“Welcome back, big brother!”
The instant Koremitsu opened the door and said ‘I’m back’, he heard footsteps, and was greeted by a black-haired twintail girl and a smart-looking white cat.
One of them was Shioriko, who joined the Akagis just recently, and Lapis, who joined them before the former did.
Lapis’ original owner, Yū, had once said that its hearing ability was not really good, but it suddenly snuck out from somewhere whenever Koremitsu returned home; perhaps it sensed the tremors in the air. It however would merely appear, and never tried to cling itself upon others, which Shioriko would do instead.
“Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”
“Hey, once is already enough, Shiiko.”
Koremitsu was unable to move forward, and tried to pull her away, but she climbed upon him.
“I’ve been waiting for you for a long time~actually, tonight’s dinner is made by aunt Koharu and me, you know~ there’s the super spicy chicken in spicy sauce, mapo tofu and pickles. I heard you like spicy things, so I added lots of chilli inside, big brother!”
Shioriko lifted her head at Koremitsu, speaking with a cheeky smile.
Not too long ago,
“You stupid dog”
She had been calling him this, a stark contrast at this point.
Till now, Koremitsu was still confused, but Shioriko had completely adapted herself to the Akagis and his family members.
“Well, I’m happy with that, but it’s meaningless if you can’t eat it, Shiiko. If you make it too spicy, you’ll be sobbing and snivelling like the last time when we had curry.”
A few days ago, “I want to eat the curry adults eat!” Shioriko whined about wanting to eat the same curry Koremitsu and the rest ate, creating quite the commotion in the end. Once Koremitsu pointed this out, her face reddened, and she started slamming at his chest.
“I-I wasn’t snivelling. I wasn’t prepared, that’s all. I tried it out when I added, so I’m fine here. Don’t treat me as a kid, idiot!”
She turned her face away angrily.
“Anyway, it’s really delicious. Hurry and take a shower! Start eating after that!”
Once she said that, she trotted back into the kitchen.
And Lapis’ indigo eyes were staring at their interaction coldly.
“It looks like Shiiko is a lot livelier than before.”
Hikaru too spoke in his usual calm, gentle voice.
“Yeah. Too lively, if you ask me.”
“It sure is tough being the big brother.”
“Stop teasing me!”
“But I suppose she is this lively because you are with her.”
“Yo-You idiot! Don’t make it sound so cheesy!”
“You really are not used to receiving praise, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru giggled, and Koremitsu remained silent as he stormed to the bathroom with a scowl.
He removed his shirt in the changing room, threw it into the washing machine, and asked coldly,
“Your next ‘unfinished business’ is regarding Tsuyako, right?”
Koremitsu’s scowling face was the only thing reflected on the mirror at the basin.
A serious sounding voice could be heard from behind.
Koremitsu recalled the conversation he had with Tsuyako in the clubroom.
–I hope that you will join the Japanese Dance Club. This is what I am asking of you
She showed a teasing expression, and her shivering body, pale expression seemed to be an act.
–Though we call it a club, it is a problem that I am the only member. I will have to forfeit this room if I do not get more members. I have been trying my best to fight back, but the student council president, Miss Asai does seem to hate me.
–If you become a member, it will have the effect of shooing away other men. I did mention before that there has been a stalker recently. It is a bother, to be honest.
–I can only ask you for this. Please help me by joining the Japanese Dance Club. I will get mentally stressed out worrying over the lack of a clubroom and the stalker, and might end up doing something. I just plucked off many flowers in the courtyard today, those flowers Hikaru really treasured…
Hikaru did mutter before that the flowers were wilting strangely. That, of course, was not because he was worrying too much.
Tsuyako’s voice and expression remained chirpy, ostensibly joking.
But once she mentioned about the plucking of the flowers, Hikaru, who had been listening from beside, looked gloomy, and requested Koremitsu seriously.
Do you mind joining for the time being, Koremitsu?
And Koremitsu could only answer,
“If it’s for the time being..”
“Tsuyako has always been able to deal with her admirers well; she established the Japanese Dance Club once she entered the High School affiliate, and managed to handle everything perfectly. She is not the type to rely on others.”
Koremitsu soaked himself within the bathtub, and Hikaru above him was surrounded in white steam as he uttered silently.
“Tsuyako Udate is a proud, elegant lady standing tall like the red weeping cherry blossoms swaying under the hazy moon.”
He sounded serious, proud, his eyes filled with tenderness.
“The dim, blurry moon in the night of Spring is called the Hazy Moon. It will not shine brightly, but its light does not create any shadows. That dim light is like a fleeting fantasy, a Moon of unparalleled beauty…
The Heian musician Chisato Ohno once marvelled at it, saying that there is none that surpasses the sight of the hazy moon night in the midst of Spring, and I must say it is aptly put. Try imagining it, Koremitsu, how alluring the red weeping cherry blossoms are as they dangle in the dim moonlight.
As the thin red petals absorb the moonlight, they shall give off a faint light, the stalks swaying about, seemingly bragging about its beauty, boasting that it is the queen of the garden. The trunk is firmly entrenched into the ground, unfaltering, yet its branches are curved in such a demure manner, maintaining its regal presence…that is the kind of flower Tsuyako is.”
Hikaru’s face was gradually becoming resplendent, his eyes tipsy in ecstasy, proud as if he was talking about himself, grinning from ear to ear..
His gleeful expression however gave way to melancholy, and he stared at Koremitsu, saying,
“I suppose it is weird for Tsuyako to ask you to join the club at this time. Even if Asa wanted to take that room back, she would definitely not do that. There has to be a catch or something.”
Hikaru’s austere expression was to a point of somberness, a far cry from the weak looking youth who would only talk about flowers.
(This guy must have been worried sick about those girls every day when he was alive…sure must be tiring…)
But Koremitsu had clearly witnessed the affections Hikaru had given to all the girls; he always treasured his promises with them and would do anything to live up to his bargain, whether it was to Aoi, Yū or Shioriko.
Thus, he surely must have been worried for that elegant, beaming upperclassman.
“Guess I got no choice.”
Koremitsu grumbled amidst the steam.
“I don’t have club activity to join to begin with. I got lots of time after school.”
Hikaru’s face lit up immediately,
“Thank you Koremitsu! I am relieved now that you are going to be with Tsuyako!”
Koremitsu felt embarrassed, his back itching as he stared at the stare filled with trust.
“But there’s also the matter about Aoi. My mind’s in a mess now that I have to handle two women at the same time, damn it.”
Could he possibly do it when he was not used to handling women? And if Honoka were to know about it, she would likely lambast him for being a cheating man.
And so, Hikaru gave an elegant smile,
“It is fine. During these past two months, your skills relating to girls must have improved quite a lot. You have this harem prince in me giving direct lessons to you after all.”
“Don’t brag about yourself like that! Aren’t you just spewing knowledge about flowers!?”
Koremitsu stood up from the bathtub, retorting at Hikaru’s words, only for the bathroom door to suddenly open.
“Seriously, big brother, how long do you want to bath? Dinner’s done a long time ago!”
An impatient Shioriko was puffing her cheeks as she said this.
“Woah! Don’t just come in like this!”
Koremitsu hastily retreated into the bathtub.
“Humph, I’ve already seen you naked before. I still have that embarrassing photo of you in my cellphone.”
“WHA!? You still haven’t deleted that photo you took during our first encounter!? Hey, Shiiko! Hand me the cellphone and the memory card!”
“Don’t wanna. Stop yapping and hurry up, or I’m going to show it to Lapis.”
It would not be a problem if she showed it to Lapis. The problem however was that a fourth grader girl had such a photo in her cellphone.
“Wait, Shiiko! Damn it! Women are all like that! Even brats!”
Koremitsu hurried out of the bathtub, wrapped a towel around his waist, and chased after Shioriko, only to be caught by Koharu.
“Koremitsu! Don’t run around the house in such a shameful getup! We have a girl in our house!”
She even smacked him with rolled newspaper.
Why am I the one being hit…!? Koremitsu angrily gritted his teeth, and Hikaru could only grimace elegantly as he watched from above.
“Hm…looks like your skills of dealing with girls can use some more work.”
♢ ♢ ♢
On the next day, after school,
“Argh, I’m late because of cleaning duty!”
Koremitsu sprinted down the corridor as he held his bag over his shoulder.
“That is because everyone who was supposed to work with you were scared of you, and ran off. You did finish up the work obediently however.”
“What else am I supposed to do? I’m alone.”
Koremitsu retorted unhappily, and right when he was about to open the door with the signboard ‘Japanese Dance Club’, he stopped.
(It’ll be bad if she’s changing clothes like the previous day, right?)
He first knocked on the door.
But there was no reply.
“Hey, I’m going in.”
Koremitsu yelled, pulled the door apprehensively, and found Tsuyako inside, dressed in kimono. It was pink, littered with red flowers all over, the collar and sash red in collar.
Her clothing was as radiant as it was the previous day, but the hair tied near her neck was a little ruffled; her eyes were red, and there were tear marks down her cheeks.
(Was she crying?)
Koremitsu was utterly terrified of seeing women cry.
His heart suddenly raced.
(Is it because I’m late? Did the stalker appear? Was that real?)
Hikaru too was frowning worriedly.
Just when Koremitsu was wondering how he should talk to her, Tsuyako showed a completely different expression as she smiled cheerfully.
That vibrant smile was like a field of red cherry blossoms blooming in unison, the petals fluttering in the wind.
“Good. You have arrived.”
She spoke cheerfully, seemingly delighted from within.
Koremitsu started to feel anxious again.
She had reverted back to her old self the previous day, and she held his hand while he was feeling flustered, pulled him inside, and spoke in a tone befitting an older sister,
“Let us begin then.”
“Mr Akagi, your back is arched again, your neck, not just your upper body, has to remain straightened. The soles are to rest against each other. No, you cannot lift your ankles that high. Your arms have to be about two fists away from the body. Turn your head around…not the face, just the head. Move it slowly and carefully. Okay, let us repeat this again.”
Tsuyako’s cheerful voice and Koremitsu’s gasping were the only things heard in the clubroom covered with tatamis.
“Again!? Haven’t I been doing this same thing for an hour already!?”
“The fundamentals are the most important things, even in sports and studies.”
Koremitsu agreed to join the club for the time being, but he never expected himself to have to learn the proper seating postures, basic greeting manners, and basic standing posture.
From time to time, Tsuyako would hold Koremitsu’s arms, touch his neck, and guide him along with clarity in her voice;
“Your shoulder’s dropping again.”
“Stretch your arm out.”
Sometimes, she would even hit him on the shoulders or arms with a fan, and correct him sternly.
Koremitsu had always assumed that a Japanese dance was a slow, feeble kind of dance, but he was already gasping for breath before he even got to the dancing itself, sweating profusely.
In contrast, Tsuyako’s had yet to mess up the hem of her kimono as she touched Koremitsu on the shoulders and elbows elegantly, demonstrating to him.
The red hair, tied together in a knot, swayed gently along with her hems; even the movement of the arms themselves was etched in Koremitsu’s eyes like a painting.
He marveled in his heart over and over again, mesmerized as he watched on.
Whenever Tsuyako approached him however, there would be a sweet fragrance that nauseated him. He froze over, causing Tsuyako to be amused as she teased,
“Your neck has to bend.”
She even reached her hand out at Koremitsu’s face.
(Damn it, am I being teased now?)
He gritted his teeth, moving his body gingerly while Hikaru gleefully floated at the ceiling watching over them.
“If Miss Shikibu is to notice you being so cute now, she will surely be envious of Tsuyako.”
(What has this got to do with Shikibu!?)
Koremitsu recalled that Shikibu had been frowning and glancing at him from her seat, located beside his, for the entire day, and could only curl his lips.
He was miffed at the rapid-fire messages sent to him the previous day, but he also found it annoying to be stared at for the the entire day, which vexed him to no end.
(Stop giggling already, you stupid ghost!)
Koremitsu glared at the ceiling, only for Tsuyako to correct the position of his neck.
“No, Mr Akagi, it has to be the gold look, not moon look.”
“Gold look? What’s that?”
“It is the positioning of the stare when dancing. The moon look is to look high, the bell look is to roll your eyes back, the silver look is to look down, and the bronze look is to look right at your feet. The gold look is the basic of basics, to look at the front.”
Tsuyako held Koremitsu by the cheeks with her hands. They felt silky and warm, very comforting.
Koremitsu’s face was adjusted, and he found Tsuyako’s beautiful face right in front of him, causing his heart to race.
Tsuyako gently narrowed her eyes that were laced with long eyelashes.
“Right, this is the gold look.”
Koremitsu’s face was sizzling, his resistances nearly failing completely.
“Stop touching me, Tsuyako.”
Tsuyako pinched Koremitsu on the nose.
“The only one younger than me who can call me by my name is my lover. You are not my lover now, so you have to call me senpai.”
Koremitsu murmured, and Tsuyako was grinning away.
Koremitsu raised his voice slightly.
He had never taken part in any club activity, and never had any upperclassmen he was close with.
It was really embarrassing for him to call her senpai, and his face was broiling.
The grin on Tsuyako’s face became more pronounced, and she closed her eyes, saying,
Koremitsu yelled in distress,
“THAT’S ENOUGH ALREADY!”
Upon hearing Koremitsu holler, Tsuyako opened her eyes, and giggled amusedly, seemingly pleased.
“Hm, you pass. I never thought that it would be so comforting to hear such a savage person call me with a honorific. I guess I might even get addicted to it; continue calling me ‘senpai’, okay?”
It was impossible for him to call her that, given that she was being so expectant.
Hikaru tried to resist the urge to laugh as he teased,
“How about you call me senpai too? Do you rather I call you senpai? Koremitsu senpai?”
(Shut up, you idiot!)
“You are giving that moon look again. Why are you so concerned about the ceiling?”
“It-It’s nothing. There just happened to be a fly down there…”
Koremitsu murmured awkwardly, averting his stare from Hikaru.
“Your concentration is faltering? How about we have a break.”
“Hold on a moment, I shall prepare some iced green tea.”
Koremitsu knelt on the tatami, like a dog ordered by its owner to wait.
She boiled some water using the electric kettle, took out some ice from the cooler box, quickly prepared some iced green tea, and poured it into a glass jug. She also took out some thinly sliced chestnut-steamed Yōkan.
The cooled green tea gave off a refreshing aroma that moistened his parched throat. The chestnut-steamed Yōkan was not too sweet, and even Koremitsu, who abhorred sweet food, found it delicious.
Hikaru continued to float leisurely in the air, and Tsuyako consumed her tea elegantly in front of Koremitsu.
“Oh yes, how did you and Hikaru become friends? Did Hikaru borrow a textbook from you, Mr Akagi?”
Tsuyako asked, clearly looking very interested.
“No, well, he asked if he could borrow the Classics textbook from me, but there was no Classics lesson that day.”
“Eh? Why did he not investigate things thoroughly? Since he was really hoping to be your friend, he should have investigated it thoroughly. I think he was so excited about meeting you after such a long time that he forgot about it.”
Both Koremitsu and Hikaru blushed.
“And then, what did Hikaru do?”
“He said that he had something he wanted to ask of me, and that he wanted to come to my classroom, but he never did. He had been harassing me for the entire day, even when I’m using the toilet. I just can’t chase him away.”
“Koremitsu, that may be the truth, but the way you are talking about it indicates that I am a stalker or something.”
“No way, he actually followed you to the toilet?”
Tsuyako chuckled, and giggled away, seemingly amused by it.
“I guess I lost to his persistence.”
The instant he said this, Tsuyako giggled again, saying,
“Hikaru really liked you, huh? Maybe it is because of your hair.”
She gradually reached her arm out to him, twiddling with his bangs.
This action caused Koremitsu’s heart to race again.
Koremitsu asked blankly, and Tsuyako gave a sweet expression, ostensibly in a blissful dream.
“Yes. Hikaru first approached me because he fell in love with my hair, saying that it is like the red weeping cherry blossoms..”
Her plump red lips broke into a smile.
“I was often dejected before that, wondering why I was not born with red hair instead. Hikaru however said that my hair is beautiful, and even kissed my hair a few times, even in this classroom…”
She lowered her eyelashes as she smiled, her cheeks slightly reddened as she probably recalled something.
This made her all the more beautiful, alluring,
(Hey! What did you do in this classroom!!!)
Koremitsu inadvertently panicked.
Hikaru too gave a sweet meaningful smile as he stared at Tsuyako, causing Koremitsu’s heart to race. It felt as if there was a sudden erotic scene while a family was watching television together in the living room.
Tsuyako was smiling blissfully, but her expression gradually gave way to sadness.
Koremitsu felt his heart ache, as if he had just witnessed something he should not have.
(Oh yeah…I think she was crying when I arrived…)
Koremitsu spoke hesitantly,
“Did something happen today?”
“You were crying before I came by, right?”
Her eyes were starting to flutter.
She seemed a little perplexed, and after a moment of silence, she smiled, holding Koremitsu by his hands as she stood up.
“How about a date with me, Mr Akagi?”
“I will tell you Hikaru’s secrets.”
Hikaru panicked the moment he heard that,
“Eh? What is that about, Tsuyako!?”
“Alright, let us go then.”
She latched her soft arm around a panicky Koremitsu, and strolled out cheerfully.
“Hey, where’re we going. Hey!?”
“Tsuyako, what is that secret about!? What topic about me do you want to reveal to Koremitsu?”
Both of them continued to ask, clearly bewildered, but Tsuyako giggled, saying,
“You do not have to be so nervous. The first date is a healthy one.”
“Stop it. Let go of me!”
“Tsuyako, please keep the matter at the dormitory a secret! That goes for the culture festival, the gondola at the Tomakomai sky resort, and the swimming pool at the Imperial Hotel too…Koremitsu is rather inflexible about such things!”
Hikaru knew that she could not hear him, but he had his palms together as he earnestly begged.
Koremitsu really wanted to shake off Tsuyako’s arm. She however was not a hoodlum looking for trouble with him, but was a delicate lady, his upperclassman, ‘senpai’. He could hurt her if he was too violent, and upon realizing this, he did not dare to flail his limbs wildly.
The students still left in the school were utterly speechless to see Tsuyako, dressed in the red-pink kimono, walk alongside the savage-looking, red-haired Koremitsu.
“No way! Isn’t that the Moon Matriarch and the delinquent king?”
“Why’s she with that delinquent freshman? Isn’t she Lord Hikaru’s mistress?”
“I thought Akagi’s a lolicon?”
“The delinquent king managed to get the Moon Matriarch? Now she’s his mistress!”
Such chatter could be heard from everywhere.
Was the Moon Matriarch referring to Tsuyako?
I’m not a lolicon! I’m not a delinquent! And I’m definitely don’t remember having a mistress!
Koremitsu really wanted to yell, but if he were to do so, there would be rumors of the delinquent going berserk on the corridor again.
But if they were to make up such rumors, while it would be nothing for Koremitsu, would Tsuyako not be overly hurt?
“Hey, senpai. Those guys are saying things like mistress and such. It think it’s better to let go of me…”
Koremitsu whispered, and Tsuyako widened her eyes as she stared back, before smiling gently,
“Are you worried about me? You sure are a good child, but it is fine. I am used to hearing others slander about, so I do not really mind.”
Koremitsu was gobsmacked to hear her say such words with a straight face.
And just as she said, she lifted her face, looking very cheerful.
(Is senpai trying to act tough?)
Koremitsu found her to be dazzling.
“You see, Akagi, there was a girl who was so mesmerized seeing Hikaru that she missed a step and fell from the stairs there. Hikaru wanted to catch her, but he was not strong enough, and fell along with me. I ended up having to call the ambulance in the end.”
Tsuyako giggled as she pointed at the stairs.
“Hikaru often came by to the High School Affiliate when he was in Middle School, and there was once when he was playing the piano in the music room. Many girls gathered there, to a point where the door was pushed down, and he was punished to write 10 reflection essays, ‘I will not play musical instruments so carelessly in front of everyone’. He really was dejected about that.”
She giggled as she said.
And so, she strolled lightly, saying,
“There were often girls handing the ohagi and chikuzenni they make to Hikaru in front of that cooking classroom. He would always accept whatever they gave him, and had to put all the food in the freezer and eat them.”
“Sometimes, he would eat too much till he had a tummy upset, and would groan on the tatami in the Japanese Dance Club; because of that, it is necessary to prepare some stomach medication there.”
“There was a Valentine’s Day where he ate 12 boxes of chocolate at one go, and suddenly had a nosebleed at the window here. The window and floor were all covered in his blood, but he kept covering his face with tissue paper, and even said, ‘I will feel happy if I think of this as a trial of love. I do not know how many boxes I have to eat before I get a nosebleed next time. Sure is exciting’. That was really funny.”
She started to reveal one of Hikaru’s secrets after another(?).
And Hikaru was blushing, flailing in the air as he shouted,
“Tsu-Tsuyako, that is enough already. You are making me sound like a fool!”
He continued to yap unhappily in the air.
However, Tsuyako continued to reminiscence about the past, her face beaming.
One could say this was a revisit of all of Hikaru’s silly matters instead of a date.
Tsuyako was so happy talking about Hikaru,
(So this is the kind of people who likes to smile…)
Koremitsu felt an itch in his heart the instant he thought about this. Hikaru had always said that he was too serious, that he should date someone who liked to laugh.
He even mentioned that he would find such a girl.
It was true that anyone would be cheerful when being with a bubbly person. It would not matter to him then even if the people around him kept their distance.
“I said to Hikaru ‘It is tough being everyone’s prince’, but he smiled happily while stuffing his nostrils with tissue paper. ‘I simply love all the flowers in the world’ That was what he answered. He then wrote the girls’ names, the classes they belong to, and their unique traits on cue cards, trying his best to memorize them.”
“Ahh~ please do not recall and say anything else, Tsuyako!”
This was the first time Koremitsu had seen Hikaru being so flustered.
He suddenly realized that the ‘Hikaru’ Tsuyako talked of was different from Aoi’s, Yū’s and Shioriko’s accounts.
(Huh? You got nosebleeds from eating too much chocolates? And you memorized the girls’ names through cue cards? You boasted that your memory increases tenfold if it’s regarding girls.)
Koremitsu snickered as he teased Hikaru, but as he was not used to smiling, ‘the delinquent king has such a vile expression’, such chatter could be heard from the onlookers, and they pulled their distances from him.
“HIkaru is affectionate, but is too indecisive, and does have some mood swings, is half-hearted, really likes to woo girls, many at one go even…”
Tsuyako turned her head towards Koremitsu, smiling sweetly.
It was a gentle expression filled with love.
“But why did all the girls fall in love with Hikaru? Why did they love him so? Do you understand, Mr Akagi?”
She continued to stare at Koremitsu’s eyes gently.
Koremitsu murmured, feeling a little nervous.
“Because he gave the girls what they needed.”
“What they needed?”
“Sweet talk, riveting emotions, honest love, promises…he gave them all without holding back. He truly lover all the flowers, as if he is watering upon them.”
That might be the case.
Hikaru had been giving them everything they wanted.
Hikaru’s ‘promises’ were necessary for them all.
“Did you…make a ‘promise’ with Hikaru?”
Tsuyako lowered her eyes slightly.
“Yes, we made a very important promise.”
Her voice and eyes were showing grief.
Hikaru too looked unsettled.
Tsuyako then whispered,
“But the promise Hikaru made with me…can no longer be fulfilled.”
Koremitsu felt his heart wrench upon hearing this.
At this moment, two girls could be heard as they turned around the corner.
“Why don’t we have gelato after school today, Hono? They’re sold at half price today.”
“Okay, I want the bitter chocolate flavor with added bitterness.”
One of them was Koremitsu’s classmate, the class represenative with braids. THe other was the girl with fierce looking eyes–Honoka Shikibu!
Koremitsu widened his eyes in shock, and Honoka too gasped.
Tsuyako’s arm was intertwined with Koremitsu’s.
Honoka’s naturally raised eyes were raised further.
And her shoulders were quivering.
(Wait, calm down! I didn’t do anything wrong to Shikibu! We’re just classmates! Even if she sees me with other women, there’s nothing to be anxious about…!)
While Koremitsu was struggling to convince himself.
Honoka looked dumbfounded and outraged as she shrieked,
She then slammed the bag with the lunch box upon him, and turned to run off.
“Ho-Hono! Wait for me!”
The class representative with braided hair stared at Honoka and Koremitsu apprehensively, before running off after the former.
Tsuyako widened her eyes in surprise, asking, “Eh? Is that your girlfriend? No way? You really have one?”
Hikaru could only mutter with sympathy, “Miss Shikibu…really picked an inopportune time.”
“Since when was I cheating!? That violent woman!”
He growled as he pressed on his aching head.