“I’m back! Got my letter mailed off!” Hiyori announced upon returning from her errand at the convenience store. She’d apparently made friends when she’d gone to spend her summer vacation with her maternal grandparents, and they traded details of their lives of late via letter. It was a very Hiyori-esque thing to do–opting for snail mail over texting these days–and apparently she’d always dreamed of sending letters back and forth to friends in faraway places. She’d also enjoyed picking out stationery and writing utensils just for sending her letters, being sure to show Yokozawa the new pieces she’d selected.
“Welcome back, Hiyo.”
“Wow, it smells great in here!” she delighted, peeking into the kitchen–and she was quite right, as not only the kitchen but the entire apartment was filled with a sweet fragrance.
Hiyori had shown an interest of late in confectioneries, apparently having thoroughly enjoyed herself in making pudding with Yokozawa. She’d always had a talent for cooking, and everything she touched seemed to come out delicious.
Today, she’d been working all morning preparing a batch of madeleines. Apparently they were her grandmother’s favorite, so she’d been hard at work practicing the recipe in preparation for the woman’s upcoming birthday. Yokozawa had been drafted to help, as Hiyori’s father Kirishima was all thumbs in the kitchen. Letting a guy who couldn’t even properly peel apples into the kitchen was only inviting trouble.
“Probably about time for them to finish baking.” The timer reminded them there were only five minutes left on the bake time, and the dough visible through the oven window had taken on a golden brown hue.
“Really? Can we try them when they’re done? Or should we wait til they’ve cooled off some?”
“They’re probably tastier piping hot from the oven. I’ll start getting everything ready, so run and wash up.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back!”
According to the clock, it was almost 3 PM–a perfect time for a snack. As he was preparing the tea, the oven dinged its completion, and Hiyori returned just as Yokozawa was pulling the baking sheet from the oven.
“Woooow, they really baked up nicely!”
“Check and make sure they’re baked all the way through.”
“Oh, right!” The recipe had instructed them to use a toothpick to test the doneness. Yokozawa had never had occasion to try baking sweets until recently, but he’d realized that with a little practice and grasp of a few basics, he could manage. “They look fine, Oniichan!”
“Then grab a plate–one big enough to hold them all.”
“How about the one with the floral pattern?”
“Sure–that should be just the right size, I think.” Lifting the madeleines one by one from the mold, he carefully set them onto the plate Hiyori had brought over. It was apparently a plate from one of her late mother’s favorite brands, and the Kirishimas had a whole matching place setting as well.
Hiyori took one of the madeleines and placed it on a smaller plate, bringing it over to the small family shrine they kept for her mother.
“…Ooh, those look pretty tasty.”
“…! Oi, don’t sneak up on people like that!” Yokozawa snapped, jolting when Kirishima peeked over his shoulder to see what he was up to. He really wished the guy would stop pulling this kind of stuff while Hiyori was around.
“Can we try them?”
“That’s what I’m making preparations for right now. If you’ve got nothing to do, grab some cups for the table.”
“Yes sir~ Mugs are fine, right?”
“Hiyo! Which cups should we use for the tea?”
“I want to drink out of the floral-pattern tea cups!” The cups sitting ready with tea leaves and the matching teapot were part of a set they’d recently uncovered while tidying up–apparently part of the larger set of flatware Kirishima had received as a wedding gift years before. They hardly ever used it, so when they’d moved into this apartment, it had apparently been packed away. Hiyori had been the one to stop them from setting it back deep into the closet again with, “I’ll use it!” Apparently she’d learned how to pour tea after spending an afternoon at a friend’s house recently and wanted to try it herself.
The sight of the table, laden with the tea set and madeleines, reflected a rather domestic atmosphere, and Yokozawa mused with no small amount of joy that just six months ago, he never could have imagined himself enjoying this kind of life.
“Oh right, there was a letter in the mailbox, Dad!”
“Ah, thanks–looks like it’s from the complex’s Children’s Association.” He pulled the folded paper from the envelope she handed him, passing his gaze over the contents. “Hm, seems they’re going to have a Halloween party next month. Children up through elementary school can participate, and the Children’s Association will supply snacks. You’ll have to put a costume together yourself, though.”
“The people in this apartment complex sure are sticklers for their events.” Between flower viewing sessions and summer festivals, they were always looking for new ways to foster friendships between residents with the changing seasons. Even Kirishima, who was often away from his single-father home, made every effort to attend the functions whenever he could, it seemed.
“Well, it’s easy to lose contact with your neighbors when you’re living someplace like this–so they go out of their way to help people keep in touch with one another. What do you think, Hiyo? I’ll let them know you’re in if you want to go.”
“Sounds like fun! Can I ask Yuki-chan and the others first, though?”
“Of course; make sure to ask about a costume, too. But enough about that–can we try these now?”
“Sure–dig in!” She kept her gaze trained on Kirishima as he brought one of the madeleines to his mouth, apparently curious as to how they tasted, fresh out of the oven as they were. “…Well?”
“Delicious. So good I could see them selling in any restaurant right now.”
“Seriously? Thank goodness!”
“Absolutely–they baked up nicely.” The bake time and sweetness were perfect–at this rate, it’d be easy to eat a dozen without batting an eye. Hiyori nibbled her own madeleine before breaking out into a wide smile. Yokozawa himself admittedly wasn’t really one for sweets, so it was something of a mystery as to just why he found the treats that Hiyori baked particularly tasty. “I’m sure your grandmother will love ’em.”
“I hope so… Hey, Oniichan? I kind of want to try another flavor…what do you think?”
“Like strawberry, or green tea. Ah! But black tea might be tasty too!”
“I can’t see why not. Wanna try again next time?” There was still time until her grandmother’s birthday, so it wouldn’t hurt to experiment a bit–he could already picture the woman beaming in his mind.
“That reminds me…when’s your birthday?” Kirishima casually asked, reaching for a third madeleine.
“Oh, I never mentioned it? June 18th,” he returned easily, without giving it much thought–when the pair before him froze for a moment, before turning on him in stereo with:
“Why didn’t you say so sooner?!”
“I–I’m sorry?” Kirishima’s and Hiyori’s twin glares had him quailing. He did feel bad about neglecting to mention his birthdate, but he never would have expected them to react with such fury just by revealing it now.
“That’s two days after mine, dammit!”
“If I’d know, we could’ve celebrated yours and Dad’s together!”
Yokozawa’s vision swam as the pair railed against him, one after another. “I…I just had a lot going on and forgot…” He’d been so utterly preoccupied at the time with thoughts of Kirshima’s birthday, he hadn’t even had a chance to think about his own.
“As if that’s any excuse!”
“I can’t believe you could forget your own birthday!”
“But–who really cares about my birthday? I’m not at an age where anyone really celebrates anymore.” But the words he’d meant to soothe their ruffled feathers only served to further fan the flames.
“Geez, you just don’t get it!” Hiyori puffed her cheeks out irritatedly, standing in anger, and after setting her tea cup in the sink, she stormed off to her room.
“Hiyo–I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to…” Yokozawa figured he hadn’t been as tactful as he ought to have been, but he couldn’t really grasp what was so bad about the whole situation. At the very least, it seemed that his attempt to apologize hadn’t been the best idea.
“Yiiiikes, you really pissed her off,” Kirishima chuckled as he watched Yokozawa grope for a response, and while Yokozawa would usually have snapped back at him for this, right now the regret he felt at angering Hiyori was a bigger matter, and he couldn’t bring himself to engage in any sharp banter.
“Wh…what do I do now?”
The gaze Kirishima returned to him as he sought advice in his confusion, though, was steeped in irritation. “Just so you know, I’m pretty damn pissed too–how the hell could you wait this long to tell us? You’re telling me you forgot your own birthday for three whole months?”
“Not like I did it on purpose! I really just couldn’t remember.” The only times he ever really paid much attention to his birthdate were the years when he needed to go in to renew his driver’s license.
“Well, it’d be nice if Hiyo accepted that, but…”
“I mean, I’m 28 years old. Who pays attention to their birthday at that age?” Yokozawa was one of the more diligent types among his circle of acquaintances, but he never paid all that much attention to himself. And even if he had remembered, he likely wouldn’t have gone out of his way to bring it up. Most years, it was months later before he even remembered it.
“God you’re such an idiot. Your birthday’s the day people celebrate you being born! It’s something to celebrate no matter your age.”
“Well, sure, I understand that, but…”
“No–you obviously don’t understand. As far as Hiyo sees it, you’ve just pissed on one of the most important days of the year to her. How would you feel if she didn’t tell you her birthday and it passed without celebration?”
“………” He completely understood where Kirishima was coming from now and had no place to refute him. He’d told himself that it was simple a matter of the importance of the day being different for the 10-year-old Hiyori from the 28-year-old Yokozawa–but perhaps he’d just been reassuring himself.
“…So? Have we reflected a bit on what we’ve done?”
“Well, I’m sure she’ll get over it eventually. Just leave her be for now.”
“…I sure hope so.” Previously, he’d been able to convince her to forgive him after copious apologizing and promises of treats, but he wasn’t sure it would be quite that easy this time–not least of all because snack time was over for the day.
Still, going to confront her in her room might just draw her ire all the more, so he opted to take Kirishima’s advice and see how things panned out.
As he’d suspected, Kirishima’s consolation had granted nothing more than temporary peace of mind.
Hiyori had yet to forgive Yokozawa for not telling her about his birthday. Most days, she would’ve been filling his phone’s inbox with tales of what she’d done at school that day or pictures of Sorata, but this entire week, he hadn’t received a single note from her–with no responses to any messages he sent himself either.
He naturally had reflected deeply upon his lack of tact, but he’d never expected her anger with him to last this long. Still there was nothing to be done about it now.
He found himself glancing at his cell phone over and over, like some addict hoping against hope for a fix, but no new messages greeted him, and he wracked his brain for how exactly to go about begging her forgiveness.
“Yokozawa-san, what’s wrong? You’ve seemed really down lately…”
“…Nothing.” Hiyori was still pissed at him; of course he was going to be depressed. Henmi’s blithe expression grated more so than usual today.
“That doesn’t seem like a ‘nothing’ face, though? Did you have a fight with your girlfriend? Oh–wait, you said you didn’t have one, right?”
“………” He fixed a scathing glare on Henmi for his presumptive commentary, but since he wasn’t facing Yokozawa, it had no effect.
“Cheer up! You don’t seem yourself when you’re not being all intense and intimidating!”
“…Mind your own business.” If it’d been Kirishima he was fighting with, he might be able to come up with some solution to the whole issue on his own–but this was Hiyori. The fault lay entirely with him, but despite doing everything he could to make it up to her, he still couldn’t earn her forgiveness. He’d run out of options.
“Oh, hey! Why not discuss your worries with Kirishima-san? He seems like he understands the way women think.”
“Moron–as if I could ever…” do that, he’d started to say, but cut himself off. Asking Kirishima to help him mend this fence might be the only way to resolve things, and while he wasn’t entirely sure Kirishima would be able to offer might help, he was Hiyori’s father and therefore understood her better than anyone else.
“Forget it. Besides–are you sure you should be babbling away with me? If you’re finished with the work on hand, I’ll be glad to find more for you to handle.”
At Yokozawa’s suggestion, Henmi grew flustered and quickly scrambled back to his desk, engrossing himself in the contents of his computer screen. “That’s…quite all right. I’ve got more than enough on my plate as it is!”
After ensuring that no one else was paying him any attention, Yokozawa slid out his cellphone and glanced at the screen–once again, no new messages from Hiyori. “………” After some hesitation, he fired off a text to Kirishima. This meant he’d likely find himself once more indebted to the guy, but sometimes sacrifices had to be made for the greater good.
In exchange for helping Yokozawa with his problems, it was decided that they share a few drinks at Yokozawa’s apartment–partly because Yokozawa really wasn’t keen on spilling his sob story in public, but also at the personal request of Kirishima. After having picked up some snacks and booze on his way home, Yokozawa flipped on the lights in his apartment.
He hadn’t had occasion to do much tidying up lately, but given that he didn’t spend much time at home to begin with, it wasn’t really all that messy, and while there was a little dust building up in the corners of the entryway, he doubted Kirishima would notice.
“I’m coming in~ Damn, this place is as empty as usual…”
“Pipe down.” He couldn’t defend the dreary atmosphere, but the lack of much of anything around the room was mostly due to Sorata. Given the cat’s tendency to jump and climb, he couldn’t leave things just sitting around, and even though Sorata didn’t make it back here too often, now that he was staying with the Kirishimas, not much had changed. “I’ll get everything ready, so make yourself comfortable.”
“Need any help?”
“You’ll just get in the way; have a seat.” He slid the beers into the fridge and, after washing the rice, set the rice cooker before taking out plates to hold the snacks he’d bought. Even for the instant dishes, it was just too sad to leave them in their plastic wrap.
“You can really tell a lot about a person by looking at their bookshelf… You not only have everything organized by author name–you’ve also got them categorized alphabetically by publishing house. The hell are you, a bookstore?”
“It’s easier to find them that way; make sure you put anything you take out back where you found it.” Despite being told to take a seat, Kirishima had taken it upon himself to go investigate the contents of the bookshelf in Yokozawa’s bedroom, it seemed. He was a little curious as to what the guy was up to, but it was nothing to scold him over. He didn’t keep anything he might be embarrassed to be seen owning just lying around out in the open, after all–not that he felt he owned anything deserving to be hidden to begin with.
“What the…you told me you didn’t need this magazine! And here I find you bought your own copy. I’d have given you one for free if you’d just told me…”
“Hey–what the hell are you doing going through people’s things without asking?!” He dashed into the bedroom, frantic; he was sure he’d hidden the magazine where no one would find it–but when he found Kirishima standing in front of the bookshelf…there was nothing in his hands.
“…So you did buy it.”
“……” He grit his teeth, realizing he’d been quite handily tricked by Kirishima, now leering at him knowingly–how could he have been so stupid?
“…Want an extra copy to keep for storage?”
“Hell no.” The ‘magazine’ Kirishima spoke of was, of course, the women’s magazine containing the interview and photoshoot images Kirishima had posed for recently. He’d kept it secret that he’d wound up purchasing a copy for himself, storing it deep inside his closet, as he was far too embarrassed to have the thing lined up on his bookshelf.
“Aww, what–shy now, are we?”
“Now that kind of puffed-up response just makes it seem all the more suspicious. Spit it out–what were you gonna use it for?”
“Who the hell would use it for anything?!”
“Ah–did you imagine its ‘uses’ just now? You’re blushing, you know. Probably were thinking of something dirty, right?”
“Shall I make a guess? Let’s see…you’d probably wind up–”
“Cut it out,” he snapped, shoving Kirishima bodily down onto the bed at their side as he continued to mercilessly tease. He knew he couldn’t compete with Kirishima when it came to conversation, but while the guy might have the upper hand on him in sheer physical strength, Yokozawa was confident he stood a chance if he caught him unawares. “How long are you gonna stand there running that mouth of yours?”
“Ooh, someone’s feisty today. Can’t say I mind having the tables turned like this.”
“…How the hell do you manage to see everything in such a positive light?” No matter how Yokozawa raged at him, all his complaints breezed over Kirishima like wind through willow branches.
Kirishima chuckled lightly, both hands restrained as they were, as Yokozawa hung his head in defeat. “Because I’m in love, of course.”
“…You’re supposed to sleeptalk after you go to sleep.” He couldn’t keep up with Kirishima’s quips–but when he moved to rise again, he found his hips tugged back down, nearly causing him to flop down on top of Kirishima. “What the hell–”
“You’re the one who pushed me down–how can you call yourself a man after getting my hopes up like this?”
“I’m not getting your hopes up.” He’d only meant to put a stop to Kirishima’s teasing, but it didn’t seem to have worked at all.
“Mmm, heading back home the morning after might not be bad once in a while. Hiyo’s staying with my mother, after all, and Hiyo’s taking care of Sorata, so…”
“Wait–you mean to spend the night?”
“You don’t mind, right? And we’re already in bed, so why not take advantage of the situation?”
“That’s not what I brought you here for!” He’d intended on consulting Kirishima about Hiyori–they didn’t have time to mess around like this.
“C’mon, loosen up a bit–‘s not like you don’t want to.”
“~~~~~ngh, watch where you’re touching!” Kirishima had stroked a finger down his spine, sending a shudder racing up his back. Things were bound to escalate if they stayed this close, and with some trepidation, Yokozawa tried again to lift himself off–but given the vice-like grip Kirishima had on his hips, all he could do was lift his upper body and place some distance between their faces.
“It’s your fault for being so sensitive.”
“Stop blaming every little thing on me.”
“Ah, I see–so then it’s just that I’m that good. I do agree that that’s part of the problem.”
“It wasn’t a compliment–now let me go, dammit. I’m not in the mood for this today.”
“Really, now?” Kirishima slid his leg between Yokozawa’s knees, spreading them and brushing his groin against Yokozawa’s insistently, encouraging his already-hardening member into a full erection with the unexpected attention.
“Not in the mood, huh?”
“Cut that–a-anyone would react if someone did that to them!”
“Ah, but the male form is a delicate thing. You wouldn’t be in this state if you really truly weren’t on board.”
“What’s the point in playing coy now of all times? When we know each other’s bodies from stem to stern.”
“Stop…using weird phrases like that! Just shut your mouth altogether, would you?!”
“Hey–you know how to keep me quiet, right? Or do we need a demonstration?”
“Stifle it!” At this point, it was easier to just give in to the guy’s provocation, and after jerking loose his necktie and unbuttoning his collar, Yokozawa leaned down and sealed Kirishima’s lips with his own, shoving his tongue inside in a fit of irritation.
Kirishima accepted the kiss with remarkable ease and enthusiasm, tugging Yokozawa’s shirt free from his trousers. As Kirishima proceeded to stroke his hips and back where he could find purchase, Yokozawa responded by deepening the kiss even further.
“Hnn…ngh…” Kirishima’s hands dropped down to caress his hips at this ‘retaliation’, as it was, and Yokozawa, intent on keeping the upper hand, slid his knee over to press against Kirishima’s groin. He’d just decided to press through like this and give Kirishima a good fucking, though, when the guy slipped his hand around and gave Yokozawa’s ass a tight squeeze. Yokozawa froze, limbs stiff, and taking advantage of this chink in his armor, Kirishima rolled them over to reverse their positions in one smooth movement. “Wha–?!”
“Yeah…I think I like it better like this. Don’t you?”
“D–don’t ask me to agree with you!”
“Oh? You’d rather ride me?”
“That’s not what I meant!” Hoping to take back the upper hand, he struggled to shift their positions back around again, but it was no use.
“Tut tut, how naive.” Using his left arm to press against Yokozawa’s collarbone to hold him in place, Kirishima slipped off his belt with his right.
Accepting that he likely wouldn’t be able to turn the tables again now, Yokozawa reached for Kirishima’s waist to return the favor, but held down as he was, he hand couldn’t stretch far enough. “Nngh…”
As Yokozawa groped about, though, Kirishima shoved his hand into Yokozawa’s exposed underwear, gripping him tight and pulling a gasp from Yokozawa’s throat at the sensation of fingers wrapped around him. Already half-hard from the attentions thus far, the gentle, lazy strokes set his hips to trembling. With great effort, though he managed to maintain some grip on his consciousness, not giving himself up entirely to the pleasure, and summoned his strength to shove Kirishima away.
He couldn’t manage to press the guy back down onto the bed entirely, but he did manage to at least get him up and off his body, and before Kirishima could resume his position, he stretched his hand to Kirishima’s waist and quickly loosened the fastener to his pants, slipping his hand inside just as Kirishima had done for him.
“Oh my, how very bold of you~”
“…Ugh, keep that creepy tone out of your voice.”
While Yokozawa was distracted, put off by the pitch that could only have been more teasing harassment, Kirishima took the opportunity to renew his attentions. “Shouldn’t drop your guard.”
“Hey, my plan worked–that’s all,” he gloated, grinning like a child who’d just pulled off a prank as his fingers, skilled and experienced, continued to drive Yokozawa wild. He shoved Yokozawa’s underwear down further, exposing him fully, and immediately upon freeing him from the confines, Kirishima’s strokes intensified.
“Haa…ah…!” The liquid seeping out smoothed the way for the fingers, and the slick sensation only increased the pleasure, sapping Yokozawa of all conscious thought. Try as he might to return the favor, though, he just couldn’t collect his thoughts enough to focus properly on the task at hand, and while Kirishima’s shaft in his hand was indeed hardening, it was hard to tell who was closer to climax.
“Lift your face up.”
“What…for–nngh…!” The biting kiss he received at this came as a shock, Kirishima’s tongue slipping inside and making a sweep of his mouth, leaving him bewildered as Kirishima suckled sharply on his tongue, enough to numb it.
He could barely catch his breath, but his body continued to heat up, as if the very blood in his veins was boiling over. “Hnn…nn!” The heat began to form a scorching fireball, running wild, and with but a light brush of fingertips with barely any power behind it, he quickly found his climax. “Ngh…!!” With a juddering jolt of his hips, his passion exploded forth, and he clenched his teeth as he rode the waves that followed.
“Hey…mine’s not gonna jerk itself off.”
“Shut…up…ngh…” And hoping to achieve at least some tiny measure of revenge, he nipped the softly leering Kirishima in the neck, like a cornered rat fighting back against a cat.
Their passionate romp didn’t last for too long, and while he’d had his initial reason for inviting Kirishima over pushed to the side after rising to meet Kirishima’s challenge (only to promptly fall back into his grasp)–Yokozawa hadn’t forgotten it by any means. He was simply recouping.
“Whew, I ate like a pig! Yokozawa–tea.”
“You’re a guest, dammit. Practice a little tact, would you?” he groused, but given that he was already rising to his feet to go and pour the tea as requested, he only had himself to blame. It was precisely because he spoiled Kirishima like this that the guy got such a big head.
“So–what exactly was it you wanted to talk about again…?”
“Don’t forget! We’re here to talk about Hiyo!”
“Ooohhh, right right. Sorry.”
“………” He fixed a sharp glare on Kirishima, his apology delivered lightly as a feather. Yokozawa was rather dubious as to whether or not the guy even intended to offer any serious advice.
“Well–personally I really don’t think it’s anything to get all that worked up about.”
“Then why the hell isn’t she returning any of my texts?” If apologizing was all he needed to do, then he’d go over to their apartment right now and hang his head to beg forgiveness. But on considering that she might find his dogged persistence annoying, he couldn’t bring himself to take that next step.
“Nah, it’s fine. She’s just having a little hissy fit is all, I’m sure.”
“You’re only saying that because you’re her father.” Yokozawa’s relationship with Hiyori could be likened to that of friends–albeit with quite an age-gap between them–and while Yokozawa knew how to handle people his own age, he keenly felt the generation gap when faced with a 10-year-old little girl.
When they’d first met, her young, childish side had been more prominent, but lately she’d taken to showing a more mature, adult side. As such, there was no doubt in Yokozawa’s mind that she’d soon display the moodiness characteristic to girls going through puberty–which was all the more reason he didn’t want to screw up this matter.
“You’re freaking out over nothing–have a little faith in Hiyori. She’s not as small-minded as all that.”
“Well, yeah, I know, but still…”
“If you’re so worried–why not talk to her yourself? Ask her how you can work yourself back into her good graces. Roundabout approaches won’t work on her, after all.”
“Yeah…you’ve got a point. I guess that’d be best…” Hiyori wasn’t the type to hurt someone else without good reason; the only times she ever really got pissed were when she was seriously upset about something.
He sighed, sipping the warm tea; he felt he’d managed to arrange his thoughts into some semblance of order now that he’d had Kirishima listen to his sad story. “…Oh, that reminds me–didn’t you say you had something you wanted to talk to me about, too?” When he’d brought up the discussion with Kirishima earlier, he’d mentioned wanting to speak with Yokozawa about something as well.
“Right right–listen up: something serious is going down in the Kirishima family. Something bad.”
“Serious…?” Yokozawa was immediately on guard, given the serious expression Kirishima fixed him with. Had…something happened to Hiyori?
“Listen up–and try not to faint from shock, okay?”
“What the hell are you gearing up to reveal? Spit it out already!” he snapped, irritation rising.
“This Saturday…Hiyo is going on a date.”
“A–DATE?! She’s too young for that!” His chair clattered with a loud clang as he leapt to his feet, a beer can on the table toppling over and spilling its contents. Thankfully, it had been mostly empty, so the damage was minimal, but Yokozawa had bigger concerns just at the moment.
“Well, as she puts it, it’s not a date, apparently. She said they’re just going shopping–but the point is, she’s going with a boy.”
“That sure as hell sounds like a date to me! Who’s she going with?”
“!!” On logical consideration, the ‘Iokawa’ Kirishima was referring to here was not the uncle but rather the nephew, Hiyori’s classmate. While Yokozawa didn’t know what Hiyori was taking this outing of theirs to be, the boy himself almost assuredly saw this as nothing less than a real date. While it was a sight better than Hiyori going out with some kid they’d never heard of before, it was still hard to shake the worry that came with the two of them being left to their own devices.
Remembering that he was still standing, Yokozawa cleared his throat and returned to his seat. “S–so when she says they’re going ‘shopping’…where would that be?”
“You remember that shopping center we all three went to together the other day, right? Apparently that’s where they’re heading.”
“That’s totally a date!” He clenched his fists, reining in the urge to leap to his feet once more. The shopping center had not only restaurants, but a game center, movie theater, event space and more. Shopping together was bad enough–like hell he was going to sit idly by while she sat alone in a dark movie theater with some kid who wanted to make a move on her!
He’d been completely focused on trying to get Hiyori to forgive him until just a moment ago–but now, he couldn’t care less, and he began to barrage Kirishima with questions. “How big a group are they going in? You’re not gonna tell me they’re going alo–”
“Just the two of them, it seems.”
“Why the fuck would you allow that?!”
“Not like I had much choice in the matter! If I’d told her no without any particular reason for forbidding it, she might start paying more attention to this kid! Plus–I don’t want her thinking I’m some annoying parent who nags her all the time.” It wasn’t as if Yokozawa couldn’t sympathize with those feelings, but shouldn’t he have played the bad guy there?!
“But–what if something happens?!” The one time he’d seen the boy, he’d seemed like a very serious, polite young man–so there was no logical reason to be uneasy about Hiyori spending time with him, but worrying about this sort of thing was seldom logical.
“I’ve got a plan.”
At Yokozawa’s repetition of his response, Kirishima’s expression waxed mysterious as he explained the details of said plan: “I’m thinking of following her that day.”
“…Yeah, that’s not a good idea,” he fired back at the staggeringly audacious suggestion. That was just going too far in violating Hiyori’s privacy.
“What’re you acting all high and mighty for? You can’t tell me you’re not curious, too.”
“Of course I’m curious; but what if she sees you?”
“I’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t.”
“………” He’d thought that perhaps the guy had come up with some brilliant scheme–but now it seemed he hadn’t thought this through in the least. He could feel a headache bearing down upon him.
“If it looks like our cover’s gonna be blown–we can just pretend like we’re having a conversation and get lost in the crowd.”
“Wait–now I have to come with you?!”
“Of course! What did you think?”
Two grown men over 180 cm in height would stand out enough as it was; if they got caught stalking some elementary school kids through a shopping center, there was no way in hell they weren’t going to get reported. He was already treading on thin ice with Hiyori; he didn’t think he’d be able to recover their relationship if she came to hate him any more than she likely already did. She’d never give him another chance after this.
“Go on your own; don’t drag me into your hair-brained scheme.”
“So what, you’re not worried about Hiyori?”
“Just because I’m worried about her doesn’t give me any right to stalk her!”
“We won’t be stalking her–we’ll be watching over her.”
“That’s the very definition of splitting hairs.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff–now, the first step in forming our strategy will involve knowing our enemy.”
“Are you even listening to me?” Kirishima ignored his warning, whipping out his planner instead and running his gaze over the contents.
“Let’s see now… Iokawa Yuuto; age 10. Fifth grader. Of average height compared to his classmates, with reasonable grades–but he’s bad at Japanese. He’s good at sports and popular with both his male and female classmates but has no girlfriend at present.”
“Who the hell told you all that?”
“Hiyo, of course.”
“How’d you get her to spill?”
“Just asked. Told her I wanted to know what kind of kid the boy who dropped by the other day was.”
“………” The fact that she responded to the questioning without batting a lash suggested that she didn’t have any special feelings for the boy, and while this relieved Yokozawa to a degree, it also filled him with a twinge of pity for the poor kid.
“Now then–we’ll rendezvous at the station on Saturday. They’re supposed to meet at 10 AM, so I figure 9:50 will be fine for us. I’ll have to make sure to head out before her–oh, and be sure to wear something inconspicuous.”
“Hold up–I never said I’d go!” He attempted to correct Kirishima, who seemed to be making plans for the both of them as he pleased, but Kirishima didn’t seem put off in the least, babbling on with confidence. One of these days, Yokozawa really wanted to find out just where such confidence came from.
“Nah, you’ll definitely come.”
“The hell I will.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that. My predictions tend to be accurate,” he responded, a fearless smile plastered across his features in the face of Yokozawa’s obstinate refusal.
After much deliberation…Yokozawa eventually headed out for the location at which Kirishima had suggested they meet up. He was not, he wanted to be clear, intending on following Hiyori on her date; he was going along to keep an eye on Kirishima; however, despite reminding himself of this fact, he couldn’t help the frustration that came with once again being talked into going along with what Kirishima wanted.
Glancing around to try and spot Kirishima’s form in the crowded station, he found him hiding behind a pillar and peeking over at the ticket gates. Just beyond his eyeline, he could see that Hiyori was already here. However, despite feeling nothing but an overpowering sense of foreboding, he reminded himself that he couldn’t turn back now.
“…Do you have any idea how suspicious you look right now?”
“Hah, I knew you’d show up. Didn’t I tell you my predictions tend to hit?”
“………” Rather than his prediction being right, Yokozawa almost felt like he’d been threatened into coming along, and upon realizing once again that he was going to be stuck playing detective all day like this, he could only breathe a haggard sigh.
“Get over here. Hiyo’ll spot you standing around like that.” Kirishima grabbed him by the arm and jerked him behind the pillar as well, and Yokozawa did his level best to conceal himself behind a pillar that could hardly be called perfect for hiding the both of them.
“Somehow I feel like we stick out even more hiding like this…” Two grown men peeking out from the shadows to spy on elementary schoolers was beyond suspicious. If they weren’t careful, they were going to find themselves reported to the police.
“What the hell are you wearing, anyways? Hats don’t suit you at all…”
“Shut your trap; you’re the one who said to come in disguise, and this is all I had…” He was decked out in jeans and a hoodie he hardly ever wore, along with a baseball cap he’d dug out of the deepest corners of his closet tugged down low over his eyes–but honestly, he couldn’t help thinking he somehow looked more suspicious in this shady getup. “Yeah, well what about you? What’s with those glasses? Are they just for show?”
Kirishima’s outfit was a style Yokozawa hadn’t seen him in much before as well. The mostly black clothes he was wearing were probably to help blend in with the crowd, but Kirishima’s general appearance always tended to draw looks from others.
“There’s a low-level prescription in them. I bought them a while back, but they give me a headache if I wear them for too long, so I had them put away. Never thought they’d see use in this context, though, I have to admit…”
“What’s the camera for, then? Don’t tell me you’re gonna take pictures of them?”
“I was think of playing the part of a tourist.”
“…You don’t look one bit like a tourist.” From the top of his head to the tips of his toes, nothing about him seemed casual or comfortable.
“Well, we’ll be fine. No one’ll pay any attention to us, trust me.” Yokozawa wasn’t so sure the guy attracting looks from passers-by just by standing there had any place saying that kind of thing–but if he brought it up, he’d only be giving Kirishima a backhanded compliment, so he buttoned his lip, opting to change the subject instead.
“What’d you tell her when you left?”
“That I had some work-related business to attend to.”
“How the hell is this work-related?”
“Hey–I didn’t lie to her. Worrying about his precious daughter is a father’s job.”
“And that’s what they call a play on words.”
“Ooh–the Iokawa boy has arrived!”
“………” Kirishima seriously had no intention of listening to him, it seemed, and finally giving up on schooling the man, Yokozawa turned his gaze toward the ticket gates as Kirishima had done.
Iokawa Yuuto had shyly made his way over to Hiyori now and seemed to be apologizing for something–perhaps for making her wait? He then darted over to the ticket machine alone before purchasing a ticket and returning, seeming to have paid for Hiyori’s ticket as well. Yokozawa had to admit, for an elementary school kid, he was pretty competent in this kind of thing. He never would’ve been able to practice that sort of tact with women when he was Yuuto’s age.
“All right, time for us to get moving too,” Kirishima suggested, stepping out once he’d made sure Hiyori and Yuuto had passed through the ticket gates. They slipped down the opposite stairwell from the pair and kept casual watch from the platform. Yuuto seemed to be nervous as anything, but Hiyori was cool as a cucumber, no different from usual.
“That reminds me–just what were they going to buy? Did Hiyo say anything?”
“Nope–she dug in her heels and abjectly refused to say.”
“A shopping trip won’t take long though. You think they’ll go see a movie, too?”
“They might… Wanna join them?”
“…What the hell are you really doing this for?”
“Stalking plus a date.”
“Don’t you mean stalking them on a date?”
“Nope–you heard me. Stalking. Plus–a date. Think of it kind of like a double-date.”
“Wha…?!” He may very well have been goading Yokozawa into coming along for this purpose from the very beginning.
“It’s kinda fun, though, right?”
“What’re you talking about? Look–the train’s here.” Kirishima snapped a hand out and grabbed Yokozawa by the arm as he turned on his heel to leave, tugging him into the nearest car of the train that had just pulled into the station.
“Make a scene and Hiyo’ll catch us.”
“We’ve come this far–may as well see it through to the end.”
The doors of the train slid shut with a hiss as Yokozawa let out a deep, beleaguered sigh.
“They’re coming out–hide!”
At Kirishima’s urging, Yokozawa quickly slipped into the shadows to hide himself, and with a sigh of relief that Hiyori and Yuuto hadn’t come their way, the pair followed after them again.
“Looks like they’ve finished their shopping.”
“That’s a pretty big paper bag they’re carrying there.” Rather than cutesy shops that looked like they would cater to young girls, the pair had made their rounds to nothing but men’s shops–perhaps they were out today shopping for Yuuto instead.
“That kid’s a sharp one, having the sense to open doors for her and escort her through at his age.”
“Yeah.” If Yokozawa were to be grading Yuuto on his behavior today, he’d have to give the kid pretty high marks. He probably couldn’t have won if this had been a competition. “Looks like they’re stopping for lunch now.” The pair were heading for the cafe and food court area, their little legs likely tired from all the running around.
“Damn, that late already? I’m starving myself, now that I think about it–wanna get something ourselves?”
“Get what? We can’t go into any of these restaurants.”
“They’re not going anywhere for a while. Here, I’ll go get us something, so you wait here on this bench.”
“Oi–where the hell are you–dammit… He never listens to a word people say…” Yokozawa trailed off, muttering to himself as he settled down on the bench. From what he’d seen of Hiyori and Yuuto, there probably was no need to worry. Hiyori wouldn’t break her curfew, and Yuuto was behaving like a proper gentleman.
“Sorry for the wait. Gotta have this on a date, right?” Kirishima announced on his return, a crepe held in either hand.
“The hell is this?” He unthinkingly accepted the crepe Kirishima offered him.
“The strawberry chocolate special. There’re strawberries, chocolate, strawberry ice cream, brownie–and some whipped cream too. I got a tuna-cream cheese one for myself.”
“Then give me that one!” It wasn’t that he disliked sweets; he just didn’t want to eat something so overwhelmingly sweet for lunch.
“C’mon, it’s cute, isn’t it?”
“Who gives a shit about that?”
“It’s gonna melt if you don’t hurry up and eat it.”
“Ugh–it’s your fault for buying something with ice cream in it!” he snapped, biting into the crepe in a panic as the ice cream began to drip down, just as Kirishima had warned.
“Give me a break–I just wanted to try buying it for once.”
“Then you eat it.”
“Well you do realize that if we trade now, it counts as an indirect kiss, right?”
“…I’m fine with eating this, then.” He was dubious about how appropriate it was for two men their age to be sitting around eating crepes together, but he couldn’t let food go to waste–but so focused was he on maintaining a hold on his crepe with one hand while fending off Kirishima’s teasing swipes with the other that he completely forgot to be wary of their surroundings.
“…What’re you two doing, Dad?”
“………!!” Yokozawa felt the blood drain from his face in an instant at Hiyori’s voice from behind them, all their efforts to keep from being spotted now having gone to waste.
But in contrast to Yokozawa’s own agitation, Kirishima appeared cool as a cucumber. “Well well, if it isn’t Hiyo! Fancy running into you here.”
“Are you here shopping too? Didn’t you say you had work to do?”
“Nah–we’re on a date.”
“N–NO WE’RE NOT. We’re here for work! Data collection! Yeah, I’m just tagging along helping your dad gather some information!” Yokozawa fired off as explanation, spotting the camera in Kirishima’s hand.
Luckily for him, Hiyori proceeded to draw a helpful–albeit incorrect–conclusion. “Ah–are you here taking more pictures for manga?”
“Exactly! One of his authors asked us to, y’see!” He cast a harsh glare over at Kirishima to his side, at a loss as to why he was the only one having to think up these wild excuses, but the guy simply played dumb.
“Ah–um…g–good afternoon…” Yuuto, expression even more awkward and abashed than Yokozawa’s, greeted from Hiyori’s side, having mustered up every ounce of his courage it seemed. He likely hadn’t remotely expected to be faced with the father of the girl he had a crush on in the middle of their date.
“Hi there. Thanks for looking after Hiyori today.”
“Oh no, the pleasure’s all mine! I’m always finding myself indebted to Kirishima-san!” he returned stiffly, back stretched up tall, and Kirishima turned a mature expression on him.
“You’re sure she’s not being selfish and needy and making a nuisance of herself?”
“Absolutely not! I’m the one always causing her trouble!” The kid was absolutely rigid with nerves–but then, anyone suffering such intense attention from the father of the girl they liked would probably wither in place.
“So Hiyo–what’re your plans now?”
“Well we finished shopping and just had lunch, so we were trying to decide what to do next.”
“Then–why not go see a movie?”
“You don’t mind? If we do–I might be a little later than I said in getting home. Are you sure it’s okay?”
“Just give me a call when it’s over. How does that sound, Iokawa-kun?”
“It’s totally fine with me!”
“Then be sure to contact your folks before the movie starts. Got enough cash on you, Hiyo?”
“Yup, I’m fine.”
Her attitude while interacting with Kirishima was the same as usual, but for some reason she just wouldn’t look Yokozawa in the eye. But if they didn’t resolve things between them here and now, things would only get worse, Yokozawa determined, and he worked up the nerve to call out to her. “Hiyo, I’m–sorry. About the other day.”
“It was really insensitive of me.”
“I’m not mad at you anymore. It was just a tantrum,” she responded with a shy smile when Yokozawa apologized for not revealing his birthday sooner. It’d been days since he’d seen her smile, and he felt a great weight lift from his shoulders. “But I’m sorry too. It wasn’t very mature of me at all to get mad at you like that.”
“Nah–I deserved it for not practicing a little tact.”
“Good for you–making nice again like that!” Kirishima jumped in, slapping Yokozawa across the back.
“Oww!” He typically would’ve sought his revenge for this action, but he couldn’t embarrass himself like this in front of Hiyori’s friend.
“Hey, Oniichan–are you free tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? Well, yeah, but–”
“Then come over to our place at 12, okay?? No sooner, and no later!”
“O–okay?” he nodded dumbly, frozen by the sudden request.
“Well, you two do your best with work, then! Let’s go, Iokawa-kun!”
“Umm, well, goodbye!” Yuuto bowed his head politely before jogging off after Hiyori in the direction of the theater complex.
After seeing the pair off, Yokozawa wondered, “…Why noon?”
“Beats me–but you’d better do as she says. Now then–shall we continue our own little date?”
“I keep telling you, it’s not a date,” he snapped as Kirishima brazenly draped an arm over his shoulders, shaking off the attention. He could feel the heavy gazes of girls watching them as they passed by but stoically strode forward, trying to appear as if he hadn’t noticed.
“Hey, where’re you going, Takafumi?”
“………” He knew he’d lose if he responded, and fighting back the urge to unleash his irritation upon Kirishima, he simply focused on moving forward.
Despite being told to come at noon, Yokozawa seemed to have gotten ahead of himself and arrived a full thirty minutes early. With nothing else to do, he’d settled on a bench on the complex grounds to kill time, and with five minutes left to go, he boarded the elevator.
“What’d she mean by ‘no sooner and no later’?” Hiyori had sent him a reminder e-mail the previous evening, instructing him to be sure to come empty-handed–which just made things all the more confusing, but ultimately deciding that he’d find out when he arrived, he made for Kirishima’s apartment, pressing the intercom buzzer nervously.
“……?” They usually answered immediately, but for some reason, there was no response today, and just as he was considering pressing the buzzer again, the front door flew open with a great burst of noise.
“Wh–what?” He took a few measured steps back at the popping sound, but on closer inspection, he realized there were rainbow-colored confetti streamers floating down around him.
“They’re crackers! Pretty standard stuff, wouldn’t you say?”
At Yokozawa’s utterly baffled expression, clearly not understanding what was going on, Kirishima returned with a huff, “It’s a three-months-late belated birthday party, of course! Are you telling me you seriously didn’t suspect anything?”
“N–not at all.”
“Luck us, huh Hiyo? Looks like the surprise went off without a hitch!” Hiyori darted forward to tug Yokozawa inside as he stood in the foyer gaping stupidly, urging him to hurry.
“Oniichan, this way!”
“Wai–what is all this?” The living room he’d been pulled into was all decked out with party decorations. The cake on the table was very obviously homemade, with the nameplate–made out of cookies, it seemed–displaying ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’. “Hiyo–you made all this?”
“Yup, all by myself! I practiced at Grandma’s place all last week!”
“She really wanted to keep it a secret, so that’s why she didn’t have time to text you,” Kirishima explained, leaving Hiyori looking a bit bashful.
“So that’s why…”
“Well if you found out, it wouldn’t have been a surprise! I’m really sorry, though–for not responding to your messages!”
Realizing that the whole time Yokozawa had been getting all worked up, Hiyori had been doing all this stuff just for him, his chest twinged with heat. This also meant that Kirishima had known exactly what was going on when Yokozawa had tried to consult him about Hiyori; the reason he hadn’t even tried to seriously listen to Yokozawa, changing the subject at every opportunity, must have been because he knew what she was planning.
He was so overcome with emotion right now, he couldn’t find the words to express himself–and it was here that Hiyori shyly pressed a wrapped box, tied up with a ribbon, into his hands. “And…here, this too!”
“This is…for me?”
She nodded, bashful. “Yup–so open it! I really hope you like it…”
He did as she suggested, heart pounding as she looked on with eyes full of both hope and suspense. “Given that it’s something you picked out, there’s no way I won’t li–a…t-shirt?”
“After thinking it over, I thought something you might normally use would be best.”
“Thanks, Hiyo–I’m thrilled, seriously.”
“Hehe! Well you’re very welcome, then! See how it looks! If it doesn’t fit, the people at the store said you can exchange it.”
The shirt had a design that would probably have suited someone a bit younger–but it wasn’t bad at all, and although a bit embarrassed to do so, he complied with her request and held up the shirt to assess its fit. “What do you think?”
“It looks great! And the size looks perfect, too–thank goodness!”
“I’ll be sure to take good care of it.” He’d never been gifted clothes as a present before, and while receiving a gift was in and of itself reason to be happy, he appreciated Hiyori’s thoughtfulness as she worked hard to pick out something for him even more.
“Actually…I didn’t really know what to get you myself…so I asked Iokawa-kun to help me pick something out!”
“I see…” It seemed the reason she’d referred to the outing as ‘shopping’ rather than ‘a date’ was because she’d had a clear purpose in going to the mall. While Yokozawa wasn’t sure what Yuuto had seen their trip as, Hiyori had obviously been more concerned with buying him a present than anything else.
“When I ran into you and Dad yesterday, I was really worried you might find out about the birthday celebration! Oh–by the way, did you manage to get some good pictures?”
“Oh–uh, yeah! Totally, got some great shots. Right?” He only just recalled that he’d excused his and Kirishima’s appearance together as an outing to gather reference pictures for a mangaka. What if she wanted to see some of the shots, though? He reflexively cast a glance Kirishima’s way, seeking aid.
“Absolutely. Got a ton of great pictures.”
Hiyori, still in high spirits, pulled out a similar wrapped present here and held it out. Apparently she’d had it sitting on a chair, hidden from view. “Actually…I got something for you too, Dad!”
“For me?” It seemed she’d planned a little surprise for her father as well, and Kirishima, who’d been sitting beside her with a smug expression the whole time, reacted with wide eyes when she held the gift out for him.
“I thought it’d look really nice on you too, so consider it special, this year only!”
“On me too?”
“Just hurry up and open it already!”
At her urging, he tugged the ribbon loose and pulled out another t-shirt from the packaging. “Hey look, now Yokozawa and I match!”
“Yup! I wasn’t sure which color would be best–but I’m glad I went with this one.”
Yokozawa’s had been a navy one, while Kirishima’s had a black background. He quickly held up the shirt to his body for Hiyori’s perusal. In Yokozawa’s view, it suited him quite well.
However, much as he enjoyed Hiyori’s smile and good will, he couldn’t bring himself to rejoice in the fact that he now owned another item that was part of a pair with something of Kirishima’s. He’d probably have to make sure he didn’t wear it anywhere he might run into Kirishima. At least that way, they could avoid any unwitting instances of ‘pair looks’, where couples showed up wearing matching clothes.
As if he could see Yokozawa’s thought process, though, Kirishima piped up with a wide grin on his face, “We’ll have to make sure we’re wearing these next time we go out, huh, Yokozawa?”
“The hell we–” he started to reject the idea outright, but then quickly remembered they were in front of Hiyori and scaled his lips. He usually would’ve voiced his objection here, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so in front of Hiyori, and taking in Yokozawa’s conflicting feelings, Kirishima just looked on, leering. Yokozawa therefore opted to just give Kirishima’s shin a poke in place of opening his mouth.
“Oniichan, have a seat! I couldn’t make a grand feast like you, but Dad and I still prepared a little something together!”
“Admittedly, all I did was slice up some vegetables.”
As he settled down in the chair Kirishima had pulled out for him, Hiyori brought in salad, soup, and pasta. “You really went all out.”
“Right??” Hiyori beamed at his compliment.
“Well, shall we toast?” Kirishima filled the champagne flutes placed before them with ginger ale.
“Happy birthday, Oniichan!” They brought their glasses together with a musical clink before downing the contents.
This three-months-late birthday party would likely be one Yokozawa would never forget, and he felt a bit overcome with emotion in the face of such a quiet, happy afternoon.