(Someone, just drag this wild dog to the veterinarian.)
Koremitsu mentioned about going to catch Tsuchinokos in front of the Gonomiya residence, and after a few days of laughable attempts to invite her, Asai’s irritation reached its limit.
(All those things about a Tsuchinoko theme park, fishing for kappa, exchanging messages with UFOs are all things of the past, and I don’t believe in any of them now. You should know about that without me saying that. Or are you so much of an imbecile lacking in common sense?)
At this point, Asai should be pulling back the people of the Wisteria faction who have casted their supported for Kazuaki, and continued to visit Orime, trying her best to convince the latter.
And right beside the extremely tense Asai was that wild dog, who would slouch his back and sit cross-legged, just relaxing and spending his time there. Whenever they talked about Orime, he would call her ‘granny’. A little while later, he would say ‘this pickled turnip is really nice’, putting the pickles that came with the tea as he chewed on them hard, making a noise. Furthermore, he unabashedly asked for another bowl, irritating Asai’s nerves to no end.
And more infuriating for her was that while Koremitsu remained like this, Orime simply smiled at him.
“Mr. Hikaru really likes the pickles back then. When I asked him ‘Is it not boring to leave your sweets at home to come here?’, he would say ‘I can eat sweets when I am outside, but you do have such beautiful flowers here’. If I were not so old then, I would have fallen for him.”
She recalled with a reminiscing look.
“That Hikaru already could say such things when he was a brat.”
“Yes. It should be said that all the girls would be captivated by Mr. Hikaru. Even at parties, the atmosphere would gradually buzz whenever he appeared.”
“That guy only has his looks and mouth as his selling points.”
“Oh dear, that is harsh coming from Mr. Hikaru’s friend.”
Even when Koremitsu was gruff and coarse in his speech, it was a refreshing sight to Orime.
And the most unbearable thing for Asai was that Orime called him ‘Mr. Hikaru’s friend.’.
“There is nothing more delightful than Mr. Hikaru’s friend coming here to play, to recall bits and pieces about him, and talk about him together.”
After hearing such an earnest mutter, Asai nearly ceased to breathe in her anger.
(Lady Orime has actually recognized that wild dog as Hikaru’s friend?)
It was truly unbelievable to her.
How could such a wretched, unkempt, simple-minded, shameless man be Hikaru’s friend?
It was not Aoi alone who felt this way; even Orime too!
(This is unforgivable!)
The cold killing intent and hatred lingered in her heart from the first moment they met. What of Hikaru’s representative? What about looking for the Tsuchinoko with her in Hikaru’s place? She really wanted to kill him.
It was true that she did make such a promise with Hikaru a long time ago.
It was during the winter of her 3rd grade that she learned that Santa Claus was really her parents. It was a humiliation she gnashed her teeth over, but Asai, unwilling to lose, had a strong desire to personally witness whether the unknown creatures truly existed on this world, and fueled by it, came up with a summer adventure plan with Hikaru, then a 4th grader.
(We really were children back then. Whether it was me, or Hikaru…)
Right, that was merely some immature words. The most important promise she made with Hikaru definitely was not something so dreamy, so idealistic.
(My promise with Hikaru is more sacred, stronger than that. This is not something a wild dog acting as a representative can do, and I do not wish for that dog to fulfill it.)
Whenever Koremitsu appeared in front of her unabashedly as Hikaru’s friend, Asai would think that it was a sacrilege to Hikaru. Even so, she could not reproach Koremitsu so openly in front of Orime. She recalled the era names and the periodic element in her mind over and over again as she straightened her waist, her eyes icy as she forced herself to endure. Once she stepped outside, she growled,
“Do not come here, and do not get in my way. Do not enter my sights. You should simply die, wild dog.”
The abusive words akin to an ice pillar came out of her frozen lips in such a manner.
Any other man who was given an icy look from Asai and insulted as a lowlife would have vanished without a trace. At this moment, Koremitsu took a step forward, following up on Asai’s words,
“Yeah, I’ll vanish. That’ll be once your promise with Hikaru is done! So then, let’s hurry and start looking for the Tsuchinoko.”
“The Tsuchinoko is simply a creature that was imagined. It does not exist anywhere on this world.”
“This isn’t something someone wishing to breed Tsuchinokos and create a Tsuchinoko theme park should say, Asa.”
“If you call me Asa again, I shall call the police.”
“I’ll come by again tomorrow, Asa!”
“Hello there, is that the police? I have spotted a suspicious being, and I wish for you to arrest him. Yes. He is approximately 16 years ago, a man with savage looking eyes, resembling a wild dog with red fur.”
But no matter how she obstructed him and reported him, he would simply appear nonchalantly in front of Asai the next day, asking Asai out to look for the Tsuchinoko, to exchange messages with UFOs.
“If you keep hesitating now, summer vacation’s going to end!”
That truly was the case.
If she could not convince the Asagao Princess while the Morning Glories were in bloom, she would be in much trouble.
She was holding onto a trump card—
At this point, only a few people knew of it. However, when it came to Autumn, the situation would change drastically, and she would not be able to hide it anymore.
At that moment, what sort of action would Kazuaki and his mother Hiroka take? Whenever she contemplated about this, her temples will ache. If she could not erect a defense against them,
And when it came to winter—
The pale face of the now deceased Hikaru, overwhelmed with despair, would appear in front of her eyes, and her body would shiver from the cold. Hikaru’s eyes were like a dark, bottomless abyss—
—Asa…like what everyone else had said, I might be a person who should not be born on this world after all…
That parched voice—
Perhaps she would not be able to protect it after all.
Regarding Hikaru’s secret.
The evidence of Hikaru’s guilt.
(No, I have to protect it.)
Because I am the only one who had seen Hikaru giving such a tragic look—
She had no time to waste with this wretched, pretentious wild dog.
And after sorting her emotions, she stood in front of the Gonomiya residence.
To avoid Koremitsu on this day, she specifically chose to visit in the afternoon.
As she expected, Koremitsu did come by in the morning, and left thereafter. It was a lowly tactic of hers she had to take, to allow that wild dog to be alone with Orime.
(I have to get the promise of the word while that man is not here…)
Just as she contemplated in her mind.
The chatter could be heard.
The servants could be heard whispering.
And she nonchalantly moved to the Japanese sliding screen, her ears eavesdropping.
“I heard that the Lady had an argument with the Young Lord. The Young Lord wishes to finance his investments, but the Lady denied him and was unwilling to talk about it.”
“How many times has it been? The Young Lord should just stop already. The Lady herself is very strict even on her relatives, and he should learn that.”
“But it seems that the Lady really likes that red-haired delinquent boy who has been coming by recently. I do not know her interests at all.”
Of course, it was because she led such a wild dog to Orime that her interests and dignity was being questioned, no? There was a need to pull Koremitsu away from Orime after all—
“But that boy with scary looking eyes is Miss Asai’s lover, no?”
Her thoughts were interrupted by this sudden, unexpected line.
“I heard that he declared himself to be her fiance. They both were arguing all day long, but they definitely love each other within their hearts, right?”
“Yeah. It is hard for us ordinary people to understand why such a gruff—no, it will be nearly impossible to be Miss Asai’s husband if it is not someone who dares to challenge her head on.”
By the time she realized it, her shoulders and hands were quivering. Her body was cold, her stomach churning, feeling nauseous—
She just experienced an amazing amount of humiliation. It would be great if it was just a hallucination on her part, but it was not; She heard every single word clearly, and the proof was the chill on her body that would not cease.
A groan filled with humiliation came out of her lips,
“Calling me and that wild dog lovers.”
♢ ♢ ♢
Koremitsu suddenly shivered.
“What’s with the cold.”
He was standing in front of the cooler; perhaps it was due to the seat below him.
It was the afternoon. After his visit at the Gonomiya residence, he decided to visit the cafe Aoi worked at on his way back. On this day, she again was dressed in a navy blue one-piece uniform with a white frilly apron over it, holding a silver tray as she served tea.
Whenever a customer came in, she would raise her voice, saying ‘welcome’ with a smile, though she would give a forlorn, gloomy look at times
Whenever she received a message, Aoi would immediately open it to affirm.
—Sorry. I mishandled the phone.
She would softly reply, and then say that she was busy before hanging up.
Feeling a little concerned, Koremitsu went to visit her at her workplace. When she saw him however, she looked somewhat perturbed, stiffening with a pale look,
“E-erm…I am still busy here.”
Even when Koremitsu went to talk to her, Aoi would fidget and avert her eyes, scampering away.
“Did something happen between you and Saiga?”
When he asked this,
“No, that is not the case…”
Her voice gradually softened, before becoming silent.
Hikaru too was exceptionally concerned by Aoi’s disparate behavior, and inadvertently frowned,
“Hey, what do you think?”
Koremitsu secretly glance aside, asking Hikaru,
“I can be sure that Miss Aoi is frustrated by something…but she is quite the stubborn person herself…it will be difficult trying to extract information from her under such a situation.”
“Not even you can help?”
“If it is me, I would say that instead of my senses sharpening when it comes to her, I have been infuriating her all this while.”
He showed an unhindered grimace. Though this person could make people fall heads over heels for him, he was totally of no use here.
In that case, he had to look for Miss Sueko, who was arranged by Tōjō to work with Aoi and act as her bodyguard, and try to ask something from her.
“I-i-i-it’s nothing. Miss Aoi doesn’t know that I’m hired by Young Master Tōjō here, and if it’s me, I’m working hard here, you know? Just tell this to Young Master Tōjō himself. This beautiful and capable Miss Sueko is still undertaking such a difficult duty, so please give me a pay raise.”
“If I continue to talk with you like this, Miss Aoi will get suspicious and not talk with me. My identity now is a rich princess from a noble girls school after all.”
And after saying that, she left.
What rich princess of a noble girls school? Can’t you just look at how old you are now? Even if you don’t talk with me, you’re being rather suspicious yourself. As he wondered about this, he wanted to vent somewhat.
Speaking of which, he had yet to see Tōjō over the past few days.
That person doted so much on Aoi that he hired a bodyguard to watch over her, and yet was a useless person who could not do anything at the crucial moment. Unwilling to vent out at this point, Koremitsu kept his frustration within.
“Koremitsu, your appearance is a little…”
Hikaru sounded a little concerned.
“The other customers are all terrified of you. I know that you are worried about Miss Aoi, and I do have the same feeling…”
“Ugh, brooding tentatively alone doesn’t match my personality at all. Damn it, I better ask Aoi again.”
Just when Koremitsu was about to get up,
“I suppose that should be enough.”
There was an icy voice behind him.
He turned around, and found a girl with refreshing clear eyes. This girl was a customer who often visited this shop, always reading a Western language book at the wall, the girl Hikaru called Miss Mint.
“Girls do have moments when they wish to be left alone. She will not be moved even if a boy shows concern for her.”
She spoke in a calm, serene tone, and vanished behind the door leading to the toilets.
(Did she say that because she knew my situation…?)
Till this point, Koremitsu had yet to figure out the true identity of this girl who said such meaningful things. Hikaru however seemed to have picked up on something.
“Perhaps it is as Miss Mint said. Let us simply look at Miss Aoi for a little while.”
Though Hikaru had said so, Koremitsu still felt disgruntled within, and wanted to set aside the cafe issue first.
—Girls do have moments when they wish to be left alone.
The words were said with an icy tone, and it overlapped not only with Aoi’s situation, but also with Honoka, who had been acting strangely recently, throbbing his heart.
—I think it’s better for us to see each other less often.
He never met her ever since they went their separate ways at the library, and when he called her, she never picked up her phone.
(How’s…she doing recently?)
♢ ♢ ♢
(Mr. Akagi may not be feeling happy at the moment…)
Aoi watched Koremitsu leave the shop as the latter scowled, her heart felt ripped apart.
(It is rare that Mr. Akagi came all the way here to visit me because he is worried about me.)
However, she still could not tell Koremitsu.
If he were to show concern to her, she would spill out everything regarding Asa.
(I do not want to let Mr. Akagi know that Asa has been looking down on me.)
She recalled the event that transpired a few days ago, when she brought the muffins to school to meet Asai, and when she heard the conversation in front of the student council office, her body inadvertently shivered.
Asai was not alone; she was with Tsuyako.
—She probably is observing that Miss Aoi who continues to rely on you, Miss Asai, and even said that if something happens to Miss Aoi, she will inform you first.
Tsuyako did mention that Asai did arrange for someone to watch over Aoi at the cafe, and Asai did not deny that.
She merely replied coolly It will be too late if something happens to Aoi.
The chilling thing was the words Tsuyako said thereafter,
—Miss Asai, you are always pretending to protect Miss Aoi. In fact, you are looking down on Miss Aoi, am I correct?
The muffin Aoi made specially for Asai, the bag of muffins tied with the cute ribbon for Asai, fell at her feet.
Her mind was a complete blank as to how she could pick up the muffins, how she could leave without Asai detecting her.
By the time she realized it, she was already moving outside the school, spacing out.
(Asa has been looking down on me?)
(Has Asa always been like that.)
Tsuyako’s words continued to repeat in her mind.
Ever since she was born, Asai had always taken care of Aoi no matter how difficult it may be, and the former always had this thought.
The most shocking was that even Aoi could not deny such a thought.
She even felt that it was to be expected that Asai would have such a thought.
(I am useless by myself after all. I cannot do anything well without Asai around; I always rely on her.)
Asai’s spy surely must be in the shop at this point. She had originally suspected Sueko, who had always helped her out whenever she had issues, and Sueko in turn widened her eyes, flailing her hand as she concluded,
—I-I-I do not know anything about that. I dare swear to God that I was not hired by your friend Miss Asai to spy on you. Anyway, I do not have any relation with that lady called Asai. This is really the truth; if I dare lie here, I shall swallow a thousand needles
Aoi felt ashamed for suspecting Sueko in the first place, and immediately apologized.
—It-it is alright. I was not hired by Miss Asai to spy on you anyway. We are still friends.
Though Sueko did say this, she seemed a little perturbed by this, and had been somewhat distant from Aoi recently.
Her paternal cousin Shungo, who had been kind to her, seemed to be in some trouble, and did not appear recently.
Also, Aoi had no one to talk with regarding Asai.
In fact, she really wanted to rely on Koremitsu.
(Mr. Akagi is really kind, always willing to listen to my troubles, and would even console me.)
But if she were to do so, the more Asai would look down upon her, and even Koremitsu might think like Asai, that Aoi was a troublesome person.
It was the beginning of summer vacation when she coincidentally met Koremitsu’s classmate, Honoka Shikibu, and they ended up having tea together.
Aoi was a person every other person knew of, but this was the first time she had tea alone with a stranger.
However, this person was always with Koremitsu. She had such beautiful legs and a feisty look; Aoi was concerned by this girl all this while.
At the cafe, Aoi ordered a milk tea filled with honey, while Honoka ordered an expresso. Thinking that she was being childish, and embarrassed about it, Aoi hastily corrected herself, saying, “Please give me a cup of coffee instead, without sugar and milk’.
Once their orders were taken, both of them stammered somewhat.
—Your Highness Aoi, I want to know what do you think about Akagi?
—I think Akagi doesn’t suit you, Your Highness Aoi~ Akagi’s crude and poor at talking. I don’t think he fits you as a Princess.
She continued to say bad things about Koremitsu, giving a pretentious tone of understanding him better than anyone else. Aoi’s felt hazy within, somewhat anxious.
—Mr. Akagi is a kind person, a marvellous person. It is simply that everyone else does not know about it.
She argued back.
And after expressing some shock, Honoka raised her eyebrows, her eyes affirmed as she said,
—I-I know that Akagi’s a good person too.
Honoka wanted to convey to Aoi that the latter was not the only one who realized Koremitsu’s charm.
To Aoi, Honoka herself was filled with charm unlike Aoi, was definitely a person who could think on her own, and was a strong, amazing person.
That she was someone of equal footing to Koremitsu.
Koremitsu too probably loved Honoka for how she was. Whenever he talked to Honoka, he seemed to be calm and at ease.
(I cannot talk to Mr. Akagi about Asa after all.)
She did not want Koremitsu to think of her as being different from Honoka, a girl who always has to rely on others.
She did not want Koremitsu to look down on her.
She endured the emotions that were about to collapse as she slowly left the cafe—
“It has been a while, little Aoi.”
The voice as sweet as Hikaru’s rang at her ears.
And she felt her mind freeze.
The slender bespectacled youth stood in front of Aoi, brazenly smiling away.
It was Hikaru’s half-brother, Kazuaki—!
Aoi recalled what Kazuaki did at the countryside villa, and felt her disgust and fear throbbing her throat, her body cringing.
Kazuaki was pretending to be kind, apparently forgetting what happened back then.
“Asa will know if I look for you in the shop. It looks that I will have to get past Asa if I wish to talk to you, Aoi.”
After hearing these words, Aoi’s movements stopped.
She should be running away as fast as she could at this point, but her feet could not move.
Even if she was not aware of the ways of the world, Aoi could understand that Asai sent someone to watch over her so as to ward the latter from Kazuaki.
(But I started working part-time to protect myself using my own strength.)
She tried her best to stand up straight, lifting her head at Kazuaki.
It seemed her resistance was amusing to Kazuaki, as if it was expected, as the eyes beneath the latter’s spectacles narrowed.
And then, he bared his true nature as the spider, speaking with viscous tone,
“Do you know, little Aoi? The Mr. Akagi you so love right now is flirting with Asa~”
♢ ♢ ♢
“To the Purple Princess.
My close friend and I fell in love with the same guy! (。>0<。)
That person is the playful kid from the next class, G. The way he shoots the soccer ball into the net when we have PE class together is so amazing, I thought.
And then, I started observing him for quite some time. I think I may have fallen in love with him.
But I’m so shy that I lied to my best friend, saying that I don’t have anyone I like.
After that, right before the summer vacation, my close friend M said that she fell in love with G, and hopes to have me patch them up together! ∑(–ロ–|||)
I just answered with ‘Eh~’, and she said to me ‘please, I can only request this from you’, repeating it over and over again. I had no choice, so I could only agree.
Purple Princess, what do I do now?
Please help me here.(; ^ 😉
From Sunglasses Panda”
“To Sunglasses Panda,
It must be tough on you, falling in love with the same guy your good friend is in love with. I really~understand your feelings right now, Sunglasses Panda. o(iД i)o.
You can’t betray your close friend, but you can’t cut away your thoughts about him.
My friend is a good person too, always relying on me, or maybe she doesn’t have much initiative herself(‘__` 。) I actually told her that I never thought much about him, and even said that we should keep our distance from each other. It was rare that we managed to get along so well; ahhhhh, I’m really a big idiot here!! (((p(≥口≤))))
Seriously, what do I do now(·/口\·)”
“Eh—I’m not replying to her at all! I’m just discussing this with her! What am I doing here!!?”—
Honoka immediately deleted all the words on the screen, and slumped her shoulders.
It was the afternoon of a hot, scorching summer day.
She was strolling about the residential area, updating her blog, but was perplexed as she felt she was not being her usual self.
Before knowing Koremitsu, Honoka was hailed by everyone else to be the love expert, was able to give fast and accurate responses to all the troubles the girls have expressed, and had received much gratitude.
Ever since she started conversing with Koremitsu however, Honoka became a girl with her own troubles.
But even so, there had been little development, and she did fulfill the wish of going to the pool before.
(Has Michiru fallen in love with Akagi?)
Why, back when Michiru asked her ‘you do like Mr. Akagi after all’, did she reply with ‘that’s not the case’? Even stating that she was just ordinary classmates with Koremitsu, that she had high standards.
It was too late when Michiru raised her moist eyes.
“Th-then, it’s alright if I fall in love with Mr. Akagi, right?”
It was a voice filled with decisiveness.
Her cheeks were slightly dyed pink.
It was the first time Honoka had seen Michiru give such a serious look, even though she had been close friends with Michiru since their 9th grade.
Normally, she would tie her hair in braids, wearing spectacles. She was never so pretty, and never attended any mixed dates.
She was a little introverted, would always work hard, but ended up making a mess out of matters, often panicked, and would often be downhearted.
And this close friend of hers undid her braids, removed her glasses, dressed in gentle fabrics and bright clothing, smiling shyly at Koremitsu.
So Michiru was such a beautiful person after all.
She thoroughly changed her image for the man she liked, a girl filled with feminine charms.
And because of love, Michiru became so beautiful. As a friend, Honoka was really delighted.
(But to support Akagi and Michiru’s love, uuu, I can’t do it after all.)
However, this was a fact she could not tell Michiru directly.
(What kind of a love expert am I here? I am so half-hearted when it comes to love and friendship; how useless I am.)
What was worrying to Honoka was not simply Michiru herself.
The reason why Honoka started talking with Koremitsu was because of that cute doll-like upperclassman who was the start of everything, and the image of her appeared in their minds.
The one Koremitsu first liked, the famed princess.
When she had tea with Aoi during the summer vacation, they conversed with each other with tense feelings, and Honoka thoroughly realized it.
That Aoi had feelings for Koremitsu beyond that of acquaintanceship.
Most likely, those feelings were of the same kind as Honoka’s—
—It is simply that everyone else does not know about it
With her determined expression, Aoi was wholeheartedly devoted to shielding Koremitsu.
And Honoka’s chest tightened at that moment, ‘I-I know that Akagi’s a good person too’.
As compared to the princess Aoi, she was closer to Akagi , and she knew how he was like normally.
But when she saw Aoi order the milk tea with honey with a naturally cute, girlish look, she felt as if she had lost.
And then, she changed her order to coffee, without any milk or sugar, inadvertently let out a comment ‘bitter!’. Her shy, blushing cheeks made her looked really cute too.
Honoka herself ordered a cream cocoa with marshmallow added, and the sweetness in the mouth was too much even for her.
(Akagi…really likes those girls that give the urge of needing protecting protection after all…Miss Kanai is that kind of person too…)
She lost to Michiru, she lost to Her Highness Aoi, and she lost to herself.
When she analyzed it this way, she felt more devastated as a result. For some reason however, she found that her legs have dragged her to Koremitsu’s house.
(I remember it’s nearby…he said that his grandfather opens a calligraphy class…)
“Wai—wh-what am I doing here exactly?”
The way she went about in circles in front of another person’s house was worse than her spying on Koremitsu going to Aoi’s part-time workplace. Clearly, her stalker tendencies were getting exacerbated.
(Right. When Akagi caught me that time, he really scolded me good.)
She could not do such a foolish thing again.
(Calm down, Honoka What you are doing now is lowering your value as a woman. Right, that is what the Purple Princess will advise. I should return home right now, take a cold shower, and cool my head off.)
But if she were to stay at home, she would continue to think about Michiru and Aoi, and would end up more depressed. She had told Koremitsu that they should keep their distance from each other, but she really, really, really regretted it—
“I-I’m just going to check out his house. Once I do that, I’ll go back. I can’t meet Akagi coincidentally like this…ev-even if it’s probably alright, but it feels like I want Akagi to see me, wearing such skimpy shorts…no no no, this is about a girl’s personal appearance…if my skirt flips and I show my panda panties, I’ll just be shooting myself in the foot…m-my underwear today is rather mature too…ahh, it’s not like I want to wear it for Akagi to see.”
She tried to defend herself as she whispered, large beads of sweat seeping out as she proceeded forward step by step.
“Erm…the door sign’s on the street here…ah.”
She stopped in front of a wooden house surrounded by a thin wooden fence.
There was the name ‘Akagi’ on the sign board, and upon seeing this, a shy, lonely, miserable feeling rose within her.
(I am an idiot…I’m not being calm at all.)
She felt the feelings churn within her; it was stinging, hurting.
(I really want to see Akagi once after all~)
She cupped her knees in front of the door, her eyes teary.
A pure white cat suddenly rushed out from the door, and appearing immediately afterward was a cute young girl with black hair tied in twintails.
Her petite right hand was holding a beryl blue ribbon.
“It’s rare that I want to tie a ribbon on you.”
The pretty girl puffed her cheeks, and was taken aback once she noticed Honoka.
And Honoka remained still there, her knees cupped.
The other girl had her lips curled into a frown.
Honoka’s body cringed.
(I-I’m so hapless being in such a situation now. Now I’m all teary. I can’t give any appropriate reason either.)
But even as an older, amazing girl, she should be the one breaking the deadlock, and the moment she tried to speak up.
The pretty elementary girl, Shioriko Wakagi, had some intense skirmishes against Honoka at the pool and cafe during the first half of summer vacation, and it was unknown if she had some sympathy due to Honoka’s appearance, but she turned her head aside, nonchalantly saying,
The white cat at Honoka’s feet too did the same motion, purring coolly.
♢ ♢ ♢
“Aoi is frustrated because she has some argument with Saiga after all.”
He was on the way back during sunset.
Koremitsu said to Hikaru by his side. As his expression was grimmer than usual, his already savage looks were more pronounced than usual. Furthermore, he was muttering to himself, and it was no wonder the passers-by were giving him strange looks.
However, Koremitsu did not put them to mind as his head was filled with Aoi’s matter and Hikaru’s request.
“Saiga had been too concerned about Aoi ; it’s already weird that anyone can be with that Saiga for so long without getting annoyed in some way.”
He recalled the vicious words Asai said at the Gonomiya residence, and was really infuriated. Whenever she saw his human face, she would call him a wild dog, a brute, tell him to die, call a veterinarian and such.
“!! She’s the collective consciousness of all evil! That cold blooded woman!”
Asai’s words and actions were always accompanied with a cool tone and a contemptuous look, and Koremitsu recalled them all, his fury voltage continuing to increase.
His temples were pulsating, his head and ears burning, and even his breath was boiling.
“Amongst all the people I met till now, there’s no doubt she’s the one woman who annoys me to no end. I can call her the most sinister person in this world.”
And Hikaru continued to explain to Koremitsu,
“Asa is a kind person, actually.”
He exclaimed without thinking, raising his eyebrows, and Hikaru’s expression became gloomier as a result.
“It was true. When I was young and teased for being a mistress’ son, Asa would always defend me.”
(…Oh, is that so?)
“She would catch any weakness of those children that bullied me, warning them not to harass me, set traps, showing their underwear in front of others shamefully, reporting to the teachers when there were bad things happening, write anonymous letters to taunt others.”
She started writing anonymous messages to others ever since elementary school. What exactly…
(So Asa has been like this ever since young.)
Koremitsu cringed back in turn.
“It is because of Asa that I was not bullied by others, but at the same time, Asa was feared by everyone else….”
Hikaru lowered his shoulders.
“Whenever she sheltered me, Asa would be the bad person, and slowly, she became unable to smile. Her eyes got sharper too…until she became a girl who could not cry.”
His lowered eyes were gradually tinted with gloom, and upon seeing this, Koremitsu too felt moody within.
“I could not cry, and Asa herself could not either. I made such a promise with her when we were young, and because of that promise, she continued to keep it even after I died. I did not want to make such a promise…”
The tragic words from his friend caused his inner heart to sink as well.
He recalled the ‘promise’ Hikaru made with Asai, the one he told Koremitsu.
The initial promise was to look for a Tsuchinoko with Asai, at a dawn when when the Morning Glories bloomed.
And the final promise was—
—Since Hikaru cannot cry, I shall not cry either.
There was the one day where he saw the photo of the young Asai, Aoi and Hikaru together in Hikaru’s apartment.
There was Aoi, biting her lips with her eyes teary, a beaming Hikaru giving an angelic smile in the middle, and a stoic, intelligent looking girl standing there. After hearing Hikaru’s words, the calm voice of this girl continued to echo at Koremitsu’s ears.
—I cannot cry.
—I will not cry either, definitely.
The faces of the young Asai and this current cold, aloof Asai overlapped each other’s.
The sharp, blade-like eyes that stared right at Koremitsu.
(It requires a lot of determination…for a girl to decide never to cry…)
It definitely was not an easy thing to keep this promise.
Furthermore, their promise continued to last till this point, and yet she became the feared, talented and calculative student council president, Asai Saiga.
Hikaru, basked under the white light of sunset, lowered his eyes as he said in a dreamy voice,
“All would be well…if …I could cry…”
His voice was filled with guilt,
“If I could cry out loud, if Asa would come over and console me, and then end this promise…”
He lowered his head in self-loathing—
The knife that was cutting at Hikaru’s inner heart was cutting at Koremitsu’s chest at the same time.
It definitely was not an easy thing to get rid of the things he kept swallowed within his heart.
Just as Koremitsu could not smile, Hikaru could not cry.
If Koremitsu could smile on the night he watched his mother apologize over and over again as she cried, perhaps he would not be at the child’s room, standing at the window, watching that frail body depart gradually. Koremitsu himself did have this thought.
(But this is something that cannot be fixed. Thinking about this right now is not going to change anything.)
Right, it could not be helped, it was inevitable.
But even so, his chest was aching. Hikaru’s regret filled Koremitsu’s chest.
“Without that promise, I suppose Asa will definitely be a good person with a radiant smile, maybe somewhat clumsy, somewhat impish, a popular posh woman who often smiles.”
“That’s not the case.”
Both Koremitsu and Hikaru were pondering, but Koremitsu had to retort back at this point no matter what.
That Asai Saiga would never become a good person with a radiant smile, maybe sometimes clumsy, somewhat impish, a popular posh woman who often smiles.
“But Asa would give her seat to the elderly on the train.”
“That is normal.”
“When she sees an empty can on the floor, she will pick it up and throw it into the trash bin.”
“Those environmental volunteer uncles often clean up the places in front of the stations too, right?”
“When she sees a lost boy crying, she would bring him to a nearby policeman to handle.”
“Didn’t the boy cry because he saw Saiga’s face?”
“Anyway, Asa is a kind person beyond what her appearance lets on.”
Koremitsu felt his chest itch due to Hikaru’s sorrowful, and beyond that, serious look.
(Don’t show such an expression here.)
He murmured quietly.
And then, as he continued to walk, he whispered,
“I do have some grievances against Saiga, but I definitely won’t back out midway through.”
“Thank you, Koremitsu.”
The friend beside him whispered graciously,
“Can you also convey to Asa ‘I have been crying beside you by your pillow every night’?”
“No, she’ll definitely beat me up before I can finish saying such suspicious words, like I’m possessed by a ghost or something.”
‘Are you an idiot?’ He gave such an expression as he walked on weakly. The equivocal solitude that could be felt from the pale sky before the sunset accompanied the duo until his doorstep.
He pulled aside the sliding door of the corridor, saying brusquely.
He knelt down to untie his shoelaces, and a discrete set of footsteps could be heard approaching.
Shioriko would never be so meek.
He lifted his head, and found a pair of slender legs and shorts; he looked up, and found Honoka Shikibu dressed in a flowery apron, shyly looking at Koremitsu with her cheeks red.
♢ ♢ ♢
(Why is Shikibu at my house?)
Koremitsu looked perplexed.
The living room was filled with the kokeshi doll gift and the hanging scroll his grandfather wrote on; his grandfather Masakaze, aunt Koharu, foster sister Shioriko, and classmate Honoka was seated around the table with Koremitsu.
Koharu and Masakaze did not seem too pleased about this, but it did not mean they were angry; this was their usual expression after all.
Shioriko too curled her lips into a frown.
“Miss Shikibu was cupping her knees in front of the house like a scaredy-cat, so I went to protect her.”
She spoke, obviously sounding very displeased,
“I-I’m not a scaredy cat…I-I just had heatstroke.”
Honoka cringed her shoulders back as she whispered.
“I see, so you accidentally got heatstroke in front of our house? Anyway, how long are you going to wear the apron? Are you emphasizing yourself to be a woman staying at home?”
“Th-that’s not the case. Sorry, I’ll take it back and wash it first—”
As Honoka hurriedly undid the apron, Koharu spoke smoothly,
“Ah, don’t worry about that. It’s put in the shelves because it’s meant to be given to others or something like that. A flowery apron like that doesn’t suit me, so if you like it, I’ll give it to you.”
“Didn’t you help me with dinner just now? It’s a repayment of thanks.
Honoka panicked as she moved her knees. The usual feisty Honoka seemed to have changed to another person.
(Didn’t you give me a serious look before this, telling me that we should keep our distance?)
Koremitsu had no idea what was going on.
After hearing those words, he wondered if he did something rude to Honoka, and was troubled by that.
However, she appeared at his house entrance with a flowery apron.
She was also able to talk with Koharu so normally. Masakaze, being a person who hated women, did not speak up, but it seemed he realized the relationship between Honoka and Koremitsu as he stared at the girl, and then moved his stare to Koremitsu. He seemed to be berating Koremitsu, ‘haven’t you forgotten my teaching that you shouldn’t get involved with women?’, and Koremitsu felt the hand holding the chopsticks sweat.
In a corner of the room, Lapis was nibbling at the cat food. It so happened to be Masakaze’s blind spot .
Flowing at the ceiling was Hikaru, watching over them with a meaningful look.
(Damn it, what are you grinning away there for?)
He did not understand what kind of expression he should show, and in the end, he ended up puffing his cheeks.
And due to Koremitsu’s attitude, Honoka looked more and more intimidated.
“Well, I did help a little, but I just helped to do salad, and cutting the bitter-gourd and ginger into slices, dress it with the can of tuna and bitter orange juice. Didn’t you prepare the tempura yourself, Miss Koharu—”
“Big brother Koremitsu, Shiiko can also cut bitter-gourd too. Shiiko was the one who added the small pieces of sliced dried bonito, you know?”
“Ah, I see. No wonder it’s so fragrant…bonito.”
He merely responded.
Shioriko then rubbed a finger at her nose.
“Then, let’s tuck in.”
“I’m tucking in.”
“S-same here. Tucking in”
Shioriko spoke up enthusiastically, and Honoka glanced at Koremitsu in a probing look, muttering to herself.
Masakaze remained silent.
Koremitsu too clapped his hands together, muttering, “Anyway, I’m tucking in.”
The menu consisted of tempura, bitter-gourd salad, eggplant and Japanese parsley miso soup. On a side note, the Akagis do not use seafood for their tempuras, but chicken.
Koremitsu liked spicy food, so he liked lots of 7 spices blend on his tempura. He was the only one in his family who would eat it this way, and just when he was about to reach for the bottle of spices, there was another hand reaching from the opposite.
Koremitsu and Honoka’s hands overlapped on the red cap of the small bottle.
They exchanged looks, blushed at the same time, and pulled their hands away.
“N-no. That was my fault.”
Honoka placed her hands on her chest tentatively, looking troubled as she fidgeted.
“I-is that so?”
Right, the 7 spice blend’s not on the menu, right?
He picked up the bottle of 7 spices, and scattered the red powder on the plate of tempura.
Honoka again widened her eyes, exclaiming,
And then, she stared at Koremitsu’s hand ostensibly seeing something unexpected.
“What? Is it weird? It’s good, you know.”
And Honoka replied,
“I-I know that.”
She said as she took the bottle of 7 spices blend Koremitsu had put back, scattering the red powder on her chicken breast tempura.
“I normally eat like this at home too.”
Her face was blushing in embarrassment as she looked up at him.
“Eh, well, I heard that it’s good for slimming, and after trying it, I liked the flavor. I always have the 7 spices at home.”
“I see. The 7 spices blend is good, right?”
Both of them nodded in unison.
“This is amazing! Both Miss Shikibu and Koremitsu have the same tastes!”
Hikaru squealed in excitement at the ceiling.
“I didn’t think there would be anyone else who would add 7 spices powder on the tempura other than you. You found a companion here, Koremitsu.”
Koharu stated calmly,
“Adding the 7 spice blend will numb your tongue there. You won’t be able to taste anything after that, right?”
Masakaze scowled as he answered.
Koremitsu and Honoka continued to stare at each other, blushing, and Shioriko exclaimed,
“I want that 7 spice powder too! Hand me that bottle, Miss Shikibu!”
And then, she snatched it from Honoka’s hand, peppering the tempura with lots of the powder.
“Stop it now, Shiiko.”
Koremitsu and Koharu tried to stop her, but Shiiko pinched her nose, her eyes filled with determination as she stared at it, and bit it like a red pumpkin.
She coughed a few times, probably because it was too spicy, and hurriedly covered her mouth, her eyes teary, and her shoulders cringing. Every single being, including Hikaru and Lapis, watched her continue to quiver while she was unable to consume anything.
Her little throat moved, and it seemed she finally managed to swallow.
She received the glass of milk from Koharu with both hands, and gulped it down with tears in her eyes.
“That’s why I told you to stop. Even the curry you eat is a kid’s curry.”
Koharu too looked flabbergasted as she said this.
“That is the 7 spices powder. It’s fine even if you don’t know how it tastes.”
Masakaze sternly told her off, and Lapis gave a cool look as it went back to eating its own food.
“Ah, Shiiko is so pitiful now. Her mouth must be feeling like a sauna now.”
Hikaru expressed his sympathies.
“Just eat your tempura normally, Shiiko. See?”
“Yeah, Shiiko. The Akagi’s tempura is already rather delicious on its own, you now?
Both Koremitsu and Honoka leaned forward.
And Shioriko curled her lips, insisting
“Wh-what…even I can get used to the 7 spices blend taste!”
“Is it delicious?”
“I can’t really…”
While watching Shioriko touch the tip of her lips with tears in her eyes, Koremitsu pulled the bitter-gourd salad over, saying,
“Ah, wow, this salad’s good. It’s special, especially when mixed with the bonito bits.”
“The bitter-gourd’s cut nicely too.”
Shioriko’s ears twitched in surprise, and again, before reaching her tongue out again.
“And the bitter orange juice taste refreshing too, not bad.”
This time, the exclamation came not from Shioriko, but from Honoka.
(Damn it, Shikibu’s the one who added the bitter orange juice.)
Honoka’s face radiated a delighted smile.
“Miss Shikibu certainly is cute here, being so delighted when the salad flavoring has been praised by you, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru gleefully snicked.
Shioriko again puffed her cheeks, while Honoka in contrast was drowning in his blissfulness, her cheeks and lips glossy.
At this moment, Masakaze spoke grimly,
“…Koremitsu’s grandmother, that woman, suddenly demanded a divorce selfishly when Koremitsu’s father was in college, and left the house.”
Due to these sudden words and the content itself, the dining table was rendered frozen
“Look at you, suddenly saying such things out of a sudden. The guest got scared by you.”
But Masakaze ignored Koremitsu and Koharu’s voices of appeal as he continued on,
“That woman, Koremitsu’s mother, eloped with his homeroom teacher when he was in first grade, and never returned.”
Honoka widened her eyes, not saying anything. Of course, this was to be expected, as any person would not know how to comment about this.
Koharu raised her chopsticks and pointed them at Masakaze’s throat.
“Old man, look at the situation before you talk!”
“Shut it, Koharu! Settle down!”
Koremitsu joined in, wanting to stop Koharu, but he was sent flying by her, and in the meantime, made a hole in the sliding door. Lapis looked troubled as it shook its tail, “Stop now, grandpa, Miss Koharu.” Shioriko exclaimed from the side, and the living room was rendered a mess.
“Sorry there, my old man really hates women, always saying not to get involved with them.”
After that frantic dinner, Koremitsu led a flabbergasted Honoka to his room for shelter, lowering his head to apologize.
“You were shocked there, right? He won’t do anything violent to you though, and leaving that aside, Koharu, no, Koharu won’t just beat anyone up for no good reason.”
Honoka finally recovered from the shock, shaking her head.
“No, I should be the one saying sorry since it looks like I was forcing myself in. It’s obvious that your grandfather would be angry, or rather, I don’t really pay much mind to it. Actually, I do find it heartbreaking. I won’t have any other thoughts about you because of this; of course, I won’t tell this to anyone else.”
Honoka obviously appeared to be really lost as to how to respond, for her eyes were wavering about, unable to calm down, and she was unable to calm down. However, it seemed that she understood Koremitsu’s intentions, her heart seemingly touched by the gesture.
By the time she realized it, the distance between them was quite close.
Both of them were standing, their bodies leaned forward.
If they were to move half a step closer, they would end up embracing each other—
Koremitsu recalled the painful yet sweet feeling of the night at the pool, when Honoka embraced Koremitsu at his chest, and his heart raced drastically.
Honoka too may have realized the distance, and went silent.
(We’re not keeping our distance here…there’s no distance here at all.)
His throat was exceptionally parched, and he felt weak.
Hikaru’s body disappeared unknowingly from his sights, probably not intending to spoil the mood, or perhaps he hid in a corner of the room, watching with amusement.
“Speaking of which…why did you come to my house today?”
Honoka’s lips quivered slightly in her hesitation.
After some time of silence, she raised her voice.
“It’s nothing, just that…”
She looked aside, muttering vaguely.
The stiff response caused him to feel exceptionally hopeful, and his chest felt increasingly bitter.
“…I-I feel lost whenever I’m with you. What exactly, do you want me to do?”
He whispered, and Honoka looked shocked, tears in her eyes.
(What’s with those eyes.)
For some reason, it felt like it was against the rules.
Honoka was normally feisty, but he was truly lost when she showed such a feeble look. His body temperature rose, and his sweat was dripping.
Honoka whispered vaguely.
And she gave Koremitsu an imploring look.
“I-is it alright that…I find myself liking you?”
She lowered her voice, asking sadly.
She was lost as she could not get an answer.
It was a lack of self-confidence, a reliance to others—
Koremitsu’s heart was throbbing.
It was beating wildly, like it was about to pop out.
(How would I know?)
Perhaps this would be a good answer.
He really turned his head around, wanting to ask his friend, very experienced in such situations, but the slender face could not be found.
(She’s so feminine after all…?)
I want to protect her. With such feelings, Koremitsu reached for that arm that would seemingly snap, and the thin shoulder.
“Big brother Koremitsu! Teach me how to do my summer homework!”
Suddenly, the door was pushed aside, and Shioriko, holding her summer vacation homework, entered the room, her eyes furious.
Koremitsu and Honoka pulled their distance.
“Wh-what kind of question?”
“Ahhh, I think I should go back now. I need to update my blog.”
While they looked away, squirming, Hikaru continued to stroke(?) Lapis on its back, muttering,
“It is difficult to create a love scene with family members around, do you not think so, Lapis?”