Koremitsu had no idea as to how exactly he managed to get home.
And he went straight to his room without saying a ‘I’m back’, locked himself in the futon the entire time, and left Shioriko worried,
“It’s time for dinner, big brother Koremitsu.”
But though she called him, Koremitsu never poked his head out from his futon. “I’m not eating. My head hurts.” it took him his utmost effort just to give this reply.
Shioriko insisted on watching over Koremitsu, and indicated that she would not leave his bedside for a while.
“Leave him alone, Shiiko. This guy’s stubborn. He’ll get well in 2, 3 days.”
After Koharu said this, Shioriko left the room reluctantly.
He continued to keep his eyes closed in the futon, and could not see Hikaru.
Upon hearing this worried sounding voice call out to him,
“J-just let me show some weakness now…”
He answered with a feeble voice.
“I understand…it is fine.”
After hearing the gentle reply, there was no conversation between them.
And into the next morning, the gut-ripping pain continued to linger, and the covered blanket was soaked due to tears and sweat.
He got up a lot later than usual, and lifted the head that was having a splitting migraine.
Hikaru was seated in a seiza, showing a tender expression as he said,
And Koremitsu merely muttered something as he walked out of the room. Even he did not hear what he said exactly.
There was a note written on half a sheet of paper, and written with grassy green pen was,
“To big brother Koremitsu,
Shiiko’s going to school now.
When Shiiko comes back, Shiiko’s going to make lots of snacks you’ll like.
Upon seeing this, his throat throbbed, and his heart winced again.
When he arrived at the living room, Masakaze was reading the newspaper leisurely, and glanced aside to Koremitsu with a sharp glare, saying,
“You’re so weak that you can’t get out from bed just because of a little headache. Don’t make Shiiko worry now.”
And then, he continued to read the newspapers,
“I cleared up the leftovers thinking that you’re not going to eat. If you’re hungry just eat some of the leftovers.”
Koharu said with the usual uncouth tone, but a look at the kitchen revealed some edible rice balls and some pickles.
He was going to be late, so he wrapped the food in aluminium foil and left home.
Lapis was at the corridor, staring at Koremitsu with its blue glass eyes. Its soft white tail was curled upwards, and this was a great service from the usually aloof Lapis.
Things remained as they were on the way to school, as Hikaru remained silent beside Koremitsu. Though he would show a tender smile when their eyes met, he would remain silent. Surely he intended to remain like this until Koremitsu took the initiative to talk.
Koremitsu’s chest was searing due to the concern from his family and friend.
He wanted to cry, and he was pathetic, yet he could not show such an expression.
(I got to look for Sora.)
One had to wonder what exactly was Sora doing at this point, having disappeared and harboring Hikaru’s child.
But whenever he thought about Sora, the image of his mother overlapped, and he would recall the incidents where she would utter the word ‘sorry’ in her apologies, and ‘no’ the timid look on her face when she answered softly. He was hurting as if he was scalded.
(Ugh, damn it.)
The memories he kept suppressing within him were awakened; he should have known that he was never loved by his mother.
Why however did he continue to bang his head on this. Could he never forget that crying face and the feeble voice.
(That’s not my mom. I never had one in the first place. Isn’t that fine?)
But no matter how he thought about it, the voice and the face would appear. He walked in during class, sat down in the midst of his classmates’ stares, gnashing his teeth as he clenched his fists and kept his head lowered.
(How long is this pain going to keep up. If something’s going to happen to Sora during this time.)
The more anxious he got, the voice ringing by his ears got louder.
—I’m sorry, please forgive your sister.
—I’m really sorry, Mitsu
And at this moment, a cheerful voice rang from beside.
“Akagi, I made these. Have a try.”
Before he knew it, it was lunch break.
He lifted his face, and found Honoka brandishing a cute red and purple bottle, smiling brightly.
It was rare that Honoka, who had been biting her lips lightly and fiddling with the phone, would talk to Koremitsu with such a cheerful look.
And her voice got louder.
“It’s soy cookies with added calcium. It’s a test, but I want you to try it out, Akagi.”
There were heart shaped cookies in the bottle.
“I’m full now, so forget about it.”
He turned his head aside.
“But seriously, you can at least eat one cookie, right?”
And so, she shoved the bottle towards Koremitsu.
“I really don’t need it.”
She had been looking at Koremitsu with a worried look till the prior day, fiddling with her cellphone. One had to wonder why she was being so enthused.
“Calcium’s good for emotional anxiousness. You’re always scratching your head, showing such a scary face, like you have a lot of stress piled up. It’ll be much better for you to eat this.”
Koremitsu understood very well the reason why Honoka would earnestly bake biscuits for him.
And the reason why Sora would continue to make things for the child in her belly.
However, the stinging pain in his chest just would not subside, and he did not want Honoka to see his unhappy face.
“I said I don’t need it!!!”
The moment he shoved the cookie bottle back, he accidentally knocked his hand on it, and the bottle slipped from Honoka’s hands.
The brown cookies scattered upon the floor.
The sound of the bottle hitting the floor caused all the classmates to stare at him. Michiru widened her eyes, and the others were giving Koremitsu berating looks.
“How cruel you are, delinquent.”
“What’s with you dropping Miss Shikibu’s cookies all over the floor?”
Everyone began to mutter, but compared to them and the now deformed heart-shaped cookies on the floor, Koremitsu’s heart chilled when he saw Honoka’s flabbergasted look, and at the next moment, his body seared.
What do I do now? Got to say something to Shikibu here.”
But the instant he was about to apologize, the image of his mother lowering her head, apologizing, spread within his mind, and his feet got wobbly.
—I’m really sorry, Mitsu.
(Nothing can be done even if I do apologize! Don’t apologize! Stop apologizing!)
Koremitsu could sense the stares of his classmates piercing through him. He could do whatever he wanted as he was always reviled by them, and just when he began to give up on himself.
Honoka said with a gloomy look,
“But I made these cookies to cheer you up, Akagi.”
And right when those words stabbed into Koremitsu’s chest like a knife, Honoka raised her right leg in a ripping manner.
“You can’t be showing a girl such an attitude! Akagi you idiot!!!”
And Honoka’s kick landed right at Koremitsu’s chin.
His mind became as white as snow, the impact ostensibly knocking his head off.
As he was large in size, he tumbled backwards, knocking into a few tables and chairs. The pain continued to linger behind him, and with some shockingly loud thuds, Koremitsu landed on the floor with his backside.
“Miss Shikibu’s scary!”
“She went that far?”
“She’s really scary.”
The classmates who were berating Koremitsu before this looked on with pale faces, staring in Honoka’s direction with terrified faces.
Honoka spun once and lowered her leg onto the ground, glaring at Koremitsu with her eyebrows raised; however, there were some tears to be seen in those eyes. She however looked away, went for the cabinet with the cleaning tools, and took out a broom and dustpan.
♢ ♢ ♢
“Miss Shikibu deliberately kicked you there. She let herself be the villain so that you will not be the bad guy.”
It was noon break.
While Koremitsu continued to look into the distance as he leaned on the roof’s railings, Hikaru too did likewise as he said this.
Hikaru’s slender hands were sinking deep into the railings, and the light brown hair gave a transparent, blonde glow when basked under the sun. The cooling breeze filled with the presence of autumn blew by gently.
Koremitsu bit his lips.
There was a footprint left at the lower chin where Honoka kicked him, and it remained obvious. It still remained hot, and painful.
(She kicked me without thinking.)
—Miss Shikibu’s scary!
Even after involving her classmates and raising her eyebrows stubbornly, Honoka swept all the cookies that dropped onto the floor.
And after that, she returned to her seat, scowling as she fiddled with her phone.
—She’s really scary.
Those were whispers she could somehow hear, but she merely pouted her lips and stared at the cellphone screen.
(Who’s the idiot here. You became the bad guy for someone like me.)
Koremitsu recalled the weak expression she showed in a fleeting instant after kicking him in the chin, and the moment his chest ached again.
A voice came from behind,
“I heard all about it~ You got kicked by Miss Shikibu or something~”
It was Hiina Oumi, aiming her cellphone camera at Koremitsu, giving a boyish, mischievous look as she stood there.
♢ ♢ ♢
(I kicked Akagi again…)
And in the backyard that was devoid of people, Honoka sat beside a flower bed as she ate her lunchbox alone.
Surely there would be curious looks and little chatters if she was to stay in the classroom. While that was nothing much, she would think of Koremitsu if she looked at the seat beside her, and would have the urge to cry.
“I got something on.”
She said that to Michiru, and left the classroom.
Michiru too was at a loss of what to do after witnessing Honoka do that to Koremitsu, and did not exchange looks with her, “Y-yes, I understand.” merely saying that before she left.
(The cookies were wasted like this.)
Her heart was crushed when she witnessed Koremitsu and Aoi meet outside the school, preparing to head somewhere after school.
(Am I no longer Akagi’s Heliotrope.)
After she got home, she sat on the swivel chair, cupping her knees. She was brooding as she hated being so indecisive, and began to bake cookies.
(It’s to be expected that Akagi has other girls he like. I just have to do what I can do.)
Recently, it seemed he was troubled by the child that was to be born. Perhaps he would feel a little better after eating those cookies.
But on the next day, Koremitsu arrived while class was still going on, and remained as despondent as ever, even the aura was simmering.
His face was scowling more than usual, and his expression unbearable as he gritted his teeth. Due to that utterly terrifying expression, not even the teacher dared to ask why he was late.
(Did something happen the previous day?)
She just could not let the matter rest no matter what, and tried talking with him using the cookies.
(But if I’m the one who dropped the cookies, Akagi’s the bad guy now…doesn’t that mean I haven’t helped him out at all.”
The sweet egg roll felt bitter.
“I fail as a Heliotrope…”
She muttered despondently.
Honoka looked up at the owner of the voice, and felt as if the egg roll was stuck in her throat.
(Her Highness Aoi!)
The adorable upperclassman had a neat white ribbon tied on her long black hair, and she had her hands clasped together above her knees, her face blushing.
“I-if possible, can we eat together?”
“Eh, ah, of course.”
She answered with a voice different from usual, and moved her butt to create some space. “Please pardon me.” Aoi gave a fly-like whisper as she sat down beside Honoka.
“Where’s your lunch, Your Highness Aoi?”
Honoka noticed that Aoi was not holding anything, and asked.
“Ah, I accidentally left it in class.”
And Aoi answered so bashfully.
“Please have some then.”
“No, you may continue on.”
“But you will be hungry if you do not eat something.”
“It is fine. Please do not mind.”
“In that case, have some fruit juice at least. There’s a vending machine there. I’ll go get something.”
“No, please allow me instead.”
And after such an awkward conversation that lasted for 5 minutes, but of them had canned drinks in hand as they sat at the same place.
Honoka was holding honey milk in her hand, while Aoi was holding sugarless coffee. The latter sipped the coffee she could not ake, and asked,
“Mr. Akagi was really strange yesterday.”
Aoi went with Koremitsu to look for a certain person, and went to the cafe that person worked at.
Over there, they met a petite woman who was around 40 years old.
And Koremitsu was greatly taken aback when he spotted that woman who resembled a typical housewife. That woman too was as shocked as Koremitsu.
But when that woman said “I don’t know him”, Koremitsu too yelled “I don’t know you either!!” and ran out from the cafe.
“I gave Mr. Akagi a few calls and messages, but he never replied. This is the first time such a thing happened, so I am very worried…I then heard rumors that you kicked Mr. Akagi down, Miss Shikibu…”
It seemed Aoi began looking for Honoka thereafter.
“A woman who’s around 40…! Isn’t that about the same age as Akagi’s mom? Maybe that’s Akagi’s mom!”
Koremitsu mother eloped with his homeroom teacher when he was in first grade. The grumpy looking old man once said this when Honoka visited the Akagis’.
(I can’t think of any other reason why Akagi’s so shaken.)
After explaining what happened to Aoi, Aoi’s face froze, and her eyes too became melancholic.
“…His mother left home when he was so young…”
“If that woman we met yesterday was Mr. Akagi’s mother, Mr. Akagi really is pitiful.”
Saying this, she grasped the sugarless coffee in her hands tightly, and lowered her head.
—She said that she did not know him, to Mr. Akagi.
A cold breeze blew by the shade, rustling the leaves of the forlorn trees in the garden.
Honoka’s heart ached again as she remained silent.
Even for her, hailed a love expert, did not know what she could do for the one she liked.
♢ ♢ ♢
Taking a nice photo of the footprint at Koremitsu’s chin, Hiina bent down, beaming.
Her busty chest dangled about, and one could clearly see the deep cleavage in the blouse with 2 of its buttons undone.
“Ahh, it really looks like it hurts. Looks like this mark will remain for a while. Now there’s a new chapter in the delinquent’s legend. Miss Shikibu definitely did this on purpose however.”
Once Koremitsu hissed despondently, Hiina stared back with some caution,
And then said that with a beaming face.
Then, she reverted back to her usual tone, saying,
“That college girl seemed to have vanished.”
Koremitsu was startled when Hiina suddenly mentioned Sora, and unlike her usual motor spiel of a tongue, Hiina continued on slowly,
“The child in her is Lord Hikaru’s, am I correct?”
Koremitsu remained silent with a scowl.
And sidelong, Hikaru stared back at Hiina with some caution.
“Perhaps she did not wish for the child to be raised as part of the Mikados. In that case, it may be better off for the child…if the reason for the disappearance is due to her love for the child, I think that is a good thing.”:
Hiina’s tone was rather serious, and the expression she showed Koremitsu all this while was so wise, it was troubling him.
“In this world, there are mothers who’ll go far away, give birth to a child in a public toilet, and abandon the child.”
In his shock, Koremitsu gasped.
Hikaru too widened his eyes.
“Well, that was to be expected.”
Hiina continued on calmly, showing some loneliness in her smile.
“Not all the mothers loved their children.”
Koremitsu’s heart was creaking away as he recalled his own mother.
—I can’t think of that child as cute in any way!
“I suppose that kid really was filled with vitality, as she was wailing out loud and gathered all the people here. That mother was found immediately, but she said she didn’t need this child, and so this child was sent to an orphanage. If it was a small town, everyone would know that famous child abandoned in an orphanage, and that child’s always called the public toilet. If she really stayed at that place, perhaps she really would be called a public toilet…”
Is that child maybe…
(Is that kid Oumi…?)
Neither Koremitsu nor Hikaru were able to say anything as they listened in on Hiina.
And Hiina, who continued to rattle on with an earnest expression, thawed.
Her face, eyes, mouth all relaxed.
“But brother came to find me. He’s really an amazing person. It’s a dream for me to have a family member like that. I had a feeling that I can do anything just for this person, that I can simply be with him, even if I can’t inherit the name of the family.”
It was a delighted, optimistic tone.
One could immediately understand how much she loved her brother from that voice and expression.
“I feel blissful, my breath probably able to stop immediately, when I simply think about how I have such a family member with me.”
And she ended off her words with a Kansai dialect. One had to wonder if she had noticed it.
It was a comforting, tender, wise tone.
Was that Hiina’s actual verbal style.
Koremitsu was taken aback by Hiina’s motorspiel of words, and the latter showed a riveted face as she said.
“If there is a choice to be loved by others or to love others, I’ll definitely choose the latter, because I’ll be happier this way.”
The words and that satiated smile slammed heart at Koremitsu’s heart.
The sun shining down basked upon Hiina’s boyish face, making her so dazzling.
Both Hikaru and Koremitsu were left bedazzled, envious as they looked at her.
♢ ♢ ♢
What I said just now was all a secret—Hiina said with an impish look before she left.
I only said it because it’s you, Mr Akagi.
Because I’m worried about you, Mr Akagi.
Do you believe all the words I said?
Ahh, no, you don’t have to answer me now. I’m just having expectations about you, Mr Akagi, so please remember.
The boyish eyes were smiling.
After school, Koremitsu and Hikaru were walking down the dirt path.
Both of them remained silent.
Surely, Hikaru too was pondering about the fluent words Hiina said in that Kansai dialect.
This day, and the one prior, were the worst days in Koremitsu’s life.
He met his mother again, and the truth he did not want to recall pierced through his body. Why was it that the wish he always had never heard? He just continued to suffer, unable to do anything.
Because of that, he could not accept the goodwill from others properly, made his family worry, and hurt Honoka.
Honoka again returned to her seat after the break, stubbornly raising her lips and eyebrows as she continued to fiddle with the cellphone.
She continued to stare at the screen, ostensibly unwilling to lose to something, and never looked over in Koremitsu’s direction once.
Koremitsu wanted to apologize to Honoka, but he didn’t know what to say at all.
(I guess…I’ll give Shikibu a little apology tomorrow.)
It was impossible that he would be the only unfortunate one in this world.
Surely, everyone would have their own troubles as they move on.
“Hey, Koremitsu, you should try smiling a little.”
Hikaru suddenly said.
It was a cheery expression of one excitedly telling him to go play at a game corner.
“I’ll pratice how to cry.”
Hikaru drifted from Koremitsu as far as he could, turned back, and called out to Koremitsu with his arms spread under the bright sunlight.
(Smiling practice, huh…?)
Perhaps that was a good thing.
And that goes too for things he could not do, yet try his hardest to do.
Even if he did come off as a fool.
“Okay, let’s try this.”
Koremitsu too sprinted down, ostensibly gliding down the grassy patch.
Hikaru answered with a smile.
“Stop grinning away, you. Try bawling your eyes out.”
“You too, Koremitsu.”
“Yeah, I’ll smile.”
“I will cry then.”
And with that stiff face of his, Koremitsu let out what sounded like a laugh.
Hikaru too contorted his face as he eked out an anguished.
Koremitsu’s eyebrows were trying their hardest to ris up, and his eyes were bloodshot, his lips stiff as he was unable to open his mouth properly.
No matter how many times he blinked or stopped his breathing, Hikaru tried to exert his throat and temples, but was unable to let out a single tear.
But even so.
They continued on with their laughing and crying practices.
“Hahaha, wahahaha, Hikaru, you look like you ate a dried plum or something.”
“Uuu, What about you, Koremitsu? You open your mouth and eyes so wide, you look like a dark demon lord.”
“Ahahaha, it’s difficult for me to relax my eyes like a smile.”
“Gh, uu, it feels like I am going to have hiccups, yet crying is so difficult.”
“Wahahahaha, if I open my mouth wide and practice very day, my face won’t be so stiff and soften, I guess.”
“Gh, uu, if I add chili powder into my eyes, will I be able to cry? But I never cried when I was cutting onions during a camping trip, uu.”
“Ahaha, ahahahaha, I think I got a cramp in my face. Wahaha, my saliva’s flowing out of my mouth.”
“U, uuu, I think I too snorted my nose too much the mucus is cming out. I am going to be teased by the girls.”
“Kukukuku, hey, runny nose king does fit you, kukuku.”
“Zuzu, in that case, I am going to call you the spit delinquent.”
While the world became clear before the sunset, an inexplicable period occurred.
One could sense the arrival of autumn, and they were squatted on the rustling grass as the chilly breeze blew by. They continued to face each other, making wrinkles on the tips of their noses, lifting their faces, opening their mouths as they made all sorts of expressions.
Surely, if any bystander was to see it, they would be deemed as lunatics.
(But isn’t this a good thing?)
Isn’t it nice to do stupid things with friends?
There was Koremitsu who could not smile, and Hikaru who could not cry.
And this duo met, forging a friendship, laughing and crying together; they could not do it well, but they were encouraging each other in their own clumsy ways.
Moving forward together.
Hikaru, who said that he ‘would never change’, was trying to change. Koremitsu, who assumed he would never smile in his life, was pulling his face, his eyes widening, practically popping out as he tried to smile.
They continued to practice while scenting upon the aroma of grass, basked in the atmosphere dyed golden.
And in the end, they laid on the grass field with their limbs spread wide, looking into the sky.
Koremitsu could see a vague light at the clouds, a thin red veil ostensibly covering this beautiful light red sky..
“Hahaha…my face and chin’s hurting. It’s really hard to laugh.”
“Uu…it is really, really difficult to cry too.”
“But I really want to laugh.”
“I really want to cry too.”
It would be great if he could earnestly laugh.
To smile to the most important people to him.
And it would be great if Hikaru could cry.
Koremitsu made a wish under the gradually darkening sky.
(It’s definitely not something that can’t happen.)
That was a wish that would definitely be fulfilled.
“So beautiful…now the riverbank is dyed pink under the sunset.”
Hikaru narrowed his eyes blankly.
And Koremitsu laid on the grassy patch in ease.
“It feels like the riverbank has become red leaves.”
Suddenly, Hikaru got up.
“What is it?”
Koremitsu too got up in response, and Hikaru yelled with an agitated look.
“Koremitsu, I think I have an idea as to where Sora is! Give Asa a call!”
“What was that about? Okay.”
Koremitsu drew the cellphone out from his pocket, and impatient dialled Asai’s number, yelling again,
“Asa, it’s your turn!”