The next morning,
Koremitsu’s eyes were bloodshot, his skin dry as he went up the slope leading to the red tea shop Bonne Chance.
He pondered over Honoka and the significance of Michiru’s tear over and over again the previous night, unable to sleep.
His head and body were ostensibly seared by fire, and even as he tried to lie on his side on the futon and close his eyes, the images of those two would appear in his eyes; Honoka yelling ‘it’s alright’, and Michiru, removing her glasses , rubbing her cheeks as she apologized ‘it’s alright, I was just shocked’. His heart ached.
He rolled about on the futon, and looked at the clock with his half-opened eye to check the time—then, he realized something.
Hikaru could not sleep at night.
The blue moonlight shone in from the window in the midst of the humid summer night, shining on Hikaru’s gloomy sidelong face
It was a gloomy sight.
The cool and distant face.
The tightly shut, lonely lips.
(So Hikaru has been like that when I’m sleeping so soundly.)
There was no human voice, no sound, and shown in those eyes were merely just darkness.
He could not take a walk to ease his burden, and he could not read books to spend the time. Perhaps he could only stare at the sky like this.
Koremtitsu walked forth and he whispered, asking,
Hikaru’s gloomy eyes seemed to waver.
Perhaps he noticed the reason why Koremitsu was not in a good mood, and answered with a refreshing face,
“I was already used to having insomnia when I was alive.”
Hikaru answered with clarity.
“I do wonder how many nights I end up unable to sleep even after switching off the lights…because the girls in my bed would not let me do so.”
Koremitsu realized that Hikaru was trying to pass this off as a joke, and felt more anguished within.
“Eh, do not be like that. Why are you giving such a scary look, Koremitsu? It is not a big thing that I cannot sleep. I think it is interesting to count the tatami blocks and play a word chain by myself.”
“Even if it’s a day earlier, I want you to be able to sleep properly.”
After hearing Koremitsu’s affirmed declaration, Hikaru showed a stiff smile, and said,
“I do feel those words seem to imply a different meaning.”
However, Koremitsu in turn was completely pumped up.
(Right, if I continue to hesitate, it’ll take a longer time for this guy to depart, and he’ll continue living through such painful nights. I’m already suffering so much being unable to sleep for an entire now; if I’m going to be like this every night, it’s no different from Hell. Better settle this guy’s emotional issues and send him to the afterlife.)
First, he would have to look for Saffron.
“You better look for Saffron properly today!”
Hikaru too looked on calmly,
“You are right. She probably was getting impatient waiting for you.”
“Uu, it’s my fault for ignoring her message and leaving first. Shall I send a message back first?”
Koremitsu took the cellphone from his pocket, thinking hard, wondering about how he should respond.
“Well, when I told Miss Saffloer about how I could not sleep, Miss Saffloer sent me lots of herb medicinal recipes that promotes sleep, how to mix aroma oils, how to make Potpurri, and so on.”
Hikaru spoke from the side cheerily,
“She even showed me photos of the processes one by one, and even added explanations that are easy to understand. She really sent me a lot, like a hill.”
The face was dazzling like the sunlight under the bright morning sun, and the golden hair fluttered in the air as Hikaru beamed radiantly.
“What do you think? She is a good girl, right? She is a nice girl, right?”
Hikaru’s sincere words and expressions really touched Koremitsu’s heart.
One had to wonder why no matter which ‘flower’ it was, Hikaru was able to be so vivacious.
He spoke with a sweet expression, as if bragging to Koremitsu his most beloved lover.
“As her name implies, she is cute, and somewhat scatterbrained, cheering for me when I am downhearted. She is a girl like an orange flower.:
(Hm? Saffron’s color is orange?)
Koremitsu did not know much about flowers, but when he searched the images of Saffrons on the internet, it seemed the flowers with those names were all purple…
Well, for him, any color would do for the flowers. Certainly, there could be orange Saffrons.
“Anyway, help me think of what to write to Saffron, Hikaru.”
“Hm, you are right here. First, we have to apologize about yesterday, and then—”
Koremitsu ascended the slope as he did as what Hikaru advised him, typing in the keys.
During this time, Koremitsu asked,
“Hey, to be honest, who do you think is more suspicious? If it’s me, the most likely person is the rude waitress.”
“Miss Sueko, you mean?”
“Yeah, that Sueko. Aoi said that she’s studying at a noble girls school, and there are some hints that she just started work recently. She’s been acting suspiciously when she looks at my face. Anyway, it feels like she’s the one rather than being just the most likely person.”
“Eh, ah…yes. But you see, Saffron has long flowing black hair, and Miss Sueko is a little brighter, a little curly, at that.”
For some reason, Hikaru stammered weakly.
“That sort of things can be changed at times, right? Don’t women always change hairstyles?”
“Eh, yes…that certainly is the case, but.”
“No, it’s definitely her. If that’s the case, I’m going to grab her by the collar and interrogate her.”
“Wait, Koremitsu! We are not policemen questioning a ruthless criminal here!”
Just when Hikaru was hurriedly trying to stop Koremitsu,
An uncouth voice rang into their ears.
“You got to be kidding me! That’s a completely extra service charge! I won’t continue working if you don’t add some extra pay!”
There was a woman yelling loudly at the cellphone, standing in front of the duo.
That person was dressed in a long cut-and-sew skirt, had a large slingbag, and though her outfit was neat and tidy, her tone was coarse.
“…Is that Sueko?”
Hikaru muttered vaguely, looking awkward.
(She does look like Sueko from her silhouette.)
But this tone makes her seem like a bar hostess rather than a rich princess, one who was violent, ready to cause a ruckus at all times. For some reason, Koremitsu felt that he heard that voice before.
“Anyway, I just want to talk about my basic pay increase! That’s all! Argh!”
Sueko realized that there was the stare of a heinous hunchback high school student behind her, and turned her head around
She saw Koremitsu standing right in front of her, and averted her eyes in fear, hurriedly raising her bag, trying to hide her face. However, Koremitsu had already seen her face completely.
“You’re that gawdy big sister living beside Yū’s room!”
Sueko was taken aback.
Right, at the time Koremitsu often visited Yū’s apartment, there was often loud yells noise coming from the next door, talking about bad times, pay rises and such.
When he knocked on Yū’s door, Sueko would poke her head out from the next door, looking vexed as she said such vicious things,
“Don’t get lecherous and do bad things, you damn brat.”
After that, Koremitsu learned that she was a bodyguard hired to protect Yū.
And this woman appeared in front Koremitsu as Sueko Marinokōji, a 3rd year of a certain famous girls high school.
“You entered that shop to protect Aoi this time, did you? Did Tōjō ask you to do this again?”
“Ahaha…this certainly is something Mr. Shungo would do.”
Hikaru laughed wryly as he whispered.
“Miss Aoi was lavish in her praise, saying that Miss Sueko was very earnest, taught her all sorts of things, and helped her a lot. Miss Sueko was also the one to first help Miss Aoi when the latter dropped the tea cup.”
“You’re the one who taught Aoi how to heal wounds with glue, use the tea leaves remains as a pesticide and all sorts of other things, right?”
“Sorry for not having money here! This is all part of my life experience!”
Sueko did not care any longer now that her cover was blown, and yelled as she lowered her bag, revealing her face. She did not have as heavy a make-up as she did when living as Yū’s neighbor, but it was thicker than any ordinary person, and was extremely gaudy.
“Speaking of which, you call yourself a high school girl with that age of yours? Isn’t that being too shameless?”
“Aren’t you quite the rude brat to ask a girl’s age immediately? I just graduated N years ago.”
“Don’t you feel embarrassed for coming up with such a ridiculous alias like Sueko Marinokōji?”
“Sueko’s my real name anyway.”
“Your real name!? It doesn’t match you at all!”
“Yeah, I know that myself. I’m the youngest of my 4 sisters, so if you’ve any issue, go complain to the parents who named me Sueko for convenience sake!”
“So Miss Sueko is the youngest of the 4 sisters. It does seem to match the story of Amy in Little Women; she is the most beautiful of them all, and finally married into a rich family.”
Hikaru chimed in with some unnecessary tidbit.
A little while after the yelling, Koremitsu spoke softly in a lethargic manner,
“…In other words, you blocked your face with the tray, and pretended to sound posh. All that is because it’ll be bad if I found out about your identity, right?”
And so, Koremitsu’s idea that Sueko was the most likely suspect to be Saffron vanished.
Sueko suddenly lowered her waist, and begged,
“Anyway, can you please keep this a secret from Aoi? Of course, please also keep this a secret from young master Tōjō. Or else, my pay will…”
And then, she spoke with an erotic expression, sounding sexy,
“Hey? Will you? If you can keep my secret, this big sister will do some interesting things to you.”
“What’s with that immediate answer!? And why’re you giving that annoyed ‘geh!’ look on your face!?”
“She is right, Koremitsu. It is rare for such an invitation from a woman. That is being too rude. Even if she is not your type, you can promise once to learn.”
“Shut up, you sex maniac!”
“Sex maniac!? I’m a woman here! Ah, I’m going to be late for work. My pay—listen up? If you dare reveal this, I’ll pour hot soup into your mouth!”
Sueko started running frantically.
“Ah, Miss Sueko. Your skirt is folded over. It is rare for you to dress up like a princess.”
Hikaru whispered, sounding devastated.
“Hey, Hikaru. You knew about her identity before this?”
Hikaru’s shoulders jolted in surprise.
“No wonder you weren’t exactly agreeing with me when I said she was suspicious.”
“Is-is that so…? If that is the case, it is because I am in a bad state due to a lack of sleep. Ah, I feel dizzy.”
“What do you mean dizzy!? Stop with that 3rd rate acting! Why didn’t you tell me she’s the big sister living next to Yū!?”
Hikaru forced a smile while he was being glared at, and said,
“But did Miss Sueko not walk like a crab and cover her face with a tray, trying her best not to let you notice her? Her face was as red as a Geranium. It would be too pitiful for her if her hard work went to waste because of my own mouth. You see, I am an ally of girls.”
“Stop messing around with me, you flirtatious bastard. Always saying such things like the big sister next door being like a red Geranium!”
“Ah, Koremitsu! Your cellphone is ringing!”
“Don’t try to misdirect me! Ah, it is.”
The cellphone in his hand was vibrated.
Once he saw who the sender was, his heart jolted.
“Hey, it’s from Saffron.”
After opening the message, both Koremitsu and Hikaru streaked at the screen—
“I had enough of you treating me as a fool.
You never had any intention of meeting me, do you, Mr. Polar Star?
Chatting up other girls in front of me.
My impression of you has been destroyed completely.”
“Ack, she’s really angry here. Speaking of which, what does she mean ‘chatting up other girls’? When did I do that in the shop?”
“…So you have no awareness of it at all. Well, I shall talk about that in the future. There is still some content after the message.”
On Hikaru’s reminder, Koremitsu dragged the screen down.
“I am not going to date you anymore, Mr. Polar Star.
I do not wish that you send me any messages, and I shall ban you from my blog.”
“Ack, what do I do now. She’s refusing me on her side.”
“It cannot be helped that all sorts of charming girls appeared one after another. Rather than that, look down.”
“She’s still not done with her complains?”
“But before that, I wish to meet you one last time, because I want to give you a huge slap.
Today, you shall be slapped by Saffron, and you shall be dumped.
And with that, everything will be over.”
“Haaaaa!? What’s she saying here!? Why do I have to be slapped!?”
“This is amazing, Koremitsu!”
While Koremitsu continued to grasp the phone tightly, Hikaru’s face and eyes were glittering,
“This does mean that Miss Saffloer will be making an appearance, right?”
“Yeah! If she wants to slap me, doesn’t that mean I can see Saffron?”
The once crestfallen mood immediately improved for the better.
“Alright! If you’re going to show up now, I’m going to catch you.”
“…Like I said, this is not like a policeman catching a criminal.”
Hikaru seemed a little worried.
It was the same red tea shop, the same door, and he opened the door with more apprehension.
The first thing he heard was Sueko, who had her identity revealed, her eyes seemingly saying,
“If you dare reveal my identity, I won’t forgive you.”
She showed such a cheap smile as she welcomed Koremitsu, and led him to his seat.
Aoi was standing in a corner, her head slightly lowered as she showed a clear smile.
(Great, she looks lively now.)
Koremitsu too nodded as thanks. With that, Aoi was happy, showing a smile on her lips.
Hikaru too was chuckling by the side.
(Speaking of which, it seems Aoi really respects Sueko. If she knows that Sueko was hired by Tōjō as a bodyguard, she’ll be really shocked, I guess.)
For Aoi’s sake, it would be better for him to hide the truth…
After making his order, he looked around the shop.
There was the customer seated at the windowside with blinder, wiping her face with a towel as she read the newspapers; there was the group of high school girls seated in the middle of the shop, yapping away. At the corner was a girl flipping through the pocket novel, looking on with gloomy eyes—
That girl whom Hikaru dubbed Miss Mint lifted her head, staring in Koremitsu’s direction.
To Koremitsu, she was supposed to be the second most likely suspect after Sueko.
From her age, it seemed she was a high school girl.
She had been reading alone there all this while, sometimes giving Koremitsu an observing look or something.
The eyes were cold, devoid of any warmth, ostensibly answering Koremitsu, ‘that is me’. Koremitsu gulped, stood up, and was about to walk over to her.
“Mr. Polar Star?”
There was a voice from behind him.
“Eh? Yeah, that’s me.”
The moment he turned his head around, there was a loud sound on Koremitsu’s right cheek.
The tremendous impact blew from his face to his mind, and it seemed his neck was snapped.
That person gave him a merciless slap.
Koremitsu tumbled from the chair, and landed on his butt in an unbecoming manner.
His cheeks were still searing, throbbing with pain.
There seemed to be something broken in his mouth, and the taste of blood could be felt.
All the stares in the shop were fixated on Koremitsu, and Aoi herself seemed to be stopping herself from screaming as she placed both hands on her mouth. Sueko was behind Aoi, grabbing the latter by the shoulders, supporting her.
“Koremitsu, are you alright?”
Hikaru was flabbergasted as he stared at Koremitsu sidelong, exclaiming with shock.
It seemed the face was really swollen.
Koremitsu blanked out for a little while as he was knocked to the floor, and finally recovered, remaining on the floor as he looked up at the person.
“So you’re Saffron?”
He answered forcefully.
“That’s correct, Mr. Polar Star.”
Staring down at Koremitsu was a girl dressed in a bright purple tunic and a short denim pants, the refreshing and imposing sight akin to that of a Saffron.
(So she’s Saffron?)
Koremitsu gritted his teeth as he continued to glare back. He heard a voice ‘another harem war?’, but it seemed everyone was already used to such a commotion as they pretended not to notice anything.
“Though we have finally met, it is too bad. This is the end of the line for you. I shall reject any messages from my address.”
She spoke with clarity and emphasis, beaming like a purple flower basked in lots of sunlight.
The large hanging earrings and the pendant on the chest were dangling glamorously, and the silver chain hanging on her little arm were rattling.
Koremitsu had wondered who she resembled, and it was Honoka.
The amazing body, feisty expression, and a slender waist caused him to think this way.
(What’s with this strange feeling? It seems off?)
Was the Saffron Hikaru talked of really her?
“Goodbye now. You weren’t a bad person online, but I have nothing to say about you in reality other than mediocre.”
The glossy long hair swayed in the air, and Saffron turned to leave.
The group of high school girl let out a sigh, seemingly watching the wondrous closing of a love drama scene.
If she was to go away like this, Koremitsu’s mission as Hikaru’s representative would not be done.
And the day Hikaru gets to the afterlife would only grow distant.
Also, Koremitsu wondered what was the strange feeling in his heart, and had not given up on investigating it.
Something seemed off!
There seemed to be a minor mistake somewhere.
If he could understand the logic behind it—
The sweat seeping from Koremitsu’s forehead entered his eyes, and his vision got blurry. And then, for some reason, the face of the class representative with 3 braids, the lonely tears that stroked her cheeks appeared in his eyes for some reason.
At this moment.
Hikaru’s voice filled the place in the midst of this tense atmosphere.
“It does seem strange hearing those words from your mouth. I never met Miss Saffloer before.”
Hikaru stared at Saffron’s back seriously, the light shining through his soft hair, causing it to ostensibly glitter, and his face to become as clear as an angel of light.
In his delirium, Koremitsu yelled,
“I haven’t met Saffron yet!”
‘Saffron’ stopped her elegant steps.
She kept her back turned away from Koremitsu, not saying anything.
Hikaru then continued with a calm tone,
“You may be Saffron, but the Miss Saffloer I exchanged messages with is not you.”
“You’re Saffron, but not Saffron herself. At the very least, the Saffloer Mr. Polar Star exchanged messages with isn’t you!”
Hikaru’s words continued to spread in Koremitsu’s heart.
The latter’s confused thoughts continued to piece themselves together, forming something tangible.
Once he had a strong awareness of it, he felt a painful shriek in his heart, and focused his ears on Hikaru’s voice with all his might.
“In the online world, Saffron was a cheerful, somewhat airheaded rich princess. She is popular amongst the boys. In reality however, is Saffron really like that?”
“Saffron declared herself to be cheerful, somewhat clumsy and a little airheaded on her blog, and is really popular. Is the real Saffron like that?
The flowing waterfall-like long hair rested upon her back, and she shivered a little, probably because she was rattled. Perhaps she was wondering whether to turn around.
The silver chain on her wrist let out a soft sound.
The people in the shop probably assumed that Koremitsu was simply trying to get her to stay, and pretended not to notice.
But the girl with the icy expression in the corner of the shop, reading the pocket novel, was the only one to stop what she was doing, and stared in Koremitsu’s direction.
Too stared at Koremitsu with worry and confusion.
During all this, Hikaru did not stop,
“She did not know who Mr. McDonalds and Mr. KFC are actually names for McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken, not because she is a princess who does not know anything about the world, but because she does not have friends that she can go out with after school or during the holidays, no? The reason why she does not put on the accessory, but keeps it carefully, is because it does not match her, no? That she feels embarrassed wearing it, right?”
Koremitsu’s mind again recalled Michiru’s lonely expression.
—I always hoped that I can be like Hono, so I bought the same accessory as her.
—You see, doesn’t Hono have a glittery bracelet chain on her arm? Whenever she starts exercising, that chain would start shaking, rattling. She’s pretty, and amazing…
But later, she gloomily spoke of how the accessory did not fit her
—In the end, I could only look at it, and use it as a cellphone strap
Michiru’s words were about how she admired Honoka, how she wanted to be like the latter. This image slowly overlapped with the profile of Saffloer when Hikaru spoke of her with clear eyes.
—Her clothes are order-to-make, and likes to collect all sorts of accessories, and really treasures them greatly, as far as I can tell from her blog. She even gave names to her earrings and necklaces.
—There was once where she bought a brooch she really liked from a bunch of sunstone accessories, and even after thinking hard about it, could never come up with a name for it, so she once asked me, ‘Can you please help me out here, Mr. Polar Star’?
—I called it Mignon. In French, it means cute. Miss Saffloer said that Mignon looks like it is smiling when placed on her chest, and cannot send me a photo due to embarrassment.
It was merely an accessory used for looking at.
Saffron did not have the courage to put it on her.
For a plain getup fit her identity better, and made her feel at ease.
Just like how Michiru wore the school uniform even when she was outside school—
“Is Miss Saffloer in real life not a plain person, a girl who the adults would not look at? At least that is the girl I at least remember from my imagination derived from the diary.”
“Isn’t the Saffron in real life a plain, unpopular person in real life? If I have to say it, she’s definitely that sort of person who’ll hide in a corner of the classroom and not attract attention, no?”
Saffron turned around to look at Koremitsu.
She raised her eyebrows in fury, glaring at him with a terrifying expression. However, she closed her lips, shivering a few times, her feeble breaths looking like a sinking fish.
And her eyes glanced aside slightlty.
“Soon after we became more acquainted with each other, she told me to call her Saffloer. Speaking of Saffloer, in Dutch, it means Safflower, and also known as ‘false Saffron’ in English. Right, the fact is that Miss Saffloer has already revealed herself as a false Saffron right from the beginning through her blog title ‘Sunset blue’.”
There was some beauty in Hikaru’s words.
And Koremitsu tried his best to convey the truth Hikaru led him to.
“Saffron wanted Polar Star to call her ‘Saffloer’ because it is a special name. That’s why she wanted Polar Star to call her that. Listen up, Safflower isn’t Saffron, but a fake Saffron!”
Saffron bit her lips, groaning.
There clearly was a faltering in her eyes.
The earrings dangled, and she again glanced aside.
“In that case, who is Saffron? I always thought that was the girl Miss Saffloer always admired, a glamorous girl who was used to socializing with others, and was such that accessories suited her. Of course, that is just like you, the one standing in front of me now.”
“Saffloer wanted to be just like you, trendy with her clothing and put on cool accessories, but she can’t do it, right? She wants to be like you, but she can’t be like you. So she wanted to be like you in the online world, at least!”
—I always hoped that I can be like Hono
Michiru said those words.
Even if she could not do so in reality, perhaps she could become the one she admired in the online world, where the faces and names could not be known.
Perhaps she could be ‘Saffron’.
Perhaps this was what Saffloer thought.
“Certainly, you are Saffloer.”
“To Saffloer, you’re ‘Saffron’.”
“At the same time however, you are not ‘Saffloer’.”
“But the Saffron Polar Star met isn’t you, but Saffloer! Besides, you never showed up in this shop during this past week! If you call yourself Saffron now, that’ll be too shameless of you!”
Of course, there was no way Koremitsu could not notice an attractive girl like her in this shop.
‘Saffron’ continued to keep her lips shut, remaining shut. The forced expression she showed at first remained, but it eased up greatly.
And her eyes were wavering about because of her lack of poise, glancing aside a few times.
As the sunlight shone through his hair, Hikaru walked to that direction.
“Now then, where is Saffron exactly? She definitely must be listening to our conversation, I believe.”
Hikaru walked gracefully without letting out any footsteps on the floor, and Koremitsu too followed slowly. He then called out to Saffloer, hiding in a corner of the shop.
“Hey, Saffloer! You can hear me, right? Better show up now, or do I have to pull you out?”
Saffron moved her pale arm with the silver chain bracelet, trying to stop Koremitsu, but missed. ‘Ah!’ she then opened her mouth slightly, letting out a feeble cry.
“Miss Saffloer would give names for her houseplants, and treats them as importantly as her family. She also knows that when the summer sunlight is shining down, the leaves will change colors. This is why she let down the blinders, so that the plants do not take in too much sunlight.”
“I know you give names to the leaves you like, and give them special care. You let down the blinders so that the plants won’t get exposed to the sunlight too much.”
Koremitsu’s footsteps echoed.
Hikaru too slowly approached the seat at the windowside.
Seated over there was the customer reading the newspapers as per usual.
“Yes, you are Miss Saffloer.”
Hikaru’s slender finger was pointed at the customer reading the newspapers.
And those newspapers were lifted by Koremitsu forcefully.
“You’re the ‘Saffron’ Polar Star had a promise with, Saffloer!”
With a rippling sound, the newspapers got thrown behind by Koremitsu, fluttering behind him.
Eek! The girl shrieked behind him, shivering as she curled up at the table.
Her long black hair was bundled behind, and her half-sleeved turtle-neck knitted shirt was matched with a plain colored shawl, the arms revealed from there looking long and thin.
On the chair beside her was a very old school bag, and there was a black cellphone on the table. There was also an orange sunstone brooch attached to a luxurious looking silver chain strap, glittering.
That definitely was the Mignon accessory Hikaru named.
Koremitsu grabbed it in his hand, and said,
“This is the proof that you’re Saffloer!”
At the next instant, the girl lowered her head, grabbed the bag beside her, embraced it, got up, ducked below Koremitsu’s arm, and escaped.
She kept running away, ignoring her image.
She bent her waist down, her butt raised, and fluttering in the air was her black bundled hair and the fringe that reached her chest, running out from the shop, ostensibly stumbling out. The shawl dropped as she ran out, but she did not stop to pick it up, probably not realizing it.
The girl called Saffron shouted.
“Dear customer, please pay—”
The shopkeeper was about to call out as well, but Saffloer had already ran out of the door.
Koremitsu stuffed Saffloer’s cellphone into his pocket, took a note from his wallet and slapped it on the table as payment for both of them, and ran after her.
Aoi called Koremitsu’s name, but the latter did not have time to look back.
(Hey, why did she start running away! I’m not done with what I have to say! I haven’t conveyed what Hikaru wants to say!)
He slammed the door aside and ran out, looking around for the girl.
At this moment, he found the girl with her hair tied in a bundle, pedaling hard on her bicycle.
“You won’t get away!”
And so, he ran off after her.
“Koremitsu, she is riding a bicycle. You cannot catch up to her by running!”
Koremitsu started running up the stone leading to high school.
He ran up 3, 4 steps at a time, striding forth, ostensibly about to break his legs as he ran up. The scorching summer sun shone brightly upon him, and the sweat soaked his T-shirt, his heart pounding furiously.
Having gotten up to high ground, he looked down from the handrail surrounding the place. He found Saffloer riding forth furiously with her body leaned forth, the flowing hair behind her like a tadpole tail.
“Ahh, this is impossible. She is getting away!”
While Hikaru said with a frown,
Koremitsu got his limbs over the railing as he yelled, leaping over,
“LEAVE THIS TO MEEE!!!!”
The red hair was standing, and the eyebrows, face, temples, were all seemingly ripped by the wind.
“Koremitsu!” Hikaru’s exclamation grazed by Koremitsu’s ears like the wind.
Koremitsu landed right in front of Saffloer, who was riding the bicycle.
He felt a numbing pain in his knees, but did his best to stand upright.
The accelerating bicycle crashed into Koremitsu head on, and Saffloer shrieked from within the hair that was covering the face.
Koremitsu gritted his teeth, holding onto the bicycle handles hard.
He flexed his muscles, rubbing his sneakers against the asphalt greatly. He glared his eyes, gritting his teeth, like he was doing a serious contest with the bicycle itself, and after using all his might, he managed to stop it.
“W-wh-wha-wh-wha-what’s going on…~~!? What’s with you~~~~!?”
Koremitsu’s reckless actions, when coupled with his savage, man-eating fiend-like appearance, caused Saffloer’s voice to quiver in fear, nearly breaking into sobs. The bundle of long hair at the back was undone, and the scattered hair was such that Koremitsu was unsure as to which side was the front. Her slender arms were shivering.
Koremitsu grabbed onto the bicycle handles, and spoke with a serious stare,
“I’m Polar Star’s representative! I’m here to tell you his words!”
Saffloer stammered from the other side of the blinding bangs.
“Re-representative…!? You’re not Mr. Polar Star himself?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“So you aren’t…Mr. Polar Star.”
It seemed that Saffloer was whispering something to herself, seemingly relieved that this wild beast in front of her was not Mr. Polar Star.
But she immediately broke down into tears.
“But why isn’t Mr. Polar Star showing up himself—!?”
And then, she wailed,
Koremitsu could not determine the expression she showed due to the massive amount of hair. It seemed however that she was greatly shocked.
She muttered hoarsely,
“It’s really true. He fell into a river during Golden Week and went to that—well, I guess it’s better not to say where he went. Either way, he died. That’s why he can’t come here.”
“…Koremitsu, is that explanation not too intense for her…?”
Hikaru muttered unhappily beside him,
“You see, Miss Saffloer is scared till a loss of words, no?”
(What do you expect me to say now? That he became a ghost and is floating beside me right now? Now that’ll scare her.)
He grumbled in his heart.
And during this time, Saffloer got off from her bicycle, and knelt on the ground.
Her shoulders were weakly slumped, and she lowered her head so much it felt as if it was touching the asphalt, sobbing as she snivelled.
“I-i-is that so? So Mr. Polar Star died soon after he made a promise with me? So ev-even if I want to meet with Mr. Polar Star…I won’t be able to do so?”
(Woah, stop crying!)
Koremitsu was most unable to handle the tears of women, and started feeling fluttered.
And furthermore, they were on the road.
If any passer-by was to be around, Koremitsu would certainly be deemed as a bad person.
(What do I do? What do I do now, Hikaru!?)
He looked around, but Hikaru was nowhere to be seen.
While he assumed this, Hikaru had already floated to Saffloer, kneeling on one leg, giving her a tender, loving look.
“Hey, please do not be so depressed for my sake. We finally managed to meet; come, please lift your head, and show me your cute face.”
Koremitsu nearly fainted.
“Hey, your hair is so black and pretty, but it is too long. It feels like a bamboo screen of darkness separating you and me. I will not be able to see your face in this case.”
Hikaru’s eyebrows were lowered in earnest.
(So you aren’t just hoping to look at her face after all?)
Of course, after having worked so hard, Koremitsu was curious as to the face beneath the black hair. However, rather than that, he wanted to settle the skirt touching the ground and the falling tears.
“Uuu. -but…it would be better if we didn’t meet.”
Saffloer sniveled as she tried to utter a complete sentence.
“B-because…if we do meet, Mr. Polar Star would definitely be disappointed.”
Her voice broke together with her emotion as she continued to sob and snivel. Hikaru’s expression too became one of sadness.
Koremtisu too was unable to remain silent, and he said hastily,
“Why don’t you want Polar Star to see you?”
“Because I’m an ugly girl!”
She said determinedly, and then broke into tears again.
“I-I have a gloomy personality, I always wipe my face with a towel, and I’m like an old man, but when I get nervous, when I panic, my no-nose will got hot—and I wonder whether it’ll get red, so I had to use a towel to cool it…a-and, as-as-as-as you said before, I’m always alone in a corner of the classroom in reality, because I have a weird face, so I was teased by the others…I can’t even say anything. I never been invited out once, whether it was McDonalds, KFC. It’s the same for the accessory; I used up half a year’s worth of savings, but I never wore it because it’s too embarrassing…that’s why I hate myself for being so tragic, that I can’t show my face to others…that’s why I disguised myself as the very popular ‘Saffron’, and became the fake Saffron—!!”
“…Don’t talk about whether you can show your face to others yourself.”
Koremitsu said gloomily.
He had been terrifying the people around him since his infancy, all because of his appearance, and could not make a single friend. He could not however use this as an excuse, something his aunt Koharu told him.
Koremitsu too kept Koharu’s teaching to heart, and went through 16 years of arduous journey.
“B-because I re-re-really can’t show myself to others, and I’m really ugly. My-my nose looks weird too.”
Lots of tears pattered upon the plain brown skirt, and the stains of tears spread about. Saffloer’s shoulders became limp as the scattered hair multiplied.
Hikaru watched on with a tragic look.
Koremitsu parked the bicycle, and knelt beside him.
He then reached his hands out for Saffloer, raising her hair aside like a curtain.
“That’s not true.”
And was speechless.
An ugly woman!? Certainly not the case. But well, it’s just normal! He could not say that either. He was at a loss of words.
First, her face was long.
She had a wide forehead.
Her eyes were a little sunk in.
Her lips gave a little vibe of the Heian Era—till this point, everything was alright.
The one big issue however was the nose in the middle dangling down. The tall yet flat nose bridge resembled that of an elephant, and the nose tip was dyed red, probably because of how emotional she was.
Normally, a girl’s red face would cause anyone’s heart to flutter for some reason. That sweet and sour heartbeat however was different; it felt like a pounding heart when seeing something rare.
How would he describe it, unique? No. Interesting? Definitely no. Rare animal—
(Not good!!! Nearly said that out!!)
His hands had spread the hair aside, and their eyes were staring at each other. The longer the silence continue, the worse the situation would deteriorate to a point of hopelessness. Even he, hopeless as he was at understanding a girl’s heart, understood this well.
Saffloer’s eyes were widened due to Koremitsu’s violent action, and as time ticked by, she lowered her eyes, giving a look of despair.
(Got to hurry and say something!? Surreal? Avant garde? Alien? Idiot! Those aren’t praises!)
Just when the situation was about to get really awkward.
“What about it? Is it not cute?”
Hikaru, standing beside Koremitsu, spoke heartily.
Koremitsu glanced diagonally upwards, and found Hikaru staring at Saffloer with glittering eyes.
(C-Cute? This guy’s way too straightforward!)
Hikaru’s beautiful face was showing a delighted look, glowing. He narrowed the eyes on his charismatic face, moved his lips slightly, and took a step forth.
“Your skin is white, your face is narrow, and you have a large forehead. Your lips are as rich as an apricot’s petal, and I really wish to poke at it. That cute nose especially is something I have never seen before! How can there be such a cute nose? I cannot bring myself to look away because of it! It is mesmerizing! Such a beautiful nose.”
Hikaru was able to rattle off what Koremitsu could not say like flowing water, and the latter was intimidated.
Koremitsu knew that Hikaru definitely was not lying. These were his true words.
This person really felt that Saffloer was cute.
Koremitsu was startled by this fact again, and touched.
(So you aren’t just a flirty harem prince after all!)
No matter which flower it was, they all had their unique charm. Surely Hikaru had no pretense when he always said these words with a smile.
His vow to love all the flowers was never shaken in the slightest.
(Hikaru, you’re the best handsome man right now! The man amongst men! I really respect you now!)
He had to convey Hikaru’s words to Saffloer.
Right, he would do it.
(If not, it’s pointless for me to be Hikaru’s representative.)
“M-m-my-my-my face is-is-is-is weird after all, right?”
Saffloer was trembling all over, her reddened nose quivering violently. Koremitsu leaned forward to her, and yelled,
“That’s not the case! You’re cute! And so is that nose!”
Saffloer was taken aback.
“You’re really cute! There’s no other woman like you in this world! You’re the best! If Polar Star’s still alive, he’ll definitely, definitely—say such a thing! He’ll definitely say that you’re cute!”
The nose, face, forehead, neck and even deep inside the eyes, all of it became red due to Koremitsu’s words.
“When the Safflowers start to bloom, they are a bright orange, and as time passes, they gradually become red, just like you now, Miss Saffloer. And then, when you extract their little seeds, those seeds can be used to get high quality oil that can even be made into ink! You do know that the petals can be made into dyes, right? It can dye a pure white fabric into a gentle orange or a radiant red, and sometimes, it can even be lipsticks for women. It was said that thousands of years ago, the Egyptians used dyes made from Safflowers to color the clothes used for embalming the mummies. The love and demand for Safflowers has lasted this long, and even now, it has been a widely popularized flower in the world.”
Hikaru spoke tenderly.
The words, and the passion, were all conveyed to Koremitsu.
“The Safflower is an amazing flower! Polar Star said before that the clothes the Egyptian mummies wear are dyed using Safflower dyes, and the dyes are widespread in the world. It can dye fabric, can be extracted for oil, and can make ink. It’s a highly demanded, highly loved flower!”
“The Safflower has all sorts of names, and this is proof of its widespread use. In Japanese it is known as Kureai in Japanese, Safflower in English, Carthame in French, and Saffloer in French. It is called the fake Saffron, but that is because they have similar colors, and can be used to make dyes. There are no disadvantanges, and they all have their own charms. In the Man’yōshū, it is hailed as the Suetsumuhana. That truly is a wondrous name too. The origin of Suetsumuhana has two means. The first is that when extracting it, the flower is plucked from the end of the stem; the second is that when extracting, the tip of the flower is taken, and then downwards. I do find the name Suetsumuhana to be really excellent. It is like how, when in the midst of the sea of flowers, basked under the morning dew, the maiden happily picking the many flowers appears in the scene.”
“The reason why the Safflower has so many names is because its name is widespread, that everyone loves it. Amongst those names are Kureai, but Polar Star loves the name ‘Suetsumuhana’ best, because he says this reminds him of the people picking a large number of orange flowers happily.”
“Right, the name is given because it has to be plucked from the tip of the stalk. That’s what he said before.”
Saffloer’s little face was tearing up as she beamed.
“Amazing…I never thought Mr. Polar Star would know about such things. Saffloer, Suetsumuhana, Kureai. He already knew all these about the Safflower.”
Hikaru pat his hand on Saffloer’s nose like he was handling a fragile item.
“Yes, I do know how good a girl you are, how beautiful a Suetsumuhana you are.”
Hikaru conveyed his thoughts with a sweet voice that nearly melted the air.
His crystal clear eyes were looking up at her, filled with his love for her.
“Yes, I do know how good a girl you are, how beautiful a Suetsumuhana you are.”
Hikaru conveyed his thoughts with a sweet voice that nearly melted the air.
His crystal clear eyes were looking up at her, filled with his love for her.
And so, to Koremitsu’s eyes, Saffloer’s long face, little eyes, apricot-like lips, and even her nose, all became cute as a result.
With all his might, he declared,
“Right, Polar Star knows about it! That you’re a Safflower of the highest order!”
This surely was the thing Hikaru wanted to convey.
He wanted to convey his overflowing love into earnest, gentle words.
To this flower that was about to wilt and shrivel, to moisten the flower—to pour water upon it, to bask it under the light.
“I really do love the unique flower that is ever so serious. I really love the bamboo shoots for treating the mushrooms as its friend. I really do love how the Saffloer thinks of McDonalds and KFC as human names. I really do like the you who taught me how to make herb tea and Potpurri when I was unable to sleep. I really do love the cute Saffloer who said that the face does not matter, and that she likes my inner heart. I truly love you. I wished to meet you directly and thank you before I say goodbye. I want to thank you for replying to my messages, for being so kind and gentle towards me, and I wish to say that I really love you for the way you are.”
“Polar Star really wanted to meet you directly and say farewell now. Even now, he’s grateful that you’ve been his companion, treating him so gently. He really loves you for how you are.”
Saffloer’s red nose was trembling, sniveling, and her beady eyes were teary as she said,
“So Mr Polar Star knew that he would not live for long, and wanted to meet me for the last time in the end?”
(No, I just said that Hikaru fell into the river and drowned, right? Why does it sound like he died from an incurable disease?)
Hikaru broke up with the other girls not because he knew of his death date, but because he wanted to patch things up with Aoi.
“So Mr Polar Star truly loved me like that.”
She sniveled and sobbed, unable to say anything.
Beside her, Hikaru looked ready to break down into tears,
“Miss Saffloer, you are unable to see me as I am right now, but you are the wonderful girl as I imagined.”
And she said,
“I-If I too were to meet Mr Polar Star, I will definitely fall in love with him too. Even if he is a shut-in, an unpopular guy, someone who cannot be accepted at all, I-I-I-I’ll definitely love him.”
There seemed to be a little misunderstanding here, but Koremitsu kept quiet.
Saffloer felt the sweet love from Polar Star, and the love of Hikaru while the latter embraced her by the shoulders. There seemed to be something a little off, but those were the true feelings.
“Speaking of which, you forgot your cellphone.”
Koremitsu pulled the cellphone out from the pocket, but the chain on the strap was broken.
Koremitsu and Saffloer both called out at the same time, and Hikaru chuckled, muttering,
“I do suppose ‘Mignon’ wishes to break this lock on its own power, and be decorated on Miss Saffloer’s chest.”
Koremitsu’s face was sizzling as he grabbed the orange sunstone brooch that fell off, and left it on Saffloer’s chest.
Saffloer in turn withstood her embarrassment as she let Koremitsu fumble around with the brooch, her face completely red, tensing up.
“I guess ‘Mignon’ thinks that this is better.”
After hearing Koremitsu’s brusque words, she looked down at the brooch on her chest proudly,
And smiled, saying this.
To Koremitsu’s eyes, the smile was refreshing and pretty, and looked really cute too.
(What? This girl’s rather cute herself.)
“Anyway, do you want to see a photo of Polar Star?”
He asked as precaution.
If Saffloer wanted to see, he would ask Tsuyako to send a photo of Hikaru over to him.
In fact, if she were to see Hikaru’s appearance, she would probably be shocked and overwhelmed by how different it might be from her expectations.
However, the sunstone brooch was beaming like a sun god on Saffloer, who shook her head, saying,
“I like Mr Polar Star not for how he looks, but for how he appears within. Even if I do not see his appearance, it is fine.”
Hikaru beamed delightedly, and Koremitsu too whispered with utmost relief,
The breeze blew by them, and the transparent sunlight was reflected upon the brooch.
Saffloer lifted her chest, and spoke clearly,
“To me, Mr Polar Star is the prettiest boy in the world.”
♢ ♢ ♢
My ‘flower’ this time is a little different, but she is rather cute herself, a pretty flower people cannot look away from, no?
I really feel lucky to be able to meet that flower in the midst of such a vast internet forest.
At that moment, I spent another sleepless night.
It was good when I could feel another girl’s warmth.
But occasionally, when I spend the time alone in my room, I do wonder whether the long night would last for eternity.
Was I going to be locked in this prison of darkness, falling to the abyss? My heart was suffering.
The secret hidden within me was stained with guilt, and even if there was any reason for it, it would not be allowed.
I tried my best not to let others realize, did my best to hide it, but perhaps that guilt was seeping out from my body like black water seeping out from a cracked vessel. Did everyone else realize it, I wonder?
During such a long, arduous night, the only solace was her blog, which I discovered while surfing the interest.
The blog had uploaded pictures of green herbs, little flowers, cups, accessories, and all sorts of things. They all had their own names, and I feel relieved knowing that their owner really loved them.
I tried reading the blog diary, and found it to be cute. Soon after, I naturally found myself leaving messages on it.
And then, she responded to me, and we started exchanging mail addresses.
To me, it was a refreshing thing interacting with an enigmatic girl, whom I had no idea of her appearance, age, and even her name. It was delightful too.
What sort of girl would she be? I wondered as I anticipated.
Certainly, it must be a serene, shy, girl who was a little careless, and somewhat airheaded. When I was depressed, she did her best to cheer be up; certainly, she must have been quite the gentle soul.
What I am most attracted about her was not her cuteness, nor her gentleness, but the sharp thorns I felt from her.
The thorns hidden under the leaves of the Safflowers.
The thorns themselves are soft, but when stroking them for a short while, there certainly would be a prickly feeling. This is something the Saffron does not have.
The innocent airheaded girl is able to reveal a little of her true self slightly, and I felt a little of the heartbeat hidden within me as I continued to converse with her through the screen.
The moment I felt my affections for her at its highest was when she told me ‘please call me Saffloer’.
When she explained how in the Sunset blue language, Saffron actually meant Safflower, I understood that it was not real.
The flower called Saffloer was actually a Safflower, a fake Saffron.
And that Safflower, the Suetsumuhana was an imitation of the Saffron.
Once I realized this, I felt an increase in my intrigue for her from the other side of the screen, my back felt chilly, and my heart was tense, ostensibly gripped. I had already fallen head over heels for her.
What? Are you saying that I lose to a girl too easily?
Did I already realize that the girl reading the newspapers was Saffron right from the beginning?
That I was just beaming nicely at you, floating leisurely in the air while you searched for her frantically?
Th-this is a misunderstanding!
Even I could not be certain immediately of her identity.
At most, all I could do was wonder whether it was her, and that was all. I really did not simply smile and watch you fumble around!
I do admit however that I just want to experience the ordinary, thrilling moments that was somewhat gentle.
To me, she is that kind of a gentle enigma.
But the thorns under the gentle petals, slightly deep within would definitely not bring a lung-ripping pain, but that of a gentle thrill.
When I conversed with her through the screen, I was able to avoid the curse of the lonely nights that plagued me.
I wondered about the sight of the flower I had yet to see in my heart, and with such a blissful feeling, I awaied the dawn.
We contacted each other using our words, our hearts, and our enigmas.
When I look at the mirror, I find myself to be repulsive. When I could not sleep, I took flu medicine in place of sleeping pills. In the middle of the night, I let myself into the pool. I prayed to God , hoping my existence would vanish. That Suetsumuhana however told me this.
That she liked my inner heart.
For that beautiful, enigmatic, Suetsumuhana, to be with my best friend in you, frustrated over this and that, searching about, that certainly was my best summer.
It felt like both of us were off looking for treasure.
I was with this now reliable partner, feeling really delighted, relieved, excited.
Is it not better than I imagined, to find a flower like this?
Certainly, that flower will become more charming in the future after that.
And having viewed through many flowers myself, I can conclude that this certainly is the case.
The men who have fallen to her charms definitely will not simply appear on the internet, but in real life too.
Hey, Koremitsu. Even if she cannot see me, there is a bond that can be maintained.
On a certain day, in the middle of a bright, radiant place, a plant will sprout, and gradually grow.
We were healed by that bond, redeemed by it.
If I am to leave this world, this bond will surely remain.
You definitely can hear me when I call from the other side of space.
Our little adventures will definitely be etched in your heart, I suppose.
When I look down on Earth, my heart too can definitely recreate the story that happened this story, I suppose.
Though it might be lonely, it definitely is a wonderful thing.
If, at a distant place billions of light years away, I am able to connect my heart with someone.
If, I can be your friend once I leave this Earth.
As long as there are still friends there.