I raised my eyes to the clear winter sky and running overhead was the monorail.
Standing next to me, Komachi chased it with her eyes. Then, she let out a frosty breath in exhaustion.
“Sorry for making you come along.”
“You better be.” Komachi answered with a violent snort. It was a response that was exactly like our cat, Kamakura. That’s pretty much how he’d react every time I called his name. Following the footsteps of his master, I suppose…
“Oh well, I wanted to buy a present too, so I guess it doesn’t matter,” said Komachi, another cold breath drifting. “…Besides, this might be the last time I’ll be going out with onii-chan, you know?”
“You make it sound like I’m going to die soon or something with a lonely smile like that…”
It’s like she was talking about creating a final memory for a patient with terminal illness. Put this in the theaters and there’s definitely going to be a bunch of Doraemon tears1. Then again, illness or not, if Komachi started to hate onii-chan, I wouldn’t be able to go on any longer…
“That’s not what I mean… I won’t be going with you again next time.” Komachi lightly glared at me, reminding me.
No, I get it myself, you know…
I understood what Komachi meant when she said “next time”. The “promise”, though I wasn’t sure if I could really call it that, was something I did make tentatively. The problem was when, where, and how to ask about it. Having no semblance of experience with going out with others had me at a loss at a time like this. Just how did everyone invite each other when going out?
Well, that’s for later.
For now, what mattered right now was today.
Yesterday, after we made it home from our shrine visit, Yuigahama sent a message regarding the present shopping.
The meeting place was in front of Chiba Station Vision. It was a very clear and understandable location. As soon as we left the station, we should easily be identifiable. The reverse was also true. While thinking that, I let out cold breaths as a faster rate.
Before long, Yuigahama made her way to us from the ticket gate. Upon noticing us, she waved her arms. “Yahallo!”
“Yui-san, yahallo to you!”
“Sorry for being late!”
Yuigahama’s beige coat fluttered hectically and she ran over to us with the sole of her boots going pitter-patter. As the hems of her coat fluttered, her knitted garment that went down to her lap and her skinny jeans stuck out.
“So, where are we going?”
“I was thinking we could wander around and pick something,” said Yuigahama, and she started off, pointing at things around the station.
“Let’s see, where should we start?”
Komachi followed after her and I did as well.
Chiba was a shopping paradise.
And speaking of the standard place to shop for high school students, that’d be PARCO2.
A strong ally of youth in Chiba City; that was PARCO. It’s very likely that the fashionable PEOPLE, the YOUNG of the NOW, were warring with each other over where they should buy clothes, split between the PARCO faction and the LaLaport3 faction. And within the PARCO faction, there should be an unsightly civil war between the Chiba PARCO group and the Tsunadanuma PARCO group.
Stop! Let’s all just get along, everyone! We’re all Chiba residents, aren’t we!? Tsudanuma’s in Narashino though!
After briefly walking, Yuigahama pointed. “Ah, let’s go with C-One4 first!”
C-One. I know what that was. ICHIRAN’s5 located there.
ICHIRAN utilized a system that concentrates on flavor where the store was partitioned into counter seats where you could devote yourself to your food. By the way, this system of concentrating on flavor was patented. So if we went by that theory, then that meant loners were had a built-in system of concentrating on life. Quick! I need to quickly patent that!
The C in C-One probably referred to the C in Chiba. In other words, it’s the initial C. It’s also apparent that this referred to the local hero, Captain☆C6. By the way, Chiba Batman7 was not a local hero, so be careful there.
The mall which we walked and relocated to was decorated with first sale of the New Year banners and it had lines of stores. Since the mall was utilizing the area underneath a bridge, the path continued indefinitely in one direction. Due to the New Year clearance sale, the mall was bustling with activity compared to regular days.
And especially in that commotion, the girls who were in the middle of their boisterous shopping were hitting it off about stylish fashion. For the guys who had no place in that, they stood three steps, not one, away from them, feeling left on the backburner. That was me.
“Komachi-chan! Hey, look! Isn’t this like super cute!?”
“Ah, you’re right! You can take off the fur and match it with something else!”
“I know! You could probably use it during spring, too!”
The two picked out clothes here and there, chatting and frolicking. That’s fine and all, but we’re here to buy Yukinoshita’s presents, right? We’re not here for your own personal shopping, right?
But just watching them really gave off a girly feeling.
Yuigahama looked busy putting on the parka with the fur attachment, making twirls and turns in front of the dressing mirror.
As a guy, I just felt too conscious when going inside the store, so I decided to watch from afar.
When I did, Komachi trudged her way over to me. She looked somehow more lax than she had been recently.
“Shopping with Yui-san is so relaxing…”
“Well, yeah, if you compare her to Yukinoshita…”
When the three of us went shopping for Yuigahama’s present before, I received quite the shock seeing how far off Yukinoshita was from a modern high school girl.
“Yep, going out with onii-chan really is a bummer… Well, that’s one thing that makes Yukino-san super cute though! Right?” As if emphasizing that, Komachi peered into my face.
“Ohhh, right, that’s the one thing that makes me not cute at all. Totally.”
“Mmm, you darn hinedere8…”
Leave me alone.
Well, it’s a bit rude to give Yukinoshita and me the same treatment.
At the very least, Yukinoshita knew exactly what fit her and she wasn’t particularly indifferent to fashion. Despite that, the reason she struggled when we went shopping for Yuigahama’s birthday present might’ve been because she wasn’t used to “choosing something for others”.
That honesty and awkwardness were things very typical of Yukinoshita.
The problem was what would happen when Clumsy-san received a present.
“I’m going to go check out that area for a bit.”
I moved away from Yuigahama and Komachi, deciding to wander around the area. It’s when you’re actually looking at stuff and thinking about them that things came to mind.
A present for Yukinoshita, huh…?
I wonder what’s good…
Clumsy Yukinoshita-san, in short, Clumsishita-san, but anyway, you really were putting me on the spot, Clumsinon. Aside from the things she liked, she was someone who liked practical things. Actually, her interests were pretty much that. As for reading related material, she probably had quite a bit of stuff already and since she was living alone, she probably had sufficient living necessities and cookware already. Chopping boards were standard equipment for her chest, too.
What the heck? What should I even get her…?
As I wandered around, a Destinyland store came into view.
Uhhh, Pan-san… is something she’s more knowledgeable about than I am.
I went further and there was a pet shop of related goods.
Cats are… She doesn’t have one… She really doesn’t have one, huh? She should just get one already. I wonder if Yukinoshita’s apartment didn’t allow pets. I could give her a cat photo album, but she totally seemed like she’d have plenty of those…
On the other hand, I could buy something from that accessory shop over there, but I’m not sure so about that…
As I was circling around to the nearby stores and groaning, I found myself at my original position.
And there, Yuigahama was holding some clothes in her arms and looking restlessly around the area.
“Huh? Where did Komachi-chan go?”
“She wasn’t with you?”
“I thought she was with you, Hikki…” Yuigahama slightly leaned forward, peered into my face, and confirmed with me.
Ahh, she did it again, that little rascal…
I knew I’d be going through the same, pointless pattern even if I called her. I mean, I was glad she tagged along, so it’s not a big deal, but she could at least say something. There’s something called mental preparation. Please don’t throw me out into the wild like that…
Yuigahama looked like she was thinking for a little bit while groaning, but after readjusting the clothes in her hand again, she inclined her head as if checking with me. “I’m kinda stuck right now, so I wanted Komachi-chan to take a look… Hikki, do you mind?”
“Only if you’re okay with me not being useful.”
“Yeah…! No wait, you need to be useful here.”
“We’ll see.” I said.
Yuigahama then headed inside to the store to the dressing mirror. I followed after her.
“I was thinking that maybe a sweater or cardigan would be good since you can wear that over a blouse. Maybe you can use it at school too.” Yuigahama took off her coat as she spoke and then began removing the knitted garment underneath.
I felt I shouldn’t have been staring, so I averted my eyes. Use the fitting room… Was it because you’re wearing a shirt underneath that it’s not bothering you, huh? Because it’s bothering me, so stop it please.
There should’ve been a tune playing in the background, yet the sound of rustling clothes was unusually loud and Yuigahama’s breathing unpleasantly found its way to my ears.
“There we go… How is it?”
When she called me, I was finally able to turn around.
She was wearing a fluffy, warm looking warp knitted cardigan.
“What do you want me to say…? Well, looks good to me…”
There was no good or bad. It looked really good on her.
But the problem was that this wasn’t a present for Yuigahama, but for Yukinoshita. If Yukinoshita were to wear that cardigan, it’d definitely be kind of loose on her… Yeah, um, as for what part, I won’t say.
“But shouldn’t you consider things like Yukinoshita’s size, too?”
When choosing clothes, it was standard to wear clothes that matched your size. Also, as I was told by Komachi, your figure was important and so forth. By the way, she ran through my clothes for today a fashion heck. She criticized my selection of clothes as if saying “I’m going to step on you!”9 No, wasn’t that just Piko? Or was it Osugi? Well, whatever.
“Size…” Yuigahama repeated that word and squeezed her stomach with her hands. “Maybe, it’s too big…”
Despair filled her face. She then moved her hand that was at her stomach area up to her upper arm and her expression grew gradually gloomier. It’s fine! It’s fine, okay!? You’re big, but well, you’re not big! Actually, you’re not small at all!
“Er, no, it’s fine. Actually, it looks just about right, I guess…”
They weren’t exactly supportive words, but I tried to gloss it over in a fluster. But because of my suspicious conduct, Yuigahama sent me a doubtful stare. Ahh, jeez! What’s the correct thing to say at a time like this!?
“Well, it looks really good on you, so I think that’s fine.”
I somehow managed to squeeze the words out.
Finally, Yuigahama made a smile. She took off the cardigan and then excitedly began folding it. Unable to look at her directly and looking away from embarrassment, a realization struck me.
“But Yukinoshita usually follows the school rules, so she isn’t going to wear that at school, right?”
Our school had school regulations even if they were still somewhat outdated. Of course, regulations on our school uniforms and school designated sweaters and cardigans existed. There weren’t very many students who faithfully followed the rules to the T, so it wasn’t something to worry about, but the diligent students that Yukinoshita was included in made sure to abide by those rules.
“Oh okay. That’s true. Then that means…” While thinking, Yuigahama moved to the shelves with small items organized with scarves and gloves, still holding the cardigan under her arm.
As she was rummaging through those shelves, she raised her voice with an “Ah”.
“So cute! This might be really fun if I use this to play with Sabure,” said Yuigahama, and she grabbed a mitten that was modeled after the paws of a cat. Then, she had another mitten modeling a dog’s face.
The mitten imitating a cat’s paw was exactly how they looked. On the other hand, the mitten with the dog face had the face on the back of the mittens including ears, and at the thumb side was a lower jaw. Yuigahama put them on and shook her hand.
“It’s kinda hard to hold stuff with these…”
“That’s just how mittens are.”
Yuigahama, groaning as she was thinking, lifted her face in light of something and popped opened her gripped hands.
“Take this! Nom!”
She then bit my hand with her dog mitten.
“…H-How dare you,” I said, trying to play it off.
Then, Yuigahama’s face became flushed red. If you’re going to get embarrassed, please don’t do it next time. I’m embarrassed, too. I gently slipped my hand away from the grasp of the mitten and fanned myself with that hand. The heating in this store was working way too well.
“Whatever, but she’s not going to wear that outside because of the design, you know.”
“…That’s true.” Yuigahama nodded convincingly.
As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure Yukinoshita didn’t openly wear those kinds of cute things apart from her normal school uniform. Would she even use what she received…? No, that’s not true. I get the feeling if it’s a present from Yuigahama, then she’d unexpectedly would be pretty happy internally as she put on those gloves while maintaining a composed look.
“I guess we’ll have to find other stuff, huh…” Yuigahama dangled the mittens back and forth, thinking, and continued rummaging through the shelves.
“Ah, this might be good,” said Yuigahama, and what she took from the shelf were socks that closely resembled the legs off a cat.
“Socks, huh? That looks pretty hard to wear with shoes, though.”
“They’re just indoor socks! She’s obviously not going to take them out with this design.”
With that logic, I’m absolutely sure she wouldn’t wear those gloves from earlier either… Well, now that she mentioned it, the sole of the socks looked like it had antiskid rubber attached, resembling the pink paw of a cat.
“Since she’ll be wearing it indoors, I don’t think she’ll need to worry about people seeing her… What do you think?”
“Well, she’ll probably be happy with them.”
I think Yukinoshita would probably be happy regardless of what present Yuigahama gave her. The crucial point here wasn’t the item itself, but who was giving the present. In the same way, who it was that said something was more important than what was actually said.
“Okay, I’ll go with this.” Yuigahama put together the things in her hands and went to the register. Amongst them were the cardigan and the two mittens from earlier. You’re giving her the cat paw mittens too, huh…?
Still, a cat’s paw and a cat’s leg…
Did they sell tails here too?
× × ×
Now then, I needed to do some proper searching myself. The store from earlier wasn’t selling any cat tails, too.
Typically, I’d head to the area that sold clothes for gentlemen, but today, we were here to buy Yukinoshita’s present. Naturally, that would mean heading to the floor that catered to ladies.
That being said, I wasn’t exactly an expert on items for women, so Yuigahama was providing me some guidance.
One of the obvious choices Yuigahama went with was a Western clothing store but others included stores that had an assortment of small, variety items.
“We can just wander around and look at random stuff, right? Like gloves, accessories, scarves… or maybe even novelty stuff…” said Yuigahama.
I entered the store to look around as well.
Since Yuigahama was giving me recommendations from nearby, for now, I wasn’t getting reported by the employees and there wasn’t a security officer conspicuously patrolling the area. Had I come here alone, there’s no doubt an employee would’ve come inquire, “What could you be looking for?” stay on me the entire time while I could feel the prickly stares coming from the registers within the store. My source was when I stopped by this place by chance some time before. I understand that it’s very rare for single male customers to be around here, but um, can’t you just be a little less wary of them because that would help me a lot…
I went from a shelf to another shelf not paying any attention to the stares of the employees and Yuigahama had stopped moving. Written on the display of that shelf was “Eyewear”.
What the heck was “Eyewear”? Just use glasses, jeez. Just how much of an egotist were you people needing to always use katakana for every single thing? Instead of HANGAR, just use an actual rack. There’s also calling MEAT SAUCE, BOLOGNESE SAUCE and calling SPAGHETTI, PASTA, I mean, c’mon. No, wait, MEAT SAUCE and SPAGHETTI were typically in katakana anyway… How would you actually say those as Japanese words anyway…?
As I was worrying, Yuigahama tapped me on the shoulder.
When I turned around, Yuigahama had a proud look for some reason with glasses on and was pointing at herself. “Hmhm. Do I look smart or what?”
“You’re already funny in the head if you’re equating glasses to intelligence, you know…”
“Shaddup, you dummy,” said Yuigahama, pouting. She then took one eyewear and another and checked over their designs. I did the same and grabbed one.
Ohhh, they have all sorts of them, huh?
They had different designs, but they apparently had others with various functionality, too. Descriptions accompanying them included anti-pollen, blue light cut, and so forth. Aside from the ones meant for improving your eyesight, they also had glasses developed for practical use, making them reasonably priced.
As I continued looking through the items, Yuigahama grabbed one and held it out to me. “Ah. Hikki, you should try one on. Like this one.”
This is definitely one of those situations where I get made fun of… I stood there hesitating and Yuigahama hurried me on by forcing the glasses on me.
I prepared myself and psyched myself up in order to wear the glasses. Per… sona…! By the way, I actually like 3 more than 4, so if I was going to be summoning something, by all means, please give me a pistol to shoot my head with!12
I put on the glasses and pushed it up by the frame with my index finger. Yuigahama then blurted out. “Totally bad!”
That’s why I didn’t want to wear it… I took off the glasses while wincing and this time, Yuigahama gave me another pair of glasses with a different design.
“Okay, next is… this one!”
“Don’t be a party pooper. Here!” said Yuigahama, pushing the glasses to me.
Arghh, how annoying… I readjusted the glasses that were stuck halfway on my ears and turned to Yuigahama to give her a piece of my mind.
When I did, Yuigahama was staring at me, mouth agape.
“Really, cat got your tongue?”
I mean, I’m the one that turned around, but no reaction of all things…? I gave her a look wondering if she had anything to say and when Yuigahama came to, she shook her hands frantically.
“Ah, no, no. It’s nothing… It’s just, kinda surprising how good you look with them, maybe.”
Getting praised made it somewhat difficult to react myself.
Still, surprising, huh?
Even if I thought I knew something, there were still a lot of things that I just didn’t know. Like how Yuigahama who normally didn’t wear glasses would surprisingly look good with them.
At some point long ago, there was something that Yukinoshita had once said as if out of regret. That she didn’t know about Yuigahama at all.
I was the same.
The way I was before, I truly didn’t even try to know.
Not just about Yukinoshita, but also about Yuigahama.
However, right now, it was just a tiny bit. It was far from understanding and I couldn’t even say it was ideal, but even so, the three of us had definitely spent and accumulated time together. Slightly over half a year wasn’t really all that long. But even so, compared to back then, I most certainly did know just a little more about her.
The Yukinoshita Yukino that I knew…
How Yukinoshita would be strung along by Yuigahama’s pleas, how she loved cats, and how she would hug a Pan-san cushion while watching cat videos on her computer on her day offs.
Surprisingly, I knew quite a bit about her.
If Yuigahama was going to send her cat leg indoor socks, then I’ll give her something to match that.
All in hopes that the time she spends on her own are as warm and comfortable as possible.
× × ×
We had been walking for a while after finishing our shopping that we took a break. In the meantime, we decided to enter a café. We could have gone to the Starbucks outside, but this season was rather cold. Also, I didn’t really understand how to order there, so I didn’t really want to go today.
As such, I settled for going to a place where I was familiar with making orders at.
“You okay with here?”
I checked with Yuigahama and we entered the café inside of Sogo. The café had a subdued atmosphere devoid of commotion due to it being further in the store.
“For two, please.”
I informed the employee our party number and we were led to a seat of four. It was situated immediately next to the windows where the entirety of Chiba Station could be seen in one look below. After offering the inner seat to Yuigahama, I gazed at Chiba Station that stretched out from behind her.
I caught sight of the operating monorail and somehow, it made me think just how super advanced Chiba was. Chiba was one futuristic city, seriously.
I followed the direction in which the monorail was heading and my eyes crashed with someone who was sitting in a seat diagonally opposite of me.
“Oh, it’s Hikigaya-kun.”
That person was also seated at a sofa with her back to the window.
She was wearing a shirt with white based frills, a golden chain dangling at her bosom. It made her entire person glisten as if the light from outside was concentrating on her, but in reality, her cheerfully, smiling eyes looked darker than the clear skies. After adjusting her vividly, red stole that gave off an uneven impression, Yukinoshita Haruno called my name.
After calling out to me, Yuigahama shifted her gaze to the side and uttered her name in surprise. “Haruno-san… er,”
Yuigahama adjusted her gaze to the front of Haruno-san. And a male wearing a black jacket over a jersey in grey, crossed between black and white, was there. While his eyes, underneath his brown, close to a light gold, hair, looked slightly surprised, Hayama Hayato was still smiling.
“Oh, it’s Hayato-kun, too.”
“…Hey there.” Hayama said briefly, the shine of his dull silver wristwatch escaping from out of his cuff that he lightly lifted in the air.
I returned a slight nod. We didn’t say anything beyond that and the only audible noise was the faintly played jazz. Mingling with that noise was the sound of chairs being pulled.
“It sure feels like a long time since we’ve met, Gahama-chan,” said Haruno-san, naturally relocating herself to our table.
Complying with that, Hayama let out a short sigh, took the check book, and sat next to me.
“You two on a date, huh? You little rascal, you. As friendly as ever, I see. Yukino-chan’s not with you?” Haruno-san poked Yuigahama’s body with her elbow and then looked towards the entrance of the store.
“Ah, we’re actually here today to buy presents for Yukinon…”
“Ahh, that’s right, it’s almost her birthday, huh… I see, I see.” Haruno-san nodded her head while listening to Yuigahama, but she then quickly took out her cellphone and started dialing somewhere.
Watching her, Hayama unassumingly spoke up. “…I don’t think it’ll get through.”
“No, I’m sure it will today,” said Haruno-san, wearing a smile full of certainty.
The ringing faintly resounded in the quiet interior of the store.
After two rings, three rings, and a few more, the call finally connected, and there was a small audible voice from the other end.
“Ah, Yukino-chan? It’s onee-chan. Can you come out right now?”
[I’m hanging up.]
So fast! Yuigahama and Hayama who were listening to the immediate retort made a strained smile. But Haruno-san who was seemingly used to this reaction didn’t budge an inch and continued with a teasing tone.
“Ohhh? Are you sure you want to do that?”
Haruno-san made a broad grin.
“The thing is, right now, I’m actually with Hikigaya-kun!”
[Again with your ridiculous lies… Enough al—]
“Here you go, Hikigaya-kun.”
Before she could even finish, Haruno-san forced her cellphone on me.
I alternated looks between Haruno-san and the cellphone in my hand, but she started playing dumb after hiding her hands behind her. It looked like she didn’t plan on answering at all. On the other hand, Yukinoshita was calling Haruno-san. I guess I’ll have to answer for now…
“Ahh… hello?” I answered, not sure knowing what to talk about. When I did, I could hear her stifled breath from the receiver on the other end.
After a brief moment of silence, she breathed out.
[Really, unbelievable…Why are you there?]
That’s what I want to ask. We were supposed to be here just to shop… Just why was I here!? Just why was I here!? Do-wa-ha-ha-ha!13 It’s the yokai’s fault, yes. Don’t blame me, blame the yokai.
“Well, I just happened to be out shopping and she kind of caught me…”
I made a scowl at that yokai and figured I’d try to explain my situation, but I was interrupted by another sigh.
[That’s fine. I’ll be right over there, so switch with nee-san.]
“…Yes, I’m sorry.”
I ended up apologizing for some reason.
I wiped the screen down with a wet towel and gave back Haruno-san her cellphone. She exchanged a few words with Yukinoshita about our location and the sort and hung up.
“Looks like Yukino-chan’s coming,” said Haruno-san, wearing a satisfied smile.
Yuigahama spoke up in hesitation. “Um, why did you call Yukinon over? It sounded like she didn’t want to come…”
“Hm? Ahh, actually, we have a family dinner planned after this, but Yukino-chan refused to go. But if Hikigaya-kun and you are here, she doesn’t really have any other choice, right?”
“Are we hostages or something…?”
“Don’t make it sound so bad. But wouldn’t it make for a great story if she rushed here for the sake of her friends who were captured on her behalf?”
“That just makes me wonder who the evil tyrant king is here…”
“Oh, we’ve got a Literature Boy here,” said Haruno-san, teasing me gleefully.
Yuigahama titled her head with a “huh?” Hayama made a slight smile when he saw that.
“It’s from ‘Run, Melos!’”
“Ah, ahhh, um, yeah, that… I knew that. I’ve heard of that, it’s like super fast!”
Does she really get it…? “Melos ran… Melos and Selinuntius… are best friends forever…!!”14 was basically what it was.
As I doubted her, Yuigahama frantically changed the topic to play it off. “Anyway, having a family dinner sounds nice! Everyone’s together and stuff…”
Yuigahama directed her gaze to Hayama. Guessing what that meant, Hayama picked up where she left off.
“Our parents have been pretty close since a long time ago… When we were talking about making New Year greetings, they started talking about having dinner together. They’re just having me accompany them.”
“Ohh…” Yuigahama nodded convincingly.
Haruno-san traced the rim of her cup and let out a small sigh. “Our family and relatives don’t really have it easy on New Year’s Day and the day before the fourth15 when work begins again is pretty hectic too. So the day we can make courtesy calls with acquaintances is just today.”
Apparently, it’s an established custom for the Yukinoshita household. But still, if they’re going out to eat after this, then that meant Yukinoshita’s parents should be nearby… I kind of want to see them.
I did a light stretch and took quick looks around. But sitting diagonally opposite of me, Haruno-san chuckled, easily seeing through that sneaky behavior.
“Our parents are making courtesy calls right now. We’re just waiting for them.”
“Ahh, I see…”
I accepted it after being told. Whenever fellow parents had business to take care of, they typically left their children together. Back when my mom participated in a co-op society, since it was a gathering of other moms, she would leave me with their kids. But look here, maman. Parents may get along together, but more often than not, the kids didn’t… It was truly an awkward period of my life.
Listening, Yuigahama let out a fascinated gasp. “Making those greetings must be rough, huh?”
“We do it every year, so I’m already used to it. Well, I do think it’s a pain sometimes though… It’s surprising how this custom’s still alive, tradition rather,” said Haruno-san, her voice having some indescribable feeling of resignation.
There was something called an association, whether it had to do with Yukinoshita or even Hayama who didn’t make it to the shrine visit.
Respectable families, the so-called distinguished families, probably had their obligations. For common people, it’s a story that didn’t seem all that real, but the fact of the matter was that it was. Well, a household with secretive relative associations wasn’t all that rare. It’s just that I didn’t know too much about it, but surprisingly, I think there were a lot of households with unique communities.
Even common people like ourselves had one or two things that shadowed over us. If you factor in social standing, then the obligations should increase accordingly.
Haruno-san tapped the table as if to brush off the sigh she let out. “Anyway, what kind of present did you buy?”
As Haruno-san was speaking, she sidled over to Yuigahama who was sitting on the same sofa. Yuigahama shrunk back while opening up her bag.
“Um… I got her indoor socks…”
“Ohh, the floor can get pretty cold this time of the year.”
“I know! So, like, the last time I went to Yukinon’s place, I thought maybe the floor’s just a little cold, see.”
“Oh, I totally get you. I’m not too good with the cold myself.”
In contrast to their girly chat, the guys, Hayama and me, had nothing in particular to talk about and just sat there listening to them.
But to Hayama, it looked like that wasn’t something he could sit still to and he murmured with a small voice.
“Birthday present, huh…?” Hayama glanced at me. “What did you buy?”
“Ahh, just some stuff.”
“I see.” Hayama averted his gaze, not pressing me any further.
From thereon, Hayama lent his ear to Haruno-san and Yuigahama’s conversation, occasionally responding. At the wrist of Hayama’s hand that held his cup, the second hand of his watch slowly ticked.
All I did was follow it with my eyes.
The hand turned and turned as it was dictated to, going at the same rhythm indefinitely without breaking its pace. It would make one revolution, then a second one, and return to its original place, taking a similar appearance as always. But even so, it would never, ever look the same. While the second hand of the clock would stay as it is without changing, the time that represented the surroundings would.
Suddenly, Haruno-san who had been looking at the present wrapping spoke. “It’s been a while, but maybe I’ll give her something too.” Her gaze then moved over. “Right, Hayato?”
Hayama lightly shrugged his shoulders and moved his gaze to outside the window. Ahead of his gaze were the lights of the city—then again, likely not.
I looked at the mirror with Hayama’s reflection and unexpectedly, all I was thinking about was what it was exactly that he had given her a long time ago.
× × ×
The stagnant time carried on.
Thirty minutes had passed since Haruno-san’s phone call to Yukinoshita. It should take a bit more time if she was coming here straight from her apartment. Having been the ones who called her, there was no way we could just get up and leave.
The coffee I sipped at had long been empty and the teapot that should’ve had steam rising from its top was already cold.
Yuigahama, aside from me, was also restlessly turning her head. She then raised her voice after recognizing something. I looked in its direction and I discovered Yukinoshita briskly walking in our direction.
“Yukinooon, over here,” said Yuigahama, waving her hand.
Yukinoshita noticed her and she made her way to where we were sitting.
“Yuigahama-san… you were here too,” said Yukinoshita, surprised. We didn’t mention her on the phone, after all.
“Right, right. Um… I was out shopping with Hikki and I somehow got caught too…”
“Shopping… I-I see…”
Unsure of whether she should reveal that we were here to shop for her presents or not, Yuigahama suspiciously stumbled over her words. Yukinoshita made alternating dubious looks between Yuigahama and me as she was listening.
“Anyway, sit, sit,” said Yuigahama. She lifted herself up half-way, making space for another person on the sofa and invited Yukinoshita to sit there.
Inevitably, Yukinoshita sat at a position where she didn’t face Haruno-san directly. She then bowed her head to Yuigahama. “I’m sorry that my older sister was a bother to you.”
“Oh no, not at all.” Yuigahama answered, cheerfully waving her hands back and forth.
Yukinoshita pressed her hand against her chest looking slightly relieved. Then, she turned to me and checked to see how I was doing with an upward glance.
“Hikigaya-kun too, um…”
“It’s not a big deal. I had nothing better to do anyway.”
I really didn’t have anything planned after we were done shopping. In fact, I might’ve felt relieved for the time I wasn’t alone together with Yuigahama. That being said, I couldn’t say that was a good thing at all.
And the main culprit behind that was wearing a provocative smile and she teasingly greeted Yukinoshita.
“Yukino-chan, you’re sooooo slow.”
“You have a lot of nerve calling me on short notice…”
Yukinoshita gave her a sidelong glare while Haruno-san took it coolly. Yuigahama who was stuck in between had an uneasy smile. Super Smash Yukinoshita Sisters! Please spare me from that…
“Why not leave it at that? It looks like Yukino-chan rushed over here as fast as she could so, so…”
It was a refreshing and recognizable voice that tried to alleviate the tense mood. Because I wasn’t familiar with that voice calling her that way, I reflexively turned my head. The owner of the voice, Hayama Hayato, had a blunder-making grimace and quickly tried to cover it up with a smile.
Yukinoshita looked at Hayama quietly, seemingly surprised, and he shook his shoulders.
“Yukinoshita-san, what would you like to drink?”
“…I’ll take black tea then.”
After she stated, he promptly made the order. After the black tea arrived, Haruno-san made a deep, long breath.
“It’s been a long time since we all got together for tea like this, huh?”
While Hayama answered and nodded in agreement, Yukinoshita kept her eyes closed with her cup in hand. When the chat stagnated, Yuigahama spoke up trying to find something to talk about.
“Ah, ummm… Hayato-kun has known you two since a long time ago, after all.”
“Yep, yep. You know how Hayato’s an only child? Thanks to that, his parents were really affectionate with us. Right, Yukino-chan?”
“I don’t really think so.”
“That’s not true. It wasn’t just our parents that were affectionate with you two. Everyone else was too.”
Even when Haruno-san spoke to them and even when Hayama maintained his smile and answered, Yukinoshita’s attitude didn’t change. But Haruno-san didn’t pay that any attention and her gaze turned distant.
“It’s so nostalgic… Back when we were younger, whenever our parents had business to take care of, I’d always be the one taking care of you two.”
Hearing that, Yukinoshita twitched and frowned. “You must be mistaken with forcing us to follow you around and do what you want. You were a real nuisance.”
She set her cup on her saucer and sent a cold tone and indifferent gaze to Haruno-san. Hayama responded in turn.
“Ahh, like the time when we were at the public zoo… We went through a lot of trouble at the amusement park zone, didn’t we…?”
“It was like that at the Rinkai Park, too. She’d leave us stranded, she’d rock the Ferris wheel…”
Hayama and Yukinoshita made gloomy expressions from recalling the days of the past. But Haruno-san was nodding with a happy look.
“Ahh, that happened, didn’t it? And Yukino-chan would always cry afterwards.”
“Wait… Stop making up things.”
“But they’re not made up though. Right, Hayato?”
“Ahaha… I wonder.”
Haruno-san would talk to them, Hayama would smile and respond, and Yukinoshita would nod silently.
As I watched them engaged in their nostalgic chatter, a feeling of reality suddenly sank in.
Those three certainly had accumulated time together back then and they were memories that outsiders could not touch on.
Yuigahama couldn’t join in on their conversation, let alone me.
I don’t know what kind of relation these two sisters had a long time ago. Even if I knew, there was nothing I could do.
The only things I could do were occasionally carry the bitter coffer to my mouth and ignore their stories of the past that continued even and respond agreeably. And lastly, imagine them.
I don’t know when it was, but I was asked something before.
That if I had went to the same elementary school as those two girls, would anything have changed.
Just what did I answer at the time?
As I indulged in my memories and thoughts, there was the simultaneous sound of a sigh and a placed cup. I looked in its direction and Haruno-san was resting her chin in her hands, gazing at Hayama and Yukinoshita with eyes lacking warmth.
“Both of you were sooo adorable back then… Nowadays… you two just seem so boring.”
The more beautiful her nicely shaped, vivid lips were, the colder the words that came out of them. With a pinning glare and an icy smile, the voices of everyone there were stifled.
Yukinoshita slightly squeezed her fist above the table while Hayama gritted his teeth and looked away. Yuigahama made a perplexed glance at me.
When the table submerged in silence, Haruno-san chuckled. “Well, Hikigaya-kun’s here now. I guess I’ll just settle for playing with Hikigaya-kun instead.”
“No, anything sports related is a bit too much for me…”
“But that’s exactly what I want to tease you in. There, there. There, there, Hachiman,” said Haruno-san, and she reached out her hand to rub my head. I twisted my body and avoided her hand. “Oh, he got away.”
The way she would speak with her friendly smile made her appear like a good-natured older sister. Not often did you get to have an older beauty smile at you, so it wasn’t a bad feeling. Even if that smile was a lie it might’ve not mattered. Anyone could have a two-faced façade in the same way Isshiki Iroha would try to appear cute, so it wasn’t scary in the least.
How Yukinoshita Haruno would expose that unknown nature of hers hidden underneath was what was frightening.
But Haruno-san at the moment didn’t seem like she’d be saying any more and brought up a completely different topic with her smile intact.
“Speaking of sports, isn’t there a marathon at school coming up soon?”
“Ah, yes. I think it’s at the end of the month.” Yuigahama answered.
Haruno-san showed a look of surprise. “Ohh, so it’s not being held in February this year.”
“According to the advisors, it sounds like they’re moving it ahead of schedule to match up with the calendar.” Hayama exchanged a gentle smile as if nothing had happened and replied with a calm voice.
And there, Yukinoshita-san was making quite the depressing face, of course. She has no stamina, after all… She didn’t look like she’d be good with marathons.
In any case, the cheerful mood returned.
That’s fine, but the four of them engaged in pleasant chatter somehow attracted attention from their surroundings. They weren’t gaudy in the least, but they had presence. These four sure do stand out, huh…
For a while now, I could feel glances directed at us from the entrance of the store.
Well, it was a little bit noisy right now, but these four were attractive people. They were the kind of people you’d end up looking at if they were walking in the middle of the city.
Thanks to these four, my presence became even more nonexistent. I am a shadow… But the stronger the light, the darker the shadow, the more prominent the shine of the light becomes…16
Since I had nothing to do in particular, I decided to devote myself to being Kuroko, a stagehand. But still, it’s abnormal how that sounded like Kuroyanagi Tetsuko17 instead.
I sat there carrying my coffee to my mouth mechanically without joining in the conversation and my coffee was all gone. Might as well get one more… When I looked for a waiter inside the store, a woman in a kimono was heading our way.
Put up black, glossy hair and a demeanor of tranquility. She seemed younger than my parents. She walked with a noiseless and graceful gait, balancing her well-proportioned body. Her unassuming countenance gave rise to a feeling of déjà vu.
She looks similar, intuitively, I thought.
That woman made her way to our table without hesitation and called out.
It was a voice that traveled easily, making it through all the voices of the customers and the lightly played BGM and attracting the attention of those who listened. It caused me to think of someone.
Haruno-san turned around after being called.
“Ah, did you finish your business?”
“Yes. I came here to call you two since we’re going to have a meal after this. Hayato-kun, I’m sorry for making you wait.”
“Not at all, please don’t worry about it. We were able to pass the time thanks to everyone here.” Hayama answered in a friendly manner.
Then, he faced us and the woman moved her gaze around as well.
Yukinoshita’s presence must’ve been rather unexpected. She muttered an “Oh my” with a lively voice. She then wore a gentle smile.
“Yukino, so you did come. I’m glad…”
“Mother…” Yukinoshita muttered, either in surprise or in dejection.
Speaking of which, her appearance and her displayed demeanor was remarkably similar to Yukinoshita. Once she got older, they’d be two peas in a pod. Yet, the reason why I didn’t notice that on first glance was because there was a forceful intensity. She had a dignity that caused me to think twice before trying to speak to her casually. I instinctively straightened my back.
Yukinoshita gulped, gently touched her elbows, embraced her own body, and averted her gaze as if she didn’t belong.
Just how did her daughter look to her? Yukinoshita’s mother expressed a gentle smile.
Next to Yukinoshita who had lost her words, Yuigahama slipped out her words. “Woow, she’s crazy beautiful…”
While Yuigahama was surprised, Yukinoshita’s mother gave us a light bow and asked Haruno-san. “Haruno. Are they your friends?”
“Yep. Hachiman and Gahama-chan.” Haruno-san introduced us considerably crudely, either because she was continuing on from her charade from earlier or she found it too bothersome to explain.
“Ah, I’m Yukinon’s friend, Yuigahama Yui.”
Yuigahama bowed her head in a fluster and I nodded in succession. But having to introduce myself to a girl’s parents made me a little nervous… I thought, but as I was hesitating to name myself, it looked like what Yuigahama had said drew Yukinoshita’s mother’s attention.
“Yukinon…” Yukinoshita’s mother gently placed her hand to her chin and narrowed her eyes, alternating looks between Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
Yuigahama looked pleased about it, but those words gave me a slight feeling of discomfort.
If I had to say, Yuigahama’s looks were on the side of childish and innocent. At the very least, her behavior and gestures didn’t give the impression of someone cool and collected.
But apparently making a trivial mistaken assumption, Yukinoshita’s mother placed her hand to her cheeks and happily spoke to Yuigahama. “Oh, is that so… Hayato-kun’s the only one I know amongst Yukino’s classmates, so… Please get along with her from now on, okay?”
Yuigahama vigorously answered back and Yukinoshita’s mother lightly lowered her head. I missed the timing to name myself, but well, it looked like she didn’t have any interest in me at all and I doubt we’d ever meet again, so I didn’t mind it. She then turned to Haruno-san and Hayama.
“Well then, shall we get going?”
Haruno-san stood up and Hayama followed suit after taking the checkbook in his hand. But Yukinoshita, who was sitting in front of me, didn’t move.
Seeing that, Yukinoshita’s mother calmly asked. “Yukino, you’re coming along as well, right?”
It was a question, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Packed in that short sentence were all sorts of implications.
“I…” Yukinoshita spoke hesitantly.
Her mother added to her words as if imploring her. “We’re also celebrating your birthday.”
It was an affectionate, warm gaze and a gentle, reprimanding tone. Yet, in them was a powerful force of compulsion.
Yukinoshita bit her lips, faced downwards, and peeked a glance in my direction. Uh, even if you look at me…
Haruno-san caught that. “Yukino-chan, you can’t.”
Feelings of amusement shook in those cold eyes. With a vicious smile, Haruno-san spoke with a severe tone wearing a vicious smile and Yukinoshita’s shoulders jumped.
A moment of silence continued briefly.
Haruno-san continued watching Yukinoshita while Hayama looked at the two anxiously. Yuigahama shrunk back as if feeling out of place. I set my gaze outside the window and let out a weak sigh pretending not to notice.
In that time, no words were exchanged and the somehow uncomfortable period of time continued on.
It wasn’t just for me.
But also for Yuigahama. And also for Yukinoshita.
Or possibly, everyone there might’ve felt the same way.
Yukinoshita’s mother tilted her head wondering what to do and placed her hand on her temple. She then glanced at the two of us.
“I know, by all means, your friends can join us… What do you think?” Yukinoshita’s mother smiled at Yuigahama and me.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to overstay my welcome…” I answered and rose. With an attendance of complete relatives, it would’ve been too awkward to be there.
More importantly, I wasn’t that dense that I would overlook a simple sign like this.
“I see. I thought perhaps you could have joined us…” She said, not looking to stop us as obvious as that should’ve been.
“…Well, we’ll be taking our leave here.”
Yuigahama lowered her head, I lightly nodded, and we left our seats. Hayama exchanged a brief goodbye, “See you later” and Haruno-san waved at us with a smile.
Yukinoshita stood up right after us and sent a casual look to her mother. Her mother slightly pulled back her chin and nodded back.
When Yukinoshita followed us to the front of the store to send us off, she hung her face.
“…I’m sorry you needed to be considerate for me,” said Yukinoshita, apologetically.
Yuigahama shook her hands back and forth. “No problem! I mean, I feel like we got something good out of it since we got to see Yukinon’s mom!”
“I see. Then that’s fine…” Yukinoshita answered, but her lifted face was still gloomy.
Yuigahama’s face clouded when she saw that. But she promptly thought of something and began rustling through the bags under her arm.
“Ah. I know, here. It’s a bit early, but this is for your birthday tomorrow.” Yuigahama handed her the bag with presents to Yukinoshita. Since Yuigahama was giving it to her now, I decided to do the same.
“Th-Thank you…” Yukinoshita had a look of confusion, stiffly staring at the bags, but eventually spoke with a disconnected voice. Then, she embraced the bags at her chest and her face broke into a smile.
Watching Yukinoshita, Yuigahama slipped a smile out as well. “Let’s celebrate your birthday again at school!”
“Alright, see you later.”
“Yes… See you later.”
After we bid farewell to Yukinoshita who was slightly waving her half-open hand, we headed to the elevator.
I pressed the button of the elevator to head down, but it was going to take some time before it made it up to our floor. While waiting. Yuigahama let out a moved gasp.
“So that’s Yukinon’s mom, huh? They really do look alike.”
“…I guess so.”
True, Yukinoshita did resemble her mother. At the very least, I think their outward appearances and surface demeanor were very alike. But on a more intuitive level, she was closer to Haruno-san. I felt like I could understand what Haruno-san had said about her mother back then a little.
“…But, it’s like,”
When Yuigahama began to speak, wondering whether to say or not say, the sound of the elevator went off and the door opened.
We both went inside, I pressed the button to the first floor, and Yuigahama spoke up again. It was likely a different matter from earlier.
“Then again, I guess Hayato-kun and Yukinon really are childhood friends, huh? I mean, I did hear about it at some point.”
“What do you mean by ‘really’? It’s not like they were lying.”
“I know that. They just didn’t give off that vibe. If they knew each other from back then, I think it’d be okay if they talked to each other a bit more.”
“People have their own circumstances, right? Just because you go to the same school as someone doesn’t mean you’ll talk to him.”
“Mmm, I guess so.”
The past is an inviolable domain for only those who are concerned. Beautiful and warm memories aren’t the only ones that existed there; so do unsightly and cold ones.
It’s by having that past that the gap between those memories becomes larger when a discontinuity forms. Accumulating them together is separate from accumulating them individually. While the heights of the accumulation may be the same, they are different peaks that lead to different summits. That difference can change a lot of things. Positions, environments, and even the way someone’s name is called.
The elevator continued down without making any stops.
In the silence, only the low sounds of motion reached my ears. Our legs shook slightly in response to the vibrations.
And down and down we went, just plunging deeper and deeper, silently.
The moment when the elevator stopped and we arrived at our floor, I felt looking at the scenery beyond the opened door to be slightly frightening.
|Chapter 1||Top||Chapter 3|
- A coined term from the Doraemon series, a movie in particular. ↩
- PARCO – A chain of department stores in Japan. ↩
- Lalaport – Large shopping mall. ↩
- C-One – Another large shopping mall. ↩
- ICHIRAN – Ramen shop. ↩
- Captain☆C – A real local hero. ↩
- Chiba Batman – A recent known resident who rides around town in a Batman outfit with the goal of bringing smiles back to the city. ↩
- Hindere – Komachi’s made up archetype for Hachiman. It’s essentially “twisted dere”. ↩
- Piko & Osugi – Famous pair celebrity in Japan. A line they use. ↩
- Sogo – Department store. ↩
- Sencity Tower – A skyscraper building with stores inside. ↩
- Persona – Characters scream this line when they summon their persona in the games, which are typically familiars of the sort. Glasses are a revolving theme in Persona 4 while the gun to the head is one for Persona 3. ↩
- Yokai Watch – A game produced by Level-5. Lyrics from a song in that game. ↩
- Run, Melos – A parody of the book that got popular amongst high school girls. Similar to BFF in a way. High school girls typically like to make parts of their messages small for some reason. ↩
- New Year’s – Typically January 1-3 are days when businesses are closed. January 4 is the typical day where businesses open up again. ↩
- Kuroko no Basket – An analogy used to compare the MC with his supporting player. ↩
- Kuroyangai Tetsuko – Word play. “Devote (tetsu suru) myself to being a stagehand (Kuroko)”. ↩