※※※

After finishing the lessons and cleaning, Kanon was looking nonchalantly outside through the window with her chin resting on her hands.

Today also at homeroom class the preparations for the cultural festival were progressing. They were discussing adding one more element to the menu.

Certainly, there were plenty of drinks, but Kanon thought it was a bit meager to have chiffon as the only food on offer.

Then again, what else did they possibly make?

Many of the boys suggested ‘curry,’ but that was discarded because the other classes would be serving it on stands.

If it was cafeteria food they were talking about, Kanon thought parfait was obvious, but considering the time and cost of making it, it would be impossible.

In the end, they remained undecided.

Then, when she was going over the words ‘maid’s cafe,’ the location of Himari’s work suddenly crossed Kanon’s mind.

Maybe I’ll get some insight… If I told Kazu-nii, would he come with me?

She assumed that since it had the word ‘café’ attached to it, the menu would be no different from that of a normal coffee shop.

When thinking about it, she suddenly felt an itch of impatience.

It was the first time she had ever been so motivated about a cultural festival. But oddly enough, she didn’t dislike such a version of herself.

Maybe I’ll stop by Kazu-nii’s office to check with him instead of going straight home.

She had learned of Kazuki’s company’s location a while ago, so she could get there by looking at the smartphone’s map app.

Instead of waiting for Kazuki at the station, she was strongly tempted to go all the way to the office.

She wanted to play a joke on Kazuki, wondering what kind of face he would make when he saw her in front of his office, and most of all, she wanted to be alone with Kazuki for as long as possible… When she realized this, she suddenly embarrassed and buried her face in the bag placed over the desk.

Uhhh, wrong, wrong. I gotta take it easy. Anyway, first I have to figure out how to get to Kazu-nii’s office.

Still with flushed cheeks, Kanon pulled the smartphone out of her bag. But before opening the map app she opened the social networking ones as a habit of hers.

“…!?”

While looking at that screen, for a while Kanon froze like stone.

※※※

Today I finished my work in the regular period. When I was leaving the office as usual, Yuuri was waiting for me outside.

I had become completely familiar with this scene by now, as it had happened many times before.

However, I didn’t want Isobe or someone else from the Accounting Department to see her. They might make misunderstandings with her.

Anyway, she surely brought more supplies for the two of them, which was at the end a relief.

“Kazuki-kun, otsukaresama.”

As I anticipated, Yuuri had a sophisticated paper bag in hand.

But I felt a bit uncomfortable with that Yuuri.

“I bought some muffins today. They have a very appetizing aroma~” her voice lingered longer than usual. She had slightly redder cheeks and a smiling expression that was nowhere near her usual one.

This… could it be possible that she…?

“Yuuri… Could it be that you are drunk…?”

“Ah, did you notice? Not so much. To tell you the truth, I received a mail saying that I passed the first interview I had the other day~. When I told the manager, he gave me a bottle of wine for me after I finished the part-time job. Fu fu fu. Even though there is still a second interview, the store manager is highly anticipatory~. If I fail in the next one, it will be quite lame, don’t you think?”

Was that why she was drunk?

Yuuri was currently working part-time at a coffee shop, but she was also looking for another job.

She had started looking for a new job right after her old company went bankrupt but couldn’t find one that matched her aspirations.

So, she started working at this coffee shop because she was feeling a bit emotionally fragile and wanted some money right away, even if it was a small amount for now.

“You’ll do well at the next interview.”

“Yes, thank you. I have it in my mind,” Yuuri replied, laughing again.

It seemed to amuse her to get drunk from an early hour. I was a little jealous, as I had refrained from drinking at noon since the two of them had arrived.

Anyway, we started walking towards the station. As we walked, I noticed Yuuri staring at my face.

“W-What’s wrong?”

“Kazuki-kun. You’ve changed after all, you know?”

“Changed…?”

“Yes. Since you started living with Kanon-chan and Himari-chan,” she said while squinting her eyes cheekily.

“I-Is that so?

“That’s right~. Your looks are better than before. Besides…”

“Besides?”

“You hardly come to the store anymore…” Yuuri ducked her head with a somewhat sad look on her face.

For some reason, a thorn of guilt generated and prickled in my chest.

“I had mentioned it to you before, though. It’s because I have to save money…”

“Yes, I understand. I understand~. But, even so, I still miss you…”

“Eh…”

I was perplexed.

Honestly, I had feelings of happiness, sorrow, and some guilt.

But even so, drunk Yuuri was somehow very honest… Wait, it’s not like she wasn’t usually honest.

Come to think of it, I haven’t gone to a bar together with Yuuri before… While thinking that, I looked at Yuuri’s pouting profile.

At the corner of an alley, Yuuri suddenly stopped.

“Yuuri?”

Even though I took a few steps forward, Yuuri stood still behind me, not changing her line of sight.

“What’s going on so suddenly?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that I spotted a cat passing by, and I kept looking at it,” Yuuri said with a smile and caught up with me in a short run.

I also looked in the direction Yuuri was looking, but the cat figure was gone.

Was it a stray cat? Well, I know what it feels like to unintentionally gawk.

As we continued walking, the animated voices of children could be heard.

The company building was located along a road a bit inland from the main street, so there were quite a few apartments in a row.

In a small park attached to one of those apartments, there were kids of an elementary school age running around.

Two of them caught my attention.

They were both wearing white keikogi.

“I wonder if they do judo or karate~” Yuuri noticed them and muttered that.

“It’s hard to tell just by looking at the keikogi.”

One had a white belt and the other a yellow belt.

It hadn’t been long since they started… That’s all I could gather.

Were they playing on their way home from school?

The corner of my mouth lifted as I remembered when I was in elementary school and my mother would scold me, “don’t go play with your keikogi on, you’ll get it dirty.”

I’m sure those two are now brimming in yearning and are practicing hard.

“I wish them the best of luck,” the moment I whispered it, I felt a stabbing pain in my chest. “Because I wasn’t that good at the end.”

“Kazuki-kun…”

I couldn’t help but self-deprecate myself.

It might have been the first time I blurted out a thought that I had been carrying in my heart for a long time.

That’s right, I wasn’t good enough.

I practiced hard, I exercised, I persevered—I had aspirations…

And yet I didn’t become a special person.

I discovered that I was a person who from the beginning ‘didn’t have it.’

By nature, through martial arts, the mind is also forged.

I wasn’t even good at that.

It was easily broken.

Say, if I had really loved judo, I would have kept practicing, even if I knew my limitations.

For a while, the only sound was the sound of footsteps on the asphalt.

I regretted saying the words.

“I am sorry. It was something from a long time ago.”

“…I know.”

Yuuri suddenly stopped.

“Huh?” She said something unclear, and I was reflexively taken aback. “What did you…?”

“I know how hard you worked and how serious you were about it, Kazuki-kun.”

The expression Yuuri wore as she stared into my eyes was deadly serious, different from the one she made a moment ago.

For some reason, I felt some pain in my chest as she looked at me.

When I would leave for training, I would walk out the entrance and my eyes would meet Yuuri’s, who was playing outside.

I remember her figure then saying goodbye to me as she waved her hand and said, “have a nice day.”

And whenever I had a match, she and her brother would come expressly to watch it.

“I’ve always been watching you…”

Immediately after saying that, a trickle of tears fell from Yuuri’s eyes.

I panicked.

I didn’t know why Yuuri was crying now.

Is Yuuri the type to cry when she drinks? And even if she was, for what reason?

“Err, Yuuri…?”

Yuuri continued talking while wiping her tears with her fingers:

“Kazuki-kun is not a failure—don’t say you’re a failure! Because if Kazuki-kun is a failure, I’ll be a worse one…”

I was getting more and more confused.

I couldn’t understand her words.

They were different from the numbers; they were not clear at all.

The tears spilling from Yuuri’s eyes wouldn’t stop.

Still, with those wet eyes Yuuri looked straight into mine.

“I didn’t have anything I was devoted to body and soul like Kazuki-kun. There was no something I could work hard at. Really nothing. That’s why I was jealous of Kazuki-kun’s dedication to judo…” Yuuri whimpered and then continued, “I thought you were great.”

Those were unexpected words.

I really didn’t know Yuuri thought that way about me.

“That… Thank you…”

“I love you,” Yuuri said firmly, interrupting my words.

It felt like time had stopped.

The wind blew, and Yuuri’s hair rose easily.

“…Eh.”

“I’ve always loved you… Kazuki-kun. Long before the two of them.”

The second time he said ‘I love you’ her voice trembled.

My heart and head were practically blank.

I had absolutely no idea what to say.

It was truly unexpected.

“Yuuri…”

“…I’m sorry. I have to stop accompanying you for today. I’m still drunk.” Looking down at the ground, Yuuri offered me the paper bag she was carrying. “I’m sorry for this all of a sudden,” she whispered in a voice that seemed to fade away, and then started running towards the station.

I froze in place for a while.

What was this feeling that had begun to swirl inside me?

Unfortunately, I now had no idea whatsoever.

Only the sound of my racing heart echoed in my head.

※※※

Kanon was running her heart out.

Enough to be aware her innards were pounding violently. She felt herself suffocating.

But the reason for that wasn’t just because she was running.

After finishing school, Kanon obeyed her spontaneous impulse and made her way to the front of Kazuki’s office. However, she did not meet Kazuki.

When Kanon arrived, Kazuki and Yuuri were starting to walk side by side.

What on earth, why does it have to be today…

Seeing the two of them together made her heart ache like she had never felt before.

Were she the usual Kanon, she would have simply started talking to the two of them without a care in the world. She should have been able to do that.

But today it was impossible for her.

When she left the school, she was so excited to be able to be alone with Kazuki, but that didn’t come true.

She saw that Yuuri’s smile was kinder than usual and, although mature, it was cute, at the same time, sexy.

There was an intense impatience in Kanon’s heart. Then inevitably an inferiority complex sprouted in her. She felt that it showed the difference between adults and children.

However, Kanon still could not get away from that place.

She had a lot of concern about the kind of conversation they were having.

Kanon secretly walked behind the two.

Then she noticed that Yuuri turned around all of a sudden, and in panic she hid in the shadow of a delivery truck that was parked.

As she hid, Kanon’s heart thumped harder and harder.

For a moment, her eyes met Yuuri’s.

It could be that she had been mistaken. Perhaps the other party hadn’t recognized her.

But she might have noticed after all.

Maybe I should stop spying on them already.

But in her heart, she still had a great concern for those two. After all, she couldn’t help but feel an interest about what they were talking about.

Kanon took a deep breath once, and then decided to follow them again.

When the two walked past the park, Kanon said to herself, “Now’s the chance,” and crossed through the park to close the distance with them.

She approached them cautiously, as she hid in a ginkgo tree.

It was then that she heard it—

—Yuuri’s confession.

The feelings she had harbored for a long time.

The moment she heard that, a chilling sensation hit Kanon, as if ice had been put in the pit of her stomach.

Before she knew it, she found herself speeding away from the park.

Kanon was running frantically.

The thought I don’t know how, but I have to get home before Kazuki does took over her mind.

That’s why she had to get to the station faster than Kazuki.

I have to get home first and welcome Kazuki as usual, as if nothing happened…

When she thought that, for some reason the rims of her eyes grew hot.

Kanon stepped out onto the main avenue and kept running as she zigzagged through the waves of people.

She immediately found a sign, so she made it all the way to the station without getting lost.

As soon as she hurried onto the train, she rested her hands on her knees and breathed repeatedly in an agitated manner. The eyes of the people around were focused on Kanon, but she pretended not to notice them now.

Perhaps because she really ran too hard, a taste like blood came up her throat and spread throughout her mouth.

The taste was deeply unpleasant, she wanted it to go away quickly.

※※※

“Ah, welcome home, Komamura-san.”

“…Welcome home.”

The two greeted me when I arrived home, as usual.

‘I’ve always loved you… Kazuki-kun. Long before the two of them.’

Yuuri’s words fluttered through my head at that moment.

So I couldn’t answer them both.

…But I wasn’t supposed to think about that now. Honestly, it was an overload. I shook my head slightly to wipe Yuuri’s image away.

“This is from Yuuri.”

For now, I put on the table the paper bag she gave me.

“Ah, so you met Yuuri-san. What’s inside?”

“She said muffins.”

“Wah! I can’t wait to taste them!”

“…I see.”

While on one hand they made Himari’s eyes sparkle, Kanon’s reaction was apathetic.

Normally, she would have been the first to jump on them. I wondered what was wrong with her. Maybe Kanon was tired from all the preparations for the cultural festival.

“Hm, wait. There’s something else in the bottom.”

Himari pulled out of the paper bag a white box that was separate from the box containing the muffins.

“These… are these towels?”

“Bath towels. How cute!”

Lined up inside the box were three rolled up bath towels of different colors. They were printed with many pictures of small sheep.

These were certainly simple household items, but I was thankful for them. The number of towels in use had increased since I started living with the two of them.

“Since they are different colors, we can each choose our own for personal use, right…? Would you have the blue one, Komamura-san?”

Not saying a word, I nodded my head.

“And you, Kanon-chan?”

“I’ll take the beige one.”

“Then, I’ll take the pink one. I want to use it as soon as possible after my bath today,” Himari said while rubbing the towel on her cheek and enjoying the softness.

“Hey. The new ones should be washed once before usage.”

“Hm? Is that so?”

“Yes. Otherwise, the water absorption will be poor. It has starch stuck to it, you know?”

“Right…” answered Kanon while nodding to a surprised Himari.

It is in this area that the height of Kanon’s life-gained skills can be seen.

“So, take care of them when you do the laundry tomorrow. Ah, you don’t need to add fabric softener, okay?”

“Yes, I understand.”

While listening to the two’s conversation, I headed to the bathroom.

“I’m sorry, I’m going to take a bath first, okay? I’m a little tired today.”

“Ah, yes, understood…” Himari replied with a confused expression. Kanon didn’t say anything, but her eyebrows were clearly lowered.

Maybe I was giving off a different aura than usual.

But I didn’t have the head to keep up appearances, so I closed the bathroom door without saying anything.

 “Haa…”

While submerged in the bathtub, I repeatedly rubbed my face with my wet hands.

Ever since Yuuri and I parted ways, my head and heart have been restless.

I considered myself a somewhat clueless person when it came to the feelings of others.

But in fact, I was aware of the feelings Kanon and Himari had for me.

Then again, I didn’t expect it from Yuuri…

Then I remembered the old days, that time we held hands.

Certainly, it was a show of affection, wasn’t it?

But I didn’t realize that Yuuri still felt the same way about me twenty years later.

…Hadn’t I noticed…?

I suddenly felt uncomfortable with my thoughts.

“No, no… Maybe…”

Maybe I really did know. But unconsciously I tried not to notice. I put a filter on my heart.

I blindly trusted the sense of security that surrounds the term ‘childhood friend.’

Yet, ‘I love you’?

In contrast to the happiness I felt at the sudden arrival of my moteki, I simply could not find myself pleased.

How should I respond to Yuuri—I really didn’t know.

“After all…it has been twenty years, huh?”

It was a long time to say.

And although we were childhood friends, it’s not as if Yuuri and I had always stuck together.

There was a time when distance was created.

As for the time when I was aware of it… Certainly, it was a thing of the past.

But now…

Yuuri was like part of my family.

Time is a cruel thing. For sure, the emotions we used to have were already altered.

“I know how hard you worked and how serious you were about it, Kazuki-kun.”

“I’ve always been watching you…”

Yuuri’s voice kept repeating in my head.

These words really, honestly, made me happy.

But…

How should I behave with Yuuri from now on?

I thought about it for a while in the bathtub, but in the end, I didn’t come up with an answer.

When I came out of the bathroom, dinner was already on the table.

For today it was a meat and vegetable stir-fry, Chinese soup, and salad.

“You took your time. Have you been sleeping?”

“Hm, well…”

“Okay…” Kanon replied in a very disinterested manner, and then pulled a low-malt beer out of the refrigerator and put it on the table.

I looked at the clock, and apparently, I had been in the tub for forty minutes.

No wonder I felt dizzy.

“You look exhausted, you know… Go to bed early, please.”

“Thank you for your concern. I will.”

I took a seat and picked up the chopsticks. Looking at me as if she wanted to say something, Kanon said, “Hey…”

“What’s up?”

“Ah, you see… It’s a little awkward to say it when you’re tired, Kazu-nii, but…” Kanon shyly showed me the screen of her smartphone.

The screen showed a chat via social networks.

But there were only messages sent from Kanon’s side.

The other person’s name section indicated ‘Mom.’

Apparently, Kanon sent messages with a few words every day to my aunt.

But none of the ‘where are you?’ type was projected on the screen, but merely of trivial matters such as what she was doing at school or what she was eating.

“Actually, she hadn’t read them at all until yesterday… But when I looked today, they were in read status.”

I was shocked, and then looked once again at the screen more closely.

Indeed, each message had the word ‘read’ attached to it.

“Although, as usual, the calls won’t ring out… Kazu-nii, could I go take a look at the house tomorrow? There’s something I want to leave.”

“Something to leave?”

“Yes, a cultural festival ticket,” Kanon said it without hesitation, as if it was no big deal, but the atmosphere in the room halted for a moment.

“I gave it to her last year, but she couldn’t go because of work. But come on, this time… she shouldn’t have work, right? So, I thought probably…”

Although Kanon didn’t destroy her nonchalant attitude, I—and probably Himari—felt how much hope she had put into those words.

“Hm, I understand. In that case, I’ll go with you.”

“Are you sure?”

I nodded my head.

“It will be after I finish my work, though. Shall we meet at the station?”

“Yes, that’s fine… Thank you.”

Kanon made a small smile, as if relieved, and then looked at Himari, seeming regretful.

“I’m sorry, Himari. We may be home a little late for dinner tomorrow.”

“I’ll be fine. Go without worries.”

Thus it was decided to visit Kanon’s house again.

At lunchtime…

After finishing lunch in the cafeteria, I wandered alone to the emergency stair landing to make a call.

It was quiet there and people rarely passed by.

The bustling lunchtime atmosphere was completely changed by the quietness spread out on the emergency stairway, where it seemed one would be able to detect the movement of dust.

A little nervously, I located my father’s phone number in the smartphone’s contact book and tapped it.

My father was also at work, but he should be on his lunch break by now.

After a few rings, my father answered without saying his name with, 🔊: “Yeah, what’s up?”

“Sorry to be so sudden. I was interested to know if you’ve heard anything about my aunt…”

🔊: “Hmmm…” Pops groaned for a moment and then, “I have filed a missing person’s report, but so far there has been no noticeable progress.”

“I see…”

🔊: “And it doesn’t look like the police are going to search just because I’ve filed a report.”

“Huh? You think so?”

That was a considerably shocking piece of information.

🔊: “Yes. It seems that the type of people they’re searching for are either minors, elderly, or those who have some disability that impedes them from living on their own. Apparently, in the case of an independent adult who runs off on their own, they basically won’t be proactively tracked down unless there’s a criminal-type incident.”

“Certainly, the police don’t seem to have time to search for an adult who has absconded from home, huh?”

It was likely that the total number of missing person requests was quite large, and the reality was that they would not manage to effectively deal with all of these.

🔊: “And in the hypothetical event that they do find her, they say the police don’t have the legal power to make her come home.”

In other words, unless my aunt decided to return home of her own free will, she wouldn’t come back.

So that’s what it came down to, wasn’t it?

This… I couldn’t tell Kanon…

🔊: “Well, in that same hypothetical case, it looks like they’ll at least contact us to tell us where she went.”

“I see… There, I get it.”

Hopes seemed to be infinitely low…

🔊: “… How is Kanon-chan feeling?”

“She’s perky so far.”

🔊: “I see…”

The silence continued for several seconds.

There really wasn’t much more I could say regarding how Kanon was feeling.

I guess the truth is that she’s not too depressed thanks to Himari’s presence, but… after all, there’s no way I can tell my father about her.

🔊: “It seems impossible for her to be calm though… Kazuki, I’m sorry. Please take care of her a little while longer.”

“Yeah, no problem.”

🔊: “I’m going to hang up now because my break time is going to be over.”

“It’s the same for me. Thank you.”

After cutting the call, I exhaled deeply.

I had no idea how long that ‘a little while longer’ would be.

But at least I had decided to have Kanon stay at home while she was in high school.

At this point I wondered if Himari’s parents were really interested in finding her.

I had been checking the news without fail to make sure, but I hadn’t seen anything like ‘missing high-school girl’ yet.

After transferring onto the evening return train at rush hour, I arrived at the station in Kanon’s home area.

Many people got off at the previous station, so the number of those getting off at this station was quite sparse.

The meeting point should be in front of the station, but there was no sign of Kanon’s figure.

I took out my smartphone and was about to call Kanon, when I was called by her from behind with a “Kazu-nii!”

“Sorry. It was just that I was a little thirsty. I went to the convenience store and bought juice. For you too.” Kanon handed me the plastic bottle she brought.

At first glance I thought it was water, but upon closer inspection, it was peach juice.

I hadn’t had juice or anything like that in a long time. All I drank at home was my low-malt beer.

“I’m receiving it, then. Shall we go now?”

“Yes.”

I started walking as I opened the plastic bottle.

After I took a sip, a refreshing yet lingering sweetness remained in my mouth.

It had been a while since I’d had something this sweet. But it might be just the thing for a body tired from work.

Kanon also took a sip as she started walking.

“Phew… That’s cold.”

After reacting like an ojisan who has had a beer, Kanon took another sip and then gazed in a certain direction.

That was the direction where her house was.

“Yeah… Cold.”

I wondered if it was actually a word for her juice.

Kanon’s somewhat melancholy profile looked beautiful illuminated by the setting sun.

We arrived at Kanon’s apartment.

Maybe it was because I had been here once before, but this time I felt like we got here faster than before.

Kanon immediately took out the leaflets and envelopes that had piled up in the mailbox—just like last time—and then, with a habituated hand, took the keys out of her purse and unlocked the front door.

“Hmmm. The smell of the tatami is still quite strong.”

As soon as the front door opened, the smell of reeds wafted past our noses.

“I didn’t feel it smelled like that when I lived here, huh. I guess I didn’t notice it.”

“Don’t you think it’s because no one lives here anymore?”

“Hm, I see… Certainly, when you cook or do laundry or anything else related to daily life you’re going to generate some different smell. I see, it’s because there’s no one around, huh…?”

After taking off her shoes and entering the house, Kanon immediately turned on the light and went to the tatami room in the back.

I heard the sound of when she opened the window, and then immediately went back to the kitchen. Apparently, it was to air it out.

Kanon checked one by one for any important letters through the various flyers and envelopes she brought. Soon after, she threw all the flyers in the trash.

The one that remained was a postcard addressed to my aunt that had ‘medical review notification’ written on it.

Kanon placed the cultural festival ticket over that postcard and then took a picture of it with her smartphone.

It was probably meant to be sent to my aunt.

“Sent… With this she’ll know, right?”

She sent her the photo as soon as she could.

Auntie, read this and come back.

“I’m done with this, but…wait a minute. I want to take some clothes with me!” she said that and went to the tatami room again. I had nothing to do but wait.

However, that message on her smartphone…

It was then that Yuuri’s face came to my mind.

Now I realized that we had not exchanged contact information.

We exchanged cell phone numbers when we were in high school, but we never called each other.

The smartphone I have now has a different number than the one I had then.

That was because I dropped it once, and had it completely replaced.

I was relieved that there was no easy way to connect with Yuuri now.

Because I still hadn’t found the answer.

The sun had already set by the time we left Kanon’s house, and the sky had turned completely dark blue.

“Should we buy food at a convenience store or at the supermarket on the way back?”

“Yes. Himari is waiting.”

Since we left the house, I feel that the way Kanon walks is a little more spirited.

Maybe because the situation has moved on a bit more than when we went the first time and she cried before me.

At least, my aunt read Kanon’s messages.

“Hey, Kanon.”

“Hm?”

“Ah, you see, that…”

“…?”

Kanon tilted her head in questioning, but I couldn’t speak any further because I kept scratching my neck, which wasn’t even itchy.

At this point, I hesitated. I didn’t know if now was the right time to say it.

“What’s bothering you?”

“I have doubts whether I should mention it… In the hypothetical case that my aunt doesn’t come back, it’ll be fine for you to stay at my place… Hmmm, that way of putting it sounds like I’m putting on airs…”

“Kazu-nii…”

“It’s not like I’m saying that it’s impossible for her to come back. After all, I wish for my aunt to come back too, okay?!”

“I know, don’t take it so seriously.”

“I-I see…”

It was a sensitive topic that was difficult to touch on, but it was better to communicate it in advance…

It was probably easier to think optimistically, but it would also be easier in the future if I were prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“And for how long?”

“Hm?”

“How long could I stay at Kazu-nii’s house?”

“At least, you can stay until you graduate from high school, okay?”

“…After that?” Kanon asked me with her eyes looking up at me, as if hinting at something.

Hm… Sure, the way I just said it might have sounded like ‘take your ass out once you graduate.’ I didn’t mean it that way at all.

“It will depend on what you decide for your future.”

“Are you sure, Kazu-nii?”

“Eeh?”

“You won’t be able to eat my food after all, will you~?” Kanon smiled mischievously.

“That… To be honest, I’m going to miss you.”

“Wow?!”

“Don’t be surprised when you put on airs yourself. I think the food you prepare is delicious. I don’t mean that just as a compliment, of course!”

“Err… T-Thank you…”

“No, you’re the one who’s always been so helpful. Thank you.”

“Uhhh…”

Kanon’s face turned so red it became noteworthy.

I had been thinking for a while now that Kanon wasn’t very used to being thanked directly. Well, I myself was more or less similar.

Kanon kept walking while being flushed in the face for a while.

I didn’t want to tease her in a weird way, because it might put her in a bad mood, so I kept walking, pretending not to notice.

Suddenly I was pulled by the cuff of my suit.

“Hey… Kazu-nii. If it’s okay with you, I’ll cook food for you even after I graduate, okay…?” without looking at me, she whispered that while still holding the cuff of my suit between her fingers.

It took me a few seconds to understand what those words meant.

“What…? Eh…?!”

“Let’s hurry back!”

As if my answer wasn’t necessary, Kanon suddenly ran away. Perhaps to hide her embarrassment.

The way she was running was so light that it felt like that of a kid, clearly different from me.

“H-Hey, don’t make an adult who lacks exercise and is tired after work run!”

I immediately took off after her.

However, were Kanon’s words just now serious?

If so…

I also ran as fast as I could to shake off that unexplainable something that was generated in my heart.