“Please be good to him! He’s my proud son, he would never like a strange woman, and there is no way that Saki-chan, who likes Kengo, is a strange woman! So no worries! Go out quickly!”
“I don’t know, is that right? Ehehe…”
The words “parent-approved” came to mind and my cheeks involuntarily loosened up.
Did Kaoru-san just say something strange in the midst of all this …?
“I mean, it’s the easiest thing in the world to get him. It’s easy. It’s easy.”
“Oh, is that so? … Haha.”
For me, it’s like a stronghold that is difficult to attack and difficult to get rid of.
I think it’s amazing in many ways that Kaoru-san is able to say such a thing about Mashima-kun, who is like a son to her…
“Well, Saki-chan, I’m sure you’ll be fine, but as a senior in life, let me give you a little strategy for that guy.”
I involuntarily leaned forward.
Even with the most powerful and invincible love guidebook, “Imamote”, what kind of strategy can I use on Mashima-kun, whom I still can’t find a clue to conquer!?
“It’s easy. Look him in the eyes and say what you want to say. He is a zero or one hundred kind of guy, so what you don’t put into words won’t be understood at all, but as long as you put it into words, he will accept everything you say.”
…Kaoru-san is a psychic in her own right, and in fact, she may have been able to predict everything from the very beginning…
“… Really, thank you for everything.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
Kaoru-san said jokingly and got up from her seat with a ballpoint pen tucked over her ear.
…Now that I think about it, Kaoru-san may have always been concerned about me and treated me in such a casual manner.
“Well, I’m already sleepy for real, so I’m going to go sleep until it’s time for work…”
“…? What’s wrong?”
“Do you want some … rubber? I have one that my ex-boyfriend left… Ah, no, you don’t need it.”
“…What do you mean!!”
For the first time in my life, I snapped at someone.
Seeing me angry, Kaoru-san laughed like a devil, “Heeheehee…” and left the snack bar like the wind.
…I take back my previous comment.
I knew it. After all, I have a feeling that she is usually in that kind of mood…
“… You’ve gotten to know my sister pretty well in such a short time.”
I heard Mashima-kun’s voice coming from right behind me, even though he was supposed to be in the kitchen, and I screamed out loud.
I think I screamed for the rest of my life just today!
“Ma…ma… Mashima-kun, did you hear what we were talking about…?”
“? No, I just got back from the kitchen.”
“Oh, I see…”
My heart is still pounding loudly in my chest… It’s not good…
“Anyway, lunch is ready, just a simple one.”
Saying this, Mashima-kun brought a steaming bowl to the table.
The fragrance of the steam, a relaxing and appetizing aroma…
“…Is it Ochazuke?”
“Salmon Ochazuke. I’m sorry to be so impromptu, but here, take this.”
Mashima-kun handed me a spoon.
How can he be so kind to people, no matter what?
I couldn’t even keep my promise to the person I love, I’m … pathetic …
His kindness touches me, and once again an uncontrollable self-loathing swelled up inside me.
“I’ll have lunch while we’re at it. I’ll sit here.”
“What is it?”
“I’m really … sorry about today.”
When I said it again, my eyes immediately started to burn.
Oh, my emotions, again, are no good.
I am especially bad today.
I didn’t want Mashima-kun to see me like this.
“I made a promise to you and… I said it out loud and I didn’t keep it… I lied and lied again. I’m sorry, really, I…”
Mashima-kun never lies.
I lied to such a Mashima-kun.
I have betrayed his praise…
And yet… and yet, he continued…
“…What could be more important than your physical condition?”
Looking me straight in the eyes, as if it were the only truth in the world.
“I’ve heard more than enough apologies, I’m not angry at all, the shopping trip is complete, and that’s the end of it.”
He said it once and for all.
“It’s getting cold.”
… Ah, I’m still no match for him.
I chanted a small “Itadakimasu” and took a scoop and slowly brought it to my mouth.
The aroma of the brown rice whetted my appetite, and the thick, salty salmon melted in my mouth.
It was warm and gentle, a taste that made me feel relaxed from the inside out.
” … I had my first non-instant Ochazuke.”
“The rice was, of course, Niigata-grown Koshihikari rice, so how could it not be good?”
“It’s the best in the world.”
“Isn’t that a bit much?”
… No, no, no.
It’s the best in the world.
“You must really like to cook.”
“I don’t know if I can call it cooking, but my sister… aunt loves to cook, and she taught me most of it.”
“Speaking of which, I brewed some Kamimura tea, and since it’s served lukewarm, the sweetness is enhanced and it’s delicious.”
“… Do you like tea as well?”
“I’m not very proud of it, but I have the first level of the Japanese Tea Proficiency. Eventually, my goal is to become a Japanese Tea Instructor.”
(TLN: This is a real thing btw I had to check…)
“I don’t know about all that, but it sounds impressive.”
“I’m not there yet.”
He looked somewhat proud as he said this.
I picked up the teacup and sipped the clear green tea.
Like young leaves sprouting in early summer, a fresh, lush, sweet aroma wafted through my nose, and I suddenly thought, “I still don’t know anything about Mashima-kun.”
“… I want to talk with Mashima-kun.”
“We always do that at school, don’t we?”
“I don’t want to talk about that. I want to get to know you.”
Mashima-kun seemed unusually puzzled.
“My life story isn’t interesting.”
“Anything you want to talk about, anything you like, anything you remember from the past.”
“But I’m not very good at talking about myself to begin with…”
Mashima-kun was at a loss for words.
He looked me in the eyes and seemed to hesitate about something, but after a moment’s pondering.
“… No, it’s nothing. Yes, it would be helpful if you could put it in the form of questions.”
“Then, first question, what is your favorite food?”
“I like a sweet called Bandai Taiko, a famous Niigata sweet made by Osakaya. New flavors such as strawberry, pear, lemon, and mango are only available seasonally, but I have never eaten anything other than the plain ones. I think the standard is supreme in everything.”
“What is your favorite TV program?”
“I watch mostly NHK, and I like animal documentaries. I like the inorganic manner in which they mechanically lay out only the facts, without any preachy subjectivity. For the same reason, I also like reading illustrated books. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time at the library reading them all.”
“…You look good in casual clothes.”
“This? Yesterday I had Tatsuki Iwasawa and Kawariku Arakawa accompany me to choose. Shirt, pants, and sneakers, as simple a design as possible and made of the best materials. They are comfortable.”
“What temperature do you take your bath at?”
“40 degrees… Hey, is this really fun?”
I looked him straight and said emphatically. Mashima-kun locked eyes with me for a moment, and then, as if defeated.
“… Okay, what’s next?”
We talked about many things.
Where would you like to travel?
What is your favorite season?
What was the first book you read?
Well, basically I asked the questions and Mashima-kun just answered them…
Even so, I was enjoying this time.
Rumors at school, the eyes of others, the psychology of love, and so forth…
I really enjoyed the time I spent exchanging words with Mashima-kun in this small space alone with him, far away from such various things.
I even wished that this time would continue forever.
“What is your favorite song?”
And when I asked him a question for what seemed like the millionth time…
“… Favorite song.”
For the first time, Mashima-kun was at a loss for an answer.
He had been able to answer any question without hesitation, but suddenly he became silent.
“… Please wait here for a moment.”
Mashima-kun abruptly got up from his seat and walked straight to the counter.
Then, using a touch pen on what looked like a thick tablet that was propped up.
“Do you know this song?”
As if on cue, the screen of the TV mounted on a very high position switched to a different display.
The title of a song was displayed on the screen.
“I know …!”
It was a long, long time ago, probably when I was in kindergarten.
This is a song that was played on a children’s music program… a five-minute animation and music show for children in the evening…
It was so popular that it became a social phenomenon when it was featured on this program at the time…
“Wow!!! I miss those days!”
The animation on the TV was just as it was back then, and I was so thrilled!
“I honestly don’t know… what the popular songs of the day are, but this one left a lasting impression on me.”
Saying this, Mashima-kun pulled something out from under the TV.
It was two microphones.
“In the past, my sister used to sing to me here. For me, who was always crying, over and over again.”
“You were crying …? Mashima-kun?”