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The next few days passed by without incident.
Kanon cooked dinner, Himari did the laundry and cleaned the house, and I went to the store to buy necessities. I also gave some money to Kanon to shop for ingredients. She provides me with the receipt every time so I wasn’t really concerned on that front.
If I were to talk about a big change, then that would have to be with Himari. I finally saw her drawings.
Previously, all she’s been saying is “It’s embarrassing to be seen in the middle of drawing” and changes the angle of the laptop the screen won’t be seen.
The first time I saw her work, and although I’m an amateur appraiser, the word incredible won’t give it enough justice.
The detailed backgrounds were drawn with bright and calm colors. The drawing of the girl is so lifelike that it makes you want to touch her through the drawing.
It’s not quite like an oil painting but It isn’t a manga-like style either. I don’t know a whole lot about illustration styles, so I don’t know what category her work falls into.
Kanon and I were in awe at it from beginning to end, singing praises all the while. That was just how much of an impact it had on us. Himari was embarrassed but she was happy all the same, with an impressive smile plastered on her face to show gratitude.
It was the same walk from home after work as usual when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw that it was from Kanon.
Well, this is a surprise. This is the first time I’ve ever received a call from her. With that said though, I immediately picked it up.
“What’s up? Do you need something?”
“Say… right now I’m at the supermarket in front of the station shopping but—”
In the middle of her words, the phone abruptly cut off.
Did she accidently press the end call button?
No matter the case, I’m curious so I should return the call.
“Due to circumstances, we are unable to connect your call.”
What I heard return my call was a flat-toned intercept message.
What? A communication block ?
But… there was something off about Kanon’s call.
I don’t think Kanon would even try to play a prank on me, considering our relationship at this point in time. Just in case, I waited for a bit more to see if she would call me back but it doesn’t seem like she would.
…Did something happen?
I felt goosebumps all throughout my body.
What happened? What’s going on?
…If I heard her correctly, she did say she was shopping at the supermarket in front of the station. Not wanting to stand still, I broke off into a run while still gripping my phone.
In front of the supermarket station, Kanon was holding two shopping bags hanging from her hands.
The moment I saw her, both relief and anxiety washed over me, causing me to drain my strength.
When Kanon noticed sprinting coming towards her, her eyes widened in shock.
“W-what happened? Why are you in a hurry?”
“It’s because the… call… got cut all of a sudden… and… I can’t reach your cell… after that too… I thought… that… something… might have happened—”
I answered with short repeated breaths. I ran with all I got so it was pretty painful.
It was faster than the time when I tried to escape Himari.
“Ahh, sorry about that. It was just a crazy coincidence that my phone stopped working. It looks like the phone bills aren’t paid for.”
“What the heck… I almost got a heart attack.”
So that was the announcement you get if you call someone with an outstanding phone bill. I didn’t know since that was the first time I heard of it.
“Okay, it doesn’t matter anymore. The good thing is that you’re okay.”
“Were you worried…?”
Kanon showed a surprised and doubtful face.
Seriously, what does Kanon think I am? Obviously, even I worry about my cousin. I’m not a heartless man.
“Of course I’m going to worry.
“Ah… I’m sorry…”
” Never mind, let’s just pretend like nothing happened. And what was it that you wanted to tell me?
“Ah, um… It was if I could buy snacks. It’s just that Himari isn’t eating as she should at her hours. She’s only eating onigiris and the leftovers of obentos, so she’s probably starving…”
Now that she mentioned it, it’s true.
We agreed that the kitchen should not be used so that Himari’s existence would not be discovered, and that is why she cannot eat hot food or even cook it.
If I had an electric kettle, she could whip herself up some cup noodles, but unfortunately, we don’t have one in home.
“And so with that, I just bought some snacks for her with my own volition.”
“You already bought them?”
No. It’s not like I’d say no or anything. It should be fine.
“I mean, with the way the phone call had died, it would be way better than just waiting outside. I’ve already put the items in the shopping cart so putting it back on the shelf would definitely make the shopkeepers suspicious. That’s why I just paid the bill and waited outside.”
“Okay, Okay, I get your point. What did you buy then?”
“Umm… there’s pudding, chocolate, popcorn, tarts, cookies, and—”
“Wait a minute. That’s a bit much don’t you think?”
“B-but see, it would help Himari a lot if we stock up”
“Aren’t you saying that because you’re the one who wants to eat it?”
“Uwu… I-Isn’t like that?”
“I mean, you’re pretty easy to read, you know?”
It should be okay. It’s not like she’s going to eat it all in one day.
…Or is she?
A slight uncertainty passed through my mind.
“Well, this amount should last for a week so—”
“Huh? Don’t you mean two or three days?”
We both froze.
This amount of snacks in two days…. Looking at her made it evident that she’s not joking, either.
“…Are you a binge eater, perhaps?”
“N-no, I’m not! Isn’t the amount of food I’ve been cooking normal?!”
“That’s true but… I’m just wondering if you’re holding back.”
“No way I am. While I would eat about three times more in a buffet, it isn’t like I’m not satisfied with the normal amount. I mean, it’s not like the things I cook aren’t enough or something…”
I unconsciously repeated what she said due to those surprising numbers.
Kanon voiced out an ah! then looked down with her face red. So this is one of those situations where you unintentionally let out your true thoughts.
I see it now, though… Kanon’s actually a glutton. Come to think of it, I feel like there was a time her stomach rumbled loudly the day she went to my house.
I feel like I should let Kanon eat to heart’s content for once. I’ll just think things through some other time, so I just grabbed the shopping bags Kanon was holding.
“I’ll carry this for you. Come on, let’s go back.”
“By the way, did you buy some snacks for me too?”
“What’s that answer supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, it’s a joke. I bought some for you. Yup, some of them…”
“It sure sounds sketchy with the way you put it.”
With me following behind her, We had meaningless conversations as we headed back home.
For the first time, it felt like the first time we’ve actually talked to one another.
Dinner time. I cut the boiled mackerel into pieces as I picked it up with my chopsticks.
“Now then. What should we do about your phone, Kanon…”
“There should be a payment form back home. I don’t have school tomorrow so I’ll go check it out.”
“Want me to come with you?”
“Eh? Why?” Kanon’s chopsticks stopped and her brow angrily furrowed.
“You don’t have to look so displeased about it. It’s better if you pay it immediately.”
“But… I can’t ask you to pay for my phone bills too…”
“You don’t have to hold back on trivial things. These days, high school girls have a hard time keeping up with their friends if they don’t have a smartphone, right? And besides, you might get a call from your mother…”
It’s especially true for young girls that a phone isn’t just a simple tool for communication, it is their communication lifeline.
I haven’t heard her talk about school or her friends, but when she watches drama, I can see her interact on social media with people and they seem to be her friends.
It would be hard for Kanon to lose them.
And, after all, my aunt would most likely contact first, not me or my family, but Kanon herself.
“That might be true but… are you sure it’s okay?”
“Like I said, it’s fine. Don’t make me keep repeating it.”
I’m not gonna lie, though. If this keeps on for months on end, things might get a bit tough on my budget. But, considering that Kanon’s a minor, it’s not like I can tell her that.
When my aunt comes back, I’d better try asking for reimbursements.
“So with that said, let’s go to your house tomorrow but…” I took a glance at Himari.
“Umm, I’ll watch the house while you’re away. I’m almost done with my first drawing, too… Besides, I still need to look for a part-time job…”
Himari has been drawing in the morning when we’re away. While she did show it to us once, she was still embarrassed about it. Also, when night comes, she’s glued to the computer, looking for part-time work vacancies.
She can’t seem to find a part time job that meets her requirements.
“We’ll go after lunch then. My house isn’t that far away from here so we should be back by evening.”
“Okay then. I’ll go about as usual then doing the laundry and cleaning.”
“Sorry about this, but please do.”
And so, our plans for tomorrow were set.
As soon as Komamura-san and Kanon left the house, I started cleaning. Normally, I would just wipe the floor clean, but today was a good time to use the vacuum cleaner.
On weekends, I wouldn’t be caught even if she made noise.
With a cordless vacuum cleaner in one hand, I moved to the kitchen. Immediately after, the phone rang.
The sound startled me and made me voice out a small squeal.
I timidly approached the ringing phone. I wasn’t going to pick up the phone since Komamura-san told me not to. However, the continuous ringing of the phone made me a bit uneasy, and before I realized it, I started approaching it.
The caller ID showed the one calling is from PayPhone.
So there are people calling from a public line in this day and age…
At the same time, I thought it was a bit unusual. The moment the answering machine kicked in, the phone stopped ringing.
“I wonder who it’s from. Did they dial the number…?”
With a whisper, I just returned to the kitchen.
This is the first time I’ll be going to Kanon’s house.
Naturally, I didn’t even know where it was, so I just followed Kanon’s lead. The train is on a line I’ve never boarded, to a place I’ve never been.
Age is of no consequence when it comes to getting excited when going to a place for the first time. Using the train, it’ll take us 30 minutes before we arrive.
Once we got off the train, I saw there weren’t a lot of people bustling around, considering it’s a Saturday.
From there, we spent about 10 minutes continuing on through a quiet residential area.
Kanon, who was leading the way, eventually looked back towards me.
“Here it is. My home.”
I raised my head towards the building in front of me. It was a two-storey white apartment building. Judging from its look, I surmise it’s 30 years old, give or take.
Kanon promptly checked the mailbox attached to the wall.
There were 8 boxes and all of them had flyers stuck to it. They were peeking out, so it seems like it was just recently attached.
Kanon gathered all the things inside the mailbox and took them out.
“Here it is. It’s this one. Check this out.”
Except for one piece of mail. Kanon shoved all the leaflets at me.
Kanon basically rips apart the notice envelope as she opens it.
“Yep. It’s overdue payment alright.”
“Say, is a cell phone subscription something that’s cut off that quickly?”
I know it’s a bit late to try and ask this but it was a genuine question that I’ve only now thought up of. My cellphone has never been cut off before so I don’t know much about it.
Mine charges from my bank account. My savings, though small, can pay off all of my subscription so I’ve never let my account empty.
“Hmm… Why don’t we go inside?”
Kanon didn’t answer my question and urged me to go with a troubled look.
I do agree that talks about money should be left indoors, though. However, when I switched to a smartphone, I still call it a cellphone. Though I do wonder what young people call them these days… Even Kanon would understand that the shorter way to call it is to say mobile phone, because nobody ever calls it a mobile smartphone…
No, that doesn’t matter right now.
Kanon unlocked the door with the key. A distinctive smell drifted from the room as she opened it.
“Uwa?! What is this intense smell of tatami?”
Kanon was the one who was more surprised about the smell than me. I wonder if the smell of it is something that’s accentuated when there’s no one at home.
As soon as I walked in the front door, a kitchen with a wooden floor greeted me. There was also a table and chairs for two.
Looking at how the floor is laid out, it’s likely 1LDK.
Kanon dropped her bag on the chair and entered the Japanese-style room in the back.
I went ahead and placed the fliers on the table and waited for the time being.
Kanon came back shortly afterwards and opened a small cupboard drawer in the kitchen and closed it promptly after.
A slight crease appeared on her forehead.
“How do I say this… Something is off. It’s something about the atmosphere that makes me uncomfortable.”
“Is there any sign of your mom’s return?”
“Nope, there isn’t any, I think. I did a quick search but there isn’t anything that stands out.”
I looked in the same direction as Kanon as she scans the room.
….Just that there’s no way for me to know if anything here is out of place. Obviously.
“W-what?! Don’t say weird things! There’s no way it’ll appear!”
Kanon is oddly scared.
I guess it’s true that what I said was in poor taste. It would be a great punchline if one actually came out, though.
“I’m kidding. Continuing on though, about the talk about mobile fees earlier…”
“Ah, yeah…. Mom pays the charges via payment form that’s why I think she has it with her. I looked for it earlier but didn’t find it where it should have been. Though the fact my phone was cut off means—”
“Your mom didn’t pay for it and left it lying around.”
“That’s what I think. Whether she accidentally threw it away or had simply forgotten it, I couldn’t say.”
If it’s a monthly thing, paying the cellphone bill would have been a habit. Is it something that’s easily forgettable?
“About your mom’s cell phone number—”
“I haven’t been able to get a hold of her ever since. I try calling her everyday but it doesn’t go through. I’ve sent messages too. It doesn’t get read, though.”
I realized it just now. I haven’t talked to Kanon about her mother’s disappearance. In fact, this is the first time I’ve been alone with her for any long period of time. Reality was, it was planned for her to stay with me from that day on.
“Err…Were there any signs that your mother was leaving? Anything at all, no matter how small…”
I took the plunge to try and ask.
I couldn’t just leave the subject untouched.
“Nothing at all. There might have been one but… I hadn’t noticed at all. We ate breakfast as usual, she headed for work while I went to school. And then… she never came back.”
Seated on the chair, she said it indifferently while staring in space.
“Maybe she could’ve gotten herself a new boyfriend? She has always been a free spirit. Or rather, she just appears and disappears whenever she wants, for as long as I remember. She doesn’t spend much time at home. She just comes home to sleep.”
The way she said it by distancing her emotions made it seem all the more pitiful.
“But you know what? I was never unhappy. I was never inconvenienced in terms of money, too. It’s how I even got a smartphone. But because of that… I’m sure she had to put up with a lot of things…”
Kanon’s words stopped there.
The next thing I know, small droplets of water had formed at the corner of her eyes.
“I’m angry at her for leaving without permission but even so… I can’t bring myself to hate her for it… I mean, how could I? She’s the kind of person who buys extravagant pudding and looks even more excited about it than I was. “
Her voice trembled. But even then, she looked at me with a smile.
Then, silence fell.
I couldn’t say anything. No words I could find.
Of course I couldn’t. I don’t know about her and my aunt’s life.
Even if I did say something, the words would only ring thin and hollow.
The next thing I know, I found myself putting my hands on top of her head.
Why did I do it? Even I don’t know the answer myself.
What I do know however, is that couldn’t sit still without doing anything.
“H-hey?! What are you doing?! Don’t treat me like a child!” Even when she protested, I didn’t move my hand.
“…You’re still a child.”
“You’re still a kid. You’re a minor.”
“Of course I know—”
“You’ve endured a lot all this time. It’s been tough, right?”
Kanon opened her eyes wide.
After a while, her eyes began to gradually moisten and then—
Her tears had turned into large drops and ran down her cheeks.
Kanon tried to endure the emotions that swelled within. She bit her lips, her shoulders trembled. She clutched onto my shirt as if she was in pain, so with my eyes, I appealed to her.
“You don’t have to hold back.”
Kanon, who was staring into my eyes, was still trying to endure it. And then finally, she breaks down. It was as if water from a dam had been released.
Tears flowed endlessly from her eyes as Kanon’s hung her head on my chest.
“So… sorry. I-It’s only… for now… okay…?”
She sniffed and said in a tearful voice.
I silently patted her head. My agreement was conveyed in silence. Just like that, she kept crying as if everything she had buried deep in her heart had been brought up. There was nothing more that I could do except to just pat her head.
After crying for a while, Kanon went to the bathroom to wash her face. Soon after, she came back with a towel in hand and her composure regained.
“Don’t tell Himari that I cried…”
She told me with a glare, but with her eyes still red, it wasn’t scary.
“You have my word.”
“I’ll hold you to that then…”
Is she wary about me holding her weakness against her?
Even with things the way they are, I don’t intend to use it as ammo for blackmail even if Kanon does something to make me angry later on in the future.
“I guess it’s about time for us to head back.”
Looking at my watch, it was already over 3 o’clock.
Himari is also waiting and we need to do some shopping before heading home.
Kanon’s eyes would still be red by the time we arrive so we should probably just walk home instead.
“Yeah. We told Himari we’d be back by evening too…”
“Ah. We need to take care of the payment notice first.”
“But it’s already long overdue.”
“There’s a chance it could still be paid with the note. It won’t hurt to try at least once. If that doesn’t work, we can always go by the cellphone store.”
Kanon hesitantly handed over the notice.
“I need to drop by the convenience store too. Do you want to buy dinner while I’m at it?”
“Umm… Thank you, Kazu-nii…”
Kanon has never called me that once, ever since she came to my place.
“…What’s with you all of a sudden?”
“How do I say this… It’s just that I just got reminded that you used to call me a long time ago.”
“Ah…. I did, didn’t I?”
I hazily recalled the time she visited back when I was living with my parents. Thinking back, Kanon was still in the lower grades of elementary school at the time. It was when we were playing a game together with my brother, I think.
One more time. Let’s play again, Kazu-nii!
She must have been having a great time for her to keep on requesting the game again and again. Kanon was cute back then.
No, that’s not right. She is cute even now.
“N-nevermind that. Himari is waiting for us so let’s get going.”
She might have wanted to hide her embarrassment as Kanon didn’t so much as give me a glance as she headed for the door.
I chuckled then continued to follow her.
As we were nearing the convenience store, Kanon suddenly called my name. In a complete opposite manner from earlier, she was now walking alongside me.
“It’s a little bigger than it was before. Your stomach, that is.”
“I’m well aware of that without being told.”
“Although, you look normal from the chest up. Is it a beer belly?”
“Instead of beer, it’s more of a malt belly though…”
From Kanon’s point of view, it’s probably the same thing for her. But in the end, the taste is worlds apart.
I’d be ecstatic if it could be bought at a lower price, but it just keeps getting higher and higher every year without a sign of stopping anytime soon.
Shit. Curse this Liquor Tax.
If I have to blame something about my belly problem though, it’s more in part to the snacks I have on the side rather than the beer.
Fact of the matter is, I eat before going to bed.
I do know that it’s a bad habit to do but if it were that easy to stop, then it wouldn’t have come to this in the first place.
“You used to be a spiffy guy.”
“While I did eat a lot more back then, I exercised just as much.”
“Eh~ what did you do?”
“That’s unexpected. Or not. Maybe it’s just how I imagined it but I have been thinking there’s something different about you now than you were before…”
What the heck? I would be bothered to receive that kind of reaction too but… The one who is the most surprised having all that muscle turn into a blob of fat after exercising is probably me, right?
“While we’re on that topic, do you have any plants to continue exercising, Kazu-nii?”
“Hmm? You want me to lose weight or what?”
“Weeeell~ It is kind of a waste, don’t you think?”
“…What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Hmmm~ Not telling.”
As Kanon said so, she then sprinted on ahead.
“Wait, don’t run! I’m not young anymore ,you know!”
I rushed after her but I could just barely keep up.
While running, I remember a time long past. Back in my student days, I dedicated myself to judo.
…Well, I was dedicated.
Going back home, I found Himari in my room. She still hasn’t changed out of her pajamas. She was still in full-on vacation mode. Though, I guess everyday is like a vacation for her.
She usually changes out of her nightwear so she was likely just taking it easy for today.
“Sorry we took so long.”
“I don’t mind at all. About Kanon’s smartphone though…”
“It’s been paid for so it would be reinstated soon enough.”
Himari looked relieved from the bottom of her heart. Worrying for others to that extent, she’s a good kid.
“Since we stopped by the convenience store and all I bought was a bento and dessert. Yours is the Meat Doria. Kanon’s the one who chose that for you so direct the complaints to her if you have any.”
“Kazu-nii is the one who chose the desert though.”
“Isn’t it good though? I liked it. It’s Cheesecake with Extra Cream. Among the desserts that have come out recently, this is, by far the best.”
I have a sweet tooth myself but going to a cake shop alone is one hurdle I can’t get across.
I’m grateful that sweets are readily available at convenience stores. I think it’s there for the faction of men who have a massive sweet tooth like me.
“Going from the name alone, it already feels like a massive calorie bomb. It’s a sizable portion too.”
“Ahaha… I like cheesecakes though so I’m glad you got one for me.”
“It’s great that you like it. Let’s not keep the food waiting then.”
And once again, I took out food and dessert from a plastic bag for three people.
Himari is frozen in place, staring at the computer screen.
Her hand holding the drawing tablet’s pen hadn’t moved for a while. Her eyes weren’t looking at the screen itself, but rather she’s looking right through it and reminiscing the scene from a little while earlier.
Ever since Kazuki and Himari had come back, Himari had held a sense of unrest deep in her chest.
All because of the words that Kanon had said called Kazuki as Kazu-nii. She had never called Komamura-san by his name but started calling him that suddenly.
It wasn’t tough to guess that something happened at Kanon’s house. Yet, there’s no way for her to ask what happened; they are cousins, after all. Himari had no courage to butt in being an outsider herself.
That’s right. They are related by blood.
Himari’s heart was filled with loneliness that she can’t do anything about. There was a bond between those two that she couldn’t join in. That was understandable even without thinking about it.
It wouldn’t be good if she didn’t understand that fact.
Yet… She pretended to not see it.
The price to pay for it has now come due.
Himari shook her head.
She doesn’t need to think about it.
What she needs to do now is to complete the illustration she needed to submit for the competition. The reason why she’s here is for a dream she can’t let go of.
She’s already done the one with a freeform theme, yet she has still yet to finish the one with an assigned subject. That’s why…
Himari tried to move her hand… and yet she couldn’t find the power to do so. Her mind was filled with the thoughts of the two of them. An adult man who offered her a helping hand. She held a secret deep within her heart that must never be let out.
His glasses are large, his belly sticks out a bit, and he may have a boring appearance. But Kazuki was still a kind person. That was reason enough for Himari to like him.
But she also liked Kanon. She’s cheerful, she doesn’t look at her drawing with prejudice and she even treats her as a normal girl.
She was even the one who pushed for her to stay here in the first place. For that, she will always be grateful. She can’t hold these ugly feelings against her.
Yet, even then.
She likes the both of them.
Feeling torn, Himari buried the ugly feelings budding inside her.