Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Itakoro:Volume5 Chapter2
Chapter 2: Coffee Shop Where the Riddles Assemble
(This day has finally arrived).
The 'Saffron' marked a final cross on the calendar with an orange fountain pen. She picked up the black seal coat hanging on the chair, which ostensibly had a spell that could calm her heart, and stroked it with her pale hand. She turned to the loyal servant who began serving her family since her mother's time, and even her grandmother's time.
"I'm eating outside for lunch."
After informing the servant, she left the house.
(I wonder if the Mr. Polar Star still remembers about the promise between us...)
She first met him through the internet during the previous Autumn.
And the chance encounter occurred because a person called the Mr. Polar Star left a comment on the blog 'Saffron' set up.
'Saffron' uploaded photos of all sorts of herbs she painstakingly raised onto the blog, and Mr. Polar Star commented, "Your good friend Miss Lilian has quite the vast knowledge, and is refreshingly honest to others. It certainly is amazing.' Because of it, the duo started conversing with each other.
'Miss Lilian' is the affectionate nickname 'Saffron' gave to her Sage flowers.
There were other kinds of herbs at the house 'Saffron' tended to, and they had their unique names. There is the Miss Cosette for the Chamomiles, Mr. Rui for the Lemon Balms, Lady Shear for the Fennels, Mr. Philip for the Aloes, Miss Stellar for the Rosemaries.
'Saffron' had the habit of giving names to her plants and personal belongings ever since young, and to a few male blog fans, she was hailed for having an innocent cuteness. There were however a few who felt that she was 'airheaded', that 'she spends too much effort forcing a character upon herself'. Perhaps most of the latter were females who were jealous of her.
But neither the male nor female readers were interested in Miss Lilian and the herbs, but were interested in 'Saffron' herself.
The contents on the comment columns were mostly about 'Saffron's personal matters.
If there were those who were interested in researching on herbs, they would probably visit the more professional blogs and websites.
'Saffron's blog was divided into a daily life about the dear princess section by the readers. They naturally would not be concerned about those herbs
However, the Polar star would passionately give her advice, like 'Miss Lilian looks energetic like usual today', or 'Miss Cosette does not seem to be spry. You might want to try switching places'.
And so, after constant replies from 'Saffron', both of them exchanged their mail addresses, gradually becoming intimate.
–I do wish to meet you personally. There are some things I wish to tell you. Can we meet this time?
On this Spring, soon before the Golden Week, Mr. Polar Star made such an invitation.
After receiving this message, 'Saffron's heart practically ceased, the tip of her nose itching.
Was the 'there is something I wish to tell you', a love confession?
She had such a premonition right from the beginning.
The wordings the Polar Star used in the messages sent to 'Saffron' were all so elegant, so romantic, like a gentle invitation.
But to meet the Mr. Polar Star offline?
Such a notion was a little terrifying to her.
From the mail messages, it seemed the Mr. Polar Star was a kind, somewhat cheeky person who would say some self-deprecating things at times, a man who loved to research on plants, and did not seem like a bad person.
However, if they were to meet offline, she wondered if he would be as frivolous sounding as he was in the messages.
And if Mr. Polar Star were to meet 'Saffron' in real life, what sort of thoughts would he have...?
She scratched her nose, feeling tense.
It was too scary!
She intended to reject this invitation as politely as possible, saying,
—If you are able to continue thinking about me before summer vacation, and if you can find me before summer vacation ends, I do not mind meeting you. I will also listen attentively to 'what you wish to say to me'.
And Mr. Polar Star in turn replied,
—Hm, I understand. It is a promise then. It will begin from the first Wednesday of summer vacation till the end of it. As for the location, let us set it at the shop which sells the red tea you like. I will be wearing a refreshing blue and white cap that reflects the summer sky, and until summer arrives, I will continue to yearn and think about it. In that case, no matter whether you are deep within the lush forests or the spacious grasslands, I will definitely find the amazing flower that is you.
He continued with his boastful words, but it was a sweet reply to 'Saffron'.
She was feeling exhilarated, and if she said something bad, to hide her true thoughts before summer vacation arrived, Mr. Polar Star probably would not wish to look for 'Saffron'.
On the other hand, even if Mr. Polar Star continued to think of 'Saffron' till the start of summer vacation, there was no way he could find her even if she showed up at the appointed place.
But there was no need to worry as such. Ever since Golden Week ended, Mr. Polar Star had ceased to exchange messages with her, and he never left any comments on the blog.
It was unknown what happened to him, but if he were someone who could read the mood, he would certainly understand the intention, that 'Saffron' did not wish to meet him, and would lose interest in her.
But either way, it was too early for him to back off.
Would it not be better to continue clinging onto her?
She could not deny that she had such thoughts, but she really was delighted that he gave up on her halfway through.
Even if she were to appear at the shop during summer vacation as promised, there was no way Mr. Polar Bear would appear at the shop again.
That was fine.
"But why did I end up coming to this shop anyway?"
The red tea shop 'Bonne Chance' was plain and cute, ostensibly a reconstruction of a fairy tale brought to life. 'Saffron' stood at the door dejectedly.
The rife summer sun shone upon her from above with ferocity.
"Mr. Polar Star definitely forgot about the promise. Better go back early."
But, what if—
If Mr. Polar Star did abide by the promise.
If he were to wear a refreshing blue and white cap, and appear in front of 'Saffron'.
The tip of her nose started to itch.
"I-I think...I'll have a look just for today."
Right. Neither Mr Polar Bear or anyone else would know that she was 'Saffron'.
(I'll wait...just for today.)
Only for today.
It was rare that she came by.
(Mr-Mr. Polar Bear does give the impression of a prince who always says such amazing stuff in his messages. He probably is a NEET, a herbivore of a shut-in who is unpopular, with a big belly, dimples on his face, a man who girls back away from, calling him 'disgusting'. He'll definitely disappoint me...but.)
She stepped into the shop, waiting for him as she heard her heart race. The shop had just opened for the day, and there were no other customers.
One hour passed and another, and there were people entering, sitting on the country-styled wooden chairs. The waitress girls were wearing white aprons, dressed in the famous cute, antique uniforms the hems of the aprons and skirts swaying around.
But the man with blue and white cap had yet to arrive.
(He won't come.)
(He won't be coming anyway.)
(Yeah. I don't want to meet him—but I do want to see him once.)
There were conflicted emotions surging within her, and her heart was practically about to break, the tip of her nose itching for some reason.
At that moment,
The bell at the door chimed, and there entered a male customer, a rarity at that.
He had a refreshing blue and white cap akin to that of the summer.
Even the waitress who greeted him cheerfully shuddered her shoulders in shock.
And the other customers froze.
(Mr. Polar Star...is a shut-in...unpopular, herbivore...)
Standing at the door was a lanky person, whose back was arched, an abnormally sharp glare staring throughout the shop, had messy red hair, a stiff face, raised eyebrows—a youth who resembled a wild savage dog.
(Eh, why are the customers all females here?)
Koremitsu carefully examined the store, and his frown deepened.
His disgust was burning, for he saw that it was a foreign farm-styled shop that was very popular with girls. Both the interior and exterior gave a plain, cute image; the wooden tables and chairs gave a sense of comfort, and the walls were decorated with refreshing scenery paintings. There were also some flowers and greens in sleek looking pots, placed at the windows.
There was a calm looking middle-aged man at the counter, probably the shopkeeper. His eyes were widened at Koremitsu while holding the pot of imported red tea.
The waitresses dressed in fluttering white apron gave Koremitsu icy looks.
It was the same for the customers. There was a group of girls occupying a table, discussing so rabidly about the latest fashion trends, only to remain silent, the voices stuck in their throats. There was a customer who placed her bag on a seat beside her, ready to open the newspapers, only to use the newspapers to cover her face. Another big sister was seated at a single seat table, drinking her tea as she fiddled with her phone; the fingers holding the cup shuddered slightly. A young girl of similar age was seated in the far-most corner of the shop, browsing through a pocket novel, stopped as well, giving Koremitsu an icy, spiteful look.
(Argh, looks like these are the only young girls.)
Koremitsu recalled the words Hikaru said the previous day.
—I do not know anything about the girl's real name, her age, where she lives, her face, her voice, nothing at all.—
The ghost, which had caused him all sorts of trouble, said so with a nonchalant look.
—What's going on now?
Koremitsu's temples were trembling intensely as he got up to roar. And then, he was notified by a chuffed Hikaru that the duo became acquaintances through the internet.
—I knew of a blog called the 'Sunset blue', also called the 'sunset meeting', being quite popular amongst male readers, saying that it was very cute, littered with bits and pieces of the author's daily life. It is a popular blog many people pay attention to.
In fact, Koremitsu went on to access the 'Sunset Blue' through his cellphone.
And soon, he arrived at a blog with an intricate light blue background at the brink of sunset.
The blog owner was called 'Saffron'.
It seemed to be an online ID.
Saflloer —When both of us were conversing with each other, I would call her 'Miss Saflloer'</span>
—Yes. She said that the name is only used by those who are more intimate with her. She interprets this as the 'summer meeting', and so, I became her captive.
—'Sunset meeting'? What's that?
—This probably is a new term she came up after thinking about it, perhaps? Miss Saflloer is designated as a princess of a country with a sunset blue sky.
—Ahahah? Princess? The type that wants a flower ring on her, that? That's an airhead if I see one.
In response to Koremitsu's acrimony, Hikaru grimaced.
—Girls always have dreams of being the princess. Even Miss Shikibu, so feisty against men, started writing a cellphone blog called the 'Purple Princess', no?
Now that he mentioned it, that seemed to be the case.
Since the conversation involved Honoka, who often helped Koremitsu out, the latter had no choice but to fall back.
—Well...everyone does have their own moments of fantasies. As long as it doesn't cause trouble for others, I guess it's fine whether they're the princesses or goddesses or whatever. I just can't understand them either way.
—Miss Saflloer probably is the type of person who attends a rich girls school with its own elevators, and wears a coat because of the cold. She always thinks of McDonalds and Kentucky as human names, has nothing she can never take part in, attends all her harp practices without fail, her clothes are order-to-make, she often visits all sorts of famous tourist spots, like Parco, 109, Laforet. She even gives all sorts of nicknames to the herbs she grows in the garden. All these brought her cute innocent self to life, and she became famous.
Koremitsu surfed through the blog's diary, and found a black seal coat draped over an old bench, an old looking harp, the Miss Cosette for the Chamomiles, and the Mr. Rui for the Lemon Balms.
At this point, Koremitsu's face soured.
—You see? There is some part of Miss Saflloer's hair taken here. It really is a nice flowing black hair, right? The curves of the chin are perfect.
Hikaru chimed in enthusiastically as he pointed at the photo.
Though there was some taken, it was just a bit. Nobody could be certain to her body type and appearance.
—This little bit of exposure does gripe a man's heart, no? I understand the reason why Miss Saflloer's blog is so popular amongst the male readers. She definitely is the type that is shy and innocent, certainly a wonderful lady, one I cannot help but imagine. Ahh, but I really wish to meet Miss Saflloer in real life; it is causing my heart to race.
Hikaru narrowed his eyes slowly, his cheeks flushed.
(Goodness gracious, don't just date anyone without knowing how she looks like!)
And in his amazement, he arrived at the appointed shop.
The waitresses in the shop stood still, and nobody led him to a seat. Thus, he had no choice but to pick a random table to sit at.
The surrounding customers peeked at Koremitsu, pretending to be nonchalant.
Koremitsu clicked his tongue as he whispered.
"How about it, Hikaru? Anyone who looks like Saflloer here?"
Hikaru continued to float above Koremitsu's head, looking around.
"Hm...this is tough as there are a lot of girls. All of them are so cute..."
What off-topic stuff are you thinking about? As Koremitsu wondered, ‘Ah!’, Hikaru exclaimed.
"You found Saflloer?"
"No, but I found someone more amazing."
"At the table with the houseplant there..."
Koremitsu turned over to stare, and was stupefied.
As it was a blind spot when he entered, he never noticed, but there was a male-female pair seated at the couple's seat.
The man was frowning hard, forming wrinkles on his noble-looking face, and the lady was an aloof-looking beauty–
(Ack, aren't they Tōjō and Saiga!?)
Why are those two here!?
Both of them were being so close, looking as if they deliberately chose to sit together like that. However, neither of them looked happy as they remained silent.
Asai was staring at the notepad computer, looking rather feeble. On the other hand, Tōjō's stare had never left the cellphone screen.
"Are Asa and Mr. Shungo actually dating...but those two do not seem like the type to develop relationships to such an extent. Asa always calls Mr. Shungo 'Mr. Shungo', something peers refer each other to. Mr. Shungo in turn does take care of both Asa and Miss Aoi since young, and the fact that Miss Aoi always complains to Asa first should be a dispute between them—"
Hikaru started analyzing things.
(Hey, stop using the term 'dating'. I can't imagine that!)
Just when cold sweat was trickling.
"Welcome. Please look at the menu."
A shy, stiff voice tickled Koremitsu's ears, and the most amazing person was standing in front of him.
The waitress was dressed in a neat uniform with a white frilly apron, her cheeks blushing. Standing in front of them was the princess who was formerly betrothed to Hikaru, Aoi Saotome.
The summer sunset shone upon the narrow, steep street, dyeing it a golden color—Aoi was dressed in her personal clothing as she walked out.
Once she spotted Koremitsu waiting for her outside, her face became red again as she slowly spoke,
"Sorry to keep you waiting."
Her black, silky hair was untied, swaying along with the wind.
Koremitsu simply answered her as she lowered her head slightly, and they strolled down the street under the sunset.
(Great that Tōjō and Saiga went back first.)
Because of those two, he was able to walk alone with Aoi like this after her work.
It seemed they were very busy as they scuttled off soon after. Before he left, Tōjō even stared at Koremitsu for a little while.
"I have already arranged for a car to pick up Aoi. You do not have to send her home personally after her work is done. Also, no personal chatter when she is working."
He added those words with emphasis.
However, Koremitsu ignored Tōjō's words as he said to Aoi, who was serving him red tea.
"...Can we talk after you're done with work?"
He asked softly. Aoi's shoulders shivered in shock as she looked over at Koremitsu in surprise. She rushed back to the counter, and returned to Koremitsu with her face flushed, leaving a note on his table.
There was a neat line of words written on it,
"I am done with my work at 5. Can you please wait for me at the back door after that?"
After leaving the shop, Koremitsu whispered to Aoi, who was leaning her head towards him,
"Tōjō said that there's a car waiting for you. It's alright then, right?"
Aoi stammered as she walked on.
"Well...he is following us all this while."
Koremitsu turned around, and found a posh black car maintaining a distance of 10m away from them, slowly moving forward.
During this time, there appeared a ghost above his head, the sunset shining through his fringe. Koremitsu inadvertently placed his hand on his head.
"So-sorry about that. I did ask the driver to go back first, but he told me that he cannot do so. Well, after some negotiating, he did promise to not say anything about me going home with you to Big brother and Asa. I do not think Asa will begrudge you anymore. So, erm, about that behind us, please do not mind what is behind us."
There was no way Aoi could see Hikaru at all, but after hearing her say those words, Hikaru let out a moan and was pressing at his chest.
"Ah, you will still be distracted after all. Sorry, sorry about that."
Koremitsu lowered his hand, and said with a bitter look.
"I'm already used to having others notice me, so it's fine. I think the driver's worried about your safety too, trying his best to be your bodyguard. It's quite a rarity, isn't it."
Ever since the incident with Kazuaki, it might not be a bad thing to be overly wary. Though it was difficult to mention such things to Aoi herself, she knew the significance behind those words. She however seemed confused about certain things, and lowered her head, saying,
"Yes...but I...I am too useless, always being protected by others..."
Her slender shoulders sagged weakly.
Hikaru too watched her worriedly. Upon seeing this, Koremitsu felt a slight aching in his chest.
The incident with Kazuaki probably left her with quite the shock.
"I suppose you started working part-time because of that."
Aoi closed her lips tightly.
After some silence, she answered with a soft yet determined voice.
"I do not think it is good to be as I am up till now. I have to be stronger...I must at least be someone who can settle my own matters. I want to be a person who is decisive and honest..."
She then lifted her face, and forced a smile.
"But I kept failing even till now. It is great that I made up my mind to go out to work. I now know that there are many things I do not know of, many things I cannot do. After that, I will learn to do things I have yet to learn, and try things I cannot do. I shall continue to work hard."
Koremitsu thought that Aoi was a princess who was innocent to the ways of the world, who would die if nobody reached their hands out to her and protect her. But at this point...
He looked back at Aoi with intense feelings.
So Aoi, who kept replying 'I am alright' at the end of every message to Koremitsu, was seriously thinking about this matter, and started to take action.
Upon thinking about it, he felt solace in his heart, a sweetness filling it.
"I-it is not that great."
"No, you're already quite strong now, Aoi. I'll continue to support you."
"Thank you very much."
She clasped her hands in front of her chest, thanking him delightedly, before puffing her cheeks.
(Wh-what's the matter?)
Just when Koremitsu was feeling confused regarding her expression as she looked up at him,
"I wanted to see you again after I managed to improve myself, Mr. Akagi. I did not expect to meet you today."
She said remorsefully.
"I even told big brother Shungo not to say anything about it."
She grumbled, and shyly lifted her head, giving a demure look.
"But you came to the shop today, Mr. Akagi. We can chat like this on the way back, and I have you encouraging me."
As he watched the eyes that were staring right at him, Koremitsu recalled the girl that was his first love.
—I won't run away. You told me that, Akagi.
—This time, I will not run away. I am going to go for it.
The girl embarked on a journey to make herself stronger, like a feeble, fleeting light that seemed to flicker in the darkness in that instance.
—Thank you, I'm fine.
The memories of the farewell locked within his heart were being awakened, even the sight of his teary face, forcing a smile. His heart was filled with conflicted emotions.
"No, I guess I entered that shop as a coincidence..."
He endured the throbbing in his heart, and stammered.
Aoi got on the sedan at the fork under the sunset, and the driver gripped onto the steering wheel, leading her home.
It probably was going to rain. The wind was slightly heavy due to the humidity, and Hikaru combed his hair with his hand, saying calmly,
"Miss Aoi is slowly changing here...it is something really incredible, and I want to cheer her on, but..."
He remained silent, and revealed a faint smile,
"I do feel a little lonely after all."
There was sadness in the eyes that watched Aoi disappear into the distance.
Koremitsu could empathize with the loneliness Hikaru felt, for he watched Yū depart from him. To break the gloomy atmosphere, he spoke out loudly,
"Stop looking so bothered here. Don't we still have your wishes? Our schedule is messed up due to the shock of seeing Aoi there. We haven't found out who Saffron is; we're definitely going to find who that sunset blue princess is tomorrow!"
"A-argh, I can't believe it...! That cheating man!"
Once she reached home, 'Saffron' dashed straight to her room, threw her bag onto the bed, and yelled with her face flushed, the tip of nose buzzing.
She thought that the Polar Star was an unpopular herbivore, but she was utterly shocked to learn that he was a wild boy with red hair and a lupine glare, her heart nearly ceased.
What was more infuriating to her however was that he was supposed to meet her, the "Saffron', but was more concerned with the waitress in the shop.
That waitress had her dangling black hair tied to the back, and 'Saffron', watching by the sidelines, could tell that she had white delicate skin and a clear pair of eyes. She was a girl with such cuteness and beauty, she was practically a doll.
(B-but...even when he was ordering stuff, the eyes after that...never left her after that. Is that what it means to be love at first sight? Is my promise with him insignificant now? Have I been forgotten?)
That was not all.
That red-haired boy secretly whispered some words to the cute waitress when the latter served him some tea, causing her to blush, scamper off, and return to put a note on his table.
'Saffron' even saw him read the note on the table seriously.
(A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-and after that, they even gave each other a few looks, did some hand signs...!)
Was he trying to woo her?
Speaking of which, the girl was actually preoccupied by such a gruff, wild boy. Did she have a beast fetish or something? She met up with the red-haired boy at the back door after their work was done, and went off with quite the amicable mood.
One had to wonder whether they knew each other as they kept a slight distance walking under the sunset, looking shy. 'Saffron' hid behind the signboard as she watched their back, her nose buzzing as she watched them leave.
In such a situation, her body would probably sizzle due to anger. Other than her ostensibly scorched nose, the typically docile 'Saffron' was frosted all over, probably due to the powerful air conditioning in the room.
Either way, she was not in a good mood.
"It-it's really unbelievable...is-is Mr. Polar Star that kind of person...!? Isn't Mr. Polar Star really a shut-in herbivore of a guy who backs away from girls and not dare approach them? Him, well, it's too much to call him a beast. The blue and white cap is too refreshing, doesn't fit him at all! I got bluffed!"
She groaned as she walked into a large room that was wide open.
(He sent me that message with so many meanings behind it, telling me that there's something he wishes to tell me, saying such cool things like 'no matter whether you are deep within the lush forests or the spacious grasslands, I will definitely find the amazing flower that is you.'"
"I really, really shouldn't have trusted him!"
After lashing out furiously, she calmed down, both mentally and physically.
She took the black seal coat on the bench, draped it over herself, and shivered.. It was summer, yet this chill was different from the usual. Leaving aside the fact that she was scared of the cold, she probably was feeling wintry due to the events that transpired on this day.
Her heart sank, and her body never warmed up in the slightest.
—XX had always been cute, huh?
Mr. Shūhei's voice rang at her ears.
Calm down. That steady voice said.
And then, the voice again repeated what Mr. Polar Star said back then.
—The name Mignon is given to a cute girl.
Her eyes were staring at the black seal coat, reaching out her clenched hands, spacing out as the lowered bangs nearly covered her face.
(I suppose Mr. Shūhei is the only one on this world who would call me cute after all...yes, with a nose like mine...)
She lowered her head dejectedly—
She then patted and lifted her face.
"H-h-h-h-h-h-he probably has no intention for seeing me. I won't be going tomorrow. Mr. Polar Star managed to woo someone; he pr-probably won't be coming back, I guess..."
The next day, Koremitsu arrived at the shop at 9am, right after the doors were opened. He picked a seat where he could spread his legs wide, sat down, and started observing the customers.
He did not have much time to spare, for he promised to bring Honoka and Shioriko to the pool in the afternoon.
There was a customer in the shop, seated by the toilet, reading the newspaper and rubbing her face from time to time. There was a girl reading a pocket novel at the wall, and a group of girls gossiping away regarding the latest fashion trends.
The customer reading the newspapers suddenly stood up, pulled the curtain, and returned to her seat, wiping her face. She was inadvertently tensed, probably due to a savage hound with a sharp glare in the shop. ‘This place specializes in tea and cake!’ ‘Eh? It's enjoyable, isn't it?’ Two girls were chatting away, about to enter, but were terrified upon seeing Koremitsu's eyes. ‘It-it's too crowded here. Let's change to another place, okay?’ ‘Y-yes, let's do so.’ they scampered off.
(Tch, I didn't come to this shop filled with sweets because I like it. A cup of red tea can't last me two hours.)
Whether it was 'Saffron' or 'Saflloer’, he just wanted to find the person whom Hikaru made a promise with, and end this matter.
"Hey, anything about Saffron?"
He continued to observe his surroundings as he whispered to Hikaru softly.
Hikaru was seated on the chair beside Koremitsu, watching the latter who wore a blue, white cap and a refreshing getup of white-based clothing. He even lifted the cup from the tea set (?) to pronounce the mood, "Hm, let me think.", he said, showing those sweet looking eyes.
"Miss Saflloer leaves all her laundry to a personal maid, and likes to collect all sorts of accessories, and really treasures them greatly, as far as I can tell from her blog. She even gave names to her earrings and necklaces. Such a cute girl, is she not? There was once where she bought a brooch she really liked from a bunch of sunstone accessories, and even after thinking hard about it, could never come up with a name for it, so she once asked me, 'Can you please help me out here, Mr. Polar Star'?"
It seemed Hikaru had given himself the online nickname Mr. Polar Star, abstaining from terms like harem prince, shining beauty and such.
"I called it Mignon. In French, it means cute. Miss Saflloer said that Mignon looks like it is smiling when placed on her chest, and cannot send me a photo due to embarrassment. She also said that since Mr. Polar Star came up with this name, she would treasure it well and wear it only on special occasions. I could not tell whether she was being deliberate, or she was innocently honest when she said that, but I felt a throbbing sensation."
(I can't use that as reference!)
It seemed this Saffron was certainly an airhead living in her own world, to give names to plants, and even her accessories. In contrast, Hikaru too was certainly another lost cause for being able to chat with her so amicably.
(Both of you are so alike. If you're able to continue talking with her like that, can you receive her electric signals or something? Also, stop asking for a photo of a girl's chest, you lecherous, frivolous prince!)
And all his enthusiasm had waned.
On one hand, he wanted to hurry and settle the matter here. On the other hand, he was overtly concerned by Aoi, moving about clumsily with the tea set tray in hand.
Aoi again had her hair tied up, and was dressed in a frilly white apron, her cheeks looking tense as she worked hard. As to be expected of a pampered princess, it was obvious that she was incompetent in such things, either toppling the tray or dropping the cups, sometimes even tripping over a few customers' feet. She was often lowering her head, apologizing.
(Eh, she's exerting too much strength in her shoulder, no? Her movements are still. Ah, she's too nervous trying to prevent the tea from pouring out of the cup; well, I can't say that I don't understand. You won't be able to watch your surroundings if you only look at the cups. Ah, damn it, her leg hit the chair. Argh, it hurts, right? That's why I say to look around—)
Aoi would space out at one moment, topple the cups at another, and scare the customers the next moment. During this time, Koremitsu's temples were throbbing.
At the same time, Tōjō, seated at the table with the houseplant, had his face covered with the cellphone, always reacting to Aoi's actions, standing and sitting down from time to time.
There was once where a male customer called Aoi over to make an order, and until she finished listening to the order, Aoi looked as if she would be killed if she did not do as he had asked.
On the other hand, Asai was seated at the table adjacent to Tōjō's, using the notebook computer. Unlike Tōjō however, she would turn her head around from time to time, not staring at Aoi intently, but watching on with a cold look of disdain. She seemed to ponder, and suddenly reached for the keyboard, typing at it furiously. It seemed from the frosty aura she was emitting means that she was not in a good mood.
(Saiga came to this shop just because she's worried about Aoi, huh?)
Saiga and Tōjō would whisper some words from time to time. Even so, they continued to look forward.
"It seems the Shimizus are joining the Roses. The lady amongst them has the bloodline of the 'right', and has close ties with the Roses."
Tōjō continued to pretend to twiddle with his cellphone as he whispered in a voice audible only for Asai to hear.
Typically, they would not be conversing in a place with so many people present. There was no reason for them to come to this shop just to dilly-dally. However, they both had the common view that Aoi was not to leave their sights, and having appointed themselves as Aoi's guardians, both of them came here to check on her work condition, and did not intend for them to be heard.
There rang an icy voice behind him.
"Even if the current master is a member of the Roses, and the eldest male is to marry the Higashihara that is part of the Roses...this will bring us lots of benefits."
"That may be the case, but the Wisterias are not to be cut off."
"If we reveal that at the perfect timing, it will be the decisive moment for this victory. The problem however is the attitude of the commander...what will happen if that happens."
"...I do not think...it will be a good thing...Kazuaki has yet to take action now, but it seems he is planning something."
"How can we give up here?"
"...We have a 50% chance of winning. But there will be a problem."
(Tōjō and Saiga are looking serious here. What are they talking about? Speaking of which, if they want to talk, why aren't they sitting together?)
Koremitsu watched the duo whisper amongst themselves, and beside him, Hikaru was looking ecstatic as he continued to reminisce his memories with Saffron, It got to a point where he was practically in a trance, dazzling as he spoke, like a prince from the Middle Ages.
"I think that Miss Saflloer is someone hidden amongst the thorns. That is the part that makes her most alluring."
"Thorns? Why talk about that?"
Koremitsu asked with a wry look, and Hikaru's eyes became gentler, clearer—his face showing a matured smile.
"Her words have some hidden thorns in them, I suppose. That sort of prickly feeling does make me excited."
"You're a pervert after all."
Koremitsu could only shrug his shoulders weakly.
(No, this guy's undoubtedly a pervert. I don't want to be discouraged by such a thing myself.)
"Speaking of which, what kinds of women do you think are weird?"
"Hm, this is a difficult one."
Just when Koremitsu thought that Hikaru was showing a serious look.
"All the girls in this shop are really cute. You see the rightmost girl amongst that group of high school girls? The vigorous girl dressed in the sunflower yellow T-shirt—that girl is called Kae, and I heard she is trying to diet using chocolate. It is a method to eat 200g of dark chocolate when having a meal. The pink Primula like girl with the cute round face is called Miyanon by everyone, and she only tries a new hairstyle, dye her hair during the summer vacation. The girl opposite her with the fluttering tunic, that Eustoma-ike girl has a devoted crush on Mr. Mitamura from her class, and wants to invite him out to the fireworks festival next week. She is asking everyone else for help—"
(...This guy is really...)
Koremitsu tried to restrain himself from throwing the cup on the table as best as he could.
"Every single flower has its own charisma. I suppose I should listen in on everyone's mail addresses here, and investigate them thoroughly."
"Hey, I'm not here to woo a girl. Start looking for her seriously."
Koremitsu was clenching his fists as he said, and Hikaru grinned, excusing himself with a sweet, gentle voice.
"But I am looking. If I can listen in on the girls' conversation, that is a form of information collecting, no?"
"That just your own personal interests, you Casanova of a ghost."
"How rude. I am observing them while pondering about who Miss Saflloer is right now. For example, that intellectual looking girl seated at the wall with the clear eyes just peeked at you, Koremitsu. Ah, you see?"
He turned over to that direction, and as Hikaru had said, the girl reading the pocket novel at the wall was staring at Koremitsu with clear ears.
She had long flowing black hair that reached her shoulders, was dressed in a white blouse, and gave a similar impression to the gaze in her eyes, one full of calmness. Once her eyes met Koremitsu's she averted them naturally, reading her pocket novel again.
"That Tolstoy's collection of Poems is an original copy. It is simply amazing that she is able to read Russian without the need of a dictionary. She had been drinking Mint Tea both today and yesterday. It really gives her a Miss Mint type of impression that matches her image really well."
Hikaru noted jubilantly.
Never mind. Ever since he entered the shop, Hikaru had been lively and cheery while looking for 'Saffron'.
(This guy really likes women.)
But in contrast, Koremitsu was somewhat intrigued by the fact that the girl peeked at him. He looked over, and got ready to get up.
The maid who came up to refill his water was terrified, and covered her face by raising the pot filled with water.
What? Did I do something to her?
"D-do you need some ice water?"
The waitress asked with a shrill voice, one so unnatural one had to wonder how it happened.
The pot was still covering her face, guarding it at all costs.
"A-ahh, yeah, thanks."
Koremitsu felt that there was a hitch, but answered as such.
"Pl-please enjoy yourself. Ohoho."
And once the water was poured, she scampered off with the pot covering her face.
"What exactly is going on here?"
It was common for him to be feared and shunned by the girls. But this was too straightforward, no?
"I am a customer here after all."
"I am sure she must have been touched by your wild charms."
Hikaru advised. However, such an innocent smile and wink had the opposite effect of draining him.
(Whose fault is it that I ended up like this?)
"Ah, goodness, I feel like I'm been hated here."</span
In such a relaxed atmosphere, surely there was no way a wild beast could linger here?
"Hey, Hikaru, tell me Saffron's mail address. I'll just contact her directly. Given that it is you, you would have memorized a girl's mail address, right?"
Hikaru was observing the girls with his hands on his hips, or rather, affirming who the real girl was, perhaps? Once he heard Koremitsu's unsentimental words and saw the latter fish out his cellphone with a serious look, he slowly recited Saffron's mail address.
Koremitsu started to input the words.
"Hey, you're here, right? Stop wasting my time and hurry over here."
He typed out such a message, and pressed the send button.
"Wa-wait a moment, Koremitsu? A girl will not come over here if such a violent message is sent to her. You have to be more romantic, more elegant in your wordings, like for example, 'the evening mist had yet to fade, and you are a little unkind. My heart shall gain peace when the rain falls. Can you let this pitiful me see your gentle self?', something like that—did I not give you such a lecture regarding Yū?"
"Shut up. It's not raining right now. A little intimidation is required to make such a troublesome woman appear!"
"Ahh, my image..."
'Saffron' was confused
You got to be kidding! He came back!
Soon after opening the door, a wild hound-like boy with red hair, wearing a blue-white cap, was seated in the shop, observing the incoming customers.
(Wh-wh-wh-wh-wh-wh-why? Hasn't he lost interest in 'Saffron'?)
Is he targeting that cute doll-like waitress this time?
Certainly this seemed to be the case, he must have been here for her. However, why did he wear the blue-white cap that was meant to see 'Saffron', and even glaring at the entering customers with such a look?
He seemed like a police superintendent observing every nook and cranny left behind at the scene of the crime. No, he seemed more like a bandit ready to commit a robbery.
(It feels like he's very frustrated. He's also muttering alone to himself. It-it-it-it-it-it-it's scary!)
Once she saw that he was noticing him, 'Saffron's heart practically ceased at that instant.
The red-haired savage raised his eyebrows, his temples twitching, and muttered to himself again as he fished out his cellphone.
'Saffron's cellphone vibrated.
She received an anonymous message.
The sender was Mr. Polar Star.!
Her nose was itchy, and she opened this message with her trembling fingers.
"Hey, you're here, right? Stop wasting my time and hurry over here."
(He-he-he-he's actually fuming. He-he's definitely angry now!)
What should she do? If she were to appear using her identity as 'Saffron', she would definitely be robbed of all the valuables she had, be threatened with something like 'this isn't enough', and might even be dumped onto a fishing boat.
(Ca-ca-calm down. How can 'Saffron' reply now under such a situation? Right, calm down. It's fine. 'Saffron' is a love expert. If I continue to shudder, that wild beast will notice that I am 'Saffron'.)
She quickly replied.
"I certainly am here, and I can clearly see that unhappy look of yours as you stare at the screen. The blue-white cap over that red hair of yours certainly is eye-catching, but is a mismatch for that refreshing feeling, no?"
There was a reply from 'Saffron' !
Koremitsu widened his eyes in shock, and stared at the cellphone screen.
Hikaru too peeked in from the side.
"Ugh, what does she mean that I don't match that refreshing look? What mismatch? Such a busybody."
Koremitsu curled his lips to a frown.
But there was no doubt 'Saffron' was in the shop.
(Which once is she?)
He had already looked through everyone present once.
There was a person fiddling her cellphone amongst the chatty group of high school girls.
(Is that her?)
"Look, this is the newest video of my Mr. Lucky! He's really amazing, right?"
"Wow, he's biting the frisbee and twisting his waist. Lucky is really amazing."
"His tail is wagging, right?"
"Let's upload it onto a video site, Kae. Call it the 'waist twisting Tanuki'!"
So that Lucky was a Tanuki after all!? Not a dog!? Can Tanukis' be raised in the residential area!?
Koremitsu retorted in his heart.
He gritted his teeth, letting out a grinding sound, his shoulders trembling as he suppressed his fury. The customer reading the newspaper was probably terrified by such a scene as she opened the papers wide, shut the blinders, and wiped her face with a hand towel.
Not too far away from her was the suspicious waitress who served him cold water. She seemed to be up to something.
Another waitress called her, startling her in the process.
"I-I-I-I-I'll get going!"
She answered shrilly, and strut sideways to the counter like a crab.
She even looked around tensely.
The girl reading the original edition of Tolstoy's book at the wall was holding the cellphone in her slender fingers, staring at the screen calmly.
That girl lifted her stare from the screen, and looked over at Koremitsu.
It was a direct, refreshing expression.
"It seems Miss Mint just looked at her phone."
Koremitsu too leaned forward.
The girl immediately looked away from Koremitsu, closed her cellphone, and continued reading her phone, leaving the frosty sidelong face to be seen.
(Is that Saffron?)
Koremitsu watched the black hair that draped to her shoulders, the white face and the refreshing sidelong look, and was about to get up.
"Big brother Koremitsu!"
A cute voice resounded, and a pretty girl with twintails and a floral hairclip came scampering over to him, her twintails swaying in the air. She had a large vinyl bag hanging from her shoulders and a green pochette swaying about.
After the radio exercise was over in the morning, Shioriko finished the dodgeball practice for the annual district tournament .
"Ahh, seriously. Why do they have to get the elementary school kids to take part in some dodgeball tournament when it's the hottest time in the summer? The 4th and 5th graders are even forced to take part; even if it's because of declining birth rates or a severe lack of participants, it's tyranny!"
She had been grumbling ever since she left the house.
"But well, if it's today, we're going to the pool later."
However, her mood improved immediately.
"See you later then, big brother!"
And then, she ran off with fervor, waving her hand.
Koremitsu was supposed to meet Honoka and Shioriko outdoors after the dodgeball practice was over, but Shioriko was cuddling Koremitsu by his neck, sitting on his lap, giving a blissful chuckle as she said,
"Heh heh, I couldn't wait, so I came by here."
"Ack, don't hug me here, and stop sitting on my lap! That's rude!"
All the stares in the shop were focused on Koremitsu.
None of them had the 'this sibling relationship really is really a great thing' thought, for all they saw was a lecherous psychopath who seduced a young little girl.
Tōjō and Saiga, whispering amongst themselves, were also left speechless as they stared at Koremitsu coldly. Aoi, serving tea earnestly, widened her eyes, and then fidgeted, recalling that she should not be distracted.
The waitresses and customers were all giving him conflicted looks.
"This is terrible, everyone is looking over here, Koremitsu! Shiiko is just too cute after all!"
Hikaru chimed in zealously, like a foolish big brother going off point.
(What? What? A loli? That's a loli, right?)
The twintail black-haired girl that seemed to pop out from a pretty girl anime was sitting on the beast's lap, fawning at it as it cradled his neck.
She clearly was an elementary school student. It was a kissy-missy with the doll-like waitress the previous day, and now an elementary school girl on this today
Speaking of which, when they were talking about herbs, Mr. Polar Star did mention that the Chamomile was cute like the pure girls, and talked about wanting to twist the cheeks of Miss Saflloer's Miss Milfie like a little girl's silky skin. Clearly this fitted the description...
(Is-is that his true nature? Is Mr. Polar Star a lolicon!?)
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