Embrace yourself, my friends.

Translators.

“I’m back.”

“Welcome home, Kanon-chan,” with a smile, Himari welcomed Kanon who was returning from school.

Today was workday for Himari, but apparently, she had returned home first.

“Hey, Kanon-chan, there’s something I want to talk about…”

“Hm?”

When Himari sheepishly addressed that to her, Kanon tilted her own head in confusion.

She wondered if it was a serious matter from what the atmosphere suggested. Kanon placed her bag in the living room and sat down on the couch next to Himari.

“What is it about?”

“Hmm, you see… I was thinking about what to do for Komamura-san’s birthday.”

“Ah…” unintentionally, Kanon raised a voice.

When Yuuri visited the other day, they had implicitly asked when Kazuki’s birthday was. The answer they got was June 7th.

It was a date that was just around the corner.

She had a premonition that Yuuri would probably prepare the cake.

Kanon felt that Yuuri also had feelings for Kazuki. Otherwise, when she heard about Himari’s affair, she would have condemned Kazuki harder.

Besides, the expression on Yuuri’s face when talking to Kazuki said more about her feelings than anything else.

Slightly embarrassed, with a smile of pure bliss, as if the beats of her excited heart were speaking out—that was the expression of a woman in love. Himari also had a similar expression, so Kanon knew it very well. And, perhaps, without even realizing it, Kanon herself…

“Kanon-chan?”

Kanon came back to her senses quickly at Himari’s call. She suddenly ended up embarrassed at the very thought of it.

“Ah, sorry. Kazu-nii’s birthday, right?  Hmmm. Seriously, what do we do?” as if to cover up the matter, Kanon responded forcefully, perhaps a little overacted.

However, Himari didn’t perceive it, and, like Kanon, just went “hmmm…” Kanon felt relieved inside and then shifted her attention to Kazuki’s birthday.

“It will be impossible to buy him a present, you know…”

“Right… Payday at my part-time job is the 15th, so I won’t be able to have it on time…”

“I don’t even know what could make him happy, to begin with.”

They had been living together for almost a month, but Kazuki had no particular material desires… That’s what they both felt.

Maybe a watch or an electronic gadget would please him, but of course, neither of them had the cash on hand to buy such things.

But now that they had found out about his birthday, they couldn’t let it go. They wanted to celebrate it properly. And, above all, they wanted to celebrate it themselves.

“Assuming Yuuri will buy the cake… there’s nothing left for us to do but do what we can, I guess, right?”

“In that case… what do you think about some decorations for the room?”

“Decorations? The kind you make with origami? Like the kind you make at elementary school class events?”

“That’s right! Something like paper garlands and stuff, you know.”

Well, they could certainly set the mood for a party.

Besides, if it were origami, they could buy it when they did the usual shopping and, more importantly, it was affordable.

It was a bit childish in nature, but perhaps for that very reason, it might get a certain liking.

“Why not prepare food that Kazu-nii likes?”

“Ah… About that, would it be okay if I help too?”

“Yes, that’s fine. Let’s cook together.” Even though she agreed, Kanon’s heart harbored slightly conflicting feelings. She thought that if it came to cooking, she had a chance to get a little closer on her own. But she was also afraid to refuse, as she could really understand Himari’s will to make Kazuki happy.

Anyway, the plan for the birthday had been decided.

“We have to start preparations immediately from tomorrow. We have to be careful that Komamura-san doesn’t find out.”

It probably wouldn’t be a problem to hide the decorations. If they hid them on the top shelf of the bathroom, Kazuki wouldn’t notice them. Kanon knew that Kazuki rarely opened it, because it was simply a place where they kept stocks of shaving foam and unused plastic cups.

“I’ll think about the food menu tomorrow while I’m shopping.”

“Thank you!”

Still, considering Kazuki’s preferences, there was a high probability that it would be mostly composed of meat.

Birthday, huh… I wonder when Himari’s birthday is. I mean, how long will she be here? I don’t even know her real name… suddenly, questionings arose in Kanon’s head.

Those questionings quickly took over her mind.

“Hey…”

“Hm?”

“Himari… what are you going to do from now on?”

“Huh?”

“You sent it in for the prize, didn’t you? When will the results come out?”

“Err… After five months…” as if it were hard for her to say, Himari answered.

Kanon had no knowledge about contests open to the public. However, she was surprised that it was such a distant time from what she had imagined.

“Five months, you say… In the fall, right? What are you going to do in that timespan? How long are you going to be here?”

“That…” Himari remained silent.

Kanon judged that she probably hadn’t thought to that extent yet. Because of that, she ended up getting slightly annoyed at such a laid-back way of thinking.

“It’s almost summer vacation, isn’t it? It would be nice if you made a decision for the-“

“I know, I know, but I still…” Himari’s answer was vague.

Silence fell over the two of them. Himari was nervous and seemed to want to run away from the matter.

“…Himari, you are demanding a lot.”

Himari hung her head in apparent surprise at Kanon’s brief murmur.

No, it was bad. She was venting her jealous rage.

The other was a girl who ran away from home, got a part-time job, drew… She couldn’t stand Himari’s dare to act like this and envied her for having something she didn’t. There was no way she wouldn’t vent her anger to the point where it was unpleasant.

Still, Kanon couldn’t stop the words that had already risen up to her throat:

“Himari, you have a home to go back to and your parents waiting for you, don’t you? I think it’s cruel what they did to you, I guess it must be painful to disagree with your parents’ opinion and have them not support your dream. But…! But…!” Kanon’s tone gradually grew harsh.

It’s wrong. If I continue… in Kanon’s head, her other serene self warned her. You can’t say it. You must take control of yourself.

But she could not stop herself. An impetuous, turbid emotion moved Kanon’s lips: “Since I was born, I didn’t have both parents! I only knew my mother, and even she took off on her own! I don’t have such a thing as parents who care about my future!”

She ended up saying it, speaking her mind.

Tears welled up in Kanon’s eyes.

She envied Himari, someone who had the things she didn’t.

Himari, who had issues with those things, ended up seeming like a demanding person to Kanon. She was frustrated and envious that she couldn’t afford to worry about those things…

Several emotions were mixed in Kanon’s heart.

Like when you mix all the colors at once in a painting, emotions are not beautiful.

Himari was with her head down the whole time, but finally…

“F-for me, it’s not like I was born in that home by choice!” refuted Himari with a strong tone of voice. There were also tears in her eyes.

It seemed that even Himari herself was aware of her selfish behavior. That was why she always kept a low profile, Kanon had also realized it.

“…!”

Himari roughly wiped her tears with her arm and then rushed into Kazuki’s room.

Kanon crumbled down on the spot.

She ended up saying terrible things.

Himari’s words took her by surprise.

No one can choose neither the home they are born in nor their parents.

There is no point in regretting it, let alone taking it out on people.

Guilt, regret, and grief hit her at once.

For a while, Kanon remained crying still on the spot.

※※※

“…Thank you for the delicious food.”

“…”

Himari put down the chopsticks and voiced with a whisper the cordial farewell for after a meal is finished. Then, she quickly put the dishes in the sink and left the kitchen.

Kanon showed no response and continued to consume the miso soup.

The atmosphere was heavy…

They had both been like this since I got home from work.

I knew they must have had a disagreement, but I didn’t know why.

I couldn’t carelessly inquire in—if I ended up rubbing the wrong way, it could make the situation worse.

Still, this atmosphere was very uncomfortable…

“Ah, hmm… The clams in the miso soup really claim their flavor, you know?”

“…”

I couldn’t stand the uncomfortable atmosphere anymore, and, for some reason, a bad pun came out of my mouth.

No, it’s not like I was aiming for it, not at all. I didn’t know what I should say, so that’s what came out of the blue.

Kanon looked at me for a moment with ice-cold eyes.

“I cooked them as usual,” she mumbled the answer, and this time she put the rice in her mouth.

…How cold.

I could understand the comedian’s bitter feelings when a joke fails them. The next time I saw a comedian failing on TV, I could look at it with a little sympathy.

However, these two have their fights too, huh? It was surprising because up until now they had a good relationship.

That made me a little worried.

How long would this situation last…?

“Kazu-nii, the chopsticks are immobile.”

“Oh? Ahhh.”

Kanon muttered a brief, “thank you for the food” and left her seat. I also hurried to eat the rice.

That day, until I went to sleep, the atmosphere around the two of them did not change.

Would it be good to ask in detail when I came back from work the next day?

※※※

Usually, the two of them slept with futons side by side on the living room floor.

However, both futons were away from each other.

Kanon waited for the right time to apologize, but Himari neither made eye contact nor tried to talk to her since then.

I certainly did wrong…but… She believed she wasn’t wrong to ask about the length when she said “how long are you going to be here?”

Although she was the one who had Himari stay in this house, that was something everyone had to think about eventually.

But Kanon regretted it because she shouldn’t have mentioned it now. Because a few moments before that they were happily discussing Kazuki’s birthday.

Right, Kazu-nii’s birthday…

She had to think of something.

But now she didn’t feel like it at all.

First of all, she planned to go to sleep for now…

Kanon covered her head. It was so she wouldn’t hear Himari’s breathing.

The next morning, they both finished breakfast without speaking to each other. Himari didn’t leave the room when Kanon left for school, not even when Kazuki left for the office.

In the afternoon…

Kanon stopped in front of the main entrance holding her keys. The thought of coming face to face with Himari was bitter.

She ended up thinking about Himari’s matter continuously at school. Even her friends told her, “Kanon, you seem a little absent-minded today, you know?”

But she couldn’t stay out of the house. Kanon took a deep breath, made up her mind, and turned the key.

“I’m back…”

There was no response from inside the house.

Himari’s shoes were missing from the entrance.

That reminds me, she’s working today… After thinking to that point, Kanon suddenly felt uneasy.

What would she do if she didn’t come back? She couldn’t say it was impossible.

After all, Himari was a person who seriously ran away from home.

She was also skilled enough to get a part-time job in such a situation.

And, with yesterday, Himari’s feelings of discomfort of being in this house were probably amplified.

And, most of all, she might be hating Kanon.

Kanon hurriedly glanced around Kazuki’s room.

Himari’s personal belongings and clothes were still there.

However, in this case, she couldn’t feel safe at all just because her belongings were there.

Since Himari had absconded without even bringing spare clothes.

She could have just leave everything as it was and leave on her own.

At that moment, all that crossed Kanon’s mind was the emptiness of her house that her mother did not return to…

“Ah, what do I do…?”

Kanon remained in the living room without any purpose.

At that moment, the knob of the front door rattled.

“…!”

Kanon immediately headed there.

But it wasn’t Himari who came back, it was Kazuki.

“I’m back… What’s wrong, Kanon? Making that sad face.”

“Kazu-nii… What do I do…” with a face that looked like she was going to cry at any moment, Kanon talked to Kazuki.

※※※

“I see…”

When Kanon told me about yesterday, I couldn’t help but take a deep breath as I slumped back on the sofa.

“I thought Himari’s problems were unreasonable. After all, my parents have abandoned me… But everyone’s problems are different, right…?”

“Kanon…”

Kanon had her head hung as she sat on the sofa. She seemed to sincerely regret what she had said.

“Also, I think Himari wasn’t thinking at all about the future… But I hadn’t thought about it either… I was the one who told Himari that I wanted her to stay here. Even so, I ended up taking my anger out on her…”

“No, Himari is my responsibility.  I hadn’t thought of anything concrete in the future. It’s inexcusable…”

“Kazu-nii…”

We should have known that there were problems with this way of life, but we weren’t brave enough to think about it.

I was putting it off. Running away from it.

But it was time to take it seriously.

Already Himari had submitted her work to the contest. However, the results wouldn’t be available for another five months, right?

Obviously, I couldn’t keep Himari at home for that long.

Seriously, I had to think about it properly…

“What will I do if Himari doesn’t come back…” muttered Kanon faintly.

“She’s probably fine, right?”

“However, Himari has nowhere to go. That girl may… She probably doesn’t intend to return home yet…” Kanon hung her head.

There was nothing I could say.

Part of me thought I had no right to stop her, but there was also a part of me that thought it was irresponsible to keep her in the house until now.

But, on top of everything else, it was unlikely that next time Himari would be able to find people to help her like us.

“It is no longer okay to be silent…” I was shocked at Kanon’s whispered words.

I see… Those must be Kanon’s true feelings.

On the surface, Kanon pretended to be calm, but my aunt’s disappearance had done more damage to her heart than I could imagine…

“…I’m not going anywhere.”

Kanon, who had been keeping her head down, raised her face.

“Kazu-nii…”

“I’m not going anywhere. It’s a promise… Well, it’s not like I have anywhere else to go, though.”

For a moment, Kanon gazed at my face…

After she nodded quietly with an “okay,” she laughed briefly with a “puff.” I felt the heavy atmosphere that had surrounded Kanon so far fade away.

When I was relieved that she was okay for now…

The door to the main entrance opened.

“…!” Kanon immediately stood up and headed for the entrance. Subsequently, I followed her as well.

“Himari!” Kanon then vigorously hugged Himari, who was taking off her shoes. 

“Ka-Kanon-chan?”

“Himari, I’m sorry. I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have said those horrible things. I’m really sorry…” with her face buried in Himari’s neck, Kanon apologized to Himari in a tearful voice.

“Kanon-chan…”

Himari was puzzled for a moment, but finally gently touched Kanon’s shoulder.

“It’s okay. I’m the one who’s sorry… Certainly, what you said is right, Kanon-chan. I’m being incredibly selfish.”

“That’s not…”

“So, while working today, I was thinking about what I’ll do from now on.”

Kanon raised her face, looking worried at Himari’s words. Then, while looking in my direction, Himari said:

“Komamura-san, I don’t intend to stay here forever. But for now, please allow me to save some money. Once I save money from my part-time job, I will leave.”

“Himari…”

“I intend to return to my home once done. But I want to save up to buy the tools my parents threw away. Komamura-san, you bought me the graphics tablet, but… there were other things I wanted too. I want to buy them with the money I make. So my parents will understand what I want to do…”

“…I see.”

“I’m going to have to confront my parents for once. But for that, give me a little more time, please… Once I’ve saved enough money, I think I’ll have the courage to go back home…”

“If that’s what you’ve decided, I’ll support you.”

“Thank you very much…” Himari bowed her head deeply.

“When you save up the money…” calmly, Kanon pondered the words Himari had said.

“Yes. I’m thinking mid-summer vacation, but… I wonder if that’s too long…”

Kanon shook her head.

Two months or so… Once the deadline was set, it suddenly seemed short to me.

“That’s why, Komamura-san, Kanon-chan, I’ll be under your care a little longer.”

“Understood.”

“Hm.”

Regarding this incident, it was settled by now, wasn’t it? It seemed like the two of them had been able to make up.

However, I would have to make sure that others wouldn’t find out about Himari for two months.

I had gotten used to it lately and had relaxed a bit, but I had to focus.

“Now, let’s go eat. I guess you’re both hungry.”

“But I haven’t made dinner yet…”

“Relax, I’ll make a delivery order.”

I was sorry to make Kanon cook every time.

I pulled out my smartphone right away and looked for a home delivery store in the neighborhood.

Until now I relied on flyers for delivery, but I learned that I could order from the smartphone.

“Today I want something other than pizza. If possible, a bento or a donburi.”

“Ah, I’d like Chinese fried rice.”

“I’d like a hamburger.”

“You two are not cooperating at all.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I recalled a scene I saw in the food court the other day.

So a few nights later…

I was thinking about something while playing with my phone in bed. They had both been acting weird lately.

Not in the same atmosphere as when they argued the other day. They didn’t say anything specific to me, which was a problem. Even worse, I often saw them whispering to each other.

Also, I had the feeling that they averted their eyes from me more often…

Had I ended up doing something without even realizing it?

Then several possibilities came to mind.

For example, something like as it got hotter, I started to stink of sweat.  Or not only that, but I could have an unpleasant appearance from sweltering in the heat.

Or I carelessly said something insensitive.

Or, as expected, they had had enough of living with a middle-aged guy.

Now that I thought about it, I had become a bit more accustomed to this lifestyle and had ended up waiting for the dishes to pile up in the sink before washing them.

They were entirely dependent on Yuuri’s cosmetics and general supplies, and at the same time, I hadn’t bought anything for the two of them.

Well, this was partly because I had to economize, so I had no choice.

But it probably wasn’t good for things to continue like this. If something had to be changed, then there was no choice but to change it.

Human nature comes out when you loose up. Maybe my own existence was starting to get a little annoying.

I felt a warning alarm and vowed to reexamine this lifestyle starting tomorrow.

In times like this, it’s important to go back to the beginning.

The next morning, I woke up earlier than anyone else.

I fried eggs, bacon, and got bread for three people. I also prepared consommé.

As far as I was concerned, this breakfast was an extravagance.

When I lived alone, I never got to prepare something like this in the morning.

“Huh? Kazu-nii, are you up yet?” Kanon approached while rubbing her sleepy eyes.

Perhaps because she was always making breakfast, Kanon was an earlier riser than Himari.

“Or rather, uwah! Breakfast is up already—why so suddenly?”

“I thought I should do it myself once in a while. Now go wash your face.”

“O-okay…”

With a confused expression, Kanon headed to the bathroom.

As if they had exchanged places, this time it was Himari who got up.

“Good morning… Komamura-san? Hey, what’s going on?”

“You don’t react the same way as Kanon.  Well, it’s a natural thing for me to do this from time to time. Originally, it’s my house.”

“C-certainly, it’s like that…”

“You’ll eat after you untangle that mess in your head.”

Himari also headed to the bathroom while embarrassedly covering her messy hair.

They both looked surprised, but that wasn’t the original purpose.

I had to make them improve their opinion of me as an adult. As I thought about that, I realized something.

To begin with, why was I acting like I was trying to make amends with the two of them? Maybe I was afraid they would dislike me?

Even though as an adult, I chose not to notice their feelings.

So I had to act accordingly, but… somehow, I ended up taking contradictory actions.

Wouldn’t this make their affection for me grow more and more?

…Wait a minute.

As I told Himari—originally, this was my home. This was me being an adult.

In other words, it was not unusual for me to act for their sake.

Although I kept my doubts about the answer I came up with, for now, I would wait for the arrival of the two at the table.

“I’m back,” when I came home from work, I said the corresponding words for the moment when you get home. It was already a habit.

Normally, Kanon and Himari greeted me with a “welcome home,” but today there was no response.

Huh? Were they not at home?

But both of their shoes were in the entryway.

I went to the living room and heard their voices coming from my room.

In my room? Maybe they were watching something on the computer.

I think I deleted all the links to dirty-video sites since the day Himari first touched the computer, but… No way, would there be any left?

I peeked into the room and, as I guessed, they were sitting side by side in front of the computer.

My back jerked involuntarily, but from the harmonious atmosphere, it didn’t seem to be what I had imagined was happening. What a relief.

“How about this one?”

“Hmmmm, that one wouldn’t be a problem. Just a…”

“I’m back.”

“Uhya!” at my call, they both made a funny voice and with a jump their shoulders jerked.

“Ah… Komamura-san, welcome home.”

“Welcome home, Kazu-nii. Sorry, we didn’t notice.”

“You seem to be amused. What are you looking at?”

“Secret, girl stuff.”

I was really curious, but I couldn’t go any deeper if they put it that way.

“I see… Then, don’t go into the bathroom.”

“Understood.”

I headed for the bathroom while loosening my tie.

However, I still wondered what they were actually watching.

I felt somewhat left out, as they looked like they were having fun… No, no, no, no. It would be very strange for a guy my age to persistently dig into matters that high school girls wanted to keep secret.

But the way they had been behaving lately, I was still a little worried.

Hmm…

No, there’s no way I wouldn’t think about it. I was going to wash away this uncertainty just as the sweat with this bath.

Oh, right, tomorrow I could buy myself some candy, couldn’t I?

I’d stop by the store where Yuuri bought the cream cakes the other day.

…So, I returned home carrying a box with a cake in it. I figured there wouldn’t be many people since it was late, but there were quite a few women who, like me, seemed to have said, “I’ll stop by on my way home from work,” so I felt a little nervous inside the cramped store.

Well, I had picked out a cake that looked yummy enough to have been worth that effort, and I couldn’t wait to taste it.

“I’m back.”

The moment I opened the front door, I stepped back. The inside of the house was totally dark. Not to mention the entryway, there was no lighting either in the kitchen or further inside the living room.

What on earth…

A power outage?

I decided to start by checking the switch… I took off my shoes and walked into the house, and at that moment:

Suddenly, the lights came on.

“Ahhh?!”

“Kazu-nii, happy birthday!”

“Congratulations, Komamura-san!”

“Congratulations, Kazuki-kun!” With a pop-pop-pop, party poppers burst in my direction. For a moment I stood in shock with my body showered with confetti at the entrance.

“Birthday…”

Oh… Now that I thought about it, indeed.

The last few days I’d had my head full with the affairs of the two of them, so it had completely slipped my mind.

Especially since I hadn’t done anything like that for my birthday in the last few years, which was extraordinarily rare.

“Yeah. Actually, we planned this with Yuuri-san, and we’ve been making preparations for days now.”

“Heh, heh. That’s right. Now, let’s celebrate right away, Komamura-san!” said Himari as she smiled and pulled my hand until she led me to the kitchen table.

On the table was placed a birthday cream cake. On the chocolate slab was written ‘Happy Birthday, Kazuki-kun.’ Really…? How embarrassing…

My name hadn’t been written on a cake like this since I was in elementary school…

Also, as I looked in the kitchen again, I noticed that there were origami decorations stuck on the walls and ceiling. Even balloons.

“Ah, the decorations? We actually looked on the Internet for reference. Very festive decorations, isn’t it?”

I see…

This is what they were looking on the computer for, huh?

“By the way, Kazuki-kun, what is that? You were left wanting to go to the store where I bought the cream cakes the other day, weren’t you?” Yuuri noticed the box I had brought.

“No, I actually just thought I’d bring a cake on my way home… I totally forgot it was my birthday, hey…”

Impossible, who would imagine this situation with two cakes. What a strange experience…

“So, I’m going to eat cake to my heart’s content! Fu fu, I’m looking forward to it!”

“Besides, Himari and I also made fried food. It turned out super delicious! Eat it later.”

“Is that so? Kanon, Himari, thank you.”

“Heh heh. I tried my best learning from Kanon-chan” Himari replied with a smile while clenching her fist.

No man would be displeased by a high school girl telling him straight up that she tried her best for one’s sake.

…I tried to feign indifference in my heart, but I was happy after all.

However, cake and fried food…?

Wait, it would have been rude to get my head around the food combination now.

Each is delicious. Wasn’t that good? I could afford to think it was just like Christmas.

“Okay. I’ll light the candles, then. Ah, you’ll be fine with just one?”

I nodded my head at Kanon’s words.

Since always, I haven’t really liked this candle thing, since it leaves holes in the cake.

Kanon lit a candle directly from the fire of the stove and pushed it into the cake.

To tell you the truth, we didn’t have any matches or lighters at home, yet it was a pretty savage way…

“Okey, Kazuki-kun, you have to go ‘fuuu’” with a smile, Yuuri encouraged me. Was I a kindergartner?

But before blowing out the candles on the cake I felt so embarrassed, hey…

The gazes of the three of them made my heart feel more and more embarrassed.

But I could not continue to sit idly by.

I made up my mind, inhaled, and blew out the candle. At that moment, applause flew from all three.

“Well, once again: Kazu-nii, happy twenty-seventh birthday!”

“Congratulations!”

“Congratulations!”

It was the first time in my adulthood that I was celebrating my birthday. I felt embarrassed in a way, but I was also enjoying the atmosphere. It would be a birthday I will remember forever.

Convinced of that, I thanked all three of them.