“Hey, am I dressed too shabbily or something? Should I have borrowed gramps’ haori hakama?”
That night, during the garden party.
Koremitsu’s back was slouched as he wandered around the garden of Aoi’s acquaintance, obviously looking lost.
“A haori here will look like a formal meeting; since you are a student, a uniform will do. Besides, the Heian Academy uniform is pretty too.”
But though he said so, Koremitsu could only see adults dressed in expensive suits or kimonos, and he could not find anyone else dressed in a school uniform.
This English-styled garden was spacious, to a point one would not assume it to be part of a person’s home. The lighting was as bright as noon, and there were a few round tables with pure white tablecloths on them, dishes of smoked duck and roasted beef laid out on silver platter, with professional chefs to cut them.
Aoi had said that it was a casual party where everyone stood around and ate, so Koremitsu imagined it to be like a barbeque at the seaside or the food stall, but that was not the case.
The female attendants were dressed in white shirts, black vests, and tight skirts, and they went around with silver trays in tow, serving glasses of champagne.
(I don’t belong to this world. I wanna go home~)
“Koremitsu, do not panic. Just act like usual and raise your eyebrows, give that stiff expression, and that ‘I’ll kill you if you dare belittle me’ look.”
(I’m no different from a delinquent then!)
Hikaru was most probably used to being in such occasions, and thus, he was unable to comprehend why Koremitsu was being so restless.
(Of course that’s to be expected of a Little Princeling with enough pocket money to buy a house for an elementary school kid!)
Speaking of which, when Koremitsu left the house, Shioriko pestered him, “Where’re you going? It’s not good to go out to play at such a late time. I’m coming along too!”
(Good thing she didn’t come along.)
Koremitsu was so preoccupied that he could not be bothered to take care of his ‘little sister’.
He looked around, and subconsciously went off to a less crowded.
A person called out to him softly.
Tsuyako was standing in a dim corner, dressed in a red floral long-sleeved kimono and a crimson sash. A portion of her glossy red hair was bundled on her head, while the rest was draped naturally.
The dim moonlight was reflected upon her red hair and sleeves, the sight radiantly alluring.
“Senpai, why are you here?”
“Are you looking for Miss Aoi?”
Tsuyako revealed her face which looked whiter than usual, and smiled silently.
He never expected Tsuyako to attend the garden party, and this really was worse than meeting Asai at this place.
He recalled the scuffle that happened at the clubroom the previous day, and upon imagining what would happen if the two of them were to meet, he felt his gut wrench.
At that moment, “Koremitsu.” Hikaru muttered with a stiff voice.
Koremitsu motioned his stare aside, and found the latter staring at Tsuyako’s feet with a frozen, horrified look.
He too was shocked to see the red flowers scattered pitifully around. There were whole flowers and pruned petals, resembling a trail of blood when shown under the dim moonlight.
He felt his neck and shoulders stiffen, weighing him down, a chill occurring in his heart.
His stare slowly drifted from her feet to her waist, and knees to her chest. At that moment, he realized that the Crape Myrtle growing behind her were all devoid of flowers.
(Did she do it? The flowers by her feet are–)
A new chill wormed through Koremitsu’s spine again.
Tsuyako did say before that she was the one who pruned the flowers in the school garden.
And that she did it in a moment of impulse, because of loneliness and anxiety.
At that time, her tone was cheerful and carefree, and it sounded like a joke.
But was what she said real?
“You cannot leave.”
A pair of frosty hands grabbed Koremitsu’s arm.
Her eyes were lifeless, shrouded in haze like a shadowy moon. Koremitsu watched this scene in fear.
–I really am troubled.
Her eyes were this hazy when she stopped Koremitsu in the clubroom.
–If this keeps up, I might end up destroying the flowers Hikaru treasures.
She lowered her head, her red hair scattered upon her face, her lips quivering as she clasped her shoulders.
Was all those happenings really not an act?
–Mr Akagi…can you help me…? Can you please keep watch on me so that I do not destroy them?
Was that anguished voice the real deal?
Tsuyako spoke to a still, dumbfounded Koremitsu with a monotonous tone,
“Be with me here. Do not go to Miss Aoi. I will ‘prune’ flowers like her if you do otherwise.”
The damp wind caused her red hair to flutter.
A sharp pain roamed about Koremitsu’s bare elbow; Tsuyako was grabbing onto it, ostensibly telling him that she would not let him go. She continued to hold onto Koremitsu’s arm tightly in both hands, and leaned her tender body upon him.
There was the scent of a monastery, the scent of poppy seeds added to the fire, the alluring fragrance whiffing past his nose.
Tsuyako’s shoulders were quaking in fear.
But her eyes were still looking up at him hazily.
“Tsuyako is not being her usual self. It is strange, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru’s face too was filled with an apprehensive, confused look.
“Senpai, are you feeling unwell? Let’s find a place to rest–“
There was sweat trickling down Koremitsu’s back as he said this to Tsuyako.
At this moment, the cellphone rang shrilly in his pocket.
There was no doubt it was Aoi.
But Tsuyako continued to grab Koremitsu with her fingers, not allowing him to pick up the call. As he had forgotten to put his phone to silent mode, the shrill ringtone continued to ring.
“Please do not leave. Stay here.”
Tsuyako continued to repeat this, panting over and over again.
“If you are not around, that woman will capture me. I will be ensnared by the spider web, unable to breathe and dance.”
(Who is that woman!?)
Koremitsu frowned, his heart pounding. Hikaru watched on with bated breath as the moonlight shone on his back.
Tsuyako buried her face at Koremitsu’s neck. The fragrance from the kimono gave off an alluring scent, and the shadows rained upon the scattered flowers. The wind blew the clouds, which slowly covered the moonlight.
Her body was quivering, her eyes widened slightly, showing a lunatic looking frenzy, ostensibly terrified of that sight.
“No…if the spider covers the moon–that woman will appear–“
♢ ♢ ♢
(Where is Akagi?)
Honoka, dressed in a waiter outfit, was serving the champagne glasses from the tray.
Hiina, dressed in a similar outfit was showing a passionate smile as she did the same.
—Do you want to do some part-time work?
She received this call from Hiina the previous evening. “I will be working as a waitress for a party, but I heard that Mr Akagi and Her Highness Aoi will be attending it too.” Upon hearing that reply, Honoka hesitated, “I-I just happened to be free on that day.” Honoka replied.
(Aren’t I being like a stalker here!? What do I say if I meet Akagi!?)
Honoka was left frustrated, her gut cramping in pain. Beside her, Hiina taunted, saying,
“It is great that you are able to come, Miss Shikibu. We were short on hands in the first place, and though it is supposed to be a private internal party, the invited guests are all extremely rich. You can try knowing a few of them if you have a fancy to them! Ah, I think you only have eyes for Mr Akagi however.”
“Th-That’s not the case.”
“In that case, don’t worry. I heard of some rumors that Her Highness Aoi will be revealing her lover at tonight’s party.”
Hiina whispered as she glanced up at Honoka with a boyish look.
Honoka felt her breathing cease.
“Ah, I found Her Highness Aoi.”
Aoi was standing on the other side of the guests mingling around elegantly, dressed in a bright blue, long-sleeved kimono with large white flower patterns, full of summer flair. Honoka’s heart shrank the moment she saw the former.
Aoi’s hair was tied in a bun, decorated with a larger white ribbon, making her prettier and cuter than she normally was.
Honoka was dressed as a waiter, and she was dressed as a Princess, a guest-of-honor; they were of completely different levels, to a point of no comparison right from the beginning.
(Her Highness Aoi wants to declare Akagi as a her boyfriend…that has to be a joke, right? Since when have things developed to that extent?)
An intense throbbing bellowed from her chest.
Aoi was looking around frantically, seemingly looking around. She lowered her head uneasily from time to time, took out her cellphone, and stared at the screen.
“Eh? Isn’t Her Highness Aoi being a little strange now?”
Hiina narrowed her eyes sharply.
Aoi fidgeted as she pressed the buttons, and placed the phone at her ear. The expression gradually became gloomier.
(She’s calling Akagi now, right?)
♢ ♢ ♢
(Why is Mr Akagi not picking up the phone?)
She dialled on the cellphone, only to be cut off by the voicemail.
As a result, she was more anxious than usual.
Normally, Asai would be right beside her whenever they had a party; Aoi had chosen to invite Koremitsu on such a day as Asai could not make it.
However, that Koremitsu was nowhere to be seen.
On the way back home the previous day, “I will give you a call if I cannot find you. Please make sure your cellphone is sufficiently charged.” Aoi had requested Koremitsu this, “Got it.” and the latter could only answer sheepishly.
(I do not think he is not around here. If he is not, he will definitely contact me. Did something happen?)
Koremitsu’s red hair should be extremely eye-catching amongst the crowds.
She really wanted to meet him as soon as possible, or she would be extremely uneasy.
She kept her cellphone, and again walked off, seeking Koremitsu. Her uncles approached her with smiles on their faces.
“Oh? Are you alone, Aoi? This is the day where you introduce your boyfriend to us. I am looking forward to me.”
“I too want to know. Where is he? You managed to hide his identity from Asai too. Well, we understand about that too. I’ll support you two wholeheartedly if he is a man that matches you.”
Aoi was troubled.
Everyone was amicable to her, and had doted on her ever since her infancy. However, if she could not find Koremitsu, she would not be able to introduce him to them, and if she were to explain matters, they would be worried, wondering if she was in a successful relationship with him, their impression of him foul as a result. Aoi should be with the person I chose after all, this might be the opinion in the end.
(What do I do?)
Aoi did not know how she should deal with them in such a situation, for Asai had been handling everything right from the beginning.
Asai however was not present, and certainly, she would not help as she obviously despised Koremitsu utterly.
“Erm…he will be…a little late.”
Aoi explained with a gradually softening voice, and her guardians surrounding her immediatel frowned.
“He is late? This cannot do. There is no way he should make you wait, Aoi.”
“I can’t allow for a man who leaves Aoi alone. I think you should at least meet the man I talked about for courtship, Aoi.”
“Well, if that’s the case, my wife’s nephew is a fine youth himself.”
“No no, I have a fine man amongst my subordinates well suited for her.”
They continued to speak to Aoi with gentle tones, and the girl was nearly defeated by such gentle words and smiles.
She felt her legs weaken, her palms sweaty.
She did not know how to give them an acceptable answer.
(But if this is to keep up, I will have to be courted away.)
In such a case, Aoi expect the topic to end up being about her being betrothed, even if she stated her displeasure for it.
(I do not want that to happen. I still like Hikaru; I do not want others to take the place Hikaru once took.)
It should not be something that could be taken easily.
She could still remember his dazzling smile and rich, sweet voice. She could never forget the final gift Hikaru gave her.
The gentle stars that fell whilst sparkling.
Hikaru had said before “I really love Miss Aoi from the bottom of my heart.”
And Aoi really loved Hikaru for expressing his true, honest feelings to her.
If–just if–there was anyone who could replace him, it would be Hikaru’s friend, who did his best delivering Hikaru’s presents.This savage-looking friend of Hikaru who was soft at heart–
“I-I do not–“
I do not want to be betrothed. Just when Aoi summoned all her courage and tried to utter those words.
“Aoi here is still dating me.”
A gentle voice rang behind Aoi.
For an instance, Aoi had assumed that Hikaru had revived. That lush, sweet voice caused her heart to shiver.
He placed a hand gently on her shoulder to comfort her.
Her uncles widened their eyes in shock.
A slender bespectacled youth was standing there, looking extremely sorry.
He was dressed in a posh suit, but his shoulders were skinny, he lacked authoritative charisma, and seemed somewhat unreliable.
“I-It-it’s you–? No, but.”
The uncles, and even Aoi, showed bewilderment on their faces.
“Please continue to keep this a secret from the rest, especially to my mother and Asai.”
Kazuaki Mikado chimed in as he lowered his eyebrows, showing a feeble look. He then turned to Aoi, and showed a naive smile.
“Let us go, Aoi.”
♢ ♢ ♢
“Let’s follow them.”
Hiina quickly moved off in the direction Aoi and the bespectacled youth went off to.
Honoka panicked, and hurried off after her as well.
Kazuaki continued to embrace Aoi’s shoulder in a gentlemanly manner. It seemed he tried to nonchalantly pry her away from her uncles.
Aoi’s eyes were completely blank.
“M-Mr Kazuaki. What you just said was,”
Kazuaki lowered his head,
“I saw that you were in some trouble, so I could only say such a thing. I think you will be really troubled to be mistaken for dating a foolish, airheaded person like me. Well, I really am sorry about that.”
His forehead was full of sweat, and the eyes beneath the glasses look panicky as he lowered his head a few times, apologizing to Aoi profusely. This caused Aoi to feel guilty as well.
“No, you really helped me out there. Please lift your head. Thank you for your well intentions. Erm, actually…”
“Ah, yes, I understand. I did not mean that when I say dating. I will explain this to everyone when I do find the time. Even I will be in trouble if mother is to hear about it.”
He shuddered slightly, probably recalling his mother who was deemed an iron lady,
“Erm, if mother is to say something to you, please explain to her that I am not in such a relationship with you, Aoi.”
It seemed he was really terrified of his own mother.
He continued to lower his head as he walked on, his legs failing him.
He shrieked as he tripped.
“Are you alright?”
“Ahh…it seems I have twisted my ankle. Mother is going to tell me off with something like ‘You fell because you do not have enough concentration’.”
Kazuaki put on his spectacles, which had dropped off, and lowered his eyebrows pitifully. His eyes were moist with tears, probably due to the pain, and he hobbled on like that.
“Erm, let me help you.”
“Sorry about that, Aoi.”
“There is a bench there. Have a seat first.”
The situation had been completely reversed, as Aoi supported Kazuaki towards the bench.
(Is this person really Hikaru’s older brother…?)
They were alike only in the slenderness of their bodies and the gentleness of their voices; everything else was different.
The adults had said that Hikaru was often dazzling, shrouded in glory, and in comparison, while Kazuaki was a good person, he was overly bland.
Hikaru and Kazuaki did not share the same mothers.
Their father had admitted to the child of his mistress, Hikaru, and as the proper wife, Kazuaki was completely incensed and frenzied by this, bringing Kazuaki back to her ancestral home as a result.
Even so, the fact remained that both of them were brothers.
Aoi felt incredulous that she was helped out by Hikaru’s brother, but at the same time, she recalled that he was Tsuyako’s fiance, and a clout of darkness shrouded her heart.
(It is true that Mr Kazuaki has an ordinary appearance and personality, and he may seem reliable, but he is a nice, gentle adult. For him to be betrayed like this is really…)
She could not bring herself to like Tsuyako after all.
And just when she was wondering that,
Kazuaki muttered blankly, as if he had just seen a ghost.
The moon was hidden amidst the clouds, and under such a dimness, the radiant red hair swayed with the wind amidst the scattered red petals.
A feminine body with voluptuous curves was dressed in a long-sleeved kimono, shrouded in red flowers too venomous for the summer, the alluring charm unable to be contained.
The sash was partially loosened, her hair swaying together with the wind.
Tsuyako was not alone.
She was embracing someone in front of the Crape Myrtle.
And Aoi was shocked when she realize Tsuyako was tightly embracing Koremitsu.
Koremitsu’s red hair was overlapping Tsuyako’s own, the tense tender hands were on her back and waist.
Tsuyako had her back facing Aoi, and Koremitsu was facing them.
Once he noticed a dumbfounded Aoi, Koremitsu widened his eyes.
(Why is Mr Akagi…embracing Miss Tsuyako?)
Aoi’s limbs seemed petrified into stone, unable to move.
The entity she did not want to see was right in front of her, yet it seemed she had forgotten how to blink.
She wanted to turn and run away immediately!
(Why am I unable to move!?)
(Why is Aoi here!? Who’s with her!?)
Koremitsu felt the blood drained from his body.
Tsuyako continued to latch to him, and while he tried his best to calm her down, Aoi suddenly appeared in front of him.
She was the one person he could not show such a terrible scene to!
The bespectacled man Aoi carried along was standing there, his face tensed.
“Miss Aoi…Mr Kazuaki.”
Hikaru muttered, his eyes widened as he remained speechless.
(Anyway, got to say something to Aoi! She’s definitely mistaking my relationship with sempai here!)
Aoi remained still, her wide teary eyes showing an endless amount of anguish, a heartbreaking sight to any witness. Koremitsu too understood thoroughly how much he had hurt her, the flesh on his body ostensibly scraped away.
Got to settle this misunderstanding quickly!
Koremitsu opened his mouth, wanting to say something.
At that moment, Tsuyako placed her hands on Koremitsu’s cheeks.
During dance practice, her hands were warm whenever she touched him. This time however, the palms holding onto his face was chillingly cold.
Just when Koremitsu thought about this, the ice was pressing upon his lips.
Tsuyako’s lips were covering Koremitsu’s.
Right in front of Aoi–
(You got to be kidding! Akagi!?)
Honoka, remaining hidden in the bushes, felt a piercing shock through her heart as she clutched at her chest.
(Akagi just kissed Upperclassman Tsuyako!)
As for Koremitsu–
He too looked confounded, unable to comprehend immediately what was happening to him.
A soft, icy object was pressed upon his lips, and the alluring fragrance of burning poppy seeds spread about, agitating his nose and skin.
Hikaru’s face was contorted. The scenery depicted in Koremitsu’s eyes seemed to become as hazy as the dimmed moon.
The only thing he could see was Aoi, the latter looking angry, yet about to burst into tears–an expression of wanting to lash out.
(What’s the matter with you, sempai!? Why are you doing such a cruel thing!?)
Koremitsu screamed in his heart, but his body was unable to move, ostensibly bound by a spider web. While Koremitsu’s lips were trembling, Tsuyako never let hers leave his for a long time.