Crispy, sizzling fat. The oil dripped down the net. The fragrant smell of fat. In this space that was covered with the scent of meat everywhere, I tantalized my taste buds with salted tongue. It was delicious. It had very little fat.
It had been a long time since I had grilled meat. I took a piece of meat that was spread out like a carpet on the net, threw it in my mouth, and munched on it.
I didn’t really love meat in particular. Rather, I wasn’t really interested in the matter of ingestion. To be honest, books were more delicious than various delicacies. Even so, I could distinguish the differences in taste at the very least. This meat was good. It’s probably quite expensive. It’d be rude not to enjoy it. Om nom nom.
“Mizuto-kun, you’re eating so well! Come on, Yume, eat more!”
“Wait, mom….I can’t…”
“Don’t worry! You’re not the type to get fat, Yume!”
Yume, sitting on the other side of the table, glanced at me while protesting against Yuni-san who kept adding meat to the plate without her permission.
It’s true that she had always been skinny all this while. She’s a little taller now, but I guess it’s fine to call her ‘slender’. I didn’t know whether to call it a miracle, or the product of hard work that her breasts were able to develop normally with such a nature. Ah, I don’t really care. Om nom nom.
“Mizuto, don’t just eat meat, eat vegetables too.”
“I don’t eat grass.”
“Don’t call vegetables grass…”
Dad showed an exasperated smile. What’s wrong with calling plants grass? And besides, it’s a barbecue restaurant, so it makes sense to eat meat. Om nom nom.
It’s been a month since the four of us started living together, but this is probably the first time we’ve all eaten out together. I never thought I’d end up eating yakiniku with her—I didn’t remember us visiting a family restaurant when we started dating. After all, she and I would rather invest our money in books if we had the money to read. At the very most, we hung out at a bookstore with a café. Well, I’d be troubled if two middle schoolers were expected to go to a restaurant and check out a night view.
I’ve always had an image of her as a picky eater, but Yume spent the entire time eating small portions like salted tongue, and also some vegetables that were on the verge of being burnt, which felt amiss to me. I’d have teased her if she had some cute reason for not wanting me to see her munching on her meat, but it didn’t seem to be the case.
She seemed to be strangely concerned about our surroundings.
She seemed to be cowering in fear of something—like a herbivore being chased by a predator. It’s impressive that she was giving off the vibe of a prey being hunted at a barbecue restaurant.
I sipped my oolong tea and looked around.
The tables were only separated by partitions, so I could see everything from the aisle and other seats. The other tables also seemed to be filled with families like ours. The children ranged in age from kindergarteners to high schoolers like us—though no one seemed to be paying attention to our table.
So what in the world was she so alarmed about?
“Sorry, Mom. I have to go to the bathroom…”
I heard Yume, sitting by the wall, say that to Yuni, who was sitting by the aisle. Her voice trailed off at the latter half. I guess she’s just being a maiden, since dad and I were here. I was shocked that she actually had such a thing.
“Ahhh, yes, yes.”
Yuni-san cleared the way. Yume stood up, and walked down the aisle toward the restroom.
Restroom…speaking of which, I drank quite a lot of oolong tea too.
“Dad. Stand up.”
“Don’t command your dad like that.”
“That was barely a plea.”
I had a feeling there wasn’t such a colloquial expression in Japanese, but let’s just pretend it just started. I asked dad to move aside, and went to the restroom.
Dad and Yuni-san were the only ones left at the table, and we unintentionally ended up in the opposite situation of ‘leaving the young people alone’. It’s a rare honeymoon phase for them, but they hardly got the chance to be alone together. I might have been worrying too much—but speaking of which, did they have any plans of having a honeymoon or something? Would there not be such activities when people remarry? Actually, they hadn’t had a wedding either…
My rambling thoughts were interrupted by a voice.
It came from a corner of the floor, the entrance to a narrow passage leading to the restroom. There was a clumsy looking brown haired girl who appeared to be of the same age as my black haired little stepsister.
“Ayai-san…? Right? Ehhh~, you’re kidding~! I didn’t recognize you at all! You’ve changed your image so much since middle school, haven’t you? That’s funny~!”
The brown haired girl started laughing by herself, and Yume showed a stiff smile.
Oh, I see.
I had a rough understanding—that brown-haired girl was probably one of our classmates from middle school or something. Probably in ninth grade. I’d have an impression if it was in the eighth grade.
Speaking of ninth grade, that’s when her shyness started to improve, but her appearance was still very plain. She didn’t shoot up to the top ranks of the class like her present self, but at the very least, she did improve from having no friends to having a few…I really wanted to beat the old me to death for being possessive about such a change, but anyway, it was completely different from her current image of an innocent honor student.
As a debutant in high school, she probably didn’t want our classmates to see how she looked at this point now that she had changed her appearance.
Was that why she was so cautious? It all made sense now. It was a mistake for her to debut in high school. Thanks to that, she’s all troubled.
…That brown-haired girl must have been quite the troublesome person given how she continued to yap away while ignoring how the person involved looked troubled. Surely she’s the type who couldn’t zip her mouth. It’s obvious that she’s going to let everyone in middle school know how Yume Ayai looked at this point.
Well, that’s none of my business.
It’s none of my business—but.
“Ehh~!? That’s really amazing! You worked hard, Ayai-san~! Eh, what’s the matter? A high school debut? Ah, you’re in a prep school, right? That’s why you look like an honor student~!”
I butted in while the brown-haired girl yapped away and the troubled looking Yume just gave a perturbed smile.
I emphasized her family name.
“What’s the matter? Do you know each other?”
Yume looked at me and blinked away. Was she troubled that I called her so? That’s quite slow of her.
The brown-haired girl looked back and forth between me and Yume, and tilted her head incredulously.
“Uh…wait. Irido-san, not Ayai-san?”
The brown-haired girl asked with a voice filled with trepidation as she looked at Yume. The latter continued to look confused, and about three seconds later, she finally seemed enlightened.
“Y-Yes, my name is Irido!”
We weren’t lying, so the brown-haired girl wouldn’t see through this. That should have been the case, but the brown-haired girl was so forceful. It’s amazing how she successfully pulled off a high school debut.
I thought for a moment that we were figured out, but my fears were unfounded.
The brown-haired girl’s face was blotched with awkwardness.
“Ah…I-I see…wo-woah~! It’s so embarrassing! Sorry for recognizing the wrong person! Your face really resembles my classmate from middle school…!”
“I’m so sorry! Erm…”
The brown-haired girl turned to me as well.
“I’m sorry about your boyfriend too! I-I’ll leave then!”
The brown-haired girl scampered off, “Hya~!” shrieking away while we were left bewildered..
It came to that, huh?
That’s the only possibility for her, I guess. Siblings wouldn’t address each other by family name after all.
After the brown-haired girl disappeared, we remained silent for about 10 seconds.
Something that seemed like a murmur to oneself could be heard through the sound of cooking meat.
There was a lot of stuff missing, like subject terms, object, but I understood what Yume was trying to say.
“Why did you help me? You’re not even my boyfriend.” It was easier than translating an ancient text into modern Japanese.
“Because I need the restroom.”
“A conversation here is quite a hindrance.”
“What are you acting cool for…It doesn’t suit you at all.”
“It’s just a fact. Have you never heard of the diuretic effect of oolong tea?”
“What would you do if she remembered you?
“‘I don’t think so. I don’t remember being infamous enough in any other class.”
“She’s also your former classmate from second year of middle school.”
That was the first time I looked towards Yume. There was a dumbfounded look on her face.
I didn’t remember that at all.
…Or actually, I couldn’t remember any of my other classmates except for her.
O God, please at least design a character list in life.
“…That was a close call…”
“Well, I guess she didn’t remember me at all.”
“Be grateful for my faint presence.”
Speaking of which, that brown-haired girl remembered her, whose presence was no more than mine, but she didn’t remember me, huh. Was it because of gender differences? Or was my stealth skills maxed out?
“…It feels ironic.”
Yume pursed her lips in a subtle way, like a smile or a sulk, and muttered.
“They never realized at all back then…but now people think we’re in such a relationship. “
…Back in our second year of middle school.
In other words, that was the period when she and I were on best terms, when we spent half our days in the same room.
The brown-haired didn’t see us that way back then…but assumed so at this point.
“Thank goodness I got a makeover.”
“Shut up, you have no presence.”
I was kicked in the calf.
It was a little weaker than usual though.
After all that happened in the day, I started writing in my diary before going to bed, and I felt my phone on my desk shake.
There was a LINE message from my little stepsister next door.
I looked at it and saw a picture of a white flower on the chat page.
“…? Dahlia. …?”
Dahlia. A white dahlia.
What does that mean? Dahlia…flower…
I closed the LINE app and searched for ‘White Dahlia’. That’s when I immediately realized what she was up to.
It seemed she was finally willing to convey what she couldn’t say at the barbecue restaurant after that incident.
What’s with her anyway? Was she someone who came from an era where people would use only hieroglyphs?
I gave it a little thought, and replied.
“A love letter the last time, and now flowers? I appreciate that old-fashioned move, but I refuse.” – 22:55
Would that be enough? Should be fine. Sent.
And within a minute, I heard the wall being banged at. It seemed the message reached her. She should use Japanese if she doesn’t want to be misunderstood.
The floral language of white Dahlia is ‘gratitude’.
And also, ‘abundant love’.