※※※

“Haaa…”

When Himari entered the staff room after finishing her part-time job, Ezoguchi had just let out a long sigh while changing her clothes.

Now that she thought about it, she had the feeling that Ezoguchi was less energetic today than usual, or rather, in a strange state.

Mistakes like spilling the oolong tea while pouring it and bringing the food to the wrong table were noticeable.

“Himari-chan, I’ll probably quit the job…”

“Huh?!” Himari was shocked at the too abrupt confession.

It was very unfortunate, because she was a senpai who carefully taught Himari the job since she started working part-time. Above all, it hit her even harder because she empathized with her own circumstances of ‘saving money to become independent.’

“Err… Why is it…?”

As Ezoguchi gazed blankly at the open locker, a self-deprecating smile appeared at the corner of her mouth.

“Truth be told, I was turned down, you know? That’s why I thought I’d turn the page,” she said in a dispassionate tone.

Himari could only be shocked.

“Err… Is that—?”

“Well, it’s more my mistake, for falling in love so suddenly. There were just things in common with the other party—nothing more, you know?”

Himari didn’t know what Ezoguchi’s love was like. Even though she didn’t know, Himari’s heart was pierced by the pain of the partial proclamation of the end of a love that never came true.

“Well, I guess the manager will be in trouble if I quit so suddenly, so I’ll work hard until the end of this month.”

After changing clothes, Ezoguchi closed her locker and waved her hand as she left.

When Himari walked out the door for employees shortly after Ezoguchi, a motion sensor lighting placed above the door shone radiantly.

A security camera was installed next to it.

That said, the security camera was a fake.

The lighting had been there before, but the fake security camera had been installed by Nakaomi immediately after the incident with the customer who had ambushed Himari the other day.

After all, it seemed that installing a real security camera was still quite expensive and was going to be impossible for the time being. But even fake ones can become a psychological deterrent.

As a matter of fact, Himari herself, who knew it was a fake, felt somewhat nervous at times as she walked past the entrance.

Thanks to that, that customer had not come by since then.

Himari was grateful to Nakaomi for having a calm atmosphere in her part-time job again.

Nakaomi also said that she would install real security cameras in the future, which was reassuring.

In addition, Takato would accompany her to the station whenever the end of his shift coincided with Himari’s.

Takato, who overheard the series of incidents that day, offered to accompany her back home for the time being.

For Himari, that was also quite reassuring. Thanks to that, she could return home without being afraid.

The motion-sensor lighting was turned off and the surroundings became dark again.

Suddenly, she looked up at the sky and saw a few bright stars twinkling.

Himari started walking towards a nearby gyudon restaurant. 

By that hour, there in front of the vending machine had become a meeting point when returning home with Takato.

Originally, to avoid issues at the maid café, male employees and maids were not allowed to walk home together.

However, manager Nakaomi’s special orders had not yet been cancelled. It would stay that way until that exception was revoked.

Himari arrived before the vending machine and waited there for now.

Soon after, Takato arrived, changed into his civilian clothes.

“Sorry to keep you waiting. Shall we go?”

“Yes.”

As soon as they met, they started walking side by side.

“There weren’t many customers today, huh?”

“Certainly so.”

The station was only a few hundred meters away, so the conversations between them were usually on plain matters.

Stuff like interesting or funny printed T-shirt the customer was wearing, which station was closest to each other, or what manga they liked.

So far, that was the kind of conversations they had while heading to the station the times Himari returned along with Takato.

“…”

“…”

However, today the conversation didn’t continue after that.

Himari felt that Takato’s atmosphere was different from usual.

Now that she thought about it, she felt that today during work there wasn’t much eye contact.

What’s the matter, does he feel sick…?

Suddenly, she remembered what Ezoguchi told her.

No, impossible… Just when Himari thought that, Takato finally opened his mouth:

“Err… Komamura-san.”

“Y-yeah, what’s up?”

She had gotten used to being called by the surname ‘Komamura,’ but this time alone she felt strangely nervous.

“Komamura-san… do you have a boyfriend?”

“Huh? No, I don’t…”

“Ah, hmm. Right, I see… If you did, he would have picked you up after that incident happened… Hmm.”

Somehow, Takato seemed to be convinced on his own.

Himari felt a slight pain in her chest.

If Komamura were her boyfriend, he would have surely come to pick her up.

But unfortunately, they didn’t have that kind of relationship.

Himari had not previously told Komamura that she had been ambushed by a customer.

She didn’t want to worry him, and above all, she had the strong thought that she didn’t want to cause him any more trouble.

But why would Takato-san ask such a thing out of the blue…

Under silence, they both continued walking towards the station.

The city was still lit up at night, but there had been an increase in loud and drunken people, which was not often seen during the day.

When she was alone, she felt somewhat helpless, but just having someone she knew next to her, she felt relieved.

“Err… Komamura-san,” they were already arriving at the station when Takato said that.

“Yes?”

Suddenly calling her name, Takato stopped. So Himari stopped as well.

“Um, sorry to be so unexpected, but… you see…” said Takato while scratching his head sheepishly.

His line of sight was vague, he was so nervous.

“…?”

She was wondering what was going on with this atmosphere. It was very uncomfortable.

Consequently, Himari also became nervous.

Takato took a deep breath and then looked straight into Himari’s eyes.

“I like you, could you please be my girlfriend?”

“…?!” Himari could only stand stiffly with her eyes wide open.

It was too sudden a confession for Himari.

‘Liking’… A feeling Himari also had in her heart.

But it was a feeling she had yet to confess.

And it was a feeling that wasn’t related to the young man before her.

“Err… Err… Why?” The first thing that came out of her mouth was a question regarding the reason.

“You’re so beautiful when you try this hard.”

“Uh… Ah…”

He answered her immediately—Himari’s face reddened.

It was the first time someone of the opposite sex had said something like this to her face to face.

She was glad to receive a compliment.

But even at this moment, it was Komamura’s image that popped into Himari’s mind.

She didn’t even know what or how to tell him.

Ultimately, however, she had the feeling that she could not reciprocate Takato’s feelings.

But she didn’t know what kind of words she should convey.

For the moment, Himari had her head down.

Does one felt such discomfort from the confession of a person whose love one did not know about?

Out of the corner of her eye she saw that Takato was holding his own hand tightly.

She could tell he was very nervous, which made it even harder.

But she couldn’t keep prolonging it. She didn’t want to. She thought that would be rude to Takato.

Himari resolved herself and lifted her head.

Takato pretended to be calm as nervousness exuded from his face.

“Errr…” Himari’s voice trembled.

She felt like her heart would burst out of her mouth.

However, Himari didn’t stop.

“I already have a person I like, so I’m sorry…” Himari bowed her head apologizing politely.

Because her heart wasn’t fake, Himari honestly confessed it to him.

The sounds of traffic could be heard loudly.

And superimposed on these, the sound of her own heart echoed in her head.

She didn’t know the right time to raise her head. So Himari slowly raised her head.

But she couldn’t see Takato’s face.

Sorry.

I think he is a kind and good person, and I by no means hate him.

But I’m sorry.

Why me?

I’m sorry…

In a split second, the times they had walked to the station together so far, the way they interacted in the kitchen, and the dumb talks she had shared with him returned to her mind.

She was on the verge of tears, but it seemed like the one who should really want to cry was Takato.

So, she firmly endured the feelings that were building up from the pit of her stomach.

“Ah… Is that so…?”

“Yes…

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not necessary…”

People were constantly entering the station, seeing the two of them facing each other with a gloomy atmosphere.

At that point, Himari immediately began to worry about the surrounding gazes.

“Well… Then…” She didn’t know what phrase to use to say goodbye.

Himari bowed her head, repeating the motion quickly, before entering the station first.

Normally, they would go together all the way to the turnstiles, but Takato didn’t follow her.

As she walked, she guessed that it was surely to Takato that Ezoguchi confessed, which made her heart ache even more.

※※※

“Himari feels strange,” when Himari was taking a bath, Kanon muttered that in an earnest voice while watching a teledrama.

“Hm…?” I was glancing at the daily news on the smartphone, and I raised my head at those words.

A few wrinkles were drawn on Kanon’s forehead who was sitting on the sofa.

“Strange, you say?”

“Wait, don’t you think she’s been a little strange since she came back from her part-time job today?”

I thought over what Kanon told me.

…But at the exact time when Himari came back I was in the bathroom.

After that, I just said a simple ‘welcome home’ to Himari, who was taking late dinner. Himari was right with her cheeks bulging with food, and without saying words, she nodded her head repeatedly.

I didn’t have enough information to determine whether Himari was strange or not.

“Well, I’ve only spoken a couple of words to her since she came home. What specifically do you mean?”

“Hmmm… It’s hard to explain—however, there’s something different about her usual atmosphere… Or, rather, she’s not cheerful.”

“I see… When Himari gets out of the bathtub, I’ll take a careful look at her.”

“Hm.”

Well, maybe the person in question would confide in me the cause of that abnormality.

It might have been Kanon’s misconception to begin with.

But then I suddenly remembered.

Back when we went for a moment to Kanon’s house, she perceived the traces that Murakumo had intruded.

If this came from Kanon’s keen intuition, there might be little margin for error…

Then, suddenly Kanon let out a low voice of “fuwah…!”

Kanon’s face was flushed.

I immediately picked up on the reason.

The teledrama had entered a love scene.

Two actors, an ikemen and a beautiful woman, were half naked sitting on a king size bed.

I had not followed the story so far, so I was off base in relation to it—however, they were whispering some filthy things to each other, one moving their hands up and down the other’s body.

The movement of their hands was very lewd, and gradually their breathing became ragged.

“…”

“…”

Both Kanon and I deliberately avoided looking at each other.

This was… awkward…

Very embarrassing…

When I was a kid, it was awkward to have an intense kissing scene start while watching a movie with family on the TV in the living room.

And as I thought that and as if reproducing my thoughts perfectly, they both lay down on the bed and started kissing intensely.

Clemency, please, no more of this… The moment I wished for it, the scene went dark and moved to another.

It wasn’t a long scene, actually; it was more like a brief scene, but it was enough to change the mood in the room.

At that moment, the bathroom door could be heard opening.

Himari had finished.

Alarmed, I unconsciously turned my head in the direction of the bathroom.

Of course, Himari was not going to come out until she changed her clothes.

Confirming that fact, I somehow felt relieved.

Even though I wasn’t doing something to feel guilty about, I felt that way…

When I turned back towards the television, my eyes met Kanon’s.

Kanon’s face, already red before, reddened even more, so much so that it looked like steam would come out.

Then the teledrama switched to commercials.

The mood in the room changed subtly due to the lively narration, but the awkwardness persisted.

“H-hey…”

“Hm?”

“Ka-Kazu-nii… That…” Kanon cut off her words there.

The commercials changed and some elegant classical music I had heard somewhere began to play.

Where did I listen to that song?

Just as the song was interrupted, Kanon spoke again:

“Have you ever k-kissed?”

“…?!”

It was a question that caught me too off guard.

I didn’t expect the word ‘kiss’ to come out of Kanon’s mouth, so I was very shocked.

Holy cow! I don’t remember raising a girl like that, huh.

Wait, I didn’t raise her from the beginning.

I was so chaotic that I ended up doing a solo tsukkomi inside my head.

Anyway, it was time to relax. This was the part where I showed a margin of maturity.

“I didn’t… No…”

Where did the maturity margin go?

I ended up telling her some truth in a straightforward way, didn’t I? Even though we were at this point, I should have put on some adult airs here. But it was too late.

“I-is that so…?”

It probably wasn’t my imagination that Kanon’s face looked relieved at that moment.

“You’ve never had a girlfriend?”

“When I was in school, I was fully engaged in club activities… I haven’t met anyone like that since I started working.”

“And Yuuri-san?”

“No. After all, she’s just a childhood friend.”

“Hmmm…” Kanon replied in a disinterested manner, but her face looked extremely delighted.

It was not to make fun of me because of my inexperience in various things at this age.

That’s why I ended up deducing how Kanon felt.

It probably would have been better if I had been more clueless in this regard, but unfortunately, I wasn’t.

…Was this a good development?

I couldn’t reciprocate her feelings.

It was wrong to reciprocate.

Because I was an adult.

“H-hey, so…”

“I’ve finished bathing…”

“Uhia?!” Kanon’s shoulders gave a jerk, surprised at Himari’s abrupt appearance in the living room.

“Eeh?! I’m sorry I startled you.”

“No need. I’m fine. Then, I’ll go into the bathroom!”

Kanon grabbed a change of clothes and quickly headed to the dressing room.

Himari, who watched Kanon rush to the dressing room in panic, tilted her head slightly in confusion.

“…? Did something happen?”

“No, nothing in particular… Maybe it was because she saw a horror scene on the teledrama.”

I fooled Himari appropriately so that she wouldn’t notice anything.

“Ah, I see. Kanon-chan isn’t very good at horror.”

I may have arbitrarily added a wrong trait to Himari’s image of Kanon. Well, when we went to Kanon’s house and I suggested that there was a ghost, she strangely freaked out, so I feel like it wasn’t necessarily wrong.

Anyway, it was better to put Kanon’s matter aside for now.

Next was Himari.

While drying her wet hair with a towel, Himari plugged in the dryer.

Pretending to watch TV, I glanced sideways at Himari.

According to what Kanon said, Himari had been acting strange since she came home.

However, the interaction she had a moment ago with Kanon had a similar atmosphere as usual.

While I was remembering that, Himari turned on the dryer and started drying her hair.

I switched my sight line to the television.

If I watched her too much, she might end up getting suspicious.

The teledrama from earlier seemed to have ended recently, and now they were broadcasting the news.

For a while I was watching the TV while continuing to secretly observe Himari.

Himari spent a long time using the hair dryer. It usually took about ten minutes.

But in this it wasn’t just Himari, was the same with Kanon.

Women with long hair seemed to have a hard time drying it… I thought that every time I saw it.

Himari turned off the dryer and let out a sigh as she brushed her hair.

That sigh felt as heavy as lead. Until now, Himari had never let out a sigh as heavy as that.

Without a doubt this was…

“What’s wrong?”

“Huh?”

“What was that long sigh?”

“N-nothing… Just…”

I thought Himari wasn’t a good liar.

Every one of her reactions was honest.

“…Did something happen at work?”

“Th-that…”

When I boldly barged in, Himari flagrantly averted her gaze.

She was very easy to read…

When people have problems at work, it’s usually more about personal relationships than duties.

So I decided to concentrate on asking in that direction.

“Are you being bullied or something?”

“N-no, it’s not that! They’re all good people!”

“Then what’s the reason?”

“Uhh…” Himari gave a small groan and then dropped her shoulders heavily.

“…The truth is…a senpai from work confessed to me…”

“Huh?”

I didn’t anticipate that answer after all.

My thoughts froze for a moment.

But certainly, to the eye Himari was objectively pretty. Moreover, she was affable, kind, and friendly.

Given that, it was no surprise that Himari was liked by the opposite sex.

“So, is that long face because he’s not a nice guy?”

“No. Rather, he’s nice and kind. But I…” Himari raised her face and looked me straight in the eyes.

Then she fell silent.

But she didn’t look away.

Himari’s eyes were slightly wet and trembling.

For some reason, I thought those eyes were beautiful.

At the same time, I could read the emotions in her heart.

“To me, Komamura-san…”

…It’s wrong. You can’t. Don’t say any more words.

Instantly, I was asking that in my mind.

If she ended up getting the words out, it all would fall apart.

This lifestyle, this relationship between the three of us—it was definitely going to tear apart.

The sandcastles we built by the sea were slowly being eroded by its water.

I couldn’t stand it, and I looked away from Himari.

I ran away.

It seemed the right thing to do now.

The silence continued for a while.

Right then, the bathroom door could be heard opening.

It was Kanon coming out.

“I’m-I’m sorry… Forget it…” Himari stood up and muttered, “I’ll practice drawing.” And she went to my room as if running away.

For now, I didn’t know if this sense of relief I felt was actually right.

Himari did not come out of my room until bedtime.

Kanon asked me, “What did you think of Himari?”, but I just replied, “certainly, she seems less cheerful than usual, but I don’t know the reason.”

I wanted to forget about the interaction I had had with Himari just now.

…Am I really sure about that?

That question came up, but I told myself that it was okay.

The room was totally dark.

I was rolling around lying in bed, I didn’t know how many times I had already done it.

I couldn’t sleep at all.

Himari’s dejected face from before kept going in and out of my mind.

It was wrong. I wasn’t supposed to remember that. I had to think of something else.

I had to psych myself up, and then, before I knew it, my consciousness would fade for the better…

“Have you ever k-kissed?” Abruptly, Kanon’s words echoed in my brain.

Why was I remembering those words at this moment?

I don’t understand the human brain.

Anyway, my memory circuits kept expanding.

…I certainly had not.

I hadn’t had a relationship with a woman until now.

No, however…

We held hands… I suddenly remembered.

When I was in elementary school, with Yuuri.

It was on the way home from school. In a cold season.

While we were on our way home, we played a game of moving forward by taking a few steps only when you won at kicking a rock or rock-paper-scissors—the sun had completely set.

We walked side by side on a road that was sparsely populated and dark.

As expected, when it got dark, Yuuri and I understood that it was bad.

“It’s gotten dark, huh?” Yuuri muttered briefly, as she couldn’t stand the silence.

“Yeah.”

“Mom might get mad.”

“…Right.”

“Too bad… I’m scared…”

“…I know.

Dragged by Yuuri’s words, I became depressed as I imagined the figure of my own parents angry at me.

After a moment of silence…

“Your hands are cold, huh…”

Suddenly, Yuuri grabbed my hand.

I was very surprised and embarrassed, but I didn’t shake her hand off.

At the same time, I felt some tickles sprout in my chest, but I quickly pretended not to notice them.

By that time I thought Yuuri wanted to disguise the fear in her heart at being scolded.

And, of course, my hands were cold.

Yuuri’s hands were much colder.

So I thought she did this to warm them up as much as possible.

But then, almost twenty years later, it finally dawned on me.

No, I should say I could finally look at it without averting my eyes.

It wasn’t because she was afraid or cold that Yuuri held my hand that time.

That’s just rationalization.

I’m sure it’s just an excuse.

Yuuri genuinely…

“…”

I hadn’t held hands with Yuuri since that day and she hadn’t said anything to me either.

So, what would she think now…? No, it was wrong more than this.

That had been almost twenty years ago to begin with. How is it that I was thinking that now?

I quickly ended up embarrassing myself. I covered my head with the comforter and closed my eyes.

The sky today was slightly overcast.

A slightly dark Saturday morning.

“So, see you later.”

“Okay.”

I was waving goodbye to Kanon and Himari, who were putting on their shoes at the entrance.

It looked like the two were going out to have fun in the city by themselves.

It was the first time it was just the two of them.

“Shouldn’t you bring umbrellas?”

“No… The weather forecast said there was a thirty percent chance. If it rains, I’ll buy it at the convenience store.”

“I see. Be careful.”

“Yes,” they answered properly and then went outside.

Silence fell in the lonely room.

Come to think of it, it was the first time I had spent a day off alone since the two of them arrived.

On my own after a while…

I was puzzled with myself as I felt uncomfortable with that even though it wasn’t long ago that a life where I was home alone was natural.

This was not a good sign.

This now was a special situation, and eventually the time would come when I would return to my original lifestyle…

Bruuuuuuuu.

“Uoh?!”

Suddenly, the sound coming from the fridge interrupted my thoughts and made me shake my shoulders a little involuntarily.

No, don’t let the sound of the fridge scare you!

But…

I hadn’t paid attention to minor everyday sounds like this since the two of them arrived.

Once again, when I looked around the empty living room and kitchen, it felt larger than usual.

…Wrong, wrong, very wrong. What was up with getting sentimental?

More importantly, I needed to think about what I would have for meal today.

It was a bummer to cook… It had been a while since I’d had ramen, hadn’t I?

As I looked at my wallet, a little bleak because I had given the two of them their allowance, I thought of a few stores to eat at.

※※※

Kanon and Himari had taken the train and arrived at the city center.

“Uwah! It’s so crowded,” Himari let out a surprised voice.

The street before the station was so crowded that their shoulders were almost touching.

Himari’s part-time job place was also near a station that had a fair amount of traffic, but not as much as this one.

“It’s because it’s Saturday. Be careful not to get lost. You don’t have a smartphone, Himari.”

“R-right…”

Himari trembled as she clung tightly to Kanon. The two of them held each other’s arm tightly.

“No, it’s hard to walk when we’re stuck together like this.”

“But-but I don’t want to become a lost child…”

“Okay, okay. So, this way, just spread out a little bit.”

Kanon held Himari’s hand firmly.

Himari’s expression, in fright until then, finally returned to her usual fashion.

“So, shall we go?”

“Yes.”

They both started walking through the wave of people.

They hadn’t made any specific plans about where to go or anything else.

“Himari, are you working tomorrow?”

“Huh! I’m off, why?”

“Then, let’s both have fun!”

“Yes.”

It was a simple random plan that they decided in an episode of enthusiasm yesterday.

Of course, Kanon invited Himari with a genuine excitement of wanting to have fun together.

But it was also true that there was something ‘not genuine’ mixed in.

Recently, a cloudy feeling was building up in Kanon’s chest.

She liked Himari.

For Kanon, who was anxious to live alone with Kazuki, Himari appeared at such a good time that she even thought she was an angel.

Even though she was a complete stranger, she remembered that she felt relieved that first day just because she was someone of the same gender.

So yes, she liked Himari.

Rather, she was someone important now.

She always reacted honestly and was spontaneous, but when the defining moment came, she didn’t flinch.

Even though Kanon loved Himari so much, there was one thing that dissatisfied her.

The fact that she was hiding secrets.

If she thought about it, she still didn’t know Himari’s real name.

She didn’t even know her home address, let alone her school address.

And the reason for Himari’s lack of spirits for a few days now remained unknown.

She tried casually asking Kazuki, ‘do you know the reason?’, but he just shook his head silently.

She had a slight hope that maybe she would find out something related to that while wandering around the city together with Himari.

They entered a commercial building that faced the main avenue.

For the time being, they decided to walk around and window shop.

There was a clothing store, a general store, a coffee shop, and a restaurant, so they probably wouldn’t get bored.

“Whoa. Look, Kanon-chan. Those clothes are super cute.”

“Oh, really. It would look good on you, Himari.”

“Ehh, really?”

“Yeah. I don’t really fit into those kinds of cute clothes, huh.”

“You think so? However, I think Kanon-chan would look good too.”

“Impossible, no way. No way.”

After continuing to walk for a while as they chatted foolishly like that, they arrived at the front of the men’s clothing shopping area.

The two of them would have walked past that sales area before without paying attention to it.

But today they both stopped in front of it at the same time.

“Look at this tie. It’s a penguin design.”

Where Kanon was pointing to, a tie with various illustrations of an adorable penguin printed on it was on display. It was multi-colored with light blue, pink, green and white.

It was a branded product, and contrary to its lax looks, the listed price was quite substantial.

“Would it look good on Komamura-san?”

“Ha ha ha ha. It’s too cute for Kazu-nii.”

“But it might unexpectedly look good on him.”

“He’d get a lot of tsukkomi if he went with this to the office.”

Both were cheerful looking at the tie, but suddenly Himari’s face became gloomy.

“What’s wrong, Himari?”

“Hey, Kanon-chan…” Himari paused briefly. It was as if she was a little hesitant to get the words out.

Kanon didn’t press her, and just waited.

Finally, Himari muttered under her breath:

“I don’t know what to do…”

“About what?”

“About Komamura-san…”

For an instant, Kanon’s breath caught.

No way she had expected Himari to bring up that topic.

“Well, I… Actually, it’s the first time… that I’ve fallen in love with a man…”

“Eh, ah…”

The words ‘fall in love’ left Kanon in shock, so much so that she was surprised at herself.

She was certainly aware of Himari’s feelings, but this was the first time she had heard them clearly in words.

Once again, badly mixed emotions were starting to swirl inside Kanon as they were put into words.

“But maybe I’m not being taken seriously by Komamura-san… He doesn’t see me that way.” Himari said the same thing from that time they were on the futon and let her feelings seep out.

That also applied to Kanon.

She understood. Kazuki had been consistent in taking his position as ‘guardian.’

That was painful, but still, she didn’t want to lie about her own feelings.

She thought about it as she looked at Himari’s hesitant eyes, then the latter resumed her words:

“Because I am not yet an adult…”

Himari’s face, smiling faintly, looked so sad and pained.

Then Kanon also felt pained.

She had the optical illusion of Kazuki telling her that directly.

And then she realized that this was the reason why Himari had not been feeling good for the past few days.

Maybe Kazuki had said something to her when she was in the bath.

She certainly believed that something had happened to her at her part-time job, but she reached the idea that the only things that could put Himari in such a state of depression would be either something related to her family or Kazuki.

“…”

For a moment they gazed at each other in silence.

Himari must have also been aware of the feelings Kanon had for Kazuki.

Because of that, Kanon didn’t know what to say.

But, if she simply kept silent, she knew that the negative feelings would become bigger and bigger.

“Oh, that’s enough! After all, I’m not good at this!” Kanon suddenly said in a loud voice and scratched her head roughly.

“Eh, Kanon-chan?”

“Let’s eat something sweet to change the mood! Parfait, parfait, or parfait, what would you like?!”

“You really want a parfait, don’t you…?”

“Whatever! Let’s calm down a bit by refueling with sugar! Come on!” Kanon started walking, grabbing Himari’s hand.

The strength of her grip was much stronger than before.

That roughness was perhaps pleasing to Himari now.

She smiled slightly, but Kanon didn’t notice because she was looking straight ahead.

The strawberry parfaits they ordered were placed in front of Kanon and Himari.

The white, red and pink colors contrasted beautifully in an inverted triangular-shaped, elongated glass container.

“Itadakimasu.” Kanon animatedly dug the ice cream on top with a long spoon made especially for parfait.

Then, with no hesitation she took a bite of the large piece of ice cream.

“Mm, cold.”

Cheeks pressed together, Kanon’s face looked so happy it made one think she had lived for this moment.

Himari, who had gawked at the big mouthful of ice cream Kanon ate, came back to her senses and stuffed her mouth as well.

They were both standing in the corner of an outdoor-style cafeteria.

Since it was a holiday, the seats were practically filled with young women like Kanon and Himari.

“In short, Kazu-nii isn’t interested in little girls, is he?”

At Kanon’s abrupt comment, Himari’s shoulders shrunk.

“Indeed… That’s what I’m talking about…”

Kanon took half a bite of the wafer.

“But we’ll be adults a little after we graduate from high school, right? So, I don’t think it’s going to change that much from now.”

At those words, Himari’s pupils widened.

Kanon put the ice cream on the remaining wafer and then took another bite.

“For starters, I don’t think there’s a clear and distinct boundary for ‘adulthood.’”

“Huh?”

“Uh… How can I put it? It’s not a legal thing, but a feeling, isn’t it? I don’t feel that one magically becomes an adult when one turns twenty… You know what I mean?”

“Hmm… I understand most of what you mean, Kanon-chan.”

“Really?”

“Yes. For example, when we were in elementary school, high school students seemed very mature, right? But when I became a high school student, I found that my mind hadn’t changed much from how it was in elementary school… Yet, it was a fact that I had become an existence called ‘high school student.’ I had the feeling of not know if I should really call myself a high school student, or if my degree and my mind didn’t balance… That’s how I felt. That’s what you’re trying to say, isn’t it, Kanon-chan?”

At Himari’s flowing statement, Kanon was taken aback, forgetting for a while to fill her mouth with parfait.

“That’s right, that’s what I meant! Hey, you’re amazing, Himari… Did you read my mind?”

“No, there’s no such thing as that…”

“That means you and I are connected. Uh-hum.”

Himari made a small smile at Kanon’s words.

She was simply happy at Kanon’s words.

Hm… It’s just that Kazu-nii doesn’t see it that way because we’re ‘high school students.’ But it’s unlikely for us to feel that way so suddenly the moment we stop being one…

After finishing eating the ice cream section, Kanon mused as she dug the spoon deep into the strawberry jam and mousse area.

“After all, it’s better to plant the seeds when you have the chance… But what should I do?”

“Huh?” Himari was surprised by Kanon’s sudden soliloquy.

Kanon waved her hands in panic.

“Ah, it’s nothing… Anyway, I don’t think we should give up yet, you know?”

Kanon stuffed her mouth with a spoonful of strawberry jam and mousse.

“Yeah… Right. I haven’t declared my love properly. So, I can still hope…” Himari’s cheeks tinged red slightly.

It might be a temporary solution, but it seemed to have cheered Himari up for now.

Kanon, however, had mixed feelings.

If I think about it normally, this means Himari is a rival in love, right? Why am I doing this… I don’t even understand myself…

Although she intended to distract herself from her feelings by eating the parfait, it wasn’t working.

The more she thought about it, the more things that made her shiver spread through her chest, so Kanon continued to eat the parfait, trying to free herself from the thoughts.

“The way Kanon-chan eats so incessantly is cute…”

“Huh?”

Kanon didn’t notice that her parfait was running out at twice the speed at which Himari was eating.

After leaving the cafeteria, they were in the upper-level arcade.

They looked around the claw crane machines one by one amidst a flurry of different sounds.

“Kanon-chan, look at this candy. It’s huge!”

“Heh. It’s really huge! It’s kind of a joke already!”

That’s when she was excited to see a prize candy that was several times bigger than normal.

“Huh? It’s Kanon!”

“Really! Yo-hoo!”

Suddenly her name was called, and Kanon turned around vigorously.

There were two familiar faces, who seemed to be intimate as they were lined up very close to each other.

“It’s Yuiko and Urara.”

Kanon was taken aback at the sudden arrival of two of her classmates.

Yuiko and Urara approached Kanon and Himari as they raised a few short, excited shouts.

“This is the first time we’ve met Kanon outside of school, right? Do you happen to live nearby?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“I see. So, you’re taking a little trip, aren’t you? So, who is this girl?”

The gaze of the two was directed towards Himari.

Himari gave a slight bow with an awkward smile.

“Ah, you see… this girl’s name is Himari… She is my cousin. And she’s the same age as us.

“Oh. I see.”

“So cute!”

“Thank you… You can call me Himari. Nice to meet you” Himari decided to obediently follow the ‘cousin’ scenario Kanon had so suddenly given her.

She thought that would save her from being scrutinized.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Yuiko.”

“I’m Urara. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Himari-chan.”

“They are both fervent Johnny-otakus.”

“Eeh?” Himari’s eyes widened at Kanon’s explanation.

It was a different genre, but she had some affinity with being an ‘otaku.’

“By the way, do you have a favorite idol, Himari-chan?”

“N-not especially…”

“Hey! Don’t try to drag my Himari into your swamp.” Kanon was holding Himari’s shoulders as if she were protecting her.

Yuiko stuck out her tongue and said, “Sorry, sorry.”

“Kanon, Himari, do you have any plans for after this?”

“Hm, nothing in particular. Just wander around.”

“Is that so? Then, why don’t we all take a purikura picture together?”1

Kanon and Himari looked at each other.

Himari nodded shyly. Apparently, she didn’t have any opposition.

“Then, let’s go quickly!”

“Let’s go, let’s go!”

The two were very excited, and Kanon and Himari followed.

The four girls arrived at the area where the purikura booths were lined up, and immediately went inside to have their pictures taken in various poses.

And, after the stickers came out, they moved to a small round table set up nearby.

“Himari-chan, why are you always spotlighting your hands?”

“Ah, I thought that too when we were taking pictures, is that your favorite pose?”

Yuiko and Urara asked while trimming the purikura with a pair of scissors placed on the round table.

“Huh? That… It’s just that these nails are so cute that I wanted to capture them in a picture. But the butterflies are too small, so you can’t make them out.”

“Do you like your nails now?”

“…Yes.” Himari smiled a little shyly when Kanon asked her.

Now that she thought about it, she didn’t feel like she had changed them since Yuuri brought the polishes.

If she looked at them closely, she could see that the nails had grown out a bit and the original nail color was visible at the base.

“If you like it that much, I’ll paint them again for you. And I still have a bunch of the stickers Yuuri-san gave me…” Kanon noticed Himari’s expression change in the middle of her words.

Although she was smiling, she looked a bit forlorn.

“If I were to return home now, I’d probably get into trouble…”

“Huh? Is that so?”

“You’re from a strict family, aren’t you…?”

“…” Kanon couldn’t say anything.

Maybe in Himari’s school this kind of fashion was completely forbidden.

But she had a feeling that wasn’t the only reason Himari would be in trouble.

Her parents did not approve of Himari’s dream and arbitrarily threw away her tools.

Kanon didn’t know what kind of people they were since she hadn’t heard the story in detail.

Still, seeing a face like that from Himari didn’t make her have very good feelings.

There were times when Kanon felt an inexplicable emptiness at the thought of ‘I don’t have parents myself.’

Not once had she ever had envious thoughts toward her friends or classmates.

But now that she knew that there were children like Himari, who even with both parents were not satisfied, it made her experience mixed emotions.

After that, the four of them roamed around inside the arcade playing games.

They had a fierce battle in the air hockey and laughed so hard that it even made their stomachs hurt because they were all permanently off the track in the racing game.

They drank juice from a cup vending machine and took a break.

“Okay, we’ll go shopping for clothes. See you later~.”

“See you later~!”

Then, Yuiko and Urara left. Just like when they met them, they were walking together at a distance where their shoulders were almost touching.

On their own again, Kanon and Himari sat on some benches that were evenly spaced in the middle of the hallway.

“Himari, I’m sorry about my friends so out of the blue.”

“No need to be. It was funny. By the way, those two really hit it off, didn’t they? They were always close to each other.”

“Yeah. Well, they’re always like that.”

“I see… Actually, it’s the first time I’ve taken purikura photos.” Himari took out the purikura photos from her bag and looked at them intently, seeming happy.

Kanon couldn’t help but smile too.

“I see… Then, I’m glad.”

Both Yuiko and Urara were the type to always radiate positive energy, so Kanon was a bit anxious, but she was relieved to see Himari accept them without putting up any particular resistance.

“Himari…”

“Hm?”

“Ah, no, nothing…”

About Kazuki, about Himari’s family, school, and friends, and about the future.

There must have been many things she wanted to hear and say, but Kanon couldn’t express them in words skillfully.

Himari must have felt something when she saw such Kanon.

The words fell out of her mouth:

“…To tell you the truth, I’m a little afraid to go to my part-time job…”

“Hey? What’s wrong? Don’t tell me, are they bullying you or something?”

“No, it’s nothing like that. But… hanging out with Kanon-chan like this today cheered me up.”

“Really? Are you really okay?”

“I’m fine. Thank you, Kanon-chan.”

“I see…”

As usual, she didn’t tell her the details of what had happened, but still, she was glad to hear that from Himari.

“Hey, Himari… let’s come another time and have some fun, okay?”

“Yes! When I have another day off from work.”

Seeing Himari smiling brightly, Kanon sincerely thought that it was good that she came today.

Just as they were about to return home, they realized it was raining.

The two looked up at the sky as they stood in the building’s entrance.

“Even though they said there was a thirty percent chance…”

“Should we buy an umbrella at that convenience store?”

“Sure…”

As they ran out of the commercial building to the convenience store next door, they excitedly said, “I’m getting soaked!” and “Ha ha ha!”

And, after buying a single umbrella, they covered themselves together with it.

“Himari, come a little closer.”

“But your shoulders will get wet, Kanon-chan.”

“It’s the same for you.”

“Then, let’s squeeze together.”

They walked close to each other while one of each of their shoulders got wet.

Suddenly, Himari burst out laughing with a, “fu, fu, fu, fu,” so Kanon tilted her head in questioning.

“We’re also stuck together like Yuiko-chan and Urara-chan just now, you know?”

“…Yeah.”

Kanon gave a small beam and put strength in her hand to hold the handle of the umbrella.

※※※

  1. Photos in a booth to which decorations are added later.