“Be careful, Big Brother Koremitsu! Shiiko will be there later!”
It was the morning of the culture festival.
With the beaming Shioriko and the stoic Lapis sending him off at the door, Koremitsu got up earlier than usual.
Once he got to school, he arrived at the empty classroom.
He slipped on the ‘Special Security group’ armband he received from Asai.
And after that, he cautiously set the alarm of his cellphone.
“Okay, let’s go.”
And with that, he said that with vigor.
The culture festival of Heian Academy started after the fireworks display.
The high school, middle school and elementary school campuses had their doors opened to ticket holders, so that the latter would enter and marvel at the traditional school of elegance of the autumn roses blooming in the exquisite garden.
The school garden contained classic shops like crepes and takoyaki, and other items being sold included Sablés with candy on them, almond Florentine biscuits, raisins with crumples like the drapes of a skirt, plum-filled cakes—Gugelhupf, a western delicacy, Kiritanpo from Akita, and set meals of Okinawa’s soba noodles and purple yam. These were stalls rarely seen at a typical culture festival.
Furthermore, there were also classes who commemorated the premature death of the school prince Hikaru Mikado by having concerts for Lord Hikaru, love dramas themed after him, photo exhibitions of him, and even a school flower map themed ‘The journey of Lord Hikaru’s favorite flowers’. The festival was far livelier than it was in prior years.
“Mr. Akagi! As I said before, I’ll be collecting materials from you, so please take care of me!”
“Ack, you’re here!? But I’m really busy here!”
Koremitsu was squeezed amongst the school girls and some female visitors, jostling for ‘Lord Hikaru’s treasured photos’.
“Hey! Line up in fours! No cutting queues! You can’t buy them if you don’t have the numbered tickets!”
“It’s dangerous here, Oumi. Go over there!”
“I’m grateful that you’re worried about me, Mr. Akagi, but I’m already very used to such a situation.”
“Hey you, over there! Stop squeezing in! I told you to line up in fours! Ah damn it, the numbered tickets are gone! Hurry and get some more!”
“Mr. Akagi, I just got intel on my phone that there’s a student from another school fighting against one of ours in front of classroom 2-3.”
‘Please assist.’ Koremitsu’s phone too picked up the SOS request from the in-charge of the security group
He ruffled his hair, and found a waitress in an apron and another girl dressed in plainclothes.
“Kazu’s going out with me! You sly vixen!”
“You’re the only one thinking about that!”
They were volleying abuse upon each other as a catfight broke out. A member of the security team was sprawled on the floor, an eye swollen due to being punched.
“The ones fighting now aren’t guys, but girls now!?”
Hikaru gently whispered from above,
“Ah, the girl in plainclothes is of the cheerleader squad from Sakuragaoka High School, Miss Yumkia Kojima. She is like a Red Spider Lily, swaying along with the breeze with so much affection, but she really is an innocent girl at heart. Miss Yumika did ask me for love consultation, and we kept talking while riding on this good mood until the following morning…”
“She’s an ex of yours, huh?”
“The girl dressed in the waitress outfit is the second year, Miss Tsuru Ikenohata of the tea ceremony club. She does give off a distinct vibe of a Lily of the Valley. She was perturbed by her boyfriend’s casanova antics, and when she consulted me, she once—”
“Ack, the other one too!?”
Startled, Koremitsu butted into their argument, and spread his arms wide to pry them apart.
“Enough already, you two!”
He bellowed, snorting as a result.
For some reason, both parties shrieked.
They were crouching on the floor, shivering as they apologized profusely, and the girl in plain clothes hurriedly scurried away thereafter.
“I guess this is to be expected of you, Mr. Akagi, for settling this in an instant.”
Hiina then diverted her cellphone at him, taking a few photos. Koremitsu looked very conflicted.
“Ah, Mr. Akagi! We got two indecent guys at class 3-4’s ‘Japanese Festival House’, harassing a waitress and not leaving.”
Koremitsu dashed up the stairs, and ducked through the corridor as the crowd parted to the sides.
“Ohh, as expected of you!”
And Hiina too took a photo of this scene as she tailed him.
Upon arriving at the Festival House, he faced the 2 harassers,
“We still have people at the back. Do you mind leaving if you got nothing?”
“The 27th boss!!”
The two males shrieked.
It appeared they heard of Koremitsu in his pomp during middle school. Someone probably caused trouble for Koremitsu, and got punished heavily as a result.
“W-w-w-we got nothing!”
“Y-yeah, we’re getting ready to leave!”
With their backs arched, they snuck through the door.
“Don’t you dare woo girls in our school!”
“Ohh, the infamy of the delinquent king is off the charts!”
“You sent them running with a glare, Koremitsu! That is amazing! The legend of you defeating 10 delinquents with a single glare is really true!!”
Both Hiina and Hikaru marveled effervescently.
(I beat 10 delinquents with a single glare? Do my eyes look like they fire lasers or something?)
Surely Koremitsu was feeling very conflicted.
“Mr. Akagi, the intel this time is that there’s a little girl crying in the corridor of the courtyard!”
“Why is it that your cellphone’s receiving news faster than me!?”
“This is the result of me setting up my network far and wide!”
This time, they hurried down the stairs, and found a little girl sobbing away, shouting “mama mama!”. Koremitsu became her protectorate, and went around asking, “Does anyone know who’s the mother!?”
He put the girl on his shoulders without uttering a single word, and this caused the girl to cry.
“Mama! Save me!”
“Koremitsu, will it not be faster to use the PA system?”
“Mr. Akagi, this really is quite the interesting image, but maybe you should try broadcasting through the school?”
On the way to the broadcasting studio,
A young, glamorous looking mother came rushing over.
Koremitsu handed the girl over, and the mother embraced her tightly,
“Thank goodness. I heard that a boy looking like a terrorist abducted a girl, so I was wondering if it was you. I was so anxious.”
She rattled off,
“Sorry for having the face of a terrorist!”
“It has been a while, Miss Satomi. So this girl is Luna? She really has grown up. When I was dating Miss Satomi, Luna was still learning baby talk. Ah, Miss Satomi is as alluring as a Japanese Iris, one of the old girls of our school. The enthusiastic single mother raising little Luna alone does look cute panicking…”
“Another one of your girls!?”
Koremitsu roared. The mother was started, and the little girl hurriedly hid behind her,
“So-sorry to trouble you!”
Before lowering her head and scampering away.
“…Sure is nice to have a family.”
Hiina chimed in tenderly.
The raptured emotions slowly spread in her cheeks and lips.
And even though he was mistaken for an abductor, it did not matter to Koremitsu after seeing such a blissful look, whispering,
“Miss Satomi has yet to change. It really is great that she is still full of life.”
Hikaru too looked elated.
Hiina stared at her phone,
“You got work, Mr. Akagi. Lord Hikaru’s Premiere Bromide is already sold out. The ladies will yap if you don’t hurry with a new batch, or even start a ruckus—”
“Hey you, stop right there!”
Koremitsu bellowed as he dashed off to where he was first in-charge of.
And so, Koremitsu was scrambling around as a member of the security team, settling arguments, directing people, and even helping with his ‘Haunted House’.
There were lots of crowd around, perhaps, because the massive commotion the prior day became an attraction.
“I heard this maze was done in a day.”
“Eh, that’s impressive.”
“The words here look really intimidating.”
“Like Hoichi the Earless.”
The response was positive.
And once the walls turned, the cast dressed in white robes and words doodled over their faces appeared in front of them.
Shrieks could be heard.
Those words were written by Koremitsu early in the morning.
“Koremitsu! This is really, really amazing! Listen, there are more shrieks!”
“Stop getting excited and yapping away. You should have been used to that, right?”
A human soul made of red cellophane suddenly appeared from the set, holding a light that was swaying by the end of a rod, muttering this.
However, he really was a little delighted with that.
When Koremitsu returned to his position as a member of the security team, the boys in his class said coyly,
“Go-good work there, Mr. Akagi.”
Koremitsu himself felt elated.
According to Hiina’s report, Honoka was assisting the volleyball club in an exhibition match, and it was the climax.
“Our school representatives have cat ears on, and our opponents have dog ears.”
“What’s that about?”
“It’s the culture festival after all. Also, all the participants in the handball match later on have to wearing tiny miniskirts.”
“That’s no longer handball, is it?”
“Cute is justice.”
“Are you going to cheer her on? Mr. Akagi?”
“No time for that. Got to go for the Japanese Dance Club, and I still have lots of work as part of the security team. I guess I don’t have time for lunch at all.”
“Oh? This does seem a little different from my copy of your schedule today.”
“Some got sick and took leave, so the initial plan had some sudden changes.”
“Now that’s troublesome.”
“So I say, I can’t go watch the volleyball and handball matches.”
He noted as he cautiously stared at his watch.
“Really? That is a pity.”
“I do feel the same too. I have yet to see Miss Shikibu playing volleyball while wearing cat ears. Her legs are long and pretty, and if she is to play handball while wearing a miniskirt, the spectators will surely have some nice scenery to view.”
Hikaru probably was imagining that scene, narrowing his eyes as he said that. He then beamed heartily.
“Well, you do not have a choice anyway. You are everyone’s Koremitsu for today.”
Koremitsu continued to maintain a frown as he kept quiet.
♢ ♢ ♢
(Is Akagi helping at the classroom at this time?)
Honoka recalled the words Koremitsu said to her the day prior as she returned an exhilarating spike back to the opponent’s court.
(You said you like me, so why are you backing someone else…that’s so stubborn of him.)
You’re the one who said that I’m fooling around, but don’t just stand around and say that. Are you kidding me?
(I’m bothered too.)
Ever since Honoka entered this school in Middle School, Michiru was an important friend to her. And this Michiru, who too was inept at dealing with the opposite gender, and fell in love.
She did her best to change her appearance, for Koremitsu’s sake.
Honoka herself could not betray Michiru as the latter was.
Michiru however was being queer. Was she not getting along with Koremitsu?
Again, Michiru looked lethargic in the morning.
Even if anything earth-shattering was to happen, “Good morning.” she would greet others cheerfully.
However, she did not greet anyone on this day, and her face was pale as she lowered her head.
As Honoka herself was busy with her own matters, she could not involve herself.
(Sorry, Michiru. I lied to you. I like the same person.)
However, Honoka’s lovelorn might have been inevitable.
Before the match began, she met Aoi, dressed in a nurse uniform, at the beverage stand run by the Japanese Dance Club. Like Michiru, Aoi too looked lethargic.
Honoka did not ask what Koremitsu and Aoi talked about on the roof, but after seeing the somber look, she had a rough gist of it, and never tried to ask.
Surely, Koremitsu must have said something about a friend’s most important woman being off limits or something.
Surely, he was a foolish, obstinate, useless person.
(Akagi, I really want to tell you the truth, and even if I’m not the one liking you…I don’t want to be misunderstood by you. After hearing your explanation, I guess you never will give up easily in times of trouble.)
Honoka leapt high, and spiked down the tall lofting ball.
And then, she found herself to be hypocritical with what she said.
For Honoka herself did say some misconstrued things to Koremitsu and Michiru.
♢ ♢ ♢
(What is Mr. Akagi doing at the moment…)
Aoi blended the fruits, honey and milk together as she kept thinking about Koremitsu.
The beverage stand was clustered with queues, partly because the cosplay outfits of the Japanese Dance Club beverage stand was announced beforehand by the news club, and partly because of the expectations.
Honoka had to take part in the volleyball exhibition match, and took off her uniform off soon after wearing it. To make up for this regret, Tsuyako showed off her extremely alluring, tight fit miniskirt nurse uniform, causing the males crowding to fall heads over heels for her.
And Michiru, here to take Honoka’s place at the stall, was as gloomy as Aoi was. Tsuyako was the only one beaming away.
Aoi felt so incompetent and worried for leaving the entire stall to Tsuyako.
When the proposal to open the beverage stand was made, they all had their own duties assigned.
And even if it was for a little while, Aoi simply wanted to experience the culture festival along with Koremitsu.
But when she accidentally overheard Koremitsu telling Asai “Aoi is the only one I won’t love”, she felt so unbearable within, and even though she wanted to pretend nothing happened, she ran away crying upon seeing that Koremitsu was unable to calm down. On the next day, she again said some harsh words to him.
(I hate him…I never thought about that.)
She said she would never be able to like Mr Akagi or something like that.
(I do find…Mr. Akagi taking care of me tenderly, so I got callous, thinking that Mr. Akagi may be thinking about me now…when he said that he liked someone, I thought he was confessing to me…)
She was so ashamed.
Koremitsu was only taking care of Aoi on Hikaru’s behalf.
(Mr. Akagi was frowning hard on the roof. He looked really troubled.)
When Koremitsu frowned and reached his hands out to Aoi, she thought he was going to embrace her.
His face was really in pain, and he looked to be at his wits end.
But even if he did embrace her, it would be the same thing as when he embraced her during her birthday day, just a replacement for Hikaru.
(He was worried that I don’t have anyone to rely on, so maybe that was why he was taking care of me as Hikaru’s representative. This may be a burden to him…and that may be why he looked to be in so much pain.)
She could not bear to see Koremitsu should such an arduous look again.
And she did not want Koremitsu to give her an embrace in Hikaru’s stead.
That was definitely what she did not want to accept.
I really hate you! Aoi yelled.
(I have yet to mature even from the time when Hikaru was still alive.)
—I hate Hikaru.
She actually did love him, but was never able to be honest.
It was the same during the culture festival, when Hikaru gently asked her,
—Shall we go together?
—Hikaru, you still have a lot of people to accompany, right? Go out with them all you want. I hate philanderers.
She turned her head away, saying this.
And so, she regretted why she did not tell Hikaru that she really liked him, that he should not go with the other girls, and asked him to just focus on her.
If she could have told him that back then, even if Aoi was not Hikaru’s ‘most beloved’, but that he still liked her.
(Then it would have been the same for Hikaru back then.)
She not only caused trouble for Koremitsu, but also for his classmate Honoka. While Aoi was sobbing away, Honoka gave chase, and even encouraged her on the roof, saying ‘Akagi definitely likes you, Your Highness Aoi. Do listen to what he has to say’. At that point, Aoi was unsure of who exactly was the upperclassman.
(Miss Shikibu definitely likes Mr. Akagi too, but.)
She felt vexed within, and wanted to cry again.
“Aoi! Th-this attire…!”
She lifted her head upon seeing this shaken voice, and found her cousin, the 3rd year, Shungo Tōjō, staring at her.
Shungo was dumbfounded, the graceful etiquette and beautiful face ostensibly collapsed. He looked flustered and furious, his lips quivering a few times, wanting to say something as the emotions overwhelmed him. Finally, he was barely able to say something.
“Why are you wearing such an indecent attire?”
“…It is the clothing for the culture festival.”
Shungo was already languid, no longer able to maintain his overprotective attitude as he said nonchalantly,
“Should you not be wearing an outfit like hers?”
Shungo pointed at Michiru, and called her over.
Michiru was wearing a fluffy, one-piece nurse uniform with the skirt covering the knees. It was similar to the attire Aoi wore when working at the cafe, classic and cute in its own way.
Aoi herself wanted to wear that.
But in the morning, she requested to Tsuyako,
“I want to wear the same clothing as you and Miss Shikibu, Miss Tsuyako. There should be an additional outfit inside, right?”
The fitting clothes showcased the curves of her breasts and hips, and the skirt was only half as long as her thighs, so she was a little embarrassed.
But she regretted Koremitsu treating her as a child, and really could not stand the thought of always being in Koremitsu’s safety zone, wearing a frilly, cute uniform.
“Change it already! Argh, if only I came earlier! Now is not the time to handle the ‘Lord Hikaru movie exhibition’! I already said no to the plan, and objected to it, but the girls raised their hands, stating democracy—it is useless to talk about it now. More important, what is with your outfit, Aoi? You too, Tsuyako! Why did you not stop her? Did you make her wear this?”
Tsuyako relaxed her lips, perhaps perked by Shungo’s frantic attitude as the latter glared back.
“Calm down, Big brother Shungo. This has nothing to do with Miss Tsuyako. I wanted to wear this.”
“Wh-what did you say?”
Shungo began to panic incessantly.
“You really worry and complain too much. Please do not get in my way.”
Once Aoi harshly told him off, he looked completely bewildered.
“C-complain…Aoi says that, I complain too much…”
Shungo muttered away, lowering his shoulders.
Aoi wanted to chase him off, but a sense of guilt arose in her, and she felt gloomy within.
(I know that I want to dress up as mature as possible, but I am still immature within….)
She lowered her head, and then, there was a plastic cup of juice served with a straw.
“It is banana and blueberry juice mixed with honey. Hikaru used to love this combination.”
Tsuyako leaned over, and handed the juice over.
“Have a little break, will you not? You will feel your courage for love filling your chest. Trust me.”
She again caused Tsuyako to worry.
Till the end, Aoi remained so spineless and dejected; like an adult, Tsuyako said with a reliable voice,
“Hey, Miss Aoi. If Hikaru is still alive, and you did summon your courage to tell him ‘I like you’, perhaps I would have been lovelorn earlier.”
Aoi looked to the side, and Tsuyako was smiling away like a tender, poignant flower.
That smile was really alluring.
♢ ♢ ♢
“Where is big brother Koremitsu exactly?”
Shioriko, with a pink rucksack on her back and a grassy green pochette by her side, was looking around as she moved through the crowds of the culture festival.
She lied, saying that a classmate’s father would be accompanying them, and came to Koremitsu’s school alone.
Or to be precise, she came with a cat.
After putting on her shoes, Lapis approached Shioriko, appearing to wait for the latter as it looked back.
Shall we go? Shioriko asked, and once Lapis gave an aloof purr, the former placed the cat in the rucksack, and carried it along.
(If I’m going with a friend’s dad, I can’t go around freely; this is a rare chance to find out how big brother’s life is like in school. I need to promote myself to his classmates that he has such a cute future bride.)
A boy dressed in uniform approached the pretty girl Shioriko, saying,
“Is something wrong? Are you lost? Do you want me to help you find him?”
With a childish voice, Shioriko said,
“I’m looking for my big brother. He has red hair, and a scary face. It’s the first year, Koremitsu Akagi.”
“Ack! Akagi!! As in that delinquent king!? So-sorry! I got something on!!”
And so, he ran away.
The other students too scampered, muttering,
“Akagi’s little sister?”
“You’re kidding! Even if they’re dissimilar, there has to be a limit to that1′
“Wait, I think I saw this kid before!! Ahh! Isn’t that the elementary school girl whom Akagi had a scandal king!?”
“That’s the lolicon delinquent’s girl!”
“Woaahhh!! If we do anything to her, we’ll receive a one-way ticket to the hospital from him!!”
It seemed that Shioriko’s ambition to establish herself as Koremitsu’s wife in school was not something that could be easily accomplished.
“I’m called big brother Koremitsu’s woman.”
Her cheeks reddened as she giggled.
If she continue to ride the momentum and say that she was Koremitsu Akagi’s little sister, the rumors would spread, and the girls would shy away from him.
“But the problem is that I still can’t find him.”
Either way, she decided that she first had to head over to his class.
The rucksack on her back shook, and the seal was opened as a white cat popped out from it.
Lapis darted by the feet of the packed crowd with great agility.
“Ah! What is that?”
“Urk, a cat.”
“Hey, someone let a cat in!”
Voices could be heard from everywhere.
“What do I do now? Wait, Lapis!”
Shioriko gave chase, almost breaking down in tears.
♢ ♢ ♢
(Am I no longer someone important to Aoi?)
Shungo Tōjō was slumped in a chair in an empty classroom far from the buzz of the culture festival, his head lowered.
Aoi, whom he doted on like a little sister, chided him for being too nosy, and his mind went completely white.
His three older sisters, who were scathing in words and incorrigible in personalities, were saying “You keep calling Aoi here, Aoi there. That is disgusting.” “You have the rare prestige and appearance, and yet you started acting like a stalker for a female relative since middle school. If it is to be revealed, any woman will find it revolting!” “Leaving aside a love interest, you practically dote on her like a little sister. Are you celibate or something?” they kept ragging on him, and perhaps even Aoi too found him disgusting.
(No, am I no longer necessary not only to Aoi, but also to the Mikados?)
Compared to Asai, who took on Kazuaki and his mother Hiroka and sealed Kazuaki’s actions accordingly, he felt himself to have not grown at all, unable to defy his father.
He took in Hiina, whom his father gave birth out of wedlock, from the facility while keeping it a secret from him. It was a defiance to his father, and something beneficial to him when he had to deal with his father.
He decided that one day, he would surpass his father, and become an indispensable existence to the Mikados.
But in fact, when his father sided with Kazuaki, he was unable to do anything. The Shungo that would have said those words as his own person rather than being his father’s son did not exist at all. It was the same when he wanted to use Hiina for negotiations with his father. Shungo was unable to do that; at this point, he was still immature.
Should he be more flexible instead? Should he try to change his close-mindedness? On the way here, he wanted to ask the woman with long black hair and that posh, pretty back profile, but he never did.
(I guess I will never be able to be married.)
While he was mired in the darkness of his thoughts.
He heard a cat purr.
There was an elegant white cat in front of the door, standing there courteously.
It had blue eyes, and was an aloof, intelligent looking cat. Shungo felt that he met it somewhere before.
(I-it feels like…)
Shuno recalled that the cat Yū Kanai raised, and felt this cat to be similar.
That cat had the name Lapis, and it appeared to be raised by Koremitsu Akagi at this point. It was with his little sister Shioriko when they had the fireworks outing by the riverbank at the end of summer.
—Do you mind letting me hug?
The moment he said that, Shioriko glared back at him as if he was a lolicon. He hurriedly explained “No, I am referring to the cat in your hands.” , but Lapis slipped out from Shioriko’s clutches and escaped, possibly running away from him.
“Lapis hates you.”
Once Shioriko said that, Shungo was a little dejected.
After that moment, he recovered, and found Lapis tidying its fur by his feet. “Surely, this time…” he tried reaching his hand forward, and at that moment, he got stared at again.
He wondered if he was hated, and was very dejected…
That white cat, the same as Lapis, suddenly appeared in front of him for some reason. Those glass blue eyes were staring at him with an aloof look, approaching him without making any sounds.
It curled itself into a ball at his feet, and closed its eyes.
(I-I guess I can pat it this time. No, maybe it will run away again. I cannot pat it or hug it. Maybe it is fine for me to look at it from up close…)
He had a thought that the cat would run away if he twitched even a little. His breathing, let alone his body, stopped.
His lungs were gasping for breath, but he wanted to try out this little happiness, even if it was for a fleeting second. While he was conflicted with such a sour face, that white cat opened an eye.
It gently rubbed its face at his feet, looking annoyed as it stared at Shungo, who was all frozen.
Perhaps Shungo was dreaming due to the massive shock of Aoi ostracizing him.
No, surely there was a tender feeling coming from the sock on his right ankle.
While he was all rattled and confused, the cat did a little jump, and leapt onto Shungo’s knees, before curling into a ball again.
His knees felt heavy.
Yet it was such a blissful weight.
The white cat looked to have its eyes closed, sleeping on his knees.
(Perhaps it knows that I am dejected, so it came all the way here to console me?)
Upon thinking about this, Shungo became elated.
He stared at the cat resting on his knees with tenderness.
He could not move, and he was cautiously breathing, but even with the restraints hindering him, Shungo really treasured this little cat that was just like Lapis.
(Where is this cat from? It has a collar, so it does have an owner…if the owner does not show up, I wonder if I can bring it home.)
♢ ♢ ♢
“I-i-i-i-it has been a while, Mr Akagi!”
“You came by, Beni? You could have contacted me before you came.”
Koremitsu, manning the beverage stand of the Japanese Dance Club as an attendant, was dressed in a white coat and glasses with his back slouched as he talked to Beni Hitachi.
She was an acquiantance he met in the summer, and even now, they often exchanged messages. She had long, black glossy hair, was a pretty girl, had a nice figutre, and left many boys marvelling as they watched her from behind. When they peeked on her sidelong face however, they widened their eyes, and their bodies froze as they frantically averted them.
Koremitsu was already used to the common folk having such a reaction. He was focused on Beni herself, rather than the snake queuing in front of Tsuyako.
“That cute nose has yet to change, Miss Saffloer.”
Hikaru’s eyes sparkled as he said this. The name Saffloer was a secret identity between him and Beni. The latter’s unique red face too was someething Hikaru found to be extremely cute, and so did Koremitsu when she smiled, and the nose reddened.
“Mr-Mr Akagi, you said that you were busy be-because of the work you had in the culture festival, so…so I thought I should come over and look. Th-that is what they call cosplay, right? A doctor…? It is really scary.”
Beni, raised in a girl’s school, was not really used to speaking with boys. She still remained a little tense when facing and talking to Koremitsu.
“A-and then, Miss Tayu is playing in the volleyball match, so I came to cheer her on.”
“Tayu’s the Saffron, right? As for the volleyball match, I guess it’s the one where they have to wear dog ears?”
“Yes, it really does suit here. Sh-she lost the match, but it was really a close fight. I agreed to meet up with her later, an-and we are going to visit other stalls too.”
“I see. I’m really grateful that you’re here to see me. Will contact you through messages later.”
“Yes, I will send messages, too.”
Beni took a cup of juice Koremitsu prepared, waved her little hand in a bashful manner, again, there was a large empty space in front of Koremitsu.
He stared at the clock hanging on the wall.
(It’ll be a little while longer…)
“I will have a Mint and Banana juice with honey added.”
“Hello there, Mr Akagi.”
It was the intellectual girl who often frequented the cafe Aoi worked at, the one Hikaru dubbed as Miss Mint. She spoke to Koremitsu in a tranquil manner, and the latter widened his eyes,
“What a coincidence. You have an acquiantance in our school or something?”
“I suppose it is something like that. I am here to meet you, however.”
The transparent expression seemed to harbor some intent as they stared at him. When they met in the bookshop, she would stare at him in such a manner, and say some really interesting things.
“My master wishes to talk to you.”
In the face of such doubts from Koremtisu, the girl gave an earnest smile, and with her wise, stoic voice, she spoke slowly,
“The prettiest flower in the world, an angelic woman.”
Hikaru, standing beside Koremitsu, frowned.
“Miss Mint, you…”
Hikaru seemed perturbed, yet had affirmed something as he muttered. While skeptical about Hikaru’s words, Koremitsu listened in on him.
(Angelic woman? Who’s that?)
The girl placed a namecard on the table.
It was a simple namecard with only a mail address on it.
“If you are interested, please contact me.”
“Hey, wait. At least tell me your name!”
Koremitsu yelled, but the girl left without looking back.
Hikaru watched the girl leave from behind, and seemed to be pondering about something.
Koremitsu too picked up the namecard the girl left behind, wondering,
“Can I really send a message to this address? I won’t end up on some strange website, right?”
“Really, Mr Akagi, I cannot underestimate yuou after seeing two female acquiantances approach you.”
Tsuyako cheerfully served the hordes of customers as she turned her face to him, teasing him, and winking,
“It really is great that Miss Shikibu and the rest are not around.”
“That’s not the case, senpai.”
“I see. But you did keept that namecard in your pocket, no?”
“I can’t just throw it away.”
“I will keep it a secret. If there is any development, do let me know.”
“I said that isn’t the case already.”
While Tsuyako snickered away, Koremitsu sharply retorted back,
The cellphone alarm, which he had set beforehand, buzzed.
It was 3pm.
“Good work there, Mr Akagi. You can head back to rest. Miss Shikibu should be here soon, or perhaps you want to see her in the nurse uniform? You have yet to meet Miss Shikibu and Miss Aoi today, no?”
Koremitsu’s heart tightened when he recalled Honoka’s tearful, furious face and Aoi’s fleeting look,
“No, gotta go.”
But he answered as he took off his coat.
After this, the final, and most important activity awaited him.
He ruffled his hair, reverted back to his usual look, and shot down the corridor.
And he took off the armband.
“Leave it to me.”
He answered the floating friend beside him with a vigorous voice, darting towards the chaotic crowds.
♢ ♢ ♢
When was it that she first developed the habit of coming to this tree whenever she encountered something depressing？
She was at the Cupid statue in the backyard of the middle school branch. Surely no one knew the name of the tree growing at the back, bearing the refreshing white flowers and the scent of May.
It was not as extravagant as a Rose, as alluring as a Cherry Blossom, and as neat as a Lily.
The ordinary white flowers silently bloomed as they hid themselves in the lush green leaves.
The sight of the flowers wilting were not as dramatic as that of a Cherry Blossom; the flowers merely fell silently and gently in a forlorn manner.
Whether it was Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter, the lush leaves continued to grow throughout the year, and it was the best for an elementary schoolgirl to hide herself. For the middle school student Michiru, it was her favorite place.
—The older sister are really outstanding, but Michiru really is normal, is she not?
Michiru was already used to being compared to the sister older than her by three years.
Whether it was games, conversing with friends, or greeting her seniors, she wanted to be proficient with them, and the more she did not want to fail, the more her body became stiff, and her voice became shrill.
But even so, she did her best to engage in conversations, her limbs flailing about. Everyone else merely snickered, saying,
—Michiru really is weird.
—When I told her to help me do the next duty rost, she stammered and answered ‘Y-yes, thanks.’
—Did she not understand what it means? I was just shoving the work to her, and yet it feels like she had to say thanks first.
—Ah, yes, there are many instances of her being like this.
Michiru did not know exactly when some words were appropriate, and what words she should say so as not to be mocked.
She was unable to converse with the classmates successfully, and if she kept doing this, would she be mocked by them? Would the teachers and her parents lament that while her sister was outstanding, she was spineless? Michiru became tentative.
But even so, though she could lock herself in her room at home, she could not do that ijn school.
Whenever they played dodgeball in PE class, did group research during science classes, or when she recited in front of everyone during language classes, these were all things she was inapt at.
Whenever she failed, she could hear everyone else in class laughing, ostensibly mocking her, and was embarrassed as a result. She would then run to the tree in the backyard, and cup her knees in as she hid there.
She was comforted by the thick green leaves that formed a layered foliage, solaced by the white flowers that bloomed in the beginning of summer.
In a particular instance during summer, she came to school early in the morning, before anyone else did, and took down a branch of the white flowers, placing it in the classroom vase.
Nobody knew of the white flowers that bloomed so healthily, and she wanted to let everyone in class know.
Perhaps someone would like this flower.
—Eew. I made the effort to get a Rose from my house, but there seems to be something placed in it.
—Eh? What is this flower?
—I don’t know. I think the Rose Mayuka brought is prettier.
—:Let’s throw it away.
The girls in the class grabbed the branch and threw it away, and Michiru watched on with the feeling that she was ‘unwanted’.
Please, don’t throw it away.
It’s unimpressive, but it’s a pretty flower.
And it does give off a nice scent too.
Stop. She wanted to say so, but she never did, for she feared that she would be mocked again. Just when the tears were about to well in her eyes.
—This is called the Tachibana.
There came a tender voice reminiscent of a sweet, fragrant flower..
The girls were suddenly elated, for the one speaking to them was Hikaru Mikado.
Everyone did say that even amongst the students in the middle school branch of Heian Academy, who were all from rich families, he in particular was of an exceedingly prestigious family.
Also, his white skin, cute effeminate face, and dazzling golden hair under the light made him just like an angel.
No matter which girl it was, their faces would redden whenever they met Hikaru, and they were captivated by him, wanting to be with me. Since the affiliate kindergarten, there were girls surrounding Hikaru, centered around him, beaming happily.
Michiru found herself to be a foreigner to him, an existence far from hers.
Such a notion never changed ever since she entered the middle school and was assigned to a class. No, after seeing Hikaru’s slender limbs, the speckless white skin and the cute beaming face, she felt that he was of a completely different level compared to her.
Surely, Hikaru would have felt Michiru was not someone he would not stop and offer his time for.
Perhaps he never did notice the girl with the name Michiru Hanasato in his class.
Yet that Hikaru knew of the name of the unimpressive flower from the backyard, which nobody else knew of.
While the morning sun shone in through the window, he stared at the flower delicately, opened his petal-like lips, and smiled sublimely.
—I really do like this flower. It is cute seeing how conservative it is, and really looks full of life. It appears to give off a memorable sent.
The rich, sweet voice he used to say this made Michiru cry more than before, but this time, it became tears of joy.
There was someone who knew of that flower’s existence!
He called it cute and energetic, and says that he liked it!
Her heart was pounding furiously, and her face sizzled.
—I suppose we can put the Rose Miss Mayuka brought in another vase. Surely the janitor uncle will give another one to use if we asked him.
He placed his hand on the classmate’s, and that girl in particular went beetroot.
—I-if you say so, Lord Hikaru. I too do find this flower cute.
And so, the other girls agreed, saying, “me too.”, “I too do find this fragrant”, chatting away.
Though the girls never did show much concern to those Tachibana flowers.
Until the white flowers wilted, Hikaru kept staring at them every single day with sonority, and he narrowed his eyes blissfully as he brought his innocent face closer to the flowers.
Michiru’s heart pounded as she watched him since then.
Ever since, Hikaru became her prince.
There were many glamorous girls surrounding Hikaru, beaming as they came to him. Michiru however had a dream, wondering if one day, Hikaru would smile at him just as he smiled as he approached the flower.
Yes, like the soot-riddled Cinderella becoming a beautiful princess, and then becoming the bride to him.
Would he place the glass slipper beside her, saying “I have been looking for you”?
Hikaru did once say that the Tachibana flowers were cute in how conservative they were.
And so, Michiru’s heart became clearer as a result.
In the middle school, there was a rumor that those that made their love confessions under the Cupid statue in the backyard would end up as an eternal couple.
During the culture festival in their 9th grade, Hikaru placed rings made of Pansies, Nadeshiko flowers, annd Cosmos as he swore love with them.
—I swear that I will forever be in love with you.
On that day, Michiru too had her knees cupped as she hid behind the Tachibana treee.
Hikaru was making love oaths to girls, not to Michiru herself, and the dizzying admiration and heartbreaking pain struck her as she peeped on them.
Hikaru’s slender hands plucked the flowers to make rings, and they were alabaster and pretty.
The moment they were plucked, the flowers too squealed in happiness, ostensibly quivering.
I too wish to be plucked so tenderly.
Nobody could see her, and they would not scatter due to the cold breeze. If they scattered in those fingers.
If he could make an oath of love,
If I have a pure, exquisite heart like Cinderella, when would Lord Hikaru notice me?
Will he hold my hand and slip a ring on me?
If that case, surely the Tachibana flowers would not wilt so forlornly.
During the next summer, she would not be alone. She would probably be viewing the Tachibana flowers with Hikaru.
She did her best during the work nobody else wanted to do.
She never slacked off, made a fuss, nor complained about it as she maintained a beautiful heart.
But by the time she noticed it, she realized that nobody called Michiru by her name.
That was what they called her. She would continue to do such troublesome matters without hassle, and that meant that she was an easy picking for odd jobs.
—I think you should be the class rep.
—Class rep, I’m busy here, so please help do these too.
—The class rep will finish everything anyway, so it’s fine to go back.
But even so, Michiru could not do anything other than to work hard. She accepted all that she was tasked with.
She could not grumble.
Surely, if she worked hard, she would be able to gain happiness.
One day, people would find the scent of Tachibana flowers and the beautiful souls they contained to be more better than the Roses, Cherry Blossoms and Lilies.
Hikaru was the school prince from the moment she entered the middle school, and one had to wonder when exactly did they start calling him Lord Hikaru.
It was impossible that such a pretty, glamorous, special person would choose a plain bespectacled woman like Michiru.
It was painful for her to return to reality and think of those matters; whenever the girls began to talk about him, she practically escaped from them. Whenever the girls surrounded Hikaru in the corridor and passed by, she would make a detour.
But occasionally, reallyh occasionally, if she found Hikaru alone, she would hide herself in a corner of the corridor, not wanting to be discovered by him as she stared at him.
Please, hurry and notice me.
Please show your smile to me.
She kept repeating those words.
However, Hikaru fell into the riverbank during Golden Week soon after he entered the high school affiliate.
“It’s 3pm now…ah.”
Michiru was seated at the counter in front of the haunted house, staring at her watch as she muttered. The other girl in charge of the counter vanished as she went to meet her boyfriend from another school.
“If it’s you, you can do it, class rep.”
“Y-yes, I don’t have any plans, personally.”
With a frozen smile, Michiru watched the girl hold hands with her boyfriend as she departed, saying with a sweet voice “I want some cotton candy. Let’s go do some divination for our compatibility later~’
(There’s still 2 hours until the public opening ends…)
The people passing by in front of her were either friends or lovers, looking elated. Michiru herself was alone, steated at the chair, and nobody noticed her.
The chatter and whispers filling the corridor pricked her skin like needles, and her heart chilled.
In her damp eyes, there appeared a fleeting figure of a white flower wilting gently, one nobody else knew of.
Little by little.
It looked so forlorn, so tragic.
(Not this year too…)
Whenever the culture festival approached, she would recall the image of Hikaru presenting the flower rings to the girls in front of the Cupid statue, and herself peeping on them under the Tachibana tree.
Surely, this time, she would be like them. She harbored such expectations, only to depspair.
During May this year, when the Tachibana flowers began to bloom, Hikaru passed away, and this became an eternal despair.
The white flower wilted without a sound, and, and she hid herself in the middle school backyard as night approached, cupping her knees as she basically mourned the death of that beautiful, dazzling girl. Nobody else would say the name of the Tachibana flowers ever again! That gentle boy really died!? A piercing pain struck all over her, and she felt the realism.
Just when she wanted to give up on numbing her heart and forget that despair, to continue living those days that would never change—
Koremitsu himself said that Michiru was just like a Tachibana flower.
He had crimson red hair, his eyes were as terrifying as a savage dog, and his verbal etiquette was crude. Her legs would quiver whenever he glared at her.
And yet that delinquent with the terrifying face, Koremitsu,
He called her by the name nobody else did, and with a straightforward expression, he said.
—You’re like the Tachibana flowers. You’re plain, but you have a gentle memorable fragrance. I think that’s very good.
It felt as if Hikaru came to fulfill the promise with Michiru, and possess Koremitsu’s body to return.
Since then, the image of Koremitsu and Hikaru’s expression overlapped, something she had never thought of before. Her heart quivered silently, as Koremitsu’s words were like a spell cast on her.
Just as Cinderella changed her dress and put on the glass slippers as she went off to the ball, Michiru too undid her braids and removed her glasses.
And appearing in the mirror was basically a completely different person.
—Wow, what’s with this out of a sudden. You’re cute, rep.
—You’re unexpectedly pretty. Class rep
It was the first time her classmates actually lavished praise on her.
This surely was the Cinderella spell. She spaced out, thinking that she could finally choose the prince belonging to her.
But Koremitsu was only worried about Aoi or Honoka, and never paid any heed to Michiru. The classmates too did say “Her appearance did improve a little, but she’s the same as usual inside. She really can’t read the mood, can’t hold conversations well, and anyway, she’s just fussy.”
If she was not chosen by the prince, the Cinderella spell would surely be broken.
As she recalled how Koremitsu made requests and bossed his classmates around, her throat was breaking apart, and her heart was wincing in agony as it struck her like a thunderstorm.
Surely Koremitsu too did not need Michiru’s help, and Michiru would never appear in his sights.
Again, this year was a no go!
She would again be in that place the next year, watching the Orange flowers wilt!
She watched the forlorn flowers wilt, and the lonely cuckoos that were similarly lonely. No matter how they chirped on, nobody would approach them. The red thing in their mouths was due to them practically coughing blood as they chirped, but even so, the only one willing to watch the white flowers wilt was that one winged cuckoo.
The petals were falling silently as Michiru sat on the chair, her body shrinking in pain and sadness.
The white petals fall one by one, like the glow on a firefly.
They glittered one by one.
No matter how forlorn and lonely they were, it felt that they would be alone as they wilted right in the middle of where the other Tachibana flowers wilted.
Surely that was the case, and that she would remained alone there. She always thought of herself as lonely, hearing the lonely cuckoo chirps as she whispered with a trembling voice,
“The cuckoo in the village where the orange blossoms fall sings and sings on many and many a day.”
In my orange blossoms, nobody else can come in other than me.
In my orange blossoms, nobody will respond to the cries of the cuckoo, except me!
At that moment, she heard a voice.
She looked over at the white blossoms that glittered and wilted, and there was a clear, vigorous voice from there.
Over there was her classmate with messy red hair and a sharp glare.
Koremitsu Akagi grabbed Michiru by the hand, saying,
“Let’s go for a culture festival date!”