It was Saturday the following day, but Koremitsu woke up earlier than usual.
He checked his cellphone messages, and found that Shioriko had yet to reply to the message he sent her.
“Let’s go check her house after breakfast.”
Hikaru, dressed in a singlet and pants for indoor use, nodded in response.
Laid on the tatami was a magazine he bought the previous day.
Inside it was the mass food poisoning incident during the Marine Day in Shimane Prefecture 10 years ago.
During that public event, the Kuze Corporation led by Chairman Kuze provided some seafood hamburgers to children.
However, approximately 30 of them complained of tummyaches, and were hospitalized.
The Chairman's Secretary, Mamoru Yoshikuni, who had attended the event, attempted to cover up this incident, but was discovered a few days later, and was lambasted by the mass media.
He had declared that he was acting on the Chairman's instructions, but Kuze was dining with associates in Tokyo that day.
Thus, everyone had assumed that Mamoru Yoshikuni was simply lying about following orders. It was also later discovered that Yoshikuni had accepted bribes from the food suppliers, and so people assumed that he had chosen to cover up this event itself, leading to a larger commotion.
Soon after, Mamoru Yoshikuni died. He was standing alone beside the train platform, and was knocked by the passing train. At that time, a witness had yelled “It's dangerous!”, but he remained still with a lethargic look. The news outlets had deduced that he had intention to commit suicide, and Kuze resigned as executive chairman soon after.
The press conference that time was massive, and he clearly showed a professional attitude admitting to his responsibility. This overly formal attitude however caused his reputation to skyrocket.
But 10 years later, there was a media outlet casting doubt on it.
The report had hypothesized that perhaps Yoshikuni's statement was true, that Kuze really did push blame onto his secretary, and the bribes collected by the secretary was simply a skillful maneuver he had planned during the associate meeting.
It was a magazine that had tabloids as its selling point, so not all the reports within could be true. However, the person named Mamoru Yoshikuni did exist, and it was affirmed that he died in a suspected suicide.
Was he really Shioriko's father? If that was the case, how did Shioriko learn this? Did she really intend to avenge her father?
“The time to appeal has long since expired, and Mr Sōichirō will probably not be wary of a nine year old girl…what we should be worried about however is whether Shiiko really has the evidence that proves Mamoru Yoshikuni's innocence.”
Koremitsu faced the basin as Hikaru floated behind him, saying this worriedly.
“First, we have to ask that brat.”
The biggest issue was whether she would come clean with what was going on…
On Koharu's command before breakfast, Koremitsu hurriedly repaired the bathroom's drainboard.
Soon after, he immediately hurried to Shioriko's apartment, but there was no reply no matter how many times he pressed the doorbell.
“Is she still sleeping? it's already past 10. Have they gone out or something?”
He tried calling Shioriko, but she did not pick up.
He then sent another message, 'Call me', and went out.
“I'll come back later…”
As he was pondering on where to go…
The cellphone in his pocket rumbled.
He assumed it was from Shioriko, but it was not.
Upon seeing the cellphone display, his eyes widened.
Why would she call?
She was pouting, glaring at him unhappily when he retired for the day early.
“…yeah, it's me.”
He answered nervously.
“Akagi, ar-are you available now?”
This was the first thing that stiff voice asked.
“Erm, well…just come by.”
“Don't ask too much. Just come!”
Honoka stammered as she designated their meeting place.
After hanging up, Koremitsu muttered to Hikaru intriguingly,
“Why in a karaoke box?”
He reached there, and found that Honoka was already at the box. She was sitting there on the sofa, looking around as she blushed and fidgeted, while using her hand to tidy her hair and clothes from time to time.
It was a holiday, and Honoka was wearing a cut-soled shirt instead of a uniform, some flashy-looking accessories, and a mini-skirt. She was holding onto a large fabric tote bag.
“Miss Shikibu sure looks amped up for this.”
Hikaru looked through the window on the door as he looked at the mini-skirt that could only cover half of the pair of snowy white legs, blowing a whistle at that moment.
(Isn’t that skirt too short!?)
Felt very anxious.
He opened the door, and Honoka lifted her head.
“So, sorry for calling you out so suddenly…erm, were you busy?”
She looked at Koremitsu worriedly.
“No, it’s nothing…I was just thinking about how to spend the time too.”
He blushed as he answered.
However, her face tensed up immediately as she said,
“Erm, just sit down here anyway.”
She patted the seat beside her, twice.
(As expected, the skirt is too short!)
Koremitsu sat down as she asked, and could not help but look aside. Suddenly, Honoka said with a serious expression.
“…I, thought about it a lot.”
“I was really confused during that time, and I did kick you once…you probably felt unhappy since Kanai’s gone, but you probably felt lonelier when I kicked you because I was so anxious, weren’t you…I’m worried that you’ll head down the lolicon route and never return if I were to leave you alone like this…”
Honoka stuttered as she played with her fingers. Hikaru looked completely interested as he listened attentively.
“Oi, you’re mistaken here. I’m not a lolicon.”
“I know! I understand that you’re going out with a little girl because you fell out of love.”
“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND AT ALL!”
But Honoka looked like she did not hear it as she tried to force a smile,
“It’s fine, this is just a temporary thing. You’ll still love girls of the same age later on.”
“THAT’S WHY I SAID THAT IT’S A MISUNDERSTANDING!”
“I will become your Heliotrope and try my best to help guide you back onto the proper path.”
After a pause, Honoka closed her lips and took out a photo album that had a swimsuit girl on the cover from her tote bag, and put it on her legs.
“Let’s look at this and correct your lolicon tendency.”
Her face was blushing red as she said with a remarkable expression.
“What are you saying? WAH! DON’T OPEN THAT!”
“You have to look at it no matter what. These may seem like photos of old grannies older than 10 in swimsuits to you, and might scar your eyes, but let’s do our best.”
Honoka raised her eyebrows as she told him off. She was like a female teacher who gave herself the mission to guide a youth back from the wrong path.
(ARE YOU SERIOUS!!?)
“Here, this page looks very racy, right?”
The photo that appeared below showed a large-breasted girl wearing a piece of cloth that either looked like underwear or a swimsuit, lying on the hammock and looking up.
“Thi, this looks exciting too, right?”
Honoka continued to flip the pages. Her face showed expressions of shock. She would bawl, and would even look away from time to time, but she never stopped moving her hand
“Hey, this is good, right?” “This butt feels very springy, right?” as she continued with an excited voice.
What moved her to work so hard?
There would be no other female classmate than her, with eye-catching breasts, nearly-panty-revealing buttocks, nicely shaped waist with a bare navel, who would read this kind of thing together with him.
“So that’s another way of using gravure magazines, huh? It sure is great to read ero-books with a girl.”
From above, Hikaru said this enviously.
As for Honoka—
(Argh. It’s so embarrassing that my eyes are burning. Why must she wear such a stringed swimsuit like that? Won’t it break if someone pulls it hard? Ahh, uuuu, this pose, the joints are almost separating. It looks painful. Hau, wearing only a shirt on a rainy day and sitting with her knees cuddled in? That’s impossible!)
She was secretly crying out.
This girl, Honoka, who was a cellphone romance novel author with the handle name “Purple Princess”, who helped solve females’ love problems and hailed as a master of love, was actually very late in her maturity.
Up till now, she had never went out with a boy, let alone a date, and now, she was in this cramped box reading an Ero-book with a boy!
(But this is for Akagi's sake. I must work hard to let him know that loliconism isn’t right!)
After much agony, she finally asked for help on the internet while hiding her identity as the Purple Princess, leaving a post “the guy I like ran off with a loli. What should I do?”
Normally, the senior onee-chans who were more experienced in this would answer such questions—but she definitely could not ask the Purple Princess’ followers. It would be too embarrassing, no, more like a great disgrace here.
She kept wondering about what would happen if her identity was exposed as she looked at the replies below,
“Why don’t you just show him the charms of a mature woman? Wear a very short skirt, read an ero-book together inside a closed room and slowly show your mature charms. Finally, show off a daring bikini at the pool to deal the final blow to him.”
These were written.
IMPOSSIBLE—Honoka said that as she sat and swivelled on the chair inside her house.
She would sometimes roll around on the bed as well.
(But I can’t just leave him as he is!)
And that was why, on this morning, she made up her mind and gave a phone call to Koremitsu’s cellphone despite a lack of sleep.
“A-Akagi, this should be enough, right?”
She continued to flip through the magazines as she asked.
Koremitsu’s face was very red too as he looked tense.
“I, I can say that…to you too.”
“Do you, have any feelings?”
“Well, it’s fine if you don’t feel anything. Let’s take it one step at a time. You’ll definitely have feelings at that moment.”
Once she said that, she flipped to the next page, and there was a photo of a woman with a sexy pose, her breasts lying on the sand, and the straps on her back and waist were undone. Honoka was already dazed at this point, and her thighs and knees placed under the photo album were already full of sweat.
“~-I, I really wish that I had such large breasts, but I wonder if my shoulders will be tired? Well, Akagi, which breasts do you prefer? This or that?”
She pointed at another photo album’s page as she asked.
There was a woman wearing a pink swimsuit, and her breasts were just large enough to be held as she floated in a ring and gave a wink.
“Which side, huh?”
(WHY THE HECK IS SHE ASKING SUCH A QUESTION ALL OF A SUDDEN HERE!?)
Koremitsu looked away as he was unable to make any sound.
Honoka frowned as she curled her lips sharply and stared at him seriously.
If he answered that he preferred the small ones, she would definitely call him a lolicon.
After thinking for a long time, he pointed at the larger ones.
She gave an unexpected voice, stared at the large breasts for quite a while, looked back at her own breasts, and lowered her head.
(What is it now?)
“Ah…erm, Shikibu, do you like such things?”
“Li-li-li-li-li-like as in?”
“Erm…photo albums of girls in swimsuits?”
“Idiot! How can I possibly like them!? I went to the bookstore to buy such things for your sake. I-I- I-I- I-I- I-I was so embarrassed when I went to pay up.”
“Is, is that so? Erm, thanks.”
“Okay, hurry up and get horny seriously!”
She said that and looked away.
(What does she mean when she says that she wants me to get horny seriously?)
Are these two things related?
There were a lot of things that could not be explained, but since Honoka was willing to do such things for Koremitsu like buying swimsuit albums and even trying to correct him, Koremitsu felt his chest heat up as he thought about this.
(It’s the same as before. Kicking me without warning, grumbling with such vicious words from her mouth…is it because she’s embarrassed…?)
—Miss Honoka Shikibu here is rather popular amongst the guys, you know.
At this point, he had to agree with what Hikaru said back then.
—There are a lot of fans of Miss Shikibu amongst the girls too. She’s someone they really admire; takes care of others, very frank and straightforward.”
“Why are you suddenly staring at my face?”
“If you have anything to say, just say it.”
“Now I know why you’re so popular.”
Upon hearing these words, Honoka widened her eyes.
“You, you idiot, wha-wha-wha-what are you saying now!? I, I’m not popular or anything?”
“Really? Aren’t you an expert at love?”
Honoka’s shoulders trembled, and she widened her mouth.
“Tha, that’s right. Ahaha. Well, I did gain some experience.”
“You’re really a good person to be concerned about someone like me. Thank you very much.”
For some unknown reason, Honoka’s voice was stuck at her throat.
“You really have potential there, Koremitsu.”
Hikaru muttered to himself from above.
(What exactly do you mean?)
Koremitsu glanced at Hikaru. Honoka blushed as she said softly.
“Well, you see, I do ‘like’ you anyway…and I have free time now…well, I’m just accompanying you for a while. We, well…Akagi.”
Honoka suddenly turned her face up to look at Koremitsu as she stammered.
She looked like she was struggling inside her heart; her stare moved around, she kept changing expressions, and she blushed as she lowered her head to say,
“How about we go to the pool next time?”
Why did she mention the pool out of a sudden?
Koremitsu was stunned to hear such words, and Honoka continued to stare at him seriously.
Unknowingly, Honoka’s knees were sticking right at his. Koremitsu realized this, and his face went hot and numb.
“See, Koremitsu? If you don’t say okay, Miss Shikibu will say something like ‘Never mind then’.”
Hikaru suggested with a sweet voice from above.
And just like the moment when Honoka confessed to him, her expression became sad.
Koremitsu immediately answered as he did not want to see her crying face.
At this moment, the phone in his pocket vibrated.
This time, it was from Shioriko.
He knew it was rude, and apologized, but he had no time to leave the room first as he immediately put the phone to his ears.
Koremitsu gave a serious expression, and because of that, Honoka looked back at his face worriedly.
A sobbing voice could be heard from the other side of the phone.
Is this an act again? No, is she really crying—?
A weak voice could be heard as she said,
Hikaru floated down to Koremitsu’s side from above, got close to the phone, and gave a serious expression too.
“Shiiko’s grandfather’s heart isn’t good. He once fell sick this March and got hospitalized. Grandpa didn’t know what happened.”
Koremitsu’s heart immediately sank.
“OI! SHIIKO! WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW!? I WON’T KNOW ANYTHING IF YOU KEEP CRYING! HURRY UP AND TELL ME!”
Soon after bidding farewell to Honoka, Koremitsu rushed to the hospital, and found Shioriko watching over Tomohiko, whose eyes were closed as he laid on the bed.
She sat on the chair, her body sprawled on the blanket, and she was asleep, ostensibly hugging Tomohiko. Her face was littered with tear marks, and there were still tears on her face.
According to what the nurse had said, Tomohiko fainted the previous night at home, and was rushed by the ambulance to the hospital.
Shioriko probably never slept after that.
She was no longer able to contain her distress, and made the call to Koremitsu. “I'll be right there!” Perhaps his reply caused her to relax a little as she fell asleep while waiting for him.
“Are you Mr Wakagi's relative?”
Koremitsu was summoned by the nurse onto the corridor.
“No, I'm not his relative, just an acquaintance.”
“Do you know any way to contact them?”
“I heard Shiiko's parents are dead.”
Upon hearing this, the nurse frowned with a troubled look.
“Is that so? When I talked to Mr Wakagi back then, he said he was living with his daughter.”
“Daughter…Shiiko's her granddaughter.”
“He seemed to have mistaken his granddaughter for his daughter then.”
Cognitive Impairment—this was the term he immediately thought of in shock. When he last met Tomohiko at the apartment, they were still able to converse normally…no, Hikaru had realized that Tomohiko was calling Shioriko 'Riko'.
(Is Riko Shiiko's mother or something?)
The nurse's frown deepened, and the tone was somber,
“Little Shioriko has said that he has been like this since last month.”
Koremitsu was stunned.
(In this case, Shiiko can't even rely on her only relative? Can a person's Cognitive Impairment be treated?)
He stared at Hikaru, and found the latter looking petrified, seemingly shaken by it.
Tomohiko must have become senile as a result of Hikaru's death. Having endured such shocks one after another, Shioriko still endured the pain silently.
His heart filled with bitterness, Koremitsu gritted his teeth.
“How's Shiiko's grandfather?”
He hissed, and the nurse still looked downcast, replying,
“His condition is stable, but may turn for the worst later.”
Koremitsu felt his gut wrench.
(If her grandfather's not around, what's she going to do?)
Koremitsu recalled his father's death, and felt breathless thereafter.
At that time, Koharu arrived at his elementary school and picked him up while he was attending class. When he arrived at the hospital, he found his father lying on the bed with his eyes closed. Masakaze was sitting beside the bed with his head slumped, and upon seeing his expression, Koremitsu knew that his father would never wake up again.
He was merely shellshocked back then, unable to react due to the abruptness, but felt an uneasiness of being dragged into a miasma.
Both Koremitsu and Hikaru knew how it would feel to have a relative pass away.
And Shioriko had only Tomohiko as her relative.
Hikaru bit his lips, his head slumped.
It seemed Tomohiko had to remain hospitalized for a while.
“What do we do about Little Shioriko? She slept in the hospital last night, but she can't go on like this.”
And then, Koremitsu said to the frowning nurse,
“Let her come to my house.”
Your grandpa still needs to be hospitalized for some checkups, so come stay at my house for the time being.
Shioriko did not disagree to Koremitsu's proposal.
She watched Koremitsu walk, and followed him with her head slumped.
“Koremitsu, hold hands with Shiiko.”
Upon hearing Hikaru say this, Koremitsu watched her hand, and found that her hands were clenched.
Once he held Shioriko's clenched left hand, her eyebrows sagged, and she looked ready to cry.
She was holding back the tears that were about to roll out, her throat trembling as she held onto his hand.
(It's so cold…)
Koremitsu thought, a sharp pain suddenly poked at his heart.
They first went to Shioriko's apartment, and while she changed her clothes and packed her belongings, Koremitsu remained outside as he made a call home.
Masakaze picked up the line, and after hearing Koremitsu's explanation, remained silent for a little while.
Twenty years ago, Masakaze's wife left him after tossing him a divorce document, saying that she wanted to turn a new leaf of life. Since then, he always hated women.
Koremitsu's stock catchphrase 'That's why I say women' originated from Masakaze.
Masakaze had always warned Koremitsu about being too close to women, not to believe them, and even cruelly told his own daughter, “Women are useless”. Thus, the relationship between father and daughter was poor.
When Koremitsu brought Lapis home, Masakaze glared at it with a piercing look, asking,
“Just to be clear, is that cat female?”
“Eh, erm…it is…But it's aloof, and won't go about licking you on the face or climbing on your leg.”
After much clamoring from Koremitsu, Masakaze finally agreed to it.
“Koremitsu, you better chase this cat away sooner or later. Women are all like that.”
Masakaze said that with a frown.
His distaste and distrust of women was to an extent that includes animals.
Thus, Koremitsu felt that Masakaze would not be pleased upon hearing about bringing Shioriko home, and was tentative as he called home.
Masakaze said solemnly.
“I'll tell Koharu.”
“Thanks, gramps. I'll bring her back later.”
He hung up.
“Good thing grandpa agreed.”
Hikaru, who was worried as he stood sidelong, heaved a sigh of relief as he chimed in.
Now, all Koremitsu had to worry was that Shioriko would not be terrified when she meets Masakaze and Koharu, for the latter two resembled ruffians.
He opened the apartment door, walked in, and found Shioriko standing at the door, carrying her backpack and the grassy green pochette slung diagonally. She was holding a luggage bag on her right hand.
He was taken aback, not having expected that Shioriko was waiting at the door.
“Is this all your luggage?”
Koremitsu asked, and Shioriko nodded.
“I'll carry them.”
Koremitsu took the luggage back, and reached his other hand for Shioriko's hand.
Shioriko did not say a single word as they returned to the old wooden house of the Akagis. At his doorstep, Koremitsu was trying his best to explain,
“Eh…I have my grandfather and divorced aunt living with me, and well, they look like me. They may look like they're throwing tantrums, but that's just how they look; they aren't unhappy.”
“It is okay, Koremitsu. Shiiko has never been scared by your appearance.”
Hikaru said encouragingly.
“But since you're so gutsy, you probably won't be scared.”
Koremitsu shook his hand that was holding hers intending to encourage her.
Shioriko widened her eyes in surprise.
Koremitsu pulled the door aside, yelling out as per usual.
Koharu was the first to come out from the room.
She was dressed in a rolled up sports shorts and a T-shirt as it was summer, and her hair was bundled up carelessly. This was her usual attire.
She carefully sized up Shioriko, and raised an eyebrow.
“Little Shioriko, is there anything that you're allergic to?”
This was the first thing she asked.
Shioriko was a little surprised, and she shook her head, answering,
“No, I can eat anything.”
“I see. Our house rules are that we aren't picky with our food, and we eat whatever we have. If you have something you can't eat, just tell this guy.”
She pointed her chin at Koremitsu.
“Shiiko can't eat long slithery stuff, so don't prepare any broiled eel in soy sauce or Yanagawa Pot.”
Once Koremitsu said so, Shioriko was immediately taken aback, and bit her lips.
“Relax, there's no way we're able to come up with such luxurious delicacies. Koremitsu, the stuff in the guest room isn't cleared up completely. She'll either sleep in your room or the calligraphy room for the night.”
“Oh, right. The guest room's like a storeroom now. I'll go clear it up later. Okay, come in, Shiiko.”
“…please excuse me.”
Shioriko removed her shoes tentatively, meek and quiet.
There were no slippers, a luxury, in this Akagi residence.
However, a white cat with blueish-purple eyes arrived at Shioriko's feet. It remained a little distant from Shioriko as it spun about elegantly, giving her a cold look.
Shioriko too gasped at Lapis.
“It's called Lapis…she'll play with you later.”
That last part was not directed at Shioriko, but at Lapis.
It shook its tail, apparently saying, 'If she has the mood', and immediately turned to walk away. Perhaps it was because it was acutely aware of Masakaze's imminent arrival.
With a hostile Yakuza boss-like savage appearance, Masakaze walked to Shioriko.
Due to his advanced age, the pressure exerted by him was more than Koremitsu and Koharu's. His eyes too were sharper than theirs.
Shioriko's cheeks and shoulders tensed up.
“Are you…Mr Wakagi's granddaughter?”
Masakaze asked with a deep baritone.
“You know my grandfather?”
Shioriko whispered back, and Masakaze spoke sternly, ostensibly fuming,
“I often play Go, so I saw him play. His playstyle is not about winning, but a highly upright manner that is very refreshing. I like it a lot.”
Shioriko relaxed her face and lips slightly, and Hikaru had his hand on her shoulder, giving a gentle expression as he seemingly supported her from the sides.
Koremitsu finally heaved a sigh of relief.
“You must have been worried about him, but don't worry too much when living here. Just stay here for the time being.”
“So-Sorry to trouble you.”
Shioriko's face was contorted as she looked ready to break down in tears. Her hands placed in front as she gave a formal bow.
Masakaze nodded slightly, and then returned inside with a frown.
“Koremitsu, the hot water's almost done. Let the guest have a bath before dinner. Don't let her use the cheap soap and shampoo you and gramps use; I got some samples from my workplace. Let me look for them.”
After saying this, Koharu too went in.
Koremitsu then said,
“Put down the baggage. Koharu said that the guest room is full of stuff. We can only finish clearing tomorrow, so just sleep in my room or the calligraphy classroom for the time being. Gramps has a calligraphy class there, so the classroom has the stench of ink. It's still much better than the animal stench in my room though. Ah, that room's separated from the main house, so I don't know if you'll be scared there…”
“…it's fine. I can sleep there.”
Shioriko calmly answered, her voice as lethargic as ever.
“Oh, is that so? Let's go there then.”
Koremitsu then carried her luggage as he led her to the calligraphy classroom outside the main house.
The Japanese-styled room was covered with tatamis and short tables.
He moved the tables to the wall, clearing out some space.
“Okay. You want a bath, right?”
Shioriko put her backpack down together with her pochette, and remained still with her head lowered. After Koremitsu spoke to her with a deliberate optimistic tone…
“Hm? What? You want to bathe later?”
Koremitsu saw her reply downheartedly, and was at his wits end.
“…I-It's nothing much. I don't want you to owe me anything, so you can just say whatever you want. Alright, go bathe now. You'll relax once you have a bath.”
Shioriko nodded slightly and headed off to the bathroom as per his instruction.
Koharu had prepared a towel, washcloth and a cute bucket containing a shampoo set and bar soap on the washing machine. Koremitsu handed them over to Shioriko, who took them obediently.
Koremitsu reached his hand into the water, and found that it was suitably warm.
The Akagis typically took hot baths, so Koharu must have cooled the water a little for Shioriko to bathe in, as it would be more suited for children.
“Just call for me if you need anything.”
Once he said this, he exited the bathroom.
He closed the door, leaned his back on the door, and took a long sigh.
“That Shiiko's being so obedient out of a sudden. I don't know what to do.”
Koremitsu would rather be agitated by her arrogant attitude than see her being so downhearted.
Hikaru too looked gloomy.
“Shiiko was like this the last time her grandfather was hospitalized, and I stayed at her house to accompany her. This is the second time, so I guess she's more worried now.”
“Can't we cheer her up?”
“We can only be with her for now and talk to her more.”
He said dejectedly.
As Shioriko was bathing, Koremitsu moved the blanket to the calligraphy room, placed the air dryer set inside, and made the blanket fluffy.
“Is it not too hot to put a dryer here in such weather? You can dry it out in the sun if you had known.”
“It'll get cold at night, so I guess it's fine.”
After that, Koremitsu returned to the bathroom, and saw Shioriko in a one-piece bathrobe and her hair wrapped in a towel. The towel bathrobe was knee-high, and could probably have been used as a pajamas.
“Erm…may I borrow the hairdryer?”
“Eh, okay. The dryer's on the wash basin. Just use it.”
She shut the door.
And then, one could hear the sound of the dryer breathing out hot air.
“In the end, she is still a little girl at heart.”
Hikaru inadvertently chuckled.
They had hamburger steak for dinner, a rare sight at the Akagis.
There were thin slices of red carrots and green peppers. Koharu did tell them not to be picky with their food, but she still spent quite some effort preparing foods children liked to eat.
(Oh yeah. Koharu also has a kid the same age as Shiiko…)
Koremitsu suddenly recalled as he ate the hamburger covered with sweet sauce.
Koharu was divorced because her ex-husband had an affair, and at that time, her child, Koremitsu's cousin, was only 1 year old.
Koremitsu did not know how Koharu and her husband had negotiated things through, and though she often begrudged her ex-husband over and over again, she never mentioned her child, who was with him.
Koharu could never meet her child because of her parents-in-law demands. Given Koharu's defiant personality, this had to be something she had to agree to.
Though she looked and sounded aloof when dealing with Shioriko, one would notice her staring at Shioriko from time to time if he paid attention.
Perhaps she was concerned of Shioriko as her only relative was hospitalized, but as she continued to look at Shioriko, there was a seemingly sense of anguish in her eyes.
(I guess Koharu may have thought of her own kid when she looks at Shiiko…)
Koremitsu thought, and suddenly felt his heart wrench.
There were no conversations at the dining table, and it was extremely calm. Once Shioriko had finished her food,
“Thank you for the meal. It was delicious.”
She lowered her head in thanks.
Once dinner was over, Koremitsu brought Shioriko back to the calligraphy room.
The futon was already dried.
But it was 8pm. Even a child would not sleep that early.
“You want to play a game? I only have Flower Cards and Poker Cards. Ah, there's Go too. You know how to play Five in a Row?”
“I'm going to sleep.”
Shioriko calmly said and immediately snuggled into the futon laid on the tatami.
“Oh yeah, you didn't sleep last night, huh? Good night then. Call me on the cellphone if you need me.”
Just when Koremitsu was about to exit the room, a little hand was tugging at the buckle of his jersey shorts.
“What is it?”
He looked back and saw Shioriko looking up at him shyly, saying,
“What? Just say it.”
She still had yet to let go of Koremitsu's shorts as she lowered her stare.
The silence continued as she seemed hesitant.
(Is she scared of being alone?)
“Alright, I'll give you a special privilege today. I'll be your watchdog for the night until daylight. Just sleep well.”
Koremitsu said as he slapped the futon.
Shioriko then spoke softly,
Koremitsu was flabbergasted to hear this.
Shioriko cringed her neck and hid her face. She however continued to hold onto Koremitsu's shorts, and stammered,
“When grandpa was hospitalized the last time…Hikaru slept with me every night. That's why…”
(HEY, HIKARU!!! YOU DIDN'T DO ANYTHING WEIRD TO HER, DID YOU!!?)
Though Koremitsu knew that Hikaru was trying to comfort her, he gave him a doubtful look.
Hikaru hurriedly waved his hands as he stood by the side,
“Of-Of course not, Koremitsu! Why are you looking at me like that? Even though I give my all when comforting women, I will not do anything to a nine-year old girl! I swear that I never did anything to her! I just slept with her normally!”
(THIS GUY'S DEFINITION OF 'NORMAL' CAN'T BE TRUSTED!! HIS IDEA OF MEETING A GIRL IS BY KISSING!!!)
“I really do not have any vile thoughts at all! Really! Are you saying that you can get excited by sleeping with a little girl asking you for help?”
“Y-You idiot! How's that possible!?”
Koremitsu inadvertently yelled, and suddenly sensed that something was amiss.
“No, I wasn't saying that to you, Shiiko.”
He then hurriedly explained matters to a worried-looking Shioriko.
Hikaru clapped his hands together, and apologized gently,
“Sleep with Shiiko for now anyway. Anyone, no matter whether adult or child, wishes for another person's body warmth when upset.”
Shioriko did not let go of Koremitsu's shorts as she retreated, biting her lips slightly, looking very fragile.
“Guess I got no choice.”
Koremitsu carelessly opened the futon, and Shioriko was startled as she clasped her hands in front of her.
“Hey, move over a little.”
Looking extremely tense, Shioriko moved a little, and Koremitsu sat beside her,
“This probably is the first time I'm sleeping with someone else!”
Perhaps he was cuddled by his mother to sleep during his infancy, which he had no memories of…
He laid the futon out, turned to Shioriko, and laid down beside her.
Shioriko immediately blushed.
“Don't look at me. Turn the other side!”
She pushed Koremitsu away with her hands
“Huh? You really are fussy.”
“I'm not! You have no delicacy at all!”
She grumbled, looking very embarrassed.
“Good grief. Is this alright now?”
Koremitsu turned his back on Shioriko, and immediately felt something soft sticking onto him. He was taken aback by this sense of touch he never felt before, and wondered,
(Kids are so warm.)
Hikaru too laid down beside Koremitsu, beaming as he looked on.
“It certainly is cute seeing Shiiko clinging on your back. How does it feel to be used as a hug pillow by a 9-year-old girl?”
(Shaddup! Stop laughing at me! Scram!)
Koremitsu glared at Hikaru, but the latter's grin remained as he observed them.
“Hey…want to switch off the lights?”
“…Leave it on.”
(How the heck am I supposed to sleep now?)
“I think it is better to remain as it is. I can see your embarrassed look when it is brighter.”
(You big pervert!! Did you say such lines to girls too!!?)
As long as Koremitsu opened his eyes, he would end up seeing Hikaru. Left without a choice, he kept his eyes closed.
Once he closed his eyes however, the sensation of Shioriko's body warmth and breath became more pronounced, and he began sweating nervously.
There was no way he could let his thoughts wander over a 9-year-old.
(A kid's warmth…no, a human's warmth…feels very comforting. Why's it that I'm embarrassed yet relieved when it's like this?)
—and I can only relax when someone accompanies me…
I can’t sleep when I’m alone
Hikaru mentioned this before when they first met.
Don't talk about such weak things. Though Koremitsu had that thought, this first experience of body warmth spreading in his body was seeping into his heart, making it really relieving.
My back can at least provide some comfort for the kid, right?
Did I give some of it to her?
(If that's the case, that's good.)
It did not matter even if Hikaru teased him
Was that sweet grassy aroma coming from her?
His closed eyelids relaxed, as if melting.
His back, arms, legs were gradually losing all tangibility, seemingly becoming one with that soft thing.
(Damn…I'm starting to fall asleep too…how am I going to be her watchdog…?)
He was unknowingly falling asleep, breath by breath.
Hikaru's gentle voice rang at his ear.
“There's a big kid and a small kid. Sure feels like two kids are sleeping together.”
It was Sunday morning.
Shioriko had already woken up by the time Koremitsu did, and she had changed her clothes.
Through his sleepy eyes, Koremitsu could see her seated by the window, looking at her cellphone, probably checking through the messages. He immediately sat up in shock.
“Good morning, Koremitsu. You slept like a log.”
Hikaru giggled as the sun shone behind him. Lapis too was beside him as it stared at Koremitsu coldly with its indigo eyes.
(Don't block my vision now, damn it!)
Koremitsu glared at Hikaru, and found Shioriko staring at him.
He hurriedly greeted,
“Mo-Morning. You woke up rather early today, huh?”
He was a tad embarrassed upon realizing how he slept like a baby.
Shioriko too blushed as she calmly answered,
She turned her head away as she focused on the cellphone.
It seemed Shioriko too was embarrassed by this.
Lapis glanced aside, seemingly muttering 'what a brat' as it started combing itself
Hikaru continued to beam.
Koremitsu pretended to ignore him as he said,
“Do you want to eat breakfast, Shiiko? After that, I'll go visit your grandpa with you, and I'll go to your house later to water the plants.”
Shioriko did not look back at him,
As she murmured.
The Akagi's typical breakfast was Japanese-styled.
On this day, breakfast included rice that was cooked to perfection, grilled saba fish slices, sticky natto, fragrant dried seaweed, and miso soup that included cabbage, mushroom and bran.
Also, there was milk and oranges, something that was uncommonly seen.
Shioriko finished her breakfast, and even brought her used cutlery to the kitchen.
“Erm…pl-please let me help.”
She whispered, and Koharu replied with relief,
“Really? Then please clear up with with Koremitsu then.”
“What? Me too?”
“Of course. You want to slack when the guest's doing work?”
“Guess I got no choice.”
Koremitsu washed the dishes, and handed them to Shioriko to dry.
Hikaru continued to watch blissfully, whilst Masakaze and Koharu pretended to be aloof as they watched on, scowling.
Bad news awaited them once they arrived at the hospital.
Tomohiko was still weak, and unable to revert back to his usual lifestyle. According to the hospital, it would be difficult for him to recover considering his age; Shioriko may have already realized this.
She clenched her fists, remaining silent.
Tomohiko laid on the bed, unable to get up, but he smiled once he saw Shioriko…
“You came to look for me, Riko.”
There was distraught in Shioriko's eyes, but she quickly showed a smile, and said,
“I'll take care of those flowers, grandpa. Don't worry.”
“Thank you, Riko. Have the Summer Camellias and Oleanders bloomed yet? The Kumquat should be golden now, right?”
Koremitsu saw Shioriko clench her fists a few times.
Their apartment was merely filled with a few pitiful light-colored flowers in several pots, and had no Summer Camelias, Oleanders or Kumquat.
Shioriko knew that Tomohiko was talking about the house they had before they moved, and she knew that he assumed he was talking to her daughter. She continued to force a smile however, and this wrenched Koremitsu's heart.
Hikaru too frowned despondently.
“I have to get back there before the Summer Camellias wilt.”
“Y-Yeah, let's go view some flowers together, grandpa.”
Shioriko nodded, and Tomohiko squinted his eyes tenderly. He could no longer differentiate between his daughter and granddaughter, but he really loved them all the same.
He also thanked Koremitsu,
“Riko has been in your care. Thank you for everything.”
“Not really. My family's rather happy too. It looks like they're happy with the change in our family.”
Koremitsu tried his best to sound courteous as he answered,
But Tomohiko's blissful smile was too heartwrenching for him.
After that, they arrived at the apartment, and Shioriko remained gloomy as they watered the pots indoors and at the balcony.
She clearly sensed that her grandfather was becoming feeble. Though he remained spirited in the hospital as he smiled, he was most likely trying his best to remain that way.
Shioriko's eyebrows were droopy, and she remained silent.
“Let's rest for a while.”
Koremitsu handed the baumkuchen and coffee milk he bought at the convenience store to Shioriko.
She was nudged and made to sit at the short, round table, but did not eat.
She merely took the cake out from the bag and held it in her hand.
“Don't you like to eat such things, Shiiko?”
Hikaru spoke to her as he floated to her side; naturally, she did not react.
Koremitsu picked up the baumkuchen from Shioriko's hand, peeled off the outermost layer, and put it in his mouth.
Hikaru's eyes widened in shock.
“Don't you hate sweet stuff, Koremitsu?”
Koremitsu ignored him as he peeled off one layer of cake after another, putting them in his mouth.
(Damn it. It's like my tongue's covered in sugar.)
Shioriko lifted her head as she watched him eat one layer of cake after another in shock. Scowling, Koremitsu then handed the cake to her, and she started peeling one layer after another, eating them.
Both of them ate silently
Hikaru had said before that it was unladylike to eat the baumkuchen one layer after another, and hoped that she would change. However, at this point, he merely watched over them silently.
After some time, the baumkuchen got smaller, and Shioriko put the last bite into her mouth. She lowered her head as she chewed on it, spaced out for a little while, and murmured,
“Grandpa is…a very kind person…”
Koremitsu did not know what to answer, and could only wait with bated breath.
She then continued,
“That's why…he ended up like that…”
She suddenly frowned, and hissed hoarsely,
“That's why I mustn't become a good person.”
There was a sinister tinge of emotion in these words, causing Koremitsu to worry and feel a little angsty.
“Why can't you? You liked your grandpa because he's very kind, isn't it?”
Koremitsu whispered to Hikaru in the toilet.
“What am I supposed to do in such situations? Don't you have any jokes that can make a woman laugh?”
“It is foolish. The situation will worsen if the joke fails to work”
“Argh. How am I supposed to cheer her up?”
“If only we can buy something to cheer Shiiko up.”
“Like a toy?”
Both of them pondered for a while, but were unable to think of anything.
The aid came at an unexpected moment. 𝒾𝓃𝓷𝘳e𝗮𝒅. 𝐜૦𝒎
Once Koremitsu reached home, he found a large plushie sitting in the middle of the living room.
It was a mysterious creature with a long face—the head and body as one, a creature akin to a kappa, a hamster or an ant.
“…It's a prize I got from pachinko.”
Masakaze scowled as he said,
“It's a waste to throw it away…so I brought it back. We so happened to have a young guest with us after all.”
(I thought gramps doesn't play pachinko at all?)
Koremitsu was gobsmacked upon hearing this flimsy lie.
Did his grandfather really assume that nobody would see through it?
(So gramps went out to buy the plushie? He carried it home like that? Didn't he think of how he looks like a bad guy with this…)
Koremitsu imagined the sight of his scowling, savage-looking grandfather walking down the street with a composite plushie of kappa, hamster and ant, and shuddered at the thought.
(Gramps probably did it to cheer Shiiko up.)
It was clumsy of him, but certainly something he would do.
“Your grandfather is really cool.”
Can this grandfather, born before the Second World War, be called cool…?
“What's this anyway?”
“I don't know.”
“How do you not know…?”
“The shop attendant recommended this, saying that it's a trendy thing girls like most…of course, I'm talking about the attendent at the pachinko shop.”
Masakaze gave two dry coughs.
“At least ask her what this name is…”
Koremitsu grumbled, but Shioriko murmured,
Koremitsu turned around, and saw Shioriko holding the plushie whilst blushing.
“This thing's called a Capybara?”
He asked, and she continued to stare at it before nodding hard.
Hikaru then gently explained,
“It is a large hamster-like animal living in the Amazon River. There are a lot of related merchandises on the market, and it is popular amongst the girls.”
(This weird long creature is popular?)
Koremitsu was a little flabbergasted.
“Ah…Shiiko. Do you want that, erm, Capybara? This cute thing doesn't seem to go well with my family.”
Shioriko stared at Koremitsu.
It seemed she wanted it, but was too shy to say so,
And so, Koremitsu took it and pushed it into her arms.
Shioriko smiled as she embraced it.
Masakaze pretended to read the newspapers, but in truth, he was glancing at her.
With the plushie in her hands, Shioriko tottered towards Masakaze, and bowed, saying,
“Thank you, grandfather Akagi.”
“…I just so happened to win a prize.”
Masakaze hid his face behind the newspaper again, probably trying to hide his blushing face…
Koremitsu then ushered Shioriko back to the calligraphy room while she continued to lean her cheek on the plushie delightfully.
“I'm going off for a while now.Is that alright? You won't feel bored?”
“…I'm going to do my homework.”
Shioriko continued to hold onto the plushie as she answered and sat down on the tatami.
“I won't bother you then.”
Once he said this, Koremitsu and Hikaru left the room.
“Right. Now to clean up the guest room.”
“I really wished I could help. Shall I change into a maid costume and cheer for you 'do your best, master'? Or do you prefer to have a cheerleader?”
“I don't want any! Right, got to do something first.”
Koremitsu returned to the living room, and thanked Masakaze.
“Thanks for buying the plushie for Shiiko, gramps. She's much more livelier.”
“Just something I won as a prize.”
Masakaze continued to insist.
Well, I'll just assume that's the case.
Masakaze's face was shrouded in pessimism.
“Anyway…how's Mr Wakagi doing?”
Koremitsu's heart sank.
“It doesn't…look good.”
He repeated what he heard at the hospital, and upon hearing this, Masakaze's frown deepened.
“It looks like Shiiko will be staying with us for a while…I'll try my best to take care of her so that she won't trouble you.”
“I don't find it troublesome at all. It's rude to say such things to the guest.”
Masakaze warned harshly.
And with that sharp expression of his, he stared into the air, and looked gloomily, saying,
“Mr Wakagi was my savior. Twenty years ago, when your grandmother left me, I practically spoke with no one; I was frowning, my eyes sharp as knives…nobody in the Go club dared to talk to me, and I felt it was okay to remain like this.”
At that time, Tomohiko was the only one willing to talk to him.
—Would you like to have a game with me?
He sat down in front of Masakaze, and asked amicably.
When they were playing, he talked about his own family with a sincere and heartfelt tone.
Matters like his wife passing away, and him raising his young daughter, born to him at a late age.
Though his life was filled with trepidation and failures, that he had the arduous life, there were still things to be happy about.
—The older we become, the more things we will lose, but we will get certain things. I think those things are what we should treasure.
Masakaze was impetuous and distrustful because his wife left him, and upon hearing Tomohiko's words, felt a silent shock in his heart.
Even if he lost something, he gained something.
At this point, he realized they were important.
“The reason why this savage looking man, annoying old geezer isn't alone is because of those words Mr Wakagi said…”
Masakaze must have been reminiscing the past 20 years.
He closed his eyes, looking enlightened.
Masakaze's words too throbbed Koremitsu's heart.
“Mr Wakagi…really is an unbelievably good man.”
—I definitely don't want to be a good guy.
Shioriko once said this in anguish.
But her grandfather saved Koremitsu's grandfather 20 years ago.
Even 20 years on, Masakaze spoke graciously of Shioriko's grandfather—Tomohiko Wakagi, that he was a good man.
This point itself blew aside all the darkness in Koremitsu's heart.
“Say these words to Shiiko next time, gramps.”
Masakaze clearly looked flustered upon hearing that, seemingly awkward before he answered aloofly.
“Humph, how would women understand such things?”
“I never thought Mr Tomohiko had such a wonderful conversation with your grandfather. It certainly is an enigma how humans can get along with each other through various ways?”
Hikaru spoke seriously as Koremitsu went from the living room to the guest room.
“I suppose the reason why we became friends is because I saw the moment you saved that old man you did not know from being knocked down back then.”
“Such an annoying coincidence.”
“But such small bonds have certain significances besides coincidence itself. It really is great that I am able to maintain this bond with you.”
“Really? I think it's during the time I went to your funeral…”
“Are you regretting it?”
“What do you think?”
Koremitsu answered coldly, for he was suddenly embarrassed at the mere mention of it, and slid the paper door aside.
What feelings will I have 20 years later when I recall what I did with this guy?
Perhaps Hikaru will no longer be with me…
Upon thinking about this, Koremitsu felt a prick in his heart.
“Right. Time to get to work.”
He tried to motivate himself.
It was a lot more work than what he had assumed, as everything inside was a mess. His first actions were to move the bulky items to his room first.
While Koremitsu was sweating away as he toiled, Hikaru floated above as he watched,
“You really are a blue-collared guy, Koremitsu. That is so cool. Ah right, construction work clothes will definitely suit you, like this kind.”
He said as he changed into a set of work clothes that did not suit him at all.
“Try wearing it one day and go out to hook some girls. They will surely be mesmerised by your savageness.”
(I'm really regretting the fact that I went to your funeral.)
Koremitsu grumbled in his heart.
After finally finishing the work, Koremitsu returned to the calligraphy room.
Shiorio was seated on the floor, staring at the phone
Her stiff sidelong expression shocked Koremitsu.
(Why's she looking so depressed again?)
The Capybara plushie was placed beside her as she leaned on it, looking grim as she stared at the cellphone.
Was she waiting for contact from the hospital?
(I thought she'll be a little happier once gramps bought the plushie for her. Is there something…?)
Koremitsu looked around the room, and saw no forms of entertainment, just inkstones and brushes.
He moved a short table that was leaning on the wall, brought it to Shioriko, and dropped it heavily in front of her.
Shioriko widened her eyes, and Hikaru too looked surprised,
“Alright. Let's do calligraphy.”
Shioriko's face was full of skepticism as Koremitsu laid out pieces of calligraphy paper in front of her. He then started to grind the ink in a fluid manner.
“Try writing something. Anything you think of.”
He placed the pen brush in her hand, and she merely stared at the papers blankly, not moving at all.
“What words do you like?”
Koremitsu grabbed another ink brush, reached his arm out from behind her, dipped the brush into the ink, and drew a large word on the paper
Firm and vigorous black strokes.
The lines and curves were filled with utmost vigor.
With bated breath, Shioriko watched the word written on it—the marks left behind by the brushstrokes.
“Yeah. That's your name.”
Shioriko blushed as she stared at this word, filled with such vitality.
“Right. Now it's your turn.”
He then laid out another layer of paper.
She gulped, and slowly moved her ink brush.
And then, she wrote the word 'purple' cautiously.
“Your handwriting looks better…”
Shioriko complained, and Koremitsu suggested,
“You need to add more force here. Just write with more strength.”
He did a sample writing on the paper Shioriko wrote on, and once Shioriko took a look at it, wrote the word on a third piece of paper.
The sticky ink was splattered upon the Japanese writing paper, and she frowned, complaining,
“The ink's squirting out.”
“So be it then. Keep writing.”
“Argh, it got on my clothes…”
“It'll be clean after washing them.”
Shioriko puffed her cheeks as she wrote again, but she groaned dejectedly, unhappy with her attempt,
“How do I make this part a little thicker?”
“Tilt the stalk a little, and use this part to write.”
Shioriko continued to write 'purple' over and over again while this conversation continued.
The lifeless, feeble thin brushstrokes soon became thick, larger, and vigorous.
Whenever Koremitsu was depressed or agitated in his youth, he would sit in front of the short table alone, and write.
He wrote on the papers, venting his emotions on it.
And then, he would spread his arms wide, full of reprieve as he laid on the tatami covered in brushstroke words.
Back then, all he could see was a black ceiling, but this time, he saw an angelic boy with soft blond hair, smiling at him with a gentle expression.
It was dazzling, like all the light gathered upon a single point.
Shioriko too began to smile.
“Try writing something else this time.”
Koremitsu wrote the words 'blameless', 'upright', 'honest poverty' and 'genteel', wanting her to repeat the words. However, Shioriko puffed her cheeks and defiantly wrote the words 'getting rich quick', 'fast profits', words that a 4th grader typically would not learn in school.
“Your desire's too strong. This 'rich' word is off-shape already.”
“What can I do? There're too many strokes.”
Koremitsu then wrote a proper looking word with his brush, and Shioriko looked on unhappily.
“If your inner heart is pure, the words you write will be neat and pretty.”
“What has that got to do with this!”
Shioriko was a little miffed, and wrote the same word a few times,
“Argh…if a dog can write it well, why can't I do it?”
“You're being greedy by using too much ink now.”
Shioriko drew a circle on Koremitsu's right arm.
She drew two loach-like beard strands on him, and then burst into laughter.
“Hahaha, that's a stupid looking face.”
“You brat. This is payback!”
A large circle was drawn around Shioriko's right eye.
“What're you doing!?”
Shioriko shouted, and drew a spiral on Koremitsu's cheek. In response, he fought back, resulting in both of them having black faces.
From above, Hikaru giggled,
“Both of them certainly are like kids.”
“What's with those faces!? Were you drawing on each other's faces!? Even your clothes are covered in ink!”
Koharu bellowed, and ordered them to shower.
Once Shioriko was done, Koremitsu wiped his face clean, and removed his clothes in the bathroom.
“It certainly looks like Shiiko has recovered somewhat. You seem more adept at cooing kids than me, Koremitsu.”
“Who cares about that. That's the only thing I could think of.”
Koremitsu retorted impatiently at his grinning friend.
After dinner, Shioriko and Masakaze were playing Five-in-a-line.
Koremitsu and Koharu were commenting,
“That's where you should put it next, right?”
“I'll put it here, if it's me.”
And Masakaze, upon hearing their comments, hissed at them,
“Just shut up already!”
However, Shioriko seemed really happy.
Once Koremitsu saw that Lapis was lying on her lap, he widened his eyes, exclaiming,
“That damned cat wouldn't let me touch it ever since it came to our house!”
Shioriko beamed, and tickled Lapis' throat and back to show off. It let Shioriko cuddle itself.
“Lapis likes to be near me too.”
Hikaru then proceeded to pet Lapis, and Koremitsu gritted his teeth vexingly. Koharu told him off with a ‘Don't be rude to the guest!’ for his actions.
Koremitsu moved Shioriko's luggage to the guest room, and laid out the futon. Shioriko stood by the side, looking forlorn as she lowered her head, and after a little silence, whispered,
“Erm…will you be sleeping with me today?”
Koremitsu was no longer as hesitant as he was the previous day.
“Heh, Koremitsu, you have matured quite the bit. You can answer like this if a girl invites you in with 'I don't feel like going home'.”
Hikaru chimed in.
There was no difference between being a pillow for a day or two; it was needless for him to feel awkward again.
Shioriko shyly averted her eyes, and tucked herself into the futon together with the Capybara plushie.
“Do you still want the lights on?”
“No…it's fine. Switch it off.”
After dimming the light in the bulb, he laid down beside Shioriko, his back turned towards her.
“Not there. Turn…towards me.”
“You said the other way last night!”
“La-last night was different!”
He complied with her demands, and both of them were facing each other up close, causing her to be overly tense.
Koremitsu too had no idea where to look.
For the petite body, small enough to fit into his clutches, was right in front of him.
And this time, Shioriko, whilst holding onto the Capybara plushie, was leaning her head unnaturally beside Koremitsu's neck.
(Thi-This is harder to deal with than yesterday!)
The sweet aroma of tender grass and soft silky hair were resting upon Koremitsu's throat and collarbone, and the latter tried his best to resist the urge to jump up.
“…Hikaru…would stroke my hair and kiss my forehead before we slept.”
Koremitsu looked past Shioriko, and glared at Hikaru.
The latter was originally at the wall, petting Lapis on the back as he beamed at them,. Once he noticed this glare, he retreated, and flailed his hands,
“I simply kissed her lightly on the forehead like a mother putting her child to sleep cutely! I had no other intentions!”
So he replied.
Shioriko continued, clearly feeling lonely.
“And…he would say stories to me until I sleep.”
“Wait! Shiiko! That's—!”/span>
Hikaru flusteredly tried to prevent Shioriko from continuing.
But she could not hear him, and Koremitsu, who was often teased by Hikaru, finally had the chance for revenge.
“Oh? What kind of a fantasy story did that guy say?”
“A prince's story.”
As Koremitsu expected, it seemed to be a fairy tale. Little girls probably liked such stories.
“In a certain kingdom, there was a handsome prince. The prince really liked flowers…he likes all the flowers in the world.”
(So he's the protagonist of his own story. How unabashed that is.)
Hikaru remained silent. Perhaps he had his head cuddled in the darkness, blushing in embarrassment. Upon thinking of this, Koremitsu was smirking within.
“However…the prince really loved a single flower, and that flower vanished. That's why the prince wanted to find a flower that he could love more. However, he just could not find one…”
Shioriko's tone had taken on a forlorn vibe, perhaps due to her loneliness.
The fleeting voice and feelings she would never be able to convey resonated somewhere within him, along with the voice of the girl, his first love which had just ended.
Upon hearing this, Koremitsu gave a grim look.
Why was that?
Certainly, Shioriko's voice and tone was different from Yū's,
Yū once lowered her eyes, and spoke with a fleeting voice.
—Hikaru said that…there is only one exception… that though they were deeply in love with each other, they could not embrace each other…
—he looked really anguished when he said this…
The lost flower.
He was looking for a special flower he could truly love.
(Yū's words are similar to Shiiko's. Is this…a coincidence?)
In the midst of the dim light, Hikaru's expression could not be seen clearly.
But Hikaru had his head cuddled, his neck lowered.
And because Koremitsu could not see it, he felt frustrated.
(The Hikaru I know is can be called a harem prince, and is good towards most of the girls. But which amongst them does he really treasure most…)
Shioriko's young voice was quivering.
“All the flowers in the world has their own form of beauty, their own cuteness…but the prince could not find any flower that could replace that lost flower…the prince…was really lonely…pitiful…”
Her voice became softer.
Why did Shioriko say such a thing?
Did she feel that Hikaru was similar to the prince who was looking for the flower?
The small hands grabbing onto Koremitsu's chest were tightening their grips.
“Hikaru couldn't find that special person…”
The moist breath was pressing on his neck.
“That's because, Hikaru's really lonely, really pitiful…I really have no choice…th-that's why I hope…when I grow up…I will be really charming…that I can become the good woman Hikaru speaks of, that I can be all he needs—”
She was stuttering, her slender shoulders shivering.
“I actually intended to be Hikaru's bride in the future…”
She murmured sadly.
“I wanted to be cultured, so that Hikaru won't fool around with other girls, but…”
Her little face was sobbing away on Koremitsu's neck,
“Hikaru is…isn't around anymore.”
And her nose, resting upon him, was a little moist.
At Hikaru's funeral—
Koremitsu suddenly recalled a little girl sobbing away, her eyes red as a rabbit back then.
Her fists were clenched, her teeth biting onto her lips as she cried with a furious expression.
That was Shioriko.
There was a middle schooler who could easily buy a house, and an elementary girl who went about conning middle-aged men.
There was such a vast difference between them, and yet an impossible meeting occurred —normally, there was no way they could have met. However, a bond formed and chemistry born between them .
Just like how Koremitsu and Hikaru became friends, slowly but surely.
Koremitsu's clumsy fingers took Hikaru's place as he stroked that soft tender black hair over and over again.
“No…I might say that Hikaru's right beside you.”
What emotions did Hikaru harbor when he spoke to her?
What did he feel when he heard that she wanted to be his bride?
(Maybe he regretted dying foolishly like that…)
Perhaps he was lamenting the fact that he could no longer touch her hair when she cries.
Shioriko leaned on Koremitsu's neck, snivelling.
“The Prince's story…”
Koremitsu had never said a bedtime story to anyone, and was inadvertently flustered.
“Th…the prince's really pitiful if the story ends without him finding a flower…”
Just as Koremitsu was frustrated, a voice came from the darkness.
“In his attempt to continue looking for the flower, the prince continued to travel, and on a certain day, he found a small Purple Gromwell”
A sweet voice arose, warming the heart within.
“The prince spoke to the white flower, 'don't think that I'm just a cute white flower. I'm a rare flower that dyes the entire world a royal purple. If you want me, you have to give me all your love, blood and money' she whimpered cutely, yet proudly.”
Koremitsu begrudgingly said,
“The prince continued to travel, and found a Purple Gromwell in the wilderness. That flower's a pesky brat, and sure is snobbish, yapping away, declaring herself to be a rare flower that can dye the entire world purple, and asked him to take care of her with his love and money.”
“What's that all about?”
Shioriko sounded a little miffed as she remained at Koremitsu's neck.
“That's how the story goes anyway. Shut up and listen.”
“The prince started to take care of the flower; this flower matured so quick, and was really reckless, shaking its body and petals to attract foul bugs. It was a chore to take care of her.”
“And that brat often created a ruckus, attracting bugs by shaking its body and petals, tormenting the prince to no end.”
Shioriko then scratched Koremitsu's neck with her fingernails.
“I didn't create commotions for no good reason! Can't you say it a bit more romantic?”
“I didn't say who that person is.”
Shioriko would kick Koremitsu, pinch his nose from time to time, but he continued to convey Hikaru's story.
The Purple Gromwell continued to grow day by day, changing little by little, and the prince was so delighted as he watched on.
He could see a different view of her every single day, and was really delighted by this.
He was really happy.
He continued to watch over her, never leaving at all—
Hikaru said elatedly, radiantly.
And Koremitsu conveyed the message.
Shioriko soon quieted down, leaning onto Koremitsu as she cuddled the plushie, listening attentively.
Soon after, snoozing could be heard.
Koremitsu's eyelids were soon bogged down.
Hikaru's voice seemingly faded.
“The prince knew that he'll never change…so he feels happy, blissful as long as he could see the flower change.”
The voice soon became distant, seemingly reflecting the loneliness in Hikaru's heart, causing Koremitsu's heart to throb—
However, Koremitsu soon fell into a deep sleep, lulled by that gentle voice.
(…Oh yea, what has this guy been doing while I'm sleeping? Do ghosts sleep…?)
He wondered before he lost consciousness.
Someone was shouting at Koremitsu's ear.
“Koremitsu! Koremitsu! Wake up! Koremitsu!”
There was a small, soft item pressing against his cheek.
“Please, Koremitsu, wake up!”
He opened his eyes, and found Hikaru staring at him anxiously.
Lapis was tapping his face.
The room was still pitch black.
He murmured in a daze, and heard a hasty response.
“Shiiko ran away!”
Koremitsu hurriedly got up.
Shioriko, who was originally sleeping beside him, was gone.
He switched on the lights, and looked around.
Her luggage was still there.
But the Capybara plushie Shiiko cuddled was gone!
And also, there was a notebook, probably Shioriko's, laid on the tatami.
“Thanks for your care. I'm going to a relative's house. Please don't worry about me.”
Upon seeing the green words on it, Koremitsu was left flabbergasted.
(Where did you go, Shiiko!?)
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