In any case, he first had to find Sora’s whereabouts.
Kazuaki had his eyes on Sora, and Sora herself was emotionally unstable, so Koremitsu was extremely worried.
The first place Koremitsu and Hikaru head off to was the Church where Sora served as a volunteer.
Sora’s dead grandfather was the pastor of the Church, and Sora’s family lived in the house built on the Church grounds. Looking at them, perhaps the people there would have some understanding about Sora.
However, the pastor serving in the Church apologized,
“Miss Sora’s father is no longer serving the Church, and had broken off ties with Miss Sora to start a new family. The new family’s address is not something that can be found easily, and this does implicate personal issues, so I can’t tell you that easily.”
Also, Sora did notify the Church early that she wanted to stop volunteer work for the time being.
She said that with her usual calm voice, and showed exceeding ability for her age, so I wouldn’t be worried about her…so he said.
(I too thought that Sora was firm-willed and capable, until yesterday.)
—I’m an ugly person who has no right to bear this child!
Her hair was in a complete mess, blood continuing to seep from her palms as she continued to wail and yell. There was no way he could simply wait for Sora to return after seeing her maniacal state.
(Did Sora really go back there? She said that she had to be there until the end of Autumn, but…)
The calendar had progressed into September, and the new semester had begun. The weather was still hot, and the sun shining down showed no signs of fading.
Ultimately, he never heard anything about Sora’s household from the Church, and neither did he hear anything about the little sister.
“We do know there is a younger brother with a large age difference, but Miss Sora never said anything about a little sister.”
So he murmured.
Sora typically would not talk about her family affairs, and would help out at the Church even during the Summer holidays or Christmas, apparently never returning home.
“You said that you never met the little sister before, right?”
Koremitsu asked Hikaru as they left the Church, walking sidelong from each other as the cicadas continued to chirp atop the branches of the thick trees.
Frowning, Hikaru said,
“I never met her when I went to the Church looking for Sora back when I was in 7th grade, at least. When I handed the letter to Sora’s little brother ‘please hand this to your sister’, he never answered ‘which one’?”
Leaving aside the fact that Hikaru coerced a child into passing a letter, if one were to reconsider Hikaru’s words and believe them, there should only be one ‘older sister’.
In that case, what exactly was the thing about Sora regretting letting her sister take her place?
The photo that got wrecked, and that—
The message sent to his cellphone again appeared in his mind. His mouth was filled with bitter saliva, his chest wincing in agony. One had to wonder who exactly was the one sending those messages. It started from Yū, followed by Tsuyako, and then Asai, and this time, Sora was the topic.
All the messages were slandering, revealing the secrets of the women related to Hikaru.
If those words were simply malicious and nonsensical nonsense, the person sending this, if related, would have written something he did not know of.
“The one who sold the little sister to the teacher was the promoter who sold the youth of girls.”
One had to wonder to what extent were these startling words reliable.
(Sora isn’t the kind of woman to do that.)
She always had the goal of working in the Church, and she had been working hard on it from the moment she first met Hikaru, or even when she first entered high school.
I’m married to God. That was what she said.
What I did with you was a betrayal to God, an impure act.
How could this pious Sora possibly be a promoter for another girl?
And of all things, she sold her sister to a teacher
“Is the ‘Ogi’ on that postcard Sora’s ‘little sister’?”
“And there is that word sister there, and that she wants to meet her.”
“Did Sora cut the postcard because she doesn’t want to see her?”
“…I do not know. Speaking of which, is ‘Ogi’ really Sora’s little sister? I am a little concerned about the cut postcard, if Sora did actually do it. Even if Sora did so, why did she keep the bottom half with her? Does she not want to meet her little sister, as you say? Or is it that they could not meet?”
—I’m an ugly person.
The severed baby head.
A gently smiling Sora placing her hand lightly upon her belly.
There was a contradiction in these two actions; one that should not exist.
While the contradiction gradually got bigger in Koremitsu’s heart, the chirping of the cicadas intensified. The shrill chirps agitated the ears, reminding Koremitsu of a baby’s cries, and his back became chilly as a result.
“Who exactly is the baby in the photo? Is that Ogi’s child?”
“Logically thinking, I suppose that is the case. The child was born, so she sent the postcard along with the photo. ‘Our family has expanded’.”
“She’s a mother, but she’s wearing quite the loose skirt. There’s red embroidery on the skirt and that apron, so I’m wondering if she can actually do her housework properly like this.”
That loose, fluffy skirt looks like some ethnic dress, and what’s with that bright apron Koremitsu blurted out what he thought with a gloomy look.
“There is quite a lot of Tyrol tape used.”
“The red hem, I mean. There is a lot of ethnic embroidery tape from the Tyrol region, floral patterns, fruit patterns, and so on. You can get a lot of these things from a handicrafts shop. And that clothing…I think I do recall seeing it somewhere for some reason.”
“No, I suppose not. I only met her twice in the Church before this. Hm…where exactly was it?”
Hikaru again frowned, pondering.
And Koremitsu scowled as he went silent.
The chirping of the cicadas got louder.
I’m as empty as the name Sora implies, the shed skin of a cicada.
The soft whisper rang by his ears.
(What does she mean, saying that she’s the shed skin of a cicada?)
As a child, he once collected the shed skins of cicadas in the forest during summer vacation.
The dried, brown skins did have the appearance of young insects, but they were hollow within, as light as air, and so feeble they would be powdered if stepped on.
When he mentioned this to Sora, “Is that so…that’s a pity.” Sora’s showed a little reaction, whispering with a gloomy look.
(But why did she call herself the shed skin of a cicada…?)
And what exactly was with the satiated smile she had when she placed her hand gently on her belly, checking the child inside?
I do not have any wishes—
Was the meaning of that line not that she would feel blissful as long as she had the child?
(Is Sora as unhappy as mom after all?)
Koremitsu recalled the sight of his mother weeping, and he gritted his teeth, as there was something deep within his chest wincing in pain.
Don’t think about it.
Mom’s different from Sora. Right now, I should be focusing on Sora.
But again, Koremitsu lost sleep on this night.
No matter how he closed his eyes, appearing in front of his eyes was the powdered cicada skins, the bleary eyed Sora, and the face of his mom weeping ‘I’m sorry, Mitsu.’ over and over again.
♢ ♢ ♢
The next day, Koremitsu went to Sora’s college.
Hikaru remembered which seminar Sora took her lectures at, and so they visited that research lab.
There were a few students left,
“I got some questions.”
And Koremitsu asked with a sharp glare, his back slouched as he walked into the room, causing all else present to freeze in shock, sweat all over, avert their eyes, cringe their bodies and so on. Everyone knew about Sora.
“It is rare to find a woman aiming to be a clergy.”
“Her clothes are plain, she doesn’t do makeup, and she definitely wouldn’t go out for parties when we invite her.”
“I heard that her uncle’s a pastor in the Church, and she’s very familiar with Church work since young. She probably never had any intention other than to serve God, no?”
While he asked if Sora did have any lover she was dating, the students shook their heads in unison.
“Impossible. She’s pure all over, basically a bride to God.”
“I don’t think she has the luxury of that when she’s busy with her studies and volunteer work.”
“I suppose there’s that aura she emanates which you practically can’t touch her. She’s sometimes lonely, and has that pretty face that’ll make your heart pound, but even if you do approach her, it feels like she’ll break away from you.”
The students all agreed in unison that Sora did not have a lover.
And then, they noted that Sora preferred to converse with God alone than to make merry with friends.
“Did Sora mention anything about her little sister?”
“Little sister? She has one?”
“Hm…well, I never heard about that before. We aren’t exactly that close.”
‘Ah, but I did hear that she has a younger brother who’s much younger than her, two siblings. Her mother passed away after she gave birth to the little brother, so she helped change his diapers and fed him milk and so on.”
In the end, he never heard anything about the little sister.
“Maybe Sora doesn’t have a little sister after all?”
They were on the way back from college.
Koremitsu whispered as he toiled down the road dyed by the red-black sunset, the sun shining on his back down the narrow path, his face glum as ever.
Hikaru too sighed,
“It will be good if we can meet this ‘Ogi’ on the photo, but the address as cut off…it seems Sora does not have any intimate friends, so we cannot possibly hear anything about ‘Ogi’.”
His eyes hazy as he said this, his expression unbearable as his whispered,
“…It looks like Sora really intends to give birth alone.”
She had no intimate friends.
She had no family to rely on.
And she was alone in such a situation.
Her father was no longer around.
She said this was the angel’s child.
Koremitsu’s heart got increasingly cold within, and he became forlorn.
(I want to be Sora’s strength, and her child’s too, in Hikaru’s place. That’s why I’ve been going to her place every day, but Sora definitely hasn’t forgiven me here.)
Perhaps Koremitsu’s visits caused her distress.
He provide one pile of baby magazines and products after another, and furthermore, there was that incident when Asai paid a visit, causing quite a commotion.
Was that why Sora became so erratic? That she toppled the air freshener?
(Sora looked so happy even when she’s alone.)
There was Sora with her hand patting her belly gently, her eyelids slightly raised, the corners of her eye with the mole relaxed as she smiled.
She looked so blissful like that, as elegant and transparent as looking at a religious painting.
Koremitsu wondered if that blissfulness was disturbed by him, and his body ached all over.
—I’m as empty as the name Sora implies
—The shed skin of a cicada.
(That isn’t it. Sora should be very satisfied and happy.)
There’s no other reason to suggest why Sora would smile like that.
If he was the one who took that smile away, who trifled with that peace, who caused Sora to apologize over and over again, saying that she was the shed skin of a cicada or something, he really had no idea how he was to make up with her.
(Because of me, mom…)
The images of Sora and Koremitsu’s mother overlapped each other, and he gritted his teeth, clenching his fists.
“Hey, Koremitsu, you are wincing in agony again.”
Hikaru told Koremitsu worriedly.
And he too showed a worried expression, ostensibly realizing the pain spreading in Koremitsu’s heart, whispering,
“You recalled about your mother because of Sora, and it must have been painful to you, Koremitsu.”
While Koremitsu was gnashing his teeth due to the awakened prior trauma, Hikaru’s heart too winced in agony as he watched sidelong, wondering if he too caused Koremitsu some painful memories.
Koremitsu never mentioned to Hikaru that his mother was one to apologize profusely. The apparent airhead yet insightful Hikaru however might already realized long beforehand.
The reason why Koremitsu could not handle apologies was—
After answering glumly, his eyebrows again curled back tightly.
“Please do not try to fool me, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru spoke with a serious voice.
“You did say the exact same thing to Miss Shikibu too. I do understand very well that you did not wish for us to worry, and that may as well be what I would have thought in your shoes. You became depressed however, Koremitsu, but I do not feel that complaining or grumbling at others is not a sign of distress or condescension. I have already caused you much trouble, Koremitsu, and it is unreasonable for you to bear it all alone. Allow me to share some.”
“…This thing isn’t something that can be solved by dividing the load.”
“What I am expressing here is that you can show some more weakness, Koremitsu! If you are not going to do so now, then when? If you do not show some weakness now, you will never become like that.”
“Don’t tell me to show some weakness here and there. It-it’s not like I can do that just because you say that, right?”
The conversation he had with Hikaru under the sunset soon got foolish.
What are we both doing here?
However, he felt a little more relieved within by the time he realized it, and it felt as if he broke free from the restrains in his body.
“…Well, I do feel some pain…but I do have to save a woman important to you, right? And there’s a chance that the child in her body is yours…I may show some weakness, but I got to continue on now.”
He said it in Hikaru’s direction bashfully.
“You really are made of a hero, Koremitsu, none of a flawed personality. Where you are facing though, Koremitsu, is where I am facing too.”
And so, Hikaru too answered Koremitsu such gaudy words with a clear tone.
Thanks to him, the head that lost its direction did not return back to its original position as Koremitsu walked on with his neck tilted unnaturally.
“Anyway, let’s investigate on ‘Ogi’ again.”
“Yes. Let us head to the high school Sora was at, and see if what was written on the chainmail was real.”
“I don’t really like it, but she might be doing well now.”
“Perhaps I will be able to recall where I saw the clothes of the girl who sent the postcard if I think harder about it. My memory regarding girls should be the best, and there should be no way it could have dulled even though I am dead for 4 months.”
Hikaru said such embarrassing words, and suddenly exclaimed.
“You recalled something?”
Koremitsu instinctively turned towards the direction Hikaru was looking at.
Hikaru’s eyes widened as he stared at Koremitsu’s apartment.
“No, that isn’t it. That child is back again.”
He stared closely, and found that the 4th, 5th grade body was wandering in front of the Akagis again. There were times where he stopped in his tracks and stood there, staring in the direction of the door, before he began to wander anxiously again.
(Is that Shiiko’s stalker?)
In that case, he had to say something to the boy as an older brother, and he strode forward.
“That child might be Sora’s little brother.”
“I was not too certain, for I last saw him in the kindergarten. Perhaps the prior impression was that he was quite an intelligent boy. Ah! He ran away!”
“What did you say!?”
The boy began to run, perhaps having noticed Koremitsu.
And Koremitsu frantically gave chase.
“Wait! Hey! Are you Sora’s little brother!”
The boy’s face certainly did resemble someone, and Koremitsu too did have this impression when he met him. Perhaps it was because he was similar to Sora.
“Are you looking for me!? If you’re Sora’s brother, stop!”
The boy did not stop, running at a speed unfitting for a young master. Perhaps he was sprinting for his life once he saw Koremitsu as a demon, for he simply continued to sprint.
“I told you to stop, didn’t I?”
In contrast, Koremitsu’s breathing got heavy as he did not sleep well for the past two days.
The boy darted through some tiny gaps between buildings, taking advantage of his small size, and gradually pulled the distance.
“Koremitsu, your face is red, and you are sweating profusely. It is time for you to stop!”
Hikaru exclaimed sidelong.
“—Tch, I let a little brat get away.”
Koremitsu continued to pant as he bent his knees on the now darkened asphalt.
His head was dizzy, and he really lacked sleep. The asphalt that had absorbed the heat from the lingering summer sizzled, causing it to feel like a seared futon. He really had the impulse to head home and sleep.
At that moment, Hikaru called out with a pathetic voice.
And while Koremitsu was still unable to get up, he felt something cold at his knees.
No, there was a plump little black dog strolling about, raising its hind legs at Koremitsu as it peed at him.
“WHAAAAAATTT ARE YOU DOING, YOU DAMN DOG!!!”
“L-Lina! That isn’t the toilet!”
A middle-aged woman, probably the owner, shrieked with a pale face.
Rina, with a sash wrapped around its small, sharp ears, looked completely satisfied once it was done, and hurriedly scurried off once it was prompted by its owner.
“Uh, my legs are still hot. It’s disgusting. I’ll kill that dog the next time I see him!”
While he showed a heinous glare,
Hikaru again exclaimed.
“What? Did a crow shit on me or something?”
He asked with a depressed look.
“I see! It is Lina, Koremitsu!”
He leaned his body forward, showing a face that could not be any brighter.
“What? Another of the girls you had an affair with?”
“No. Tyrol Tape and Rina. That is Tyrolina. That apron and skirt is the waitress uniform at Tyrolina!”
♢ ♢ ♢
After dinner, Koremitsu searched for ‘Tyrolina’ on the cellphone.
He originally assumed it to be the name of a hooker, only to discover it was a family cafe hidden in the residential area.
The owner was part of a Tyrolian Dance group, liked Tyrol a lot, had a lot of the ethnic art pieces laid all over the shop, and also sold handmade Tyrol tapes. Looking inside, there were a lot of the bright colored patchworks, cushions covered with Tyrol tape, and also dolls made of wool.
“There was once I came to this place with a girl, and the waitresses were really cute, wearing the Tyrolian uniforms. They poured cappuccino into had fruit, flower shaped cups, and used the cream to draw some rabbit, cat shapes on the top. I do remember that they have an embroidery class here, and there were only girls in the shop.”
“…I say, you’re a guy and you go to such places.”
And you’re invited by a girl of all things. Don’t you feel any shame. If it were Koremitsu, he would definitely not last more than 3 seconds, certainly feeling like he was on needles.
(Well, I guess there won’t be awkwardness if it’s this dazzling prince in the middle of all those girls.)
It definitely would be impossible for Koremitsu however, who had messy red hair and the appearance of a delinquent.
“You sure that’s the uniform, right?”
“Yes. Look, there is the photo of a waitress here.”
There was a girl shrouded in a fluffy dress and apron with red Tyrol tape by the sides, smiling while holding a tray with a cup decorated in mushroom and flower patterns for some reason.
It was the exact same dress as the one seen in the postcard.
I guess I have to go to that shop to ask about Ogi. Got to go there even if I’m to step into the shop, scare all the girls, be viewed as a suspicious person and get led away by the police.”
Koremitsu groaned, and said,
“Okay, looks like we got no choice but to go.”
♢ ♢ ♢
But even so,
(I can’t do it alone after all!)
During the rest period the next day, Koremitsu scanned through the map on his phone, searching for Tylorina’s location. While he frowned, Hikaru suggested,
“It is just my thought, but perhaps you should go with a girl.”
“Yes. Like Miss Shikibu.”
Koremitsu was startled, and glanced to the seat beside him.
Honoka, fiddling with the phone too, turned towards Koremitsu tentatively, and the moment their eyes met.
She frantically bit her lips, tightened her face, and stared forward gingerly, beginning to type messages at an astonishing speed, her face gradually flushed.
“Hm, it will not be out of place for you to head to a fancy cafe with a girl than it is to go alone. Miss Shikibu too will surely be delighted if you ask her out like an invitation to a date.”
(A date,you say!?)
You idiot! Now’s not the time to slack around like this!
“Come on. You should be hurrying up and inviting Miss Shikibu, Koremitsu.”
It would be embarrassing for him as a boy to head into a fluffy shop filled only with women, and they certainly would be wary of him. Surely he would more trustworthy if he was to head there with Honoka together.
(But calling this a date is—)
It certainly was not an event this formal, and perhaps inviting Honoka out for something more casual, for other reasons would be more appropriate.
Also, how was he supposed to explain Sora’s situation to Honoka.
If he was to mention that a pregnant girl disappeared along with the child in her belly, there definitely would be some unwarranted misunderstanding again.
And while Koremitsu was rubbing his temples with all his might, Honoka again peeked at him.
At that moment,
“M-Mr Akagi. I have to talk to you for a while. Is it fine?”
Michiru, who had been avoiding Koremitsu the past two days, said this with her face flushed as she approached Koremitsu’s table.
And Honoka, typing her messages, stopped her hands.
“Talk about what?”
“Not here. A-a-a-a-at the roof please.”
The moment Koremitsu got up, Honoka shuddered her shoulders in fear, and looked in his direction tentatively.
Koremitsu too noticed those eyes that were so desperate, wanting him to stay.
He left the classroom along with Michiru, and ascended the stairs towards the roof. Michiru’s face was flushed as she kept her head lowered, not saying a single word.
“Koremitsu, just in case, do you understand what it means to be called up to the roof by a girl?”
Hikaru quizzed with a perturbed look.
(? Are you worried that Hanasato’s going to challenge me to a due or something? That’s impossible, right?)
To Koremitsu, back when he was in Middle School, the roof was a battlefield, and the school’s delinquents gathered at the roof would summon delinquents from other schools to the roof with something akin to a letter of challenge, and start their own battles.
Thus, Koremitsu had no idea as to why Hikaru was giving a frown.
What exactly was Michiru hoping to talk about.
And even after they arrived at the roof, Michiru continued to remain silent.
The sun did not appear as it was a cloudy day, and the air was a little humid.
Soon after, Michiru began with her head lowered,
“Mr Akagi, who do you like? Hono or me?”
Koremitsu’s mouth was ajar.
What was that about?
Hikaru too was taken aback, his eyes widened at Michiru, muttering something, “Hm, I suppose there is this kind of a confession…maybe.”
“Eh, which one, huh?”
Michiru lifted her head at Koremitsu with her bleared eyes.
She let her hair ends curl nicely and dangling at her chest, and Michiru, who removed her glasses and braids, looked more feminine and prettier as compared to the first semester.
And their classmates surrounded Michiru.
“What happened, class rep? It’s amazing, you’re cute.”
“So the class rep has such a face? Not bad.”
She caused quite a commotion.
And in the midst of the circle, Michiru was feeling troubled, tentative.
Koremitsu did not know the reason why Michiru would change her hairstyle, but surely something di happen. This question however caused Koremitsu to be further confounded.
“I can’t answer that, and it’s not something I can compare. Shikibu’s Shikibu, and you’re you, Hanasato.”
Once he said this, Michiru looked despondent. She then continued to stare at Koremitsu with brooding eyes.
“Then…do you like Hono?”
The gentle breeze blowing by ceased completely.
The roof, with only the duo on it, became abnormally tranquil, only their breaths could be heard.
Hikaru too could not be seen.
Surely he was right behind Koremitsu, staring at the latter.
“Yes, I like her.”
Koremitsu’s lips let out this baritone.
Michiru’s eyes widened at that instant, and after a temporary silence, she lowered her eyebrows.
“Thank you for answering me.”
She said with a trembling voice,
“I shall be heading back to the classroom then.”
And so, she ran back.
Koremitsu merely remained rooted there for quite some time.
“I never expected you to be so honest.”
Hikaru looked amazed as he floated before Koremitsu.
“My heart felt like it was going to stop.”
“Hasn’t it stopped already?”
“However, I really am shocked at you were able to say that you ‘like her’ from your mouth without any faltering.”
And Koremitsu said stiffly,
“If I’m asked if I like her or not, I can only answer like here. I do think Shikibu’s a nice person.”
“Like…as in a normal ‘like’?”
Hikaru looked up to the sky and lamented.
“Miss Hanasato was definitely mistaken. Ahh, I wanted to record what you just said for Miss Shikibu. I am very disappointed.”
“Why are you so disappointed?”
“I do wonder if you really do have any awareness at all? I really pity Miss Shikibu here.”
But after muttering, he quickly broke into a grin,
“However, if you do like Miss Shikibu, perhaps you can invite her out for a date once. I suppose you should invite Miss Shikibu to Tyrolina.”
“No, I’m not going to invite Shikibu.”
“I don’t really know…”
If the question was if he liked her or not, surely the answer would be that yes, he liked her.
While others shunned him for having the appearance of a savage delinquent, the one girl who established such an intimate relationship with him was probably Honoka.
He was always helped by Honoka.
And he was shocked when he made her cry.
And when he was embraced tightly by Honoka at the pool at night, his chest ached sweetly.
Taking all these incidents into account, if anyone were to ask him if he liked Honoka Shikibu, he would reply that yes, he liked her. As for what sort of ‘like’ it was, he was however still uncertain.
However, he could clearly understand that the ‘like’ Honoka had for Koremitsu was beyond goodwill.
Thus, Koremitsu felt that he could not simply invite her out to a date, as that would lead to a misunderstanding.
“If I can’t invite her out properly for a date, that won’t do.”
And the moment he said these words, Koremitsu’s face sizzled.
What in the world am I saying here?
“In other words, you do have some awareness.”
And so, Hikaru said as he broke into an adult chortle.
“You did consider thoroughly the fact that Miss Shikibu is a girl”
Koremitsu remained speechless, but surely he was seen through due to his blushing face, and the proof was Hikaru’s cackling as he looked back at Koremitsu.
“But what do we do about Tyrolina? Do we ask Asa for help? If she is to know of Sora’s disappearance, surely she will be infuriated, wondering why we did not notify or or something.”
While thinking of Asai’s fuming face, Koremitsu gave a scowl,
And there was a soft voice from behind.
He turned his head back, and standing at the roof entrance was Aoi, who was looking over at him tentatively.
Hikaru drifted straight towards Aoi, and Koremitsu too followed.
After the incident with Kazuaki in the backyard, Koremitsu sent Aoi a message, but the latter replied ‘please do not worry about me’, and there was no message from her thereafter.
Koremitsu was already busy looking for Sora, and did not have time to help Aoi, but he was concerned about the latter.
Compared to Koremitsu, Hikaru’s feelings were stronger, and he drifted around Aoi with a wince, Are you really alright? You did not encounter anything awful these few days, did you? giving such a face as he looked over at her.
Aoi fidgeted about as she lowered her eyes, and they were shifting about. Soon after, her face got beetroot, and with a desperate look, she looked up at Koremitsu.
“I really am sorry not to greet you all this time.”
“No, I should be the one apologizing.”
Koremitsu did not expect Aoi to suddenly apologize, and he was unable to calm down.
Though she showed some weakness on her face, she immediately clenched her fists, and declared,
“I-I was really shocked…about Hikaru’s child…I really cannot endure the pain.”
Hikaru was devastated.
“That’s to be expected.”
Koremitsu replied with a voice even Hikaru could hear, and Aoi glanced aside, saying,
“But Miss Tsuyako, Miss Shikibu, and the rest are all so worried about the baby that is to be born, helping you out, Mr Akagi. I am the only one hesitant on this. Miss Tsuyako is supposed to be in the same position as I am.”
Koremitsu was astounded that Aoi admitted she assumed Tsuyako was in the same position as she was.
Tsuyako was one whom Hikaru had an affair with, and Hikaru’s fiancee Aoi had always despised and reviled Tsuyako.
“Well, senpai’s love for Hikaru, and yours, to put it, i-it’s a little different…”
Tsuyako was utterly delighted to tears when she learned of Hikaru’s child that was to be born, and it would be cruel for Aoi, one with a purity streak, to have the same reaction as Tsuyako.
“No, Miss Tsuyako is impressive. I do know everything, that there are many of Hikaru’s lovers who are the same, and that Hikaru does have a special someone he liked…but I just bawled out when Mr Kazuaki merely mentioned it. Even if you are to mention it again; I suppose it is a good thing even if Mr Kazuaki mentioned it.”
“Am I that much of a hopeless philanderer? I am delighted that Miss Aoi has said that she is yet to lose to Mr Kazuaki’s words, but it is, a little conflicting…”
Hikaru muttered with a pathetic look.
(Anyway, you’re a philandering harem prince who shouldn’t have your punishment reduced here. Start reflecting more on your own actions.)
And Koremitsu had this thought as he glared at Hikaru.
Aoi placed her hands in front of her chest, clenching them, and said to Koremitsu with a look filled with conviction,
“I-I too wish to meet the person who is to give birth to Hikaru’s child, and I wish to bless her. So, please allow me to help.”
One could feel the conviction from within in these words she weaved with much difficulty.
Surely she would be in great pain after Kazuaki said such damning words, and Hikaru, whom she liked since young, had a child with another woman, which really would have caused her much distress.
Yet she adamantly declared that she wanted to help.
(Seriously, it’s a waste for Aoi to be with you.)
Hikaru too was amazed by Aoi’s determination.
Surely in Hikaru’s heart, Aoi was the fragile, cute princess, who did not know anything about the world.
If Hikaru was still alive, Aoi would surely be so infuriated that she would not speak to him for half a year, as he had stated. She would have been condescending towards the woman whom Hikaru had that affair with.
“Erm, I really am willing to do anything. If you have anything you need help with, please tell me, Mr Akagi.”
If it were Aoi at this point, perhaps he could explain Sora’s issues to her.
(Is that the case, Hikaru?)
While listening in on Aoi, Hikaru’s eyes showed astonishment, some pride and despondence; it became a conflicted expression.
And again, Koremitsu said to Aoi with respect,
“Actually, there’s something I want to ask you for help, Aoi. Do you mind accompanying me after school?”
♢ ♢ ♢
“Her Highness Aoi and Akagi?”
Upon noticing Aoi and Koremitsu descend the stairs together, Honoka frantically hid herself in a corner under the stairs.
(How? Wasn’t Akagi supposed to be talking with Michiru on the roof?)
Honoka had the urge to give chase when Koremitsu and Michiru left the classroom, and had conflicted feelings on whether to do so, to a point where her stomach was aching.
Surely, Michiru was intending to confess to Koremitsu. No matter how curious she was, she could not be eavesdropping from the side.
She intended to focus on love consultation when replying on her blog, but her fingertips gradually got colder, and the chatter from the surrounding conversations felt more like noise to her.
(How will Akagi respond to Michiru. Michiru got cute because of Akagi, so maybe Akagi will answer okay. But Akagi still has a pregnant lover, and he’ll be committing infidelity. No no no, it’s not a good thing to do such a thing!!)
Her mind churning about, she was unable to endure this any longer.
(Neither Michiru nor Akagi came back…if-if they’re to do something on the roof—I-I guess I should check on them a little. If anything really happens, I have to stop them!)
She searched hard for a reason, and left the classroom.
And so, just when she arrived at the stairs leading to the roof, she witnessed Koremitsu being together, descending the stairs.
(Why is Akagi together with Her Highness Aoi?)
Aoi’s face was so tense, so flushed, and Koremitsu showed a solemn face.
And once they arrived at the second level, where Aoi’s classroom was, they faced each other, saying,
“I’ll leave it to you after school then.”
Aoi answered Koremitsu’s words with much enthusiasm.
They were completely aware of each other’s presence, and there was a sense of trust between them to be felt; Honoka’s chest tightened.
(What did Akagi ask Her Highness Aoi to do? I told them that he could talk with me if he got any troubles, and he answered me so lethargically ‘no’, like that.)
He requested something for Her Highness Aoi. Leave it to you. He said.
“Akagi you idiot. You said that I’m a Heliotrope.”
♢ ♢ ♢
Koremitsu waited for Aoi not too far away from the school gates,
“I’m sorry for talking with Aoi without understanding you.”
He bitterly whispered, and Hikaru, with calmness on his face.
“Your decision is not incorrect. I am really delighted that Aoi is able to accept Sora and the child within her.”
Replied as thus,
“Speaking of which, Koremitsu, you invited Miss Aoi instead of Miss Shikibu.”
“? What do you mean?”
Hikaru gave a vague smile.
“You did show some aware with regards to Miss Shikibu, but not when it regards Miss Aoi, I suppose.”
“It is fine even if you have not noticed. It is definitely a little better off not noticing it, for your sake, Koremitsu, and for Miss Aoi.”
“What are you saying now?”
And with a teasing tone, Hikaru continued,
“I am saying that you are so cool, Koremitsu.”
“I say, what are you getting at?”
While Koremitsu grumbled, Aoi appeared.
“So-sorry. Was I late?”
“Ah, no, I just so happened to be talking to myself.”
While Koremitsu was all flustered, Hikaru drifted above,
“Let us go forth then.”
Saying with a clear tone.
(Seriously, what in the world is this guy thinking about?)
Glaring aside, he began to walk with Aoi.
They got off the train, and head straight for the cafe in the residential area. It appeared to be a house with the ground floor renovated into a cafe.
Twisting the door knob with the handmade bunny doll, the door opened, and Koremitsu witnessed what he saw on the internet.
There were cloths, threads used for embroidery, ribbons laid out all over the tables, and the handicrafts were displayed everywhere in the shop. It felt messy, yet at the same time, inexplicably tidy, and many female customers were having tea at the many tables there.
“Truly a wonderful shop.”
Aoi marvelled in amazement.
As he had expected however, Koremitsu was intimidating the customers and waitresses as they gave him terrified looks, and it was unbearable for him.
“E-erm, welcome. 2 customers, am I correct?”
A waitress, dressed in skirt and apron lined with red Tyrol tape by the side, inquired.
The pretty girl Aoi with the vibe of a princess looked relatively surprised as compared to Koremitsu, who clearly looked nothing else other than a delinquent. They were led to an empty table.
(Damn it, it’s unbearable for me after all.)
He sat on the wooden chair with floral embroidery on the cushion, opened the menu, and appearing in front of him were photos of coffee with rabbit and kitten, and cake with lots of cream on them.
(Speaking of which, is Cappuccino Tyrolian? Am I wrong?)
“I want a Cappuccino with a kitten.”
“Eh. I suppose if you do order the ‘Miss Pixie likes the rose-petaled Herb tea, their attitude towards you will increase dramatic due to the gap moe.”
And Hikaru casually chimed in from above.
(Shut up or I’m going to smack you with the cushion.)
The waitress served their order, and placed them on the table.
While trying his best not to scare anyone, Koremitsu began to converse with the waitress.
“Is there someone called Ogi in this shop?”
The waitress was suddenly taken aback, her shoulders shivering.
“Actually, that is me.”
“What!? You’re Ogi!?”
Koremitsu too was dumbfounded, staring back.
Ogi was a very healthy woman with a slightly rounded face, large in bust and hip.
He had assumed she was an adult woman due to the baby she had on the postcard, but she had a face that could be passed off as a high school girl.
(Well, she wouldn’t be looking any older than Sora if she’s the little sister. Sora looks rather mature herself, but she’s only around 20.)
He introduced himself to be an acquaintance of Sora Semigaya, and that he heard of this shop from her. Ogi’s eyes widened.
“Ehhhh, sister? Really? Goodness, my big sister wouldn’t make any contact with me, I thought she rejected me completely. Is that true? Did sister really tell you about this shop?”
Koremitsu’s voice was a little shrill, for he actually did not hear about this shop from Sora herself.
However, he never expected this ‘little sister’ to be such an energetic girl, and there was a major contrast to ‘sold youth’, ‘to the teacher’, and ‘substitute’. Aoi too was stunned, and Hikaru stared back in shock.
Ogi’s full name was Ogina, and the owner of this shop was her husband’s mother. The owner would be busy taking care of the child every day except on Mondays, when she would hold her embroidery class, and really helped Ogina out there. She blurted out a lot of talk without waiting for Koremitsu to ask.
“It’s been 9 months now. Amazing cute. You wanna look?”
“No, anyway, you’re really Sora’s ‘little sister’, right?”
Ogina nonchalantly answered,
“Yes, though it’s about 2 years.”
“Ah, you never heard of that? My mom and sister’s dad were remarried with kids, and we became siblings. That was when I was in 9th grade, and sister was in 10th grade.”
In that case, it would explain why Sora’s acquaintance only knew of the little brother, and that Hikaru never saw Sora’s little sister.
“I did something a little bad when I was in 10th grade, and due to that, mom divorced with sister’s father. Well, there wasn’t any passion left when they remarried, but I suppose that was the decisive event.”
—I actually should not be giving birth to this child. I let my little sister take my place! It’s because of me that my sister, my family.
There was such a constrasting difference between Sora’s anguished voice and this little sister who continued on carefreely with a smile, and Koremitsu was confused.
“Decisive event? What did you do?”
Once he tried to probe in, she continued nonchalantly,
“My affair with my high school teacher was discovered.”
And after she answered so honestly, Aoi’s face was flushed.
Ogi stuck her tongue out,
“I was expelled, and the teacher was fired. Mom and dad had a quarrel, and they divorced. Ah, that teacher’s now my husband. Everyone found out that I did those perverted things in the classroom, and the teacher said, ‘I’ll take responsibility and take care of you for the rest of my life’. It was really cool, and I fell for him again. I get on well with mother-in-law, and I do enjoy helping in the shop. I even gave birth to a child very similar to my husband, and I don’t feel any regrets about it.”
Sorry…it’s all your sister’s fault. I’m sorry…
The discrepency just kept expanding.
At the same time, the black fog-like vagueness deep within Koremitsu’s heart gradually spread.
“Did Sora say anything to you when you were expelled?”
“Eh—I don’t really remember. Sister’s very devouted to marrying God, so she was rather shocked like a normal person, I believe. Ah, my husband actually liked my sister at first.”
He was stunned by Ogina’s words.
The culprit who sold the youth of a girl, her little sister, to a teacher. the words in that message appeared in his mind.
However, the little sister did not seem to mind to much.
“He’s a teacher, and yet he got mesmerized by his own student. Now that’s a crime. Sister however was really determined, and was very troubled when my husband asked her to go buy some stuff for club activities together. I too had feelings for my husband, so I felt this was a chance, and we did everything we had to that day. My husband was really disappointed to be dumped by siser, and that allowed me the chance to slip in.”
Plan succeeded she said, showing a bright smile.
As she had said, based on the results, Ogina got what she wanted, and felt blissful as a result.
Sora requested Ogina to take her place just to excuse herself from the teacher’s request, but Ogina was the one who willingly allured the teacher, and there was no need for Sora to feel any guilt.
Sora bore some unnecessary guilt, and was tormented thoroughly.
(Why? Why’s she apologizing so much just because she let her sister take her place?)
—I’m an ugly person who has no right to bear this child!
She said with such anguish.
And as she continued to shiver, the transparent tears slid down the contorted face.
—I’m sorry, sorry.
Hikaru too frowned, ostensibly unwilling to agree with this.
(Why did Sora disappear?)
At that moment.
“Ah, Miss Takamine. Welcome.”
Ogina looked in the direction of the door, and asked with an earnest voice.
It seemed a customer came.
“You’re here for the embroidery class today, right?”
“Ah yes, it seemed I was a little earlier.”
A fine voice rang.
And it was a long time back when Koremitsu last heard this voice. 1st grade, in fact.
However, the voice that rang countless times in his mind, that caused his heart to chill and wince—
It was terrifying for him to turn his head back, but he had to do so to be certain.
He slowly turned his head around, and appearing in front of his sights was a petite woman.
The hair was shorter.
And the eyebrows were lowered forlornly.
The eyes were moist, apparently always crying.
The small white face that looked as if it would melt if one were to touch it.
The slender shoulders.
And that woman too had her lips slightly opened, her face tense.
The yell that rose up his throat was hurting so much it was ripping at the throat, and surely, to suppress the surging emotions, he would look up, grit his teeth with all his might, and glare heinously, showing a very terrifying face!
Why, why was she here? It had been 9 years since they met. Why, now, of all places, did she appear?
—I’m really sorry, Mitsu.
The voice rang deeply within his ears again, and the fury rushed up his head, hurting it so much his head was going to split.
He could not do anything except to stare.
And on the other hand, he was terrified within—shivering like a feeble animal.
His mother again looked back at him, and paled like a patient, her eyebrows lowered, her eyes widened. As compared to how she appeared in his memories, she looked much weaker than before, more unreliable.
“Eh? Miss Takamine? Are you acquiantances with this man?”
Ogina too felt something was amiss as she noticed Koremitsu staring with a stiff face and the mother rooted with a pale face, yet she asked without thinking too much.
Aoi too stared at Koremitsu, her breath bated. Hikaru probably understood from this situation who that woman was, and tilted his head, showing a wince as he stared at both mother and son.
In the midst of this tense silence, his mother answered with a sighing, feeble voice,
Just like that, she lowered her eyebrows further, averting her eyes to expel something she did not want to witness.
And with a thud, the chair fell behind him.
Aoi, Ogina and the mother were terrified as they cringed back, and Hikaru frowned harder.
“I…don’t know you either!”
The words he blurted out was akin to the roar of a wounded beast.
A dying howl after being grazed, slashed and toppled around, it contained all his pride.
Once he saw the terror of the woman who abandoned him 9 years ago and left home, Koremitsu sprinted out of the door with the feeling of one with his heart dug out.
He did not hear what Aoi and Hikaru were yelling from behind.
And he simply continued to run aimlessly in the cursive alleys of the residential area.
(Like hell I know a person like you!)
That’s not my mom! I don’t know that person! I never met her, and I don’t know her!
He was yelling in his heart, howling, but even so, the voice ringing deep within the ears could not vanish.
—I’m really sorry, sorry, Mitsu.
The mother who continued to weep.
The tears that continued to fall.
(Stop apologizing! Nothing will change even if you do, right? Isn’t everything still the same!)
And Hikaru yelled from sidelong.
That voice, his howls, the frantic breathing, and the voices that continued to ring in his heart vanished in an instant.
Somebody, anybody, make it stop!
I don’t want to hear anything!
I don’t want to see that face that’;s always crying and apologizing!
Just stop it already! Stop crying! Why are you crying! Why must you apologize!?
The voices surged within him several times, forcibly pushing aside his memories, expanding like waves, and a tremendous impact arose as the red bubbles appeared and broke in the air.
That was the little felt bears with the head and body disemembered.
The crying mother who cried in Koharu’s arms.
And the stuttering voice.
—Koharu, I really am a terrible mother
Those were the words he heard behind the sliding door, his body stiff as he held his breath.
—I can’t think of that child as cute in any way! How am I supposed to love him! I can’t love him!
The voice got broken.
His mother’s face was broken.
The heart got broken.
—I’m really sorry, Mitsu.
She weeped as she apologized, for she felt guilt that she could not love the baby she gave birth to no matter what.
As the mother, it was a cardinal sin that she could not love her own child.
However, she just could not do so.
He really was not cute in any way.
—That child definitely realized it. That’s why he can’t smile, and he blames me.
Koremitsu did not really understand what his mother was saying, and what he only heard was the timid voice uttering the words that he wasn’t cute, that he couldn’t smile. They stung his chest, and it got hot near his earlobes.
I’ve to forget it.
I didn’t hear anything about mom not finding me cute..
If—if I could only smile, mom wouldn’t be crying like this.
Will she stop apologizing and finally smile?
It’s going to be mom’s birthday soon. Let’s try writing some words mom liked most.
And so, I’ll smile and hand the word to her, telling her that I love her.
Yet at the roadlights outside, there was the petite figure gradually departing.
God, I hope that mom can turn back.
However, there was nothing similar to a wish fulfilled!
(That woman never turned back, and I didn’t give her the birthday present. I still can’t smile now.)
Even after 9 years, nothing changed. The woman who was his mother paled her facce timidly, averted her eyes from him, and when questioned if they were acquaitances, she replied with a soft voice.
There was the sight of Sora, gently smiling as she placed her hand gently on her pregnant belly.
—Is a mother that sort of person>
—Was she always so loving before the child was born?
Was I once loved like that?
And even in high school, he never gave up on the one wish he had.
However, he understood when they met again.
(I wasn’t loved at all!)
Whether it was the past or present, the crybaby of a mother had no love for Koremitsu at all, just fear and terror—
—…I’m really sorry, sorry, Mitsu, .
—I’m sorry for not being able to love you.
His mother was not really one without much emotion, and neither was she one to abuse her child. She was a normal, honest, weak-willed woman, and thus, she was anguished that she could not love her own child, chiding herself, unable to endure the face of her own child with the stiff look. On that night, she left home.
She vanished like the dried brown husk left by the cicadas.
Towards the place the unsmiling Koremitsu could not see.