EPUB download is now available (only volume 2). 1LDK&2JK. – Einherjar Project

EHJR Projject

On a night near the end of June.

While Himari was taking a bath, Kanon walked up to me saying, “…Kazu-nii.”

I, who was drinking my low malt beer while watching TV, put the can aside.

“What is it?”

“I have a favor to ask you… I’d like you to accompany me to Himari’s work the next time you are free…”

“…Huh?”

It probably wasn’t because of alcohol that I couldn’t immediately understand Kanon’s words.

“You mean you want to visit as a customer?”

“Yes…”

“But Kanon, wasn’t you telling me before? That it would be troublesome to go see Himari while she is working.”

I remembered clearly telling her that I was worried about how Himari was doing and suggested going to check on her, but Kanon strongly interjected by saying that.

“No. The circumstances are different from that time…” Kanon scratched her head while averting her gaze.

“What circumstances?”

“You know, I told you that we were going to have a cosplay café for the cultural festival. I thought I’d use it as a reference. To tell you the truth, there was discussion in class about adding one more item to the menu, but we couldn’t decide on anything yet.”

“It’s for a high school cultural festival, there’s no need to overthink it, don’t you agree? How about some frozen food so that you just have to heat it up?”

I mean, do it in a lax way. I think, being a high school cultural festival, you’re allowed to do anything that somehow works.

“I think so too. But it’s difficult because there are those who have the idea of doing it properly, especially when we’re getting money, you know…”

“I see…”

Certainly, it’s hard to get a class to agree on a single idea on this sort of thing.

Especially when you have a mix of people who want to take it seriously and people who just want to finish it passably.

…As I thought about it, I was taken back to the memories of days long gone by.

“But this telling me you’re on the side of those who want to do it properly, isn’t it, Kanon?”

“Well… If Kazu-nii and Himari are coming, I want to show them the best I can.”

Perhaps because she was a bit embarrassed, Kanon suddenly averted her face.

Kanon’s heart was honestly happy.

At the same time, I was a little dazzled by such innocence that had completely vanished from me.

“So, I’ll actually go to a maid café because I’d like to get some insight. But I’ve never been to a place like that, so I’m a little afraid… That’s why I’d like you to come with me.”

“That being the case, I get it. But do you think it’s necessary to go specifically to the establishment where Himari works?”

“Oh, come on! I guess I’m curious to have a look at Himari as a maid. To be honest, I can’t wait to watch her, you know? Don’t you want to see her, Kazu-nii?”

“If I had to say whether I want to see her or not, I’d say that I want to see her…”

Not at all in an obscene sense, I was just curious.

Besides, I had helped Himari with her customer service practices before.

Actually, I was interested to see if she had improved since then.

“Good. Then, we’ll go as soon as you finish work tomorrow. Himari has precisely tomorrow night’s shift.”

Thus, Kanon and I, hiding it from Himari, decided to sneak into the maid’s café.

I finished my duties, and quickly prepared to leave as I looked at my watch.

Today I had not been able to finish my work easily.

I went to conduct some interviews with other departments for some incomplete receipts, which took me longer than I thought it would. Thanks to that, I went a little over my regular schedule.

I had to hurry because Kanon was waiting.

“What’s with that rush, Komamura? Are you going to turn me down today, too?”

“Yeah. I got an invitation. I’m sorry.”

“Hmm. In such a hurry, do you have a date?”

“I’m telling you, it’s something else.”

Maybe going out alone together with a high school girl looks like a date in the eyes of others, but…

Kanon was just my cousin. Today too, I’d just be her chaperone.

“Well, next time you’re free, you could also hang out with me, okay? It’s just that there’s something I want to talk to you about…

“…Got it.” After giving him a light reply, I left the office in quick strides.

However, it was unusual for Isobe to come with a consultation in a down mood.

It had a different atmosphere than one of those usual light talks about love that were just laughable.

That guy had the same kind of problems as everyone else, huh?

As I thought about it, I headed to the station where I would meet Kanon.

Kanon was already waiting by the station. She was sitting in a planter before a tree in apparent boredom.

Even though I contacted her as soon as I left the office, I felt guilty.

“I’m sorry I was a little late.”

“Ah, no worries. I’m fine. Good work.”

“Thank you. So, shall we go?”

I moved ahead of Kanon at a fast pace.

I couldn’t walk side by side because the words Kanon said to me that time were flashing in my head.

No, I was being strangely conscious. She could have said those words to me in sympathy because I didn’t know how to cook.

It was wrong to think it was like a marriage proposal.

Calm down. She’s still a high school girl.

“Kazu-nii. It’s not over there, it’s over here on the left.”

“Oh?” Kanon called out to me from behind, and I hurriedly turned around.

Kanon looked alternately between me and her smartphone as she pointed and said, “This way.”

She learned the establishment’s information when Himari wrote her resume, so she was checking with the map app as we moved along.

Apparently, while I was with my thoughts, I had passed the road where we were supposed to turn. I quickly made a U-turn.

“Kazu-nii, could it be that you’re bad with directions?”

“No, I’m not. I was just a bit absent-minded.”

“Hmmm…?” Kanon smiled and looked at me as if she wanted to say something, but seriously, I didn’t have a bad nose for addresses.

…Maybe a little bit.

“Ah. Looks like it’s here.” As soon as we turned down the street, Kanon stopped and pointed to the building across the street.

It was a gray, six-story building.

There was a list of plates with the names of the establishments attached to the side of the narrow entrance leading to the elevator.

There was no need to check the list of establishments. Himari’s part-time workplace was just ahead—on the ground floor.

There were large windows like those in stylized cafés, through which the interior could be seen very well from the outside.

On the walls of the establishment were lined up various cute decorations, such as pink and orange hearts, stars, and the like.

The maids walking inside were wearing black frilly maid outfits and had cat ears and tails attached to them.

Himari’s figure was not visible from here. I wondered if she was inside.

Kanon and I reflexively looked at each other in the face of this particular atmosphere.

“Shall we go inside for now?”

“Y-Yes.”

Determined, I pushed the heavy glass door.

“Welcome, nyan!!!” The moment we entered the establishment, the maids said that in unison to Kanon and me.

I knew about it because I had accompanied Himari with her customer service practice, but I felt very embarrassed to be practically greeted with an ultra-welcome…

“Come in, I’ll take you to your seats, nyan…”

The maid oneesan standing near the entrance led us to our table.

She led us to a spotless white table. Since we didn’t know what to do, we meekly obeyed her guidance like docile kittens.

As soon as she sat down, though, Kanon began looking around the establishment curiously.

“Where is Himari?” she muttered immediately.

“I-br-got you water…nyan.”

That overly shaky voice was so familiar to me.

I looked up, and there was Himari with cat ears and tail, like all the other maids, carrying a tray with water and wipes.

Attached to her chest was a nameplate with ‘Maron’ written on it in nice round letters.

It was the first time I had seen these maid outfits up close, but they were certainly pretty.

Was that a farthingale? At first glance, voluminous white ruffles were visible underneath the short skirt.

Combined with the white knee-high stockings, it gave a very cosplay feel, but her aura itself was also very cute.

…I couldn’t help but stare at her—however, Himari’s face was as red as a lobster.

“How cute…” expressed Kanon while in a half-boke state, to which Himari replied, “Th-Thank you…” in a gradually fading tone…

Then, while trembling, Himari put down the water and wipes.

“W-why are you here…?” Himari asked us in a low tone so that the other employees could not hear.

“Hey, I mentioned to you that we were going to do a cosplay café for the cultural festival, right? So, I thought I would use this as a reference.”

“I-I see…” As she answered, she trembled even more, just like a newborn fawn.

I felt a little sorry to see her in such a trembling state.

“You see… For the others, the fact that we are acquaintances…”

“No problem. We’ll behave like normal customers.”

When I told her that, Himari’s expression seemed relieved, and then she put the menu down on the table.

“Then, please. Ahem. Once again… Is this your first time here…nyan?”

Ah, after all, she still wasn’t good at adding the ‘nyan.’

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

While Kanon and I answered, Himari was smiling.

“Then, let me explain the system of this establishment, nyan. By the way, my name is Maron. Nice to meet you, nyan!”

Oh, this…

She seemed to have activated her ‘customer service’ mode.

Kanon and I listened attentively to Himari’s explanation, who was into her neko-maid role completely.

Having finished listening to Himari’s brief explanation of the menu, we were seriously worried about what to order.

That was because the menu overall was more expensive than I had thought.

Well, nothing to do when you consider that maid service is included… I thought so, but honestly it was hard to say, since I wasn’t planning to spend that much today.

Then, my eyes met Kanon’s, who was sitting across from me.

Apparently, Kanon was thinking the same thing. Her face had a pronounced shade of puzzlement, which said, “What should we order…?”

“Ask for whatever you wish, okay?” it was the pitiful nature of an old man who wanted to look cool in front of a high school girl at times like this. Maybe it’s just me, though.

“But… It’s really no problem?”

“There’s no problem, so don’t worry.”

“I see. Then, I’ll order the option to have my picture taken together with a maid.”

The option Kanon chose was a combo of an omurice, salad and drink. The label ‘Recommended!’ was highlighted in red letters.

No need to guess, I was sure she wanted to have her picture taken with Himari.

I silently confirmed the price.

…Okay. I would order just a drink. I could have a cup of ramen for dinner when I got home. Well, I had already told Kanon, but I had no choice but to do my best to economize, uh…

Oblivious to Kanon’s and my concerns, Himari operated smoothly in a state overflowing with confidence.

Himari treated in a cat-like (?) style—very impressive, in fact—another client.

Kanon stuffed her mouth with her omurice while casting glances at Himari’s movements.

“Ah. This is good. Is it prepared here? It doesn’t taste like frozen meal,” Kanon commented quietly. I guess it’s because she’s been in contact with cooking for several years.

I was engaged in drinking my ginger ale with a cute, curved cat-shaped straw…

Click—the sound of a camera shutter struck my eardrums.

When I realized, Kanon was smiling while holding her smartphone.

Wait, even though just a moment ago she was eating her omurice, she pulled out her smartphone too quickly.

“Kazu-nii’s sour face, it seriously doesn’t match that cute neko-chan straw. How funny.”

“Don’t tease me…”

Totally, I knew it didn’t match me.

But that being said, I felt that it doesn’t fit with any of the customers inside the establishment.

Well… This was something I shouldn’t mention.

Since the reason for coming here was to enjoy this unusual space.

I stared at the cat-shaped straw, which I would probably never use again, and then drank the rest of the ginger ale.

After we left the maids’ café, we walked through the completely dark night streets.

“By the way, was it helpful?”

“Yes, very much so. After all, it’s the kind of thing you have to experience in person. Thank you.”

“In that case, I’m glad.”

“…Besides, Himari was so cute, wasn’t she?” Kanon muttered to herself while looking at the photo she took together with Himari.

On the photo was written ‘Thank you ♥’ in light blue pen.

Kanon seemed to be feeling lonely. I wondered if it was because Himari turned out to be so popular with the other customers and she practically didn’t pass by our table due to being continuously picked out.

“Right.”

“Besides, she worked so skillful. There’s a difference from that appearance to how it is in the house, isn’t there?”

Himari worked very hard, and unlike her normal, slightly distracted image, she was highly confident.

To be honest, my image of her had improved a bit.

“Maybe I should also get a part-time job?”

“Kanon, if you really want to do it, I won’t object, but… if the reason is something like you feel bad about me because of the money, I won’t let you.”

Kanon looked straight at me, surprised.

Apparently, I was right.

“Don’t worry about the money.”

After all, I didn’t want her to worry about it.

‘I’m providing Kanon with a suitable living environment…’ It’s a fact that I couldn’t nod in full faith, but I didn’t think it was necessary for Kanon to have to fill that gap.

To begin with, just having Kanon doing the shopping and cooking was more than enough to help me.

“Okay… I understand,” as she replied in a voice of indecipherable emotions, she stopped at the intersection. I moved to her side.

As I stood beside her once again, I realized how small Kanon was.

But as small as she was, she was much tougher than me.

“Ah, Kazu-nii, look.”

“Hmm?”

She spoke to me with a completely different tension than how she replied before.

Kanon was pointing to a corner of a leafy street tree.

Attached to a branch of the tree was an elongated, thin object wrapped in white thread.

“Ah, that… is that a butterfly chrysalis?”

“Right. Maybe the first time I’ve ever seen one. For it to be in a place like this… Even though there’s a highway in front of it.”

“Certainly, it has managed to survive.”

“Even when it becomes a butterfly, it will have a hard time.”

Although there were scattered trees on the sidewalks, from a human perspective, this area seemed too harsh an environment for a butterfly to live in.

Yet this one here had survived so far.

At that moment, the traffic signal changed, and we began to walk parallel with the flow of people.

Suddenly, the butterfly sticker on Himari’s fingernails popped into my brain.

Right…

Even if I didn’t have any personal expectations, if it was Himari, she sure…

“Kazu-nii? Is something wrong?” Kanon turned to me, as I had been delayed by walking slowly.

“No, it’s nothing. I’m sorry.”

“Is that so? That’s a relief. I was thinking about what to do if you said something like you’d take it home because you wanted to see the chrysalis from earlier hatch.”

“I wouldn’t do something a grade-schooler would do!”

For some reason, when I became an adult, I stopped liking bugs in general.

I couldn’t believe that I was holding cicadas and mantises with my bare hands when I was in elementary school… Thinking about it, I felt my own ‘adult’ change.

“Komamura-san, did you bring the tickets?”

“Hmm. No problem.”

“What about the guidebook?”

“…I forgot it.”

“That’s a problem. Without it, we won’t know what they’ll have in each room, you know? Where’d you leave it? I’ll go pick it up.”

“I left it on the table in the living room. Sorry.”

Himari took a short jog from the entrance, heading for the living room.

I stared at her back and felt a little depressed.

Being scolded in a serious manner by someone younger causes considerable damage to the mind, huh…

To recover, I raised my arms and stretched them out.

Finally, today was Kanon’s school’s cultural festival.

I took the train together with Himari to Kanon’s school.

Even though we left home early, there were already a lot of people lining up at the place to enter through the school gates.

It wasn’t my alma mater, but it had been a while since I had been in a school space, so I had some nostalgia overflowing.

“Amazing… It’s already crowded, isn’t it?”

I assumed that the only people who were given tickets were relatives and acquaintances of the students; however, the number of people was quite considerable.

While we were still in awe, Himari and I lined up at the end of the line.

At that moment, the broadcast bells rang with a pleasant ‘din-don-dan.’

🔊: “Thank you very much for attending the festival today. From now on, the gates will be opened. Please enjoy.”

A particular announcement, with the gentle and polite voice of a girl. When the somewhat monotonous announcement ended, the people who were lined up relatively quietly, suddenly became noisy.

It seemed that some students, operating as receptionists at the front, started checking tickets.

I handed Himari the light blue ticket I had kept in my wallet.

“I’m so excited for my first time seeing another school’s cultural festival!” said Himari all excited, as she looked emotionally at the ticket.

This was the first time for me too.

Well, it was a high school cultural festival. Better to relax and enjoy.

The line moved smoothly because of the many receptionists.

After they tore tickets, we moved forward with the flow of people.

“Wow…! Amazing!”

What jumped into our field of vision was the huge mosaic art that adorned the front of the shoe closet.

There were depicted with a realistic touch a dog and a cat on each side, and in the center, in red letters, was written the word ‘Welcome.’

On the edge was handwritten ‘By: Student Council.’

A large collection of photos was used to do this. Apparently, they were photos exclusively of students from this school.

Although when you looked at it up closely it looked like nothing more than a collection of photos, if you looked at it from a distance, it looked like a single image. It was truly amazing.

“Is Kanon-chan here?”

“Don’t tell me you intend to look for her. It’ll take you all day, you know.”

“Uh… Right… For now, let’s take a picture!”

At Himari’s demand, I took my smartphone out of my pocket.

Everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing, as many people besides me were pointing the smartphone at the mosaic art.

When I finished taking the photo, I looked at the informational paper Himari was holding.

I was surprised by the high number of exhibits from the beginning; still, we were just at the entrance.

Besides, today’s main destination was the cosplay café in Kanon’s class.

“Himari, where is Kanon’s class?”

“Let me see… if I’m not mistaken, Kanon-chan said hers was class four… Here it is! It’s the third floor of the north building.”

The printed guidebook included a map of the school.

Himari pointed to classroom 2-4 in it.

“Okay. So, shall we go already?”

“Of course! Fufufufu… Can’t wait to see Kanon-chan’s cosplay…”

A shady smile flashed on Himari’s face. Wait, I didn’t know if I had seen wrong, but I thought I saw a cunning glint in her eyes for an instant.

For now, the first thing we did was to head to Kanon’s classroom.

Thanks to the map, we reached our destination, room 2-4, without getting lost.

And once again, thanks to Himari, who reminded me of it when I had forgotten it at home.

If it wasn’t for that informative paper, we would definitely have wasted time.

Leaving that aside…

“There’s already a line…” Himari muttered, looking frustrated. Although I thought we had come relatively quickly, it was just as Himari said: a line had already formed outside the classroom.

However, you could see what was going on inside through the open windows.

There, students wore different costumes and moved around to welcome the customers.

While there were those who were dressed as a typical maid, there were those who wore big black hats and capes like that of a witch.

The variety of cosplay was quite chaotic. There was a prince in white tights, a chunky guy dressed as a pink magical girl, a half-naked guy in a horse mask, and a gray-suited alien with little antennae growing out of its head.

“Thank you for waiting. Here’s your orange juice. ☆”

“Dear lady, here’s our apple pancake.”

“Here, lemon tea!”

Perhaps because they made their pitch match the characters’, the tones of voice were uneven, and the atmosphere of the classroom was like a dark hotpot.

But it was quite interesting. All the customers seemed happy.

“Look. That girl’s outfit is mega-cute, isn’t it?”

“Wow, really. Or rather, the girl herself is mega-cute.”

“Right.”

I was unwittingly overhearing the conversation of some girls up ahead. However, what was in the girls’ line of sight was Kanon.

Kanon was wearing what appeared to be a knee-length wedding dress, and she was also wearing a veil on her head.

“…Komamura-san, take a picture, please,” Himari murmured quietly but in a high-pitched voice.

The way she was looking at Kanon was so serious. It was strangely intense and a bit scary.

I pointed my smartphone at Kanon, just as Himari requested.

Kanon was so busy attending to customers that she didn’t seem to have noticed us yet.

“So good… I’m almost drooling…”

“What?”

Himari said something cryptic with a very serious expression.

I still didn’t quite understand Himari’s sensitivity…

We waited for five minutes before we were able to go inside.

In the waiting time, Himari stared at Kanon while repeatedly asking me, “Komamura-san, when we go home, please show me one more time the picture you took earlier.” The moment we entered, Kanon looked at us and in surprise expressed an. “Oh.”

I heard a fellow girl in her class who upon seeing the situation said to Kanon, “Go.”

By the way, the girl had a fairy cosplay.

I had a feeling I had seen those costumes at playdates in kindergarten, but there was a different kind of ‘cuteness’ when it was dressed by a high school student…

We were guided to our seats and, just as we sat down, Kanon came to our table.

“Thank you both for coming. Or rather, you came very quickly.”

“Tee-hee. We came here straight away. Kanon-chan, that dress is so cute!”

“Th-Thank you…” It’s because there’s a girl who has a hobby of making cosplay dresses. She made most of the dresses for us. But seriously, I didn’t think I’d end up wearing this…” Kanon shyly grabbed the hem of the dress and the veil.

“Shy Kanon-chan is something fresh and so good…”

“What are you talking about?!”

I felt it was the same situation for Himari the other day at the maid café.

Well, let’s stop with the tsukkomis now.

“So, what are you going to order?”

As if to disguise embarrassment, Kanon pointed sharply to the laminated menus on the table.

Apparently, one could choose a drink and a dessert.

“Apple juice and a small pancake!”

“I’ll have an iced coffee and a chiffon.”

“Roger. Wait a moment, okay? Since the cakes were made at the cooking club, they’re delicious. I’ve tasted them myself.” As she said this, she turned her white veil and walked to one end of the room.

At the far end were the packaged cakes and a cooler box that probably contained the juices.

Not long after, Kanon brought the drinks and cakes we ordered.

“Sorry for the wait.”

“Thank you, Kanon-chan.”

“To tell you the truth, small pancakes were not on the menu at first.”

“Huh? Is that so?”

“Yes. There are pancakes where Himari works, remember? So, I made the slight suggestion, and it was accepted immediately. Unlike a pancake or something like that, if it’s about to run out, it can be baked right away in the home economics classroom.”

“I see… Tee-hee. I’m glad you used it as a reference.”

I hadn’t checked out the entire menu at the place where Himari worked, so I hadn’t noticed about the pancakes…

However, Kanon made the best of that inspection.

It wasn’t like I had done anything, but I was glad.

“We’re taking turns, so I’ll go out and check around later. But I promised my friends we’d go together… Ah, but maybe I can be with you if it’s just for a little while.”

“When is your break?”

“At eleven.”

“Then, we’ll meet you at that time!”

“Okay. Until then, you two have fun. There are not only exhibits and booths, but performances.”

“All right. We’ll take a look at the other events.”

As I ate the moderately sized chiffon, I saw the two of them smiling at each other.

Hmmm…

Fluffy and soft, with just the right sweetness. It tasted like it was targeting adults.

The candy appraiser in my head gave it a ✓ of approved.

After finishing our cakes, we left Kanon’s classroom and went back to look at the information paper.

Not only was there the map of the school, but also the schedule of the plays, song and dance performances that would be held on the gymnasium stage.

“Where are we going next?”

“Hmmm… What about going to the ones that have to do with food first? Later they might be sold out.”

“Certainly. I’d rather regret having a stuffed stomach than not being able to eat. So, let’s go to the courtyard where the stands are gathered!”

I started walking as soon as I could, but Himari’s gait was very light.

The edges of her mouth lifted conveying that she was really enjoying herself.

“Note aside, Kanon-chan’s cosplay was super cute, wasn’t it…?”

“Indeed, it was cute.”

“I, someday… also a wed… dress…” Himari was about to say something, when she waved her hands quickly and said, “Ah, i-it’s nothing.”

Well, I was saved, because it would have been a problem to react to that.

“Well, it’s just that the girls in front of us were praising Kanon-chan, and I was also so proud. You know, like ‘hm-hmm, isn’t our Kanon-chan very cute? Fufufufu.”

What was with that Kansai accent so suddenly? Or rather, that was the mentality of someone who’s totally a relative…

Wait, you could certainly tell they were related.

But right, it’s like this…

Our cohabitation is irregular—however, when I look back on our days living together, we are already like a family…

There is a little over a month left.

Suddenly, the deadline Himari had set for herself popped into my mind.

Although there was some margin, it sure felt short.

I don’t intend to deny that my heart felt a ‘loneliness’ at the thought of being separated from her.

We intended to eat all the food at the stands, but we ended up eating only two dishes.

That was because we started with a ‘karaage jumbo,’ followed by curry—a menu that left us stuffed to the gills.

We started with a store across the street, which was a complete strategic mistake.

Honestly, I still had some room left, but in that it was just me, and I would have to leave Himari alone… so, although it was a shame, I decided to tag along.

“Uh… It stuffed me up more than I thought… Even though I wanted to eat sausages, takoyaki and pancakes…”

“How about going to the gym for now? After a while, you might be ready to eat again.”

“Let’s do that.”

Had it been Kanon, she could afford to eat all the menus at the stands, huh.

I left the courtyard while inevitably thinking that.

When we entered the gym, only the stage lights were on.

On the stage several girls were coordinately dancing to a fast-paced song.

“It looks like it’s the dance club performance right now,” said Himari as she checked the program.

Due to the colorful spotlights turning on and off, Himari’s profile was glowing.

The girls continued to show off their intense moves coordinated to perfection. They were movements from which one could infer that they had practiced hard for this day.

Perhaps inspired by their fervent effort, those times when I devoted myself body and soul flashed through my brain.

Although, I certainly didn’t get to be ‘special.’

Those days when I worked so hard at one thing were not an illusion. It was a fact that they still existed within me.

And these girls were definitely working hard now.

Those girls, younger than me and whose names I didn’t know, moving on stage seemed radiant to me.

After the dance was over, next up was a play by the drama club.

Despite the feminine title of The Little Mermaid, all the actors on stage were men, starting with the lead role as the little mermaid, the prince, the nun, the witch, and the little mermaid’s sisters.

Although it was a sad story, the audience cheered and laughed incessantly as the boys delivered their dialogue in falsetto. Swept up in the atmosphere, I ended up laughing too.

The play of the little mermaid recited in falsetto ran its course…

“It was funny. Gender-switching stories are delightful, whether in two or three dimensions.”

“Delightful?”

“Yes. But that aside, the little mermaid…” Himari muttered, looking somewhat forlorn and then gazed up at me…

A tear fell from Himari’s eye and slid down her cheek.

“…?! Is something wrong?!”

“N-No, that… I’m sorry. I had fun with the play just now, but the story was still sad…”

“Surely, it’s bitter…”

The Little Mermaid… It was the first time I found out what it’s about.

The little mermaid used to live happily with her sisters. There was a rule that, at the age of fifteen, they could go to the human world, and the little mermaid was looking forward to it.

Finally, the day came. The little mermaid emerged from the sea and fell in love at first sight with a prince aboard a ship.

However, a storm suddenly struck, and the prince fell from the ship into the sea, but the little mermaid saved him and tried to reanimate him on the beach.

But when the little mermaid sensed the presence of people, she quickly hid in the sea. A nun arrived and then treated the collapsed prince. At that moment, the prince woke up and mistakenly believed that the nun was the one who had saved him.

The little mermaid, who had a strong desire to become human to stand by the prince’s side, asked the witch to turn her into a human.

The witch revealed to her that in return she would lose her voice and that, were the prince to marry other woman, she would evaporate, becoming a bubble. Accepting this condition, the mermaid took the potion that would turn her into a human, falling asleep near the prince’s castle.

When the little mermaid awoke, her beloved prince appeared before her, but she had lost her voice, being unable to speak at all. Nevertheless, the prince took the little mermaid to the castle to live together.

But the prince kept thinking of the nun who helped him. The little mermaid wanted to say that she was the one who saved the prince, but it didn’t happen, because she couldn’t speak.

Soon the prince was engaged in marriage talks with a princess from a neighboring country. That princess was the nun the prince kept thinking about.

At this rate, the little mermaid would disappear like a bubble… Her sisters, sensing the threat, gave the little mermaid a knife and told her to kill him, but time passed, and the little mermaid was unable to kill the prince.

The mermaid jumped into the sea on her own, finally vanishing like bubbles.

…With that said, it was an extreme love tragedy.

I was only vaguely familiar with the part at the end where she turned into bubbles, but I didn’t know the sequence of events…

Not surprisingly, Himari, who seemed to have a strong sensitivity, ended up crying.

“Hey… Just supposing… If Komamura-san were the prince…”

“Hmm?”

What was up with that premise so suddenly, me as the prince?

While confused, I waited for Himari’s words to continue.

“If…the little mermaid when she became human could talk…what do you think you would have done, Komamura-san? Do you think Prince Komamura-san would have married the little mermaid?”

“That… Maybe he wouldn’t have.”

“…Eh.”

“Supposing the little mermaid had said ‘I saved you,’ there would be no evidence that the little mermaid, who turned human, would have been the one who saved me. So, I would give priority to the feelings I would already have built for the nun, don’t you think…? Probably, it would be like that.”

“Even if the little mermaid says, ‘I love you’?” Himari’s eyes, illuminated by the dim luminaries of the gymnasium, were earnest.

Then I understood.

These were the feelings contained in Himari’s chest borrowing a ‘what if.’

It was not a fictitious story. It carried her feelings.

I let out a short breath… I made up my mind and opened my mouth:

“Hmm, I won’t change. I will not marry the little mermaid.”

“…I… see…” Himari looked away, looking grim.

Was it guilt that made my chest ache?

Maybe I was an existence like the prince inside Himari. But I wasn’t a prince.

I was an ordinary office worker.

To begin with, I didn’t rescue Himari when I met her on the train. I just talked to her.

I let her stay at home because Kanon told me so. If Kanon hadn’t been there, I would have kicked her out as soon as possible.

I wasn’t the kind of person Himari expected. So…

“…It’s almost 11:00. Let’s go.”

Realizing that it was almost time for Kanon’s break, we left the gym.

Himari remained silent for a while.

When we got back to the classroom, Kanon had just stepped out into the hallway.

“Oh, just in time.”

“Kanon-chan, are you still in the dress?”

“Yes. That’s because I’m still working after I finish my break. It’s a little embarrassing, but there are many similarly dressed, so I figured it was okay.”

Certainly, I had noticed many students walking around still wearing their performance dresses, like the girls at the dance club I saw earlier. Thinking about it, Kanon wasn’t much different.

“I don’t have much time, so let’s do a quick tour, shall we? I want to go to the food stands.”

“I figured you’d say that.”

It was Kanon the glutton. There was no way she was going to ignore the food.

Going, “Mmh,” Kanon pouted.

“Ah, I’ve already eaten my fill, so I have no need,” Himari timidly raised her hand. It seemed that the karaage and curry from earlier were still in her stomach.

“I see… Ah, then, let’s hold hands.”

“Yup!”

I honestly couldn’t understand how she got to that course with ‘then.’ Was that the difference between a current high school student and a man nearing thirty?

No… I feel like even if I were a high school student now, I wouldn’t be able to understand that course.

However, Himari’s smile, which had disappeared since she left the gym, returned, and that was a relief.

I was the one to blame, but still, I wanted both Kanon and Himari to smile. I wondered if it was just my selfishness that wanted that.

As soon as we reached the courtyard where the stands were, Kanon’s eyes lit up. She was certainly easy to read, huh.

“Himari, what did you eat earlier?”

“Karaage and curry.”

“Ah, let’s go for it.”

Bursting with energy, Kanon lined up at the jumbo karaage stand. Himari and I waited for her from afar.

Soon after, Kanon returned with the karaage and, after passing it to me while saying, “Hold it for me for a moment,” went to line up at the curry stand this time.

Kanon returned with us, and excitedly put the karaage in the curry.

“I see… I should have eaten like this.”

“Heh heh heh. Tasty foods go well together, you know.”

“Kanon-chan. Please be careful not to get your dress dirty, okay?”

“Hmm. Right, curry is the natural enemy of white dresses. Now that you mention it, I’ve got the jitters…”

“Ah. The classrooms became dining rooms. Let’s look for seats.”

So, we moved to the classrooms located next to the courtyard. It seemed that some classrooms on the second floor were serving as dining rooms. Previously I was so focused on checking out the booths that I didn’t notice.

We entered a classroom, and Himari and I watched as Kanon ate her karaage-curry. Kanon finished the curry at a surprising pace.

I had heard the expression that curry goes in a drink, so I ended up thinking for a moment, ‘is karaage also a drink?’

It was likely that Kanon was slowing herself down when she ate at home…

“Seeing the way Kanon-chan eats is refreshing, or rather, it feels delightful, doesn’t it?”

“Indeed…”

Himari burst out in a small giggle.

“What-What do you mean Himari? Today it’s like always, it should be fine, right…?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that Kanon-chan’s appearance… It’s inevitable that you look like a bride heartily eating the food at her marriage ceremony.”

“Bghh?!” Kanon made a grunt and turned red.

“Hmm. But Kanon-chan is really like a bride. She’s beautiful, pretty and can cook. She’s the perfect wife. She is superb.”

“What… Himari?! What are you talking about?!”

Even though she was out of her senses, Kanon looked in my direction for a moment.

On the one hand, I thought that, indeed, Kanon in her white wedding dress was beautiful, having the youthfulness of a high school girl and the maturity of an adult coexisting…

“Even when I graduate, I will continue to cook for Kazu-nii…”

And on the other hand, I ended up remembering what happened the other day.

“Certainly, it’s like Himari says. Teach me how to cook from now on.”

Instantly, Kanon’s shoulders shook, and her face went rigid.

“Kanon-chan?”

“…”

Probably, she understood the meaning of my words just now.

Kanon replied with a brief “Hmm, okay,” but her expression was close to blank.

Forgive me, Kanon…

But I…

“Ah, eh. Come to think of it, I didn’t buy a drink. I’m thirsty, I’ll get some juice.” Kanon quickly got up.

Then Himari also followed her, while saying, “Ah, I’m thirsty too.”

I also left the classroom behind them.

…I thought Kanon would match better with a better man than I.

I didn’t think it was good to tie the hearts of endlessly potential young girls to a mediocre, worthless guy.

I was thinking that on the one hand, but on the other hand, I felt an indescribable sense of guilt that I had clearly hurt Kanon’s heart.

Both Kanon and Himari, why with me?

After that, Kanon returned to her duties at the cosplay café.

In the end, Himari’s stomach couldn’t make any more room even after browsing the exhibition section. After that, we left the school long before the event ended.

Well, we were able to go to Kanon’s cosplay café, which was our main goal, so I had nothing to regret.

Himari did have regrets saying, “The sausages…the takoyaki… the crepes…”

Although you can always buy sausages, takoyaki or crepes at a super or convenience store… I’m sure it wasn’t because of the food itself.

It was because it’s fun to eat them in an unusual place.

“Hey, Komamura-san. There’s a place I’d like to stop by…” We were on our way to the station when Himari suddenly said that.

“Hmm, is that so?”

“You see, err… I want to buy a book. I’ll pay for it with my money, of course.”

“I see. I don’t see why not to go.”

Certainly, I hadn’t bought any books since Himari came home. Well, originally it wasn’t as if I bought that many.

But Himari seemed to love manga, and it would certainly be hard to live without these for so long. So, we decided to take a detour.

Where Himari took me was to a neighborhood full of ‘otaku establishments’, so to speak.

It was a holiday and there were a lot of people walking down the street.

This was something I had also thought about when I went to Himari’s maid café, but since I hardly ever come to places full of establishments like these, all the locales that came into my view made me curious.

I was walking in a slightly touristy mood when, all of a sudden, Himari grabbed my arm and led me into a narrow alleyway between two buildings.

“…?! Wh-What’s the matter, Himari?!”

Himari didn’t answer but only hurried me to the bottom of the dark and narrow alley.

I could feel the strong impatience she had from her tight grip on my arm.

There was a strong smell of oil in the air.

Maybe it was because this was behind a Chinese food restaurant.

“I’m sorry, Komamura-san… Please, let’s stay hidden,” she finally stopped, and muttered that with a pale face.

Himari leaned her back against the wall of the building so that she could hide her face with the electricity meter.

Then she squeezed the hem of my clothes. Her hands were shaking a little.

It was such a narrow place that no two people could pass each other, so I was in a position where it looked as if I was doing a kabedon to Himari.

Just as I was about to ask why, Himari opened her mouth:

“There… t-there up ahead is a person related to my family… I didn’t expect them to come looking for me here…”

The instant I heard that, I felt my body temperature cool down in one fell swoop.

“What does this person look like?”

“It’s a young woman in her twenties. Long black hair, and she’s a little taller than me. She’s wearing a white shirt…”

I glanced out of the corner of my eye towards the street.

What could be seen from the narrow back alley were many women and men of all ages coming and going down the street. There was no one focusing their attention on a dark, narrow place like this.

But still, I wrapped my arms gently around her body so that no one could see her from the street.

Contrary to the bustle that could be heard from the street, around Himari and I there was only a painful tension.

I stared at the street for a while…

“Ah…”

A woman with the features Himari mentioned just passed by.

Then, for a moment we made eye contact.

There was a sharp glint in her eye, like that of a predator targeting its prey.

“Hi?!” instinctively, my breath caught.

Relax. She shouldn’t be able to spot Himari.

From the other side, we should look like a man and a woman flirting in a narrow alley.

The woman who saw this way…

As if in a state of ‘I saw something I shouldn’t see,’ she turned her gaze to the front, and walked past.

I could feel my heart pounding at twice its rate. I could also feel a nasty sweat running down my back.

Even though I was still, my breathing was a mess, as if I had been sprinting just now.

I didn’t want to move for a while. No. Rather, I was unable to move.

How long had we stayed like this?

I just could’t think of anything during that time.

I couldn’t even think about what I would do if it was discovered that I was hiding Himari at home.

My mind was simply blank.

“Errr… Komamura-san…”

Himari’s call finally brought me back to my senses.

I knew it was a bit late at this point, but my distance from Himari was very close… From that alone, I already felt we were at a dangerous extreme.

“Is she still there?”

“…I’ll go check it out.”

I separated from Himari and walked out of the alley to the street.

I deliberately looked in the direction the woman from before headed, but there was no sign of her.

I communicated this to Himari by making a circle sign with my hands.

Himari came out of the alley timidly.

“Hey, about the person from before…”

“That… Do you mind if we talk when we get home and not while walking…?”

Surely, it was best to get away from here as soon as possible. Or rather, I wanted to get away.

We canceled our trip to the bookstore and headed for the station at a brisk pace.

※※※

At the school facilities, after the cultural festival was over, everyone was cleaning up.

Everyone in Kanon’s class had already changed clothes and was progressively doing the dismantling work.

“I didn’t think so many people would come, you know?”

“Yeah, right. Since you mention it, Kanon-chan, your cousin from that day came, wasn’t she?”

“The other person, the uncle, is also your cousin, right?”

Yuiko and Urara were talking to Kanon while tearing off the wall decorations.

“Ah… yes. I’m glad they both came. It was a bit embarrassing, though…”

“That again. That dress looks great on you.”

“Umm. Although I think it would look good on anyone…”

“You think so?

“It’s because it’s Kanon, right?”

“Right, right. It would be impossible for me. Knee-length, no way!”

Cleaning progressed as they chatted.

Even though the preparations took a long time, the cleaning is progressing at twice the speed. That’s kind of sad, huh… Kanon thought.

She had really enjoyed this year’s cultural festival.

She had enjoyed it, but…it had also left a great uncertainty in her heart.

I wonder if I was rejected by Kazu-nii…

Because those could equally well have been words he said with a genuine desire for her to teach him how to cook, but again, they might not have been…

Just thinking about it made her thoughts turn to bad quickly.

Kanon shook her head to chase that bad thing away.

For now, she had to concentrate on cleaning up.

By the way, she knew her mother wouldn’t be coming today.

It was because the photo with the ticket she had sent her didn’t have the word ‘read’ this morning.

But since her mother hadn’t been able to come last year because of work, she didn’t feel particularly depressed about it.

It was a ‘usual occurrence’ that she had experienced many times on parent visitation day since she was in elementary school.

“Ah… I’m sorry. I’ll go to the restroom for a moment.”

“Okay. See you later.”

Kanon left the room and headed for the restroom in a jog.

There was no one in the restroom. She immediately entered the nearest stall and closed the door, at that moment her smartphone which was in the pocket of her skirt, vibrated.

Kanon took the smartphone out of her pocket and checked the screen.

“Uh…” her voice froze.

In the notification bar of the smartphone, there was a social network icon along with the name ‘Mom.’

…There was no way she expected her to send a reply now.

She hadn’t received a reply from anything she’d sent her before.

She wondered what on earth she could have written…

Kanon tapped that notification with a trembling finger.

The social network screen opened, and two short sentences were written on it.

“I’m a little tired.

“I’m sorry.”

“…”

For a while, Kanon stared at those two lines.

Eventually, tears began to overflow from Kanon’s eyes.

What did those words mean? She couldn’t tell what they truly meant from that alone.

The only things spreading in Kanon’s chest were emotions of great unhappiness and grief.

※※※

Himari and I returned home and made tea, then stayed in the kitchen without speaking to each other.

“Komamura-san…”

I reflexively stood on guard at Himari’s call.

It did to hear the continuation of what happened a while ago.

Himari let out a lead-heavy sigh and inhaled again… Then, she finally spoke:

“My family… has been running a kendo dojo since my grandfather’s generation… It has produced many individuals who have gone to national competitions, so it is quite famous in the business…” Himari took a breath and then continued, “The person from a while ago has been a member of the dojo since I was a child… On my side, I frequently had her playing with me, so she knows well about my hobby. What do I do, Komamura-san? They will probably end up finding me…”

I couldn’t answer anything to Himari who was appealing to me with a face on the verge of tears.

There was nothing but an intense feeling of uneasiness spreading through my chest.

To be continued.