An Adventure of First Love (Mahoutsukai no Yoru Short Story)
Translated by Ghost47
'An Adventure of First Love' is a story included in the booklet that came with Mahoutsukai no Yoru. Taking place after the visual novel, Soujuurou meets Mino Yoshitsune, a third year at Misaki High School who wants to ask Aozaki Aoko to go out with him. They, along with a young man called Ichigozuka, investigate the rumours of Aoko's first love.
This story delves into Aoko's past, and I would highly recommend reading it once you've finished with the main game.
The translation is now complete. Enjoy.
Anyone who can read Japanese will notice that the title actually says Hachimitsu wo Meguru Bouken (はちみつを巡る冒険), or The Adventures of the Honey, which is the same title as one of the bonus chapters in the main game. This is an error. Hatsukoi wo Meguru Bouken (初恋を巡る冒険) is used a few times throughout the story.
The grey of winter was beginning to fade and the sunny spring winds had begun to blow. It was the first March since Soujuurou had come down to the city. Lured out for a stroll by the blue skies, he found himself at a café that he remembered well. It was a café that rented out space on the building’s first floor. Once when Soujuurou still wasn’t used to the town, he took shelter here when it suddenly began to rain. What a fateful encounter… wasn’t something that went through Soujuurou’s head, but he went in since it was just the right time for a meal.
The carpets were red, with white walls and white cabinets. He didn’t know it when he first came here, but the interior was decorated in a French style. Feeling uneasy at the subtle differences from the Kuonji Mansion, Soujuurou sat at the same seat as last time.
“Huh! Soujuurou-kun?” Right as Soujuurou sat down, a voice called out from behind the counter. That voice belonged to the one of the beautiful female siblings from the church, the wild, always friendly, Suse Ritsuka. “Wow, I didn’t expect to see you here! So, have you got another shift today? Or are you volunteering? Or just working for free? Well, it doesn’t matter which, come on, open up the menu! I’m really happy to see you, so pick something out! It’s my treat!” Ritsuka was wearing an apron with the name of the café printed on it, and had a massive smile on her face.
And thus, he acquired a favourite café, as is normal for a student. It wasn’t that he had caught the sickness that is unique to puberty, ‘I want to do things that adults do’, but that when Ritsuka was working, there was a high probability he would receive something extra. Or to put it another way, he was lured in by free drinks.
The café was called Janus. For Soujuurou, it was a name that was both difficult to remember and difficult to pronounce, but it was probably a name the owner was attached to. While thinking he would ask about it if he ever got the chance, he arrived at the café as he had done many times before. Soujuurou sat down at his usual seat, and decided to focus on studying math for the half hour until his shift started. Then.
“Oh, you’re from the fish shop, right?” A man who was reading called out from the table diagonally opposite Soujuurou. He was in his early 20’s. With his calm features, he gave the impression of a modern youth enjoying the campus life. While his short cropped hair seemed rather rough, it looked like a work of art no matter the angle. He was slender, and a head taller than Soujuurou. His casually chosen college jacket and slim jeans couldn’t have suited him better. He was a perfect example that someone with the looks of a model will look good no matter what they wear.
“Hello, um… who were you again?” Soujuurou asked.
“No way. You just gave me a freebie at Uotatsu yesterday, didn’t you?”
“Oh, you’re the one who always comes to buy weather loach and eels. Huh. Did you ever tell me your name?”
“I see. I guess I never introduced myself. I’m— yes, my name’s Ichigozuka. It’s a pleasure.” With a friendly smile, Ichigozuka sat down opposite Soujuurou. Soujuurou wasn’t wary of people unless they gave him reason to be, so much so that even the unsociable Kuonji Alice accepted his presence. Thus Soujuurou responded with an innocent smile.
“So you’re studying today? It’s quite dazzling to see a student at work.”
“You’re always dazzling as well, Ichigozuka-san.” Particularly your teeth. Thinking that, Soujuurou stabbed his fork into the shortcake that came with his coffee set.
In the end, the spare time before Soujuurou’s shift was completely taken up talking to the young man named Ichigozuka. When it came to talking about what food was in season, Soujuurou couldn’t stop himself.
“Whoops, it’s this late already. Sorry for taking up your time. In exchange for your valuable time, I’ll pay for yours too.” Ichigozuka took both their bills and left the café.
Straight after that, the ringing of a cowbell echoed through the shop. While putting his textbooks back in his bag Soujuurou’s eyes drifted over to the door, drawn by the sound of the bell. “—What?” Just what kind of fate was this? Standing at the café's entrance was a gloomy figure that left even Soujuurou speechless. He had a very angular form, almost like a stupa tomb. He was almost 190cm tall. His clothes were entirely white. He wore a guard on his head, almost like a helmet. The cloak wrapped around his body looked like the wings of a white swan in the middle of a blizzard.
“Excuse me. I’m looking for a second year from Misaki Highschool, Shizuki Soujuurou. Is he here?” The pure white devil asked the waitress with a cold, strained voice. Frightened, the waitress nodded, as her gaze showed him Soujuurou’s seat. The man thanked the waitress, made an order for something, then walked directly towards Soujuurou’s seat.
“My name is Mino Yoshitsune. I was your senpai until a few days ago. I’m not someone to be suspicious of.” While his actions and clothing were certainly suspicious, his greeting revealed his honest nature. “Now, as a result of our leaders' guidance and encouragement, I was safely carried to graduation at Misaki High School. While there I belonged to the cheer squad. Although I never crossed paths with you.”
It had been three months since Soujuurou had transferred to the school. The words ‘cheer squad’ did ring a bell. There were many stories about the captain of the cheer squad, that great, frightening man. He had heard that even that student council president would act amenable when he was around… maybe.
“I’ve got something to talk to you about. Would now be an opportune moment?”
Bewildered by the old fashioned saying, Soujuurou replied with a ‘yes’. After the man gave a word of thanks, for some reason he sat down next to Soujuurou, rather than opposite him.
“Hm? The seat over there is free, you know?” Soujuurou told him.
“It seems so. But this way there’ll be less trouble in the future.”
Shortly after, the waitress brought two cream parfaits. Two men were sitting next to each other on the café sofa. The waitress couldn’t keep her face from twitching at that unusual sight.
As for Soujuurou, he thought ‘I see. It’s a lot more difficult to get up and run away sitting like this.’ He was quite impressed.
“It’s my treat. Eat up. I went for the most expensive thing on the menu.”
“Okay. I’ll go ahead then.” Honestly, Soujuurou had already had his fill of sweet food during his conversation with Ichigozuka, but it would be a bit awkward to refuse when Mino was sitting so close. Soujuurou began tasting the fresh cream, nibbling on it.
Without touching his parfait, Mino Yoshitsune cleared his throat with a loud cough. “This may be a bit of a sudden question. In regards to the schoolmates you live together with, are you an animal who is conscious of them as members of the opposite sex?”
“—Sorry?” While Soujuurou was treated as a guard dog by his housemates, would someone really suspect him of being a beast on their first meeting? But perhaps not hesitating to take food given to him was a bit like a dog, he couldn’t help but think. “Well, putting that aside. Um. Being conscious of members of the opposite sex as a being of the opposite sex would be natural for a human, wouldn’t it?” Soujuurou fixed his gaze on Mino, emphasizing that it shouldn’t be any reason to call him an animal.
“I see. So that’s how it is. You’re amazing.” So it’s true, thought Captain Mino, sure that he had understood the situation. The handsome man with a white cloak cleared his throat. “I’ll put it another way. What I want to ask is, are you and Aozaki Aoko lovers?”
Upon hearing such an unexpected question, Soujuurou choked on the cream. He then gulped down some water to clear his throat. “Sorry, allow me to take back what I said before. Because I’m human, there are times when I’m not conscious of someone as a member of the opposite sex.”
“I see. That’s a relief. Things were about to get troublesome.” With a solemn nod, Captain Mino looked Soujuurou directly in the eyes and finally got to the main topic. “Shizuki. I’m going to ask Aozaki Aoko to go out with me. Would you be able to assist me? According to the captain of the swim club, it would go much better with your help.”
There was a loud choking noise, and the seat opposite them was filled the water Soujuurou spat out.
According to the students of Misaki High School, Mino Yoshitsune was an impeccable man. He was a head taller than the average high school boy, but without the roughness of a giant. That straight back even gave him an intellectual look. He had pale red lips, and a chiseled face. His gaze was calm, yet seemed distant. Perhaps due to his symmetrical build, his voice had a sharp tone. Indeed, he was a man born to be the captain of the cheer squad, a traditionally handsome young man. The black clothing under a white cloak was, needless to say, the uniform of the cheer squad. Since the start of March he was no longer attending school at Misaki High School, but since he still had responsibilities with the cheer squad he was wearing this around... so he said. The school cap he wore was proof that he was the captain, and the white cloak seemed to be something to focus himself. As an example, if Soujuurou was a country boy who was behind the times, Mino Yoshitsune appeared to be an anachronistic leader from an entirely different time.
“Someone like you wants to ask out, of all people, Aozaki?”
“That reaction hurts a bit, but yes. Someone like me, of all people, has had feelings for that sweet Aozaki for close to two years.”
The two saw things as differently as an ant and an elephant.
“When you say two years, would that mean from when Aozaki was a first year?”
“That’s right. I first met Aozaki just after I had taken over as captain. Have you heard what happened with the boys who asked Aozaki out?”
Only the end result, replied Soujuurou. Tsukiji Tobimaru, the student council vice president, had told him about the ‘Who Will Confess to the First Year Beauty? Tournament’. In the end, there was carnage. The few boys who remained confessed to Aozaki Aoko, and met an honorable defeat.
“Oh. Then were you one of them, Mino-senpai?”
“...No. I was too late for that. Before I knew it, the previous student council president was absent, and both Aozaki and I were busy with our work. It wasn’t the time to talk about love. As the two of us were busy with our studies, two years passed. It’s because of my cowardice, and it is my biggest regret.”
Mino Yoshitsune cast his eyes down in anguish. His shadowed expression was incredibly picturesque. Soujuurou noticed the waitress watching from a distance. Her face twitched once again. …...She wasn’t afraid, but holding herself back, since she was so captivated that she was on the verge of collapse.
“I understand what’s going on now. But why didn’t you say anything for two years?”
“It is due to my weakness of character. I’ve cheered on teams without a chance of victory many times, but when it comes to myself I always hesitate. If it were possible, I would like us to keep our relationship as schoolmates forever, but…”
“But you’re going to confess now, aren’t you?”
“It’s a painful choice, but it can’t be avoided. I’ll be leaving this town after I graduate. I can’t put it off any longer.”
Soujuurou had gotten the gist of things. It was unclear whether for work or further study, but after graduation, Mino Yoshitsune was probably leaving for the city. There were only a few more days where he would have the chance to confess to Aozaki Aoko. However, Soujuurou was at a bit of a loss. Even if he was asked to help, what should he actually do? In the first place, in matters of love, Soujuurou was the one who really needed the help.
“Senpai. Have you thought that leaving your memories as memories might be for the best? I don’t know about other girls, but in Aozaki’s case, there’s a high probability of that being true.” Soujuurou made a gesture indicating beautiful memories being smashed into dust. At that point Mino nodded, as if that proposition had reached deep inside him.
“I am prepared to accept being rejected. If I don’t try my luck here, could I really say I’ve graduated? If I can manage to confess my feelings, I wouldn’t care, even if I turned to ash.”
“......” If that’s the case, you should just go do it, Soujuurou said silently. He could be quite heartless when it came to these things.
“I understand what you’re getting at. I’m not shrewd enough to go after her weaknesses. However Aozaki seems to have a strong view on dating. If I just go up and ask her, I’ll just be shot down. It’s not as simple as just catching her with a rope.”
“No, I don’t think a rope’s going to cut it. You’d need steel wire at a minimum. I’d also recommend a stun gun.”
“Could you leave the clever jokes for later? Shizuki. Until you transferred in, Aozaki would never associate with any of the male students for long. Do you understand what that means? My thoughts are that you’re someone who she cares for deeply, or she doesn’t consider you to be a human.”
“...We already proved that I wasn’t an animal.”
“That’s right. You, Soujuurou, are Aozaki’s first male friend, since the founding of Misaki High School. That’s why I have a favour to ask of you. I want you to look into whether she would be open to dating someone.”
‘Are you telling me to die?’ Soujuurou wanted to ask, but he stopped himself, tilting his head instead. Acting as if he didn’t understand the question in an attempt to escape. But Captain Mino asked again, with a more specific request. If comparing it to a sword strike, Soujuurou would have been slashed straight across his chest.
“I’ll be more direct. I want you to ask Aozaki whether she currently has a boyfriend.”
A moment of silence. Soujuurou nodded.
“So, you’re telling me to die, aren’t you?”
It was 11:30 at night. After parting ways with Mino Yoshitsune and finishing his shift, Soujuurou returned to the Kuonji Mansion, and upon arriving noticed that the lights were on in the living room. That’s unusual, he thought as he went to say hello. Aozaki Aoko and Kuonji Alice were relaxing in the living room. On the TV, Thursday Movie Theatre had just ended.
“Jackie really mastered those wooden men, didn’t he? Grieving for his parents, training, persecution, encounters, training, new techniques, leaving for the wilderness to become a master, then the bad guys showed up, training, training, and finally the farewell. It's got everything you could want from a coming of age story. No matter what anyone says, it’s just got to end with a tearful fight against his master!” Aoko clenched her fist, unable to hide her excitement.
On the other hand. “...I understand most of what happened. However, I wonder why that cut at the end was vertical. You can give me an explanation I would be satisfied with, can’t you, Aoko?” Alice sighed, as if to say ‘Aoko was just enjoying herself so much, that as her friend I had no choice but to watch it with her, so don’t get the wrong idea’.
“————” This could be my chance, Soujuurou sensed. The atmosphere in the living room was quite relaxed. If he brought up an outrageous topic now, it probably wouldn’t seem too unnatural. “I’m back. I thought I’d make a late night snack before I go to bed, so would you two like something as well?”
“Huh, really? Lucky, I was just thinking I wouldn’t mind a bite to eat. I’ll have some too, thanks!” said Aoko.
“If you two are eating, I’ll have some as well. Only a little bit.” said Alice.
It was a perfect setup. Things must be done in order. It’s best to shoot the horse rather than the general. A girl needs something sweet first. Making excellent use of the lessons he had learned over the past two months, Soujuurou headed to the kitchen.
“Now the question is how do I bring it up…” Mino-senpai had given Soujuurou two orders. To confirm whether Aozaki Aoko was currently dating anyone, and to get her to talk about her intentions… no, her thoughts on the matter. There were a lot of reasons why Soujuurou wasn’t enthusiastic about doing this, but after thinking back to Mino’s serious expression, he hardened his resolve. He decided that he just had to do it. Since he didn’t decline the request, Soujuurou was partly at fault himself. He needed to put in at least a minimum amount of effort.
“...Well, that should just about do it. Aozaki, Alice, the food’s ready. Come and get it.” Soujuurou carried the desert to the sunroom. Both Aoko and Alice came in excitedly, a bound in their step. And there on the table was a silver cloche with it’s dome shaped lid.
“It’s only simple, but please eat up.” With a pop, he lifted up the cloche. On the plate he revealed so majestically, was what seemed to be a jar of vivid red jam and 3 pieces of golden looking bread. The deep red jam was a cheap off-the-shelf jar, and the light brown bread was simply slices of toast. Combine them together, and you get a primitive sweet. —No matter how you look at it, it was just jam on toast.
“Well that’s Shizuki-kun for you. You don’t waste a cent.” Alice gracefully took a seat.
“No, this isn’t what you would call luxurious at all. ...What is this, are you trying out some new kind of mental attack on us again? Jam and Toast? Since when did we have a sweets shop here? Siberia cake? Hey, is this Siberia cake? No, Siberia cake would have actually made sense!”
“What are you talking about? This is Toppan’s most expensive loaf of bread. What could be more luxurious?”
“You’re telling me, that one eighth, of 150 yen, is a luxury…!” Perhaps it was the influence from the movie she was watching earlier. Aoko moved behind Soujuurou, and put him in a headlock using both her arms. It seems she was so shocked by the jam and toast that she had completely forgotten about Soujuurou’s collar.
“Ack, I give up… I surrender…” Soujuurou gasped. “But I’ll keep saying it. You two really need to learn how to save money.”
That’s right. Before Soujuurou moved in, the mansion was in dire straits. Aoko was sent an allowance from her family to cover her living and food expenses. 30000 yen each month. Alice had 50000 transferred to her account from an unknown sender. And on top of that, the girls apparently calculated their food expenses by ‘Putting what’s left of last month’s allowance in a jar.’ It was like throwing their luck and desire into a cement mixer, and using that to manage their daily finances. As you would expect, their food budget would go bankrupt halfway through the month. For almost two years before Soujuurou moved in, their greatest threat wasn’t stray Magi from afar, but dying from starvation at the end of each month!
“Ughh… for someone like you who lived up in the mountain those words are basically a religion! It’s hard for people like us who are used to consumer culture! It’s biologically impossible!”
“It’s biologically impossible to go without food too. No matter how dull, you need to make sure you eat three times a day.”
Yes, Alice nodded along.
To digress for a little while, Soujuurou was the one in charge of their food budget, since he was putting in the money for their food, and the only one with any self-control when it came to money. The meal reformation had begun at the start of the year and dinner had become more simplistic every day since. While Aoko and Alice did make plans to overthrow him at the time, that’s a story for another day.
“If we use up all the food money, we just need to go borrow some more! Since you’ve come here our food quality just keeps going down!” said Aoko.
“It’s not like it was that great before though.” said Soujuurou.
“Ahrgh! You’re the last person I want to hear that from!”
“Okay, Okay! Just let me go. Also, while you’ve been wasting calories, Alice is going for her second piece.”
“What’s with that ‘Oh, you caught me?’ face! Take your hand of the toast, that piece is mine!” shouted Aoko.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think you needed it.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Aozaki isn’t really needed.” Soujuurou joined in.
“I do need it! Jam on toast tastes good. ...More importantly, you guys aren’t ganging up to make me angry, right?”
No, we weren’t trying to, Alice and Soujuurou exchanged glances. When these two teased Aoko, they could be an outstanding combination.
“...You two airheads are getting on pretty well together.” Perhaps she had said her piece and was satisfied, or else she had remembered that the refrigerator was practically empty. Aoko followed Alice’s example and sat down, taking her piece of toast.
As an aside, there was a little trick to serving dessert at the Kuonji Mansion. Aoko would devour anything sweet, counting the calories as she went. No matter how magnificent the dessert was, Alice would rarely eat anything elaborate. For her, dessert was a piece of fruit. Pie or chocolate was out of the question, at most she would have some scones. Therefore, the choice of jam on toast was something that would defeat both of them.
The three finished their late night snack quietly, before relaxing with a cup of tea brewed by Alice. It was only a few minutes until midnight. When it was about time for them all to return to their rooms, Soujuurou, very naturally, said “It’s almost spring break, isn’t it. I’m thinking that I want to take a day off work and do something different for a change. I need to make it through the end of year tests somehow before that though. Anyway, that’s my plan. Aozaki, would you happen to be going out with anyone at the moment?”
“—————” The two girls were speechless, as if a thousand year old temple had just collapsed in front of their eyes. Silence spread through the sunroom, as if they had forgotten to even breathe.
“Huh?” Aoko barely managed to reply after the surprising question. “I, um, what?”
“Well, I was just wondering if you had any experience in dating.”
“I have no obligation nor intention to tell that to you, but just in case, I’ll ask. —Why?”
With Aozaki glaring at him, Soujuurou averted his eyes, not answering the question.
“Don’t look away. I’m not going to yell at you or strangle you. I’m just one step away from my anger getting out of control. That’s all.”
“But that's the same thing,”
“Even I don’t shout 24/7, every day of the year like Gyaos does. No matter how ridiculous the question is, if there’s a logical reason behind it I want to answer sincerely. So can you please answer me properly? Just what led to that question coming out of your mouth? If it’s your own question, I’ll have you pay all kinds of compensation, but you’ll have to give me a proper answer. However—”
In response to a smile which he had never seen before from Aoko, Soujuurou gulped loudly. “How-, However?”
“If the truth happens to be that it was some vulgar request from a third party, things will go back to how they were before winter vacation. But this time there’ll be two victims. There may be a new rumour about the haunted mansion going around before too long.”
His back dripping with cold sweat, Soujuurou evaded the question with a vague reply. Normally, he would just confess, saying ‘Sorry, someone asked me to do it’, but for some reason, he just kept looking away, as if it was difficult for him to say that.
“...Ahhh. I see. It’s not that you can’t say it, you just don’t want to. That’s fine. It’s not that I’m actually angry. Instead, we’ll leave this conversation here.”
“Are you okay with that? You definitely look like you’re angry.”
“I just know that when you make that face, I’m not going to get anything else out of you. I’m sure you’ve got some weird conviction stopping you from telling me who put you onto this.”
“Um? No, I can tell you that. Mino-senpai is going to confess to you, so he wanted me to investigate whether you were seeing anyone at the moment.”
“Pff-!” Oddly enough, Aoko made the exact same mistake Soujuurou had a few hours earlier. “Wh, what happened to your determination!? Weren’t you going to protect them even if it killed you!?”
“No, Mino-senpai didn’t say that I ‘need to keep it a secret’. I didn’t answer before because of personal reasons.”
“You can say some pretty awful things without even hesitating...”
If you were asked by someone else to find out whether I was dating anyone, you’re dead. With Aoko’s threat, Soujuurou had kept quiet out of fear for his own life. Aoko thought something was off still, but it seemed that was actually the truth.
“...Hahh. Um, I don’t currently have a boyfriend, and I don’t plan on getting one in the future. Will that do?”
“What?” said Soujuurou.
“I’m saying that I haven’t had a boyfriend. Ever. Seriously, this… Hey, what are you laughing for?”
“No, I’m not laughing. But what happened? Weren’t you going to get angry if it was a question from someone else?”
“If it’s a question from Mino-senpai, I’d answer no matter what he asked. I respect him a lot. He’s, you know, pretty amazing. If he confessed to me, there’d be a high chance that I, well, wouldn’t turn him down.” As she said this, Aozaki Aoko’s cheeks turned slightly red, like you would expect from a girl her age.
With a clang, the midnight bell rang out from the grandfather clock. After Aoko and Alice had returned to their own rooms, Soujuurou was left alone at the table to ponder what Aoko had said. His face looked like a pigeon hit by a peashooter. “Is such a calamity actually possible?”
“That would be possible, certainly.”
It was 3 o’clock the following day, just after class had ended. Soujuurou had quickly declined any invitations, no matter who they were from, rushed to a telephone box on the outskirts of town and dialed a secret number. “Hello, this is the Garan no Dou store.” said the voice on the phone. After Soujuurou had explained the events of last night, the immediate reply was, surprisingly, affirmative.
“Despite how she looks, Aoko’s weak to others' kindness. At her core, that idiot really likes other people.” Explained the voice on the phone.
“I know that, but dating is a different story. It seems like Aozaki’s put up a wall, towards that kind of thing especially.”
“See? You’ve got it, don’t you. That wall won’t come down easily. Why? It’s simple. Aoko dislikes romance. No, you could even say she detests it.”
“Mmmh… Detesting seems rather extreme.”
“That’s right. But what else could you expect? She was horribly betrayed by her first love after all.”
“I see— Huh?” The boy’s sour expression was reflected in the glass of the telephone box. The distressed boy began to question himself. Wait, where should I start? The fact that she detests romance? That she was dumped? Or what the words ‘first love’ meant?
“You know, her first love, her darling.”
“You’re telling me that Aozaki had a first love, and was dumped by them!?”
“Mmh, no that’s not exactly right. I wouldn’t say she was dumped, They’re probably still in contact with each other? After all, her first lover is still in Misaki Town, and still meets with Aoko frequently.”
“To put it simply, there was a really bad betrayal. Ever since then, it’s been as if Aoko is allergic to dating. My own little sister really makes me la— no, it’s quite a misfortunate fate. Oh, it’s about time to burn out the mystic line now. If we talk any longer we’ll be found by Alice’s Ploy. Bye then, call me again whenever you’re in the mood.”
Click, beep, beep. As the call was cut off, silence took its place. Pushing his way through the dizziness, Soujuurou put the receiver back on its hook. After a short, deep breath, he tried to summarize all the information he had learned so far. Thinking about it, it really was a typical story that you could find anywhere. The student council president of steel, Aozaki Aoko, was a demon, but before that she’s still a young girl. Having a first love or two would be completely normal.
“Okay, I can understand the logic behind it at least.” After pushing any feelings that would cause him to go protest into the corner of his mind, Soujuurou left the telephone box. The problem he should be thinking about wasn’t his own displeasure. Even imagining that Aoko might possibly still be dating that first love was a scary thought.
Soujuurou entered his usual café, finding that Mino Yoshitsune had arrived ahead of him. So tall your eyes are drawn to him, and wearing an antiquated white cloak. He sat at the window like a strange silhouette, but his expression was that of a troubled scholarly young man. The café’s waitresses and the office ladies passing by outside couldn’t help but stare. You can’t stop a river from flowing, after all.
“Mino-senpai.” Mino nodded quietly in reply to Soujuurou’s greeting. Checking that there were no other customers nearby, Soujuurou sat down opposite Mino and placed his elbows on the table, leaning in close.
“Let's hear the results.” With a cold, tense voice, Mino got straight to business. He had such a simpleness and solidness to him, that if a third party who knew Shizuku Soujuurou well were here, they’d be likely to think ‘Wait, is Mino-senpai just a high end model of Soujuurou?’
“This is what I’ve heard. One, Aozaki doesn’t currently have a boyfriend. She also doesn’t intend to get one in the future. Two, she’s never had a boyfriend before. Three, Aozaki does have fondness for you.”
“How did you manage to get that third piece of information?”
“Was it unnecessary?”
“No, it’s perfect. The captain of the swim club has quite the discerning eye.” As if to say that hearing that was plenty, the white-cloaked leader of the cheer squad stood up to leave. ...but.
“Four, Aozaki detests romance. Five, that’s because she was betrayed by her first love. Six, she still has a relationship with that first love. Seven, that’s because they live in this town, and still meet with each other frequently.”
“—It seems things won’t be that simple.” Captain Mino sat back down, rubbing his temples.
“I can understand how you feel. I felt that same dizziness just twenty minutes ago.”
“Yes. You’re right. Someone who knows Aozaki well would be overcome with such dizziness they would think the world is ending. ...Putting that aside, the first half of the information has a very different quality to that of the latter half. Is it right to assume that the source of the information was two different people?”
“The first three came from Aozaki herself. The rest of the information comes from a trustworthy relative of hers.”
“...Which one should I believe?”
“I don’t know. You only asked me to find out what the situation was.”
“I’m surprised, it seems you can be quite spiteful as well. I apologize, let me ask again. If possible, I’d like you to give me some advice as well. You can pick whatever you like from the menu.” Mino passed the menu straight to Soujuurou.
He picked three cakes from the menu, getting them wrapped to take home, saying “In this situation, I would imagine someone with a more objective view would have more credibility than a subjective one.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t trust what Aozaki said herself. I think so too. ...But I doubt Aozaki is the kind of person to twist the truth for her own convenience.”
“I agree, but Aozaki is also likely to misunderstand something that would be unthinkable for a normal person.”
“Agreed again. For it to happen twice, let alone three times.”
For those two who knew Aoko, they reached the heart of the matter incredibly smoothly. “With the situation like this, there’s nothing I can do now. This is the end of it. Thanks for your help, Shizuki.”
“Hm? The end? What?”
“Yes. Aoko has someone in her heart… her first love, right? It would be ill-mannered to interfere with someone's romance. Investigating any further would be too much for me.”
“But, still.” Is it okay to give up like that? Soujuurou protested silently. “I only told you what I heard, I haven’t confirmed any of it. And don’t you want to find out? Who Aozaki’s first love was?”
“That’s… true…” Captain Mino folded his arms with an uneasy expression.
“Let’s look into it. Right now. Thoroughly. I’ve been compensated for the advice. We can’t stop here.”
“But we’re talking about her love life here though.”
“This is about your love life as well, isn’t it, Mino-senpai! We should investigate Aozaki’s first love!” Soujuurou was more eager than ever.
Feeling his kouhai’s burning gaze, the white cloaked, handsome young man frowned, deep in thought. Even if he cheered a lot of people on, it seemed like he wasn’t used to being cheered on himself. “...You’re right. This is my last chance to bring things to an end. I wouldn’t want to leave any regrets.” Mino nodded sincerely as he readjusted his cap. “But if we want to investigate, there’s a lot of ground to cover. If we’re talking about her first love, that’s probably before high school. Do you know where Aoko’s family home is?”
“More or less. It’s a bit of a distance away though. Do you know of the Akikoshiro station in Sugawa?”
“I know it. It is quite a distance. I wonder where someone from there would go to middle school? It’s a tough ask to walk that far. It would be easier if one of our students had gone to middle school with Aozaki.” But Mino Yoshitsune knew that Aoko’s time in middle school was shrouded in mystery. ‘Entering high school was like a fresh start for my life.’ He remembered how Aoko had said that, as if it was a joke. The tone may have been lighthearted, but to this day Mino remembered the distant look she had in her eyes.
“I guess we’ve just got to go there and gather information. It’ll be a hard journey on foot, but… I don’t have enough leeway to pay for your fare on top of my own. I’m saving to prepare for when I graduate.” Hmm, that’s true, the two pondered with arms crossed. At that moment—
“Alright, if you’re after a ride, I can help. I only just bought the car, and I’ve just got my license. Is that fine with you guys? I’ve actually kinda been wanting to go on a drive for some practice.”
A young man’s friendly voice suddenly called out from the seat behind them. “I’ve heard what’s going on. It’s quite hil… no, things have become quite troublesome, haven’t they, Soujuurou-kun.”
Hey, he waved back with a smile. It was one of the regulars at this café, the young man called Ichigozuka. ...skipping the details, this, no matter which way you look at it, unbalanced trio had a long discussion, and ended up forming an extremely peculiar investigation squad. Soujuurou, who was curious about the truth behind Aoko’s first love. Mino Yoshitsune, who was preparing to confess his feelings. And Ichigozuka, who was just plain interested in what was going on. While their desires may have differed, all of their interests aligned.
The jeep drove through the countryside. While Mino had declined the offer at first, he lost to Ichigozuka’s smooth-talk and Soujuurou’s strong encouragement and they ended up going by car. Ichigozuka’s new car was a Mitsubishi Pajero, an excellent vehicle which could even go offroad. Ichigozuka’s model-like figure was at odds with the roughness of the jeep, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He was in high spirits, whistling as he gripped the steering wheel.
“If she’s from Akikoshiro, there’d be two middle schools nearby. Should we start with the close one or the far one?” Without opening a map to look at, Ichigozuka smoothly sped along in the jeep. Unexpectedly, he was quite aggressive on the accelerator, and they were practically drifting around the right turns and such. Mino and Soujuurou were sitting in the backseat.
“Shizuki. This may be a bit late, but can we really trust him?”
“I’m pretty sure. I don’t know his background, but he’s a regular at the fish shop. He’s thought of fondly in the shopping district, as a young lad of fine character who cooks for himself in these modern times.”
“...Well. But it’s true that I don’t have time or money. It’s good to have people to help out. I don’t have any complaints, as long as it’s done out of good will.” Rubbing the wrinkles on his brow, Mino leaned back deeply into the seat.
Mino gazed at the rural scenery that passed by his window, a nostalgic look in his eyes. He didn’t have long left to see this scenery. In two days time, Mino would leave his hometown. No one but the teachers knew that he couldn’t attend the graduation ceremony due to the circumstances at his new university. The reason no one else at school had been told was due to Mino being easily moved to tears, and his lingering attachment.
He was over 180 centimeters tall, with sharp features and long, dark eyelashes. A good old fashioned traditional Japanese handsome student, a kind that is almost completely lost to time. He truly was the man born to be the captain of the cheer squad, Mino Yoshitsune. However, contrary to his outward appearance, he lacked confidence in himself, and had an introverted personality. While Yoshitsune himself was a bookworm, his grandfather had been a legend in the cheer squad before the Misaki High School’s temporary closure. After the entrance ceremony he was suddenly led to the cheer squad, and was surprised when his grandfather’s name was brought up. When he was urged to join the cheer squad, the reason he couldn’t refuse was partially due to his timidness, but also due to his respect for a grandfather he never knew. Hearing how his grandfather had lived, even if Yoshitsune didn’t know him, he could tell that he was a man of noble character, someone he could admire and be pleased with.
But when Yoshitsune was a first year, the cheer squad was facing the pressure of extinction. The problem was that there wasn’t much interest in the cheer squad, and on top of that, Misaki High School’s clubs were on the verge of losing their spirit. The previous captain, the one who invited Yoshitsune to the cheer squad, was an awkward kind of person, but he worked really hard for the sake of the cheer squad and Misaki High School. In the custom of cheering on the clubs from behind, he felt the feeling of belonging you can’t find outside school life and the sparkle of youth. He was a spirited, straightforward senpai, who believed in Yoshitsune as ‘the grandson of a great, dependable man’, despite his tendency to stay back in the shadows.
The reason Yoshitsune took over the role of captain in his second year was because he didn’t want the previous captain’s hard work to go to waste. While Yoshitsune’s outward appearance looked like that of a cheer squad captain, his personality wasn’t suited for it. He was always a step behind.
The one who gave him a push was the new student council president, Aozaki Aoko. What exactly Aoko thought of Mino Yoshitsune, was something he had no way of knowing. In truth, she had taken the rumours of him being ‘the new demon of a captain, who was silent to the boy’s cries and the girl’s misery’ at face value. The revival of the cheer squad was essential for the revitalization of the sports clubs. “The responsibility for the prisoners slacking off, for the most part, falls on the warden, does it not?” From the jeep’s backseat, Mino thought back to the time Aoko had burst into the cheer squad’s club room with those sharp words. “...Seriously. Looking back on it, it was a tough year.” Since then it’s been busy every day. With the senpai who trusted in him, and the kouhai who created the opportunities for the cheer squad’s revival, it was a year of hard work, even without being the captain. He learned that even without aiming for perfection, you can achieve thorough results. Fighting when you can’t see what’s ahead was one of Aozaki Aoko’s strong points.
“We’ll be at Akikoshiro soon. I’ll wait in the car, but you two, are you really planning to go in there dressed like that?” And with Ichigozuka’s words, Mino Yoshitsune’s recollection was interrupted.
“That’s right, is there something wrong with them?”
“I mean, Soujuurou-kun’s probably fine, but you’d stand out a bit wearing that. How about you at least take the cape off?”
“—No, I’ll go ask around as I am. It isn’t like we’re doing anything to be guilty of.” Well my motives may be a bit cowardly. He added, as if to scold himself while he adjusted his cap.
While they did seem a little strange, their questioning went smoothly. Seeing that the sun was beginning to set they finished their investigation of Akikoshiro, and the three of them headed back to Misaki Town. Both middle schools near Akikoshiro were co-ed, and they soon learned which one Aoko had gone to. She stood out that much. As soon as they mentioned Aoko’s name to the current students, it set off the landslide.
“While this is just based on gossip, it seems that Aozaki was completely different in middle school to what she’s like now. From the way her kohai were talking, she seemed relaxed, or perhaps graceful would fit better.”
“Really? I wouldn’t have minded hearing those kids for myself. So you’re saying that this Aoko-chan was a yamato nadeshiko for at least her middle school life?”
“Correction. Aozaki still is a yamato nadeshiko.”
“Hm? Mino-senpai, what’s a ‘yamato nadeshiko’?”
“It means a woman who is wise and profound, stands up for strangers and is considerate of others, neither giving in to tyranny nor yielding to evil. A beauty who knows not lies nor deceit—— Ichigozuka-san, don’t you think you’re driving a bit recklessly? That sharp turn was dangerous.”
“Ah, sorry, sorry. A bird just jumped out in front of me, and I panicked a bit. No, it wasn’t just one of those crows, it was a starling, I think. More importantly, Soujuurou-kun, is this Aoko-chan you two are so devoted to really that kind of person?”
“At first I thought it was a different person with the same name who I didn’t know, but looking at it again, I guess she mostly fits the description.”
Ichigozuka had joined Soujuurou and Mino’s conversation along the way, as they sorted out what information they had found. Soujuurou and Mino asked around separately. Since both of their information matched, its credibility was high. The one problem was that not once did anything about romance come up.
“From the fact that none of the students had seen anything, we can probably assume that her first love wasn’t someone from her middle school.”
“Oh? In middle school, just being a couple would get you teased from everyone around you, right? Perhaps Aoko-chan might have hidden the relationship?”
Aoko wouldn’t be able to hide something like that, thought Soujuurou. Aozaki wouldn’t hide things like that, thought Captain Mino.
“Are you sure? Well, I guess we’ve got one option left. If there’s no witnesses at school, then they must have met up outside school. We’ll have to quietly investigate around Misaki Town tomorrow, right?” Ichigozuka’s remarks were quite lax, but they also hit the mark. If nothing came up at her middle school, then their only choice was to try around town.
The three decided on a time to meet up tomorrow before parting ways in front of the café. “I’ll try out any ideas I’ve got tomorrow morning. There might be someone in the cheer squad who’s seen Aozaki meeting up with this first love.” Mino said goodbye as he left, his cloak fluttering behind him.
After seeing Mino off, Soujuurou began walking in the opposite direction of the Kuonji mansion. They hadn’t really found out anything today. He couldn’t go home like that. I want to at least confirm that it’s true, he said to himself as he hurriedly passed through the shopping district. Unusually for this man, he was for some unknown reason quite determined.
The sun had completely set by the time Soujuurou reached Aida Church. Father Eiri wasn’t in the chapel, but Suse Yuika was in the middle of cleaning up, wearing her nun’s habit.
“Good evening, Yuika-san.” Soujuurou called out to announce his visit. He was being considerate to the blind Yuika.
“Oh, Shizuki-san. I’m terribly sorry, but we’ve planned to close down early today. Please come again tomorrow for a consultation.”
“No, I didn’t come for a consultation. I’ve got something I wanted to ask.” Perhaps due to the question being about romance, Soujuurou scratched his cheek. While he seems naïve, but at his core, he was weak to beautiful women.
“My. That’s an expression I wouldn’t have expected from you, Shizuki-san. I’m surprised— No, I’m delighted. That you have those sorts of worries as well.” My my, said the Sister as if to tease Soujuurou, a reassuring smile on her face. Although she would never admit it, Yuika enjoyed teasing others just as much as her older sister, Ritsuka.
“...You’ve known Aozaki for a long time, haven’t you?”
“I wouldn’t exactly say that. I’ve only known her personally for about three or four years.” “That’s plenty. You only need to answer this if you know the answer, and if it’s something you can tell me, but did Aozaki have a first love?”
“—Could you repeat that?”
That’s right. According to informant T, ‘Aoko was betrayed by her first love’. However person T had a personality where you could trust them, but couldn’t always believe them. So first he needed to confirm whether ‘there really was a first love’. Honestly, Soujuurou was hoping that this was all a joke from person T.
However. “Ah, that’s what you’re talking about. Yes, she had one, a first love. Aoko-san’s first love is a story that’s horrifying to hear, and harsh to tell, a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.” She grinned, with a smile unbecoming of a woman of the church. Sister Yuika crushed what little hope the young man had left.
“...Yuika-san, do you know that person?” Soujuurou asked as his mind was bleached with an anemia-like shock.
The sister replied with the smile of a pure, holy maiden, dodging the question. “I can’t see, after all. I can’t tell what his face looks like, and I’ve only heard the story. From my position, I can’t talk about people’s past based on speculation. It would, however, be a different story if you were to enter the confessional.”
The confessional was a small closed off room made of wood in the corner of the church. Kind of like two telephone boxes placed next to each other, a person with troubles would enter one side, the Father would enter the other; it was a space where they could share their sins alone. The confessional could be called a cornerstone of this world. After leaving this secret room, all the secrets and suffering would be ‘erased’. In a town with a lot of people living there, the confessional was probably an excellent form of mental healing. Even small wounds can lead to a person falling apart if the pain remains. Even if it doesn’t result in any drastic resolution, even if it only stops the pain, just the fact that there’s somewhere they can open their heart to will be a support.
“That small room might be a bit much. It’s nothing that serious. No, maybe it is serious?”
“I wasn’t involved, so I can’t really say anything for sure. However… yes. If I were Aoko-san, I would have silenced everyone involved with her first love, felt despair at the state of the world, and joined a convent. Thinking about it, there’s no other reason for a young woman to become a Sister.”
“...um. Is this where I’m supposed to laugh?”
“Of course. There’s a lot of troubles in this world that would stop you from keeping on going if you don’t laugh them away.” It was a terrifying joke. If you were to ask what was so terrifying about it, it would be the fact that this Sister rarely ever made a joke. “We’ve gotten a bit off track. Ritsuka’s probably more qualified for this kind of talk. Finding out about gossip, and selling it, is her field of expertise.”
“...I see. Where’s Ritsuka-san now?”
“She would be in the break room, indulging in her laziness. I imagine she’s still in there now.” The break room was inside the chapel, where Sister Yuika and Father Eiri lived. Soujuurou thanked Yuika and headed towards the break room.
“Ritsuka-san, are you in there?” Even when he knocked there was no reply. He tried turning the doorknob, and it turned smoothly. The door wasn’t locked, so she must be inside. She may have still been sleeping. “Excuse me, I’m coming in.” However after opening the door and going inside, he found the break room deserted. Despite it being almost spring, the oil heater was on. On the table was a half-eaten mandarin, a half read mystery novel and a piece of notepaper.
“Hm?” Soujuurou picked up the obviously suspicious note.
‘Did you think it was the useless wicked Sister? Too bad, it was the almighty slacker helper, Ritsuka-chan! I overheard what you were talking about. It’s a very interesting incident, but I’ll pass this time. Ako-chan’s lightning is scary, so I’m not going to involve myself in the matter at all.’
The message was written in pink and green highlighter, and disintegrated as soon as he had finished reading it. Soujuurou let out an exaggerated sigh. “Either way, both sisters were useless.” Saying that honest impression out loud, he turned the heater off.
The next day, foggy, just before noon. Soujuurou was about to leave for the café to meet up with the others, but Aoko called out to him as he was about to leave the Kuonji Mansion’s lobby.
“Oh, did you have work again today Soujuurou? ...If you’re scheduled in, then there’s nothing you can do about it, but you’re going to be alright for exams, aren’t you? There’s only two days left, you know?”
“Whether I’ll be alright or not, I’ll be back in the evening. I can pull an all-nighter then.”
“That’s alright then. But between yesterday and today, you’ve been acting rather suspicious… You haven’t found another shady job, have you?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. It’s sort of like volunteering this time.”
“Volunteering… Seriously, that’s just making me worry all the more.”
Dodging Aoko’s questioning, Soujuurou hurried to the café. It was the start of March, and the end of year exams were fast approaching. This investigation started by Captain Mino had reached its third day. At Misaki High School, preparation for the graduation ceremony started as soon as the end of year exams were over. Soujuurou also didn’t want to increase Aoko’s worries during the exams, so he wanted to finish their investigation before then. There were only a few days left, no, looking at the situation they would have to finish the investigation today. However.
“Mino-senpai seems kind of out of it, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, considering he’s only got up until the graduation ceremony to confess, Yoshitsune-kun’s rather calm.”
In an out of the way corner of Café Janus, Soujuurou and Ichigozuka talked in hushed voices. Since Mino had yet to arrive, Soujuurou had asked that complaint-like question to the young man.
“Well, that’s probably the difference in our objectives. The two of us are interested in the events surrounding Aoko-chan and Yoshitsune-kun. On the other hand, Yoshitsune-kun’s feelings were already decided from the start. What he’s doing is more like a final safety check. Unless some major truth gets revealed, I imagine he will confess to Aoko-chan when the time limit is up.”
“...A major truth?”
“It would be if Aoko-chan is currently going out with anyone, wouldn’t it? Yoshitsune-kun doesn’t seem too interested in this first love of hers, after all. Think about it. If you confess to a girl who already has a boyfriend, it’ll only cause trouble for her, won’t it?”
I see, Soujuurou nodded. It seemed like he was the only one who was stuck on Aozaki Aoko’s first love. Ichigozuka was truly cheering Mino Yoshitsune on, and Mino was checking that there wasn’t going to be a landmine buried when he confesses. As a man, if Mino discovered that there was a ‘landmine’, as long as it wasn’t too big, he would be prepared to jump over it, you could say.
“However, he wouldn’t want Aozaki to get hurt in that explosion. Senpai wanted to know whether or not Aozaki would be inconvenienced by his confession…”
“That’s on the money. It’s fine if he takes damage himself, but he wants to avoid the other party being troubled by it. It’s a little bit over considerate, but I guess Aoko-chan is just that important to him.”
Captain Mino’s character was exactly as the rumours said. Him rebuilding Misa-High’s cheer squad from the verge of extinction may have been because of that moral fibre. Cool, handsome, silent, and most of all prudently considerate. Soujuurou was quite impressed, thinking that the white clothed captain would be unlikely to ever let his emotions get out of control in front of others.
“Sorry I’m a bit late. ...No, don’t worry about the menu. We’ll be leaving straight away.”
Speaking of the devil, Captain Mino appeared in his usual cloak, sending away the waitress, who had already become his fan.
“Oh? You’re unusually hasty. Did you get some new information?”
“A sudden development. I’ve discovered something very important.” Despite saying they’d be leaving straight away, Mino sat down. Leaning over the table, he began talking. “The younger sister of one of our club members was one of Aozaki’s classmates in middle school. I was busy talking with them until now, and I’ve found out how to identify her first love.”
“Supposedly, They’re older than Aozaki, a kind faced university student. And apparently they’re from where she grew up.”
“That’s rather vague. There’d be a lot of men who fit that description, wouldn’t there?”
“No, if we look at who Aozaki spends time around, we should easily be able to figure out who it is. If he was a university student while Aozaki was in middle school, he would have to be at least five years older than her. It’s also someone from where she grew up, who still meets with her frequently. That was right, wasn’t it, Shizuki?”
“Yes. ...Huh. That’s odd. If she was talking to someone that much older, there would have to be a lot more people seeing it, wouldn’t there?”
“That’s it. In other words, her first love would have to be someone who it wouldn’t be strange for her to talk to, someone who she meets with frequently, yet it wouldn’t seem like they were dating. Under these conditions, I can think of one person who fits.”
“In town or at school, it wouldn’t seem strange for Aozaki to talk to him, at least five years older than her, with a kind face— Ah.” said Soujuurou, his face freezing up. With those conditions, there was one person who fit perfectly!
“Huh? Who, who? Who is it? Have you both figured it out already?”
“Yes. Although you likely haven’t met him, Ichigozuka-san…”
“The student council advisor at Misaki High School, Mr. Yamashiro Kazuki, fits the conditions.” Mino’s accusation indicated that things were ramping up. Thinking about it, the distance between Aoko and Yamashiro was rather strange. Rather than student and teacher, their communication was more frank, like that of siblings. They obviously trust each other, but they keep their distance and try not to rely on each other. There was more than enough evidence to assume that something happened between Aoko and Mr. Yamashiro in the past.
It was just before 3 in the afternoon. There was only another hour left before the school would shut, so this wasn’t the time to bother with a plan. The three of them rushed out of the café.
“Mr. Yamashiro, were you Aozaki’s first love?”
“Is this some new kind of harassment?”
With a smile on his face, Yamashiro Kazuki replied instantly, his tone of voice not matching his expression at all. That’s it. Explanation over. Soujuurou and the others' investigation had gone back to square one in three seconds flat. More accurately, it was over three seconds after they entered the staff room.
“...I apologize. You see, for very personal reasons, I, um, wanted to ask something about Aozaki.”
“No, no need for an explanation, Mino-kun. I don’t ever want to get involved with that walking disaster. If I asked why you asked that question, and why you asked it to me, I’d lose my escape route.” Looking up at the clock, Yamashiro Kazuki smiled at the intruders. There was three minutes until school was over. His expression showed an iron will to do not even a minute of overtime. “Is that everything? I’ll take my leave then. However, Captain Mino, Shizuki-kun. Since you’ve brought an intruder into school grounds so suddenly, I’m pretty sure the student council president will hear about it. It’s a bother though, so I’ll pretend I didn’t see anything.” Saying goodbye, Mr. Yamashiro left the staff room. He turned the key in his sedan and left to go home, happily on time.
“Mr. Yamashiro is the same as always.”
“Indeed. Even the school newspaper, printed on straw paper, changes with time, but Mr. Yamashiro never even bends. In a way, it’s admirable how reliable he is.”
“Come on. I might not know him very well, but he seems like a failure as a person. He’s competent, but just look at his awful personality.”
It was just past four in the afternoon. The three were standing in front of the recently closed gate to Misaki High School, at a loss. The sun had begun to set and their only clue had now disappeared. It seemed like this would probably be it for the day.
“So that’s the end of the investigation then.”
“You’re right. Tomorrow’s our last chance.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. The whole investigation ends here. Tomorrow’s already the day before the end of year test, right? I can’t cause you any more trouble. Shizuki, allow me to thank you again. You were a great help.” Mino turned around to face Soujuurou, deeply bowing his head.
“...Senpai, are you going to go confess to Aozaki now then?”
“No, it’d be impolite to push myself onto her now. Aozaki has her end of year tests as well. I’ll wait until after the graduation ceremony.”
“Yeah. It was fun, but this is probably a good place to wrap things up. To be honest, I’m pushing things a bit far myself. It may not look like it, but I do actually have a part time job. It’s hard to leave three days open from work.”
“...” While Soujuurou seemed quite unsatisfied, Mino and Ichigozuka seemed rather cheerful.
“I’ll drive you to the café. You haven’t had dinner yet, right? I’m the oldest one here, I’ll treat you as long as it’s on the cheaper side.” The three of them climbed into Ichigozuka’s Pajero. The sound of the 4WD engine roared up the tranquil hill road. And that was how it happened. Their three day long adventure of a first love came to a close, with an unsatisfying and inconclusive end.
Soujuurou declined Ichigozuka’s invitation and headed back to the Kuonji Mansion alone. It seemed like Mino and Ichigozuka were enjoying a fancy dinner at the café, but Soujuurou just wasn’t in the mood. He climbed up the tall hill and entered the Kuonji estate. Opening up the solemn metal railing between the stone gate posts, Soujuurou walked through the woods. It wasn’t long before he reached Kuonji Mansion, bathed in the evening sun.
“I’m home.” He opened the front door with a vigor-less greeting.
“Welcome home. Is the reason for your depressed face that you couldn’t find what you were looking for?”
“Alice…?” Had she been waiting for Soujuurou, or did she just happen to be going past at the time? Regardless, Kuonji Alice was standing alone in the lobby. She was holding onto a red box. Inside were twenty-four chocolates, a witch's playthings.
“Don’t tell anyone, but long ago, Touko-san said this. ‘Oh my, it seems my little sister has gotten obsessed with love. She’s still in elementary school, yet she’s even asking how to get engaged.’ or something or other.” It wasn’t an act. Alice said this in a tremendously monotone voice that would make you think of the millennia old tree on Yakushima Island. While he didn’t know Alice’s motives, after seeing the box in hands, Soujuurou could guess the situation. Let’s be careful of things overhead.
“Who was it?”
“...I haven’t heard that much. However, you know that when Touko-san was living at the Aozaki house, she had a senior apprentice. They would travel to the Aozaki’s house each day, and worked as Aoko’s private tutor as well.”
“———” Ah, of course, Soujuurou bit his lip. ...That’s right. Since he first heard about this first love, somewhere in his heart he had already realized. A person that Aozaki Aoko knew well before she became a mage, someone who watched over her. Attractive and dressed in black, they even asked if Aoko wanted to run away together. “I thought I was finished, but something’s come up. Thanks Alice, I’m just going to see Father Eiri for a bit.”
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t think it’s a good thing to pry into the past, but I understand how you feel, so—— Father, Eiri?”
Soujuurou dashed out the door as Alice reached out in an attempt to stop him. But Soujuurou’s speed was that of an arrow, and before Alice could call out, he disappeared into the sunset.
Alice let out a gloomy sigh. A chirping came from her shoulder, as a blue robin landed there. “Alice-san, whatcha up to down here? Who was on the phone?”
At the bird’s chirping, Alice said “Oh.” and covered her eyes apologetically. “Oh no. There was a call from the student council secretary, and Aoko rushed out straight afterwards… Oh, and I forgot to tell Shizuki-kun about the most important part.”
“And on purpose as always. That’s Alice-san for you!” Instantly the girl’s open palm swung around. With a ‘boing’ sound, the blue bouncy ball whizzed around the lobby.
After running to the café, Soujuurou found Mino and Ichigozuka still inside. It looked like they had finished their meal, and were relaxing with some tea. It was lucky that Ichigozuka believed dinner should be a relaxing experience.
“What’s wrong, Shizuki? It seems like you went home then immediately came back here.”
“Oh? Does that mean that you couldn’t resist the temptation of a meal? I wouldn’t have expected any less from you, Soujuurou-kun.”
“Mino-senpai, today’s investigation isn’t over yet. I’ve learned some new information. Aozaki’s first love, is at Aida Church.” While still catching his breath from running here, Soujuurou got straight to business.
“Hmm” Captain Mino’s dignified gaze narrowed.
“What?” Ichigozuka’s aloof aura suddenly changed. “Is that true?”
“From what I’ve heard, Aozaki’s first love was a private tutor. And at the time, a young man from Aida Church was visiting the Aozaki’s house regularly.” Soujuurou explained this, hiding the fact that the private tutor was also there as mage’s apprentice.
“I see… So we gave up about five hours too early then.” Mino lowered his school cap as he stood up. “Let’s head to the church. Regardless of what kind of person her first love is, I want to find out whether they’re still dating.”
“Ichigozuka-san, please get your car ready. We need to get there quickly, before the church closes.”
In front of the two who could barely control their eagerness, Ichigozuka looked flustered. Actually, it looked more like he was about to run away. “Wai- Wait, please. I really can’t hang around with you guys anymore, like I’m busy with work, you know.”
“You’ve already said that was from tomorrow. Ichigozuka-san, we’re counting on you.”
“You just need to drive us there. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
The two youthful students leaned forward vigorously. Ichigozuka had nowhere to run. He was basically their captive. “...Argh, fine. But it’s already seven. If the church is closed, we’ll be going straight home.” Of course, the two replied immediately.
“Well, I guess this’ll be the final test of my luck.” thought Ichigozuka as he pulled himself together, and ferried the young men to their destination.
Perhaps as a gift for Mino’s everyday good deeds, the Church hadn’t been closed yet. There was light coming from the chapel, and the front gate was still open. Sister Yuika wasn’t in the chapel, but in her place was the leader of the church, Father Fumizuka Eiri. As if he had been expecting Soujuurou and the others, the black robed priest smiled. “Now this is an unusual combination. I’m happy to see you’re doing well, Captain Mino.” It seems like Father Eiri knew not just Soujuurou, but Mino and Ichigozuka as well. As to be expected of a priest who left the church work to a Sister and would frequently walk around Misaki Town. He was well connected.
“My apologies, Father Fumizuka. Today I’m here regarding the school, but for personal reasons.” Walking brazenly through the rows of pews, Mino confronted the Father in the middle of the chapel. For the Father, this was just a normal consultation, but for Mino this was the final play of the game. The harsh expression on his face was something unavoidable for a man standing before his rival in love.
“...Hm, you don’t seem very relaxed. Now that I think about it, I’ve never talked about anything personal with you before. It’s a good opportunity, go ahead and ask whatever you want. Well, It’s almost certainly going to be about Aoko though.” Fumizuka Eiri was a man to be feared. Just seeing the determination in Mino Yoshitsune’s eyes, and the faces of Soujuurou and Ichigozuka standing silently behind him, he was already quite sure of the situation.
“———” The tension was so thick you could choke on it. Sparks flew between the white and black cloaked men. Ichigozuka held his breath as he watched the two from the door, waiting for one of them to make the first move. It wouldn’t seem strange if they crossed blades right here. Perhaps Soujuurou didn’t want to get too close to the priest, as he was making sure to stay at least three paces away, watching things from between Mino and Ichigozuka. They were all lined up from the altar to the entrance, starting with the Father, then Mino, Soujuurou, Ichigozuka, and finally the door.
“Senpai.” Soujuurou called out to Mino’s from behind, who was watching the priest closely. If you can’t say it then I will, was what he implied, urging Mino on.
“I know. Intimidation won’t work on Father Eiri. ...Father. It may be inconsiderate to ask this, or even seem like the question of an honest fool. Are you currently in a relationship with Aozaki?”
“Of course. It’s been over six years, after all. It’s not a relationship you can cut off that easily.”
“———. Did you also betray her horribly?”
“If you consider playing havoc with her destiny, then yes, I guess I have some responsibility for that.”
“And how does Aozaki feel after all that?”
“In the end, It’s already been done. It’s not like holding a grudge would change anything. From her point of view, it’s a situation where all she could do is cry herself to sleep.”
Mino collapsing to his knees——— was something he showed no indication of doing. “I see. I’ve heard plenty.” The manliness in those words was truly that of he who had led the cheer squad for two years. The conversation with the priest had revealed a likely hopeless situation for Mino. Just like the unconfirmed information said, Aoko was betrayed horribly by the one who was her first love, yet despite that they still had a relationship. Just looking at that, it would seem Aoko was madly in love.
But Mino had promised to himself. If Aozaki was currently in a relationship with him, and was happy, then Mino’s confession would be nothing but a bother. He wouldn’t intrude. But it’s a different story if the relationship didn’t seem to be a happy one. As a man, all that was left was to fight it out with that first love.
“I apologize for disturbing you at such a late hour. It seems like the two of us will have another confrontation before too long. Excuse me.” he said, turning around, with his cloak fluttering behind him.
Father Eiri called out to his turned back “ Ummm. It seems that you’re misunderstanding, so I’ll say it clearly. I’m not Aoko’s first love, and I’m not a beast who gets aroused just because someone is of the opposite sex either, right?”
Both Mino and Soujuurou were lost for words.
This wasn’t something that he couldn’t ignore, Soujuurou thought. Taking a step forward, he began questioning the priest. “That can’t be. You were an apprentice at Aozaki’s place, weren’t you? And then according to Alice, Aozaki’s first love was an older apprentice.”
“Ah, that’s where you’ve gotten confused. Soujuurou-kun, my relationship with Aoko’s grandfather was that of friends. I wasn’t his pupil.” In the first place, it’s taboo for a clergyman to learn magecraft, Father Eiri conveyed with his eyes. With Mino present, they couldn’t talk about magecraft, after all.
“Then, what about going to the Aozaki’s house everyday?”
“As part of my swordsmanship training, I was climbing the mountain every day.”
A faint dizziness came over Soujuurou. Their investigation had returned to the starting point. Even the perseverant Soujuurou couldn’t help but feel it had all led to nothing.
“No, It may be a bit too early for you to give up. I may not be the one, but it’s true that there was someone traveling to the Aozaki’s house as an apprentice. I know that they learned together with Touko-san, and also tutored Aoko when they had time to spare.” Someone cleared their throat behind him, but in his urgency, that sound didn’t enter Soujuurou’s consciousness. “Then, who is it?” Soujuurou’s direct question, and Mino’s truth-demanding gaze were thrust towards the priest. Father Eiri’s mouth twisted into a grin.
“It was Ritsuka.” It was someone the two of them had never expected, a name completely unrelated.
“As I was saying, Ritsuka was the one who traveled to the Aozaki’s house as an apprentice. You probably know this already, Soujuurou-kun, but at the time, Touko-san was the favorite child. People said that it was certain she would be the next in line. The one who was sent by the association as a supervisor and assessor was Ritsuka. Supposedly it was an easy decision, since this was Ritsuka’s hometown.”
“...I’m sorry. Can we go over that again, Father? When you say Ritsuka, do you mean the one famous in the shopping district, who doesn’t work, and no one knows what she does, however she happily window shops at the clothing stores every day, that vague and fuzzy Miss Suse Ritsuka?”
“Yes. The fuzzy one. I confess, Aoko’s first love wasn’t me, but Ritsuka.”
“But, Miss Ritsuka is a woman————”
“That she is. But what of it?”
What of it? What of it? What of it?
With the priest’s cruel answer, The captain of the cheer squad’s head was spinning. Soujuurou could clearly hear the sound of his heart breaking. With a thud, Mino Yoshitsune’s legs gave way and he fell to his knees. ...The chapel fell into an unpleasant silence, which must have lasted for a whole minute.
Slowly, the man clothed in a white cloak stood up between the rows of benches. “...I’m sorry for disturbing you. I’d be thankful if you would keep tonight's events private.”
“Of course. I’m not that merciless.”
The handsome young man turned his back to the priest, walking towards the door, unsteady with anguish.
“Senpai? Are you fine with this?”
“...I can’t interfere with another's romance. If that's what Aozaki seeks in love, then it isn’t my… No, it isn’t a man’s business to interfere.”
“???” Soujuurou couldn’t at all understand what Mino had said. When he had heard that Ritsuka was Aoko’s first love, they were surprised at very different things. Who knows when Soujuurou would learn of the term homosexuality.
Even forgetting to thank Ichigozuka, Mino left the chapel alone.
“Well, that was a shocking end. Maybe I should have gone a bit easier on you, Yoshitsune-kun.” said Ichigozuka as he watched Mino leave, nodding guiltily .
“...Mm. Ichigozuka-san. Mino senpai’s expression made it look like the world had ended. Why is that?”
“If you don’t know then don’t worry about it. Anyway, we’re finished here. With this the case is closed. So we should go home too, Soujuurou-kun.” Not taking a step away from the entrance, Ichigozuka called Soujuurou over.
With the smile of a saint, Father Eiri called out to Ichigozuka. “Ah, please wait Soujuurou, and you as well. Actually, there’s someone I wish to introduce to you as well. Please, come in.”
The door next to the altar opened, which led to the residential quarters. The one who appeared was a long haired, blue-eyed, seventeen-year old girl. One who had a sweet outward appearance, but on the inside physically emanated older sister aura.
“The case hasn’t been closed yet. You guys seem to have been having quite the interesting conversation.” That is, no matter which way you look at it, it was our dependable student council president, Aozaki Aoko.
What do you mean, 'ugh'. However, Soujuurou’s reaction wasn’t unreasonable. He was investigating Aoko’s first love while keeping it a secret from her. If it were found out, he would inevitably end up with the same fate as Kinomi Housuke. It was like his limbs were going numb from the shivering.
“You, stay where you are. If I see even an indication of you trying to run, not even I know what’s going to happen.” Not hiding her rage at all, Aoko rolled up her sleeves as she strode over. Her harrowing presence was easily three times as strong as it was at the amusement park.
While preparing himself for death, Soujuurou said “Please wait for a moment. I understand your reasoning, but is it really that big of a deal!?” Somehow, in a desperate attempt to stop Aoko, Soujuurou managed to raise his objection.
However. “Not you, the one back there!” Aoko’s target wasn’t Soujuurou, but the young man breaking out into a cold sweat next to the entrance, Ichigozuka.
“Of course I’ll still be having a nice long talk with you later, Shizuki-kun, but at the moment there’s someone who’s an even bigger problem. Now, let’s hear it. Why would you, the culprit, be deliberately going around with Mino-senpai, Ritsuka!”
“!?” Upon hearing the name ‘Ritsuka’, Soujuurou reflexively turned around. Of course, Ichigozuka was the only one behind him. “Ritsuka-san? ...You mean Ichigozuka-san is!?”
“Ah, ahahaha… Um, how should I put this, I wasn’t really deceiving you———— Well, I guess the game’s up.” Ichigozuka laughed frivolously to hide his embarrassment. Aoko continued silently walking towards him. Making her way past Soujuurou, her right hand was lifted up to her chest. She was ready to release a full powered right straight. “Wait Ako-chan, It’s a misunderstanding. This time, I didn’t really do anything!”
“Can someone explain! I have no idea what’s going on anymore!”
“Ah, I never did tell you about this, Soujuurou-kun. Ritsuka is from the Mage’s Association, working in espionage and intelligence. Her specialty is disguise. She can even change her skeletal and muscle structure. At the time she pretended that the female and male Ritsuka’s were an older sister and younger brother, and became an apprentice to the Aozaki family. Even though there was no need to do anything more at the time, she was tutoring Aoko. And the result was———— Of all things, Aoko, who was in elementary school at the time, ended up falling in love for the first time with the young man Ritsuka had disguised herself as, is how the story goes.”
“No way———— So Aozaki’s first love was even a misunderstanding!” With that stupendous truth, Soujuurou went straight past laughing and was just impressed. Aoko’s temples twitched upon hearing that reaction, as she closed in on Ichigozuka ————Suse Ritsuka.
“I may as well ask before I kill you. Hey Ritsuka. Why would you purposely disguise yourself as a man to follow Soujuurou and Mino-senpai?” This was the last chance for an explanation.
Looking up at Aoko from below, Ritsuka laughed awkwardly. “Haha. I thought it would be funny, so it just kind of happened.”
“I shouldn’t have expected anything else from you————!”
The sound of a full force punch echoed through the chapel. Ichigozuka flew through the air as if in slow motion, before crashing down to the hard stone floor.
On the top of a mountain far away from civilization… would be an exaggeration, but halfway up a mountain quite a distance from town, stood the house of a young girl. Her family was her mother and her father, her sister 4 years her elder, and herself. You couldn’t say that it was a normal family you would find anywhere, but it was a loving home. Apparently the girl’s mother and father married after being in love for a long time. Whether her father was weak-willed, or just patient, she did not know. It’s just that there was no dramatic event. The girl did not inherit the family leadership. At the time, their father had washed his hands of the family business by getting married, or so the girl and her older sister were told, but the truth was a little different.
The girl’s father met her mother in the first year of high school, and on the day he met her, he went to his father’s den, and said “It’s a different era now, and it never suited me in the first place. Either try someone else, or abandon it now.” It seems he said that straight to his father’s face. When the girl heard of that, she respected her father more than ever, however, it was a long time before that happened. The girl’s father was of average talent, but there was one conviction he had that could quiet her grandfather. That he loved her mother more than anything in the whole world, just that simple, commonplace conviction. Upon meeting his lifelong partner, he threw out hundreds of years of tradition without hesitation.
“Then the role will fall upon your children, are you fine with that?”
“Whether I accept it or run from it, I’m sure the role will fall to them. If my children decide to follow on with the family business, then as a parent I will of course support them. Well, not that a good-for-nothing like me would be able to have children.”
However, he was blessed with children. The first born was the older sister, whose abilities were noticed even before she was born. “This child is a prodigy only seen once in a hundred years.” Receiving that blessing from the organization, the father was a little bit troubled. He refused to continue on the family business, since he wasn’t suited for it, but lamenting over the irony of his daughter having that talent———— He was most certainly not.
“This is a problem. She’s going to take a lot of money. Even just her education will be ten times that of a normal person.” Since he had calmly accepted his daughters talent, he just let out a sigh at the difficulties of preparing an environment suitable for that talent. Seven years later. It’s unclear what questionnaires were filled out, but the older sister made the choice to succeed the grandfather of her own will. As a result, many private tutors of unknown nationality came and went from the house.
By the way, the prodigy’s little sister also showed a little bit of a glimpse of that talent. However, compared to her older sister, it was like a rare steak and a pre-packaged hamburger, a disappointment, in other words. As long as her older sister was the successor, the girl couldn’t take over the family business. “My sister was chosen, and I wasn’t.” It was a cruel truth, but that didn’t cause the girl to feel inferiority or envy. Rather, she felt lucky. She could live her life carefree and enjoy herself. However, in the depths of her heart, she might have held a little bit of a grudge against her sister. A few years after the girl had entered elementary school. A private tutor came to their house, completely different from any who had come before.
“The private tutors will be twins this time. They’re the pupils of my previous teacher. ...It’s a little complicated, but I guess they’d be my senior pupils. It seems like the older brother’s going to come along and help with the housework. If you think it’s a pain having to go to cram school, then why don’t you get him to teach you?”
That was where the girl first met the Suse sisters. Well it was more like when she first met Suse Ritsuka. For certain reasons, Ritsuka had come to the girl's house to investigate, acting as both roles. You could say she was a spy. At this time, the real Yuika had yet to begin working in Misaki Town. Ritsuka presented her real self as Yuika, and her male disguise as the younger brother Ritsuka. The younger brother who appeared calling himself Suse Ritsuka didn’t have that characteristic gloominess. He was a kind and easygoing, likable young man. As a university student who had come from the city, Ritsuka was the first stranger who the girl found easy to talk to and could rely on.
“Hey Ritsuka. Why don’t you ever go to study with Touko?”
“That’s my sister’s role. It’s a lot more fun spending time lounging around here with you, Ako-chan. Or rather, I don’t want to do anything too troublesome.”
From the way Ritsuka talked, the girl, as young as she was, could see through to his… or more correctly her, core. While seemed good, both on the outside and the inside, once you spend time with him, it became clear he was the lazy type. He was an incredibly amiable young man, and yet at his core he was a hopelessly undisciplined slacker.
“You really are a creature born to turn girls into your victims. Do you have any intentions of fixing that or anything?”
“Am I really that bad? Then I’ll go to the chiropractor sometime. It’d be good if it was yoga style. They say fixing your physique will straighten out your personality as well, don’t they?”
“No way, just straightening you out would be way too soft. Rather than getting someone to play with your spine, you should go straight to the hospital. Since you need your whole central nervous system replaced.”
“That’s horrible! But it’s also true! I’m scared of what you’re going to become, Ako-chan!”
Perhaps Ritsuka’s excessive uselessness flicked a switch in her, or perhaps it was just something like the measles. For whatever reason the girl trusted Ritsuka, held admiration for his approach to life, and in the end she mistook that for love. It was a mistake the girl regretted, so much that she would want to alter the Akashic Records.
And then, the fiery red autumn came to an end. When the girl learned that the Suse siblings would be leaving in two months' time, she demonstrated ample amounts of her inherent rationality and decisiveness.
“Yuika-san, I have a question. What do I need to do to get married to Ritsuka-san?” Having been asked that, Ritsuka’s older sister, Yuika exploded with laughter, as if she had heard the world’s funniest joke. It was completely incomprehensible. This is why I can’t stand anyone related to magecraft, the girl thought as she looked at Yuika like she would a pig.
The girl carefully formed her plan. The girl's conviction to absolutely win if she was going to do it, to win even if it killed her opponent, applied to her romance as well. She would confess on the last day before the Suse siblings left. There could be no better situation to force a reply while his retreat was cut off. Even though she was only in her final year of elementary school, her thought patterns were like a devil. However, the girl had fatefully bad luck. The girl had yet to learn that no matter how perfect her plans were, they were fated to tumble in a strange direction.
The first tragedy was that to achieve her mission, she asked for the older sister Yuika’s cooperation. Under the condition that she would keep it a secret from Ritsuka, The girl asked Yuika about various things, and in the end even opened up to her with girl’s talk. Right until the end, she never realized the reason why Yuika would cover her mouth every time she talked reservedly about her dreams.
And at last the long awaited day of the confession arrived. On the night that the moon looked the most beautiful over the mountains, Aoko called Ritsuka out, and confessed her love.
“In six years time, I, with my magnanimity and gracefulness, will, in place of my husband, go out into the world and demonstrate my usefulness, and in the future I will become a woman who earns at least seven figures. Ritsuka. How will you pass these six years? If you have no prospects, shall I ask Touko to put you in suspended animation while you wait?”
It was the perfect confession. If he waited for just six years, he could get the perfect wife. Of course he would wait, right? Or rather, it was a super aggressive warning that in six years, memories, or even life can be lost.
However, the second tragedy was now revealed. “Oh? You’re still in disguise, Ritsuka? It’s the last day, so you’ve got no need to disguise yourself as a man. Alright, I’ll remove the transformation.”
The carefree older sister appeared, trotting over to where the confession happened. For the girl who had chosen the porch for the confession because of its good view, well, it was a bit of a blunder. The older sister had just gotten out of the bath, and while drinking milk with a bath towel wrapped around her neck, she snapped her fingers. And with that sound, Cinderella's magic dissolved. Ritsuka’s body, which until now had been that of a young man, returned to its original female form.
“Wh, wh, wh——” The girl’s face turned bright red, and her fists began to shake. For the intelligent girl, it took only two seconds to understand the truth. At the same time it was a part of her dark history, that raged through her head like a tempest. Even if she hadn’t known it, she had asked the person she was going to confess to ‘What sort of things does he like?’ Also, her first love was actually a woman in disguise!?
Seeing the girl’s embarrassment was about to send her anger berserk, Ritsuka slowly backed away.
“...Why, would you do this?”
“I’m sorry, it was a secret mission. You know I wasn’t trying to deceive you?”
“...That’s not what I asked. When I went to Yuika for advice, why didn’t you either show your true self, or lead the conversation towards me giving up, is what I’m asking.”
“Oh, that? Mmm, I don’t think there was much I could do about that. I know this is me saying it myself, but my disguise is perfect, right? I had the confidence that I wouldn’t be found out until the end, you see? And you were obviously going to self-destruct, Ako-chan. Thinking about what was going to happen next, I just couldn’t resist, I mean, It was hilarious, so I just kinda, you know. Eh-he☆” Suse Ritsuka tapped herself on the head and stuck her tongue out as she apologized. Then the girl put her entire existence into a right straight, which exploded into Ritsuka’s solar plexus.
“I already knew it, but that woman is the worst.”
That was the story of the girl who was betrayed by her first love. Going back from now, it would be around six years ago now.
“...Uhh, I’ve remembered something awful…” Her body shaking, Aoko fixed up the scarf around her neck. Even though it was early spring, the early morning atmosphere was still plenty cold enough. Right now, it was twelve past six in the morning. The dimly lit sky was beginning to grow white beyond the forest of buildings surrounding the bus stop. Aoko was waiting for him. In the morning fog that covered the town on Misaki hill, not another person could be seen. It was still ten minutes before the first bus. It must be about time, she thought as she looked down at her watch. Just as she expected, a figure appeared from the fog covered intersection, headed towards the bus stop.
A height that drew the eyes, a white cloak and a white school cap. Mino Yoshitsune arrived at the bus stop, walking his bike with a travel bag hanging from it. Thinking it’s odd that someone else was there already, his eyes opened wide upon realizing that it was the kouhai he held deep affection for. However, that was just for a moment. The expression in Mino’s eyes turned from surprised, to calm, and warm. Of course she would go that far, he thought. She was dependable, like it was her own problem. Accepting that proudly, Mino Yoshitsune called out to her like normal. “Hey. Morning, Aozaki.”
“Good morning, Mino-senpai. I realize that it may be an inconvenience, but I’ve come to send you off.”
“Today’s the first day of the end of year exams. You must be pretty confident.”
“Yes. That’s why after I see you off, I’ll head to school and cram. As the student council president, I need to make sure that I get above average marks.”
Ahhh, Aoko laughed.
I see, Mino returned a grimace.
While the story was now over, Mino’s misunderstanding had already been resolved last night. After being scolded by Aoko, Soujuurou had called Mino to explain the situation. During the call, Mino had asked Soujuurou “Did you call me up because you were asked by Aozaki?”
Soujuurou replied immediately. From the start, Aoko had said “If Mino-senpai asks whether I asked you to call him, say that I did.’ Upon hearing that, Mino Yoshitsune correctly understood Aoko’s feelings. Although she had probably heard the details of what happened from Soujuurou, Aoko had set the situation back to its starting point. To a blank sheet of paper.
Who to, and for what reasons he confesses. That choice, that action belongs to Mino Yoshitsune. Even if Aoko’s answer is already decided, she would not say that until after Mino had made his choice. Aoko would have hated it if her interruption had twisted Mino’s choice. Understanding that fairness, Mino smiled to himself while holding the receiver, and found his answer to his feelings from the last two years. … ...He looked back at those times fondly. That’s right. If it were possible, he would have liked to continue his school life with Aozaki Aoko forever.
At that point he should have realized the truth behind his emotions. Thinking that there was no choice to confess since the time limit was here. That thought showed that he had been mistaken about something. What he had fallen for was the ‘pleasant way of life’ that Aozaki Aoko demonstrated, but he didn’t attempt to understand her any deeper than that. He dreamed that Aozaki Aoko should just stay as that. I just wanted to continue studying together with that girl, was what he had selfishly thought. That wasn’t love towards another person. It was nothing more than a yearning for his own youth. Whatever others might think, that was the conclusion Mino Yoshitsune came to.
That’s why he decided to strongly, thoroughly put the lid on his own feelings until the very end. In his own way, that was Mino Yoshitsune’s thanks to Aozaki Aoko over these last two years.
“But I’m surprised that you knew it was today. I hadn’t told anyone but the teachers.”
“Of course I knew. After all Senpai, you left the preparations for the graduation ceremony up to the rest of the cheer squad, right? Ah, so you’re not going to be here on that day, I thought.”
“So that was it. Is the vice-leader… No, the leader, managing with everything?”
“Somehow. But He respects you so much that he ended up saying that he ended up saying it’s too difficult for him, that he wants to quit.”
“The fool. The role of leader is too much for anyone. Finding a way through that difficulty is the leader's first job. Tell him that for me.”
“——Understood. You know, that’s quite a wise saying.”
The two of them talked as if nothing had happened, still keeping the same distance between them as always. It was almost as if they would return to the same school life as always afterwards. From far off came the drum like sounds of an engine. From within the morning fog, a dull light approached.
“The bus is coming. It’s about time.”
“Sure is. Senpai, what university are you going to? If it’s not too far away, I’ll come visit on summer break or something.”
“No, that would be a bit difficult. I’m not just going to university, but I’m studying abroad. I’m going to Cornell University in New York. I wanted to study genetic engineering, you see.” Upon seeing Aoko’s eyes open wide, Mino began scratching his nose out of embarrassment. Aoko had no way of knowing that just that expression would become encouragement for the adversity that was awaiting Mino.
“Congratulations, Senpai. You are really smart, after all.” She smiled, wishing him well from the bottom of her heart.
“Thank you. It’s unfortunate that I don’t have your courage or quick wit, however.”
The bus came to a stop. The door opened. Hiss, it went. It was almost as if it was urging the passengers to hurry up and get on. The engine was idling. The driver sleepily stifled a yawn. The time until departure was three minutes, plus how long it took him to resolve to say goodbye.
“But even though you’re going so far away, you’re still wearing that cloak.”
“Yes. At first it was rather embarrassing, but now I can’t feel relaxed without it. Do you remember? That time you-”
“Yes. That was the very first unreasonable demand that I pushed onto you.”
Mino replied to Aoko’s cheerful smile, with a smile of acknowledgement. Just after he had taken over the role of leader, he was planning to quit, thinking that he couldn’t do it. Then the new student council president came and forced this cloak onto him. ‘Everything starts from the outward appearance. Please wear this Senpai. It’s definitely going to suit you.’ Mino had been with this garment ever since. It was like a statement of his determination. As long as he was wearing it, he didn’t have room to make any complaints. Those around him also placed high expectations and hopes onto Mino Yoshitsune and his fluttering white cloak. In that case, I’ve got no choice but to grin and bear it, was how Mino motivated himself. And most of all. He was happy that the color she had chosen for him was white.
The president and leader’s joint work was all like this, a series of extravagant accomplishments. A brilliant youth. Looking back on it after it was over, those wonderful days really had gone at the speed of light.
“——Oh man, I think I might cry.”
“What are you saying? Tears wouldn’t suit you, Senpai.”
The horn sounded. The bus driver changed the gear from neutral into first.
“Senpai, Is it alright if I apologize for one thing?” Her cheerfulness from before was gone, as Aoko’s expression had clouded over.
“Apologize? For what?”
“You know, the cloak and stuff. I was always pushing you beyond your limits. I might have completely messed up your high school life.”
“————” He purposely didn’t ask why Aoko might have thought that. What flew into his heart was nothing but the feeling of admiration for the kohai in front of him. Aoko understood Mino Yoshitsune’s character well. She completely understood that he was a person who would feel more at ease in a laboratory than in the cheer squad. Understanding that, she trusted Mino, using him effectively. It’s no surprise that she would feel indebted to him. However——
“No, not at all.” He took off his school cap. Without letting his emotions get the best of him, Mino Yoshitsune stared straight at the kohai he had yearned for over the last two years. “My school life was perfect. ——I had good senpai, and good kohai.”
Mino had a thought. A school isn’t the building. The real studying would start from here on, until his last breath. These three years would come to color the rest of his life. Being in contact with people who, living by their own nature, you would never have a chance nor a reason to meet. An extraordinary place reserved only for the young, where they can spend time together with people who they wouldn’t have any contact with in life otherwise. That’s what sort of time high school is, he thought.
“You still have a year left. I’m a little bit jealous of Shizuki-kun.”
“Wh- why are you bringing him up now?”
“I wanted to get one up on you at least once before the end. I’ll be off then. Stay well.” Mino put his feet onto the step. The driver stepped on the clutch.
“You take care too, Senpai! If you become famous, I’ll come sponge off you!”
The door shut. She waved her hand.
The morning sun had already risen to halfway up the buildings. The bus took the graduating student away to a faraway country, bathed in the morning sun.
…...that was how it happened. The adventure of first love had safely reached its destination, as the curtain fell, unnoticed.
Let’s rewind the story a little bit.
“No then, we should head home too. Tomorrow’s the finals, and you’ve got a hellish all-nighter ahead of you.”
The root of all evil, Suse Ritsuka fell before Aoko’s right straight. Sister Yuika wasn’t home, and Father Eiri was dealing with Ritsuka. So naturally, Aoko and Soujuurou were walking home together from the church, just the two of them.
“Do you know why Ritsuka pretended to be a man? ‘Boys’ clothes look rather cool, don’t they? Rough and smart and wild, they have a different appeal to girls' clothes. Of course I would want to try wearing them, right?’ is what she said. ...Well, I do understand that feeling a little.”
“... So it wasn’t for her work, she was just doing such a strange thing as a hobby. … the city really is like another world.”
As the two walked up the hill, they reflected on what had happened. After Aoko told him the truth about her first love, Soujuurou let out a deep breath as if a weight had lifted off his chest, before returning to his usual demeanor, where you could never quite tell what he was thinking.
“By the way. I’m kind of curious, why did you stay quiet back then?”
“When you spat out ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ to me. At the start, you didn’t say that it was a request from Mino-senpai, right? Isn’t that not very like you?”
“Did that happen? Couldn’t you just be imagining things?” Soujuurou evaded the question really naturally and Aoko frowned at him. The reason Soujuurou couldn’t answer that question, was that while it was a ‘request from someone’, it was also out of ‘his own interest’. At that time, Soujuurou’s own feelings and Mino Yoshitsune’s overlapped, and he felt that for some reason, he didn’t want to tell that to Aoko. Or rather, he was pouting.
“...Well, anyway. This is the main part. As the first question, Why did you accept Mino-senpai’s request? That was the first time you had met him, right? And there was no benefit to you, either.”
“At first it was just going with the flow. But then I got serious once you were brought up.”
“Me? Why though?”
“Well—— I mean, it’s an important problem, isn’t it?” Soujuurou replied, not looking at Aoko and pouting. Aoko suddenly stopped. Soujuurou walked ahead briskly, puffing up his cheeks slightly.
Aoko stared blankly at Soujuurou’s back, “Wait, what do you mean by that?”
Surprised, she let out that half-witted question, the likes of which she hadn’t even heard from herself before.