice was then heard.
It was Shioriko!
They watched out from a blind spot at the building, and found an elongated glossy black car parked at the alley. Shioriko, with her grassy green pochette dangling diagonally and the red school bag on her back, stood beside it and bowed.
It seemed someone inside the vehicle said something, and she nodded like an obedient child.
“Bye bye, Grandpa Kuze.”
She waved her little hand cutely, and watched the vehicle leave.
Once the vehicle departed, her expression suddenly gloomed, and she slowly lowered her head, biting her lips.
(What’s with that expression…)
Koremitsu hissed, and Shioriko jumped in shock, her twintails and pochette swaying along.
“Wh-Why’re you here!?”
Shioriko hurriedly looked away. Having regained her composure somewhat, she showed a stiff expression.
“Didn’t I tell you on the message to go home? Don’t you understand human language or something? Stupid dog!”
“You think you can chase me away with just a simple message? You didn’t return for quite a while; who knows where you and that Mr Kuze guy went off to.”
Shioriko widened his eyes in shock.
“You know him?”
“Sorta. I heard that old man loves to do charity work, often appears on television, and is called the King of Orchids.”
Koremitsu was simply regurgitating what Hikaru had just said, and looked a little embarrassed; however, Shioriko seemed mystified as she heard this.
“I didn’t think a dog like you would watch the news.”
“I still don’t believe that you’re Hikaru’s friend, but I do have a better impression on you now.”
“Thanks for that. So? Kuze’s that monster sparrow you talk of?”
Barely able to hide her exhilaration, Shioriko fished out a namecard from her pocket, and gleefully showed it to Koremitsu.
It was Kuze’s namecard.
“His cellphone number is written on the back too! He really believes that I’m a pitiful kid who got abused, and even says that I can talk to him if I’m troubled. He’s really naive.”
“You really want to con that earnest looking old man?”
Shioriko was suddenly incensed as she raised her eyebrows and glared at Koremitsu furiously.
“You’re a stupid dog after all!”
“What did you say!?”
She glared at the enraged Koremitsu furiously, and said adamantly,
“I’m aiming for 64 million Yen.”
(Sixty-four Million Yen!!!!!!?)
Koremitsu was left speechless by this large sum.
Hikaru merely frowned weakly, and it seemed he had known what was going on,
“Damn it! Do you know how much money is 60 million!? That’s six thousand 10,000 Yen notes!”
“It’s ‘6,400’ Ten Thousand Yen notes. Don’t be mistaken!”
“Like I care how many that is! I have never seen a Million Yen before! That’s already surreal to me, and you’re already dreaming of such a large sum even though you’re a kid!?”
Shioriko’s face was again flushed with anger.
“I already told you not to treat me as a kid!”
“You’re a kid! You think you’re playing a game!? You want to con this much money!?”
Shioriko clenched her hands hard and bit her lips. She then said with a hushed voice,
“…I have a way to get Kuze to hand over the money. The only question is how to spend it.”
Shioriko’s face was filled with such malice it was chilling.
“I have no need to tell you. Think, you stupid dog.”
“And to think I was so worried about you! If you want money, go work hard properly and earn it yourself! Don’t take it from anyone else! I’ll help you look for a job a grade schooler can do.”
Upon hearing how frenzied Koremitsu’s tone was, Shioriko seemingly backed away tentatively, only to raise her eyebrows haughtily as she said,
“Humph. A mere dog wants to try and act like a big brother! What is this ‘properly’ you talk about? You want me to be a good person? I won’t!!”
Shioriko’s yelled with all her might, her face livid.
Her lips were trembling, her eyes were burning with rage, and yet her face was filled with a little anguish. Her face was contorted, yet showed the helpless expression of a child. She then held her green pochette with her little hands, showing that forced expression. Her eyes were soaked as she stared back at Koremitsu, and her tone was filled with anguish.
“Because… good people get conned and bullied! I don’t want to be a good person! I rather con others than have others con me!”
(What… what’s she saying!? Why’s she being so unhappy?)
Shioriko’s response troubled Koremitsu.
Upon seeing Hikaru pat her on the head with a melancholic look, he was all the more confused, unable to say anything.
At this moment…
“Riko, do we have a guest?”
An amicable voice came from behind.
Shioriko hurriedly ran over.
That man was probably of a similar age as Kuze.
He was a short man, his personality befitting his voice.
“Are you Riko’s friend? Thank you for taking care of her.”
Perhaps Riko was an affectionate nickname he had for her. The old man bowed graciously and gradually, his body bent to a point where one would worry that his head would hit the floor.
“Eh, no. I never really took care of her.”
Koremitsu too was taken aback, and he bowed.
“Th-That’s right. I was the one taking care of him. Don’t be mistaken, grandpa.”
Shioriko blushed as she said.
“Oh my. I’m really sorry. This child is really impolite in her words, but she really is kind.”
Shioriko’s grandfather slowly said what Hikaru had said before.
“She really is obedient, can cook, and knows how to take accounts. She really is my pride and joy.”
“Really, grandpa! Don’t say so much to him!”
Shioriko blushed as she tugged at her grandfather’s hand, intending to pull him back into the apartment.
But as she did so, she dropped the book he was holding.
Koremitsu hurriedly picked it up.
(‘Healthy Living Go Club’… I think gramps has it too.)
“You know how to play Go?”
Koremitsu returned the book to Shioriko’s grandfather, and the latter thanked him, smiling amicably.
“I’m currently a lecturer at a culture school. Do you like to play it too? How about a match?”
“I don’t really know how to. My grandpa is the one who knows.”
“That’s enough already, grandpa. It’s getting cold, you’ll catch a cold! Be careful! You get sick easily.”
Shioriko continued to tug at him.
“Riko really likes to worry.”
“You’re being too carefree, grandpa!”
“Eh, and your name is?”
“Young Akagi, how about you have dinner with us tonight?”
“Grandpa! Why’re you inviting him!?”
“Eh, no need for that. My dinner share’s already prepared at home.”
Shioriko’s grandfather was being too earnest; Koremitsu felt ridiculously tense as he never received such hospitality before, and was fidgety as a result.
“I’ll take my leave then.”
He bowed as he quickly hurried off.
On the madder red slope, Hikaru looked back with a serious expression.
Koremitsu asked, and Hikaru answered with a gloomy tone,
“Shiiko’s grandfather just called her Riko…”
“Isn’t Riko the nickname?”
Hikaru seemed unconvinced, but continued to follow Koremitsu.
“That brat’s grandfather really is a good person, too courteous that I didn’t know what to do. He’s completely different from her.”
“…yeah, Shiiko’s grandfather–Mr Tomohiko is really a good person.”
The handsome face lit by the sunset was showing a wry look.
“That is why… Shiiko said that she would not be a good person…”
Koremitsu could not understand the meaning behind these words.
“She doesn’t want to be a good person because she’s raised by one?”
“Not that, actually. Perhaps Shiiko is not willing to be a good person because she saw how good people suffer for being too kind.”
“…has Shiiko’s gramps suffered or anything?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know the details.”
The chilly breeze blew upon Hikaru’s bangs, and he lowered his head slightly. His clear mature eyes showed him in deep thought.
For some reason, Koremitsu felt it was better not to say anything at this moment, and remained silent.
♢ ♢ ♢
Once Koremitsu reached home, he found his grandfather Masakaze playing Go alone.
Lying beside him was an opened book, the cover being ‘Healthy Living Go Club’.
“Is this the magazine published by your Go club, gramps?”
“Why you ask?”
Masakaze remained seated upright as he tilted his head slightly to stare at Koremitsu. His protruding eyes were like a Yakuza mob leader, showing a sharp glint, and yet he was neither angry nor intending to scare anyone; it was simply that his eyes were naturally like that.
“Gramps, do you know of a man called Tomohiko Wakagi? He seems to be a Go lecturer at a culture school or something.”
Upon hearing that, Masakaze frowned hardly, and answered,
“…such a memorable name. Mr Wakagi was once a professional Go player, and I heard he became a lecturer once he retired. I met him once at the Go club, and he guided me through a match once. He really is someone worth admiring. Do you know him?”
“Not really… he’s a relative of my friend, so I went to greet him.”
“I see… is Mr Wakagi still doing well?”
“Sort of. I heard his granddaughter complain that he gets sick easily, and she was warning him to be careful. He seems to be a carefree person.”
Masakaze slowly closed his eyes and raised his lips solemnly, seemingly having recalled something.
He then opened his eyes, and frowned saying,
“Mr Wakagi… is really too kind… and he lived a tough life because of that.”
“I heard he was a guarantor for his friend, and bore a large debt as a result. He even sold his house to pay off the debt.”
These words from Masakaze bore heavily on Koremitsu’s heart.
“Looking at how Mr Wakagi is, he definitely doesn’t hate that person.”
These additional words weighed further on Koremitsu’s heart.
With an ominous look on his face, Koremitsu returned to his room, and Hikaru said,
“Shiiko needs the money because she intends to buy back the house mortgaged to the debtor.”
“…she intends to extort 64 million Yen from Kuze. Is that the money needed to buy the house?”
“When I first met Shiiko, I told her ‘I am willing to pay you any amount for your first time’, and she glared at me, telling me 64 million Yen. She even said that she is willing to do anything as long as I can pay up, for she had to get this money no matter what.”
Shioriko was only eight years old back then; she was still in third grade.
What sort of feelings did she have back then?
A third grader girl was working hard, forcing herself to her limit just to buy her grandfather’s house back.
“Once I asked her the reason, I spent 64 million Yen to buy her house back. Shiiko said that she would definitely save 64 million Yen to buy the house, and told me to take care of it for the time being, not to sell it to others, and for it to be a collateral for her first night. I then requested for her to allow me to send her gifts, bring her out to play, and accept my happiness as my own collateral. Shiiko’s situation is a little similar to mine… I really had the urge to help her.”
Hikaru said, his eyes becoming melancholic.
(What do you mean by ‘it may be a little more than what you think’!? How is 64 million Yen a little!? Damn you, you filthy rich bastard!)
Koremitsu wanted to say this, but chose to remain silent.
Hikaru’s mother had died when he was young.
His father then took him in, but as he was the child of a mistress, he had a hard time adapting into the new family.
In Middle School, he left his family and lived in an apartment alone.
Koremitsu recalled the empty, lonely room that was practically devoid of any furniture.
He could imagine how lonely Hikaru must have felt in that frigid room.
Koremitsu too had lost his parents, and he could imagine how Hikaru was reminded of his lack of parental care when he first saw Shioriko.
Koremitsu’s mother abandoned him when he was young, his memory of her merely her sobbing face.
His father then died soon after.
Even though his grandfather Masakaze and aunt Koharu were diligently taking care of him, he still wallowed in self-pity whenever he thought of how he was different from other children who had their parents.
If only mother was around.
If only father was around.
If only there were a pair of hands who would welcomingly embrace him, and protect his friends. If only there was someone he could wholeheartedly rely on.
He once shuddered, his head lowered as he prayed such in a corner of his room.
But he knew his mother would never return, and his father would never revive.
He could only suppress his anguish alone.
He would have to get back up if he fell.
He would hide and cry alone if he wanted to cry.
That was fine.
“Shiiko’s grandfather, Mr Tomohiko is a very kind person.Shiiko felt that if she were to be a good person, she will not be able to protect her grandfather, and was adamant not to become one. She is working hard not for herself, but to protect her grandfather. She is yet so young… she must have been holding herself back too.”
Hikaru’s words caused Koremitsu’s heart to be distressed.
No matter how lonely he was.
No matter how depressed he was.
No matter how anguished he was.
Koremitsu had to bear everything alone.
Most probably, Hikaru too–
–I can’t cry.
Even when Hikaru was suffering, he could only smile thinly.
Just as Koremitsu was unable to smile, Hikaru was unable to cry.
For he kept telling himself not to cry, and that he had to smile no matter what.
“Shiiko really can fake her cry, but when she is really depressed…she can only clench her fist hard and widen her eyes to hold back her tears.”
Hikaru’s downtrodden eyes were hazed with sorrow.
His lowered neck and voice sounded feeble.
“I did not want Shiiko to become a girl who cannot cry.”
Koremitsu felt his chest tighten.
(Why is it that this guy always causes my heart to ache…)
Even after death, he was unable to cry, yet he was so sensitive to the pain of others, so compassionate…
(How can he possibly make all the girls around him happy…)
That person really yearned for that.
He sincerely loved every flower, every girl.
When he was alive, he definitely gave his all to them.
‘That is my happiness’, and even smiled saying this.
Hikaru, who truly loved all the flowers, had a final wish to give all these flowers a gentle farewell.
He hoped that when he whisper his farewell to them, that beloved person in front of him could smile happily.
And just as he loved all the flowers, Hikaru loved that girl who was forcefully putting on a front.
Currently, he too was worried sick about her. Even to a state of broken heart.
“I won’t give up that easily.”
Koremitsu, who did not know how to smile, stared at this troublesome person of a friend, and frowned unhappily saying,
“I already promised you. I definitely won’t allow her to continue fooling others!”
♢ ♢ ♢
On the next day,
Shioriko walked out from the elementary school with the red backpack, and widened her eyes in shock as she spotted Koremitsu, wearing the dog collar, right around the corner.
“Wh-Why? Aren’t High School students supposed to have lessons now?”
“I said that I’m going to pick up a relative’s brat, and took an early leave.”
He answered with a serious look, and Shioriko’s face was slightly flushed.
“I’m not a kid who needs someone to pick me up! And I’m not your relative!”
She looked unhappy.
“Don’t let me see your scratched face until I call you. You mustn’t come to my house either. Grandpa will ask ‘Mr Akagi, what’s with those scratch marks on your face?’.”
She spat back spitefully
She pushed Koremitsu’s arm, wanting to move out.
“Isn’t my face like this because of what you did? It’s a little better now anyway.”
“I see. Again, why did you come here? Didn’t I tell you to wait until I call you?”
Shioriko’s stare got sharper.
“How can I do that?”
“I’m your dog. I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
“What are you saying?”
Shioriko paused for a little while.
Koremitsu then stared back at her, and concluded,
“And so, I’m going to stop you from conning anyone again.”
Shioriko’s pink lips shivered once she heard these firm words, and her cheeks were flushed with anger.
“I’ll expose those photos of yours, you know.”
“Whatever. Somebody posted something like that in my school already. Now everyone thinks that I’m a delinquent lolicon.”
Shioriko was left speechless.
Her eyes rolled and stammered,
“Yo-You’re a lolicon after all… yucks. You’re disgusting. Don’t come near me.”
She retreated, her grassy green pochette swaying around.
(Disgusting? Isn’t what you’re doing more disgusting?)
“Since I, as a delinquent lolicon, is going to be with you, you better give up on conning others. Hikaru also said because that scamming others isn’t something a lady should do. If he sees you like this now, he’ll definitely be sad.”
This was not a lie.
But a fact.
Hikaru was between Koremitsu and Shioriko, staring at them worriedly.
(Hikaru is still worried about you and what you’re going through even after his death. Don’t disappoint him.)
Shioriko paled as she stared at Koremitsu, completely gobsmacked as her lips shuddered.
“But isn’t Hikaru already dead…?”
She murmured, seemingly recalling something.
“He once said, ‘I will be with you until you become a lady… you can command me all you want… rely on me all you want. You can buy as many clothes as you want, but do not buy anything that is redundant. There are prawn cakes on the table now… so please be a good child in front of me’ that was what he would say.”
Her slender shoulders continued to shiver, and she choked on her words–it seemed then that she wanted to yell out her thoughts as she shrieked,
“Didn’t Hikaru fall into a river and drown!!?”
Her mortified eyes were thoroughly filled with tears.
Hikaru showed a heartwrenching expression.
Koremitsu too grimaced bitterly.
–I’m not a kid!
Shioriko’s eyes were blazing impetuously.
–Don’t treat me as a kid!
Those words from her were probably due to the poignancy and furor she felt after Hikaru died. ‘Be a good child’, Hikaru had abandoned Shioriko with these parting words.
“I’ll protect you in Hikaru’s place!”
Shioriko’s shivering shoulders stopped.
Her mouth was slightly agape as she stared at Koremitsu.
In response to this shocked expression, Koremitsu stared back with conviction.
“If you have anything you want me to do, just tell me! If you have anything you need me to do, just ask me! If you want me to help you, call for me! I’ll definitely get there! You’re just a brat! There’s no way you can handle so many things.”
Hikaru gave a thin smile, looking ready to cry as he listened in on what Koremitsu had just said.
Shioriko then spoke with a shuddering voice.
“Hikaru is… completely different from you. You never cut your sideburns, you reek of sweat.”
“Yeah. I’m no prince here, but I’ll be your dog until you grow up. My friend asked this of me.”
His tone was so solemn.
“–so stop conning others already.”
Shioriko closed her lips as she stared at Koremitsu. She frowned a little, lowered her head, and raised her lips saying,
“I won’t give up.”
She stubbornly insisted,
“The money I plan to get from Kuze… is for revenge.”
“What did you just say?”
“Anyway, the Kuze you know of is a charitable man, kind, sincere, often appears on television, some saintly man or something. The real Kuze however isn’t like that. What that man did to my father–“
Shioriko became silent.
(Did she just talk about her father?)
“Hey, didn’t you say before that you don’t know who your dad is?”
Shioriko bit her lips and turned her back on him.
“Shiiko… what happened exactly?”
The moment Hikaru placed his hand on Shioriko’s shoulder worriedly, the latter ran off.
Koremitsu gave chase from behind as he watched that red backpack and green pochette sway. Agile as a cat, she darted through the fence of a house, and ran into an alley.
“You really are a cat!”
If the High School student Koremitsu were to continue the chase, he would definitely catch the police’s attention.
He grumbled as he continued to chase after Shioriko, still carrying her red backpack, through the alley.
“Wait! You won’t run away!”
He was chasing her crazily.
Shioriko would hide in a corner of some building from time to time, and stick to the walls to hide from his sights during other moments, causing Koremitsu to lose sight of her a few times.
At this moment,
“Koremitsu, over there!”
Koremitsu continued to chase on as per Hikaru’s instruction!
“Stop right there! You idiot brat! I definitely won’t forgive you if I see you cheating someone again!!”
“You can still go back to being an elementary school student now!!”
“Just give up already, you!!”
He continued to yell hoarsely as he chased after the small back.
And amidst this wind, an hour passed.
“Damn it… where did she go.”
Koremitsu was panting hard as he stood on the wide pedestrian lane as he looked around. At this point, he could no longer see Shioriko anywhere.
He tried calling her, but the line was busy the entire time.
“Has she blocked my number now!?”
His temples were bulging as he murmured, slamming the phone shut as he nearly broke it.
At this moment, Hikaru seemed to have thought of something.
“Speaking of which, Shiiko does frequent the park nearby. She really likes the waffles at the shop there.”
“Right, let’s go.”
♢ ♢ ♢
Koremitsu looked over from under the shade of the Maidenhair Tree, and found a cute twin-tailed girl standing in front of a waffle stall, tearing the waffle in half and accepting it with an angelic smile.
You won’t get away this time. Just when Koremitsu was about to take a step forward, Hikaru stopped him.
“What is it?”
“Mr Sōichirō is over there.”
An old man, dressed in ritzy clothing, was sitting peacefully on the bench, not too far away from where Shioriko was facing.
“They must have agreed to meet here.”
“Looks that way.”
Kuze smiled as he watched Shioriko walk to him with two pieces of waffle in both hands..
She sat on the bench, and handed the waffle over.
Kuze’s eyes narrowed as he showed a gentle expression. He accepted the waffle, and reached his hand into his pocket–was he intending to take out his wallet?
It seemed that Shioriko did not want him to do so as she shook her head.
Both of them spoke for a little while, and in the end, Kuze kept his wallet. Delighted, Shioriko shyly smiled.
And so, both of them consumed their waffles, smiling away as far as he could see.
Perhaps they were grandparent and grandchild to any onlooking bystander.
Shioriko had once said that she wanted to con money from Kuze for revenge, and even said that the real Kuze was not the altruistic, magnanimous man that was portrayed on television.
However, Kuze was eating the waffle daintily as he chatted with Shioriko. He clearly looked like a calm old man who liked children, and the latter even looked back at him fondly.
“Damn it. I can’t hear anything this far.”
Koremitsu arched his back as he continued to watch their movements and slowly approach them.
There were lots of White Abelias behind the bench clustered together. Koremitsu snuck in, hid his body, and pricked his ears to eavesdrop on their conversation seriously.
“Big brother… always ordered me to prepare roasted bun or heat up the milk and he’ll scold me badly if I don’t do well. But…that’s my fault.”
Shioriko gave an optimistic smile as she said this.
(That pipsqueak~ I won’t bully a little girl! I won’t ask anyone to warm up the milk too!)
Koremitsu grabbed the twigs, grumbling as he gritted his teeth.
Kuze answered with a compassionate tone,
“Your parents didn’t do anything to make your brother stop?”
“They even scolded me, and told me to obey my brother.”
“Why? Your brother’s being so mischievous.”
Shioriko looked all the more depressed.
“I’m…not related to them by blood.”
“I’m an adopted kid, brother said.”
“Isn’t that a lie your brother said to bully you?”
Her large eyes were gradually filled with tears.
Her pitiful expression was such that even Koremitsu’s heart was gripped with gloom despite the knowledge that she was acting.
“Brother said that my papa’s called ‘Mamoru Yoshikuni’. He said the man is a baddy who gives poisoned hamburgers to children to eat.”
Kuze, who had been pampering Shioriko and gentle in his tone to her, showed a slight change in tone at this moment.
Koremitsu was taken aback once he heard of this name, and the horrifying fact that the man had given poisoned hamburgers to children to eat.
(So is this the ‘father’ Shiiko talked about? What’s with the poisoned hamburgers?)
Koremitsu glanced at Hikaru, and found the latter in deep thought.
Tears rolled down Shioriko’s cheeks.
“I heard that papa was bribed to do something bad, and killed himself once it was exposed. That’s what mama and brother said. They’re wondering why they’re taking care of a criminal’s kid…bu-but, my papa’s innocent! That’s what he wrote in the letter.”
“Letter? What do you mean?”
Kuze’s voice was a little different from before.
Even his face seemed a little stiff.
Shioriko sniffled as she choked on her words, saying,
“I found a letter from my papa written to my real mama. It should be mama’s book…”
“What’s the proof?”
“Papa’s not a bad person. He’s framed, and he has proof.”
Kuze asked as he widened his eyes at Shioriko.
Shioriko rubbed her eyes with both hands, and shook her head,
“I-It was very complicated. I didn’t understand at all. But I still believe papa was framed by a baddie.”
Kuze then gives a calm smile.
“I too believe that your father’s innocent.”
“Grandpa Kuze…thank you.”
Shioriko gave an innocent smile as she narrowed her teary eyes at Kuze.
“Oh yes. Do you mind giving me that letter? I’m on good terms with the police, so I can definitely help your papa clear his name.”
Shioriko’s face suddenly gloomed as she lowered her head, showing a hesitant look.
“Bu-But…papa noted in his letter not to let anyone else see this letter…”
“Really? I guess it can’t be helped then.”
Kuze heartily gave up.
Shioriko seemed to be worried about annoying this overly kindred old man as she stared at him worriedly. Once Kuze noticed this however, he gave a gentle smile, saying,
“Keep that letter carefully. That’s the evidence that proves your papa’s innocence. If there’s anything you need help with, come look for me, okay?”
Shioriko nodded, and showed a smile.
“…Koremitsu. There is a car parked there.”
Upon hearing Hikaru mention this, Koremitsu turned to the road beside the park in surprise, and found a white car there.
There was a man wearing shades seated at the driver’s seat, looking over at the bench.
(Is that Kuze’s car…? No, what I saw yesterday was larger and more luxurious.)
At this moment, the large black limousine appeared in front of the park.
Kuze slowly stood up.
“My vehicle’s here to pick me up. I’ll send you home.”
“It’s okay, there is no need for that. I need to buy some things at the supermarket later. I can go home by myself.”
“I see…the waffles are delicious. Let me treat you to something you like next time then.”
“Eh, erm, which one do I choose…takoyaki? Or soft serve?”
“You can choose something more luxurious. Just tell me the next time we meet.”
“Okay. Bye bye, grandpa Kuze.”
Kuze got on the limo and left.
Shioriko waved with a delighted look as she watched him leave.
Once the vehicle was nowhere in sight, she lowered her head, bit her lip–and showed a hideous expression.
She hissed, and returned to the bench.
Koremitsu stood up from the field of Abelias.
Shioriko was left gobsmacked.
Her face was then flushed red, and she puffed her cheeks angrily, looked away, and strided forward.
“Hey! You’re ignoring me now!?”
Just when he was about to give chase–
A hand grabbed his shoulder from behind.
“Why’re you stopping me! Hikaru!?”
“…Koremitsu, I am a ghost. There is no way I can touch you.”
Then who would grab him by the shoulder like a familiar person?
Koremitsu turned around and glared furiously, only to see a policeman in tight-fitting uniform.
“There is a police report saying that there is a savage-looking youth resembling that of a convenience store robber, hiding amongst the bushes, staring at a little girl passionate. Is that you?”
“Who’s the robber here!?”
“I’ll hear what you have to say at the station.”
“Hey! Shiiko! Come back! Tell him we know each other! Shiiiko! Hey! Shiiko! Damn it!”
Shioriko probably heard Koremitsu’s yells, but trotted off without looking back.
The red backpack slowly distanced itself away from him.
At this moment, the white car from before started to move.
Suddenly, Koremitsu had a bad feeling about this.
“Hey, let go of me!”
He wanted to shake off the policeman.
“If you’re not going to co-operate, I’m going to handcuff you.”
The policeman warned.
And so, Koremitsu could only follow the policeman obediently.
“It is true that a delinquent king resembles a dangerous person to me when he is squatting in the bushes with such a savage look…”
From beyond his shoulder, Hikaru chimed in with a look of regret.
♢ ♢ ♢
(This is good.)
Shioriko looked down as she strolled through an alley in the residential area. “Shiiko! Shiiko!” The voice of that stupid savage-looking dog continued to ring in her ears, but she chose to ignore.
–I won’t let you cheat others again!
–Hikaru also said because that scamming others isn’t something a lady should do.
She tried her best to ignore the voice she could not shake off.
(I’m going to take revenge on Kuze. I’m going to move back to that house with grandpa!)
There was a small old wooden hut on the first level.
And there was a garden filled with trees and seasonal flowers. Shioriko knew how much her grandfather treasured that garden.
–Come and look, Shiiko. The Summer Camellia is blooming.
There were cute white Camellia-like flowers blooming on the tree branches under the blue sky.
–Wow, they’re pretty, grandpa!
Both of them were together in the garden, marvelling the flowers for a long time.
Once they arrived at the apartment, her grandfather grew Rosy Periwinkles in pots, but would look in the distance whenever he watered them.
And whenever she saw him in this state, Shioriko would look over at the plants restrained in the pots, recall the flowers and trees living freely in that garden, and her heart would ache.
(If I can get that house back, grandpa will definitely call me Shiiko again…)
Suppressing her uneasiness, she brought her green pochette and pressed it on her flat chest.
There was something very important inside.
It was a letter she found in a cabinet.
The letter that established her relationship with Kuze, the letter that propelled her reckless actions…
–You’ll definitely end up hurt.
“…It doesn’t matter.”
Shioriko exerted strength in her fingers as she whispered.
She suddenly felt a sting in her nose, hurriedly blinked, and moved forward.
The unexpected development had delayed her. If she did not return home soon, grandpa would be worried.
(I don’t want to be some fine lady.)
If Hikaru were still alive, perhaps she would not have come up with such a dangerous plan.
But he could no longer wait till she became an adult.
(…It’s all Hikaru’s fault.)
His fault for falling into the river and drowning.
Shioriko had always insisted on getting a scary, savage yet loyal dog, but Hikaru gave a stupid disobedient dog who was completely useless.
–It is fine to say whatever you want to me. I will agree to any request you want.
–Just say whatever you want to me as much as you want! Rely on me all you want!
Hikaru’s carefree smile and Koremitsu’s savage look seemingly became one, causing Shioriko’s heart to be agitated, her throat throbbing.
She vehemently told herself to harden her weak heart.
(I mustn’t trust him!)
And Hikaru too. He did say that he would be with her until she became a proper lady, that she should just be a child. And yet he left her.
(That guy will soon leave anyway.)
Once bitten, twice shy. She had enough of seeing someone kindle her hopes and open her heart, yet abandon her in the end.
She would no longer trust anyone.
She would no longer rely on others.
(I want to buy grandpa’s house through my own strength.)
She snivelled as she closed her eyes tight.
It was not the time for her to cry.
She walked on with confident footsteps, climbed the stairs outside the apartments, and arrived in front of a room in the middle of the second floor. She then took a deep breath,
“I’m back, grandpa!”
She opened the door with a bubbly shout.
However, there was nary a hint of the usual reply.
Instead, Shioriko gasped,
♢ ♢ ♢
“Damn it. Why’s that policeman asking the same questions over and over again?”
It was past evening.
With the sun setting, and the sky darkening, Koremitsu walked on with a look so savage he might be taken for interrogation again.
After the policeman had ‘counselled’ him in the park, he whisked him to the nearby station, and rattled on things like ‘What’re you doing over there?’ ‘I heard that you were glaring at a little girl passionately. What’re you planning to do?’
Koremitsu insisted that he was squatting there because he had a tummyache, and was not peeping on them, that he was acquainted with the girl, and that his expression was heredity. He even showed a photo of his grandfather and aunt on the phone.
“How is it? We resemble each other, right? My family looks like this!”
He insisted, and after much difficulty, was released.
“The policeman looked terrified when you said you wanted to call in a relative to testify.”
Upon hearing Hikaru’s words, Koremitsu again frowned.
The policeman must have assumed he had links to the Yakuza or something, for he was fidgety the moment he saw the photo, ‘No need for that. Okay, I understand,’ and hurriedly left.
“You should have said that you want to contact a relative.”
“Are you kidding me? Koharu will bash me up good if I really do so. That’s my final trump.”
“I wonder if Shiiko has returned…”
“I’ll make a call.”
Just when Koremitsu was about to open his cellphone.
“Look at that, Koremitsu!”
Hikaru suddenly exclaimed.
Is there something in the bookshop or something? Koremitsu walked over with a frown, and saw Hikaru slowly drift to the shelf behind the window, pointing at a magazine being displayed.
There were several topics on this tabloid magazine cover, and upon seeing one of them, Koremitsu gasped.
There was a small line on it,
“The truth 10 years after the Poisoned Hamburgers Incident, Sōichirō Kuze’s lie.”