The heater clonked and clonked.
The heater that was installed in the clubroom had been put to use for a considerable amount of time. With it operating for so long, it was seemingly starting to show signs of wear. Either the fan got stuck, the motor had issues, or the frame was warped somewhere.
Around the time it became evening after school, our little heater started making peculiar noises as if to announce the end of club activities.
I didn’t pay it much attention since I had been focused on reading and listening to Yuigahama and Yukinoshita chatting. Though the instant they went quiet, the noise became audible.
Yukinoshita who had her gaze dropped to her paperback book stopped turning the pages of her book and looked at the heater near the window. The same noise was apparently bothering her as well.
“…It’s rather peaceful today, isn’t it?”
“I know, right? It’s kinda relaxing.”
Yuigahama stretched out her hand, which had been fiddling with her cellphone, to her mug. Similarly, I grabbed my teacup and gulped down the tea lacking in warmth.
After we both breathed out with satisfaction, the clonking noise filled the room that turned silent once again. Even Yuigahama eventually found the heater concerning and looked at it.
We never really did notice how incessant the noise of the heater was. It might’ve been because Isshiki had dropped by so often recently.
Of course, it’s not because she’s annoying or loud or noisy or talkative, but our attention naturally shifted to something else whenever she wasn’t around. And every time Isshiki visited us, she’d bring some kind of good-for-nothing request, so things just end up becoming hectic.
So with all that had happened, it’s been a while since the room had been this peaceful.
As I helped myself to warm tea and sweets, I’d read my book absentmindedly while listening the exchange between a collected voice and a cheery voice, occasionally contributing with my own.
No visitors, no work, only a mellow atmosphere. Becoming familiar with this situation made it seem more like your regular every day of trivialities, but even so, it’s a wonderful feeling being able to experience it after so long. Because of that, the persistent noise of the heater was like the sound of a light shower in the early afternoon, resembling a rhythm with elegance.
I closed my book and looked towards the window while listening to the noise of the heater.
I gazed into the sunset absentmindedly and Yukinoshita spoke up.
“Shall we call it a day?”
“Oh yeah, it doesn’t look like anyone’s gonna come, anyway,” Yuigahama replied. She took the last cookie going, “Last cookie’s mine!” and started cleaning up the tea cakes.
Yukinoshita and I promptly got ready to head home while checking that the doors were locked. In addition to confirming the locked windows, I moved my hand to the switch of the heater.
“Good work,” I said, and flipped the switch. Upon turning it off, the clonking halted. Considering the cold season was going to continue for a little longer, it might not hurt to ask Hiratsuka-sensei to see if we could get the heater examined and repaired.
After adjusting our coats and scarves, we exited into the hallway. Yukinoshita locked the door to the room.
With this, today’s business hours were now over.
Now that work was over, all that’s left was to head straight home. When we walked down the hallway of the special building away from the clubroom, Yuigahama shivered and adjusted the front of her coat. “…Yikes! The hallway’s freezing!”
The emptiness of the hallway wasn’t the reason why it had been so cold. It felt like a chill was crawling upwards starting from my feet. I squeezed my scarf and tightened it.
“I guess it’s just more noticeable since the room was pretty warm.”
“The hallway isn’t installed with heaters, after all.” Yukinoshita trotted forward as if telling her to deal with it. Yuigahama was walking beside her and had a contemplative face while rubbing her scarf.
“Mmm… Oh, I know!” she said, and then hugged Yukinoshita’s arm. “It should be a little warmer if I do this!”
“Y-Yuigahama-san, wait just a moment.” Yukinoshita staggered, her voice sharpening and her eyes becoming resistant. But after she saw Yuigahama’s melting face, she sighed and gave in.
“…Ooooh, so warm.”
“It’s hard to walk…”
In reality, their temperatures shouldn’t have been all that different, but apparently their heat indexes were. Just the sight of those two is enough to warm me up!
Even after Yukinoshita had returned the key to the faculty office, Yuigahama continued to glue herself to her.
I followed the two who were tangled around each other and advanced through the hallway that led to the entrance. On the way there, a familiar face appeared from inside the student council room.
“Oh, it’s Iroha-chan. Yahallo.” Yuigahama lifted her left hand and waved, her right hand still grasping onto Yukinoshita’s arm. After noticing her, Isshiki rushed over to us.
“Ahh, good evening. I’m glad you’re all still here.”
“We’re already on our way home,” Yukinoshita said, Yuigahama still attached to her.
You’d think these two were flirting if you saw them from afar… At this point, it wouldn’t be odd to find them strange, but that’s Isshiki for you. She must’ve gotten used to it because she didn’t seem particularly fazed and answered back like normal. “I was also done with some things on my end as well, so I was thinking I’d drop by or something.”
“Did you need something?”
“Yes, I do actually,” Isshiki said, nodding. As if being wary of Yukinoshita and Yuigahama, she motioned to me and whispered, “Senpai, can I bother you for a second?”
“Huh? Yeah… sure…” I sent a look to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama telling them to head on home first and they nodded back. With Isshiki pulling me along by my sleeve, we approached the window at the end of the hallway.
The sky was colored in twilight and the wind that slapped the window seemed cold. With her back facing the window, Isshiki apprehensively asked, “Um, senpai, what’s going on with the work I asked you for help with before? I’d like to come to a decision on it already…”
“Hm, yeah. I got it. I’ll do something about it.”
Hearing “work” caused me to respond mostly with the motivation that a corporate slave would have. It’s kind of a problem if I have to talk about work on my way home. Today’s Service Club business hours were over. Please come back another day with your request. It’s cold and I want to go home.
I turned around after giving a vague, lukewarm response and Isshiki’s voice came at me from behind. “Oh. Then, is it okay if we meet tomorrow at ten in the morning in front of Chiba Station?”
“Huh? Tomorrow?” I turned around instinctively and checked.
Tomorrow was a day off. The Hikigaya household adopted the system of two full days of weekly holidays. So if I was told to rest, I was going to rest. However, the problem was that the Service Club adopted the system of two days of weekly holiday. These two systems happened to be different. The more you know. Anyway, that means whenever Service Club duties were brought up, I had this feeling of needing to work even on Saturdays and Sundays. On second thought, that’s not even a system of two days of weekly holiday, is it? What’s with this sweatshop club…?
“No, I don’t think tomorrow’s going to work…”
I gave an appropriate response for the time being to ensure my weekends and Isshiki moved her index finger to her chin and tilted her head. “But I doubt there’s anything to do though?”
“Don’t give me that, you think I’d know…?”
It’s been bugging me every time, but why does Isshiki always talk under the assumption I knew everything? Like I’d know what her plans were. I don’t know everything, I just know what I know.1
After telling her, Isshiki slyly puffed her cheeks. “I mean, it’s senpai we’re talking about.”
“Oh, you were talking about me… Wait, why is this about me now? Isn’t this kind of weird? Well, you’re right that I don’t have anything to do though…”
“See, I knew it. In that case, I’ll be counting on you tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing you in action, senpai! I’ll be excusing myself now.”
Isshiki made a bright smile, ended the conversation, and waved her hands in goodbye. Gosh! Irohasu, that’s such a nice smile! Your face was telling me you wouldn’t let me say no, ask any questions, or check over the details with you at all!
Aw crap, did I make some kinda promise or something…? If she mentioned work, I think Isshiki should’ve asked me for help with something… Aw crap, I, like, totally ain’t got a clue, man…
Having been coerced by Isshiki’s smile, I started walking towards the entrance.
After walking a few steps, I glanced around back at Isshiki and she was still waving her hand with a smile.
Well, it’s me we’re talking about here. It’s possible she was just saying something whatever was necessary for the time being like I did earlier. In fact, that seems like the only possibility. The details were the issue…
But unable to remember a single thing, I buried my face into my scarf and puffed while thinking, but nothing ultimately came to mind.
I wracked my brain while heading to the entrance and I could see Yuigahama and Yukinoshita idly chatting in place. It looks like I made them wait for me.
“Ahh, sorry. You guys could’ve just gone home without me…” I said.
Yuigahama vigorously spun around when I called out to them. In that moment, she dragged Yukinoshita along with her, still holding onto her. You know what she reminded me of? Like a dog who suddenly started moving around on its own in the middle of a walk.
“We weren’t exactly waiting. Like, it’s just after Yukinon and I were talking, we kinda stood around… right?”
“…I suppose.” Yukinoshita abruptly turned her face away when Yuigahama asked her. Seeing her act like that was similar to a cat who disliked being hugged.
“Oh. Well, you know… thanks for that.”
I thanked them and they both shook their heads. Seeing their truly trivial gestures was oddly embarrassing that I walked out after slipping on my loafers.
When we made it outside, it was already dark around us. It may have been nearing the first day of spring, but it looks like we had to wait a little longer before the day got longer.
As we headed to the main gate from the entrance, Yuigahama walked beside me. “What did Iroha-chan say?”
“Well, I really don’t know… Apparently it’s for work, but I really don’t know…”
“That’s not a very clear explanation…” Yukinoshita said with disbelief and a smile, walking a step from behind us.
However, it’s a frequent occurrence for work to not come with very good explanations. As a matter of fact, the current Service Club activities were more or less given no explanation whatsoever… Though, since I had undergone situations where having an explanation beforehand would’ve made everything much easier, having reports, communication, and consultations were really important, after all.
Heck, you didn’t even need to work as long you had those. Imagine if some important person told you something, you could just snap back at him with, “I made sure to report, communicate, and consult with you, didn’t I!?” You might be able to avoid responsibility that way!
So with that in mind, let’s try to skip out on work tomorrow, too!
× × ×
A day off with clear winter skies. The front of Chiba Station was bustling with activity.
I imagine the city area was much worse, but this chaos was more than enough for me since I very rarely go out on the weekends.
I made a sidelong glance at the people going back and forth through the front of the station and checked the time. It was ten fifteen in the morning.
It was already past the appointed time and Isshiki was still nowhere to be seen. As much as I’d like to confirm the time with Isshiki, I didn’t have her number and was out of luck.
When you said to meet in front of Chiba Station, that should unmistakably be the east entrance, but it’s possible that it meant the west entrance instead… No, it’s probable that it could refer to the Keisei-Chiba Station as well. After all, they used to call the Keisei-Chiba Station, the National Chiba Railway Front Station—seriously… which station was it? The word front was in its name… If not that, there’s also Nishi-Chiba Station, Higashi-Chiba Station, Hon-Chiba Station, Shin-Chiba Station, Chiba-Minato Station, Chiba-Koen Station, Chiba-Chuuei Station, or perhaps, Chiba Newtown Station and the ridiculous number of lines with Chiba in their names. For Chiba beginners, this might just be a tad too difficult to process.
When someone from Chiba Prefecture or Chiba City said, “I’m going to Chiba”; make no mistake, they were saying they were going to check around the area of Chiba Station. This might not be very intuitive to people from other regions. Say, for people from Hokkaido, you’d have no idea what they were referring to when they stated, “I’m going to Hokkaido. Or for people from Tokyo, “I’m going to Tokyo” sounded as if they were going to chase their dreams and becoming something BIG.
So as I thought about how meeting at the front of the station in Chiba meant here, I stomped on the floor to divert my attention from the cold while waiting. Then, within the waves of people, I could see Isshiki.
Wearing a fur scarf, her beige coat was tightly zipped up at the front. With her boats firmly worn at her feet and a short, plaited skirt, she didn’t appear to be very cold. Her boots with slightly raised heels weakly struck the ground.
Once she noticed me, she jogged over. After wrapping her scarf around her neck again, fiddling with her bangs and letting out a small breath, she lifted her face.
“I’m sorry for making you wait. It took a while for me to get ready…”
“No, I seriously had to wait,” I said in discontent with the adding meaning, Irohasu, you’re soooo slow.
Isshiki frowned. “Um, aren’t you supposed to say you just got here…? We’re going on a date, after all.”
Now that’s a word you don’t hear every day… Could this be something similar to that ritual where you had to soften up a rampaging spirit by accompanying her…?2 And then there would be a battle! Or something like that. Yeah right, like there would be any battles. Generally speaking, a date meant an outing between a boy and a girl.
But why was I suddenly going out with Isshiki, anyway…? I must’ve been wearing that doubt on my face because Isshiki placed her hands on her waist and sighed in disbelief. “I told you before, didn’t I? That you should think about a date course.”
Speaking of which, she did say something like that last month. She was actually serious when she said that? I do recall giving her a random answer without thinking about it too much back then. Crap! I didn’t think she’d take it as a commitment on my part!
“Well, you could’ve let me know in advance if that was the case. Even I need to prepare and stuff… you know?”
For example, cram up my schedule and refuse, or push back the plan forever without making a decision, or suddenly have stomach pains on the day of, or stuff like that. Well, I get the feeling nothing would’ve changed even if she told me beforehand though. Whenever you made exciting plans well in advance and the day finally came around, you’d end up thinking, “Okay, going sounds like a total pain…” What’s with that phenomenon?
Though I tried voicing my objection, it didn’t seem to have any effect as Isshiki’s attitude didn’t budge.
“I mean, if I invited you normally senpai, there’s no way you’d come, right?”
You’re quite something. She understood me enough that she could probably receive a third grade Hikigaya certificate.
In any case, it’s my blunder that I let her assume I had made a commitment. It’s a little too late to give any excuses and disband. Part of the reason why this situation happened was due to me not giving it any thought and giving her a half-hearted answer. It’d be simply irresponsible to just abandon the job here.
So the smart thing to do would be to quickly finish up the work and head on home.
“Alright, let’s go.” I nodded and Isshiki finally smiled. “So, where to?”
The instant I asked her, Isshiki’s smile broke. With a profound sigh, she pouted in displeasure. “So the first thing you do is rely on the girl… I was under the impression you’d think of something…”
“I only get excited about formulating intricate plans when I’m alone, but when I’m with other people, my style is to follow them from behind.”
“Just forget it… Let’s figure out where to go while we walk around instead! It’s really cold here.” Isshiki’s shoulders dropped in resignation. She promptly rewrapped her scarf around her neck to take back her composure and she started walking off with her heels tapping the floor. Yep, yep, it looks like Irohasu has finally gotten used to my pace.
By the way, just who was it again that made me wait this entire time in the freezing weather…?
× × ×
We walked down the long street that continued to the entertainment district in the city from the front of the station.
This district could be called a portion of Chiba’s main street which was aligned with restaurants, entertainment facilities, and commerce establishments. Since it’s a weekend, there were numerous people coming and going. Students often stopped by here during their weekdays and evenings and it’s also happened to be a very familiar place to me.
If we were to continue further, we’d arrive at an area I’d usually go to that had a concentration of movie theaters, book stores, and arcades.
Furthermore, if we made a left, we’d arrive at the PARCO store, and if we were to stroll around Chiba, there’d be passing streets and then some. Today was seeing crowded pedestrian traffic as if everyone all carried the same thoughts.
Although I was used to traveling down these streets, things just felt different when you were with a girl. Walking side by side was supposed to be natural, but unless I was conscious of my hurrying feet, I might’ve ended up leaving Isshiki behind. I let out a shallow breath, regained my composure, and dropped my speed more than usual, walking a half step ahead while keeping Isshiki in mind.
As I walked ahead while avoiding people passing by me, Isshiki slightly hurried her pace from behind and walked beside me. Pitching her upper body forward by a little, she looked up at my face from below.
“Senpai, where do you usually go?”
Isshiki’s tone turned sharper than normal and she glared at me with half-closed eyes. You’re kind of scaring me, Iroha-chan. With Isshiki’s silent intensity pressuring me, I coughed and corrected myself.
“Either the library or the book store. I can kill plenty of time and it’s typically fun for me when I go to either of them.”
“A library date…” Isshiki whispered with a doubtful look and then moved her gaze to the sky. After a moment of seemingly thinking, she promptly bowed her head.
“I’m sorry, something that intellectual seems more like something Hayama-senpai would do, so I’d like something more junk-oriented from you, senpai.”
Oh hoh, this little girl… There were plenty of things about me that were intellectual in regards to my grades, you know? Then again, it’s not like I wanted to go to the library with Isshiki either, so it’s not a big deal.
I mean, right now, I was pretty darn nervous, so even if I were to go somewhere quiet with Isshiki, I don’t think I’d be able to calm down. I felt like a dad who wanted to relax on the weekends, but was forced into taking care of the kids instead. So following that logic, it’s likely I’d be able to read in peace if I were to go to the library with Hayama. Oh my gosh! Didn’t I, like, just totally imagine going on a date with Hayama-kun to the library!? Hawawa!3 Could you imagine how problematic things would get if Ebina-san knew I was imagining something like that!? No, seriously.
But since I didn’t care the slightest about Hayama, let’s just chase him out of the corners of my head for all of eternity. I racked my brains over other general places people would go to.
“There’s karaoke, darts, billiards, bowling, table tennis… Batting centers work too, but there aren’t any around Chiba Station…”
I asked Isshiki with a look as to whether any of those options were to her liking, and she opened her mouth with an earnest countenance. “I don’t really care, but billiards don’t suit you at all, senpai.”
“Oh, but table tennis definitely does!”
“You really didn’t need to add that…”
Actually, aren’t you being a little malicious by saying it like that…? Table tennis is awesome, you know? Ever heard of “Ping Pong”? The manga and anime were really cool.
In having that exchange, we arrived at the large Gosaro intersection and were stopped by the traffic lights.
We’d be heading to PARCO if we turned left here and we’d be going to the movie theaters if we went straight. The choice was between left and straight since there wasn’t anything to note to the right.
“…How about we check out the movies then? We can kill two hours.”
“Why are we going to kill time…? Well, you’re the one in charge here, senpai…”
“Alright, movie it is.”
Isshiki seemed a bit reluctant, but since I managed to get her consent, I moved my legs towards the direction of the movie theaters.
Given that it’s a weekend, the movie theaters were thriving.
As I looked at the movie showtimes and the seat availability, Isshiki pointed at an extraordinary, Hollywood-esque poster. It was gaudily labeled as an “Academy Award nominee.”
“I want to watch this.”
“Alright, I’ll watch this one.”
I, on the other hand, chose a movie that had no relevance to Academy Awards. Both movies ended at nearly the same time, so the both of us should be out of the theater almost simultaneously.
“Now we just need a place to meet afterwards. You okay with the Starbucks below?”
My nature didn’t place me in the habit of watching movies with other people, so I decided on something that seemed reasonable. As a matter of fact, I even took into account the length of both movies, so why was Iroha-chan making such a dumbfounded face?
“…Huh? What?” I asked.
Isshiki nodded her head, finding something convincing. “I see. So things turn out that way because you respond like that.”
I have no idea what light bulb turned on for you, but I’m glad you understand. Isshiki let out a sigh of disbelief and looked away from the display of movie showtimes. Her gaze then stopped.
When I followed her gaze, there was a bowling alley signboard. At the bottom, there were words about table tennis tables.
After checking that, Isshiki turned towards me. “Okay, scratch the movie, why don’t we play table tennis instead?”
“That’s fine with me, but won’t those shoes make it a bit hard?” I said, while looking at Isshiki’s boots. Isshiki stopped, made fixated looks at her feet, and then directed her gaze at my face.
Her cherubic appearance with her mouth agape from surprise or shock made me realize again that Isshiki was a girl younger than me.
Her curious face that was looking my way was on the verge of saying something.
“Nothing… I just thought it was a little unexpected for you to be so observant…”
“I can tell without looking since I’m looking at a different height than usual,” I said.
Isshiki took a step towards me as if purposely confirming that and faced me. In taking a step back to open up our distance, Isshiki would raise her eyebrow and close that step again. Apparently, she was telling me to stay still. I slightly leaned backwards and Isshiki looked up at me. And with breaths spilling out through her smiling lips, she weaved her words.
“Oh, that’s true. Your height’s much closer than before.”
Due to the close proximity of our faces compared to normal, I instinctively swallowed my breath when I noticed her glossy, smiling lips.
As I stood there unable to say anything, even Isshiki was bewildered by our close distance and looked away with slightly red cheeks. Then, she looked at me timidly and acted shy to play it off.
“…Well, I guess you can just rent some shoes then.” I averted my eyes from Isshiki and took a step towards the bowling alley. Isshiki let out a short reply in affirmation and followed me from behind.
Jeez, just how sly can this junior of mine be…?
But along with that slyness of hers, Isshiki was more or less cute, so that made it even worse.
Because truthfully, she had a cute face. Her gestures were sly, but cute. Her personality… well, there were plenty of issues with it, but the way she’d act sly and innocent could be considered cute.
Crap, what the heck? She sure is cute. She’s like the school academy’s idol! It’s Iroha-chan, you know! It wouldn’t be unnatural if that actually happened… No, it definitely would be.
That slyness and cuteness, however, was directed at Hayama Hayato, and not me, so I was able to stay composed. I’mma pretty darn sure I’d fall for her first trap had I been the same as my pure and younger self, ya know…?
By intentionally thinking in a different accent, I faced my identity as a citizen of Chiba, solidifying my love for my hometown and was able to calm down. Phew, close one. If it wasn’t for my love for Chiba, Irohasu’s slyness would’ve completely annihilated me. Thank you, Chiba. I love you, Chiba.
Now that I took back my composure, I also recalled today’s objective. My assignment was to design a date course for Isshiki’s outing with Hayama.
When we got onto the passage of the shopping area of the station, I turned around to Isshiki when the bowling alley was visible and checked with her. “Actually, does Hayama even play table tennis? Wouldn’t something more stylish be better?”
“That’s exactly why table tennis is good! I won’t be able to differentiate myself from others if I just take Hayama-senpai somewhere he’d normally go, right?”
When she mentioned it, that’s true. Isshiki’s current rival Miura wasn’t likely to invite Hayama to something like table tennis. So in that sense, Isshiki could distinguish herself that way. Though, I wasn’t sure if she’d come off positively or negatively. Then again, I doubt Hayama would even care either way…
Well, this was for my cute junior and all, so let’s do the best I can.
× × ×
We headed to the bowling alley near the movie theater, checked in at the reception, and went to the table tennis tables towards the corner.
We took a seat on the nearby leather sofas and changed our shoes.
Isshiki took a seat next to me, took off her coat, and began changing out of her boots.
The pink-knitted sweater underneath her coat was moderately slender while emphasizing her feminine curves, her high-waist skirt showing her waistline. When she uneasily removed her boots with her hands, I could tell the fineness of her calves through her tights.
I ended up directing my gaze towards her seemingly immature gestures. When our eyes met, she bended her head to side with a “What is it?” But there’s no way I could tell her that I was taken in her by the unbalanced qualities between her alluring charm and her childish behavior, so I shook my head and quietly handed her a racket.
After Isshiki bowed her head and accepted the racket, she trotted to the front of the table tennis table while fanning herself.
“I haven’t played table tennis since middle school.”
“You can pick it in P.E. when you become a second year.”
I stood across from Isshiki on the other end of the table. Isshiki rolled up her knitted sleeves and pointed her racket at me. She then made a… knitted a smile in determination!
“So if I win, can you treat me to lunch?”
“We’re betting lunch, huh? Well, I guess that’s fine…” I answered, and tossed a table tennis ball to Isshiki. I guess there’s no better way to hype up the match than putting down a wager. After bouncing the ball on the table, Isshiki grabbed it and readied her racket.
“We’re decided then…! Okay, I’ll start first. Ey.”
Isshiki flatly grunted when she weakly rallied the ball to me.
I returned the ball that came straight at me without any extra strength. The return skillfully dropped in front of Isshiki and bounced to a perfect height for her. Isshiki grunted with a weak voice, “Toh!” and rallied the ball back.
The ping pong ball noisily bounced back and forth for a while.
Every time the ball made a bouncing noise, a sense of nostalgia would well within me. It reminded me of the time when I played with Komachi at the hot springs we visited as a family. Thanks to that, I was proficient at rallies for fun. My style more or less incorporated the playstyles of Mario Kart and Puyo Puyo. I mean, every time Komachi lost, she’d get a little upset…
I used my times as Komachi’s opponent as a basis for the continuing rally of the balls to places that Isshiki could easily hit back.
We rallied the ball back and forth while letting out flat grunts. It seems that one of my one hundred and eight onii-chan skills, “Entertain the little sister” had yet to go rusty.
At first, Isshiki had returned the balls nervously, but it looked like she had gotten used to it. Looks like she’ll be able to have fun now… At the end of my thoughts, a suspicious glint appeared in Isshiki’s eyes.
Isshiki gave a focused stare at the ball that bounced up, stepped in, did a large backswing, and smashed the ball.
“Uh, why would you even say that…?”
The ball that Isshiki smashed flew in a large parabola and disappeared into the distance. It was gone, yet Isshiki had a triumphant smile going, “How’d you like that…!?” There’s no come-from-behind grand slam in table tennis, girl.
I went to pick up the ping pong ball. Although we resumed with my serve, I made some clumsy hits and it became Isshiki’s turn again to serve.
“Okay, so it’s my turn now, right?”
Isshiki bounced the ball on top of the table and took a serving stance. But as if she had noticed something, her gaze swam around and she lightly raised her hand to pause. “Oh, senpai, could you wai—HIYAH!”
Right about when she tried to pause the match, she made a sudden serve with all her energy. But I wasn’t one to fall for little acts like that. I calmly shifted over to the front of the ball and made a return ace to the opposite of where Isshiki stepped forward.
My pops always used that trick with me in table tennis when I was younger, so in order to extract revenge, I’d do the same thing multiple times to Komachi, and she’d get so upset about it! I couldn’t have you underestimating the worthless genes of the Hikigaya household now! The way Komachi would really cry when she was a toddler and tell me, “I’m not gonna play table tennis with you anymore, onii-chan!” was just so cute…
Of course, Komachi had a tantrum since she was a child back then, but how would Irohasu, who was an adult now, react? When I looked at her, she was gritting her teeth as if her plans had been foiled.
“If you’re going to resort to things like that, I guess I’ll have to get serious…” I said, and took off my sweater. I rubbed the floor and took on the form of a table tennis athlete. When I did, Isshiki waved her racket in protest.
“S-Senpai, you’re being very childish!”
“Says you… Whatever, here I go. It’s my serve now.”
I was in a different mode from earlier’s handicapped mode for entertainment. I positioned myself at the corner and made a full-power serve. Even though Isshiki was complaining, she seemed awfully ready as she let out a short sigh and chased after the ball. “Uryah!”
And then, her racket cut through the air and the overenthusiastic Isshiki’s skirt fluttered. Crap, now that I think about it, she’s wearing a skirt, isn’t she…? I’d better avoid hitting too many fast balls…
After that, I returned back to handicapped mode and lightly returned the balls. But now that I was conscious of her skirt, my gaze would move on its own. Isshiki’s skirt flapping up and down just wouldn’t stop bothering me.
Tch! How cowardly!
What’s cowardly? It’s the table that would obscure my vision and absolutely keep me from seeing anything! What’s with this defective sport…!? Oh, I know. What if someone invented a table tennis board made of “Clear and See-Through” skeletal material? It’d definitely get popular. Heck, I should invent it and get rich.
Either it’s because I had idiotic thoughts or even the delusions about skirts, I repeatedly swung at air and Isshiki was able to score some points.
Isshiki let out a sigh and took out a mini-towel from her bag. She patted her face with her towel to wipe off the sweat and began counting something by bending her fingers.
“Ummm, so senpai has eight points right now, and I have… one, two, three, four… Oh, senpai, what time is it?”
As I pondered over this familiar and curious development, I looked at the clock on the wall and answered, “It’s about eleven.”
“Eleven. Okay. Ah, so my points are twelve, thirteen—“
“You have six points. Six.”
You’re being way too bold with the Time-Noodle4 act. Just how many numbers did you skip over? Then again, you’re pretty refined to know about an old rakugo story like that, Isshiki.
When I pointed it out to her, Isshiki pouted. But pouting wasn’t going to get her anything here.
“Here, let’s go.”
I called out to her and did a light serve. I held back on the speed of the ball, but I aimed for a considerably difficult spot. Isshiki ran to one end of the table, but the ping pong ball mercilessly struck the edge with a plonk and bounced away.
Seeing it off, Isshiki made a smile and faced me. “Ah, that was out, so I get the point, right?”
“There wouldn’t be a bouncing noise if it was out…”
What’s with the straight-faced lie…?
For a while now, weren’t her methods kind of unfair? And especially… the way her skirt was moving all around the place, I think that’s totally unfair!
From then on, I was able to amass my points, making the occasional misses due to her skirt, and there was finally a winner.
The result was my complete victory.
We both took a seat at the nearest sofa when we finished our game. My breathing was a little rough since it had been a while since I played table tennis.
On the other hand, Isshiki’s shoulders were dropped in dejection as if overcome with shock from losing… You’ve still gotta long way to go!
“…So it’s my win, right?” I asked to confirm with her.
Isshiki reluctantly nodded. “I guess that’s how it is… I’ll take the loss this time…”
She was surprisingly honest in accepting her defeat despite her cowardly tactics from earlier. Had this been a certain sore loser, first or foremost, she would’ve been the one who’d win the match.
I wasn’t one to dwell on my victories, but winning wasn’t a bad feeling. I unknowingly spilled an unpleasant smile, but after seeing Isshiki’s downcast look, I couldn’t really laugh at her.
“Well, thanks for lunch.” I restrained my smile with a cough and stated as nicely as possible. When I did, Isshiki’s shoulders shook… H-Huh, don’t tell me you’re crying, Irohasu? E-Eh, wh-what do I do…?
As I freaked out, a low chuckle came from beside me.
When I looked at her, Isshiki had a fearless smile.
“Huh, what? Something wrong?” I asked.
Isshiki placed her hands on her waist and pointed at me with a triumphant smile. “I said you had to treat me if I won, but I didn’t say anything about you winning, senpai.”
What in the world is she blabbering about…? I looked at her with a suspicious look and I recalled our conversation before the match… Hmm?
Indeed, the only condition she gave was that if she won… Not bad, I definitely learned something here… The next time I challenge Komachi to something, this was what I’d use. Just the thought of Komachi showing me hate after so long got my chest jumping in joy… But you know, the things that Irohasu says and does were the absolute worst.
“Well, I wasn’t really going to have you treat me from the start, so it’s fine. But aren’t you being just a little unfair…?” I retorted.
Isshiki, however, was rather unconcerned about that. Instead, she smiled.
She softly placed her hand on her bosom and slightly leaned forward, peeking into my face. Her eyes looked as if they were teasing me.
“Being a little unfair makes me more of a girl doesn’t it?”
“Ahh, that so…”
Isshiki’s words were ridiculous, yet strangely convincing. I think it was from Mother Goose about how girls were made of sugar and spice, and all things nice.
That really was true. Though in Isshiki’s case, she had a bit of excess spice in her.
“…I don’t really care, but don’t expect that logic to work with every guy. Today’s especially.”
Indeed, there were serious people out in the world who’d stay merciless for the entire duration of a gamble where everyone would see you get extremely angry from losing at Daihinmin and everyone would laugh and say how funny that is.5
Well, I’m sure guys like Hayama and Tobe could enjoy that kind of enthusiasm and given Isshiki’s appearance and communicative ability, I think she’d be forgiven for most situations. Heck, even I forgave her just now!
In thinking that, Isshiki made a sudden, meek look as if she understood what it was I was trying to tell her. She then waved her hand in rejection.
“No, no, no, I’m obviously not going to do that when I’m with Hayama-senpai. What am I gonna do if he ends up hating me?”
“…Well, I’m sure Hayama would be happier that way, though.”
“Are you for real? Where’d you get that information?”
“Nowhere in particular.”
Since Isshiki had abruptly leaned forward, I shifted away from her accordingly. Isshiki didn’t approach any further and crossed her arms in thought. “It’s not credible if your source is unclear… I don’t think I’ll be able to act that way just yet.”
“What’s the hurry? For the time being, he’s—”
I was interrupted by Isshiki’s sliding movement towards my side.
“That’s why, for now…”
Isshiki stopped her words there and moved her lips to my ears as if to say something secretly with deceiving eyes at the end.
She added some spice smeared with sugar.
“You’re the only one that I’ll act this way with, senpai.”
“You realize that’s like saying it’s okay for me to hate you, right…?” I said, retreating my upper body away from her. Isshiki chuckled.
No matter the amount of sugar you coated jalapenos with, they were still jalapenos. No matter the amount of syrup you mixed with Tabasco, it was still Tabasco.
Unless there’s something nice, nothing would change.
× × ×
After we had some moderate body exercise, I was feeling hungry.
Isshiki who had been walking beside me tapped my shoulders as soon as we left the bowling alley. “Are you a little hungry?”
“Hm, yeah. I guess we should get something to eat.”
I turned my face to her and answered and she smiled back. But she didn’t say anything more and only continued to smile.
Don’t tell me it’s time for me to pose the question…
I readied myself and frightfully opened my mouth. “Is there anything you want to eat?”
“Anything’s okay with me.”
Th-There it is! She’s the kind of person who’ll say anything’s fine when you ask her if she wants to eat anything!!!
Rumor had it that girls in society measured the levels of manliness in a boy based on their suggestions. The boys were getting tested… But I’d like to interject something.
It is possible that being aware of the fact that boys and girls share a mutual position in testing each other may be the key to success.
I want to send everyone these words.
“When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” (Nietzsche)
Crap, I became overly aware there for a second because of the “Absolute Best Unofficial Offers! kenken’s Journal of “Successful” Job Hunting Experiences at Publishers!!” from the other day. I must calm down and face reality again.
If I wasn’t anything different from the past, Isshiki’s question would’ve caused me to forget myself in anger and turn Super Sayian, but I was now an adult having accumulated all my recent experiences.
“How about pasta? Arrabbiata? Or maybe tagliata?”
“Why is it all pasta…?”
“Except tagliata isn’t pasta.”
It’s thinly sliced beef steak or something like that.
Isshiki’s eyebrow twitched as if she was annoyed by what I said. But she was, of course, barely able to keep her smile from breaking.
Though she looked happy on the outside, she clearly seemed upset inside. And with a prickling voice, she mumbled. “…Duh, but senpai, you sure do have a bad personality.”
“So do you,” I said.
Isshiki moved her index finger to her chin and sweetly tilted her head wondering what I was saying. “I’m told I have a good personality, though?”
Stating that with such a blunt expression showed how strong her heart was. True, she did have a good personality. If it’s just her mentality, it’s probably stronger than the JFA6…
We pondered over places we could eat at as we walked around.
“If you’re okay with anything, then… Saizeriya sounds good.”
Isshiki shook her head in rejection. Come on, didn’t you just say you were fine with anything…? In the end, I had to take into consideration some of Isshiki’s needs when I answer.
With that said, let’s start the “Quiz! Irohasu Lunch!” I had to keep naming one place after another until they were to Isshiki’s liking.
“Okay, how about Jolly Pasta?”
Isshiki turned her head in rejection. This is wrong, too…
“Tch, fine. I’ll compromise all the way up until Tora no Ana.”
Isshiki tilted her head going, “Pardon?” Grrr, what other store can you eat pasta at…?
Eventually, Isshiki sighed. Apparently, my time was up. The number of correct answers I gave to the “Quiz Irohasu Lunch!” was zero, so no points for me.
“Pasta and more pasta, huh…? I’m fine with just going where you want to go to, senpai.”
“For real? So you’re fine without pasta or avocado?”
“Seriously, just what do you take me for…?” Isshiki looked slightly indignant and glared at me.
No, girls were supposed to wholeheartedly like pasta and avocado… Oh, and shrimp. Shrimp, for sure. Girls had the image of liking shrimp. You know what I mean? Like, isn’t Cobb Salada Pasta, combination of pasta and avocado, just the greatest thing ever?
She said anywhere was fine, but a few moments ago, she rejected Saizeriya. I checked with her just in case and asked again, “You sure? You’re not testing me, are you?”
Isshiki groaned and looked into empty space. “Well, normally, I would be, but…”
So you’ve always been doing it, huh…? Irohasu, you’re scary.
“But for today, I’m fine with whatever place you usually eat at, senpai.”
…Thank goodness, the only other pasta store I knew was Tapas Tapas, though, there really isn’t one around Chiba Station anyway.
So that means I should really take her along to my preferred stores.
But since they were places that lowly high school students like us wouldn’t often go to, my options were naturally trimmed down. On weekends at this time, family restaurants and cafes were expected to be full. That being said, I wasn’t in the know-how about stylish stores, either.
To borrow Isshiki’s words today, she’s expecting something junky from me.
In which case, there was just one answer.
“Alright, I guess we’ll have to go there…” I said, and took a step forward towards the center of Chiba to lead the way for Isshiki.
A main street in Chiba that ran along large shopping malls such as SOGO, PARCO, and C-ONE was full of restaurants, but there were just as many on the street famously known as the “pick-up street” and the narrow back street that extended on the side.
But for a Chiba citizen of my stature, I would purposely take the back alley and inconspicuously choose an open store.
Normally, I’d embark on an adventure to discover new stores to eat at, but I had company today.
At a time like this, choosing somewhere prominent seems like the right thing to do.
When we entered the street, the signboard with orange lights of the store I was aiming for came into view. Below that signboard, there were stairs that descended underground.
Isshiki’s eyes sparkled from the refuge-like atmosphere of the underground.
“You’ll get a lot of points if you know about delicious places, you know!” Isshiki tugging at my sleeve, showing her excitement.
We then arrived at the ramen shop, Naritake, considerably well-known even in Chiba. Presently, they ran operations in Tokyo and in Nagoya. They also had businesses in Paris, France as well, so it’s occasionally referred to as Paritake (by me).
“And… we’re eating ramen?” Isshiki looked into the store through the glass and her excitement visibly disappeared. She was completely still, no longer tugging at my sleeve.
“You said any place I usually eat was fine, so…”
“Well, I guess it’s senpai we’re talking about here,” she said in resignation and let out a deep sigh.
O-Okay… I mean, sure, it’s not stylish or anything, but I don’t think you have to be that disappointed about my choice…
Based on my experiences, girls were supposed to like ramen. Source: Hiratsuka-sensei. Crap, my source of information wasn’t credible at all. For one thing, she’s not even at the age she could be called a girl anymore, so that’s bad. What’s bad? Calling her a girl is bad.
Had Hiratsuka-sensei been here, she’d definitely jump right into the store to eat. Heck, she’d get all nari, nari, and take, take while doing so. To put it in another way, as far as I know, only Hiratsuka-sensei would end up that way.
But if I looked at this from a different angle, this was a perfect chance to introduce Naritake to Isshiki. There’s an old saying, “Where there’s a pinch, there’s a crisis, but where there’s a pinch, there’s also a chance.” A pinch normally was just a crisis, so the moment you thought it’s your chance, you’d get the rug pulled from under you. I had better stay focused!
“Um, why don’t you reserve your judgments for after giving it a try….?” I instinctively used a polite tone and timidly spoke to Isshiki.
Isshiki gave me a fixed stare, but then gave up and nodded. “I guess that’s fine. I mean, I’m the one that said you should pick, anyway…”
Oh, really? Really? Well, if you’re fine with it that way, that works for me…
I entered the store and was able to get Isshiki’s approval although she was reluctant. We were welcomed with an energetic voice, “Hello, ‘elcome!”
Most of the counter seats were occupied since it was the afternoon, but luckily for us, two seats were open. I decided to purchase a meal ticket from the nearby ticket machine. Isshiki looked at the words on the buttons and her gaze swam around in confusion. It looks she was at a loss.
“I suggest the shoyu flavor. Miso’s pretty good too, but for your first time, it’s usually best to go with shoyu.”
“I’ll go with that then.”
Once Isshiki purchased her ticket, we headed to the counter. We took our seats and the first thing that came out of my mouth was a call to a waiter.
“Gita? Huh?” Sitting next to me, Isshiki gave me a dubious look.
“It refers to the amount of fat you want in your broth. Oh, can we get assari broth for her?”
Back fat and the rich flavors were the selling points of Naritake, but even if you ordered something with a normal amount of fat, the taste was still pretty strong compared to other ramen shops. It’s recommended for beginners to start off with assari ramen.
“…You seemed used to this, senpai.”
“Pretty much.” Taking that as a compliment for my status as a regular, I boasted proudly. But I didn’t get so much of a reaction from her afterwards.
When I glanced at her, Isshiki was retreating away from me with an apathetic look.
Hmm, Irohasu doesn’t seem too impressed with me… We’re sitting right next to each other, yet why do we feel so far from each other…?
Hey boys! Listen up! You guys can flaunt your knowledge of B-class food like ramen and curry all you want, but girls don’t find that impressive at all! Boys looking to get popular by doing that should keep that in mind!
I watched the kitchen in front of me since we weren’t talking during our wait and I realized something. “…The guy who says, ‘Hello, ‘elcome’ is here today. Looks like our ramen’s going to get something added to it.”
“Huh? What the heck are you saying?”
“The thing is, Naritake is normally pretty good, but depending on the time of the hour, the person making the ramen will put a twist to it and it’ll taste subtly different. And so, the time I like to go to Naritake the most is when the guy who greets you with ‘hello, ‘elcome’ is on his shift.”
“…Um, your spiel isn’t exactly the kind of explanation I was looking for.”
The moment she stated that wearily, the ramen arrived. The gita gita concentration of back fat glistened shinily like the peak of Mount Fuji, the rising steam warming the hearts of those who watched.
“Eh? What is this, is this fat, are you for real?” Isshiki raised a voice of shock after seeing the bowl, but I didn’t have the time to deal with her.
“Thank you for the food.” I solemnly gave my appreciation. I then grabbed the Chinese spoon and chopsticks and earnestly ate, slurped, feasted, and swallowed my ramen. It was indeed an addicting taste.
On the other hand, the nearby Isshiki was watching me dreamily eat away at my ramen in aversion, but after swallowing her breath as if readying herself, she timidly took her chopsticks. She gracefully carried her Chinese spoon up to her mouth, raised her jaw, and moved her slender neck.
She then froze. Although it was only for a moment, she quickly came back to her senses and picked up the noodles with her chopsticks, blowing at them with her glossy lips, and began chowing down.
Apparently, it didn’t leave a bad impression on her. Relieved from her reaction, I resumed my eating.
We both continued eating in silence and ended up finishing our food before we even realized it.
“…It’s frustrating to say,” said Isshiki, whispering. I watched her with a sidelong glance and she lifted her face and looked at me. She looked frustrated somehow. Isshiki pouted and continued her words.
“But it was good…” She immediately averted her face. I felt like breaking into a smile after seeing that.
“…I’m glad to hear that.”
“Well, I suppose taking a girl into a store that’s normally hard to enter alone by herself might score you some high points.” Isshiki nodded her and convinced herself as if she was persuading someone. As long she enjoyed it, that made me extremely delighted.
But when I think about it, pasta and ramen were pretty similar and when it came to oil content, avocados and back fat weren’t all that different.
Carbohydrates and fat didn’t discriminate between men and women and may very well be the best things ever.
Naritake really was god-like.
× × ×
Alright, now that we’re done eating, let’s go home!
At least, that’s what I wanted to say, but we were still walking around the town of Chiba.
“Don’t you feel like eating something sweet?”
She posed it as a question, but in reality, she was issuing an order. I accepted her order and we went around looking for a place similar to a cafe.
“There’s like a lot of nice stores if we go that way,” Isshiki said, hastily walking on. The direction she headed in veered slightly away from the town center and led to a subdued street with a park, offices, and apartments.
We passed the front of the central station and walked down a street that had gone through maintenance relatively recently. This area, unlike the crowded “pick-up” street, was sparse with buildings.
It might’ve been the reason why the blowing wind felt a little stronger.
For how clear the weather was, the north wind was still chilly.
Having had my fill of ramen, I was feeling nice and warm—and I wouldn’t say I wanted to go home at this instant—but I wasn’t very fond of walking for long periods of time.
I looked at Isshiki wondering how much longer this was going to take and she pointed ahead with a smile. “You see that? It’s that store over there.”
When I looked, I was met with a stylish cafe.
Its exterior was made of wooden panels with large windows that took in light from outside, the terrace had a large, green parasol, and the front of the cafe had a blackboard with the menu written in chalk and exposed in broad daylight how stylish it is. Hey, you can’t be serious, we’re in Chiba, you know? Is it really okay to have this kind of cafe in Chiba?
How about it? You’re okay with that store, right? We are going in, right? You don’t know what “I won’t go” means, right? Isshiki pulled at my scarf silently as if asking those strings of questions. Um, my scarf isn’t a leash, you know?
“Well, I guess this store works.”
Then again, it was really cold, so anywhere was fine with me. I know for sure I wouldn’t bother entering that store if I was alone, but since I was accompanied by Isshiki today, they should forgive me for trespassing into their stylish world.
“Okay, let’s g—oh, shoot!” Isshiki said, and stopped.
“What? What’s going on?”
She pulled my sleeve, forcing me to a stop. My sleeves aren’t your reins, either… She then frantically went behind me. She then peeked out her face from the side and pointed at the store.
“Please take a look over there.”
I looked in the direction as I was told and a couple had just come out of the cafe. A frail looking girl wearing glasses with pigtails and a regular boy with no worthwhile traits that could be found in any boy elsewhere… After those two left the store, they walked in the opposite direction of us.
I watched them in curiosity with my arms crossed and contemplated.
They look kind of familiar… As I thought about who they were, a voice spoke to me from behind.
“He’s the vice president and she’s the secretary.”
…Ohhh, that’s right, I’ve met them before.
No, wait just one second. Why did those two come out of that cafe together?
“What, don’t tell me those two are dating?” I asked Isshiki who took some distance from my back.
She tilted her head. “Who knows? I don’t think so? Just because they went out out together somewhere for a little bit doesn’t mean they’re da…”
Isshiki abruptly stopped and turned around with incredible intensity.
“Ha! What was that just now, were you trying to hit on me, you’re a bit shameless to think you can act like a boyfriend just because we went out to have fun for a bit, I’m sorry, please do that only after we do this a few more times.” She quickly ran her mouth after flinging out both her hands as if to take some distance.
“…Ahh, yeah, sure. Nevermind, just forget it.”
It’s too much of a pain to ask how she came to that conclusion… Also, counting how many times she’s rejected me like that was starting to feel stupid…
“Whatever, let’s just go in already. I’m cold.”
“Oh, please wait for me!”
I went into the store after telling her and Isshiki chased after me.
I knew it was stylish outside, but the interior wasn’t any different. They were seemingly picky about their chairs and tables as every single one of them was distinct. The walls and the drawers were decorated with sweet decorations, forming an interior that would be popular among female customers.
The seats we were led to were inside to the right and were sofas that looked standard compared to the interior of the store. Sunlight from outside poured in through the bow window that faced the street.
Isshiki who sat across from me promptly opened the menu. “Oh, yikes! I have, like, no idea what to get, you know?”
Though she asked, it didn’t look like she was expecting an answer from me in particular as she flipped through the menu on her own. That’s Irohasu for you, so sly; she was exhibiting her sweets-loving femine wiles. Well, slyness didn’t really matter since a lot of girls liked sweet things, anyway. Case in point, there’s a cookie-eating monster that gobbled down tea cakes at the club room… Although recently, she’s been devouring rice crackers instead.
As I watched Isshiki worry over the menu, she turned a part of it towards me.
Ohh, the menu is pretty varied…
Macaron, swiss roll, gâteau au fromage cheesecake, crème brûlée… There’s also gelato and sorbet. I wonder what the difference between those two is? Was it something like Shofukutei family7 or something?
With worthless thoughts in mind, I compared the menu item names and pictures until Isshiki popped her face above the menu.
“Oh. Let’s call someone over then.”
After calling the waiter, Isshiki pointed at the menu and ordered. “I’ll take assam tea and a macaron, please.”
“And I’ll take… a blend coffee and a gelato.”
After making our orders, a time of relaxation continued for a while.
The softly played bossa nova BGM, the warm atmosphere inside, and the tender sunlight of the early afternoon. Every single one of them contributed to the special mood inside this cafe. Even the voices of other customers sounded distant and quiet as if though they were submerged in water.
But in place of those voices, my attention was directed at the person in front of me.
Isshiki must visit this shop regularly because she sank into the sofa and was extremely relaxed. She placed her elbow on the armrest, rested her cheeks in her hand, and looked outside the window. She hummed to herself in anticipation of her macaron.
I looked at the scenery outside as well while listening to her faint humming voice. In the scenery ahead was the typical landscape of the town of Chiba, but as I gazed at it from behind a single sheet of glass inside the stylish cafe interior, it appeared much more extravagant than normal. It could’ve been the magic of this cafe’s atmosphere that caused me to see that illusion.
Perhaps, Isshiki was fond of this scenery and decided to frequent this store. That’s not to say that she’s the only customer that came here.
“Do you use this store for the student council?” I asked, remembering the two we saw from earlier. Isshiki turned towards me and shook her head.
Then, Isshiki clapped her hands, moved her hand to her chin, and thought.
“Ahh, you’re talking about the VP and secretary. I think it might’ve been because we talked about it last week.”
“You don’t say…”
So that’s why we came across them.
No, maybe the vice president decided to use that as a chance to invite the secretary. “Hey, do you recall that store Isshiki-san talked about the other day? Wanna try going there?” or something! Pfft, disgusting. What the heck are they doing at the student council? Don’t screw with me, do your jobs.
…No, wait. It’s not necessarily the vice president who did the inviting. If it’s the frail secretary girl who mustered her courage to invite him, that made me want to root for her! Of course, I had no intention of cheering for the vice president, though! Because internally, I think I put the vice president in the same category as Tobe. And I mean that in the sense that he’s a victim of Isshiki Iroha.
As I was thinking, the perp in question, Isshiki Iroha, spoke to me.
“I asked the vice president if there was any place I could go out to to have fun on the weekend. And that’s just for today. Just for today!” Isshiki said, emphasizing that last part as she looked up at me. You have to emphasize what’s important, huh…? Being that blunt isn’t very high in Hachiman points.
“I appreciate the gesture, but I would’ve liked it if you just prepared the more basic things first…”
You know, like checking my opinion on the matter or giving me a clear explanation of what our objective is in going out to have fun. There’s definitely plenty of things you should’ve done beforehand…
But letting my complaints in one ear and out the other, Isshiki candidly averted her gaze and changed the topic while mumbling. “Well, I wasn’t expecting to see them here, so that was kind of a close call…”
She stopped speaking there, moved her gaze back and looked directly at me. And then, she softly supported her mouth with her hand as if hesitant of her surroundings and with a smile, whispered secretly, “Next time, let’s go somewhere where we won’t see many people we know.”
“There’s a next time…?” I said. When I was surprised by her words and imagined how much trouble it’d be, my voice came out slightly hoarse.
Hearing that, Isshiki glared back. “Why do you look like you don’t like it?”
“Oh no, it’s not that I don’t like it or anything… Well, let’s just say, I’ll coordinate something in the direction that can consider any positive possibilities as much as I can.”
“Jeez, that doesn’t sound realistic at all…” Isshiki sighed and looked at me with a wry smile. Then, her mouth formed a circle and an excited glitter appeared in her eyes. I turned around to the direction where Isshiki was looking—namely, behind me—and a waiter was carrying over a cake set to us.
The macaron, tea, gelato and coffee were elegantly placed on the table. After looking at the items in joy, Isshiki took out her cellphone and began snapping pictures. For some reason, she even took pictures of my gelato as well.
Why do girls take pictures of their food anyway? Were they recording their diet or something? Or did their RIZAP trainers tell them to send the pictures to them?
Once Isshiki was satisfied with taking pictures, she lowered her cellphone. Just when I thought I could finally eat, Isshiki raised her hand.
“Ah, excuse me. Can you take the picture?”
When she called the waiter, the waiter quickly appeared and accepted her cellphone. Taking pictures again? Just how much longer are you going to make me wait!? I want to eat my gelato already! I took the spoon and my hand was hit.
Upon looking, Isshiki was leaning over and posing in front of the waiter with her cellphone in camera mode.
“Come on, senpai, make a peace sign. Peace.”
“I don’t wanna. You don’t really need a picture of me. The gelato’s going to melt, you know.”
“It won’t melt that fast. So, come on,” Isshiki said quickly, not turning. Apparently, she couldn’t hold her posing face for very long. As if getting impatient, the waiter’s politeness turned a bit crude.
“Um, sir…?” The waiter said, looking at me with a troubled smile. The waiter’s gaze had a feeling of oppression than confusion of wondering what to do… I-I’m sorry for getting in the way of your work…
“Senpai, come on, come on.” Isshiki hurried me. Since I didn’t have much of a choice, I slightly moved the plates and leaned over the table.
“You should get just a little closer…” The waiter instructed me while posing with the camera and I adjusted my body a little more. And then, I was suddenly met with the smell of shampoo. I looked with just my eyes and Isshiki’s soft hair fluttered. Her face was surprisingly close. The moment I instinctively moved my body away, the waiter called out.
“Ah, there, that should be good. Okay, here we go.”
And then, there were two to three snapping sounds.
“Thank you very much.”
After giving her thanks, Isshiki took back her cellphone and looked at the pictures while sinking deeply into the sofa. I didn’t think it’d be so tiring to take pictures… The thing about how your soul getting sucked out when taking pictures might actually be true.
I let out a sigh and the ascending steam from the coffee disappeared. I wanted to drink it before it got any colder.
“…Can I eat now?”
“Ah, yes, please go ahead.” Isshiki replied nonchalantly while checking over the pictures on her cellphone. Hoping that my face wasn’t red in the picture, I ate my gelato I was forced to wait on to cool down my face and head.
…Damn it, it really did melt a little.
× × ×
I left the store after we paid the bill and it was already getting dark. While we were lethargically chatting over pointless things and enjoying our sweets, we were apparently sitting inside for too long.
Now that it was night time, the wind got slightly stronger and chills seeped through the small openings of my loosened scarf.
As I adjusted the collars of my coat and wrapping myself with the scarf again, Isshiki came out the store a little later.
“Sorry for the wait. I almost forgot to get the receipt.”
Isshiki bonked her head with a “teehee, oops” ☆. How sly… Then again, I wonder what she’s going to use the receipt for? We paid the bill together earlier, too. Speaking of which, after playing table tennis and eating ramen, she also kept those receipts… Was she going to file an income report or something?
“Alright, I guess we should head to the station.”
“Okay.” Isshiki nodded and we both began walking.
There were people heading to the station and people who were likely coming from the station at this very moment. With the mingling of human traffic, the townscape was showing its after-hours face. Given that it’s a weekend, the town was even more showy and lively.
It wasn’t that late yet, but I yawned which could’ve been because of the table tennis match we had. It spread to Isshiki who had been walking beside me on the sidewalk and she yawned as well.
When Isshiki noticed I was watching her yawn, she looked a little embarrassed. She coughed to play it off and took half a step closer.
“Well, I suppose you get about ten points for today,” Isshiki said, abruptly.
It sounded like she’s giving me the points I earned from her test exam for date courses.
“I guess I’ll ask, but out of how many points?”
“One hundred, of course.”
“Why the heck is it so low…?”
I thought I tried pretty hard, you know? Yeah? Aren’t you being just a little unfair? I gave Isshiki a discontent look and she raised both of her hands that were covered with mittens.
They formed the shape of paper and she began counting with her fingers. “First, you lose ten points for not being Hayama-senpai.”
“An unreasonable guideline right off the bat, huh?”
Are you Nayotake no Kaguya-Hime8 or something? Not to mention you’re doing a system of subtracting points. When you’re raising people, I personally think it’s better to use a system of adding points. Let’s develop our good points, yeah!
But the screams of my soul weren’t able to reach Isshiki as she counted while folding finger after finger of her left hand. Please stop, the more you fold your fingers, the more you’re folding my heart.
“And if we include your behavior and conduct, that’s a total of minus forty points, okay?”
“I guess that’s fair.” I nodded back naturally. If anything, the fact that I lost only that much points meant I did well. Though it might’ve been more due to Isshiki’s lenience than my hard work.
“So you were aware of it…”
Her sighing voice was mixed with resignation. Oh, you’re not going to give me a free pass, after all…
Now then, Isshiki-sensei’s scoring continued. Isshiki abruptly squeezed her right hand into a fist and lightly punched me in the side. “You lose fifty points for accepting a girl’s invitation so easily.”
“You’re the one that called me… Wait, now my points are at zero.”
I didn’t feel an ounce of pain in my side from her punches, but strangely enough, something pricked at my chest. A person I recalled in that casual instant oddly weighed on my mind.
After poking my side, Isshiki went a step ahead, stuck up a finger, and coughed with her chest out. “Well, I had fun, so I’ll give you ten points as a bonus.”
“…Gee, thanks for that.”
In total, ten points. The evaluation was occasionally harsh, but the final allotted points were a little more forgiving. The breakdown of my own scoring was similar, so I was more or less convinced with it.
As we chatted, we gradually approached the station.
From here, I’d take the Sobu Line and Isshiki would likely take the monorail home. So that means we’d be parting ways at the front of the station.
“So how was it for you, senpai?” Isshiki asked modestly when we arrived at the rotary that continued to a short flight of stairs. Since she was facing down, I couldn’t see her expression, so I didn’t understand her question for a moment.
However, it shouldn’t have strayed all that far from what I had been thinking from earlier.
“Well, I guess it’s like that for me… I’m a little tired, though.”
“Do you have to be that honest about how tired you are…? I mean, it’s fine and all. It just means you were actually being a proper partner for me!”
Isshiki’s raised face had an energetic smile. I ended up making a stiff face to her typical slyness. When Isshiki saw my wry smile, Isshiki puffed her cheeks in displeasure.
“What’s with that super pain-in-the-butt face of yours…?” Isshiki’s cheeks swelled and she briskly walked ahead turning away. She stated in a passing and sulking voice, “There’s no girl that’s not a pain in the butt, you know.”
Ahh, that was surprisingly believable. I lightly shrugged my shoulders and increased my pace after Isshiki.
“…I can imagine. There aren’t very many people who aren’t a lot of trouble.”
“Wow, you’re such a pain, senpai.” Isshiki turned around, making an annoyed face that was far beyond what I had earlier. This girl’s cruel.
Our walking pace must’ve dropped due to the both of us thinking how much trouble we were. But the concourse in front of the station was just right in front of us. After avoiding the flow of people from the ticket gates, we arrived at today’s meeting spot, the front of Vision. Isshiki stopped and I did so as well.
“In any case, today turned out to be a good learning experience. Thank you very much.”
Isshiki lightly bowed, honestly expressing her appreciation. Taken aback by her earnest and mannerly behavior, I replied back awkwardly in a fluster. Isshiki lifted her face and laughed in amusement.
“…Senpai, make sure to keep today in mind, okay?”
She had a kind gaze, tinged slightly with strictness.
“…Yeah. Well, you know, thanks for today.”
It certainly did feel like I learned a few things today. Of course, this was up Isshiki’s alley, so I don’t think she’d get much out of it. After all, everyone had a different specialty from someone else.
“Okay, I’ll see you again at school.”
“Be careful on your way back.”
After exchanging our goodbyes, Isshiki headed to the platform of the monorail. As she ascended the escalator, she grew farther and farther.
Suddenly, Isshiki turned around and waved her hand. I lifted my hand back in response and watched her from afar.
Girls are made of sugar and spice, and all things nice.
The “nice thing” that Isshiki Iroha had. It was sweet, yet spicy. And it was probably bitter and sour. Her “nice thing” was so bothersome that you wouldn’t be able to understand unless you experienced it for yourself.
And without a doubt, Isshiki wasn’t the only one who had something of that nature as the two girls whom I was fairly close with in my own way had it as well.
Just what could it be, I wonder?
As I watched Isshiki until she vanished, for just a little, something like that crossed my mind.
- Tsubasa Hanekawa from Monogatari ↩
- Date A Live ↩
- Komei from Koihime Muso ↩
- An old rakugo story. ↩
- Lyrics from Pure Love Song by Shonan no Kaze ↩
- Japan Football Association ↩
- The Shofukutei family refers to two actors with the same name with a different suffix. ↩
- Nayotake no Kaguya-Hime, also known as Princess Kaguya of the Bending Bamboo that Scatters Light, gives impossible requests to five princes who ask for her hand in marriage. ↩