“–Mr Akagi, I have something I wish to talk to you about.”
It was the end of summer vacation.
As the moist breeze blew by the riverbank in the night, Asai stared at Koremitsu with a glint of determination, saying this.
With a stern voice, she was hoping that Hikaru’s friend, Koremitsu would listen.
“It is about the true identity of the one Hikaru truly loves. This love that was unable to come true became his–”
Hikaru, being right beside Koremitsu, quietly muttered as Koremitsu gasped right at the moment when Asai was about to to touch upon a core issue.
“Regarding that, please allow me to say it.”
And Koremitsu hurriedly tried to stop Asai.
“The one Hikaru loves more than anyone else is,”
Koremitsu’s words were seemingly not heard in any way.
“Didn’t I tell you to wait, Asa!?”
Koremitsu raised his eyebrows as he yelled.
Koremitsu was delighted that Asai, who before this had treated him as garbage, stinkbug, was finally able to recognize him as Hikaru’s friend and representative. Koremitsu too was very anxious to know about Hikaru’s secret, which she wanted to to say with such a heinous look. However, Hikaru himself was right beside Koremitsu, saying ‘wait’ with a serious look.
Asai could not see Hikaru in his ghost form, and that was probably the reason why she was able to say this so calmly. Koremitsu, the only one able to see Hikaru, was unable to hear the latter’s secrets like this.
Also, there were others along the riverbank. including the people from school, Honoka, Aoi, Tsuyako, Michiru, Hiina, and Tōjō. There were also Shioriko, practically a sister to Koremitsu, and Lapis the cat, amusing themselves with the fireworks.
Though they were all far away from them, playing with the fireworks, it seemed Honoka and Aoi were staring at Koremitsu and Asai from afar, looking perturbed, and Shioriko, holding the fireworks in hand, was puffing her cheeks unhappily as she glared at them. Naturally, it was impossible to talk about anything significant in such a situation.
The student council president Asai, who was widely dubbed as cool and capable, would surely have noticed the stares of the people around her. She however was so focused on Hikaru’s matter that she was unable to affirm the situation around her, and she looked displeased that Koremitsu was hollering at her ‘wait’.
“You tell me to wait? Till when?”
Her eyes got sharp as she said to Koremitsu.
That expression of hers was seemingly reproaching him, telling him that she was about to tell him this most important secret, but that the latter was faltering so much, not being manly at all.
“I can’t say exactly when…but not now.”
There was Asai’s piercing glare from the right, Hikaru’s pleading stare from the left, and Honoka, Aoi, Shioriko and the rest not too far away, staring at him, causing Koremitsu’s armpits to sweat in tension. He had to calm Asai somewhat.
But before he could think of anything, Asai, being all angsty, yelled shrilly.
“If you keep on hesitating, that child will be born!”
Koremitsu was startled, and immediately embraced Asai, covering her mouth with his hand.
Asai’s eyes widened.
(Did Asai just say a kid’s about to be born!? Is it Hikaru’s…!?)
Koremitsu frantically looked over at Hikaru, and found the latter frowning, looking perturbed.
(Hey, what’s with that useless face!? Did you really have kid!?)
He wanted to ask about that at that moment.
By the time he realized, Honoka, Aoi were no longer peeping on them, but leaning over, staring at him. Shioriko’s cheeks were puffed bigger than ever, and also, even Tōjō and Tsuyako looked enthusiastic as they looked over at the duo, their stares filed with reproach or amusement. If Koremitsu were to look down, he would be able to see Asai’s vague expression of fury and bashfulness, looking rigid all over.
And then, Koremitsu hurriedly let go as he said to Asai, the latter gritting her teeth as she stared back with a blushing face.
“Anyway, we’ll talk about that later. Later as in, erm, the next semester, in school!”
♢ ♢ ♢
Once they got home…
“Big brother Koremitsu, how is that annoying person is that haughty woman with that high stare who always snorts and mocks others for their failure related to you in any way? That person doesn’t look like she has any interests in men, but it looks like she’s the type to flaunt her authority and carry out sexual harassment; did she do anything that mustn’t be mentioned with you? You’re the only one who can’t do this, big brother!”
Koremitsu evaded Shioriko, who had her cheeks puffed as she questioned him and the cold eyes of Lapis staring at him as he hid inside his own room. Thus, he would be able to be alone with Hikaru. His legs were crossed as he sat on the tatamis, looking completely weary, and in front of him, Hikaru’s languorous voice echoed like a mantra,
“…The Forget-me-not is a cute, petite flower that reflects the color of the sky. A knight once jumped into the waters for his lover, to retrieve a Forget-me-not on the surface, but lost his life…at the critical juncture of his life, he threw the bouquet to his lover, who was waiting at the riverbank, shouting ‘forget me now!’…and his lover continued to reminiscence about him, and pined the forget-me-not for the rest of her life…and so, both of them remained in love even after death. To them, it surely must be the greatest happiness.”
His clear eyes upon the shadows, he muttered quietly. The somber shadows appeared on the beautiful effeminate, white, speckless face.
And Koremitsu continued on nonchalantly,
“Well, it’s awkward to have a bouquet of flowers thrown at me when someone’s being washed away by the currents. I’ll be shocked if I hear something like ‘forget me not’ on top of that.”
Hikaru lowered her head.
“Anyway, stop trying to change the topic by talking about flowers. What’s with the baby about to be born?”
“It is simply Asa’s misunderstanding.”
“For I was already dumped.”
Hikaru cast aside the strength in his arms, his frail shoulders shinking.
(Eh? There’s a woman who dumped this guy?”
This caused Koremitsu to be mildly surprised. Hikaru, hailed a harem prince when he was alive, was often surrounded by girls, and was beloved by them.
“There was someone I loved ever since I was young. Whenever I saw that person, my heart would unwittingly become sweet and fuzzy. I felt I was in ecstasy whenever she smiled, and I did have the thoughts that it would be great if the both of us were the only ones on Earth. I really loved everything about her; no, this was to a point even ‘love’ could no longer describe adequately. I really yearned, loved her so much that I could not help myself, but…she was already married to another person.”
“A married wife!?”
“And then, she became my stepmother.”
Koremitsu was left speechless.
The judge presiding the calligraphy contest at the Gonomiya Residence, the young beautiful woman who resembled Hikaru so much was Hikaru’s most beloved!
Koremitsu had a faint realization from his conversations with Yū and Shioriko the reason why Hikaru’s love could not bloom.
And he realized that the woman was the one Hikaru truly yearned to have, the most beloved flower he could not get, but…
(Her name’s called Fujino, if I remember. It’s true that she’s a beauty, and I guess the same goes for Hikaru if he’s dressed in female clothing…wait, will anyone say that he loves a person who looks just like him? Is this guy’s a narcissist? No, this isn’t the problem here. The woman he loves is the wife of his dad. Is that a bad thing?)
“I was in sixth grade when she became the second wife of father, and my time with her became anguishing. When I got to middle school, I left that house..”
(So that’s how it is…)
The person he loved became his stepmother, and became a couple with his father before him. Surely it was depressing to think about it.
“But I could not bring myself to forget her…once I left, I ended up loving her more, and I committed the one cardinal sin I did…”
Upon hearing this, Koremitsu inadvertently straightened himself.
(A cardinal sin!?)
Hikaru lowered his sights, his body becoming all frozen. He lowered his head =, wanting to endure the anguish in his heart as he bit his lips, just like the time when Koremitsu woke up in the middle of the night. That morose expression was heartbreaking to Koremitsu, who was watching all this
“D-did you do it with your stepmother…no, even you would…”
Hikaru continued to keep his lips sealed, and the drooping eyes showed a thickened haze and torment. This expression, this tense atmosphere clearly vindicated the fact that Hikaru did have a male-female relationship with his stepmother.
(Are you serious…?)
It was true that it was a taboo, not something that could be easily said. There was no guarantee that after saying that, the other party would be hurt.
And then, Koremitsu said in surprise,
“Wait, you did that thing with your stepmother. In other words, the kid that’s to be born is from you and your stepmother…”
Right when the blood in Koremitsu’s blood was about to glaciate, Hikaru argued back with an adamant, vigorous voice.
“The one time I had that sort of relationship with that woman was in 8th grade!”
“Huh, 8th grade…?”
“That was the only time…really, it was the one time. That person had been evading me ever since then, and the most she conversed with me in front of everyone was the bare minimum greetings. The gentle words were never said to me again, and there were no words that allowed me to harbor hope. It seemed she wanted to forget about what happened back then, no, to pretend that it never happened.”
With a hoarse voice, Hikaru continued to repeat, ‘the only time’.
(If it’s as what Hikaru had said, a kid conceived during 8th grade will not be born now…)
Koremitsu heaved a sigh of relief, and at the same time, his heart was aching because Hikaru’s expression was too gloomy.
“That person..is now pregnant. Asa misunderstood and thought that was my child, and she was going about frantically for the child that is to be born. But the child in that person’s belly is father’s; I think it is best for me to forget about that person.”
Perhaps that was why Hikaru decided to break up with all the girls he was dating, and devote himself fully to his fiancee Aoi.
If only Miss Aoi can be my ‘most beloved’. Koremitsu recalled the words Hikaru said with a faint look. However, Miss Aoi is my hope.
(Does Aoi…know about the woman Hikaru loved most?)
Koremitsu pondered with these bitter memories in his mind.
If that was really the case, Aoi, who had an intimate relationship with Hikaru, would be unable to accept this fact like the other girls because of her own purity.
And Hikaru chose Aoi in the end, but because of his end, he was unable to personally celebrate the her 17th birthday which he planned for her, and unable to personally provide the confession.
Hikaru fell into a river on a night filled with torrential rainfall.
Why did Hikaru go to such a dangerous place on that night, when it was raining furious?
Tsuyako, Hikaru’s mistress, did say that Hikaru did have slash marks on his wrists, and assumed that he killed himself. There were also rumors that Hikaru was murdered.
Now then, which exactly was the truth?
Hikaru clenched his fists.
“On the day I fell into the river, that person called me out using a letter. She would not look at me one bit, but she suddenly said that she wanted to see me…I did not know what that person was thinking, and I was feeling extremely uneasy within…but since the person I yearned hoped to meet me, I had to go…”
Hikaru then said that when he got to the promised place, he was unable to see the path in front of him very well due to the torrential downpour. The surging, violent rapids were crashing thunderously, as the visibility, and even his voice that was calling for the name was overwhelmed by this corroded rain. No matter how much the rain was lashing upon him, how much the gales struck him, Hikaru continued to search for his beloved so bitterly, wandering around. Finally, he lost his footing, and slipped into the river.
“So that means you died in an accident after all.”
Koremitsu asked Hikaru cautiously, and after some silence, the latter answered in anguish.
Koremitsu was truly concerned about the enigmatic silence, but before he could speak up, Hikaru lowered his eyes as he spoke with a crestfallen voice,
“There was someone…who grabbed my by the hand tightly the moment I fell into the river, wanting to pull me out. The feeling of those hands was something I still remember clearly.”
“Who else can it be? Isn’t that your stepmother?”
“…It was night, and the rain was heavy…so…I really could not see clearly. The hands certainly felt like a woman’s, definitely…”
And upon this, his eyes were filled with haze.
Hikaru must have been certain that the one who held his hand was his stepmother. However, for some reason, he was more anguished about this fact than what he had shown before. Like the knight who lost his life trying to get the sky-colored flowers floating on the river for his lover, one had to wonder what Hikaru was shouting to her the instance he was swept away by the river.
Or maybe, did that woman shout something to Hikaru after all?
In conclusion, a woman’s frail hands were never able to pull up a 15-year-old boy. And thus, Hikaru was swept away by the river, and drowned.
“It is undoubted that I fell into the river due to my own carelessness…that person bears no responsibility in that…but…if the one who grabbed my hand was that person…I will have to bear the anguish of that person again…my love for me caused her to be thoroughly injured…bringing her misfortune…and beyond that, I…”
A person died in front of her. On top of that, he was her stepson, whom she had an illicit relationship with…there certainly was no way she would be able to remove the suffering in her heart.
With his hands grabbing his head, Hikaru shook about, shivering. His face was contorted weakly, his lips showing a pale glint.
“I am scared, Koremitsu. I am scared of knowing that person’s inner heart…right now, at this moment, I wonder what that person is thinking, how exactly does she view me…how will she think of me in future…I am scared…scared…so scared…”
Hikaru could not stop his shivering, and shrank as he cuddled his head.
—I cannot do it, Koremitsu.
Koremitsu recalled Hikaru’s behavior during the calligraphy contest, when the latter’s face was pale, and he was being panicky all over. He kept begging to leave, but it was obvious to see that he was unable to cease the overflowing love, and the yearning emotions.
Koremitsu did not know what kind of love was such that two would want to be together without concern for taboos.
But he was finally able to empathize as well what caused Hikaru much anguish all this time, to a point where it was gouging out pieces of his soul.
Koremitsu solemnly noted.
“So you can’t ascend to the afterlife because you’re too worried about what your stepmother thinks.”
After showing some shock, Hikaru became frail as he shrank back.
“…This is not all…and there are a lot more things I am concerned with, because I still have lots of people I cannot bid farewell to…I do worry what will happen to everyone else after I die…”
“Then just leave everything aside for now. You probably want to know why your stepmother called you to the riverside that night, right?”
Hikaru went silent, seemingly contemplating. His lips were sealed, his eyes flickering in anguish. It seemed he would say ‘I am scared’, and Koremitsu got anxious as he spoke with conviction.
“Right, let us ask her tomorrow.”
Hikaru widened his eyes speechlessly.
♢ ♢ ♢
It was the next day, a Sunday morning.
Koremitsu arrived at a church in a quiet residential area. It was said that Fujino never once skipped a Sunday service.
Hikaru however was still grumbling, “Let us go back”, “I still cannot do it. My heart is aching so much I feel like I am dying.”
“But aren’t you dead already?”
Koremitsu quietly snarked back, and quickly stepped into the chapel. Several of the worshipers were terrified to see a red-haired youth with savage looking eyes looking around while slouching his back, and froze in place.
And Koremitsu immediately noticed where Fujino was.
She was seated at the frontmost row, her head lowered silently. So fleeting and lonely were her white sidelong face, the slender nape of her neck, and the long, lowered eyelashes, causing Koremitsu to recall the day Hikaru’s funeral was held.
She was a beautiful woman dressed in black, her eyes lowered as she waited at the relatives seats.
She had a face similar to that of Hikaru’s, tears dampening it, yet her lips were raised slightly for some reason.
Did Hikaru see that smile?
That was not a smile that should be shown at a funeral.
It was clear and serene, yet there was no tinge of blissfulness to be seen. It was a smile so unnatural.
Koremitsu ostensibly witnessed the same smile back then on Fujino’s face for an instance, and his back inadvertently chilled.
The organ’s music flared, and worship began. Hikaru’s eyes were fixated upon Fujno, seemingly wanting to devour the latter. The boy who was left helpless, wanting to leave in terror, had his eyes seemingly absorbed the moment she entered her eyes, and was nailed on, seemingly unable to move.
The eyebrows were frowning, the lips locked tightly; she looked so bitter, so broken.
Hikaru fell in love with the flower which he could not touch, and he poured into most of the other flowers in a way to replace her, hoping to forget that most beloved flower.
(I think she called him over to that place for his sake. If that stepmother found him to be a real bother, and sent the letter while intending to shut him up, only for Hikaru to die in front of her, causing her to be left a vengeful person, what will happen to this guy…?)
If he were hated to that extent, would he be able to release the emotional binds and ascend to the afterlife? Would his soul explode as it was due to excessive pain?
The pastor’s sermon did not reach his ears at all, and as he continued to ponder with that terrifying face, the service was over.
After Koremitsu’s prompting, Hikaru froze up.
The former strode forth towards Fujino, but he could hardly move forward due to the many people. Even so, he could not push them aside forcefully, and just when he was getting impatient,
Koremitsu bumped into a young woman, seemingly affiliated to the church, who was handing out bazaar leaflets. He merely bumped into her shoulder lightly when she raised her hands, handing out the leaflets, but she cringed back, seemingly protecting her belly.
And Koremitsu was greatly taken aback by her reaction.
“H-hey, don’t tell me, you have a kid—”
This is bad! Did the impact hurt the fetus somehow?
He frantically tried to carry the woman cuddling the belly, and then noticed the little beauty mark by the left eye.
And once the other person noticed the red hair, rigid face and sharp eyes, she was startled,
“I-I’m fine here. It’s 7 months, already in the stable period. This little knock is fine. Sorry to scare you there.”
She then bowed to Koremitsu, ostensibly scampering as she left.
(Hey, I won’t steal a baby and eat it!)
He was disappointed, and yet relived to hear that nothing had happened, but when he was about to give chase after Fujino,
“What do I do?”
A whisper could be heard beside him.
He looked aside, and saw Hikaru’s pale face,
“Sora is actually pregnant.”
Sora…wait, actually pregnant!? Do you know this woman!?
The moment he wanted to ask, Hikaru groaned with a voice befitting the end of the world,
“The baby inside Sora may be mine.”
♢ ♢ ♢
“What do I do, what do I do?” as Hikaru continued to rattle off this mantra, Koremitsu too was left stupefied as he quickly returned home, locked the sliding door of his room, and cried out,
“Didn’t you just say that the baby’s just Asa’s misunderstanding here!? Now what’s with that ‘the baby may be mine’ line here!”
With a hapless expression, Hikaru answered,
“So I say, the child inside that person—Fujino is definitely my father. However, it is likely the child inside Sora may be mine…no, it most definitely is mine if she was pregnant for 7 months. Sora had never dated anyone else before, and at that time, I was in shambles, so hurt, and I never thought of the consequences…”
“So that’s basically no contraception!?”
“Please do not put it so directly!”
Hikaru squatted down with his head cuddled.
And then on, with a teeny-weeny voice, he explained how he met that woman at church, Sora Semigaya.
“Sora was the first woman I met. After I was rejected by that person on the first day of Summar, I was thoroughly wounded, battered. I came to the chapel hall, squatting inside, and it was Sora who found me, comforted me.”
Sora’s grandfather was the pastor of the church, and back then, she was studying in 11th grade. Due to some family reasons, she was residing in the church building.
And then, Sora embraced the thoroughly wounded Hikaru, and so the two of them did a cardinal sin in front of the altar.
“Hey, you were only in 7th grade, and in church too, in front of God! At least show some constraint!”
Koremitsu lashed out.
“I was that thoroughly wounded back then! If not for Sora comforting me, I would have been like Nello from ‘A Dog of Flanders’, with others finding my frozen corpse the next morning.”
“It’s just a night outside in the summer! Like you would have died! Stop yapping!”
Hikaru was left devastated, and then he continued on about Sora. It was the beginning of this March when he, decisively rejected by Fujono, decided to visit that church again while feeling that he was about to die, and then again, he met Sora.
“Sora’s grandfather died, and she no longer lived in the church, but she continued to work there as a volunteer, sometimes staying in the church. She appeared in front of me when I was at a dead end, embraced me, and to me, she was a goddess of redemption. At that moment, I continued to snuggle within her embrace, drown in her, and managed to preserve my heart . If not for that, I would have been frozen dead that time. Unlike the first time, it was March, and the temperature was no different from winter. Without Sora letting me into the warm room and embracing me, I definitely would have frozen like an ice pillar. It was wide however, so I was cold even after entering that warm room. Yes, it was snowing since morning on that day, and the pure white snow piled up.”
“Yeah, I get it, I get it. It’s cold because it was winter, but you don’t have to make that trembling voice like that. And then, you did that sort of thing in front of the altar again? Why not go to the room instead?”
“Being that hurt and thoroughly wounded, how could I have asked to go to a room? I was driven to a point where I forgot the contraception!”
“Why are you the anger one!? What about being worn out, frozen solid, when you have to put on something, put it on!”
“But you can say what a Board of Education member will say because you have no experience, Koremitsu.”
“Sorry for being a virgin here! If I were part of the Board of Education, I would have sent a brat with a secret affair in a chapel hall to a correction facility!”
After this meaningless squabble, Hikaru lowered his eyebrows with resignation as he grumbled,
“What do I do now~~~~~~~!!”
♢ ♢ ♢
Events had developed to a point where there was absolutely no way of asking Fujino regarding her true thoughts at all.
The next day was the first day of the 2nd semester, and while one should be awaiting the new semester with refreshed feelings, Hikaru was beside Koremitsu, lowering his head that ostensibly touched the floor, “If it has been 7 months, I suppose it must have taken a human shape” and “Why didn’t my pocket have that thing back then” and “When did Sora realize that she is pregnant.” muttering on with an utterly pessimistic voice.
“Hey, you just said it’s 7 months, right? It doesn’t match up if we begin counting from March.”
“The number of months goes back all the way from the last period.”
“That sort of knowledge isn’t something a 10th grade boy should, have, right!? Anyway, we’re going to the church after school.”
While he continued to walk down the path towards school with a scowling face,
“Go-good morning…! Akagi.”
Honoka Shikibu’s voice could be heard.
Once Koremitsu responded, Honoka walked beside him, letting out rustling sounds from her feet as she walked on. Nervous to speak up, she alternated between looking to her side and looking down to the ground. Finally, she spoke clumsily,
“The fireworks two days ago…were really fun.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Akagi, it seemed there was a really intimate atmosphere between you and the Matriarch Asa back then.”
“Is that so?”
Honoka suddenly raised her voice, and glared,
“Didn’t you sudden embrace the Matriarch Asa from behind!?”
“Huh? I just didn’t want her to say anything unnecessary, so I had to cover her mouth.”
“Do you think it’s that easy to shut a girl’s mouth up!? Her Highness Aoi and Michiru were looking very shocked and worried there. I-I didn’t really care about it thought.”
“Aoi…and Hanasato? Why?”
“Ugh, you really have no awareness, Akagi!”
Honoka raised her eyebrows as she chided him,
“…I do agree with that opinion.”
And even Hikaru, who was supposed to be downhearted, agreed with a gloomy voice.
(Aren’t you supposed to be in your useless state now? You can actually hear others out and retort!?)
While Koremitsu glared sidelong to Hikaru,
“Good morning, Hono, Mr Akagi.”
Honoka and her good friend, the class representative, Michiru Hanasato approached them with a bashful face.
She had undone the braids she had before and removed the glasses. It seemed she was going through with this appearance during the new semester too.
Honoka was taken aback for some reason, and she looked away from Koremitsu with an awkward face, her feet dragging the ground as she kept a slight distance away from him.
“Morning, Michiru. Your hair’s curled up nicely.”
“Thanks. Your hair’s rather smooth and pretty too, Hono.”
Honoka again slowed her pace while this girls talk was going on, and gradually left Koremitsu. In contrast, Michiru was staring at Koremitsu from top to bottom.
“Mr Akagi, have you finished your assignments?”
Koremitsu felt a little awkward to have such stares upon him, and averted his eyes. Then, he noticed a female on the other side of the road.
The woman’s limbs were long, the standing posture beautiful yet reeked of a lonely atmosphere. The sun shone through her thin her, and she swayed in the fleeting wind.
Koremitsu let out a gasp, “Sora” and Hikaru called out.
Sora was standing on the pedestrian sidewalk, looking extremely melancholic, staring at the gates of Koremitsu’s school.
She was dressed in a fluffy trimmed tunic, and carefully placed her hand below the chest that was hidden under it.
And with a pained, anguished expression, she stared at the students who were attending school.
Soon after, she again lowered her eyes, and left.
“Shikibu, tell the teacher that I’ll be late.”
Koremitsu went off running, ignoring the flustered Honoka and Michiru.
Due to the traffic congestion, he was not able to cross the road easily. He continued to move forward without regard for his surroundings, chasing the beautiful figure that was leaving him. He saw the hair that was tied behind her casually, and the slender nape and shoulders that swayed fleetingly. The coat above the tunic let out a dazzling light under the morning sun, seemingly clad in a veil. The hem of her dress too swayed gently along with her steps.
(Damn it. I can’t close the distance!)
Her footsteps were so calm and slow, but he could not move forward much due to the crowd, and he could not give chase and catch up to her as much as he wanted to. Even so, to prevent losing sight of her, he continued to stare at her back, and finally arrived at a plain two storey block of apartments.
It seemed this was Sora’s house. She ascended the stairs on the outside, opened the door with the key, and entered.
“So Sora actually lived in such a nearby place.”
Hikaru muttered with loneliness.
And Koremitsu too walked up the stairs.
Panting, he rang the intercom.
There was no response.
He again pressed the intercom button, and as felt restless due to the lack of response, he knocked the door.
And then, the sound of the lock rang, and the door opened.
“Sorry for intruding out of a sudden. I’m—”
The moment he was about to introduce himself as Hikaru’s friend, he was left speechless.
Hikaru too widened his eyes.
Standing at the corridor was a young, pretty looking woman with a beauty mark under her left eye, Sora Semigaya.
For some reason, she was holding a fan-shaped broom, and with a feisty, ferocious look, she swung it down on Koremitsu’s head of messy red ahri.
“Somebody! A robber’s here!”
Whacked by the broomstick, Koremitsu’s ears were left ringing as Sora’s desperate yell reached them.
And so, he continued to be walloped by her.
“You’re mistaken! I’m—uwah!”
“Dear God! It’s a robber!”
“Sora, stop! Stop!”
And Hikaru was left helpless.
Koremitsu grabbed the broomstick, and glared at Sora through his messy hair. “!” The latter gasped in fear.
Before she was about to yell about a robber and God, Koremitsu growled,
“I’m Hikaru’s friend!”
♢ ♢ ♢
“I’m really sorry. You have a really scary look, and I thought you still had a grudge over what happened before, so I was really scared. I finally made it back home, the bell rang, and I saw you outside the window raising your eyebrows, looking all sweaty…so I really thought that…I-I beat you up with the broom because of that…erm, does it hurt? I guess it does, huh? It’s all swollen…uu.”
Sora knelt down on the tatamis, applied antiseptic on Koremitsu’s forehead, lacquered some medicine, and slapped some bandages, deftly treating his wounds as she earnestly apologized. From up close, Koremitsu could see the clear eyes filled with concern, and the beauty mark at the eye left a lasting impression on him.
“It’s nothing. This really isn’t much. I should be the one apologizing for scaring you.”
“Of course. It is your fault for standing at a person’s door as if you would have skinned him alive, and surely it was no fault of hers to mistake you for a robber.”
(Like you’re one to talk!)
Koremitsu glared at Hikaru, who was seated beside Sora,
“It hurts that much? Erm, do you need some headache medication to kill the pain?”
And Sora panicked, looking into the medicine box.
“No, I’m really alright here.”
“Is that so?” Sora whispered, but still looked worried as she stared at Koremitsu, and once she abruptly noticed that they were overly close to each other, she became bashful,
“I shall go brew some tea.”
And so, she stood up.
This allowed Koremitsu room to look around the room.
The apartment included the kitchen, and was standard sized, giving off the same plain vibe as seen from the outside. It was cleaned tidily, such that every corner seemed to have been cleaned, and even the lace curtains were white and clean.
The aroma pot contained a mixture of green tea and dried grapefruit skin,and the refreshing scent came from it.
The calm colored wall ornaments and cushions seemed handmade, and at the basket placed by the table, there was a little pair of socks in the midst of being sewn. It seemed she was making it for the baby.
“This house only has green tea. I did hear that I cannot consume too much caffeine during pregnancy, but I guess a cup or two is still acceptable. This is the only thing that can calm me down. Mr Akagi, are you fine with sour stuff?”
After hearing Koremitsu’s reply, Sora served the glass vessel filled with preserved food like paprika and dried plums along with the warm green tea.
“I made a little too much of these preserved food. If you don’t mind, please help yourself.”
Koremitsu received the fork that was handed, and moved the paprika to his mouth. It was a little sour as expected, but the aftertaste was refreshing.
Sora gave a clear smile.
Sora was still a 11th grader in high school when she first met Hikaru, so she should be around 20 yers old. The reason why she gave a mature vibe however was not simply because of her appearance, but also because of her composed demeanour.
Hikaru’s mistress, Tsuyako, was also an elegant, graceful woman, but unlike her astounding elegance that appeared every single day, Sora had a refreshing, transparent presence that blended into the tranquil daily life. Her speaking style was also calm, and her distinct alto voice felt nice when heard.
Her face was certainly not extravagant, but the beauty mark at her eye looked exceptionally bewitching. Her smooth light colored hair, her white skin, her slender nape and the transparent, forlorn sidelong face evoked memories of Fujino, causing the heart to stir.
Though Fujino was of a completely different level appearance wise.
The atmosphere evoked by them felt so similar.
And Hikaru too watched that sidelong face with heartbroken, moist eyes.
Koremitsu felt a little hesitant within, but he decided to break the ice and say,
“Is the baby inside Hikaru’s?”
Sora let out a little gasp.
“I heard a few things about you, Sora, including what happened when you met this March at the chapel…if it’s the child conceived then, it’ll be 7 months.”
Koremitsu continued to look at Sora, and Hikaru too watched on with a grave expression.
Sora did not avert her eyes from Koremitsu’s body, and the latter saw that deep within her eyes was a soul filled with determination. She then straightened her waist, speaking with the composed alto voice.
“This is not Mr Hikaru’s child.”
“Then why were you looking at our school with such a forlorn face?”
“I was often said to have a face of misfortune. Perhaps it is due to this beauty mark. I so happened to pass by there, and there is no significance to that.”
“Hikaru said that you never dated anyone else before.”
“That is something I never said to Hikaru. It may not be the case after all. I only met Hikaru twice after all.”
While that certainly made sense, Koremitsu wanted to affirm as he looked over at Hikaru, seeing the latter lean over to say,
“Please do not try to bluff here, Sora! We only met twice, but I have been pursuing you all this time, and I know that you are a restrained person who wards yourself. You said you were at the church since young, and that you continued to study hard at college for the sake of working in the church. Did you not say when we met the first time “I shall continue to work for God for the rest of my life, and I shall be married to him.” You thought what you did with me was a sin to God, and that we should never meet again. The second time we did, you said to me “I definitely can’t do this sort of thing…I actually made myself in front of God twice…I’m afraid”…”
Hikaru’s eyes were filled with anguish, his voice filled with agony.
Perhaps it was because Hikaru understood how pure a person Sora was that he was skeptical of Sora’s words.
And Koremitsu wanted to convey Hikaru’s words to Sora, saying,
“Hikaru said that you are not a frivolous woman, Sora. He said that you wanted to marry God.”
Sora’s eyes narrowed.
Koremitsu had no idea what to make of the ambiguous expression, whether she was holding her tears back, or whether she wanted to smile.
“Tell me then. If it’s not Hikaru’s child, who is the father?”
He did not notice any male items in this apartment, and even though the child would be born a few months later, it would be strange not to notice signs of a man’s presence entering and leaving the apartment if the father was around.
Sora gently placed her hand on her chest.
It was a gentle, tender action that caused Koremitsu’s heart to pound.
And then, Sora gently raised her lips, showing a peaceful smile before speaking with a distinct voice,
“The father does not exist. This is the child of an angel.”
♢ ♢ ♢
“Sora…is a woman resembling the broom tree.”
Hikaru was walking beside Koremitsu on the dirt track leading towards the school, and spoke with a crestfallen face.
—This is the child of an angel.
With Sora concluding such words with such honest eyes, he could no longer ask further, and left the house.
He was sweating profusely under the sweltering summer, his throat parched as ever. The cries of the cicadas seemed to come from nowhere, overpowering Hikaru’s voice from time to time.
“The Kokin Wakashū included the poem by Sakanoue no Korenori ‘As the broom tree that grows by the lowly hut on Sonohara Plain, manifest to the eye, but beyond arms’ reach are you, my love’…this broom tree distinctively resembles a broom hanging, and can be see when viewed from afar, but cannot be seen from up close. The poem itself is born from this legend. The people that cannot meet no matter how close they are…the people who vanish when nearby despite being visible from afar…like the broom tree, do you not wish to meet me…this poem depicts such an agonizing cry.”
Hikaru hung his head, the eyelashes casting shadows in his eyes.
And the cicada chirping got louder.
“After I first met Sora, I woke up in the morning, only to find that she vanished, leaving me with only a blue gray cardigan that resembled the color of the sky during a rainy day, and my body was filled with tenderness…the body scent, warmth and weight surely existed, yet they vanished like an illusion…leaving behind a coat akin to a veil.”
The young naked body of Hikaru woke up clad in a female cardigan, basked in the clear morning sun that shone through the chapel’s windows, and was left forlorn, a sense of loss.
The memory caused Hikaru’s expression to be clouded with agony.
“It was the same during the winter…when I woke up, Sora was no longer around as expected, and the shawl that was as white as snow wrapped me within. No matter how I tried to meet her after that, I was unable to. No matter how much I seek, yearn and angst for her, I could not grasp…like the tree in the legend…this aspect…really resembles that person.”
The sunlight at the end of summer was really dazzling, and the sweat continued to trickle profusely no matter how he wiped it off, yet Hikaru’s eyes were gloomy.
The sight of Fujino’s melancholic sidelong face and Sora’s forlorn sidelong face overlapped, inadvertently causing Koremitsu heartache, and he asked with a clumsy voice,
“Is Sora your replacement for Fujino?”
Hikaru however had his head hanging as he shook it, saying,
“No, that is not the case. The back silhouette of hers is similar to that person, and that did cause my heart to throb. Sora however is Sora, and no matter whether it was the 1st or 2nd intercourse, I was saved by Sora. I really wanted to spend more time with him.
“Did you make a promise with Sora?”
“No. Sora did not wish for a promise.”
Hikaru lamented with a teeny-weeny voice.
“When I proposed that I would make a promise with her, she replied that she hated promises as they were definitely things that would never be fulfilled.”
And then, he frowned as he looked over at Koremitsu.
“So I made a promise with her that one day, I would make a promise with her. That was a promise that would definitely happen no matter what. Sora merely smiled back skeptically, and never accepted this one-sided wish of mine…but to me, this has always been an important promise!”
The words contained Hikaru’s thoughts regarding Sora.
Surely Sora was an important woman to Hikaru
(It’s his first time though, so I guess she’s really special.)
But like the woman whom Hikaru loved most, the woman who took Hikaru’s first did not accept his thoughts.
“I suppose…Sora would definitely hide this from me and raise the child alone even if I am alive, and she will tell me that it is not my child, but an angel’s.”
Hikaru’s eyebrows sank further, before he soon lifted his head abruptly, saying with a powerful voice filled with conviction.
“It is a certainty that the child within Sora is mine, definitely. Is there anything I can do for Sora? I cannot embrace my child with my own hands, and I will only cause him to fall if I do so. Ahh, I cannot call for an ambulance either.”
“Calm down. You can’t even pick the kid up, let alone drop.”
“I cannot attend the parents meeting, nor can I appear in the photos of the seven-five-three, and I cannot play catchball.
“Ugh, hey, are you listening to what I’m saying!?”
“I feel so much despair thinking about how I want to install a vinyl pool in the garden, spraying water at each other using hoses, and I cannot plant seeds in the garden. That child is too pitiful to not have a father training him in riding a bicycle and doing back flips!”
“My dad never planted seeds with me in the garden, and he never trained me how to do backflips, but I’m not unfortunate in any way.”
After hearing Hikaru’s lament, Koremitsu too began sighing for some reason.
“Okay okay, I know you’re worried sick about Sora and that kid. If there’s anything I can do, I’ll help think of it with you.”
But though he said so, Koremitsu did not know anything about children…
After a while, Koremitsu finally arrived at school. He grimaced as he passed through the school gates, and arrived at the entrance, only to find Asai standing in front of him with an imposing pose.
“Now then, how long do you intend to keep me waiting?”
“Ack, I forgot.”
♢ ♢ ♢
(Akagi said that he’ll be late, but when does he intend to come to class? 3rd period’s already over.)
Honoka was feeling anxious as she stared at the seat beside her.
(Who’s that woman we saw in the morning? She looks like she’s older than us? A college student? An office lady? What kind of relationship does she have with Akagi?)
He skipped classes the moment the 2nd semester began, and gave chase with such ferocity.
(What does he have with that person?)
The delusions continued to emerge in her mind, and her heart was pounding so much it was about to explode.
She stood up, walked out of the classroom, and headed to the entrance.
How many times had it been on this day?
Honoka would make her way to the entrance whenever class ended.
(That Akagi could have at least sent me a mail.)
And just when she was grumbling away, she noticed the red hair.
She was about to rush over to him, but was shocked.
Standing with an imposing posture in front of Koremitsu was the student council president Asai Saiga. Surrounding her was an aura that could freeze all existence, and she glared at Koremitsu heinously.
“Were you trying to run away? This is not your own problem alone.”
She seemed to be saying something.
“I’m not running away. What about class?”
And Koremitsu muttered back with a scowl.
“It is fine not to attend class.”
And with those words, Asai strode forth, seemingly wanting to drag Koremitsu along.
And the latter arched his back, looking extremely peeved.
(What now? What just happened!? What’s with that ‘this is not your own problem alone’?)
And while Honoka was flabbergasted about what was going on,
“I have a feeling it’s a scoop.”
Hiina Oumi of the news club popped in abruptly, showing her face.
“Wah, Oumi. You again?”
“Let’s go now, Miss Shikibu.”
Her large breasts bouncing about, she gave chase after Koremitsu and Asai with a bounce in her steps,
And Honoka too let out a shriek as she too gave chase.
♢ ♢ ♢
“So I say, that’s just a misunderstanding on your part.”
Koremitsu was facing Asai in the student council meeting room, explaining gruffly.
“The child inside Hikaru’s stepmother is not Hikaru’s.”
“How can you be certain about this? Hikaru has always loved that woman, and that woman has been evading him, reminiscing about him. When she returned to her hometown in March, he went out of his way to visit her. It is not strange for anything to happen at that point, no? Ever since he returned from that place, Hikaru had been acting eccentric.”
“But that is not the case, Asa. I did go to her house to meet her, but I was chased out because I was deemed a hindrance.”
“Hikaru told me that he did meet that woman before, but he was chased out. There’s nothing that happened between him and his stepmother.”
“When did Hikaru tell you this? Your first meeting was after you enrolled in this school this year, no?”
“Well…to put it, it was a short time, but we had quite the deep talk regarding our lives….”
Asai looked skeptical as she glanced aside.
“It is likely Hikaru lied to you to hide this secret. This is such a significant issue, and if revealed, will cause a massive commotion in the Mikados.”
“So I say, that’s not it. That’s not Hikaru’s child.”
He let slip because of Asai’s stubbornness, and the latter’s eyes showed a sharp blade-like glint.
“Does Hikaru have another child?”
Koremitsu felt his shoulders shiver.
(Ack, this is bad—)
“Calm down, Koremitsu. It will be trouble if this is revealed to Asa. Try to mislead her calmly.”
(Calm down? How—)
Either way, he decided to keep his mouth shut and nonchalantly avert his eyes. However, that action caused Asai to be filled with belief.
“Is that so? Say it, when did it happen? Where? Who is the one pregnant? When is the due date? Which hospital? Who will be adopting the child? Have you thought about all that?”
Asai raised her eyebrows as she leaned forward, bringing her face close.
“H-hey, your face’s too close, Asa.”
“Do not try to mislead me! You too have to bear responsibility for this!”
Asai grabbed Koremitsu by the shirt and pulled him over, causing the tips of their noses to be practically touching each other.
Her face too showed the look ‘you are going to bear this responsibility and raise this child with me’.
“You are mistaken again, Asa! Koremitsu does not need to bear this much responsibility! He is not at fault here! Sora got pregnant because I failed my duty as a man!”
And Hikaru was yelling away hysterically.
At that moment, the door opened. Hiina and Honoka tumbled inside.
“A-a kid? Akagi…!?”
“Mr Akagi got the president pregnant! Wow, now this is a big scoop!”
There was a speechless Honoka, whose eyes were widened,
And a frolicking Hiina, yapping so loudly her voice echoed down the corridor.
And Asai’s face was flushed red as she left Koremitsu.
“What are you saying now! That is incorrect! Please correct it at this moment!”
“This is all my fault…even if my heart was completely wounded, I should have thought about the girl. A gentleman should have manners to have that thing in his pocket at all times. I had so many packets of those cute, aromatic things I bought in my house.”
And Hikaru, standing beside a dumbfounded Koremitsu, lamented.