It was the next day and I just got back home from work when—

“Welcome back, Komamura-san.”

Himari stood by the doorway, welcoming me with a soft smile.

 “Ah, uhh. I’m back.”

I thought that she would have been in my room drawing but…

 Did she hear the door being unlocked and went here just for this?

It kind of feels creepy being greeted like this.

No,  it’s not like I’m averse to it in any way. In fact, it was rather pleasant.

“Let me carry your stuff for you.”

Without waiting for a reply, Himari took the bag from my hand.

“Wew… This is pretty heavy.”

“Somewhat, I guess… I’ve got a lot of paperwork and various other stuff inside it.”

“I can’t believe you carry such a heavy bag to work every day… You’re so strong, Komamura-san.”

“This much is normal, though…?”

There are a lot of people who come to work with a bag similar to mine. I was genuinely confused because I didn’t expect to be praised just for carrying my bag to work.

“You must be tired, right? Take a seat here, please.”

Himari then immediately invited me to go straight to the kitchen chair.

…What’s with this all of a sudden?

Somehow, I feel like it would be better to just go along with it so I did as I was told and sat down. Himari left the bag in my room and came right back. She then took out a plastic water bottle from the fridge and poured it into a glass.

“Here you go.”

She handed me the glass with a smile on her face.

It feels like I wasn’t allowed to refuse.

“Thank you very much…”

I unintentionally took on a business-like tone.

For now, I drank about half of the glass in one go.

The sensation of cold water going down my esophagus had a different refreshing feeling than when I beer.

“Is it delicious?”

“Ahh… Yeah.”

Well it did have Delicious Water written on the label…

It can’t be bad.

There’s something I finally realized, though.

“Where’s Kanon by the way?”

She ought to be making dinner around this time, but she’s nowhere to be seen.

“Kanon went out to shop. She said something about ‘needing cooking sake’ I think, and left in a hurry.”

“I see.”

If I didn’t pass by her, then she might have left quite a while ago. She might be coming back anytime soon.

“Komamura-san.”

“Hm?”

What would it be this time?I wondered as Himari sat in front of me. With upturned eyes she said—

“Ah, umm dinner… would have to wait until Kanon comes back, errrm so the next would be…. Do you want to take a bath first? Or maybe… D-do you want to have me?”

I spat out my water reflexively.

“What the heck are you spouting about all of a sudden?!”

“Eh? Isn’t that what you ask a man when he comes home from work?”

“Where are you picking up these kinds of things?!  No one usually says that!”

That’s the sort of exchange newlyweds usually have… or at least I think they do…

What’s more, we’re not even newlyweds. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that she’s just a high school girl so I can’t just up and honestly respond to that now can I?

“Is that so……”

Himari felt disheartened, but she seemed to bounce right back up as she raised her head.

“M-moving on. The bath is heated up for you. Go ahead!”

“I need to wipe this dry before that…”

The water I spewed out is scattered all over the table.

“I’ll do that for you! So please go ahead and take a bath!”

Himari interrupted me with her assertive tone just as I was about to get the rag.

“Ah, okay then…”

I was overwhelmed by Himari so I just went along with it for now.

“Ahh…”

I inadvertently let out my voice as I soaked in the bathtub.

The bath’s water just hits the right spot for someone who’s fatigued from working.

But still… What was up with Himari today? She’s acting too suspicious ever since I got back.

And as I was thinking that…

“Komamura-san. Umm…”

I heard Himari’s voice come from inside the bathroom, just on the other side of the frosted glass door. I could also see her hazy figure standing.

“I’m entering.”

…huh?

Before I could parse out the meaning of those words, the door had already opened.

“Www-what?! Hold up, What the heck is this!’’

 I hurriedly sunk my body further in the bathtub.

Himari was here holding a towel with one hand.

Seeing so, I can only guess what she was planning to do, and I need to stop it at all costs.

“I-I’ll be washing your back okay…!”

“You don’t have to!  I can wash it myself!”

“But if I don’t do at least this much then…”

Himari’s sentence was swallowed up by the sound of the front door opening.

In other words… Kanon’s home.

I’ve resigned to my fate.

And of course what followed was…

“Huh?! What are you doing?!”

Kanon noticed there was something going on in the bath so she entered here with even a shopping bag on hand.

“Sigh…”

With her temples twitching in anger, Kanon was sitting on a chair with her arms and legs crossed.

In front of her was me and Himari, who had been forced to sit in seiza, were just waiting in silence for her next words.

Our rights to speak have been stripped out of us.

“Quit acting that way from now on, Himari.”

“Yes, ma’am…” With Kanon saying it to her straight to the point, Himari hung her head down in sadness.

“I wanted to thank Komamura-san somehow… or rather, I wanted to be of service to him in any way possible…”

“I can sympathize with how you feel. But you know… doing that kind of thing creates weird misunderstandings.”

“Yes… I’m sorry…” Himari got even more down.

Kanon heaved out a small sigh while looking at Himari and then subsequently gave me a sharp glare.

“You, on the other hand, didn’t even try to stop her.”

 “No, I mean, I didn’t even have the time to and—”

“Then try harder. You’re a grown up, right? Then act like one. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am…”

As one would expect, I couldn’t defend myself. She was right. I was carried along by the pace Himari had set, right from the start…

I have to be careful in the future.

“Himari, I don’t want you to concern yourself with that kind of thing from here on out, okay?  I know I’ve already said it before but seeing you properly draw is good enough for me.”

 “Yes… I understand.” Himari nodded wholeheartedly.

With that, it’ll probably end there. However, Himari turned to Kanon and said一

“Umm, Is it okay if I wash your back for you, Kanon?”

“Ueeh?!”

Kanon, who thought of giving Himari the cold shoulder, almost fell out of her chair. Isn’t that too much of an overreaction? This is the first time I’ve seen a person slip off their chair in surprise outside of manga.

“…I can’t?” Himari looked at Kanon with teary eyes.

If a random guy saw this without any context, they’d think they were just two girls who were simply good friends. However, I knew better.

She wanted to thank Kanon for the food she makes.

“Eh? Uh, umm… I一”

“……You don’t want me to?”

“Ahh geez, okay okay! But just this once! Just one time, okay?!”

“Okay!” Himari smiled and nodded at Kanon’s reply.

…I’m really allowed to watch this conversation? I was completely disregarded, and I felt sad at the thought of being cast aside.

And so, the two of them immediately head out to the bath ,looking as close as two can be.

“Wah! You have such beautiful skin, Kanon!”

“He-hey?! Don’t suddenly touch me, okay?!”

“Ah, sorry! I didn’t mean to… but it really is nice~”

“You have long, slender legs and tender skin yourself, Himari.”

“Uweh?! That tickles, Kanon!”

“Hehehe. That’s payback for earlier!”

The chatter of the two could be overheard from the bathroom. I wished they toned down their voices but if I told them that, though, it’s obvious that Kanon would disagree and look at me with contempt.

I have no other choice but to bear with it. But… don’t imagine it, me.

Nothingness. Once I reach the state of nothingness, then their conversation would be nothing more than background noise.

“I’m going to wash your back now, Kanon.”

“Ah, yeah. Thanks.”

It seems that Himari had started washing Kanon’s back just like what she said she was going to do.

“Kanon, umm, since we’re here already, can I ask for something selfish?”

“Hm? What is it?”

“Please let me touch it”

“Ehh? Hiyaa?!”

“Hehehe! You have such fine breasts, dear customer! Please share them with me!”

“Why did you suddenly turn into a pervert?! Hey, wait a minute! Don’t rub them so hard…!”

“Mmm. It’s not fair. Yours are so soft , squishy, and tender.”

“Hi-Himari, didn’t I say yours was a tender one? Torya!”

“Eep! P-please don’t suddenly touch my butt!”

…Achieving the state of nothingness… Is all but a distant dream…

The weather was cloudy today.

If I remember it correctly, The day Kanon and Himari came here also had the same night sky. It had only been a few days since then, but I felt as if weeks had already gone by. Since they came here, my life started a new, fresh experience.

That’s how it was.

Back then, whenever I went home, there was no one here. Suddenly, two people joined me. As I idly gazed at the grey clouds, Isobe came and handed me sheets of documents.

“Komamura. All the numbers here are shifted by one line.”

“Eh?”

I hurriedly went through the documents handed by Isobe.

I… did this?

It was the third line from the top. I forgot to enter a number causing it to misalign.

“Considering that it’s you, that’s a pretty rare mistake. You seem to be out of it today, too. Is your health holding up?”

“No, it’s nothing like that.  Sorry, I’ll fix it right away.”

“Hmm?Please do, then. It’s everyone’s important salary and it needs to be done properly.”  

When he saw me looking sharply at my computer screen, Isobe went back to his desk.

This isn’t good. I’m thinking about those girls even during work.

I took a long, deep breath to forcibly reboot my mind.

I frantically fixed my mistake and I made and managed to finish work on time.

When I returned home, I found Kanon standing in the kitchen, already making dinner.

“…Welcome back.” Kanon said, without even bothering to look at me.

I was still happy about it nonetheless.

“Welcome home~” I heard Himari’s voice come from further inside.

“I’m back.” I felt a bit embarrassed to say that, but it felt good to be greeted once I came home from work.

After I loosened my tie, I stood behind Kanon to watch her cook.

The frying pan contained chopped pork belly seared in low heat and is starting to release some beautiful juices.

She is cutting Eringi mushrooms and putting it into the frying pan while the meat is cooking.

She followed it up by taking broccoli from the microwave and putting it into the frying pan.

I see. So you can use broccoli without having to boil it just by using a plate, water, and cling wrap.

“Why are you doing that? Stop staring, it’s distracting.”

“Nothing. I was just thinking you’re really good at cooking. By the way, what dish are you making?” 

“It doesn’t really have a name. It’s somewhat like a simple vegetable stir-fry with mayonnaise as a substitute for cooking oil.”

What a jack in a box-like dish…

Well, now that she mentioned it, mayonnaise can certainly be used as oil.

While I was in shock and awe, Kanon mixed the mayonnaise with garlic paste and added them into the frying pan.

She then increased the heat and started frying away. After a while, she sprinkled in the black pepper.

Come to think of it, I don’t think we had any garlic paste or black pepper here. I guess she bought some during shopping the other day.  I didn’t notice.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop staring?”

“Sorry, sorry. I was just thinking that you’d make a good bride.”

“Wha—? W-why don’t you quit saying stuff like that and get into the bath?!”

I only said my true thoughts but Kanon’s face turned redder than I expected.

I think this atmosphere had turned sour so before Kanon got to complain more, I quickly bolted out of the kitchen.

Dinner was already done once I got out of the bath. There was also miso soup in addition to the stir-fry made earlier.

“It’s fine if you just continue eating. I just want to say stuff about what future weekday mornings will be like.”

“Ah, I also wanted to talk about that.”

Basically, I’m at work during weekdays while Kanon is in school. That would leave Himari as the only one left. I haven’t been able to think about it too deeply since I went to work both today and yesterday.

“It’s been decided that I’ll do the laundry but should I sweep the place up too?”

“That would be a big help but I do have a request for you about that. Can you refrain from using the vacuum cleaner? I think it might tip off the neighbors about your presence if you do.”

“Ah, I see… I understand.”

Himari’s existence must be held with the utmost secrecy. If her existence were known by others, it would end up badly for all of us.

“Also, what will you do for lunch?  Kanon made rice balls the past few days but…”

Kanon made Himari some rice balls for lunch while she was making her own bento. However, Himari can’t cook unlike Kanon. While it is true that Himari can make cup noodles, but since she’ll have to turn on the ventilation to heat water, then it would be the same scenario as the vacuum cleaner I mentioned earlier. I honestly don’t want that to happen.

“Kanon. I think I can handle making onigiri at least, so I’ll do it myself from tomorrow onwards.”

“Hmm, okay. Then let me add some to your lunch by giving you side dishes from my bento. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes, thank you. Oh yeah, I was also thinking of getting a part time job.”

“…eh?” Kanon and I simultaneously reacted, as we voiced out our concern from Himari’s statement.

“Isn’t that a bad idea when you’re a runaway?”

“That’s right, Himari, it’s dangerous…”

“Thank you for your concerns. But I’ve been thinking about it for the whole day today. I can’t just keep being taken care of by the both of you forever. I really hate that, so at least let me handle the costs of my own meals.”

“But…” Seeing how serious Himari looked, I couldn’t say anything else.

There was a fire in her eyes. Himari did have the guts to run away from home to chase her dreams, after all.

Seeing her eyes made me realize that it would be difficult to change her mind with that resolve. It seems Kanon also felt the same and could only look at her in worry.

“It’s great that you’re proactive but…. are you sure you can go through it?  If you’re discovered, then you’ll lose the right to pursue your dreams anymore.”

“I think I’ve said it before but I don’t think that there will be a problem. My parents are the type of people who love to keep their appearance… They won’t want to make a big deal of this so I don’t think they will look for me with the help of public authorities. I’ve already searched the internet on whether there’s a search request out for me just in case, but so far there’s no information available that’s related to me.”

“I see…”

I’ve actually also secretly looked into that myself by looking at the police’s website. However, as  Himari just said, there was no information about her available.

Now that I think about it, I don’t even know Himari’s surname. There’s also the likelihood that the name we call her is just an alias. I’m not going to dig that deep into it, though.

I’ve been thinking about what would happen if Himari just so happens to be discovered staying at my house.

I don’t know her real name.

I wasn’t informed.

I was deceived.

I could use one of those excuses.

…I might just be pretty cowardly for being so calculative.

On that note, I might be helping her right now but I’m also  thinking of the time I’d have to abandon her…

“So, will you allow me to take a part-time job? I won’t go to a convenience store or such. I’ll look for a place where there is a small chance my parents could find out so…”

“If you’re that adamant about it, then I’ll have to oblige… I’ll buy you a resume when I get home tomorrow. But… are you sure you want to do this? If your parents find out about this then I probably wouldn’t be able to help you.

Himari closed her eyes for a bit as she thought of a reply but soon opened her eyes and heartily nodded.

“Yes.”

“…Then that’s that.”

After I confirmed Himari’s intentions, Kanon stood up gently, holding her plate.

“Thanks for the meal.”

With Kanon saying her graces as the cue, Himari and I proceeded to eat the food we stopped eating during the conversation.

The nameless vegetable stir-fry Kanon made had almost no taste of mayonnaise. The pork with its hints of black pepper meshed extraordinarily well with the rice.

It’s my first time tasting something like it but this is delicious.

I’m really grateful that I get to eat food without having to cook it for myself.

Whenever I think about how I’ve lived my life, buying convenience store bentos and supermarket side dishes, my heart feels light at this sudden turn of events.

And who would’ve thought that a high school girl was making it for me?

Although she can’t cook, another high school girl does the laundry and cleaning for me.

If the single men of this world were to know of this, they’d probably kill me out of jealousy.

I once again made a silent vow in my heart to never let anyone find out.

After washing the dishes, I sat down on the sofa to take a break.

At that moment, the phone I had left on the sofa had played the sound that indicated that it was low on battery.

When I plugged the charging cable to my phone, a thought flashed into me.

“Come to think of it, I still haven’t gotten your contact information, Kanon. Can you give it to me? It’s in case of an emergency.”

Kanon is sitting on the floor near the sofa watching TV.  She turned around and said—

“Ah, sure.”

Kanon showed me her phone’s screen with her number on it. After I registered it in my contact list, I gave her a call to register my number, too. With that out of the way, she directed her eyes to the TV as if nothing had happened.

It looks like she’s hooked on the drama. Personally, I haven’t watched a drama since high school, I think. I don’t know the names of most actors these days, but the fact that they’re played by handsome men hasn’t changed.

Having boring men be played by handsome actors made me uncomfortable, but I don’t think I batted an eye about it when I was still a teenager.

I think it’s just my jealousy talking, though. Come to think of it, Kanon hadn’t brought up anything about SNS… but I don’t think it matters, I guess.

I registered for an account just in case, but I rarely use it. The only notifications I receive are from official corporate accounts.

I don’t really get in touch with my friends and classmates these days. I used to receive notifications for alumni gatherings but since it often overlapped on days that I have work, I had to flag myself as “Not Participating” every time. Because of that, I don’t even get notifications for those anymore.

I know it’s the result of my own actions, but I do feel a little sad about it.

“Oh yeah, do you not have a phone Himari?”

I called out to Himari, who was in my room in front of the computer.

“I left it at home. I didn’t want to be tracked through GPS…”

“I see…….”

There’s no way to contact Himari.

…No. There is.

“I’ll give you the home’s contact number, then. Kanon, register this number as well.”

“Sure. Tell me later.”

I move to the landline fax machine hybrid situated on the farther end of the living room. It was hardly used so it’s covered with a thin layer of dust.

My boss could barely use a computer back when I first joined the company so there was a period of time where I was contacted through fax instead of email. This was a testament of those times.

Man, those times were tough…

I have thought of cancelling my subscription but I’ll leave it for a little while longer.

“If you ever need anything you can call me through that. I think you know this already but you don’t need to pick up the phone when it rings. I have it set to voicemail.”

I handed Himari a piece of paper with my phone number and landline written into it.

She looked at the numbers and nodded.

“Oh, I should tell Himari my number too, then.”

Kanon took out a cute looking notepad from her bag, wrote her number on it and handed the piece of paper to Himari.

“Thank you.”

Himari then puts the notes she received from us right next to the computer.

Today, Kanon used the bath ahead of Himari.

I took a bath immediately after returning but would it be better to decide on an order?

If I have overtime though then I’ll be returning home later than usual. I need to be flexible with regards to that. I don’t know if it happened after taking a bath but Kanon was sitting on the sofa where she dozed off.

I just thought she was intently watching TV but no wonder she was quiet.

I should finish up on this beer and brush my teeth soon.

 “Hayahh.” I uttered a sound while I stood up. I guess I’m that much of an old geezer now huh, but there really is no helping it.

Now then. All I need is to spend the day tomorrow lazily…

While thinking all of that, I unconsciously opened the door to the bathroom.

Note the word unconsciously.

I just went to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

It was an autopilot action that was ingrained in my body all through my life here.

The notion that a freshly bathed Himari could possibly be inside had completely slipped out of my mind.

“Heh?! Ah?! Wah?! Eh?!”

“—?! Sorry!”

I ran out in a flash.

I couldn’t believe that my heart was beating this fast.

…She was in her birthday suit.

A young, healthy, and yet pale white body.

Slender, soft legs.

Twin hills that weren’t large but had great shape. Its tips a beautiful pink—

Stop it! Don’t remember it. Shut it out and forget about it.

What can I think of to make it go away?

Isn’t there something?

That’s it. That old man next to me on the train this morning. The face of that hair-so-thin-they-looked-like-barcodes old man. Yeah, that seemed good enough.

I was forced to be glued together with that old man due to the crowded train.

He was sweating by the bucket loads so I wasn’t really a fan of that guy but I didn’t think that an experience like that would be useful here.

I’m sure that old man would never dream of thinking that his appearance would have a purpose like this.

“Hayaan?!”

After a few seconds of delay, I heard Himari’s scream echo from the bathroom.

It looked like it took quite a bit of time for her to register what happened.

Yup, she was completely frozen in place after— Crap, didn’t I say you should stop remembering, self?!

Old man, I plead for your help once again…

“What’s wrong Himari?!”

After hearing Himari’s scream, Kanon immediately came to her aid.

Her eyes greeted the sight of me crouched down in the bathroom.

“I can’t believe it. Why would you just barge in?!”

I was in seiza with my head hung down in shame as Kanon destroyed me with harsh words one after another.

Meanwhile, Himari immediately headed for my room as soon as she came out of the bathroom and closed the door shut.

Man… the fault is completely on me.  I need to apologize.

“Sorry, Himari. I’m really sorry.”

I prostrated and apologized to Himari while she was inside the room.

“If there is one truth in this world, it’s that I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“Really…? Isn’t it because you thought you were allowed to since Himari and I entered the bath together?”

“How did you even reach that sort of conclusion?! It may sound like an excuse but… back when I was still living with my brother, I’ve always entered the bath without any care. I went inside the way I’ve always had… You may not believe me, but I didn’t really mean to. I’ll be more careful from now on. I’m really sorry!”

“Well, you didn’t peep and just brazenly walked in so I guess it wasn’t on purpose so… anyway! Don’t do it again. Don’t forget we’re also living here so please be careful!”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I won’t make the same mistake again.”

“—Is what you say but… What would Himari say about that?  I for one think she would forgive you if she could at least get you a hit in the head with a frying pan.”

Don’t make such a scary proposal, Kanon.

No. If it makes Himari feel better then I better take it like a man…

“Umm, you don’t have to. I was just a bit surprised… I’m fine now, yup… I’m sorry about it, too…”

Himari had opened a small gap through the door and shyly peeeked out from it.

“Himari, you don’t have to apologize.”

“That’s right. I’m totally the one at fault here.”

“Umm… I can see that Komamura-san is apologetic about it so… I don’t mind it anymore.  Umm, I’m going to bed now….”

That would be a good idea.

This atmosphere is a bit suffocating.

And so, to escape this indescribable atmosphere,  we decided to start preparing for sleep.

I can’t sleep. For some reason, my vision was clear. It has been quite a while since the lights were turned off so my eyes had adjusted to the darkness.

I turned my eyes towards Himari who was next to me. With her constantly shifting in her futon, it seemed that she couldn’t sleep either.

“…Is it still bothering you?” I couldn’t help asking her. From Himari’s point of view, the incident earlier must have been quite a shock.

“Kanon… To be honest, I’m a bit sad…” Himari’s voice sounded depressed. As I thought, it’s not easy to get your mind out of it right away after all…

“He definitely sees me as a child…”

“…Eh?” I didn’t comprehend Himari’s words right away.

“Komamura-san’s impression of me didn’t change at all considering he saw my naked body… It’s proof that he doesn’t see me as a woman.”

…I see.

It’s true that Kazuki only kept apologizing to her. It was even a sincere one, too.

There was no trace at all of him thinking that he’s lucky to have seen a high school girl’s naked body, even if it was just an accident. Maybe there really was truth in his words when he wasn’t a lolicon.

There was one time when a classmate of mine who had a boyfriend said to me that “Men are wolves, they can change in a snap.” But I don’t think that applies to Kazuki.

Was it because he’s an adult?

It’s too early to judge. I should still be wary of the existence of men.

But even so, Kazuki is— Just as she was starting to reach a thought, Kanon trailed off, leading her to sleep.