On the next day, the tickets still remained in the wallet in Koremitsu’s pocket.
“Goodness, what do I do now?”
It was noon break, and he was grumbling as he arched his back, strolling around.
Though he was told to invite Aoi out, he could not approach her due to Asai’s presence by the side, and ever since that garden party, Aoi had yet to reply to his cellphone messages. It would be questionable to think if she had seen his messages in the first place. Aoi had a pure yet stubborn personality; perhaps she deleted the messages without even looking.
(And I can’t just leave senpai alone.)
Why did Rokujō appear? Till this point, the reason was yet to be discovered.
Honoka and Michiru cleared up their lunch boxes, and went off to the Japanese Dance Club room.
“Upperclassman Tsuyako did say that she wishes to suspend club activities for the time being, but I think that she might be a little relieved to have someone with her and chitchat with her. Oh yeah, don’t be mistaken here. This isn’t for your sake. I’m just doing this because I’m worried about her. I’m a fan of Upperclassman Tsuyako here. Got to cheer her up before her performance.”
She spoke in a cheerful tone.
(Shikibu really is a good woman…)
The recital was to be held two days later, Saturday evening.
Both Koremitsu and Hikaru hoped that Tsuyako would revert back to her usual self.
“Hey, what do you think I should do with these tickets?”
Koremitsu asked. Hikaru too showed an unenthusiastic look as he said,
“I too am worried about Miss Aoi…but I do think we cannot leave Tsuyako alone at this time.”
Better return these to Tōjō…just when Koremitsu wondered,
“Eh, you are?”
A rich, sweet voice could be heard from the front.
(Hm? Hikaru…wait, he’s beside me.)
The overly similar voice caused Koremitsu to be instantly confused.
He lifted his head, and found a skinny bespectacled youth standing over there.
(This guy’s Hikaru’s older brother–)
Beside Koremitsu, Hikaru widened his eyes in shock.
Kazuaki sized up Koremitsu hesitantly as the latter stared back, and ostensibly made up his mind as he said,
“Erm…you are that person who was with Tsuyako at the Shikatanis’ garden party…right? And, you even…kissed her.”
The voice quality was the exact same as Hikaru’s, but the tone was somewhat courteous, and his back was slouched. He was acting rather refined, and seemed to be of a good pedigree, but as Tōjō had emphasized many times, he seemed a little air-headed, ordinary in appearance, and did not seem to leave any impression besides the glasses…
Koremitsu did not intend to glare back, but the moment he narrowed his eyes, Kazuaki shrank back, and started apologizing.
“Ah, I do apologize for this. You may not remember, but I was there with Aoi back then. I am an alumni here, and I am looking for Aoi…so, about that, I just so happened to meet you at the garden, and I came to talk to you out of curiosity. A-are you angry…?”
“I-Is that so…? Th-that is good…ah, my name is Kazuaki Mikado, an undergraduate. You are…?”
“…Koremitsu Akagi, High school freshman.”
Koremitsu answered back stiffly, unable to tell the intentions Hikaru’s brother had for talk to him. Kazuaki continued politely,
“Are you…going out with Tsuyako? Ahh, I am sorry for asking such a rude question so suddenly. It is just that…I used to be her..”
Koremitsu saw that Kazuaki was mumbling away, unable to say what he wanted, and filled in for the latter,
“You want to say that she used to be your fiancee, right?”
“Did you hear from Tsuyako?”
Kazuaki widened his eyes behind the glasses.
He did not hear it from Tsuyako herself, but Koremitsu mumbled vaguely.
For some reason, Kazuaki showed a look of relief.
“Also, I’m just her underclassman.”
“Really..? But you’ve kissed.”
Koremitsu was left speechless, and Kazuaki started panicking again,
“Ah, did I say too much again? Tsuyako…is rather carefree, so I went through quite some hardships when we were engaged…ah! She does not think of me as a partner, so please do not worry! I do find it surreal that such a glamorous, lively person like her was betrothed to this plain me. In lots of ways, Tsuyako is kind of like my mother, so I am not really used to handling her. Instead of that, I do find that Aoi…”
There was a reddish tinge beneath the glasses. Upon seeing that, Koremitsu was stunned.
(Has this guy really fallen for Aoi?)
Hikaru too frowned, probably troubled as well.
It seemed Kazuaki did not have the personality of reading the mood as he continued to fidget like a girl.
“I do find that a petite and quiet girl like Aoi would suit me better. Aoi used to be a potential fiancee for me. Tsuyako is a relative of my mother, and due to the overly close bloodline, the plan was for Aoi to be my fiancee. However, Aoi had already been betrothed to my younger brother, so I was chosen to be betrothed with Tsuyako. Right now however, Aoi and I are still single…that black hair Aoi has really is really pretty. I think black hair suits girls better; there is a refreshing, traditional Yamato Nadeshiko feeling.”
Kazuaki narrowed his eyes in an intoxicated manner.
(You’re saying too much, you skinny 4-eyes.)
This guy really is Hikaru’s brother in this aspect. Koremitsu frowned as he thought, for he was startled when Kazuaki looked infatuated as he praised Aoi’s hair.
–I had been thinking that it would be good if I were a girl with black hair.
Tsuyako had a complex over her hair.
I really hated the girl who was beloved by her fiance, and doted on by everyone around her. That was what she said too.
One of Aoi’s companions had noticed a female student with long black hair.
That black hair plucking the red Oleanders in the garden–
–Lord Hikaru’s already dead…even if she continues to be jealous of Her Highness Aoi, it’s useless now.
Those were the questions Honoka asked.
Those doubts lingered in Koremitsu’s mind, causing his heart to pound madly.
(No, wait. Senpai did go out with Hikaru before, right? That guy only got engaged because of family reasons…)
But, in that case, it all made sense.
The reason why Tsuyako had been targetting Aoi, the reason why she kissed Koremitsu in front of Aoi.
At that time, Kazuaki was with Aoi–
(Don’t tell me that was not meant for Aoi, but for this guy…)
Koremitsu had the feeling that he was closing in on the answer to the riddle he had been circling around, and his heart raced as a result.
Why did she have to show it to others?
(Because to this 4-eyes, senpai–)
Koremitsu was scowling in silence, and Kazuaki started panicking again.
“Ah, sorry, sorry. I have been saying too much myself. Well, even though I am Tsuyako’s ex-fiance, my presence is too weak because of this, and I think she had already forgotten all about it. Currently, we are not communicating in any way, so please do not worry and get along well with her. I think, erm, I will try my best for Aoi. If only I can convey the message better to my mother…uu, mother certainly is an unpredictable and volatile woman, so Aoi might be troubled here…”
At the end, he muttered these words as he departed, stumbling along the way and putting on his tilted glasses.
It seemed Hikaru was worried for that brother of his as he watched the silhouette.
“I got it, Hikaru.”
Koremitsu let out a crude snort as he said.
Hikaru immediately turned to Koremitsu, widening his eyes.
“Senpai here is still jealous of Aoi, but she is not jealous of you and Aoi, but Aoi being with the skinny 4-eyes–your older brother Kazuaki.”
“Erm…in other words, Tsuyako likes Mr Kazuaki…huh?”
Hikaru murmured away, looking as if he did not understand.
“Oh, that is how it is. Why did Rokujō appear ‘now’? That is because after you died, Aoi became single; senpai is worried that Kazuaki, who liked Aoi since then, would do something to her. In fact, if we go by what Tōjō says, senpai is unable to contain her jealousy. The reason why Rokujō is black haired is because maybe she wanted to have black hair like Aoi, since Kazuaki likes the black-haired Aoi, and this wish manifested itself. If we consider it to be this case, it all makes sense.”
Koremitsu seemed more confident as he said this, but Hikaru still looked skeptical,
“W-Wait a moment, Koremitsu! If Tsuyako likes Mr Kazuaki, why did she go out with me instead?”
“That’s what we call a woman’s complicated heart. She hopes for Kazuaki, who does not care about her, to care about her, and chose to act that she is with another man. That is the same reason why she kissed me in front of Aoi!”
“A woman’s heart…you are saying this now?”
“This shows that my skill regarding how to handle women has increased thanks to you being with me 24/7.”
“Koremitsu, are you sure you have not eaten anything wrong? Like some mushroom grown in your house, or some red poppy? It really is unlike you to gleefully talk about girls like this!”
And this time, Koremitsu showed a sympathetic expression.
“Hikaru…even though you have been dating other women, senpai never showed any jealousy at all, right?”
“Does that not mean that you are not senpai’s true love, and that she was just fooling around with you?”
“If it is true love, there has to be something like envy, right?”
“I do understand that you don’t wish to admit it. You’re called the harem prince, and you think that all the women in the world love you, but you’re actually being made use of!”
“I-Is that so…”
Hikaru still seemed a little disapproving.
“Well, being a playboy for 16 years, it’s time that you get such payback.”
“I was not born a harem prince in the first place.”
Koremitsu ignored that protest.
On this day, his mind was being very awake. The situation where he was troubled by one question after another vanished like a lie, and he felt extremely clear headed.
“No matter whether it was back then or now, senpai’s true love has always been Kazuaki. Her jealousy at Aoi has been burning, causing the appearance of Rokujō. In other words, if we can lure Aoi away from Kazuaki, everything will be settled.”
Within Koremitsu’s hands were the art gallery tickets Tōjō had given! To Aoi, who had a passion for drawing, this would be a place she would definitely like.
“Okay, Hikaru! I’m going to ask Aoi out.”
“I say, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru’s voice became stiff.
He was blabbering things like ‘it was too short-sighted’, ‘Is Tsuyako’s true love really Mr Kazuaki’? by the side. However, Koremitsu did not pay heed at all.
There was still a little time till the end of noon break. Koremitsu returned from the corridor to the connecting corridor to the school campus, advancing towards Aoi’s classroom. The normal students were taken aback, and immediately made way for him.
Koremitsu was about to reach Aoi’s classroom, and found her walking in front of him. The 5th period was probably to be held in a different classroom, as she had a textbook in her hands, her head lowered.
He hurriedly ducked into a corner at the juncture, for the one standing beside Aoi was Asai, showing a stern look.
(Damn it. I found a perfect solution here, and I forgot about that iron mask.)
With Asai around, there was no way Koremitsu could approach Asai.
Asai’s guard was beyond that of usual due to the recent irritating acts happening to Aoi.
At that moment.
A short-haired, busty, petite girl ducked through below Koremitsu.
“Please settle this within 5 minutes.”
She muttered with a mischievous, boyish tone as she rushed over to Asai and the rest.
Koremitsu watched Hiina in shock, “Ah!” and the latter shouted as she dashed towards Asai’s group.
“This is bad–, Matriarch Asa! A delinquent from another school intruded to take on Mr Akagi for the biggest delinquent title!”
Koremitsu’ fingernails were scratching at the wall at the corner. If he did not do so, he would have leapt out to retort back.
“He’s even swinging some nunchucks around, yelling ‘where is Akagi!?’. It’s dangerous.”
Asai frowned with an icy expression.
“…Aoi, go ahead first.”
However, she said this, and went off with Hiina.
“Hurry! Matriarch Asa! Over here!”
Hiina and Asai gradually went away.
Aoi looked over at where Asai departed worriedly. She had the textbooks clutched tightly to her chest; clearly she wanted to go too as she moved her slender legs about a few times. However, she lowered her head, unable to move forward from there.
Koremitsu approached Aoi from the back and talked to her. The latter was immediately taken aback, and looked back, widened her eyes, and looked flabbergasted as she remained silent.
“Are you going out with Kazuaki? Do you like him? it’s important! Tell me honestly!”
Koremitsu continued to stare at Aoi unflinchingly, saying everything he wanted to say without a greeting. He did not have time; he did not know when Asai would be back.
“We-we are not dating. I do not have such feelings either.”
Aoi was overwhelmed by Koremitsu’s pressure as she answered, her eyes rolling about.
Koremitsu lowered his shoulders, and let out a long sigh.
Aoi’s face immediately turned red; even the fingertips on the textbook were all red. She widened her eyes in shock, staring right at Koremitsu without wavering.
“Give me one chance, Aoi. It’s suffering to have you hate me. I’m sorry for what I did over the past few days! Please let me apologize for what happened back then.”
Koremitsu handed over the ticket Tōjō had given him.
As he had grabbed onto it tightly, the ticket was already all crumpled; he only managed to flatten it after much effort.
“There’s an art renaissance exhibition this Saturday. Let’s go together.”
Aoi looked at the ticket, her face completely red. It was like a reenactment of the scene where he handed her the theme park ticket to celebrate her birthday…
Aoi too probably remembered the same thing. Her eyes seemed to falter as she stared at the ticket.
With a groaning tone, Koremitsu said,
“Sorry, there’s no time. Tell me ‘I’m going’ before Asai comes back.”
Aoi mumbled about, and moved her lips slightly,
“I have something on…this Saturday…”
Just when Koremitsu was assuming that she could not make it.
The fingers, now dyed pink, grabbed the ticket.
“No, I will go.”
She quickly replied, and placed the ticket in front of the textbook, ostensibly treasuring it. She lowered her head, and in a bashful manner, showed a smile on her lips.
“I really like seeing an arts renaissance.”
“Really? I knew that.”
Actually, it was Tōjō who chose the tickets. However, it was fine that Aoi liked it.
Aoi was smiling away delightedly, somewhat bashful.
Having decided on the time and place to meet, Koremitsu left, barely leaving before Asai left.
“Aoi? Why are you still here? I told you to leave first. Your face is red. Are you having a fever?”
“That…may be the case.”
“Head to the infirmary then.”
He even managed to hear such a conversation.
(Phew–that was dangerous.)
Koremitsu leaned his back on the wall, heaving a sigh of relief. Having witnessed the entire scene from above, Hikaru let out a troubled sigh as he muttered,
“I do think that he has talent…but Koremitsu’s unawareness here is really terrifying. I can only pray that his talent will not blossom any further.”
Koremitsu did not know why Hikaru was being so worried, but he still sprinted off to the Japanese Dance Clubroom.
It seemed Honoka and Michiru have returned to the classroom, and Tsuyako was the only one left. She was seated in the middle of the tatamis, staring into space with an anguished, pained look, moving her lips at the same time.
(Hm? What’s she saying?)
‘Flutter, scatter’; Such mantras could be heard by the ear,
“The Songs to Make the Dust Dance on the Beams.”
Hikaru muttered, and Koremitsu turned sidelong to find the former staring at Tsuyako in a concerned manner.
“It is an anthology of songs from the end of the Heian era…)”
(I see. So senpai’s reciting a song here, huh? That’s quite classy.)
Koremitsu called out. Tsuyako immediately shook her shoulders, and her stare was directed at Koremitsu.
Koremitsu then strode forth towards Tsuyako clumsily, and said,
“I sorted things out with Aoi!”
Tsuyako opened her mouth slightly.
“Also, regarding that guy Kazuaki, who was with Aoi that day, it seems he doesn’t have anything to do with Aoi herself! If you’re concerned by that, why don’t you call Kazuaki out instead? In that case, you might have a chance of talking to him.”
Tsuyako seemed dumbfounded. She sat back onto the tatamis again, staring at Koremitsu without blinking.
To Koremitsu, that expression of hers seemed akin to someone shocked at being seen through.
“Be honest with your own feelings, senpai! If there’s anything you’ve accumulated in your heart, just let it all out. If you find it difficult to ask him out, I’ll do so on your behalf.”
He placed his hands and knees on the tatamis, and lifted his eyes to the same height, clearly proclaiming as he approached her.
With a conflicted expression on his face, Hikaru seemed to have given up, probably because he assumed that it would be useless to tell Koremitsu anything.
Tsuyako’s mouth remained wide open, her eyes fixtated on Koremitsu.
“? Senpai, are you awake?”
Koremitsu asked uneasily. Suddenly, Tsuyako wrapped her arms around Koremitsu’s neck, and embraced it.
“…No, why…must you say such things…?”
Koremitsu’s body was leaned back, and a hoarse sobbing reached his ears.
The body, one of a definite mass and warm tenderness, was shivering slightly.
(I-Is she crying?)
Koremitsu’s heart shrank, his head cooling in an instant.
He was not adept at handling the tears of women, and would feel awkward about it, his thoughts ceasing, not knowing how to handle such a situation.
“You…really are too straightforward…I told you not to call me senpai anymore…”
A hoarse voice could be heard again. He felt a damp breath lingering in his chest, a sweet, sour fragrance pricking at his nostrils.
“Why…why did you not listen to me? If you are like this…I…”
(S-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-she’s still crying.)
Koremitsu did not know where to place his hands, raised high in a celebratory manner. He did not know whether to embrace her tightly, to keep them high up like this, or to push her aside in a gentlemanly manner and maintain his distance from her.
(Hi-Hikaru, help me.)
There was no voice coming from behind.
He turned his neck around, and found Hikaru staring at Tsuyako with an utterly tragic face. Hikaru’s hands were lowered, his back straightened as he stood upright; his deep eyes were so hollow, so filled with sadness–melancholy.
Just when Koremitsu was feeling anguish in his heart due to that expression.
Tsuyako moved her arms away from Koremitsu.
“What do I do now? I really like you, Mr Akagi.”
Koremitsu could not say anything. Looking ready to either laugh or break down in tears, Tsuyako said to him,
“I really wish I can meet you through another way.”
(She says to meet through another way…what does she mean?)
Her eyes filled with tears, Tsuyako gave a thin smile,
“Yes…I suppose…it may be a good thing to listen to your advice. I shall invite MR Kazuaki along to the recital then. I might be cursed to death by his mother however.”
SHe spoke in a jokingly manner, and stood up,
“I am really sorry for making you worry. It seems I have caused quite some trouble for both you and Miss Shikibu, Mr Akagi.”
It was unknown what kind of transformation was going on within her heart.
Or perhaps, due to the words that Koremitsu said, there was something to the ‘I wish to know you through another way’ she said.
“It is alright now.”
She said with a dignified voice.
♢ ♢ ♢
It was after school, on the same day. Tsuyako was dancing about gorgeously in front of Koremitsu and the rest, her fan not dropping a single moment.
“That’s amazing, Upperclassman Tsuyako! Is that the dance to be performed for the recital?”
Honoka was clearly mesmerized as she applauded.
Tsuyako showed a glowing smile to her.
“The original storyline in our traditional style is the love story between Ariwara no Narihara and the cherry blossom spirit.”
“Ariwara no Narihara is the original protagonist basis for ‘The Tales of Ise’, right? It was said that he was a noble of the Heian Period, and also an amazing playboy.”
“Yes. However, he is a multi-talented poet, an elegant prince who knows how to play. The females were all attracted to him as a result.”
The class representative with braids too spoke in ecstasy,
“Ah, I know that~. Narihara’s songs are so heartrending and sensual~. One can feel the rich emotions within it, and there’s a story to it too.”
“Upperclassman Tsuyako, you are performing the role of the cherry blossom spirit, right? Did the cherry blossom spirit fall in love with Narihara?”
Honoka asked in excitement.
“Please check out the performance. We did some really excellent setups there, you know.”
“Wow, looking forward to it.”
The anxiety that appeared on Tsuyako’s face had vanished completely, and she spoke to Honoka and Michiru with a clear expression. Koremitsu watched over them in relief.
“It really is great to let her know of Kazuaki’s relationship with Aoi.”
Koremitsu whispered softly.
“Is that so?”
Hikaru asked back in skepticism,
“Well, I guess you aren’t feeling happy here. That skinny 4-eyes is actually senpai’s true love, huh?”
“You certainly are being long-winded here, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru frowned in a peeved manner,
“It is great that Tsuyako is back to being like this however.”
And then, he reverted back to his gentle expression,
“…It’ll be great if the recital can end without a hitch.”
“If it’s the usual senpai, there’s definitely no problems.”
It seemed Hikaru was still a little worried.
♢ ♢ ♢
The same events transpired the following day after school.
Tsuyako was so gorgeous as she danced; Honoka and Michiru were lauding her greatly.
“Ah, I can’t wait for the performance on the stage tomorrow. You’ll be going tomorrow right, Akagi?”
Koremitsu was sitting cross-legged in a corner of the clubroom, and beside him, Honoka asked as she sat with her knees cupped towards her.
“Since the opening’s in the evening, why don’t we meet up somewhere and have some tea?”
Honoka invited cheerfully, her eyes filled with anticipation, with a little tinge of anxiety by her lips.
“Sorry, got something on at noon.”
Honoka was obviously disappointed, and Koremitsu felt his heart, sweat seeping from under his armpits.
“What do you have going on?”
“None of your business, right?”
“Ev-even so, I don’t have a good feeling hearing you say that.”
“Well, it’s nothing even if you have something going on.”
Honoka said this, her lips curled into a pout.
He wondered if he should tell her that he would be going to an art exhibition with Aoi before Tsuyako’s recital.
(I don’t think this is something I have to explain, Shikibu’s going to give a bigger scowl if it gets revealed, right?)
Koremitsu glanced at Hikaru, ostensibly hoping for an opinion,
Hikaru floated in the air, making a cross. He probably hinted that Koremitsu should not answer.
“But is it something that cannot be said?”
“Of course not.”
(Damn it, she’s being really persistent.)
Just when Koremitsu was in a pinch, Tsuyako came over to talk.
“Mr. Akagi, I wish to head home with you today.”
Honoka, not Koremitsu, was the one who blurted this out.
Looking apologetic, Tsuyako clapped her hands together and said to Honoka,
“I do apologize here, Miss Shikibu. Let me borrow Mr. Akagi for the day.”
“N-No-no-no-no-no problems here. There’s no need to ask for my permission! Akagi and I are just classmates here! Go ahead with it! Use him however you want to, whether it is to carry your stuff or be a bodyguard!”
She rattled off, her face completely red.
Tsuyako let out a giggle, and chuckled,
(Are my wishes being disregarded here?)
Koremitsu was unhappy, but he remained silent as he felt it had something to do with Tsuyako’s loneliness.
Tsuyako had told Koremitsu that she wished to change clothing, so the latter went to the corridor and stood upright there; Honoka approached him from the front, her lips pouted, her eyes fixated at him, and she whispered,
“…Y-you mustn’t kiss upperclassman Tsuyako, okay?”
And after saying that, she teetered off, her cheeks red.
“Wh-what nonsense is that? Of course I won’t.”
Koremitsu too grumbled, his face red.
He waited for Tsuyako with his back leaning on the corridor wall, his face burning. The sunset outside the window was dyed a reddish-black.
(How am I supposed to endure a second time of this…that Shikibu really worries too much..)
Hikaru cheerfully chimes in,
“Koremitsu, looking at how red your face is, Tsuyako might think you have the hots for her.”
“I-it’s because of the sunset.”
“Your voice is becoming shrill.”
“You’re thinking too much!”
Koremitsu turned his head aside as he declared so softly. Hikaru chuckled in amusement, and he showed a sweet stare of melancholy.
“Tsuyako would often ask me out on the night before her recitals…a spell that would allow her to perform well.”
What did he mean?
And so, Tsuyako appeared.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Akagi.”
Her hair, tied in a bundle during practice, was left scattered. The dry, glossy hair that stretched down to the shoulders were slightly curled, swaying alluringly along with her movements.
She narrowed her eyes that were surrounded by thin, long eyelashes, and opened the soft, feminine lips slightly, smiling at Koremitsu,
He was probably anxious due to what Honoka had said.
Tsuyako looked more serene and mature than usual, causing Koremitsu’s heart to race.
–You mustn’t kiss
The sight of Honoka pouting her lips echoed in his mind.
“What is the matter?”
“Then, let us depart.”
Koremitsu and Tsuyako walked sidelong with each other through the school campus that had been graced by the impending night.
He felt that Tsuyako did not give off the vibe of tender love he felt from Yū, nor did she give off the urge to be protected like Aoi.
Even so, Koremitsu’s heart was racing, his palms sweaty as he watched her red hair sway, her slender, white neck, her glittering eyes; it must have been because she was truly alluring.
He never experienced a woman’s charm before meeting Hikaru. Even after seeing a flower bloom, his feelings were straightforward, merely thinking, “Ah, it’s a flower”.
But once he was with Hikaru, he would listen in on floral knowledge every single day, and after interacting with the gender call female; his sexuality was gradually being cultivated.
Was that a good thing, or a bad thing?
“Mr Akagi, you were in quite a tight spot when Miss Shikibu asked ‘where are you going tomorrow’, am I correct?”
“Ugh–a little there.”
“You are going out on a date with Miss Aoi, right?”
She went straight to the point with a gentle, clear voice, leaving Koremitsu speechless.
She descended the stairs elegantly, and giggled,
“Am I right?”
“Relax. I will keep this a secret from Miss Shikibu.”
“To where will you be going with Miss Aoi?”
“Th-the art exhibition.”
“Is that so? Miss Aoi really likes paintings.”
Koremitsu’s face was red and green all over, his voice shrill, looking really strange. With a smile, Tsuyako continued the topic about the date.
Where will they meet? There are a lot of people at the station; a cute cafe or an illustration bookshop at a book center would suit her tastes better, no? Try going to such places the next time? If they are to meet at that time, what is their schedule after that? Have they decided on which restaurant to meet?
Koremitsu cringed, sweat dripping in masses as he answered Tsuyako’s questions.
(Is senpai asking me to go home with her so that she can tease me…)
He had such a doubt.
Tsuyako tilted her face aside, and stared over at Koremitsu’s face.
“Just kidding there. Am I being too nosy? Mr Akagi, it seems you are very used to going out on dates with girls.”
“You were quite an outstanding escort when you brought me to the tropical park. I was so shocked I was thinking ‘that is a surprise’.”
Just when Koremitsu was panicking, Tsuyako muttered with a gentle voice,
“It feels as if I was with Hikaru himself…”
Once he felt the friction in his heart, Koremitsu murmured,
“It’s because that Hikaru got nosy and taught me lots of things.”
“…Is that so?”
There was a warm sense of loneliness appearing in Tsuyako’s eyes.
Hikaru too showed the same expression at her.
“Hikaru really is a great teacher.”
She spoke cheerfully, causing Koremitsu to heave a sigh of relief,
“Well, I guess.”
They were walking down the dirt track by the river, in the opposite direction of the usual. The air color became that of a blue hue, signifying the beginning of night.
Both of them took a turn there, and went through a narrow alley in the residential area.
(This path…leads to Yū’s apartment.)
The old dilapidated building that was still in disrepair.
There lived a dreamy girl wrapped in a blanket, living her days peacefully like a white moonflower.
But Yū was no longer in that room.
The memories of the rock sugar sweetness in Koremitsu’s mouth was reawakened within him together with the wrenching pain, and he showed a serious look,
(Is Yū doing alright over there…?)
Koremitsu never sent any messages or phone calls there, and Yū never did send any messages on her side either.
For this was the proof that both Koremitsu and Yū were doing their bests on their parts.
–When we meet the next time, I’ll show that I’ve become a girl who likes to smile.
It was a little wish, not even a promise.
That was a fantastical vow.
One of those days, those words would be fulfilled.
Soon after, they arrived at the unforgettable park.
The last time he came, the Hydrageas and Irises were in full bloom amidst the rain. This time, the pure land was covered in blue and purple, with some bright colored tropical flowers, like the cute reddish-orange Anomathecas, gentle orange Trumpet Vines growing from the vines, and the red Cannas embracing the outdoor lights and the moon.
“How about we have a chat?”
On Tsuyako’s invitation, both of them sat on the bench, side by side.
Koremitsu recalled the matter of him bidding farewell to Yū on this bench, and his heart gripped again.
Tsuyako probably had memories of Hikaru at this park too.
She seemed to be seeking Hikaru’s shadow, and she scanned past the fence covered by the Trumpet Vines, the Common Cattails and Winged Lythrums growing on the lake, the flower beds of yellow Japanese Irises and red, orange Portulacas, her eyes moistening.
He was staring gently at the flowers and the tightly shut buds with a lonely expression of melancholy.
During that time, they remained in their silence for quite a while.
The residential area was so quiet, vehicles could not be heard; there was no wind, and the warm air engulfed the trio.
Tsuyako was the first to speak up,
“Mr Akagi…did you feel lonely after Hikaru died?”
The hoarse voice reverberated deep within Koremitsu’s ears.
He only became friends with Hikaru after the latter had died and became a ghost.
Thus, he did not feel any sadness when he heard the commotion his turmoil his classmates went through about hearing of Hikaru’s accidental death.
Even at the funeral, where women were sobbing, he felt numb inside.
“I don’t know at all…it was too sudden…I was shocked.”
He could not lie to hide his feelings, and could only mutter the feelings he felt back then.
Tsuyako in turn uttered back,
“…Is that so?”
She lowered her long eyelashes.
“I did not feel shocked. Ah…of course…that was what I felt.”
She muttered these words bit by bit, her voice showing a helpless anguish.
Till this point, Tsuyako probably assumed that Hikaru had committed suicide.
“Everything is all blank…whether it is my mind, or my heart…I felt lonely.”
Hikaru’s white face was full of sadness, helpless anguish and misery.
The hair was dyed a golden hair due to absorbing the moonlight, draped upon the pale face, swaying in limbo.
Tsuyako had her head lowered, clenching her fists tightly on the knees.
“After Hikaru was gone, I became lonely…so lonely…it was unbearable.”
As long as he was alive.
As long as he existed somewhere on this Earth.
This was what Tsuyako had said.
Even till this point, Hikaru was on this planet, standing right beside Tsuyako, giving her an anguished, transparent look.
But Tsuyako could not see that figure.
Hikaru could not erase Tsuyako’s loneliness.
And Koremitsu felt an anguish wrenching his heart.
“I am still afraid…can I really dance on the stage tomorrow? Will I drop the fan? Will I stand in the middle of the stage with my head blank?”
Her shoulders were shivering.
Perhaps she was keeping a cheerful facade in the clubroom, and was truly anxious within.
Tsuyako liked Kazuaki, and Hikaru was just someone she fooled around with–yet Hikaru was also her emotional support.
(Damn it. What can I do to fulfill Hikaru’s promise?)
Even if the now deceased Hikaru was to watch the stage in the audience, it would be meaningless if Tsuyako could not sense him. No matter how Koremitsu hollered saying “Hikaru’s still here! He’s still worried and watching over you, senpai!” those words would seem to be mere condolences.
(Is there nothing I can do here?)
“Before I ascend the stage, Hikaru…would often cast a spell on me. He would hold me gently by the hand, draw a circle on my palm, and mutter a few words, “the light shall always glitter upon you. You shall attract the crowds like the red weeping cherry blossoms basking under the moonlight–“
She clenched his fists that were resting on the knees, the fingernails entrenched into the flesh.
Koremitsu grabbed a hand, and peeled the finger one at a tail.
Tsuyako instinctively lifted her head, and watched Koremitsu’s actions quietly.
The pink fingers were long and pretty; Koremitsu was frowning hard, trying his best to pry over the feminine fingers with his thick, clumsy fingers.
And after prying the 5 fingers to reveal a silky palm, he drew a little circle on it with his index finger.
Hikaru watched this scene with a quiet, lonely expression. After Koremitsu finished drawing the circle, he squeezed his eyes shut to endure his overflowing emotions.
“You definitely can do it.”
He continued to grasp her head, his scalding face becoming tense as he raised his eyebrows, widened his eyes and tried his best to express his wish.
“Senpai, you’ll be the one who’ll move the audience most tomorrow. I’ll watch in the audience with my eyes wide, in place of Hikaru.”
Tsuyako could continue to dance.
That was Hikaru’s wish
So, no matter what,
Her eyes teary, Tsuyako stared at Koremitsu, almost breaking into tears as she murmured with trembling lips,
“…You really…are unpredictable.”
And so, she gave a slight smile.
She clenched the fist lightly with the drawn full moon lightly, and placed it on her ample breasts.
“Hikaru must have felt that it was good to have you as his friend, Mr Akagi. Your existence must have been a powerful support to him. Even if it was a while, it is great for Hikaru to have such a friend…”
Her murmur was full of warmth, and Hikaru’s response upon hearing it was to show a slight dreamy smile.
Both Tsuyako and Hikaru were lovers the world would never permit, and they showed the smiles at the same time, like it was a literal snapshot.
“I do feel hungry so suddenly. There is a shop selling chilli dogs at the entrance opposite the park. Hikaru and I ate it before…the sauce is a little too sweet, it is still delicious. Can you buy one for me?”
It seemed Tsuyako wanted to weep alone.
Koremitsu thought as he saw her try her best to widen her soaked eyes.
“…Got it. Any flavors you want?”
Tsuyako was barely able to maintain a smile on her lips.
Koremitsu turned away and ran off.
By the time Koremitsu returned with a bag of chili dogs, pork beans and cola in his hands, Tsuyako’s eyes were all red, the tear marks still remaining on her face.
He pretended not to notice, sat on the bench, and started eating the chili dog.
He had requested for the spiciest flavor for his portion, and upon eating it, found it to be really spicy that his nostrils were agitated, and he was nearly breaking down in tears.
Tsuyako looked rather cheerful as she ate her chili dog, but still felt somewhat lonely.
“Mr Akagi…will you really come by?”
“Definitely. It’s a promise.”
“Then…I have to dance well…”
Tsuyako spoke with a gentle voice, and Hikaru, standing by the bench, watched on sadly, his expression faltering.
Suddenly, Hikaru exclaimed,
“Tsuyako! I will be watching! I shall be in the audience, watching you dance!”
Tsuyako did not hear the voice.
The words could not be conveyed.
But even so, Hikaru was yelling hard, ostensibly unable to hold in his emotions.
Tsuyako’s eyes were staring into the distance again.
Those eyes were staring at the moon the hands could not reach.
With a spicy feeling, Koremitsu heard Hikaru’s voice vanish gradually into the summer air.
Hikaru closed his lips tightly, standing by sadly.
The moon was partially shrouded by the clouds, shining dimly and quietly onto the park in the night; it was very likely the trio was lonely.