Hikaru ga Chikyuu ni Itakoro:Volume5 Chapter4
Chapter 4: How to Properly Handle a Girl
(Mr. Polar Star has yet to arrive...)
'Saffron' continued to look back and forth at the shop door and her watch, her nose buzzing.
It was the third day to fulfill the promise.
And so, 'Saffron' entered the shop when it was near noon.
The Mr. Polar Star she wanted to see was not the wild beast that would not discriminate between a waitress or an elementary school girl.
But if Mr. Polar Star had yet to give up on looking for 'Saffron', and came to the shop.
If he put on the blue and white cap that was a complete mismatch, picked a spot and set up base within, spread his legs out wide in an uncouth manner, arch his back, show a frown, and give a sharp glare that would obstruct the shop's business.
If her identity as the 'Saffron' was revealed, that barbaric man would probably be furious. He might even write some bad things about her, and vandalize her blog.
When that happens, the reputation of the popular blog host 'Saffron' would take a severe hit.
Though she did come to the shop for certain reasons—
It was almost noon. 'Saffron' managed to cool her limbs due to the shop's air-conditioning, but Mr. Polar Star had yet to show up.
(I guess this...'Saffron' thing does not matter to him any more...I think he prefers a girl who he can hold hands with in reality rather than a girl whose appearance and name he did not know of.)
And right beside Mr. Polar Star was a doll-like waitress who was extremely ladylike, and a cute elementary school student who was as sweet and cute as a pixie, sitting on his lap.
It was to be expected that he would lose interest in 'Saffron'.
(Besides...e-even if Mr. Polar Star sees me, he will only return in disappointment...)
–You are really cute, aren't you? There's no other person as cute as you in the world. Your nose is especially cute.
The only person who would let 'Saffron' sit on their lap and cuddle the nose while saying this was her father.
He was a Sheng musician of the Japanese Gagaku classical music genre, and had a 25 year age difference from her mother. When 'Saffron' was born, he was already an old man, and must have really doted on her as he was able to get such a princess in his late years. Whenever he saw her, 'you're cute', he would repeat these words over and over again, and guided her in the way of the koto
And so, 'Saffron' too believed that she was cute, that she had the most beautiful nose in the world.
It was only when she entered a kindergarten, where the princesses gathered, that she realized her thinking was wrong.
There were all kinds of cute girls there.
And then, she, who stood out amongst them, was like a tea stain on a white pamphlet, realizing the looks of pity and sympathy from the rest.
"Look at her nose."
"Teacher, why is XX's nose different from us?"
And when she heard this question, the tip of her nose sizzled.
Her father was a huge liar.
From that moment on, 'Saffron' would hide behind the princesses when she gathered with them to avoid attention, and lived her school life like this.
'Saffron' was born in a famous family, but she was not some rich noble. When she was in 5th grade, her father suddenly passed away due to illness, and her lifestyle was prudent.
Her clothes were all made by her mother and maid, and it was unavoidable that the clothing was not trendy or such, and her stationery were all cheap. She thought it was foolish to doll oneself up, and was not unhappy at the conditions; she had no demands for her clothing other than it being good enough to last her through winter.
She had a frail body, and would never leave the seal coat her father left behind at the ends of the year.
Her mother was a lot younger than her father, but compared to others, she was definitely not some young, beautiful mother, and was a quiet princess who could not live on her own. The maid that was older than her mother and lived quite the carefree life herself.
If those two are to die, what am I supposed to do...?
'Saffron' did not have a friend, and never stepped into a fast food restaurant. She would hear her classmates chatter amongst themselves, saying things like 'let's go to the supermarket', let's go to 'KFC'.
(I always hear them talking about Mr Supermarket and Mr KFC. They're definitely popular boys. Are they from other schools?)
She had such doubts echoing in her mind.
And this misunderstanding lasted even into middle school.
Because of the family's economic issues, she did consider entering a public school, but the school of princesses were kinder, and she felt more at ease there.
There was once where she played alone at the park, and a group of boys bullied her, saying, 'You have a weird nose'. Because of the trauma caused by such memory, she fully understood that she lacked the courage to live in an environment of commoners.
Of course, her mother naturally thought that 'Saffron' would choose her alma mater, that after graduating from university, she would get married with a suitable man.
But this era is different from yours, mother. I can't possibly do such a thing!
On this world, the only one who would call 'Saffron' cute and praise her nose was her now-deceased father. Everyone else would think that she was an ugly duckling with a strange nose.
To such a person, her fated partner would never appear.
That she might as well live her life alone quietly, never hoping for anything.
At school, she tied the only thing that could be considered pretty, her long hair, and the uniform skirt were to her knees, as per school rules. Back home, there was the seal coat her father left behind, right? Isn't that right? Miss Mary, Miss Pascal, Miss Dorsey, and she would spend the time talking to the plants she nicknamed.
Nobody would talk to 'Saffron', and nobody noticed her.
This is fine, nobody will want to see such a nose. I don't want to be teased and get bad memories like that again.
And so, when she first entered middle school, she met 'her'.
The bright saffron color, the purple—
Her cellphone vibrated, dragging her back to reality.
(The sender's Mr. Polar Star?)
She read the content, feeling extremely tense as her fingers felt as if they were about to drop the floor.
"I can't make it today. I'll be there tomorrow."
After seeing such blunt words, she felt relieved, and yet disappointed.
Her nose slowly began to sizzle.
(It-it's nothing. Y-y-yo-yo-you don't have to send me a message just like that now. I won't have to come to the shop starting tomorrow, and it's more comforting to me. Thanks to you, I won't have to be in such an awkward situation tomorrow.)
She closed the cellphone, and pushed the door aside.
To be honest, I don't want to see the face of that wild beast again.
She rode on the bicycle parked in front of the shop, passed through the paths full of up and down bumps, and head off to the road.
(Speaking of which...she's not here today.)
Just when she was thinking about the face of the doll-like waitress whom the Mr. Polar Star seemed strangely concerned with.
There was a red-haired, savage looking youth standing at the main street as the passers-by moved through.
He arched his back like a cat, his lips curled to a frown, muttering some things as he glanced at the passers-by.
(Mr. Polar Star?)
She instinctively braked the bicycle, and there was heat simmering from the tip of her nose.
(What's he doing, giving such a grumpy look—ah, it's normal for him, I guess.)
At this moment, Mr. Polar Star approached a passer-by.
She was a beauty, a female college student.
Mr. Polar Star said something with a scowl, causing the girl's shoulders to shudder, running off in fear.
Mr. Polar Star then clicked his tongue, and this time, approached a female high school student dressed in a summer one-piece, and before he could speak up, she ran off in fear.
(Is he working part-time to get customers? Or...?)
Or was he trying to hook up girls...?
Hook up girls...!?
Her body became frosty, but the tip of her nose suddenly boiled over.
Did he send a message saying he could not show up just because he was trying to hook up with girls?
Was wooing all sorts of girls more important than the promise with 'Saffron'?
The tip of her nose was throbbing.
No, not only her nose. Even her limbs were shaking.
"Yo-yo—yo-you're the worst~~!!!"
She then grabbed a can someone left behind, and threw it at the red hair.
"Ow! Who's that!?"
And then, she escaped, pedaling the bicycle hard.
And on the next day, after the wooing training called 'how to get along with girls'.
Koremitsu strutted off to the tea shop, Bonne Chance with a sour look.
(I have no talent in wooing girls after all...)
Having been fooled by Hikaru's words, he went to the streets, trying to woo girls he did not know of, and the results were completely wretched.
They were either terrified, crying, running away, or throwing cans at him. On top of that, he even met Asai...
(Why is it that Saiga has to appear there!?)
And it was that kind of moment, in that particular moment,
(—and I ended up trying to woo Saiga.)
She was staggering around, probably due to the summer heat or sleep deprivation, but her sharp tongue was as vicious as ever, saying things like a high school debut, that a dog's thoughts were so crude after all, that it was the worst situation for her.
And then, it seemed she was feeling really uncomfortable, and after resting for a while in the park, a lot of things happened, and he was chased by the police—
(Ahh—I really don't want to remember what happened yesterday. Is she really my nemesis in my previous life or something?)
And after that, he met Honoka and Aoi.
(I don't know what happened there either. Either way, it's good that everyone's happy. What happened back then however? Why were Shikibu and Aoi together? They said they just so happened to meet coincidentally and have some tea, but are they really on such good terms?)
Koremitsu recalled the sight of Honoka and Aoi walking down the street under the sunset dejectedly.
"Hey!" And when Koremitsu called out to them, they looked really flustered, their shoulders trembling, and they turned around.
—Erm, I so happened to meet Her Highness Aoi, and we ended up chatting over tea or something...
—Eh, yes, It so happened to be my rest day today, and I so happened to meet Miss Shikibu. We were having tea until just a while ago.
—Don't you want to chat with Her Highness Aoi, Akagi? She is refined, cute, and a rich girl. These make her an ideal target.
—I-I too want to be a determined, amazing girl like Miss Shikibu here.
Honoka sounded slightly shrill as compared to the usual, probably because it was the day after the incident at the pool, and did not look at Koremitsu right in the eyes. Aoi in turn looked somewhat restless, fidgeting from time to time.
"Well, it certainly was an eventful day yesterday."
Hikaru, floating beside Koremitsu, answered with a cool smile, and unlike the scowling Koremitsu, he looked like he was enjoying himself.
"Thanks to what happened yesterday, you managed to improve your relationship with Asa."
"Like how!? Because of her, I got called a pervert, and got pursued by the police everywhere!!!"
Koremitsu inadvertently lambasted, attracting the attention of the passers-by. Flustered, he hurriedly lowered his head and hushed his voice.
"...Anyway, I won't ever go wooing girls again."
"Eh? How about you try it again?"
"Shut up. It's more important to look for that Saffron. You better look for her seriously!"
Are you being serious here? Koremitsu snarked back as he opened the door.
Instead of the usual 'welcome', there was a shocked cry.
Once Koremitsu entered through the door, a waitress hurriedly raised the tray to cover her face, and sneaked past Koremitsu.
It seemed to be the waitress who suddenly approached to refill his water. Koremitsu probably was way too intimidating, and soon after, she hid in the furthermost part of the counter.
"That person's cheeks are as red as a Geranium. Is it because she is intrigued by you?"
Hikaru grinned as he chimed in.
(She hates me, no?)
Koremitsu pouted his lips, and picked an empty table to sit down at.
The regular customer seated at the window, reading the newspaper, was starting to wipe her face with the hand towel, and looked somewhat uneasy as she lowered the blinders.
The female high school students too tried their best not to meet Koremitsu in the eyes.
(Goodness, they're all like that.)
The girl Hikaru called Miss Mint was seated at the window, silently reading the pocket novel at the wall.
(Saiga and Tōjō...aren't here today again.)
The table with the houseplant was empty.
Leaving aside Tōjō, the fact that Asai was not present was a slight solace to Koremitsu.
He would consider his attempt to woo Asai as the biggest failure of his life.
She was the one person he did not want to meet. Perhaps the reason why he could not see her was because she too was trying to avoid meeting him.
Koremitsu took the innermost seat, and looked around. At this moment, Aoi brought the menu to him.
Once she saw Koremitsu, she gave a bashful smile.
Koremitsu recalled what happened the previous day, and his face too became somewhat red.
"...Thank you for what happened yesterday."
Koremitsu whispered his thanks, and Aoi in response look increasingly pleased.
"Not at all."
She whispered back.
Hikaru rested his tender, loving eyes upon Aoi.
And after making his order,
Aoi politely responded, and returned to the counter. Soon after, she brought a red tea set on the tray cautiously.
While Aoi laid out one piece after another, Koremitsu looked over at the table, and said,
"Looks like you're used to working here."
"This still is not enough."
And after hearing this, Aoi shyly replied, and continued,
"I am working hard...because you do come by every day, Mr. Akagi."
"Is-is that so?"
Though he was really concerned with Aoi, Koremitsu's main purpose for coming to this shop was to look for 'Saffron', and stammered.
Aoi already was peeved at Hikaru's Casanova antics, and Koremitsu could not tell her that 'Saffron' was a friend Hikaru met on the internet, that both of them had a promise.
Hikaru too showed a gloomy look.
(Isn't this all because you dated a girl when you don't even know her appearance?)
And so, Koremitsu changed the topic clumsily.
"Erm, you're getting along well with your colleagues, right? You weren't bullied, right? Like the one walking at the wall like a crab."
He glanced over at the rude waitress from before, and Aoi turned over to the latter with a look as if to say ‘That is not the case.’
"No. Miss Sueko is a senior who started working here a little earlier than me, but she is very friendly. She is a rich girl from a famous girls school, but she knows everything, and can do anything. She is someone I really admire. Sometimes, she would use the remains of the red tea as a pesticide, sometimes making vegetable soup, and even use glue to repair stocking runs. Do you know about these, Mr. Akagi? You can use glue to stop the bleeding when you cut your finger on a chopper!"
Aoi was exclaiming somewhat excitedly.
Koremitsu's face was somewhat stiff.
(That was a rich girl? Isn't she too ill-tempered? Speaking of which, if Tōjō knows that Aoi stopped her bleeding using glue, he'll definitely faint on the spot...eh? Wait?)
What did she just say?
Miss Sueko is a senior who started working here a little earlier than me—
(Wait...! What if Saffron isn't a customer here, but an employee...!)
Koremitsu narrowed his eyes, and stared at the waitress that was Aoi's senior, terrified of meeting him in the eyes as she walked sideways.
(I remember Saffron is a rich girl from a girls school...)
Just when Koremitsu was unable to contain his curiosity about the waitress, Aoi suddenly whispered at Koremitsu's ears.
"Asa is not here today. I am really glad to be chatting with you like this, Mr. Akagi."
The voice, coupled with the sweet memory, caused his heart to race, and as he looked back at Aoi, he found the latter looking back with a similarly sweet and blissful look.
Feeling a little perplexed, Koremitsu panicked, and said,
"Sp-speaking of which, Saiga has been busy or something, ending up like she doesn't even have time to sleep. Be careful yourself, Aoi. Don't tire yourself out."
And Aoi's face showed surprise.
"How do you know about Asa's schedule, Mr. Akagi."
(Eh, I said something unnecessary.)
"I-it's because, before this...I think Saiga did say this before."
"When did you have a chat with Asa?"
Aoi's face became downcast.
"I-I suppose I better get back to work here. There seems to be more customers now."
Aoi's showed a bashful look, and she lowered her head before returning..
However, a few steps later, she stopped in her tracks.
"Asa is too sneaky."
"She has been trying her best to stop me from talking to you, Mr. Akagi, and she herself talked to you secretly."
She gave a pouting look on her face, her back turned away from Koremitsu, before she hurried back to the counter.
(What's...with Aoi's expression?)
His heart was throbbing.
He was showing such a reaction to a girl his friend truly treasured. Clearly, this was a bad thing.
Anxious, he felt the throbbing hasten.
"I am having mixed feelings now, Koremitsu."
Having witnessed their conversation, Hikaru spoke with a vague expression. The gentle expression that was staring at Aoi before this seemed a little hazy.
"Wh-what are you saying? Suddenly being all so serious like that. You're a little weird here. As for 'Saffron', that woman called Sueko, she's definitely weird."
Koremitsu changed the topic.
And the girl reading the pocket book at the wall was watching Koremitsu's every action with a poised look.
At the same time.
"Akagi, what is going on here?"
"Big brother Koremitsu...wh-when did you?"
Honoka and Shioriko were seated at the table with the houseplant, blue with shock.
The one who revealed the intel that Koremitsu was at this shop was Hiina Oumi of the news club.
Akagi's at a red tea shop?
It seemed surprising, but why Aoi of all people was working at this shop!?
(Ahh, Her Highness Aoi did say yesterday that she started working to learn more about society.)
On the previous day, Honoka was feeling crestfallen, for the enjoyable pool trip she so yearned ended up in such a state. She wanted to explain matters to Koremitsu, and went off to the shop she heard from Hiina, only to meet Aoi on the way there.
Aoi knew that Honoka was Koremitsu's classmate, and that they joined the Japanese Dance Club before summer vacation ended.
—You are the one...often with Mr. Akagi. And erm, you joined the Japanese Dance club, with him. Am I correct?
Aoi asked tentatively as she looked up.
Honoka too spoke without holding back,
—Your Highness Aoi, you did have a period when you got together amicably with Akagi, and that you went out today...Akagi did come to me for help personally because he liked you back then.
She did not say 'now', but emphasized on the 'back then'. Upon hearing that, Aoi looked utterly devastated.
Why would the two of them spend the time together drinking tea? Such a question was already unimportant.
Honoka was extremely skittish in front of Aoi, whom Koremitsu once liked, her mind in a state of pandemonium. She assumed that Aoi too was probably feeling uptight.
Whether it was unnecessary matters or foolish ones, she felt that she said a lot of them.
In the end, both of them left the red tea shop weakly, only for Koremitsu to appear to them. One had to say this certainly was a coincidence.
Even the cellphone novels Honoka wrote would not have such a deus ex machina.
It was because of Koremitsu's appearance however that Honoka managed to recover somewhat. And she came to this place because she wanted to continue talking with Koremitsu normally.
(I haven't apologized about the pool yet. I'll go to that shop again.)
This time, she ended up meeting Koremitsu's little sister, Shioriko, in front of the shop.
"A table for two?"
And once the waitress asked them this, they ended up sitting at the same table.
Also, Honoka was completely frozen when she saw Aoi, dressed in a maid outfit, looking blissful as the latter talked to Koremitsu.
Shioriko glanced over at Aoi, and muttered, seemingly realizing she had no choice,
"I was careless. There's another opponent...ah! And she's such a pure refined princess, the kind those manly guys with a code of honor really like—"
Honoka suddenly felt a mischievous impulse, and said,
"Akagi used to like Her Highness Aoi. Shiiko, you don't have any hope now."
Shioriko's little ears twitched,
"Her Highness Aoi. That's Hikaru's fiancee, right?"
She widened her eyes in shock. ‘I see, so it's her...’ She muttered to herself while staring at Aoi, and then gave an utterly defeated look.
"As to be expected of Hikaru's fiancee. She really is an ideal woman without flaws. Hm, so big brother Koremitsu likes Hikaru's fiancee. But if that's the case, isn't this just an act of pity to take care of his dead friend's fiancee? Big brother Koremitsu has no immunity against such women that needs protection."
She came up with a most critical analysis far beyond the thought process of an elementary school girl.
And even pointed the topic back at Honoka,
"In this case, I think you're the one with no hope here, Miss Shikibu. You're cool and pretty, and very popular amongst the girls, but you're too hot-headed and not cute at all, and treats people of the opposite gender no differently. I don't think you're the type big brother likes. In the worst case scenario, you're at most a classmate and clubmate to him."
(Ho-hot-headed...!? Not cute at all!? No no no no, she's an elementary school kid. I can't let myself get angry so easily like that time at the pool. I can't show the magnanimosity of an adult like this.)
She forced herself to eke a smile.
"Aren't you always living with Akagi under the same roof, Shiiko? You're at most siblings, right? You're the one with no hope."
"We just lived together for a month."
"Right now, the term 'live together' can be used even when there are different families. Well, there are some things elementary school kids don't know of."
"Big brother Koremitsu always say this about the mapo tofu and southern barbarian pickle I make, 'it's good, Shiiko', and asks me for extras."
"It's just cutting tofu after all. Cutting into quarters, at least."
"But I did cut them seriously. Have you made a lunchbox for big brother to eat before?"
"What? You didn't?"
"A-a lunchbox is so heavy, so a guy will feel annoyed by it. Unpopular girls won't know about this."
"Yeah, a lunchbox, even if it's a riceball, as long as it’s from someone he likes, he'll be really happy. If the lunchbox comes from a classmate, it's just a pile of garbage no matter how rich it is."
Honoka's lips were a little numb.
If she were to continue being dragged along like this, her reputation as the love expert would be wrecked.
"It might be too agitating to you, Shiiko, so I didn't say this beforehand. I got pushed down on the school corridor by Akagi before."
This was not a bluff.
"Akagi suddenly buried himself in my breasts. It really shocked me."
This was not a bluff either.
"Back then, if I didn't resist with all my might, our relationship might not be as simple as how it is now."
What...exactly was that?
Koremitsu suddenly charged out from the art classroom, and crashed into Honoka onto the corridor. Both of them fell together, and Koremitsu's head was buried in Honoka's cleavage. 'Go and die, you pervert!' she kicked Koremitsu with all her might, and their relationship after that could be said to be at its lowest point.
Back then, 'no no, it's alright. I spaced out while walking, sorry' if Honoka did say such a reply, and if Koremitsu remembered that incident and fell in love at first sight, it would have been very weird. Rather, that would be impossible.
"B-big brother even did such a perverted thing...!"
"Akagi is a carnivore after all. He stayed at an apartment with another girl for days (not me but another girl), kissed in front of others (not me but another girl), brought a girl into the toilet, causing a commotion when others gathered around (not me but another...)!"
"I knew that Hikaru would often do such things, but if even big brother Koremitsu..."
Though she behaved like an adult, she was still a child at heart.
After seeing Shioriko looked so rattled, Honoka finally felt somewhat relieved.
(Seriously, Akagi goes about having all sorts of rumors with other girls, and I only have that initial rumor. I never had something like that happen to me. Even when we were alone together, we never had that mood—)
She too started to feel angsty.
(Akagi was really formal when he spoke to me, and I thought he was not used to getting along with girls. Is that just an act in front of me? Does he show his savage beast's personality in front of others?)
Cold sweat started to trickle in large beads.
And Shioriko stood up, shouting,
"BUT I DID SEE BIG BROTHER KOREMITSU'S PoNoS, AND I STILL HAVE A PHOTO OF HIS PoNoSSS, AND HE PROMISED TO TAKE MY VIRGINITY!!!"
Shioriko's voice echoed through the shop.
All the people present shot their glances at Honoka's table.
On the other hand, a blushing Koremitsu, who was muttering something to himself, shut up once he noticed them. Aoi held onto the cups and tray, her eyes widened as she looked over at them.
And then, Shioriko clenched her fists hard, the twintails behind her head swaying hard as she yelled with all her might,
"BIG BROTHER KOREMITSU'S MY-MY-MY DDOOOOOOOOOGGGGGGG!!!"
There was silence.
Honoka's thought process, which had snapped, started to kick into gear again.
Standing in front of her at this point was an elementary school girl, huffing and puffing.
Charging towards them was her red-haired classmate, looking really panicky.
And there were the customers at their seats, the waitresses far away, their mouths agape.
(A promise to take her virginity? And dog, as in...)
Koremitsu was headed towards them, his eyes widened, his expression gloomy, his mouth opened, seemingly yelling something.
(Virginity, with an elementary school kid?)
Honoka aimed at Koremitsu's solar plexus, and deliver a right kick she practiced in gym during kick boxing class with all her might.
"YOU'RE THE WORRRSSSTTTT––-!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Honoka's powerful kick landed right at Koremitsu' abdomen, causing the latter to tumble backwards. During this commotion, he ended up involving the shopkeeper standing behind him. The shopkeeper was thinner and frailer than Koremitsu, his head hit the floor, and a large swollen bump appeared.
"Sorry about that!"
Koremitsu bowed deeply towards the shopkeeper.
And he maintained that position as he glanced to the side, muttering,
"You two, apologize too."
"I'm really sorry."
Left at their wits end, both Honoka and Shioriko lowered their heads at the same time.
(Seriously, these girls.)
Koremitsu's temples were twitching.
They started a commotion at the pool, and came here as well, creating such a ruckus.
He was stunned when Shioriko shouted, he promised to take my virginity!
Big brother is my dog! Those words caused quite the shock amongst the surroundings. To top off his misfortune, while he was about to stop Shioriko, he was kicked and sent sprawling by Honoka, who actually believed this.
It was too painful when he got hit. He nearly thought his intestines were crushed.
Because he got kicked, he tumbled back, having lost his balance, hearing a cry behind him.
He found the shopkeeper sprawled onto the floor, and it was a strenuous situation, some calling for an ambulance, and some hoping to get him on a taxi to the hospital. The shopkeeper managed to recover quickly, but there was a large mirror-shaped mochi-sized bump on his head.
"I-I'm fine here. Do-don't worry about it."
It was unknown if the shopkeeper was a nice person, or that Koremitsu was too scary. The shopkeeper continued to bow, but this matter was not over.
As Aoi watched on worriedly with her moist eyes,
"Sorry to cause everyone trouble."
Koremitsu bowed again to the shopkeeper, the customers, and the waitresses, and led the dejected Honoka and Shioriko out of the shop.
"Actually, Koremitsu, Shiiko and Miss Shikibu have reflected greatly about this incident. Do not be so peeved now."
Hikaru floated by the side as he said, but Koremitsu pushed the door aside grimly, dragged the duo a stone's throw away, and stopped.
Honoka and Shioriko's face were completely blue with shock.
Hikaru in turn pleaded leniency for them, murmuring.
(I don't know how to get along with girls, but it's because I pampered them too much that they're so unruly now. Most importantly, they're always causing trouble for others. I'm never going to take care of girls and obey them anymore.)
Right, I can't strike a conversation with girls after all.
If they call for me, I'll just reject them with a louder voice. If that doesn't work, I'll yell at them and make them silent.
Koremitsu took a deep breath, and roared,
"DON'T YOU EVER STEP INTO THIS SHOP AGAIN, YOU TWO! IF YOU'RE GOING TO CAUSE A RUCKUS IN FRONT OF ME AGAIN, I'M GOING TO STUFF YOU IN THE GYM MAT LIKE A BAMBOO MAT WRAP! REMEMBER THAT WELL!!!"
'Saffron' waited for the red-haired boy to lead the two girls out of the shop, tailed them, and pushed the door aside slightly.
"I'M GOING TO STUFF YOU IN THE GYM MAT LIKE A BAMBOO MAT WRAP! REMEMBER THAT WELL!!!"
At that moment, she heard a roar, and saw a demon-like man standing in front of the girls, their backs facing 'Saffron', their shoulders shivering.
She was not the one being scolded, but 'Saffron' cringed.
(He-he's scary, he's really scary—)
He immediately turned away, and stormed off in large strides. The two girls too followed him with their heads lowered.
And so, 'Saffron' remained where she was as she watched them leave.
(What was that just now?)
That little girl suddenly yelled, saying that her big brother will take her virginity or something, and the beauty with pretty legs sent a kick right at him...
(A harem war?)
A love triangle amongst those three?
(No, that waitress looks like she's also in love when she looks at him too. Is that a love square?)
It seemed the number of girls around him would increase whenever he arrived at the shop.
How exactly did he establish his relationships with the girls?
"And speaking of which, is he really looking for me—~~~!?"
It would be troubling if she was to be discovered by that wild beast of a man, but when he flirted around with other girls in front of her, creating a harem war that sparked quite a commotion, she inadvertently felt a little disappointed.
The tip of her nose started to itch, and she pushed out her bicycle dejectedly, stepping on the pedal.
(The girls that came to the shop today have nice figures, have good fashion sense, and look dazzling with some accessories on them. Really charming...)
The girls that can make boys fall for them must definitely be the showy type.
I thought Mr. Polar Star was supposed to be different from other boys....
She started a blog soon after entering middle school, and for some reason, it got really popular, with comments from boys left on the messageboard. She knew that most of them assumed 'Saffron' was simply a rich pretty princess, and were simply lapping up to her.
However, Mr. Polar Star fixated his stare on the little plant photos Saffron uploaded.
And he called 'Saffron's friends by their names.
As there was something he wished to convey, he even left a message to 'Saffron', "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 called my brooch, Mignon.)
—Mignon is a name given to cute girls.
At that time, her heart really fluttered.
It felt as if she could actually hear Mr. Polar Star's voice.
—I-I do not really pay particular mind to my appearance. When I was still a child, everyone looked surprised when they look at me, and I wondered why exactly was that. Because of my appearance, I never had any friends...
—But it is because of my appearance, that I spent a lot of effort to accept and love myself. I would sometimes face the mirror alone, talk to myself.
—But recently, when facing the mirror, I feel that my chest is about to break apart.
—Why was I born into this world with such a face, such a state...why did the me in the mirror never change at all?
After he revealed such troubles, a painful feeling struck 'Saffron' so severely.
—It has nothing to do with appearance. I think that no matter how you look like, you're an amazing person, Mr. Polar Star. Your every word is unpretentious, exciting. I think you definitely are this kind of an outstanding person.
She tried her best to console him.
Mr. Polar Star then replied immediately.
—Thank you. You definitely must be a kind person who understands others well.
When she received this reply, her heart raced.
(That's why...even though I know I won't have my fated partner...right now, I'm a little...really a little hopeful. Didn't Mr. Polar Star smile back at me when I'm not a pretty girl? He did think that I have inner beauty, no?)
'Saffron' recalled the gentle expression he gave when he chatted with the doll-like waitress, the flustered look he gave when the pretty little girl sat on his lap, and the usual tone to lash out at the girls. Her heart tightened.
"I guess...it's not about the looks after all."
The next morning, on the day after the commotion, Shioriko looked completely unenthusiastic, probably because she was reflecting her actions.
It was the same when she ate the sunny-side eggs and the cabbage miso soup, as she remained silent, not looking at Koremitsu.
When Lapis passed by her feet quietly, Shioriko tilted her head, looking as if she was about to cry.
She hung the staff card for the radio exercise on her neck, and was about to leave the house. Koremitsu was standing at the corridor, his arms folded as he looked at her, shocking her upon seeing him, giving a feeble look thereafter.
Koremitsu called out, and paused,
"You're going for radio exercise?"
"I'll go with you for a while."
Koremitsu knelt at the corridor, and started tying his shoelaces. Shioriko asked tentatively,
"...You don't hate me, right?"
Koremitsu knelt down there as he turned his head around. Shioriko was looking back at him with a feeble child's eyes.
He then spoke sternly,
"I won't. I'm your dog after all."
Shioriko's eyes became a little wet.
She blinked her eyes, spacing out for a little while, and wanted to say something, but was unable to let out a voice. The words were stuck in her mouth, and then, she timidly whispered,
"...Your hand please."
Koremitsu replied stiffly, and placed his bony hand on Shioriko's little palm grasping it tightly. He could feel warmth from the slender fingers he nearly broke apart.
Hikaru, standing beside the duo, was smiling, ostensibly watching a cute couple.
"Hurry up and put on your shoes. You're going to be late for morning exercise."
"Alright, big brother."
Shioriko's tender face gradually broke into a sweet, blissful smile.
She called out to Masakaze and Koharu, who were inside the house.
The duo probably would be relieved after hearing such an energetic voice.
Koremitsu too heaved a sigh of relief.
To be honest, he felt really embarrassed about the 'woof' response from before...
Though the surrounding children were shivering, he proceeded on to do the radio exercise with Shioriko, and after seeing a little of her dodgeball practice, he strolled off to the shop Bonne Chance leisurely.
(...I think it's better to send a message to Shikibu.)
At this point, Honoka undoubtedly was as dispirited as Shioriko before this.
Upon thinking about how Honoka must have been looking gloomy with her shoulder slumped, he felt anguish in his chest.
(Did I....go overboard the previous day...)
Honoka was always raging.
The biggest cause of it was always Koremitsu.
(But what do I write in the message?)
Koremitsu took the cellphone out of his pocket, and slipped it back. Hikaru muttered,
"If it is Miss Shikibu, you just need to do the same as for Shiiko. Reach your hand out, and go 'woof'."
"How can I possibly do that!"
"Miss Shikibu probably will suffocate due to happiness."
"And if I were not a ghost, I would really hope to film this episode by the side."
"Go die again!"
"Wow, so scary~"
Hikaru pretended to give such a look, and then showed a gentle, mature expression.
"If you can convey your own thoughts into direct words, it will definitely reach Miss Shikibu."
He paused, still holding the cellphone in his hand.
And before he knew it, he was standing in front of the shop.
Either way, he would deal with the message later.
He did forbid Honoka and Shioriko from ever stepping into the shop again the previous day, but he wondered if the people inside the shop were hopeful, thinking that it would apply to Koremitsu himself. Feeling extremely tense, he pushed the door aside.
There were the usual customers of the one at the window side, reading the newspapers with the blinders down, the chatty group of girls, and the Miss Mint reading a pocket novel at the wall.
Greeting him with a higher pitch this time was Aoi.
It seemed she had something to say, but was quite fidgety as she approached Koremitsu, probably because of the shocking thing Shioriko said the previous day..
"A table for one? Over here please."
She said, and stiffly led him to a seat.
At this moment, Koremitsu felt somewhat touched.
After making his order, Koremitsu scanned the shop. Asai and Tōjō were not present on this day either. It seemed Asai was unable to spare some time because of her hectic schedule, and Tōjō probably had something similar going on.
And at that moment, there was a customer covering her face with a sugar pot, entering his sights.
She sat down 2 tables away from Koremitsu.
At that instant, he assumed it was the waitress called Sueko. On a closer look however, he found that she was not dressed in a white apron that fluttered with the window, but a simple shirt and a black pleated skirt, similar to the female Heian Academy summer uniform.
(Speaking of which, isn't that our school uniform?)
Hikaru too was surprised.
And also, the three braids and round glasses frame appeared from behind the sugar pot—
Koremitsu got up from his seat and approached her.
He came up to her, and the three braids shivered.
"Wa-was I seen...?"
The class representative with braids slowly poked her head out.
"You think you weren't? What are you doing here?"
"Well, Hono said that you suddenly raged at her, and that she probably will never be able to talk to you again. It seems she was really concerned about it.
Koremitsu nearly fell forward as a result.
"D-did Shikibu ask you to come here?"
Michiru took half a step back, and tried to defend herself shrilly, probably because his face was too close.
"Th-th-th-th-that's not it. Hono is really really despondent."
An image of a dejected Honoka appeared in Koremitsu's mind, and he felt astringent.
Michiru then waved her hands, saying,
"A-and, I already liked this shop for quite some time. I often came by during summer vacation."
"What!? I never saw you before, right?"
"But after I saw you enter the shop from my house. I didn't dare enter this place, Mr. Akagi..."
"What did you say!?"
"I-I-I-I-I'm fine with it however. I'm still rushing with my assignments. You're still angry after all, Mr. Akagi. Hono is still not in a good mood, Hono."
Michiru muttered to herself, and adjusted the chair such that it got lowered.
"!! Don't say anything to Shikibu."
After reminding her this, Koremitsu returned to his seat.
"Well, Koremitsu, I suppose you should give Miss Shikibu a call. It should be better to do that than to spend time sending messages."
After hearing Hikaru's words, Koremitsu took out a cellphone from his phone, and stared at it.
"Sorry, we are currently full at the moment."
"My friend is in here. Over there."
A rhythmic set of footsteps stopped at Koremitsu's table.
Koremitsu lifted his head, and found a black-haired, tall and slender girl, Asai Saiga, staring down at him with a poised expression.
With a cool expression, Asai slotted herself in the chair opposite Koremitsu before he could speak up.
(We're not so close that we can sit together and talk, right?)
Or was it that Asai started to feel a little intimate with Koremitsu because of what happened two days ago?
But just that?
(Speaking of which, I did try to woo Asai before. It's because she wasn't feeling well that I took care of her at the park. And she calls me a pervert in front of others, and I got chased by the police as a result.)
Hikaru too was extremely surprised by Asai's sudden change in attitude, muttering,
"I thought Asa really hated Koremitsu like an Echinococcus!"
(An Echinococcus!? Isn't that a parasite? Am I a bug now!? A parasite!? That's worse than a mad dog!)
He was completely seething, but Saiga remained seated opposite Koremitsu, not talking to him.
She kept her lips shut, watching him coldly.
And then, she said to the waitress, who came to take her order.
"One Earl Grey, straight up."
And remained silent again.
(Why aren't you saying anything? Hurry up and say something, you cold-faced woman!)
He was feeling completely restless within, and he gulped down what he wanted to say upon recalling how he tried to woo Asai.
But that day was certainly something both Asai and Koremitsu wanted to forget.
—Asa believed that there was Santa Claus until about 3rd grade.
He nonchalantly mentioned what he heard, and though Asai remained calm in her tone, her face was gradually flushed. Koremitsu in turn continued saying things that made her embarrassed.
As payback, he got chased by the police for most of the day. Asai probably did not want to see Koremitsu after that.
(What's she thinking?)
He could not read her intent, and whispered,
"...Are you feeling a little better?"
"...Does that have anything to do with you?"
A brusque reply came at him in turn.
(!!! She's making me mad again.)
"How many times must I repeat myself that I do not allow you to call me that?"
"Are you sitting right opposite me just to use that iceberg-like stare to look at my face?"
"An ugly face like yours is not worthy of being looked at."
"Ah, I see. Now then, why are you still staring at my face when you don't want to look at it?"
Asai again shut her lips.
She frowned hard, looking displeased, ostensibly seeking an answer to Koremitsu's question as she watched him intently, before speaking up,
"I suppose it is better that you do not worry about Aoi."
Aoi, who was serving red tea at this point, looked over at Koremitsu's side worriedly, her tray shaking. Asai was supposed to utterly despise Koremitsu, and this time, chose to deliberately sit in front of him. She could not relax after all.
Asai's stare was sharp, and she coldly said,
"You came to this shop for Aoi, right? I suppose you can at least remove your claws from her. You who have declared to deliver Hikaru's presents to Aoi have done your job. Your duty is already over. You are completely unnecessary to Aoi's life from this point on."
Koremitsu glared back at Asai,
"It would be one thing if Aoi said this, but if you're saying it yourself, aren't you being too protective of her? It's not just about me here; You and Tōjō, we're all too protective of her. Aoi can't possibly be a pampered princess forever. She has to be strong-willed and learn how to survive on her own.
Hikaru heard Koremitsu's words in anguish from the side. At this point, he probably was aching in his heart.
To Hikaru, Aoi was someone he would be willing to open his umbrella for, a pure, speckless white flower that he treasured and protected.
At this point, he could only watch this changing girl with his unchanging eyes. Koremitsu too could feel the loneliness.
(But if Aoi wants to be stronger, I really want to help her out a bit. You'll definitely do that if you're alive too, right, Hikaru?)
Asai narrowed her eyes.
She showed a sharp glint in her eyes, her expression filled with frustration, rage and anxiety.
It was the same as when Koremitsu declared himself to be Hikaru's representative, an icy expression that showed all its rage—
Her thin lips curled into a sneer, letting out a chilly voice.
"Aoi is gradually becoming independent. Is that what you think?"
(He-he's talking to another girl with a serious look—!!!)
Seated opposite the red-haired was the tall, lanky intellectual beauty that had come to this shop before.
Before this, 'Saffron' always noticed her working at the notepad computer with a serious look, whispering things to the handsome man behind her from time to time.
(She's not a couple with that leader-like handsome man? Two timing? Such a flirtatious woman? As long as she's pretty?)
The tip of her nose started to itch, and her chest was throbbing.
(Mr. Polar Star is an idiot.)
Asai's words felt like an ice pick at Koremitsu's chest.
"I suppose you definitely do not know how important an existence she is to her family's kin?"
She stared at Koremitsu's eyes as the latter watched on with bated breath, and continued to ask,
"The Mikados is an old reputed family with massive financial and political clout, and the Saotomes served them for generations; you definitely do not know how many responsibility she has as the eldest daughter of the Saotomes, do you?"
The tinge of anger shown in her eyes was gradually surging.
(Why is it that she really hates me this much!?)
It had been the same since the first time they met; she always denied Koremitsu's existence, and was full of scorn and fury.
Hikaru was beside Koremitsu, staring at Asai from a distance with a gloomy expression. All he saw was darkness in front of him, an expression that was completely devoid of hope, which caused Koremitsu's back to feel a chill.
"As an outsider of the Mikados, you really do not know anything about Hikaru, about Aoi."
Koremitsu’s expression and body were rendered frozen, unable to move.
There seemed to be something more important than the rage Asai was venting upon him—Koremitsu did not know what was the thing forced upon him.
And Asai's face gradually became gloomy.
"You probably...do not know anything about me either."
There was a little bit of despair in that reverberating voice, causing Koremitsu to feel a gripping sense of loneliness. He whispered,
"...I do know that you believed in Santa Claus until your 3rd grade."
Asai's lips curled into a frown.
However, this was not the awkward expression she showed at the park, her face blushing, but that she did not seem to hear his words at all. She maintained such a posture, and calmly continued with an intellectual tone.
"Aoi does not have the freedom to be allowed to act alone, and she will not."
She seemed worried for Aoi, and spoke with the stern tone of a big sister,
"...When she does this, she will be the one hurt in the end."
At least Asai's wishes to protect Aoi was something sincere. This was something both Hikaru and Koremitsu agreed on, but they felt some obvious spite in Asai's words.
He felt repulsed by her words, but was unable to fire shots back.
"What now? How am I supposed to understand when you don't finish what you want to say?"
Right now Koremitsu responded.
The cellphone on the table vibrated.
And so, Koremitsu opened the cellphone with a scowl, read the message, and was shocked.
"Come look for me. I am here with Mignon."
It was Saffron.
Saffron was at this shop, at this time, observing Koremitsu.
(Damn it, at the worst timing possible too!)
It was the perfect opportunity to look for Saffron, but at this point, he was having an intense battle against the woman he most hated.
Caught in an awkward dilemma, Koremitsu held onto the cellphone in his hand tightly.
And after that, there was the sound of ceramic breaking behind him.
Followed by a soft squeal.
He looked back, and found the broken pieces of red tea cups at Aoi's feet. Her face was pale, not knowing what to do.
She knelt down to pick up the pieces, looking somewhat teary. The waitress called Sueko brought a broom and dustpan over as she rushed over.
"Don't touch it."
She wanted to stop Aoi.
It seemed Aoi cut herself on the finger because of the pieces.
"Are you alright, Miss Aoi? I'll handle things here. Go to the kitchen to wash,."
"It's okay, hurry back now. Ahh, you're bleeding a lot. Shopkeeper, please take the first aid box out for Miss Aoi."
Aoi shrank back as she watched Sueko handle things so smoothly, looking like she had someone to rely on. "Miss Saotome, please leave this to Miss Marinokoji," the shopkeeper said, and Aoi finally got up slowly.
Hikaru floated in the air, watching Aoi leave. Like him, Koremitsu had the urge to rush over and take care of her, but it was against common sense for the customer to take care of the employee, and there would be stares, probably causing a bigger commotion. Besides, he was not able to excuse himself at this point.
In contrast, he wondered if the overprotective Asai would rush over to Aoi and lecture her without any care.
Unexpectedly however, Asai remained seated, and the events unfolded in front of her did not faze her.
She remained seated upright in her chair, watching Aoi's actions with a terrifyingly collected, rational expression.
And then, she said, seemingly proving the validity of her statement.
"Look at this."
The calm tone, coupled with the unforgiving stare, were fixated right upon Koremitsu.
Aoi looked over at Koremitsu's side tentatively.
And once she noticed Asai's stare, her expression seemed a little abnormal.
Asai's expression was ostensibly declaring that everything Aoi did to this point was futile, that she could not be independent.
Aoi felt like running away. Her face reddened, looking disappointed and sheepish as she bowed her head deeply.
Koremitsu too was stunned by Asai's cruel words and stare, but was unable to argue back. Beside him, Hikaru too looked troubled.
There was a call sent to Asai's cellphone.
She brought the phone to her ear, and seemed to say something—
"Is that so? I understand."
It seemed she heard some good news as her frowning eyebrows eased up, and she got up from her chair.
"I shall make my leave. When I am not around, do not involve yourself with Aoi. This is for her sake."
After she stoically instructed him, she swayed her alluring long glossy black hair, and turned to leave.
The class representative was seated at a corner of the shop, watching everything that happened. At the instance Asai passed by, she hurriedly covered her face.
Koremitsu continued to grit his teeth as he glared at Asai, until the moment she left.
"...What's with that woman."
He finally spat out these words.
There were already droplets of sweat on his forehead before he knew it, and he could no longer contain the rage in his body.
Asai simply denied all of Aoi's hard work just because she failed once. And Koremitsu did not say anything because he was stumped by her.
"How can there be such a cold-blooded person? Though she may not agree with the fact that Aoi's working part-time, isn't she being too harsh here?"
He ended up grumbling like a loser.
"Aoi really looks very pitiful here. Did that woman really believe in Santa Claus? She really was a cute kid back then. What caused her to be so conceited and ruthless?"
"...I think it is because of me."
Koremitsu looked aside, and saw Hikaru show a gloomy look. His clear eyes were gradually becoming shrouded, his voice weakening.
"I suppose it is my fault that Asa became like this."
"What...do you mean by that."
Hikaru continued to endure the silent anguish, his long eyebrows lowered. After much endurance from Koremitsu's side, he finally heard a reply.
"...I had a promise with Asa when we were young."
Normally, Koremitsu would have told Hikaru off, calling him a date maniac even starting from young.
"That we will look for the tsuchinoko together."
Koremitsu was a little lost.
He had been hearing all sorts of strange things on this day.
(Speaking of which, this guy is speaking Japanese, right?)
He was really skeptical regarding such vague words.
The tsuchinoko's a creature like a serpent, right? During the previous century, it was deemed as a mystical being that looked very suspicious. Ahh...speaking of which, I think I heard that word when we were at the park two days ago. Did I mishear it?
Hikaru continued to look on grimly as he lowered his head. After that, he said,
"That if we capture the Tsuchinoko, we would take a photo as a memory."
"And she said that if we can catch one male and one female, we would breed them."
"That if we continued on, we could build a museum for Tsuchinokos"
"We were certainly gullible back then. That was impossible."
Koremitsu immediately slammed his head into the table.
"..What is the matter, Koremitsu? Are you tired? Do you feel like crying? Is it because I said such depressing things?"
"Who in the world will cry here! I'm just feeling tired! I just want to calm down!"
Before Koremitsu knew it, the surrounding stares were fixated upon him, and he hushed his voice,
"Ah, damn it. Listen to me properly for once. It doesn't matter that Saiga has a bad personality or what. Rather, I should be really glad here. There's no way a tsuchinoko museum can ever happen. It's great that she's able to understand this before entering high school."
Hikaru beamed back.
Was that smile what Hikaru would show when he was sad? Koremitsu was a little intrigued.
(That's definitely it. She thought that the tsuchinoko museum can be built, and was really shocked when she learned that she was lied to, that they were all fools. That's why she became such a stern woman. It's probably similar to the Santa Claus thing.)
"Leaving aside that, Aoi's fine, right? It looks like a deep cut."
"I suppose it should not be something major if she can continue to work in the shop...it really is tough for her to show her failure to Asa..."
Hikaru too was clutching at his chest with both hands, seemingly in anguish too.
"And if Mr. Shungo learns that Aoi got hurt, he will definitely force her to quit."
"...Hm, that makes sense."
They definitely had to keep this a secret from Tōjō. Speaking of which, it seemed Asai never told him about this...
"Ah, Miss Aoi is back."
Hikaru leaned his body to the counter.
Aoi exited the kitchen door with her head hung in shame. She had a plaster on her ring finger, and it looked extremely painful.
"It looks like she is not hurt too much."
But she seemed lethargic.
She raised the tray of red tea set, and her movements were tense and stiffer than before to prevent the tray from shaking, her shoulders and face looking rigid.
Hikaru looked really tantalized as he moved his lips.
And Koremitsu pretended to go to the toilet as he stood up, passing Aoi nonchalantly.
After she served the red tea to the table, Aoi let out a heavy sigh as she returned back, and there was a voice,
"Pull yourself together."
Hikaru too embraced Aoi from behind, and encouraged with his gentle voice to her ears,
"Do your best, Miss Aoi."
At that moment, it seemed Aoi's shoulders jolted.
Michiru, seated next to the toilet, widened her eyes as she saw Koremitsu talk to Aoi.
And after Koremitsu used the toilet, he met Aoi in the eyes.
Aoi gave a stiff smile, her pink lips seeming saying 'yes'. She then continued with her work.
At this point, there seemed to be nothing going on, at least. She seemed to have recovered somewhat, and was relaxed.
(Saiga told me to mind my own business. Maybe she's going to look at me with scorn again.)
At this moment, the bell hanging on the door chimed, and a customer walked in.
Aoi, who was at the door, went up to greet the customer, only to stop halfway. She widened her eyes, her cheeks stiffened.
Koremitsu too widened his mouth when he saw the customer.
The other customers and waitresses in the shop showed one shocked look after another.
Michiru too looked stupefied.
The woman who entered was dressed in a one-piece dress with a deep bold neckline and a short skirt, dressed in a glamorous get-up. She had a little of her red hair, slightly curled at its tip, bundled, and the rest was lowered naturally. This woman was wearing sunglasses—
"Definitely. Isn't she a model?"
"Sure feels different from a normal person."
She did not mind the chatters, the amazement, and the appreciative looks as she entered.
(What's with that person...! She's gorgeous— EHHHH!? She's going to Mr. Polar Star!?)
The woman was as beautiful as the red weeping cherry blossoms, dyeing the shop with color, mesmerizing her surroundings as she approached Koremitsu, her heels rattling. She then stopped, reached out her long fingers, and removed her sunglasses.
And then, she smiled heartily.
"I have arrived, Mr. Akagi."
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