(I can’t remain as a kid.)
Shioriko held onto her grassy green pochette with her little hands.
Her legs were trembling, her heart pounding wildly, cold sweat trickled as her limbs got colder by the moment.
The vehicle transported her to an old Earl’s villa.
The moonlight shone upon the English-styled garden and the retro mansion. Normally, this place would be open to the public; after a stroll in the garden, one could head in for afternoon tea.
However, the old earl’s villa was booked for the day by Soichiro Kuze’s charity organization. It was to be used as part of their regular meetings.
Gohara, who brought Shioriko along, said that the attendees were famous, prominent political and economical figures.
Soon after, Shioriko would head into their meeting.
–Do you want me to prove your father’s innocence with you?
The man with the sinister smile, wearing a burnished watch, asked this to her the previous day.
Before that moment, his subordinates had already contacted Shioriko.
It was during the moment when she deliberately mentioned Mamoru Yoshikuni to Kuze at the park, that there was a letter that could be used as evidence. On her way home, a white sedan drove near hers, and a man in a suit, probably a white-collared worker, walked out from it.
–I am the subordinate of a certain person. May I ask whether you did that just now because you knew Mr Soichiro Kuze was the culprit who shifted the blame upon your father, caused his name to be tarnished, and drove him to suicide?
The man had seen through Shioriko’s intentions, causing the latter to be wary.
–If that is really the case, my superior has the same goals as you. If you really wish to take revenge for your father, please call this number.
After that, the man gave her a namecard with a cellphone number and mail address.
Shioriko originally did not intend to contact the man.
For she was still afraid.
However, Tomohiko was hospitalized again, and his health was worse than before, causing Shioriko to be at a loss of what to do. Anxiety, trepidation, jitters and despair rose in her, and she was almost breaking down.
Will grandpa die?
No, that’s impossible. Grandpa will definitely be discharged soon. I’ll be able to water the plants with him soon.
However, Hikaru, who was much younger than her grandfather, suddenly passed away. Perhaps he would really die.
The moment she thought of this, her heart was about to wither.
She decided that to help Tomohiko recover, she would con Kuze of his money, and buy the house back.
She found the envelop in the wardrobe, back when she was preparing the amenities needed for the hospital stay when Tomohiko was hospitalized for the first time.
The recipient was her mother, and in her curiosity, she took the letter out. Once she found that it was written by her father, who she had no awareness of, her heart instantly raced.
The sender was Mamoru Yoshikuni…
(This person’s my papa?)
What kind of person is he?
Maybe I will be able to meet him.
Harboring such hopes, she searched the name on the cellphone internet, only to be met with startling news.
Mamoru Yoshikuni was a criminal.
He had pleaded innocence, but nobody believed him.Soon after, he stood at the edge of the platform, and was killed because he did not notice the incoming train. Others had claimed that he committed suicide…
All sorts of thoughts filled her mind, robbing her of her breath.
Some claimed that Kuze’s alibi was forged, and some claimed that Kuze was the one who instructed Yoshikuni to cover the incident up, and revealed that the latter received bribes–There were all kinds of speculations on the internet, and they caused Shioriko to falter.
At that point, Kuze continued to smile on the television as a famed philantrophist.
Shioriko wondered if her father was fooled by Kuze, just as the internet speculation had stated, and was made the scapegoat. This suspicion soon became firm belief.
Grandpa lost the house because he bore the debt for a friend. Papa must be like him too; he died because he was too kind!
–Grandpa, Hikaru, both of you are so weird; why can you forgive others so easily? It’s because of that that you’re tricked by others, toyed, and slandered–all the bad things happen to you!
She was unable to vent the turbulent emotions roaring within her, and could only take it out on Hikaru as she slammed his chest over and over again.
Hikaru practically embraced Shioriko for the entire night.
The next day, Shioriko was unable to look at Hikaru due to awkwardness, but the latter merely smiled at her gently, saying ‘Good morning’.
That warm smile was akin to her grandfather’s, causing her to feel some form of solace.
If Hikaru was still alive, perhaps she would hide the contents of the letter deep within her heart.
However, he died, and Tomohiko had muddled up her with her deceased mother.
If she could get back her old house, perhaps her grandfather would get better.
For this cause, she needed money. Despite Hikaru’s forbiddance, she continued to hunt sparrows; however, the savage dog that should be helping her got in her way, preventing her from achieving her means.
Feeling frustrated, she spotted the cover of the weekly magazine that contained conspiracy theories on the food poisoning case 10 years ago.
She was practically tranced as she stood at the bookshop entrance, staring at the cover unflinchingly.
Kuze had such a massive company; surely he would be able to fork out 64 million yen.
Right, since Kuze was supposedly the bad guy who framed her father, there was nothing wrong for her to con Kuze’s money.
It was revenge.
With this as her motive, she started investigations on him, and tried approaching him.
But at this time, Tomohiko fell ill.
“Grandpa! Grandpa!” Shioriko was shouting away in the ambulance.
She had no time to hesitate.
Perhaps Tomohiko would die the next day.
Back then, she received a call from Hikaru’s, only to be told by a woman who claimed to be Hikaru’s cousin the time and location of the funeral–perhaps one day, at any given moment, the hospital would call and say ‘Your grandfather’s dead’.
She writhed about in anguish on the additional bed in the hospital ward, and got up to take her grassy green pochette. She took out the namecard, and dialled the number.
–I can meet your superior, and I can work together with him. However, since the 64 million Yen is something I wanted from Kuze, I want your superior to pay for it.
The other party requested for time to consider, and said that they would contact her again.
It was practically a deal with the devil, and she inadvertently felt fearful of it.
It was 3 days after her grandfather had fallen ill, in the middle of the night, when she received a reply.
The cellphone in her pocket vibrated, waking her up. She took it out, and found that it was that man.
There was only one line contained within that mail,
“We accept your request.”
Once she saw this, Shioriko changed her clothes immediately, and left the Akagis with her pochette and Capybara plushie.
The outside was completely dark, and the air was frigid to a point of freezing.
She called, and the man picked up the phone. She endured her trembling, and haughtily requested,
–Send someone to pick me up.
And so, Shioriko and Gohara were accomplices.
Gohara was the senior managing director in Kuze’s company, and had always plotted to topple Kuze’s current position.
Shioriko felt he was an arrogant prick, a good-for-nothing. However, since he was willing to pay 64 million yen, she had nothing to complain about
Gohara brought Shioriko to the television studio, and introduced her to the news people.
–Isn’t it very miserable to see a pretty elementary school girl plead for her father’s innocence?
However, their reactions were not as expected, for she was too cute. One would assume that the news was fabricated, and not everyone would agree with it. There had to be bigger topic if they wanted to brazenly report something while taking the risk of going up against Kuze.
“We thought of something.”
Gohara explained his script; Shioriko was to barge into the charity meeting chaired by Kuze, with prominent political and economic figures in attendance, and face Kuze.
“If you create a commotion there, it’ll ruin his image, and some might be willing to support in. In this case, the media will have to do something.”
It’s all up to you–
Gohara said with a hideous sneer.
At this point, Shioriko was standing in front of the villa with Gohara.
The doors opened right in front of her eyes.
The torches were all lit within, and Shioriko was dazzled by the lights in front of her.
“Mr Gohara? We’ve been waiting. Eh? This young lady is?”
The attendant in butler uniform asked,
“A special guest.”
Gohara answered, and ushered Shioriko into the house as they scaled the red carpet staircase.
For every step they took, her gut was wrenched, and she was gradually finding it difficult to breathe.
It was scary.
Her legs were numb.
But she had to go on.
She suddenly recalled the amicable Akagis, probably out of fear, and as a result, was aching in misery.
(They were so nice to me, and even made such nice meals for me, bought this Capybara plushie for me, taught me to write calligraphy, slept with me, said bedtime stories to me…)
But if she were to stay on, she would definitely weaken. She would then become hesitant and revert back to being a normal child!
That was why she had to leave that family immediately. She should have left that Capybara plushie.
(I can’t become a weak kid!)
And for papa,who showed such concern to mama in the letter.
Papa definitely must be a good guy, just like grandpa and Hikaru!
They were about to arrive at the doors leading to the meeting room.
Shioriko grabbed the green pochette dangling on her shoulder, took a deep breath, placed her hand on the icy door, and pushed it…
There were pots of orchids everywhere in this high-ceiling room.
There were orchids with narrow stems, orchids with long leaves and milky white orchids that were extremely glossy–each of them had a bewitching atmosphere to them as they gave off a sweet fragrance…
The window at the veranda was opened, and the moonlight should shine inside quietly.
In the middle was the director’s table.
But there was only a person seated there, an old man with white hair, dressed in a posh kimono…
That man–Soichiro Kuze–was smiling gently at Shioriko.
“Good evening, young lady.”
Shioriko felt goosebumps all over her, her enthusiasm dampened.
“A-Ad-Ad-Ad-Ad-Advisor!? Didn’t you have a regular meeting for the charity organization today?”
Gohara, who was standing beside Shioriko, was completely pale.
Kuze showed a calm expression as he answered,
“The meeting was cancelled. Didn’t the secretary notify you? Did you forget in the spur of the moment? That is careless of you.”
“Please pardon me.”
The man who helped Gohara contact Shioriko suddenly appeared at the door.
Gohara looked back, and once he saw that person, he was speechless.
Shioriko felt her heart skip a beat.
(This man’s actually Kuze’s spy…)
Behind the man were a group of men dressed in suits, probably the security personnel.
There was no escape!
Gohara’s face was flushed with fury and fear.
Shioriko held onto the pochette with her right hand tightly, her body stiff as she bit her lips.
Kuze stood up.
Shioriko cringed in fear as Kuze deliberately closed in on her slowly. He stopped in front of her, and showed a calm smile.
The fragrance of orchids had gently ensnared Shioriko’s body.
“I’m sorry that you had to make a trip tonight, but it is easier to talk when there are fewer people around. Gohara, would you mind leaving this place for the time being?”
“Director, this way please.”
“L-Let go of me, you traitor!”
Gohara’s voice gradually trailed off,and the moment the doors were shut with a poignant boom, she found herself a little giddy.
“Alright. It’s just between you and me now, so say whatever you want. Oh yes, I promised to treat you to whatever you like. What would you like me to serve you with? Is there anything you want to eat?”
Kuze sounded ever so calm as he spoke.
At that time, Shioriko felt a frail hand, dripping in poison, tickling her heart.
(Kuze saw through everything. He already set everything up!)
The despicable man she wanted to take revenge on was toying her, and this certain thought shook her greatly.
“Why aren’t you answering? You’re not hungry? Well, you may eat later. Would you please show me the evidence you have however?”
Shioriko held onto the edge of the green pochette as she retreated back.
“Y-You…you ordered papa to cover up the scandal, and made him bear all the blame! I know everything!”
“Is the father you’re talking about Mamoru Yoshikuni? I never thought that he would have such a beautiful daughter. It certainly was reckless of him to do that.”
Kuze’s eyes were filled with empathy, his expression anguished. One could not tell if it was either an act, or truly his thoughts.
“Yoshikuni certainly was a rare honest man. His only hobby is to go fishing on vacations, and will never indulge himself in luxury. Perhaps it was because of his serious personality that he personally decided to cover up the incident for the sake of the company. It really hurts my heart to think about that. Perhaps the reason why he would say that I, as the CEO instigated him to do so is that I would do certain things ‘if I were around’, and that he misunderstood that I was hinting for him to cover up the matter. But if I were present, there’s definitely no way I would allow him to do so.”
Kuze sighed long and hard, seemingly feeling responsible for Yoshikuni’s actions. This attitude of his rattled Shioriko.
“Even till now, I can’t believe that Yoshikuni accepted corporate bribes. However, there were unnatural transactions recorded on his account…no matter how he tried to proclaim his innocence, no matter how I trusted him, I can’t acquit him of his crime. Yoshikuni probably could not take the scrutiny from the public and the police, I guess. His parents died early, so I had to take care of the funeral…it was a real pity…there was no need for him to take his life.”
He showed his philanthropic face as he said such words.
Both Tomohiko and Hikaru would smile, and would never raise their voice to scold. No matter how unreasonable matters were, they would accept them calmly.
Though Kuze’s smile was similar to them, there were marked differences.
“If Yoshikuni really gave evidence that can prove his innocence to your mother, please let me show it. Come, let me confirm it with you.”
Kuze spoke with a sweet orchid-like voice, and Shioriko shivered in fear in the face of the frail white hand reached out at her, unable to say anything. Her legs were quivering as she held onto the green pochette tightly.
“Oh? You put it inside?”
Kuze grabbed the pochette.
The strap was snapped, and Kuze snatched the pochette away.
He pulled the zip, and took out an old folded letter. The post date was on July 20th, from Hamada. The recipient was a ‘Midoriko Wakagi’, while the sender was ‘Mamoru Yoshikuni’.
He opened the letter, and read it.
Though frowning at first, his expression gradually relaxed, and he broke into cackles.
“This is just a letter to your mother. ‘It’s still hot today. Are you feeling already? I’ll go meet father after that, telling her that you’re pregnant and plead for his approval. I suppose it’s better to get registered, so please take care of yourself and give birth to a healthy child’. Since he knew he has a child, what else is there to worry?”
Shioriko was flustered and furious, seething red.
As Kuze had said, it was a letter of concern for her mother.
There was nothing inside it that could prove his innocence.
It was because Shioriko read this letter that she believed her father was innocent.
That was why she believed he was a good man.
This letter was ‘evidence’, proving that he truly loved her mother, and proved that both were hoping to be her parents.
Kuze however viewed this talisman, which Shioriko kept with her at all times, as nothing, and even laughed at her.
She was unable to argue back; she had nary a weapon, and was practically empty-handed in front of her enemy.
“Alright now, young lady. It is a crime to try and threaten me with nothing and try to tarnish my name.”
He coldly stated, and then showed a warm smile again.
“Well, it is useless to say such a thing to you. A young girl like you can’t possibly come up with such a plan. Certainly, a bad man must have ordered you to do so, right? Will you please tell that name to the police? You can admit that you’re simply a victim.”
Kuze’s objective was simply to get rid of Gohara, who opposed him.
For this, he had to pull Shioriko to his side.
Shioriko felt her body being ostensibly twisted once she understood Kuze’s intent.
Everything had gone to Kuze’s plan.
She was still a mere weak child!
“Are you willing to say so?”
Shioriko naturally did not want this man to get what he wanted. She clasped her hands tightly, bit her lips, and lowered her head, remaining silent.
“Oh? You don’t wish to say so? In that case, I will have to hand you over to the police as a criminal.”
That gentle voice ensnared Shioriko’s neck like a snake, and she closed her eyes and mouth tightly. She was ostensibly suffocating, and she struggled like a person drowning in water.
(Hikaru, save me…)
No matter how she begged, Hikaru was no longer alive. He could no longer embrace Shioriko, and could no longer comfort her in her restlessness.
At this moment…
“I’ll choke you to death if you dare do that!”
A passionate voice rang from a window at a corner of the veranda.
Shioriko lifted her head, and found a fiery-looking, tall lanky youth leap in through the window, his red hair swaying with the wind.
He was huffing and puffing like a dog barking madly, his dirty, soil-riddled sneakers stepping upon the thin carpet.
Kuze whipped out a cellphone from the inside of his kimono, intending to call for security.
The savage dog Hikaru gave–Koremitsu Akagi widened his eyes, and in what seemed like an attempt to stop him, roared,
“Shiiko’s your own daughter!”
♢ ♢ ♢
She had no idea what Koremitsu meant when she said that.
That was the expression Shioriko had when she stared at Koremitsu
Koremitsu felt his heart being carved apart as he thought of the truth that would be rvealed.
(I can’t believe it either! Shiiko is Kuze’s own daughter!?)
Asai told Koremitsu that the charity organization’s regular meeting, which Kuze chaired, was suddenly delayed, the original location of the meeting, ‘figure out the rest with that slow-witted mind of yourself’, and said these words.
Whilst Koremitsu dashed towards the place, Hikaru spoke with a serious look,
“Shiiko fell into a trap.”
Hikaru even stated that it was likely Shioriko’s father was not Mamoru Yoshikuni, but Kuze.
(This is too tragic to Shiiko, but Koremitsu, you still want her to know despite knowing tha, right?)
Kuze had his cellphone by his ear as he remained speechless. Hikaru glared at him sternly, and stated poignantly,
“Shiiko’s mother was an idol affiliated to a certain famous agency, and had yet to make her debut.”
And so, Koremitsu said to both Kuze and Shioriko,
“Shiiko’s mom was an idol belonging to a famous agency, and did not make her debut back then.”
Surely, Kuze had yet to realize who Shioriko’s mother was.
And so, he frowned slightly.
“She became an acquaintance with you, when you were a major sponsor. And then, you had an affair with this girl, whose age was young enough to be your daughter, or even your granddaughter.”
“At that time, you met her mother as a sponsor, but you had a relationship with her when she was still very young, and made her pregnant. As a result, she was fired from the agency.”
Shioriko widened her eyes, her face pale as she listened to Koremitsu. Her eyes were filled confusion and conflicting emotions.
(I’ll tell you every truth Hikaru said of to you, Shiiko. I know this will make you said, but listen to everything and have a new life from now on. I’ll try my best to help you then.)
Koremitsu endured the anguish as he looked forward. Kuze, who finally recovered from his shock, calmly rebutted,
“What nonsense ar you spouting? That child’s father is Mamoru Yoshikuni. You see? It’s what the letter stated.”
After saying that, he raised the letter with a smile on his face.
Hikaru immediately continued,
“Mr Yoshikuni stated in the letter that he wanted to ask his father for approval but you just said that his parents died early. His father is no longer alive! Who’s he going to ask for approval”
Koremitsu snatched the letter and envelop from Kuze’s hands.
Kuze flinched, and pulled his hand back like he was bitten.
“This letter contains something about ‘asking father for approval’. You just said that Yoshikuni had no relatives to conduct his funeral! I heard it all on the veranda!”
Koremitsu handed the letter to Shioriko, and closed in on Kuze with a ferocious look, causing th latter to retreat in fear.
“Was he going to ask his father at his grave?”
“Who knows. He would not be able to get his father’s approval either way, and if the family registration will not happen, why would he do that?”
Hikarus eyes looked sharper than before, like a lake absorbing the moonlight.
Shioriko pressed the letter tightly to her chest, her expression faltering uneasily.
“If it had not been Mr Yoshikuni’s child, but his superior’s, which would mean you in this case…Shiiko’s mom could not talk to you, and had to discuss matters with Mr Yoshikuni. That makes sense! When Shiiko’s grandfather was talking about the child in the tummy, he once said, ‘should be somewhere in the Spring hall, feeding the bruins, travelling in the Silver World…carrying the sword of Seto around, watching the pitiful crickets’–“
Hikaru prattled on, and Koremitsu pricked his ears as he was worried about missing out on anything, passionately saying,
“She can’t be registered if he doesn’t get the permission from his dead father? If this ‘father’ means someone else, it’ll be more natural to think that Shiiko’s mom looked to Yoshikuni for help. Shiiko’s grandfather once said, ‘Shiiko’s should be somewhere in the Spring hall, feeding the bruins, travelling in the Silver World,carrying the sword of Seto around, watching the pitiful crickets’–“
“The Spring Hall is a type of Neofinetia falcata orchids! Bear, silver world, seto sword, crickets, they all are! Shiiko’s grandfather already knew that her father is you, the king of orchids!”
Hikaru spoke sternly,
And Koremitsu roared,
“These are all species of Neofinetia falcatas. Orchids! What Shiiko’s grandfather wanted to say is that her father is often living amongst them! That person is not Yoshikuni, but you, the king of orchids! Kuze!”
Kuze was unable to smile anymore.
There was intense shock and confusion on his face, but his dry lips twitched slightly as it seemed he wanted to struggle on.
Hikaru then turned his head to Shioriko.
“Shiiko, what is your mother’s name?”
“Shiiko, say your mom’s name.”
Shioriko, who had been listening intently with bated breath, lowered her eyebrows, looking completely confused.
Her shoulders were shuddering as she stared at Koremitsu, and hoarsely replied,
“Midoriko…Wakagi. Her stage name is Riko…”
Kuze’s expression clearly changed.
His eyes were wide, his face completely tense as he stared at her.
Hikaru then stated his final line calmly,
“If you do not believe it, please do a DNA test.”
And Koremitsu said coldly,
“If you have any doubts about it, go do a DNA test.”
But this line was unnecessary to Kuze. He no longer had Koremitsu in his sights, let alone Hikaru.
He stared at Shioriko intently, ostensibly wanting to devour her as he tried to find any form of semblance in her, in her eyes, mouth, nose, dangling black hair.
“You’re Riko’s child…really…”
A dry voice stammered.
Shioriko clutched the letter to her chest as she cringed tentatively, remaining still.
The man she thought was her father was not her father, and the man who she thought was the culprit was her real father.
Would she be able to accept this truth?
Hikaru stared at Shioriko in grief; perhaps he had known who her real father was once he heard her grandfather mention the names of the orchids.
That was why, when they went to Shioriko’s house, he said in frustration that it would not be good no matter whether Shioriko succeeded in her plan.
Koremitsu wondered whether Hikaru would have kept this matter to himself if the situation had not played out like this.
Just as Shioriko’s grandfather, Tomohiko, had done for the past 10 years.
Koremitsu clearly sensed her fear, distress, confusion, and was as griefed as she was.
Kuze too was shocked by this, but had no choice but to recognize this fact. He showed a feeble expression belonging to a normal old man as he reached his hand towards her, wanted to stroke her milky-white face.
Shioriko shivered, but was unable to move as she stared anxiously and fearfully at the man she realized was her father.
Right when the old man and young girl–father and daughter, exchanged fearful looks…
The cellphone in Koremitsu’s pocket rang.
Koremitsu secretly grumbled the inopportune moment of the call, but was stupefied once he saw the screen.
It was from the hospital.
Koremitsu’s heart was pounding furiously.
He pressed the dial button, brought the phone to his ear, and was greeted with a dysphoric message.
Shioriko’s grandfather had passed away.