Honoka said it.
There was no ambiguity and no hesitation as she said this to Koremitsu with an honest expression.
“I like you, Mr Akagi ”
And Hikaru’s fiancee, Aoi, too said that said with such fervor in her eyes.
The culture festival ended, and in the classroom where all his classmates had left, Koremitsu was cornered as he received the synchronic confessions of the girls.
And at that moment, the girl, his first love who departed to Australia, texted him,
“In a few days, I will be visiting Japan.”
And Koremitsu was completely stupefied as he looked down at the phone.
His face, and even his hair remained still as he stood there, not twitching his head or fingers at all as his body was practically taken for granite.
Both Honoka and Aoi were staring intently at Koremitsu at this moment, causing his gut to wince. They were awaiting his reply.
This boy, dubbed a wild dog with savage eyes even till his high school days, was always shunned by everyone else, and notably, had no experiences of talking with girls.
Yet at this point, he got two confessions at once!
(What do I do at this moment!?)
This was the moment where he really needed the earnest advice of this friend of his who was so completely different, always receiving confessions from girls.
But no matter how Koremitsu tried to turn his head towards Hikaru, the latter was not betraying a hint in the slightest. This was the moment where this ghost friend drifting above his head would come in handy, yet Koremitsu could neither see his face nor hear his voice. One had to wonder what expression Hikaru was showing now that Koremitsu had confessions from two girls, one of them being Hikaru’s ex-fiancee
Having thought of this, Koremitsu wondered if it was a form of cruelty to ask Hikaru for help.
(But I can’t possibly settle this by myself!)
Sunset had already passed, and the outdoors was dyed ink as the second hand of the clock could be heard ticking in the classroom filled with suspense.
Cold sweat trickled down Koremitsu’s back as his gut winced, and his breathing got so heavy one had to wonder if he was being suffocated.
Either way, as a man, he had to say something, and his dried lips hissed a suffocated bellow, causing both Honoka and Aoi to gasp.
The palm holding the cellphone was sweating away as he exerted more force into gripping it. Just as he was composing his words—
A young lady with long black hair tied in two tails suddenly barged into the classroom with tears in her eyes.
Shioriko Wakagi, the non-blood related little sister living in Koremitsu’s home, quickly darted by Aoi and strode past Honoka, before staring at Koremitsu.
The latter inadvertently backpedalled, sensing that Shioriko was faulting him for being caught in this dilemma with two girls confessing to him in unison. however, he saw the two trails of tears trickling down those rosy cheeks.
“Woah, wh-what now?”
“WAAAAHHHH!! BIG BROTHER KOREMITSUUU!!!”
She raised her voice, bawling away.
The situation seemed dire, and even Hikaru, who became one with the wind, leaned his body forward,
“What is the matter? Shiiko? What happened?”
In other words, this was not the usual crocodile tears.
“Sobs, he-he took it…”
She buried her petite face into his chest, whining away. At that moment, Koremitsu raised his eyebrows.
“What now? Hey, speak to me, Shiiko!”
And while Koremitsu was shouting in exasperation, the 3rd year Shungo Tōjō appeared. It seemed he was giving chase after Shioriko, and he yelled, panting furiously
“Wait!! I really do apologize for hurting your young heart, but it just happened to be an inevitable coincidence. No, looking at how I actually wanted to resist, this really is fate!”
Once he showed that hapless look on his face, he noticed the presences of Koremitsu and the others, “Uuh…!” and was left speechless at the classroom entrance, tensing up.
In response to Tōjō’s appearance, Aoi’s face paled as she gave him a chiding look,
“Big brother Shungo…what happened here? Did you…”
Honoka too raised her voice,
“Mr Tōjō, you robbed Shiiko of her—”
Shioriko herself got increasingly shrill in her wailing, lamenting hoarsely,
“B-big brother Koremitsu, he-he took tha-that precious thing of mine!!”
“That…I thought Mr Shungo would be someone serious and still a virgin into his 3rd year of high school.”
Sweat trickled down Hikaru’s face.
Basked in the condescending looks from Aoi and the others, Tōjō shook his head furiously, his eyes widened as he rambled.
“Th-that is not it! It is a misunderstanding! Surely I will not force an elementary schoolgirl. Well, she first sat on my lap. I-I’ll bear responsibility for this! I will not cause her any inconveniences in life, and I will make her happy—”
Tōjō bent forward as he approached everyone, and Koremitsu shielded an uneasy Shioriko behind him, saying,
“What the hell!! What did you do to my little sister!!!?”
He instinctively unleashed a clenched fist right at Tōjō’s face.
Bam! With such a sound, Tōjō, whose body was larger and taller than Koremitsu, was sent flying backwards, and Aoi and Honoka squealed.
His backside tumbling on the floor, Tōjō’s radiant black hair was ruffled.
“!! I do apologize for causing your little sister to cry! But I will not give up on this!”
“Shut up! I won’t hand Shiiko to you!”
“Please! Let me keep Lapis!”
Koremitsu let out a skeptical voice, and Hikaru too muttered in surprise,
Honoka and Aoi too looked at each other.
“Lapis, as in the cat Shiiko brought along for the fireworks?”
A smart white cat elegant strode into the classroom as she let out a cool voice. She then jumped onto Tōjō’s knees, patting the front paws as she practically dominated what appeared to be her resting place, curled her tail and closed her eyes.
(Why is Lapis in this school? Did Shiiko bring her along? Wait, Tōjō just talked about wanting Lapis handed to him. Does that mean that what Shiiko’s robbed off…is Lapis!?)
While Koremitsu remained dumbfounded, Shioriko stood by the side, staring at Lapis furiously as the latter curled itself on Tōjō’s lap, bawling,
“Lapis, you cheating heart!!!!”
♢ ♢ ♢
Several hours after the commotion,
Koremitsu was sitting cross-legged on the tatami in his room, frowning away.
Shioriko, having worn herself out bawling away, placed her little head on his thighs, her slender fingers gripping firmly at his pants, her closed eyes still seeping tears.
Masakaze and Koharu were extremely worried when they got home, wondering Shioriko, who went to the culture festival, was able to return home safely. Once they learned that Shioriko lied and went to the culture festival alone, they frowned, wanting to lecture her. However, they just let the matter slide after seeing her bawl so furiously.
Upon learning that Lapis was to be living with someone else, Masakaze glumly stated, “See? Women are creatures that just like to walk out like that. Even cats apply too.”
Tōjō cautiously held Lapis in his chest and brought her home, saying,
“I’ll definitely make her happy. I’ll report her situation to everyone and send photos of her here. You can come over to visit her however you want. Whenever you need her around, give me a call, and I will send her here.”
He was forced into such a solemn, old-fashioned declaration, but was still unable to convince Shioriko, and the latter blurted with teary eyes.
“I hate you, I really do…you pimp.”
Shioriko had strong feelings for Lapis. Having lost her only kin, her grandfather, when she first visited the Akagis, Shioriko was accompanied by the haughty Lapis sitting on her knees from time to time, licking Shioriko’s hands and spending the time with her. She would not hand Lapis over and anyone else, even if it was Koremitsu.
But Lapis was originally a stray cat, and as Masakaze had said, it was not unexpected for her to vanish just like that. Koremitsu himself too had this premonition, and since Lapis decided not to leave Tōjō and elope with him, even Koremitsu had no say in stopping her.
The tears kept dripping down Shioriko’s face once they got home, not drying up for a single moment.
“I don’t care about Lapis anymore. I-I just need big brother Koremitsu now. I won’t let Lapis in even if she does come back.”
Shioriko kept the facade as she wept, and Koremitsu could only wipe off her tears with his fingers and a handkerchief.
“It really has been a tough day, Koremitsu.”
Shioriko shrank into a ball and closed her eyes, still snivelling away, and Hikaru muttered as he watched her with a melancholic, tender face.
Koremitsu glumly agreed as he wiped off the tears gathered by Shioriko’s eyes.
He assumed he could relax once the culture festival had ended, only to receive confessions from both Honoka and Aoi, and even Yū who was overseas sent a message stating that she would be returning…
“Now then, what do you intend to do, Koremitsu?”
Hikaru’s words again caused Koremitsu’s gut to sink, and the former again spoke with a serene tone,
“Whose words move your heart best, Miss Aoi, Miss Shikibu, or Yū?”
Koremitsu was inadvertently left speechless, gritting his teeth firmly. He then stuttered, uttering his true thoughts.
“—Well, I-I do find Aoi cute, and I think of Shikibu as a good woman. As for Yū, well, she’s my first love. I don’t know who to choose even if you ask me to choose now.”
“How about going out with all three? —I suppose that is impossible for you.”
With Koremitsu glaring at him, Hikaru could only raise his hands and sigh.
Of course, you harem prince of a ghost.
Koremitsu shrugged his shoulders as his head drooped. His mind was as erratic as one hunted down by savage-eyed mongrels. There was no way he could get an answer while being anxious, and his shoulders stiffened, his ears searing.
He continued to look down, letting out a despondent sigh.
“…Is it really okay for me to go meet Yū like this?”
One head to wonder when exactly was the ‘soon’ in Yū’s message. Would he be able to give an answer by then?
It was just a while back when Koremitsu showed weakness to Hikaru as he harbored gloom, saying that he wished to meet Yū again. Back then, his body was searing with the desire of wanting to meet Yū, who was far beyond the seas.
From the moment Yū sent the message “I hope to meet you again” however, Koremitsu was anxious as to whether he should be meeting her.
He was simply left in a panic after receiving confessions from girls, and could not comprehend his own feelings, let alone give a proper reply. Was it really okay for him to meet Yū in such a gaudy state?
“Argh, damn it, damn it…”
Koremitsu blushed as he muttered away, and Hikaru burst into giggles.
“Wh-what’s with you? What are you laughing at?”
He lifted his head in protest, and Hikaru narrowed his eyes, beaming,
“Sorry. I do find it somewhat refreshing to see you so frustrated and saying such dejected words, Koremitsu. It is amusing to see you, well, perhaps I can call this…a gap moe? Girls will be mesmerized seeing you like this. Ah, how cute you are.”
“To hell with that! You stupid ghost!”
But even though Koremitsu lashed out at Hikaru, his fury would not last for long.
Upon hearing Shioriko grumble in her nightmares while resting on his thighs, Koremitsu hurriedly hushed up, gritted his teeth, and lowered his eyes, muttering,
“I’ll be really troubled.”
Hikaru then descended in front of Koremitsu, staring at the latter as he beamed,
“Why yes, any bystander will be able to tell. As a friend,I shall impart this advise to you. Do not overcomplicate matters and go meet Yū. Perhaps you may be able to get an answer.”
The rich voice was filled with comfort and encouragement.
And just like his words,his expression was cheery.
There was still doubt lingering in Koremitsu’s heart.
But with his friend’s words encouraging him, Koremitsu fished out the cellphone from his pocket, and with his clumsy fingers, tapped a reply to Yū,
“I’ll be waiting.”
♢ ♢ ♢
“So, you finally managed to tell Mr Akagi that you ‘like’ him, Hono? That’s really great!”
Once the culture festival celebratory event ended, Honok and Michiru bid farewell to the classmates who were going to party together again, instead arriving at a family restaurant.
Koremitsu could not attend the party.
—Eh, Akagi had to go home because of personal reasons.
Honoka played the message Koremitsu recorded on the cellphone.
“Sorry! I’m really grateful that you guys would invite me, really grateful! I just had something really important going on now!”
Shioriko’s wailing could be heard behind Koremitsu “Waahh!! You cheating heart! I hate you!”. The classmates were left dumbfounded, and they were muttering away.
“Eh, yeah…I guess it’s that kind of an urgent business.”
“I think it’s a little girl crying there. Is Mr Akagi a lolicon after all?”
“Eh? Akagi’s not going out with prez?”
“Yeah yeah. I heard that they held hands and went out for a date or something.”
“I heard that she fed Akagi some takoyaki.”
Michiru smiled as she responded to the classmates’ words.
“That’s not it. Mr Akagi’s very kind. He just wanted to accompany me back then.”
Again, she showed Honoka a smile, indicating to the latter not to mind about it.
“Well, for me, I always wanted you to convey your true thoughts, Hono. Thanks to Mr Akagi, I was able to bid farewell to the person I like.”
Michiru’s voice came from the other end of the table, her eyes filled with grit and composure. She was a lot more matured, a stark contrast to back then when she would act flustered whenever the two girls were alone.
Michiru stated that she liked the Hikaru Mikado who fell into the river during Golden Week, and that she merely transferred the feelings onto Koremitsu. Thus, Honoka she did not to be worried about her.
Koremitsu and Hikaru were so different in personalities, so Honoka could not understand what Michiru for merely treating Koremitsu as Hikaru’s replacement.
But the matter was that Michiru was able to convey to Honoka how Michiru was really grateful to Koremitsu, and how she was able to mature due to his actions.
“It’s because of me that you weren’t able to speak to Mr Akagi, Hono. it may be shameless of me to say this now, but I really wish that you can patch things up with me. I do think that Mr Akagi really does like you. When both of you weren’t talking to each other, Mr Akagi was still worried about you.”
Touched by Michiru’s revelation of the truth, Honoka returned a smile, saying,
“Thanks, I’ll try my best.”
But once she recalled the frozen face and anguished expression Koremitsu showed during the confession, her heart just winced.
(Akagi…seems worried about how he’s going to reply Her Highness Aoi and me. From whom did the message come from anyway?)
His shoulders simply jerked the moment he saw who sent the message, and he was staring at the phone.
The bitterness could be clearly seen from those eyes—
(I like Akagi. I won’t try to hide these feelings again, and I won’t try to fool myself again. If my love for him is causing him pain however, what do I do?)
There was a lingering ache in her heart.
(And if Akagi chooses Her Highness Aoi…)
Just thinking about it was enough to cause pain and searing heat deep within Honoka’s head, her heart wincing in agony. Suddenly, her phone buzzed.
It was an anonymous message.
(Another of those again?)
Honoka frowned, wanting to delete the message, but once she saw the title, her face froze.
♢ ♢ ♢
At this moment, Aoi too was embracing her beloved cat, Shell Blue, immersed in her memories as she laid on the bed.
She vented her frustrations on Shungo, who sent her home,
“Big Brother Shungo, are you more concerned about Lapis than me?”
Shungo stared at the white cat with lapis colored eyes, which Koremitsu passed on to,
“O-of course that is not something that can be compared…! You are still my precious little sister, but I managed to get Lapis after begging, so I have a responsibility to take care of her! I hope that you will allow me to research on making a healthy menu for Lapis while I make some of your favorite Souffles.”
He frantically excused himself,
“It does not matter. I prefer Shell Blue over you, Big Brother Shungo.”
And with that cold retort from Aoi, his shoulders were slumped dejectedly as he returned home.
Aoi regretted venting her erratic rage at Shungo, and even though she did so, it did not eliminate any uneasiness in her heart.
“I-I said it.”
She buried her face in the belly of her black and white pet cat, murmuring nervously.
Once Aoi spotted Honoka confessing to Koremitsu in their classroom after the culture festival, she was unable to hold in her feelings, blurting out, “I too like Mr Akagi!”
(I did such a shameless thing…because I did not want to lose to Miss Shikibu…)
But those were Aoi’s true intentions, and she would not regret saying it out.
She would act aloof when she was in love with Hikaru, and would ignore Hikaru whenever he was out flirting with other girls.
She would lie to herself, thinking that she never intended to her Hikaru’s wife, that she did not mind about whoever Hikaru went out with, and that she really hated Hikaru for being so unfaithful.
(I can no longer lie about my true feelings like how I was back then…)
With a rival present, it meant that she had to declare war, to go for a straight fight, to grab the heart of the boy she liked.
Miss Aoi—her heart was practically winced in agony upon recalling that beautiful call and the dazzling smile, and she felt like bursting into tears.
Her feelings for Hikaru would probably never ever change in her life.
But even so, Aoi still fell in love with Koremitsu, and to Hikaru, perhaps she herself was someone unfaithful herself.
(I suppose Mr Akagi may not like me as a lover as I was once Hikaru’s fiancee.)
But even so, Aoi decided to work hard.
Due to the tight embrace, Shell Blue let out an uncomfortable protest.
Aoi apologized as she eased the strength in her arms, and Shell Blue immediately landed on the bed, snorting with uppity.
At that moment, the cellphone placed on the side table with the cat paw design let out a calming melody.
“…Who is it?”
She opened the anonymous message that was sent, and gasped.
♢ ♢ ♢
That day, as the crimson flowers swayed, I met that red-clothed woman in front of the temple.
Once I got home, I had a fever that would not subside for another 3 days, and I was bedridden.
In my dreams, that woman was dressed in a Jūnihitoe, smiling. The bewitching, erotic crimson flowers surrounding her kept swaying, and her hair slowly reached towards me, entangling my body, trying to pull me over.
The crimson flowers were all aimed at me, and the black iris in the middle of those thin petals wanted to devoured me.
I pleaded for my mother to save me, but she remained unmoved, giving me a terrifying glare.
With a heinous face, she said to me with bloodshot eyes.
“Your father has another woman other than your mother, and even let that wretch of a woman bear a child.”
Yes, I have to pass judgement on those wretched women.
My finger proceeded to press the send button.
♢ ♢ ♢
The day following the culture festival was a holiday.
Shioriko kept clinging at Koremitsu since morning, not willing to move even a step away from Koremitsu as she brushed her teeth and washed her face beside him. Even when eating, she was clinging to Koremitsu’s side at the Chabudai as she had egg over her rice, miso soup of seaweed and stock, and broccoli salad.
And she kept clinging at Koremitsu’s shirt even though it was time for elementary school students to go to school.
“I suppose the incident with Lapis caused quite some shock. I do find that Shiiko has been looking cheerful recently, but there are times where she looked forlorn. Those were the times when Lapis was comforting her.”
“Guess I got no choice.”
And so, Koremitsu found himself sending Shioriko over to her elementary school.
“Sobs. You have to sleep together with Shiiko today and tomorrow, and go to school together, and play together after school. You have to be with Shiiko all 24 hours.”
With the stares of the elementary students and staff headed to school upon them, Shioriko wept as she pleaded in front of the school gate, and Koremitsu was left speechless.
Shioriko’s black hollow eyes immediately dampened, and the tears welled in her eyes.
“How pitiful Shiiko is. She is being so insecure here? Go hug her, Koremitsu.”
(You think I can do that now!? Those teachers have been holding their cellphones and staring at us now. They’ll probably be calling the police if I do such a thing now, and the cops will be coming after me here!!)
“Well, I won’t disappear. Didn’t I promise you that I’ll continue to take care of you until you become an adult?”
“But that kind of thing isn’t certain here~~!”
Tears continued to flow down Shioriko’s cheeks.
“Hey, enough, stop crying now. Everyone’s looking at you. I can’t be with you if I’m taken away by the cops. Now, blow your nose.”
He clumsily coaxed Shioriko as he brought a piece of tissue paper to her face, and finally managed to send her into through the school gate.
Shioriko turned her head back many times, before finally disappearing past the staircase.
After seeing this, Koremitsu let out a deep sigh,
(Don’t tell me this is going to continue on every morning for some time now.)
♢ ♢ ♢
“Uu, big brother Koremitsu…”
It was less than a minute after their farewell that Shioriko felt forlorn, wanting to head back to Koremitsu.
She wanted to act more mature than girls of her age, but Lapis, whom she had such deep feelings for, went over to that disgusting, brooding, uppity man, and this caused her to lose the pillar of support in her heart.
No matter what she saw or heard, her thoughts always deviated to the most pessimistic possible, and tears dripped out of her eyes.
“I’m really a strong girl…”
She was adept at making crocodile tears, but she was still displeased and embarrassed to be crying for real.
While Shioriko was about to wipe the tears of her face with her hand,
The cellphone dangling by the grassy green Pochette at the side vibrated.
(Maybe it’s from Big Brother Koremitsu.)
She quickly fished her phone out, and opened the message.
The sender was not Koremitsu, but the content of the message sent clearly mentioned Koremitsu’s name.
And Shioriko showed a heinous stare unbefitting of a child as she stared at the phone, the other empty hand grabbing firmly at the hem of the miniskirt…
♢ ♢ ♢
“I do suggest that you send Shiiko a message. this might be the moment when she is really wishing to go home.”
Hikaru spoke to Koremitsu from diagonally above. For some reason, he was dressed in black, tight-fitting pants and a short mantle, the outfit of a matador. At this moment, Koremitsu was not really in the mood to look over at Hikaru.
“Is that so…”
Saying that, he fished out the cellphone from his pocket.
“No, if I send the message now, it’ll make her more depressed, won’t it. It’s also important for me to let things be and watch from afar.”
And he slipped it back.
“Do not say that now. Shiiko may be crying now. No, surely she is. She is feisty, but she really is a forlorn one.”
“No, you’re just doting on her too much. I’m more of the Spartan type.”
“You may say so, but who is the one more flustered than I am whenever Shiiko breaks into tears before you?”
How’s that possible? While Koremitsu wanted to deny this decisively, the cellphone in his pocket rang.
“It is definitely Shiiko.”
Hikaru confidently noted.
“Listen up, I’m not going to be so overly doting on her.”
Yes. No matter how much Shioriko wailed and wanted to return home early, wanting him to pick her up, it was his responsibility as an older brother to teach her to hang on until the very end.
However, the sender of the message was anonymous.
“Doesn’t look like it’s Shiiko.”
How strange. I never made a mistake as to when a girl would make a call. Hikaru said, floating in the air with the matador cape flowing.
“Have your instincts dulled or something, you harem prince?”
Koremitsu let out some spiteful words as he opened the message.
And at the next moment, he took back what he said.
Hikaru, peeking at the phone, too exclaimed in surprise “Wah!”
“I see. This really is something way beyond my expectations.”
The message was from Yū, and written on it was ‘I am sending this message from the phone’.
In other words, she would be arriving at the airport in a few hours.
He received the message from Yū stating that she would be returning to Japan, but this was too quick.
He was yet to be mentally prepared!
“Hey, can you send a message in a plane? Is someone pretending to be Yū fooling me here?”
While Koremitsu raised his eyebrows, Hikaru calmly stated,
“I do suppose foreign flight companies do provide such services. Either that, or it is a private jet.”
“But there’s no way it’s a private jet, right? Seriously, is this message really from Yū? Is she really flying back to Japan?”
Koremitsu’s heart suddenly raced, the blood surging in his mind, and his legs got wobbly as he did a funny dance on the road.
“Koremitsu, calm down! We agreed that you are going to find Yū and confirm your feelings!”
Yes, he did reply to Yū “I’ll be waiting.”
He wanted to meet Yū, and he would get it.
His ears could practically hear the tender drizzle, and the frail girl with that fleeting smile ostensibly in front of him. His heart was griped.
After confirming the time, Koremitsu went off to the airport.
The estimated arrival of the flight mentioned in the message was just before noon.
It was the first time Koremitsu entered the airport, but with Hikaru dressed in a uniform (?) leading the way, he arrived at the gate she was supposed to pass through, and waited.
There were businessmen dressed in suits, flocks of madams gossiping away furiously, and foreign tourists of all kinds of eye and hair colors.
Groups of people passed by, and Koremitsu frantically searched through the crowd. The throbbing of his heart was as fast as that of a second hand.
Where is Yū?
When will she come by? Is she yet here?
There was some anxiety brewing deep within his heart, but once Koremitsu made the decision to meet her, he had an unbridled impulse to meet her. This emotion got more agitated, practically about to explode from deep within him.
Floating in the air, Hikaru’s eyes suddenly dazzled.
Koremitsu too saw her!
He spotted a serene girl with wavy, flowing hair, dressed in a prim skirt that reached her knees, walking through the wave of people.
It seemed she too was looking for Koremitsu, her petite head shaking left and right like a tweety.
Soon after, she noticed Koremitsu, and the faint coral lips bloomed slightly, her face showing her hearty smile.
Ahh, Yū had become cheerful!
That smile was blooming with all its might, causing Koremitsu’s heart to race, his heart to sear.
Lost in his emotions, Koremitsu ran towards Yū.
And Yū too beamed as she ran towards him.
Her face beaming, her hair bouncing, warm tears welled in her eyes as she stared at Koremitsu.
It had been a few months since he last saw Yū, and she became so cheerful, so dazzling, that Koremitsu inadvertently looked away, not ready to look at her directly.
“What’s the matter…?”
Yū worriedly inquired.
The soft voice was exactly the same as the one on that day of farewell, and Koremitsu’s heart trembled.
“My heart…just feels like exploding whenever I look at you directly…”
He felt the temples steaming away, and he stammered.
Upon saying that, a pair of white, pure hands reached over to him, gently sticking at Koremitsu’s cheeks.
Ostensibly absorbing the excessive heat Koremitsu had were the cooling, soothing hands.
And while Koremitsu was taken aback,
“Please look at me…”
Yū whispered shyly.
Koremitsu shyly turned his face to her, and saw her blushing face and moist eyes staring right at him.
Once their eyes met, they got more flustered.
And both of them remained still as they stared at each other with flushed faces.
Koremitsu realized that he had yet to say those words, and suddenly chimed in.
Yū too answered with a voice of bashfulness and contentment.
“Want to get something to eat…?”
They ordered some snack at the airport cafe, and Yū informed Koremitsu of the reason why she returned to Japan.
“I did some volunteer work at Australia…helping out at the Nursing Home, chatting with the elderly.”
Yū did her best too while attending school at the same time.
It was a tough, busy stretch for her, but there was always something worth reminiscing over every day, which helped alleviate her loneliness.
She met an old man over there who had a son, and the latter was married in Japan, bearing a child, and lived a family life. His son, now a father however, had disputes with the old man himself, and the man himself left Japan, so much that they never met each other.
That son would put a photo of his family every year in a Christmas postcard and send it to the old man, but the latter just would not give any proper thanks because of how stubborn he was.
“The old man got sick…and the doctor gave a diagnosis saying that he doesn’t have much longer to live…so he pleaded me to meet that son of his before he died, and say a few words.”
But that old man continued to pout even at that state, saying “I don’t want to go to Japan where I can’t understand what they’re saying.”
At that moment, an acquaintance visiting the old man said.
“In that case, how about having Yū accompany you back to Japan? She can head back to Japan herself; she knows the language and geography there, and with her around, you have reason to go to Japan, no?”
The old man, intending to visit his son and grandson himself, grudgingly agreed
“If Yū is willing to go with me.”
That old man’s acquaintance heard of this, and immediately pleaded Yū,
“Please Yū. You will have to take a few days of vacation, but just leave the hospital and accommodations in Japan to me.”
“If…I can come along.”
Yū herself agreed.
“I want the old man to visit his grandson…and I wanted to visit you, Mr Akagi.”
Yū even whispered, mentioning that she intended to craft a personality that could be confident enough not to visit Koremitsu by herself.
Whenever Yū stared at Koremitsu with her clear eyes, the latter felt suffocated.
“So the one who arranged to send you back is…?”
Koremitsu asked, and Yū politely curled her lips, smiling,
“Well…it’s still a secret. I’ll definitely introduce him to you though. He is a nice person, surely you’ll be surprised to meet him…”
(Who’s that person I’ll be really surprised by?)
Koremitsu did not really know who that person was, but after seeing how confident Yū was in him, Koremitsu too believed he was a good man.
He never noticed Hikaru around, and perhaps the latter was trying not to appear in front of him for his sake.
Koremitsu however believed that Hikaru was definitely watching from somewhere, and his ears began to sizzle as he thought about what expression Hikaru would be showing as he watched over them.
(It’s great that Yū’s doing her best out there…)
She became more empathetic towards others, wanting to help them. This was something she would not have done when she went through the phase of rejecting the outside world, shutting the windows and locking the outside windows, and was an improvement he never thought of.
(It’s the right decision to let Yū be with her mom.)
Koremitsu was delighted about Yū’s change, and his thinking changed as a result.
After their meal, Koremitsu asked Yū where she wished to visit.
Yū’s expression however looked dreamy as she answered,
“I do wish…to walk in the park with you, Mr Akagi.”
Koremitsu inadvertently recalled that raining day, when the duo, soaked thoroughly, held hands in the park.
The park in that memory welcomed the end of Autumn.
The frosty, transparent daylight shone upon the entire park. The innocent children were playing at the sand pit, and an elderly couple were seated on the bench, basked in the sunlight.
The duo walked side by side under the dazzling daylight, and on a closer look, Koremitsu’s hand touched Yū’s pure white hand, their fingers intertwined.
Koremitsu was holding Yū’s hand bashfully.
And Yū too held his hand demurely.
Unlike their clasped hands from back then, it seemed they were a little more courteous with each other’s feelings according to how they held hands.
But even so, the tenderness of Yū’s hand in Koremitsu’s crude, massive one caused the latter’s heart to practically explode.
The flower beds in the garden consisted of orange Marigolds, and yellow and purple Pansies, while the Silver Grass at the lakeside swayed along with the breeze.
One could see a few fiery red fruits on the chunky, wide branches of the Firethorn, and there were round yellow fruits the size of 2 tennis balls on the branches off the Quince dangling.
The firm green stems and the bright yellow Farfugium decorated the floor, and the plain-looking white and pink Chrysanthemum Japonense bloomed healthily,
“These are the Gomphrena. The ones over there with some spots are the Taiwanese Tricyrtis…the one that looks like a little tree and has Ametrine-like fruits are the Winter Cherry…”
In Hikaru’s stead, Koremitsu informed Yū of what he was told.
They trolled through the path formed by yellow, wilted leaves, and there were occasionally the rustling of some brown leaves under their footwear.
“The garden during the beginning of summer…that rainy day, it was really pretty…but the garden in the clear autumn isn’t bad either…”
Yū, beside Koremitsu, blissfully whispered.
And Koremitsu’s ears itched, his gaudy response extremely poignant.
They spotted a bush of indigo flowers as tall as a human, and Yū’s eyes dazzled.
“That’s the Hummingbird Sage.”
Koremitsu too had an impression of that flower. It was the same flower he saw with Yū on that rainy day.
“It bloomed again…”
Yū cheerfully whispered, and Koremitsu’s heart again got really hot.
It was unfathomable, when they separated, that he would ever be able to see the flower they saw together in early Summer, with Yū again under this Autumn sun.
At that moment, Koremitsu wanted to send the uneasy, forlorn Yū with a smile, but his cheeks kept cramping, and he was unable to smile. The most he could do was to tell her that he would be flying straight to her if she told him something had happened.
But even so, a teary Yū gave Koremitsu a smile back then. At this moment, she smiled, giggling,
“Mr Akagi, the white flower that resembles a spring onion must be the Japanese Onion. You can soak its root in vinegar to make an onion-like taste, you know?”
Due to the impoverished life she lived through, what she said was exceptionally poignant.
(She really became a bubbly girl…Yū’s actually able to laugh like this…)
—When we meet the next time, I’ll show that I’ve become a girl who likes to smile.
Koremitsu recalled the words Yū declared back during their separation, and his heart inadvertently jolted. Suddenly, Yū began to cough.
“Hey, you alright?”
Yū herself continued to cough,
“I’ll go buy some drinks—”
While Koremitsu was intending to run off, Yū pulled Koremitsu by the hand, shaking her head as she said,
“I’m…fine here. It’s just difficult for me to keep laughing.”
She confessed with her cheeks blushing.
(Ack. Was that a pretentious laugh?)
Koremitsu himself felt guilty, but even so, his heartache became honey.
“You don’t have to force yourself to laugh.”
Yū lifted her head at Koremitsu, whispering,
“But Mr Akagi, your girlfriend…is someone who likes to laugh, no?”
Koremitsu’s heart again shrieked in a jolt.
“Have I become someone who likes to smile?”
Yū stared at Koremitsu intently.
Her clear eyes were brimming with passion.
That was the expression she gave Koremitsu in the rain, before they kissed.
Her eyes were practically luring him over.
Koremitsu’s head was sizzling away once he realized she was yearning for a kiss.
His consciousness were focusing on Yū’s lips. The faint, coral-colored lips were fleeting and tender, and the impulse to touch them again and kiss her surged within him.
The area under Yū’s face too was dyed red.
Was it alright for him to kiss her?
But he still had his replies to Honoka and Aoi. Furthermore, that Hikaru was definitely watching him from somewhere.
He was lost in ecstasy when he kissed Yū back then, to a point of forgetting Hikaru’s existence. After recalling the past, Koremitsu had an image of Hikaru gleefully watching them, leery and lucidly lewd, nodding away in approval from time to time right in front of him.
Koremitsu stopped himself just as he approached Yū as he sensed the stare from the side, and the children playing in the sand pit were squatted by the side, looking up at them.
Koremitsu and Yū hurriedly turned their heads aside.
The mothers hurriedly ran over, apologizing profusely as they dragged their children by the arms, leaving the scene.
But neither Koremitsu nor Yū had any intention of looking at each other anymore.
“Ah, too bad. You could have kissed despite all that had happened.”
Hikaru, who had been posing as a bystander, leisurely floated in front of Koremitsu as he lamented.
(You’re annoying. Shut up.)
Koremitsu thought as he glared back.
But what could he do after all this? It was too awkward.
“Anyway, perhaps you will be able to find something new to talk about? Anything Yū may be interested in?”
Hikaru chuckled as he watched Koremitsu being caught in a pinch, advising him.
(Anything Yū may be interested in? Sea? Rock sugar? No, those are too sudden.”
“Then perhaps you can talk about something both you and Yū have in common.”
“Y-yeah! Are you left, Lapis came over to our house—!”
Koremitsu blurted out whatever came out in his mind, and Yū quickly turned over to him, leaning over.
“Lapis is at your house, Mr Akagi? I really want to meet her?”
(Ack, Lapis is at Tōjō’s place.)
“Ah, well, she was still napping at my corridor just a while back. I’m not lying, but now…it’s, a little inconvenient to find her.”
“Did something happen to Lapis? Was there an accident…Lapis is a little hard of hearing?”
“Th-that’s not it! Lapis’ very healthy now…eh, wait.”
After pulling some distance from Yū, Koremitsu pulled the cellphone out from his pocket, and dialled the number Tōjō gave him the previous day.
“Ah, it’s about Lapis. Can I go over to your house? No, wait, you mind bringing Lapis over to my house? Please?”
And so, the situation ended up with him going home together with Yū.
“It really is fiery of you to bring your girlfriend home and introduce her to your family on the day of your reunion.”
(Like hell it is.)
And Koremitsu retorted back at Hikaru, floating above him.
“Shall I bring a gift for your family, Mr Akagi…am I…able to greet them well…?”
While Yū mentioned that with apprehension,
“I don’t have any rich family members here, and well, those guys are as savage looking at me. They won’t eat you up though, so you don’t have to be scared.”
He said as they walked back.
♢ ♢ ♢
Clearly, Koremitsu felt that he made a mistake once he saw the many ladies shoes lying on the entranceway.
(These…aren’t Koharu’s shoes, right? Shiiko’s friends? No, they aren’t of kid sizes…)
“Welcome back, big brother.”
Shioriko came out to greet him, clearly feeling unhappy.
“We-Welcome back, Akagi.”
“Erm…sorry to intrude, Mr. Akagi.”
“I just happened to pass by because of student council matters.”
“Can I have an interview with you, Mr. Akagi?”
“Sorry, sorry! Hono’s too embarrassed to come here alone.”
One after another, the girls appeared at the Akagis’ entranceway. There was the blushing Honoka, a hesitant looking Aoi, cold looking Asai, Hiina poking her body forward excited, and Michiru apologizing profusely.
“Wow! Everyone’s present.”
Hikaru marvelled as he floated above.
“Ah, there’s still Tsuyako left.”
If that glamorous looking upperclassman is to appear here, how am I going to last!?
The moment Koremitsu thought of that however, a beauty with bright red long hair poked her head out from behind him.
“Good afternoon everyone. Oh, you actually came by, Miss Asai.”
Koremitsu was practically living a nightmare.
(This is impossible.)
Koremitsu glanced aside, and found that Yū had her eyes widened. It seemed she was wondering if those girls were the ‘savage looking’ family members Koremitsu talked about.
At the same time, Honoka’s face froze the instant she saw Yū, who was supposed to be in Australia, right beside Koremitsu.
Koremitsu felt a chill in his heart the instant he heard Honoka’s shocked voice.
She knew that both Koremitsu and Yū were in love. She was the first one to read his feelings.
–You certainly are working hard here, Akagi. Have you fallen for Kanai?
Once she saw Koremitsu remain silent with a serious look, Honoka tried to joke around and divert the topic. At that time, she had already realized that he had feelings for Yū.
(And Shikibu ended up meeting Yū in such a situation!)
Though Yū had never met Asai, Aoi and Tsuyako directly before, they probably had heard rumors of Hikaru visiting her apartment. At this point, Asai was frowning at Yū, and Aoi harbored mixed feelings as she looked on.
Yū should have known that Aoi was Hikaru’s fiancee, and that Asai was his cousin. She immediately tensed up, looking terrified.
(Argh, what a mess this has become!)
It was beyond Koremitsu’s capability to handle such situations.
At this moment, Koharu went out, calling for them,
“What’re you doing, making the guests wait on the corridor like this? Welcome them properly.”
After Koharu had prompted him, the gang went off to Koremitsu’s room.
There was practically no space left once everyone sat on the tatamis in the room.
(What’re you girls here for anyway?)
And all on the same day, to boot.
Honoka and Aoi probably came here, hoping for a reply to their confessions after the commotion involving Shioriko the previous day. What about Asai though? Why did Tsuyako came by too?
It was strange.
There was a tense, silent atmosphere permeating through this cramped room, and they seemed to be testing each other.
Hiina was the first one to start things off.
“Eh, it seems that everyone has a question to ask, so I’ll ask this on behalf of everyone here. In other words, are Mr. Akagi and Miss Kanai dating?”
The females gathered at this place gasped in unison.
He sensed Honoka’s stare.
It was helpless, sad, the same expression she showed when she asked whether Koremitsu liked Yū.
Naturally, Koremitsu was unable to say such words that would make it seem that he was running away.Yū’s feeble expression was harboring expectations as she lifted her head at Koremitsu. Might as well admit this, maybe this can solve everything.
Yū was Koremitsu’s girlfriend, the girl he wanted, and there was no room for anyone else to interferer. That would be fine.
But the moment he was about to say this–
His words were stuck in his throat the mom
Once she sensed Koremitsu’s tentativeness, Yū lowered her eyes slightly.
At this moment, Shioriko, who had her cheeks puffed, yelled,
“I’m Big Brother’s girlfriend! I just slept with him in the same bed last night!”
She placed her round knees upon the tatami as she pushed herself onto Koremitsu.
“Didn’t you say it? You said that you’ll take care of me until I grow up!”
Honoka’s shoulders quivered, her eyebrows raised.
Is she about to kick him? But since she was seated on the tatami, she might hit him with the hand instead of the leg, or maybe she might throw the tea bowl at him. Koremitsu got down to guard himself, but Honoka lifted her head, saying.
“Sorry Shiiko. I’ll make Akagi fall for me before you grow up.”
“Wow. This new version of Miss Shikibu sure is different.”
Aoi widened her eyes in shock, and Asai’s shoulders were trembling.
Yū stared at Honoka tentatively, while Tsuyako and Hiina were grinning away.
“That’s right, Shiiko. Hono’s a strong opponent.”
Shioriko pouted, and argued,
“Don’t get cocky just because you dare to eat the 7-spice tempura! I can also eat some adult curry once I reach 10!”
At this moment, Aoi spoke seriously,
“I can only eat sweet curry, and I am not good at taking sugarless coffee. But I want Mr. Akagi to try some spicy curry I make.”
Asai was looking more enraged, her eyebrows crammed together.
Tsuyako was smiling away like a blooming red flower, saying,
“Oh my, I shall feed Mr. Akagi some super spicy red wine with my mouth then. I do have feelings for him; I will be angry if Miss Aoi and Miss Shikibu are to monopolize him.”
“Se-Senpai!? What’re you saying now!?”
“I can be a mistress, Mr. Akagi.”
“Goodness me, don’t make such a joke.”
“I am only half-joking about that though. Depending on your decision, I can add on to the seriousness in my words.”
Tsuyako narrowed her pretty eyes as she said.
“Ev-Even if my opponent is you, Upperclassman Tsuyako, I won’t hand Akagi to you.”
“I will not lose to you either, Miss Tsuyako. I also will not lose to Miss Shikibu and Shiiko.”
Honoka and Aoi declared.
“Big brother’s cellphone screen saver is a photo of me in a school swimsuit! There’s lots of pervy photos of me inside there!”
“Me! Me! I’ll join in too! If the Moon Matriarch is Mistress 1, I can be mistress 3 or 4. How about that, Mr. Akagi?”
Hiina showed Koremitsu her cleavage as she slowly leaned towards him.
Michiru’s eyes were spinning about as she said,
“M-M-M-M-Mr. Akagi! I-I-I don’t think it’s good to-to-to have something li-like a mis-mistress 1, 2 and 3! If you are really going to woo so many, I can be mistress 7…no-no, that was just me talking to myself, Hono!”
“Mr. Akagi, if you date me now, I can let you touch these breasts.”
“Oh? My breasts are much more beautifully curved. They’re more bouncy too.”
“Mr. Akagi does not look at others by their chest size.”
“Right, Akagi does like big breasts!”
“Is that true, Mr. Akagi!?”
“Shiiko here still has room for development, Big Brother!”
While everyone else was yapping away, Koremitsu had no idea as to who he was supposed to argue against or retort. There were several voices wailing away in his mind.
“You do have potential as a harem king after all, Koremitsu. Just as I had said.”
Hikaru floated about Koremitsu, speaking in a matter-of-fact tone.
(Is this a harem!? I don’t feel happy at all! Were you always smiling away in the middle of such commotions? Can you still talk about flower knowledge so calmly in such situations?)
This isn’t something a normal man can do!
Koremitsu was incredulous and amazed at Hikaru, unable to lash out at him.
While all the girls were insisting on themselves, surprise lingered on Yū’s face, and Asai was still frowning, her arms folded.
After being in this state for quite a while, Asai finally spoke up.
“That is enough already, all of you!”
This sharp sword-like voice severed the commotion.
The dominion was such that everyone could only watch her silently.
Asai looked around with a chiding expression, saying,
“Such ruckus in someone else’s house is going to sully the pride of a Heian Academy student. Do you not feel embarrassed by this? As the student council president, I cannot condone such acts that will damage the reputation of the school.”
Aoi and Honoka were dejected, Hiina and Tsuyako were looking on with wry grins, seemingly thinking that they went overboard. Shioriko closed her mouth and glared at Asai, having made the decision not to oppose her when she was exerting so much pressure.
(That’s some great help, Asa!)
He did not understand why Asai would be around, but it was great that she was around. That was what Koremitsu had thought.
“A love confession has to be fast and effective.”
Asai spoke coldly.
And then, she turned her eyes at Koremitsu.
“I hope to have a relationship between opposite genders with you, Mr. Akagi.”
Asai coldly declared.
Aoi widened her eyes, and everyone else were taken aback, their mouths open in shock.
Koremisu too was stupefied, ostensibly thrown into a different dimension.
“Well, this certainly is Asa’s way of confessing.”
Hikaru too grimaced.
That term too was something of a different dimension, something he could not comprehend.
At this moment,
“This is bad, Akagi!”
Frantic footsteps could be heard, and Tōjō, carrying Lapis in his hand, opened the door with a look of terror.
“I just checked with the vet! Lapis’ pregnant! Which cat’s the father!? It has to be a noble blood one that can match her, right!? I won’t forgive that cat if it’s a stray, especially those fat, slobby ones with black and white all over it!”
After shouting all that, it seemed Tōjō realized the surrounding atmosphere.
“Big brother Shungo, that fat, black and white cat you talk about is just like Shell Blue at my house, no?”
Tōjō gasped as he saw Aoi glaring at him in annoyance.
And upon noticing Yū mutter this, Tōjō widened his eyes.
“Miss Kanai…! If there’s any other guests around, at least tell me beforehand!”
He could only hum away, after having shown his silly side in front of Aoi, whom he doted, Yū, whom he had affections for, and the many girls present. Lapis elegantly leapt out from his clutches and went towards Yū.
It purred, ostensibly asking her if she was doing well.
♢ ♢ ♢
It was evening, and after everyone had left for home, Koremitsu sent Yū back. It seemed Yū was staying in a hospital in the city with the cutting edge medical treatment and the best inpatient care facility, with a lot of private rooms for the nursing staff to live in. Such accommodations were arranged by that kind acquaintance.
Hikaru informed him, “that is a hospital artistes and politicians will go to, and the personal staff rooms are as comfortable as a hotel rooms.”
The white hospital appeared to be a fortress. Koremitsu walked down a paved avenue that was ornamented beautifully, with the sunset shining upon them.
“Sorry for today…it’s the first time everyone’s gathered at my house like this…”
Koremitsu stammered as he excused himself.
“Mr Akagi…you’re rather popular.”
Yū, who had been silent all this while, muttered.
“Well, most of them are Hikaru’s exs. It’s his fault for making all those random promises, and I fulfilled them for him, so…”
“It’s the same…for me too…”
“Everyone likes you for how you worked hard to fulfill Hikaru’s promises, Mr Akagi…”
Koremitsu was speechless. It was impossible to read her mood from her serene, sidelong face.
Her tender fingertips touched Koremitsu’s fingers, and she clasped his hand.
While Koremitsu was startled, Yū bashfully lowered her head, whispering,
“Mr Akagi, the girl with that white ribbon in your room…is Her Highness Aoi, no? Hikaru’s ex-fiancee…a blooming white, Hollyhock in the sacred place…there’s also Hikaru’s cousin…the proud Morning Glory that wakes up earlier than anyone else at sunrise…the Matriarch Asa. There is the Moon Matriarch…the most beautiful, poignant flower in Hikaru’s garden…the weeping cherry blossom. That little girl is Shiiko, the young Murasaki
Perhaps these were all what Hikaru told her about in that room that was akin to the bottom of the sea.
Yū’s voice was so serene, tender as she mentioned the names of the flowers Hikaru loved. Hikaru, floating int he air, watched over the duo with a gentle expression; surely, he must have told Yū about this with such a face. Yū too might have listened to him with such a mood.
“The girl with the short haircut is…?”
“Oumi of the news club. She’s been sticking to me so that she can get a report on Hikaru.”
“What about that girl with wavy hair?”
“That’s our class rep, Hikaru’s Tachibana. She’s unimpressive, but she’s a premier flower with a nice fragrance.”
Yū lifted her head, seemingly probing at Koremitsu’s face. With a tone full of hesitance, she asked,
“Erm, that girl with the long legs, brown hair…and those feisty eyes is?”
For some reason, he hastily stopped talking.
Honoka’s appearance was so distinct in front of him, yet he could not find any way to describe her.
“She’s…the one whom you brought to my apartment…right, Mr Akagi?”
That was when Koremitsu assumed that Yū, holed up in her apartment, needed a female friend, and so he requested Honoka for that. Honoka herself heartily agreed, saying “Leave it to me.”
“…Shikibu’s my classmate, a good person…Hikaru once said that she’s like a Heliotrope.”
“It’s a purple flower originally from South America, that blooms towards the sun.”
“Towards the sun…”
“She’s definitely a cheerful, determined…wonderful person, no?”
Upon sensing the ambiguity in Yū’s words, Koremitsu started to stammer. With a worried expression, Yū stared at Koremitsu.
“There were a lot of girls…I was shocked today, and I’m a little jealous…”
The guilt began to grow within Koremitsu.
“It is great to meet you again, Mr Akagi. I suppose I will be staying here for a little longer…can I still meet you again…?”
She asked tentatively in front of the main hospital entrance.
Feeling relieved from these words, Koremitsu answered.
“I’ll send you a message.”
Yū bashfully whispered, turning her head around to hide her blushing face as she passed the doors.
In the midst of this sunset, Koremitsu watched that fluffy long hair vanish miserably.
That gloom was booming, swirling sweetly yet bitterly in his heart, a gloom or unknown form.
♢ ♢ ♢
“Welcome back, Yū.”
Yū opened the private staff room, and found a bespectacled, handsome looking boy with slender shoulders welcoming him.
“I did guess that it was time for you to come back, so I was waiting in your room. Did you speak with Mr Akagi?”
Yū nodded, and the boy narrowed his eyes, seemingly worried as he asked.
“It seems that you’re a little unhappy though. Was the schedule too packed for you? Or did…you have some premonition?”
Yū was startled.
“That…isn’t the case…”
The boy placed his hand on Yū’s shoulder.
“Anyway, come in first. I have brewed some tea for you, and there are some delicious Meringue too. It is sweet enough to melt in your mouth.”
“E-erm…Mr Kazuaki…do you have something for me?”
Yū fidgeted once she realized someone was worried for her. Kazuaki himself gave an alluring, comforting smile, saying to her with the same rich, sweet voice Hikaru had.
“Yes, there is something I wish to ask of you, Yū. First, let me hear about this Mr Akagi. In details, of course…”