Author's notes: Hello, hello. This probably isn't an update that you want to see if you're a follower of my other stories, but to hell with that, I've always wanted to write a long one-shot like this one.
So if you feel a bit put off by the length then just take your time. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and I hope you'll have fun reading it too.
Family. Noun. Definition: A group of people, relating to one another by blood and living under one roof. In some cases, family also includes distant relatives who aren't living with you.
In other words, it's something that I will never ever willingly create.
In this world, society judges people on their success. What better way to show your success than having a family? It basically meant that you were so rich that you can afford to feed someone else. This must be true since every outing that I've been to, people always talk about family this, family that.
I, Hikigaya Hachiman, am doing well for myself. In fact, my monthly wages are more than enough for me to live by (Considering that I only need to support myself). So, I would confidently say that I am very successful in terms of supporting my own life.
Not only that but since I got a job as an editor (Yes, I did find it in myself to get a job), I also get the chance to review and give my honest-to-goodness opinion on how to improve the authors' work.
It's a satisfying job; since you're basically the gateway between the author and the readers, you might be able to find and introduce the next Haruki Murakami to the world.
I would say that it's only 10% of the time though.
The other 80% percent are normal writers who don't leave that much of an impression.
The remaining 10% are the Zaimokuzas of the writing industry. It's a wonder as to how they even got assigned an editor in the first place.
Ah, that statistics only apply to real novels though, not light novels.
I'd only joined this publishing company last year so I'm basically a rookie. Therefore, I only get assigned to light novels instead of 'real' novels. I don't mind it though since it's kind of fun reading the fantasies of 20-something writers.
While I say it's fun, 80% of the time, it's pathetic and wishy-washy.
Half-baked characters, a barely functional plot and the illogical harems are what filled my everyday job; and it's infuriating. Honestly, people should give editors more credit. We're basically the quality control for everything that an author churns out.
If a story is like a river, then we, the editors, are the filters that separate the crap from the water going into a serene lake.
And all we get is a mention at the end of a volume, something that even I won't read.
Seriously, we're super underappreciated.
Another problem with being an editor is people thinking that you're free all the time, even though you sit on your office chair 20 hours a day, trying to figure out why the hell this blond bimbo likes that blond dumbass.
I mostly do my work at home but even then, it's quite a busy job. Deadlines, meetings and endless phone calls had become the norm for me.
But as I said, other people don't realize that and would often call or message me even if I had told them that I had work. Whether it was for family gatherings or high school reunions or even trivial stuffs like invitation for an outing, they just couldn't wait until I'm done, could they.
It's not my fault. I even told them my schedule.
The familiar beep of my cellphone halted my train of thought, which also reminded me that I needed to prepare dinner soon. Proofreading pages upon pages of words can be really time-consuming.
I laid back into my office chair as I slid my finger across the phone.
It was a message.
A message that was from a very familiar number. After all, it was one of the rare numbers that I had in my contact. I didn't hesitate in calling her, seeing as I was done with my work for the day anyway.
Moving and stretching ever so slowly, I walked towards the windows. Chiba is still as lively as ever, huh. I wonder what those two are doing right this instance.
The beeps coming from my phone were oddly hypnotizing as it worked seamlessly together with the sight of Chiba at night. It was truly breathtaking and I wouldn't be ashamed to admit that I was stuck a tiny stupor right then and there.
Fortunately (Or unfortunately, I should say), the beeps were gone, replaced with the mature voice of a woman that I knew very well.
"Yo, Hikigaya, never thought you'd actually call," Her wise-cracking personality hasn't slowed down with age at all, "Now that I thought about it, you're never the one to call me. It's always me, right?"
"Cut to the chase already, Hiratsuka-sensei."
Indeed, it was Hiratsuka Shizuka, the once overbearing teacher that forced me to join a one person club meant to help other people.
Notice I said 'once'.
After I graduated from high school, it seemed like she mellowed out a bit. Was it due to her finally finding a soul mate? I don't know, but the chance might not be zero. Well, not that I'll ever know, since I don't have to guts to ask her whenever we had a meet-up.
"Jeez, as bitter as always, aren't you?" I grumbled slightly at her crude remarks, "Anyway, how's life as an author?"
"I'm an editor."
"Same difference; you're getting paid well, right? What's the difference?" She nonchalantly tossed aside my correction.
"One: I'm not paid as much as an author," I began listing off even though I knew it was useless, "Two: People look at a book to see their favorite authors' name, not that random editor."
"Well, that's depressing…"
I don't usually consider myself a prideful person but the way she said what she said was really ticking me off. I demand justice for editors everywhere!
"Anyway, I need a favor."
"Sorry, I'm quite busy."
There's no chance in hell that I'll be roped into one of her schemes again. The Service club was barely tolerable anyway.
I think I winced when she tried to replicate what a certain kouhai would do. Seriously sensei, stop trying to be younger. You're mostly fine the way you are. Mostly.
"You don't even have to do anything. That girl can take care of herself."
"Exactly," I could hear something shuffling in the background, presumably her shifting on a chair, "You may not care but I'm kind of important at Sobu high now."
"You're still employed there?" I faked a shocked expression.
"Argh shut it, people like me there," She cleared her throat, "Since I'm an important person there, I have to attend meetings and such. You get me?"
"But unfortunately, that meant that I have to leave the girl that I'm in charge of all alone. That's a shame, isn't it?"
"A shame indeed…" I repeated after her, bored.
"That's why I want you to let her stay at your place! Just for a week!"
Any traces of boredom immediately vanished upon hearing those god-awful words. Stay at my place? A girl? Possibly a young one at that? I'm going to branded a pervert!
"No,no,no," I refused, panicking as I did so, "I'm a 20 something man. Having a younger girl around me would definitely raise eyebrows."
"It's alright. She takes care to not be seen with suspicious people anyway."
I rubbed my own head in frustration, "But that doesn't mean I can take care of her 24/7, y'know? I have to work too."
"Oh, don't worry about that. That girl can take care of herself. She's more responsible than I am!"
That's not a high standard at all…
"No buts!" Her sharp voice rang through the phone, "Besides, you call yourself a loner, she does the same thing. You'll fit together just fine."
"That's like adding oil into a fire. It doesn't make it better."
"Gah!" Her reaction towards my response made me even more nervous, "I-It won't be a problem..."
"It won't be, huh?" I asked in mild disbelief.
"She'll stay out of your way, I promise!"
I could choose to believe her, but honestly, I really couldn't. She wasn't being convincing nor was she really trying to that hard to do so.
"This girl sounds like an independent student," For some reason, I decided to divert the attention to the student instead, "Why does she need a guardian anyway?"
"She's still in high school, Hikigaya," said Hiratsuka-sensei almost wistfully, "You can't expect a high school student to support herself financially."
"Right…so do I really need to do nothing for her?"
"Other than giving her some allowances, you don't need to do anything. Ah, and I'll pay you when I get back."
How reassuring, sensei…
"I don't need to cook for her?"
"She's a pretty damn good cook so you don't need to worry."
Finally resigning myself to the inevitable fate of giving a teenager a place to live, I breathed in and out slowly and deeply, hoping to instill some sense of guilt into Hiratsuka-sensei. Heck, she might even change her mind and cancel her plan.
"So when is this student of yours coming? Or do I need to pick her up?" I asked, leaning against the wall.
"Oh, I think she's already on her way to your place. Don't worry; I gave her your address."
I couldn't even begin to express the mind numbing feeling that I had at that very moment. It was as if the whole world stopped when she uttered those words.
"E-Excuse me?" I tried making some sense out of this entire conundrum.
"I said she's on her way," Hiratsuka-sensei said calmly, "She's in her third year so you don't have to worry too much."
"That's not the poin-,"
"Ah, sorry, Hikigaya," I could hear some loud, random noises in the background, "I have to catch a plane."
"A p-plane?! Where are you even going?!"
"Osaka, duh," She said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"I thought you had meetings."
"Yeah," I could feel her satisfied grin through the phone, "It just so happens that it's in Osaka."
Remembering that her going to Osaka wasn't' my main problem, I tried to reason with her about her student coming to my place.
"Bye, Hikigaya! I'll buy some souvenirs for you!"
That was the last sound I heard before her obnoxious voice turned into silence.
An insurmountable amount of rage welled up in me. How could she do that?! I'm a guy in my 20s and I am in no way qualified to be babysitting a child. Or in this case, a teenager.
Then again, she did say that this student of hers is very responsible, but then again, she was probably bluffing so that I would easily accept this request of hers.
When she told me that she needed me to house someone,, I was prepared to say 'No' the moment she finished talking. But being the crafty woman that she is, she had already devised a plan to utilize one of my weak points.
The feeling of guilt.
Hiratsuka Shizuka, a teacher and woman way past her prime had just sent a teenager to a stranger's house. This couldn't sound more retarded if I tried.
The phone in my hand was currently showing Hiratsuka-sensei's contact info. My eyes twitched involuntarily as I felt a sudden urge to throw my phone.
I'm not that stupid though so I didn't, but I sure wanted to physically abuse something at that instance.
Maybe I could find something cheap and wouldn't break easily…
But before I could go on my journey to find a stress reliever, the shrill sound of the doorbell filled the entire room. I was stunned momentarily. Normally, the doorbell would be reserved for delivery men and repairman since the only one that visits me, aka. Komachi, would just barge right in.
I ordered something online, didn't I? Yeah…that must be it.
Despite that thought, one little corner of my mind knew that it wasn't the delivery man or the repairman. One could only hope that it was the author I'm in charge of but even he would give me a phone call in advance.
The door handle in front of me was like a safety hazard, all shiny and smooth. As I took deep breath to steel my nerves, the doorbell cried out again.
In one swift, decisive motion, I opened the door.
What greeted me was…rather disappointing, to say the least.
Clad in a Sobu high uniform, a rather apathetic girl stood in front of me. Her eyes were black and void of any emotion. It was as if she was a mannequin; a very lifelike mannequin.
Well, rather than no emotions, I would just say that she doesn't look like she cares about anything.
She was carrying a duffel bag, which her clothes were probably in, but I had a hard time spotting it since it was obstructed by her waist length hair. It was almost as long as Yukinoshita's. In fact, she looked like a mini-Yukinoshita.
But in my haste to analyze my to-be roommate, I failed to realize that she was still a teenage girl and as such, will be uncomfortable with a grown man staring at her from head to toes.
As if that wasn't enough, she was looking at me weirdly.
Come on, Hachiman. Say something reassuring.
"Ah, it's alright. I'm not interested in high school girls."
I wanted to kick myself in the nuts at that instance.
Her face immediately scrunched up in disgust before she closed her eyes and bowed slightly.
"Nice to meet you too, Hachiman."
Calling me by my given name straight away? Isn't that too rude for a teenager?
Well, whatever, right? I think she deserved that after that little remark that I made.
"Same," With my composure coming back ever so slowly, I began to speak calmly, "You're Hiratsuka Shizuka's student, right?"
"I figured that much was obvious."
A mature adult shouldn't get annoyed by a kid. Much less by one half a decade younger, but somehow, some way, the tone that she used when addressing me was grinding my gears.
In an attempt to not let her get to me, I took a deep breath.
But before I could even say anything, that rude girl spoke up once more.
"So, are you going to let me in? Or didn't Hiratsuka-sensei tell you of me?"
Definitely rude. This girl is definitely rude.
I wordlessly move aside to let her slip through the door, which was tough seeing as she was carrying quite a heavy bag. I actually had to catch her from falling over when she stumbled from its weight.
All I got for my gratitude was a flustered stare.
As I walked back towards the living room, I noticed that she had taken over both the couch and the short table, with her slightly bloated bag occupying the former.
I took a seat directly in front of her.
If she was going to be my one week roommate, then I need to at least get along with her. Knowing her name might also be a good start as well.
The girl in front of me, however, wasn't that keen on interacting, based on what I've observed. The moment she met me, she was rude and condescending. And now, right in front of my very eyes, she was acting shy, sneaking glances at me every few second.
Curse you, adolescent mood swings!
It seemed like she had something to say, but she wasn't attempting to say it. Not a single word. It was kind of frustrating really. Seeing her open her mouth, only to shut it back was ticking me off. Maybe it was an act. Maybe it wasn't. Who knows? I certainly wouldn't.
"Do you want dinner?" I cut her off, effectively doing her a favor in the process. She certainly wasn't doing well with this awkwardness, so I might as well break the ice.
Stumbling over her words, she managed to squeeze out a comprehensible response.
Confirming that she indeed needed some dinner (And I did as well), I lifted myself up from my comfortable position. What I didn't expect was that she had also lifted herself up, apparently preparing to go to the kitchen as well.
"You don't have to follow me, you know…"
"It's n-not that…" The girl denied quietly, "I want to cook."
"It's the least I can do after being so rude to you." She half-shouted that last part out, making me recoil for a moment.
I absentmindedly nodded at her request and she nodded in return, like a soldier affirming her commander's order.
My earlier assumption of her being a disrespectful girl disappeared somewhat when she told me that she wanted to cook. Perhaps, it was just Hiratsuka-sensei rubbing off on her. I did somewhat see a resemblance towards the me of the past, but that was probably wistful thinking on my part.
And I didn't even get her name yet.
Oh well, I'll ask her later. There's plenty of time after all.
Since the kitchen was in her sight and was mere meters away from her, she quickly got up, dusted off imaginary dust and made her way towards the battlefield.
When she opened the fridge, however, I could sense the wince that she made all the way in the living room.
Let's just say that I wasn't that keen on preparing fresh meal so I didn't have any reason to stockpile fresh ingredients.
"Seriously?" I could hear the disappointment laced in with her voice. Disappointment being a careful choice of word, considering that it was a teenager, five years younger than I am, being disappointed in me.
Honestly, I really let myself go.
"Sorry about that," I told her all the way from the table I was sitting at, "I don't really have the time to cook."
From here, I could see the girl's face scrunched up in distress as she desperately tried to come up with something to cook. She was mumbling to herself every few seconds, pointing to some random objects inside the fridge. Should I go there and tell her that we could just eat in a random restaurant?
Again with the name thing, but I let it slide. She was facing this way now, a sliver of hope appearing on her face.
"Will you be fine with curry?" She asked, still peering into the emptiness that was my fridge.
Curry? Home-cooked curry at that? At this rate, I'll be fine with anything as long as it isn't instant ramen.
"Sure," I replied, but a though crept into my head, "But do you even have enough ingredients?"
The girl bit her thumb lightly as she looked into the fridge, contemplating, "I…think I can do it."
At least, I got to give her points for determination. Even Komachi isn't diligent enough to think up of innovative ways to cook curry with the barest amount of ingredients.
Wait…is the girl's name Yukihira or something? 
In no time at all, I could see her moving about with either plates or pots in her hands; it was basically flashes of black hair moving around in the kitchen.
It was rather boring since I had nothing to do. I didn't want to watch the TV either since…well, let's be honest, who even watches TV anymore? Aside from kids wanting to see their daily dose of Shounen anime.
But just like a nomad wandering in the desert, my oasis came in the form of a young girl carrying two plates of steaming hot rice and curry, and two spoons. I actually had to stop myself from drooling at the scent of it all.
"Here you go," She set a plate down in front of me before doing so to her own.
I gulped. This looked really appetizing, but it would be rude to just chow it down in front of an elegant girl like her, right? Maybe I should wait for the perfec-
"Let's dig in," The girl said, picking up her spoon and digging right into her dish.
"Uh, yeah, sure."
I did the same, but unlike her, I didn't immediately savor the steaming rice or curry, as delicious as it looked. My mind was still in confusion and shock. How could this girl so calmly eat a stranger's house? Was Hiratsuka-sensei's words that convincing or perhaps, it was due to her trust in me?
Speaking of which, why does she refer to me as 'Hachiman' instead of something sensible and respectful like 'Hikigaya-san'?
Hiratsuka-sensei never called me that so I don't think she picked it up from her.
Therefore, it must be from familiarity. But that meant that she had met me before…even though I can't really recall someone with a face like hers.
Her long black hair and apathetic onyx eyes reminded me of Yukinoshita, though unless she somehow reverted back to a teenager, that isn't possible. There was also the possibility of this girl being her child, but if that was the case then Yukinoshita would have to have a child during primary school.
And that just isn't possible as well.
Unless…she's Haruno's kid…
Then why am I letting that woman's child in here? Wait, does Haruno even have kids?
All these questions are really starting to hurt my brain; not to mention, my dinner was getting colder and colder by the second. I should just ask her, shouldn't I?
But before I could, a small voice called out to me.
"I-Is something wrong?" The girl in front of me asked, her tone filled with worries.
"Nah, it's nothing," I contemplated about asking for her name, even though that might offend her, but in the end, I threw caution to the wind, "I was just wondering something."
"Hmm?" I apparently caught her at a bad time as her spoon was still in her mouth.
"What's your name again?"
That was the total amount of time that silence enveloped the room like a blanket as we both stared at each other awkwardly.
The girl in question put down her spoon gently before wiping her mouth with a nearby napkin. Her calculated movements were deliberate, or so I thought. It was as if she was pissed off that I don't know her name, or worse, don't remember it.
She then let out a sigh.
"Do you really not remember me?" Her apathetic black eyes stared into my own as she asked that very question.
"If I do, I wouldn't be asking, would I?" I retorted with the same tired tone that she used.
"Ten years ago, Chiba village, summer camp."
I raised my eyebrows in confusion at her cryptic message. What made it more cryptic was the fact that she said it with a straight face and a monotone voice. Not to mention, how can I remember something from ten years ago?
Nevertheless, I didn't take my eyes off hers. That's a psychological trick with people; you can never let them know that you're confused.
Speaking of which, the phrase Chiba village and summer camp rang a few bells in my brain. I remember going there due to Hiratsuka-sensei's cunning plan, then we proceeded to help some kids do their activities and at the end, we did a test of courage.
Test of courage…
There was one peculiar girl who stood out above the rest. I, along with the others, 'helped' her…somewhat. Well, not really. I basically ruined her prospective primary school friendships…or did I?
I think her name was…Tsukino? No…but I'm pretty sure it starts with Tsu…Maybe Tsundere? Tsunami?
Crap, she's starting to notice my struggle.
What I do know is that her first name rhymes with her last name, therefore, going by that logic, it must be…
"If you must know," The mysterious girl let out a disappointed voice, but before she could say her name and subsequently voice her displeasure, I snapped my fingers victoriously before pointing to her.
"I know, I know. Tsukimi Kimi, right?" I stated smugly.
"It's Tsurumi Rumi." She corrected me without missing a beat.
And I was stuck there, with my finger in the air, pointing awkwardly a teenager five years younger than me. The people above just hate me, don't they?
And so, with my ego deflated, I silently lowered my finger and solemnly began to eat the curry laid in front of me. It got cold during our conversation. Just wonderful.
We ate quietly, with the occasional sounds of spoons hitting against plates. I snuck a glance every so often at Rumi, but it seemed so surreal, like a dream.
This girl, ten years ago, was more…how do you say it, quiet, sarcastic, snarky and above all, barely tolerable. Now, she was just quiet…and sarcastic, to a certain extent.
While I could certainly handle the silence that came with our dinner, I didn't think that Rumi would be able to. She might have changed in the last ten years. Perhaps, that girl had gotten herself a lot of friends, and the reason she looked so gloomy right now was the fact that her teacher forced her to spend her week at a stranger's house.
I could talk to her about random things, but then again, I was never really good at small talk. Every time a conversation was engaged during my high school years, Yuigahama was usually the one that started them.
But I'll never get better if I don't try.
It should be easy, right? Rumi's a teenager. We had a bit of history together so we're basically birds of a feather.
"So…"I began with a simple conversation starter, "Why are you here again?"
Surprised, Rumi answered, "I thought Hiratsuka-sensei told you already. She had a meeting in Osaka and had to leave, therefore leaving me behind. It seems that she doesn't trust me that much."
"No, not that," I waved off her explanation. I already knew why she was at my house from Hiratsuka-sensei anyways, "I was just wondering why is Hiratsuka-sensei in charge of you in the first place."
She didn't respond, which I found a little bit unnerving. A loner not responding to questions isn't rare. In fact, they rather wallow in their own calming silence and make up excuse as to why they didn't answer in the first place.
But Rumi's silence wasn't normal. It was as if she was dreading the question itself. I felt like I was going to step on some proverbial landmines in a few seconds.
It was fine though. Though I am grown up, I still retain my 108 skills, and one of those skills is the ability to read between the lines.
If I can read between the lines, I can definitely get through the mines.
Just think of a conversation as a ship, Hachiman. A ship that you can expertly maneuver to benefit yourself.
"I mean, I like Hiratsuka-sensei as much as the next student, but won't your parents be worried about you being at an older guy's place?"
Again, Rumi responded as fast as I asked the question.
I wish she hadn't.
"My parents passed away a few years ago."
Of course, that conversational ship is named Titanic.
"O-Oh…shit…" I nervously rubbed the back of my head. I have little to no experience with the loss of loved ones, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-,"
"No, it's okay," Rumi gave me a pained smile. It was so superficial that I was actually hurt just from looking at it, "I got over it already. So really, I'm fine."
I looked at her incredulously. Losing loved ones is a traumatic experience. Losing two of them while being so young must be awful.
"You sure?" Guilt was the only thing that filled my brain right now, "You know, if you need anything then don't hesitate-,"
My simple words of assurance were interrupted when Rumi stood up abruptly, carrying her plate and utensils. Her eyes were as apathetic as ever but I could tell that she didn't want to talk about this subject any longer.
"It's getting late," She said ever so simply, "Can you tell me where my room is so I can unpack my bags?"
She was clearly uncomfortable staying in this room any longer.
"Yeah, it's down the hall to your right," I even pointed a finger in the general direction of said room. Just hope that she won't mistake the guest room for my own.
"Thank you," Rumi gave a small bow before depositing the plates and utensils into the sink, and subsequently headed off towards her room for the week. She had some difficulty walking due to the weight of her bag, and as much as I wanted to help her, I knew that doing so wasn't a good idea.
She needed space.
Unfortunately, this apartment room doesn't have much space.
Day one of our cohabitation, and it was already going horribly wrong.
I woke up the next day feeling as lethargic as ever. Such occurrence should be expected since I am a working adult now…even though yesterday wasn't that hard on my body. Maybe, it was just my body's way of compensating for all the other all-nighters that I pulled.
The first thing that came to my mind was coffee.
The second thing that came to my mind was the smell of something cooking.
Wait, did I leave the oven on last night?
It was clear that this tired mind of mine was in no state to make a judgement, but it did so regardless. By instincts alone, my legs carried me towards the kitchen area, even though I should've realized that it was impossible for the oven to be burning something since:
One. The smoke detectors would give it away.
Two. I have no oven.
So, what was it that made the peculiar smell of freshly cooked meal?
Because I just woke up, my mind was still as hazy as ever and my eyes were no better.
Standing there in the kitchen area was a black spot, moving about every few seconds before returning to the same position. My initial assumption was that the black spot was Komachi, seeing as she had also cooked for me when she last visited me.
So in a true brotherly fashion, I called out to my sister.
The figure turned its head towards me before answering, "Good morning to you too, Hachiman."
Reality is a cruel mistress.
While I wished for my sister to be here, the person standing in front of me was the complete opposite.
Tsurumi Rumi, a girl who was forced to stay here by Hiratsuka-sensei. To say that she is a teenage Yukinoshita is kind of accurate to a degree. With the sarcasm and apathy to match the former Ice Queen, even I find it a bit hard to interact with her.
In hindsight, that last part might be due to what I said yesterday.
"Breakfast will be ready in a couple of minutes," Rumi said offhandedly while still cooking.
Seeing as the house wasn't in any immediate danger from the non-existent oven fire, I dragged my feet past Rumi, and searched the fridge for any remaining cans of MAX coffee.
I found none, and inwardly cursed myself for not stocking up.
With my quest for my early morning sustenance proving fruitless, I plopped down pathetically near the short table, and rest my head on its hard wooden surface. Two seconds later, I felt something metallic clashing against the wooden table.
Rumi was staring down at me, her face still as apathetic as ever, but it was what was in her hand that interested me. A yellow can with the simple yet efficient logo of 'MAX Coffee' labeled on it.
That immediately brought me back to my senses as I lifted my head up with an unknown vigor and grabbed the can right out of Rumi's hand.
"I could only find this brand at the mart. Sorry if you normally brew fresh coffee," Rumi said apologetically to me, but due to this treasure in my hand, I wasn't looking at her face.
"It's okay; I actually like this brand," To further prove my point, I even lifted it up and show it to her with a small smile.
My response was a grossed out look.
"You actually like that canned…thing?" Rumi muttered as she turned on her heels before walking back to where she was a few seconds ago.
I wanted to shout 'Apologize to every MAX coffee vendor and me!', but early morning lethargy was no joke.
To remedy this, I quickly and efficiently open up the canned goodness in my hand before gulping it down greedily.
Ah, sweet, sugary bliss.
But my joyful bliss was interrupted when a plate was placed down in front of me, and after that, a bowl filled with miso soup. I had half a mind to finish my can of MAX coffee but the dish currently in front of me looked so tempting.
Rumi did the same thing to her side of the table before sitting down.
"Let's dig in." said Rumi as she picked up her chopsticks.
"Uh, yeah," Reluctantly, I put down my can of pure happiness and began to dig into the fish dish in front of me.
Wait a minute…
"I thought my fridge was empty." I said offhandedly, but luckily, the young girl in front of me heard that.
"It was. I just bought these earlier this morning."
Earlier this morning? No wonder I didn't see any signs of bed hair on her. But it was 7:30 if my clock is to be trusted.
"Just being curious here," Rumi heard me and temporarily stopped eating, "When did you wake up?"
As far as I'm concerned, this girl is not ordinary. No sane person would wake up at 5:30 in the morning just to buy some grocery.
I had no retorts, only gratefulness towards this girl who risked her youthfulness for a grown man such as myself. A salute was in order, but I found myself far too tired to even raise my hand.
However, the fish that she'd cooked instantly reinvigorated me. It was a breath of fresh air from an otherwise hot summer morning. It was a far cry from the usual instant ramen that I would whip up for myself every morning.
"This is surprisingly good." I made a nonchalant comment, but Rumi was as sharp as ever.
"Surprisingly?" She asked, as if offended that I was surprised that she was good at cooking.
"You're good for a high school girl," I tried my best to rectify the situation at hand, but all I received was a questioning stare, "I mean, normally, girls your age don't really cook, y'know. Heck, when I was your age, I could barely make curry."
Finding my answer satisfying enough, Rumi accepted my answer, "Well, I live with Hiratsuka-sensei so I basically have to cook for the both of us."
"She never takes you out for dinner or anything?" Normally, if Hiratsuka-sensei takes a liking to you, she would probably treat you to something. But add to the fact that Rumi was living with her and that Hiratsuka-sensei is an adult (By age), that meant that Rumi need not to cook anything since it was her guardian's duty to basically keep her well-fed.
Then again, we are talking about the one and only Hiratsuka Shizuka.
"Once or twice a month for ramen."
At least, she had the decency to treat Rumi to something once in a while. Still, leaving a kid to fend for herself? Hiratsuka-sensei said that Rumi's a pretty responsible girl, but I still have my doubts.
But is Tsurumi Rumi responsible by trait or due to her circumstances?
I would like to lean towards the former, but considering the slipup that I made last night, I'm guessing that it's the latter.
Our conversation died as soon as it began. It was probably due to morning lethargy. I bet that even a diligent girl like Rumi can't escape that drowsy clutch of a summer morning. The grocery that she bought might state otherwise, but I was sure that she wanted to do nothing more than to sleep in.
Once I was finished with my meal, I deposited my dishes into the sink for later, and promptly went for my room. Even though it was a Saturday, the drafts won't proofread themselves. Besides, I only had about ten pages left so I could be done in an hour or two.
After a long, cold shower to wake myself up, I booted up my laptop and immediately searched for yesterday's draft. It was a monotonous task, but it was one that I was used to.
Normally, the moment I am seated in my office chair, I am officially in the 'Zone'. What that means is that my focus is refined and my eyes are sharper than ever; provided that there are no distractions whatsoever.
But as I sat down on my ever familiar chair, I just couldn't find it in myself to scroll through the pages of the draft.
And I clearly knew the reason why.
A pair of eyes was staring at my back, but not just any pair of eyes. They belonged to a certain teenage girl that I would love to have out of my way right now.
Unfortunately, that message won't be transferred if I don't talk to her.
Reluctantly, I turned around to the stoic face of Tsurumi Rumi. Rather than seeing a human, I felt like I was seeing a mannequin in her place. Soulless, emotionless and indifferent.
Not that it mattered though. I'm the adult in this room.
"Rumi." I turned around and called out to her, hoping that she would hear me.
Luckily, she did, "Hmm?"
"What are you doing here?"
Instead of immediately replying, she looked around the room for a while as if trying to find some sort of plausible excuse. I didn't let that happen though as I followed her line of sight every time her eyes changed direction.
Not only that, but she also walked around in my room as well before halting before my bed.
Finally, she stopped, sat on the bed, and finally formed a coherent sentence.
"I finished washing the dish." Was her simple reply.
I had to restrain myself from facepalming at her response. You would think that a logical girl like her would at least form a good lie. Years of being a student should've taught her that.
Not to mention, why was she sitting on my bed?!
"That's not a reason." I said bluntly.
One of her hands went up to her forehead, as if she suddenly had a bad case of headache. She then spoke in an obviously faked tone.
"Oh my," Her monotonous voice grinded my ears annoyingly, "It seems that you have discovered my plan to put you to sleep and take advantage of your unconditional kindness."
Silence was my only response, because, to be honest, how could anyone respond to that? The fact that she said it with such a straight face made it weird as hell.
Rumi spoke up a couple of seconds later.
"Of course, I was only joking. Hiratsuka-sensei said that you can be pretty tense at times."
Again with that monotone.
"Right…" I muttered uneasily as I turned back to my laptop, "Anyway, why are you in here? You have your own room, don't you?"
The sound of fabric ruffling notified me that she had moved, but I was too busy scanning over the word document in front of me.
"Hiratsuka-sensei also said that your room might be a bit messy, but I'd never thought that it would be this…"
"Give me a break," I sighed deeply, my eyes still focused on what was before me, "I don't have that much time, and my room isn't that messy!"
Woah, I got a little bit too passionate there. Calm down, Hachiman. She's just a kid. Nothing more, nothing less.
"Then how do you explain this?" I heard her say from behind my back.
I spun around with my office chair, coming face to face with Rumi. That's one of the rare perks of being a corporate slave. You get a free office chair; well, at least, I get a free office chair. Sucks to be the other employees in some other company though.
But my gratitude towards my job suddenly turned distress as the girl in front of me, Rumi, was holding a shirt by the tip of her fingers, as if the fabric itself was toxic or something.
I narrowed my eyes at her inconsideration of my private property.
"That is a shirt." I enunciated every word of that sentence to make a point to her. Rumi, on the other hand, merely gave me an incredulous glance.
"I can see that, Hachiman. I am not a kid."
"Well, you are though…" I mumbled that more to myself than anyone.
I held my breath as I felt Rumi's gaze travel from my head to my toe like a scanner. Jeez, an adult shouldn't get flustered like this. It's unbecoming of me.
"…I'll put this into the basket, okay?"
Surprisingly, Rumi dropped the subject, much to my relief. Having a younger and less experienced girl berate me would be the ultimate humiliation. Not to mention, if Hiratsuka-sensei catches wind of that, she'll never let me live it down.
I turned back quietly to my work as Rumi began her quest to collect every piece of dirty, unwashed clothes in my room. A strange sense of guilt worked its way up to my brain, eventually distracting me from my work at hand.
My emotional side told me to make small talks.
My logical side told me that she'll be fine. She's a realist, a loner, just like me.
Even though my fingers hovered over the keyboard, they weren't making any strokes. It was extremely uncomfortable; hearing the sound of a teenage girl cleaning your room while you sit on a comfortable office chair.
Eventually, my emotional side won the battle.
"Say, Rumi," With half my attention on my work, I called out softly to her, "Don't you have anything else to do?"
"Like what?" She replied, still moving through the room.
I momentarily stopped my hands to think of a response. What does a loner usually do on her day off anyway?
Using myself as a basis, on a typical summer day, I would either laze around and play games or laze around and watch TV.
Sometimes, I would even do a combination of both.
Clearly, using myself as a reference wouldn't do Rumi any justice. Perhaps, she might have a few friends. A couple of close ones and a couple of acquaintances. Heck, she might even have a boyfriend for all I know.
But of course, I decided to go with the safe option.
"Don't you have school or anything?" I distinctly remembered her wearing a Sobu high uniform yesterday. Ergo, she must be attending my former high school.
"It's summer, and not to mention, it's Saturday."
I checked the bottom of my laptop. As she had said, it was indeed Saturday. But one small thing still bugged me.
"Then how do you explain your uniform then, huh?" I asked her triumphantly.
"It was for my make-up tests." Rumi shut me down with no hesitation.
Amongst those words, there was three that caught my attention.
"Wait, make-up tests?"
"…" Silence was the only reply that Rumi gave me.
"What subjects did you fail in?" I was genuinely curious at her predicament. Rumi seems like a smart girl.
It took a while, but eventually, Rumi managed to squeeze out an actual sentence.
"…it was literature and history."
Some might call it insensitive, others might say that it's a normal human reaction, but nevertheless, I, Hikigaya Hachiman, had to hold back a laugh as Rumi revealed to me what she failed in.
Who could blame me though? History and literature was a breeze for me back in high school.
But, as expected, Rumi gave me a sharp glare, as if daring me to laugh again.
As the adult that I am, I composed myself with little to no difficulty before I faced her head on, like an adult should when dealing with kids.
"My bad," I immediately used the safe card in dealing with children: Make them think you're sorry, "It's just that I find it hard to believe that a smart looking girl like you could fail a test, much less two."
"I was sick that day…" Rumi muttered softly.
"Not to mention, Hiratsuka-sensei must've liked you for something, right? She's a literature teacher so-,"
"I was sick that day!"
I held my hands up in case she tried to pounce on me, because it sure sounded like she was going to assault me. 'Assault' sounded way too strong and too illegal though…
Never have I ever seen Rumi this flustered before. Perhaps she isn't such an emotionless husk after all. Well, it must be the teenage hormones acting up again. It'll subside in time…hopefully.
After a feeling like dozens of minutes have passed, even though it was only a couple of seconds, Rumi resumed her quest of gathering up my unwashed clothes. I, on the other hand, took this as a sign that she wanted no more discussion on her academic life, and promptly turned back to my laptop.
"Then what about hanging out with your friends?"
I opened up my big mouth without thinking again. Years of working as a corporate slave had conditioned me to make small talks, but not to the level of Yuigahama, mind you, it was just enough to pass the time spent alone with another colleague.
Rumi stopped in her tracks before looking back at me slowly, as if contemplating whether I was really the one asking it.
Oh god, we're starting from there.
"So you don't have any, huh?" I asked.
In response, Rumi crossed her arms haughtily. If she had whipped her hair backward, then she'll be the spitting image of a certain haughty Ice Queen.
"That's why I told you to define friends," Rumi replied, "There are different kinds of friends. For example…"
Despite the strong start, Rumi droned off at the end, becoming quieter until I could no longer hear her. She had focused her eyes elsewhere so she couldn't really tell the exasperated look on my face.
"Surely, there must be at least one person at school that you consider an acquaintance, right?"
Her only response was silence. It stands to reason that Rumi is a loner, to some degree, but to the point of not having an acquaintance? It was currently summer, and it was for a fact that she couldn't have spent the first quarter of this school year alone in solitary confinement.
"Well…" Her small voice forced me to pay attention, "There is one girl…"
"And?" I waited for Rumi's response.
Then, as if smelling something rotting, her face scrunched up in a way that was so unfit for a girl her age.
"She's too nice." Rumi spat out.
"Don't fault her for that," At this point, I had completely abandoned my work in favor of giving advice to teenagers about their social life.
Oh, the irony is rich.
"Besides, you should never refuse free friendship. It's like refusing free food."
"You with your old man logic…" She muttered, in hopes that I wouldn't hear it, which I did so clearly, by the way. 108 skills of Hachiman for the win!
"Look, at least, get someone you can fall back on. Even if she's too nice, as you say she is, she might prove to be useful in the future."
"In what regards?" Rumi asked.
A scowl formed on the young girl's face.
That scowl got deeper.
"I'm not so low as to use my friends as pocket change," Rumi replied, her face in a deep scowl.
"I'm kidding," But not really though…, "So, what is this girl like?"
"I told you; she's too nice."
"No, not that," I waved aside Rumi's answer, "I mean, what does she look like or is she in the same year as you."
Rumi stared at me with disgust, like, if she was staring a sidewalk gum that got stuck to her shoes.
"Not that!" I refuted her claim loudly, "I was just wondering if you'd even remembered her."
"And why would you think that I don't remember her? I'm not you, Hachiman."
I racked my brain for a retort, but none came. She got a good point there. I seriously should stop using myself as reference when referring to Rumi's social life.
"Fine," I reluctantly gave in before asking again, "So what did she do that turn you away?"
"She tried to force me to go to a mixer once."
Rumi's deep scowl returned, "With a bunch of college guys."
"And? It's not like they bite, y'know."
"I guess you wouldn't understand." Rumi responded, her voice a bit low.
"I guess I wouldn't." I repeated after her blankly.
"She also tried to celebrate my birthday," She added after a few seconds.
My attention was immediately hooked as Rumi let me in on this little tidbit. Someone actually trying to celebrate her birthday? That calls for a celebration in and of itself. It's rare to actually encounter someone who would willingly go out of their way to have a merry time with a loner.
Source: My father's sister's nephew.
"That's good, isn't it?" I beamed at her slightly, "It means that she actually cares about you."
The teenager in front of me simply snickered in response.
"Yeah, sure," She looked off to the side, "It's not like she missed my birthday by a month or two or anything…"
My mouth instinctively opened as no thoughts could be formed. Jeez, how sad can this girl be?
"What about Hiratsuka-sensei? Does she celebrate your birthday?" I asked.
Rumi looked at me in surprise before composing herself, "W-Well, not really. She's really busy so…I understand why."
"When did you even start living with Hiratsuka-sensei?" I foolishly asked, only to realize seconds later the implication of my inquiry, "I-I mean, if you don't mind telling me…"
I waited for her reactions, but no extreme one came out. In fact, what she did in response was rather tame.
Rumi just gave me sad smile in return.
"It's okay, y'know. I already told you that I am over it."
I was still uncertain about this whole situation. Apathetic as she may be, I still had to carefully choose my words.
"And for your information," Rumi spoke up once again, a familiar confident tone arising, "I started living with Hiratsuka-sensei about 3 years ago."
"So about when you started high school?"
Damn, she was in a bigger dilemma than I previously thought. Normally, a girl around her age would enter their 'springtime of youth' whenever they start high school.
Rumi could've been a normal girl, but fate decided to be a bitch.
All these confusing feelings entered my mind. Is she really over it? Should I really be feeling pity towards someone who I barely knew about? It felt as if I was invading her privacy doing so. Not to mention, it would be pretty insensitive of me to do so when she doesn't want any pity from me.
What to do, what to do…
A thought popped into my head.
"Rumi, what do you want to do for lunch?" I asked, hoping to divert the topic towards a lighter one.
Just as expected, Rumi was rather surprised for a moment before giving me an answer.
"I guess I could cook," She said that, but a doubtful look immediately appeared on her face, "Although, I don't think we have enough ingredients…"
Unbeknownst to even myself, a smile crept its way up to my face, "Then how about this?"
Rumi looked at me, her eyes waiting for me.
"Why don't we just eat out? Sounds good, right?"
"You sure?" She said, a bit of uncertainty in her voice.
"But…what I don't think I have enough money for-,"
"Jeez, I am the adult here," I interrupted her in exasperation, "It would be a blow to my reputation if I let a younger girl pay for her own meal."
I decided to ignore that last part of her statement. It seemed like I wasn't meant to hear it or something. Not that I mind though.
"So with that in mind, where do you want to go?"
Her eyes lit up instantly as Rumi beamed with happiness, something totally different from her usual demeanor.
"I-I can pick? Really?"
"You can pick. Really."
Her expression wasn't unlike that of someone hearing that they won a lottery, or a child going on her first trip to Destinyland. Honestly, it was refreshing. Even the sides of my face morphed into a half smile.
Rumi put a hand to her chin, contemplating. Her eyes were unnaturally focused. She was pretty damn serious about picking a place to eat at. Did Hiratsuka-sensei really never take her out?
At least, have some responsibility, sensei.
I turned to Rumi, who was fidgeting. The way she looked right now made me feel like a dad who had to give permission to his kids.
Expertly, I hid my discomfort, opting to ask Rumi instead.
"Made up your mind yet?"
"Well…" She trailed off, looking to the side.
Perhaps, she picked a high end restaurant. Of course, it would put a dent in my wallet, but I'm an adult after all, so I should be able to splurge once in a while.
"Can we go to Saize?"
That single word rang through my ears several times. It was like a bell chime. A symphony of harmony. Two syllables coming together to create a miracle. A miracle that is Saize.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to me that Rumi knows Saize. After all, we have pretty similar lifestyle. But even so, I had to do a double take the moment I heard the glorious restaurant's name.
Was she being considerate? Knowing her, she might be trying to be frugal with my money. I appreciate the sentiment but honestly, who does she think I am?
"You can pick a more expensive restaurant, y'know," I gritted my teeth as I spat out those words. In truth, Saize would be the optimal choice. Affordable and delicious, that's what every restaurant's goal should be.
"I'm saying that you don't have to think too much about my money. Besides, I owe you this much for cooking me up a great dinner last night."
Even if it was just curry.
"Oh…thanks, but it's okay. We can eat at Saize."
"You don't have to be so reserved. Come on, tell me where you really want to go."
Rumi pouted slightly as if annoyed that I'm not believing in her.
"I'm telling you it's okay. Besides, I like the food at Saize."
I like the food at Saize.
Like the food at Saize.
After her shocking revelation, I spun around in my office chair to face my laptop. She must be confused at all this, but I had to do so in order to not let her see this proud, most likely non-existent, tear that ran down my face.
For the first time in forever, someone actually outright admitted that Saize's foods are awesome.
I felt a calmness deep inside, unlike any other. It was soothing, like a sweet can of MAX coffee after an exhausting day at work.
If Saize is heaven, then I'm sure that Rumi must be the angel leading me there.
"Hachiman?" Rumi worriedly called out to me.
I let out a sigh before turning around and placing my hand on the young girls' shoulder. With the proudest tone that I could muster, I told her.
"Rumi, you have good taste."
In hindsight, this was an awkward position. Imagine someone like my sister barging in and seeing this scene. I can't even imagine the meltdown she'd be having.
"Now," I hastily removed my hand from Rumi, "Go and get ready. I'll finish up this draft and we'll head out in an hour or two."
"Okay!" Rumi exclaimed excitedly before running off to her own room, but not before taking the laundry basket with her.
And then, there was one.
Man, dealing with an adolescent really took a toll on me. It was fortunate that Rumi isn't the typical teenager; otherwise, I won't even have enough energy to head out for lunch.
The draft that I opened up hadn't been touched. I supposed the next hour or two should be enough for me to fill my quota. I also had a meeting with the author, and another one with the other editors later in the evening.
Even if I can't finish it right now, I could always do it at Saize.
Now, there was only one question on my mind.
Is Rumi a delicate eater or does she eat for the calories?
As I stepped out of my humble abode, the harsh sunlight wasted no time in assaulting me. It felt as if I've just entered the Sahara. It was no secret that Chiba is a heavily industrialized prefecture, but the amount of heat through the air was ludicrous.
At this rate, I'll melt like a popsicle.
Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, I should say, Rumi was already out there waiting for me. I knew that the girl wasn't waiting in her room as she wasn't there when I went to call her. She wasn't in the kitchen either so the only logical conclusion was that she was waiting for me outside.
Honestly, at this rate, she'll have a heatstroke.
I couldn't help but wonder if she was waiting for me after she got dressed up. Rumi can be weird like that, like earlier today when she woke up at a time that is considered unhealthy even for an adult. Her waiting outside at this skin melting temperature was also unhealthy, not to mention, awkward.
Could you imagine the stares that she had gotten from the neighbors? If you really think about it, those neighbors might accuse me of soliciting a high school girl for shady purposes as well.
Rumi, you fool!
"Hachiman," Rumi's voice brought me back to the slightly less harsh reality, "Shall we go?"
"Sure." I replied.
Now that I've gotten a better look at her outfit, she really went all out. Not that I would know anything about it though, considering that I seldom go out with other people, particularly women. But something, an instinct, if you will, alerted me of Rumi's state of dress.
It was, for the lack of a better word, cute…and fluffy.
Not Komachi-cute or Kamakura-cute, but it was just plain cute...and fluffy.
I shouldn't be thinking about a younger girl this way. Hachiman, you nincompoop.
Rumi led the way to our destination, something that I trusted her in since she must know the way to Saize if she's a fan of it.
Sure enough, after roughly five minutes of walking underneath the sweltering sun, we have found our safe haven in the Saize logo.
That was another thing that I like about Saize: the short distance between my home and the restaurant. For other restaurants, you might have to actually spend time travelling. Not for good old Saize though.
As soon as I opened the door, cool air began assaulting my face. It should be expected from a classy establishment like Saize though. They know how to keep their customers happy.
We both wasted no time walking into the cold paradise that is Saize and was immediately greeted by a waitress that I know all too well.
"Ah, Hikigaya-san, so good to see you again." The waitress said with a pitch perfect business smile on her face.
I don't think that this will come as a surprise to anyone, but I am a regular at Saize. Therefore, I know some of the servers there by name, or nickname to be exact.
Case in point, this particular waitress: Ai-chan.
It was a name that she insisted me to call her by. Don't get the wrong ideas, damn it.
"So will it be a table for one?" Ai-chan asked with that smile still on her face.
"Two, actually." I corrected her.
Ai-chan scooted a bit to the side before her face lit up in glee, for some odd reason.
"Ah, for you and your…"
I knew where she was looking and what she was assuming. Nine of out ten times that I've eaten here, it has always been me and me alone. So every time I had a companion, Ai-chan would be excited.
And that's using the term very loosely.
"She's my teacher's student." I intervened before she could let her mouth loose. It already happened with Komachi once so I don't want that sort of misunderstanding to happen again.
"Oh my, is that so?"
"It is so."
"Alright then, if you please come this way," Ai-chan led us to a medium-sized wooden table with two seats opposing each other. Couldn't she have taken us to a booth or something? It's always more comfortable there.
Rumi followed behind closely and carefully, trying to not be seen by Ai-chan. If I were her, I would do the same thing. That waitress gives off a shady vibe.
"Here you go," She handed both of us a menu each, "I'll be back when you're ready to order."
With that, she left us swiftly.
I quietly turned my attention to the menu. I already knew what to order, but I was going to spend a bit more cash today and let Rumi enjoy herself. Think of it as a repayment for all the things Hiratsuka-sensei did.
Or rather, the things that she didn't do.
On the other side of the table was Rumi, who was focusing intensely on the menu. She looked like a kid in a candy store. Well, technically, she is a kid, but let's not dwell on that.
Rumi continued flipping the menu several times, sometimes, even backtracking to the previous page as if to not miss anything important. It was rather sad seeing her like this. This isn't the first time that she's in here…right?
I could only thank the mystical force running this world for not allowing Hiratsuka-sensei to get married and have kids. The poor things those kids have to go through if she was their mother. A chill ran through my spine just thinking about it.
"Are you ready to order?" said Ai-chan as she sauntered over to our table, a notepad rather in her hand.
I closed the menu and told her of my order: a simple seafood pasta. She wrote it down with a giggle, presumably because I always order that particular dish. Her logic was skewed but whatever.
"With milk, please."
With my orders finished, I closed the menu and looked over to Rumi, who was still scanning the menu like a reading comprehension test.
"And for you, miss?" Ai-chan asked gingerly.
"A-Ah, this, please." Rumi pointed towards something in the menu, but with the way she was holding it, I couldn't get a clear look at what she wants.
Rumi looked at the menu hesitantly before answering.
"Just water is fine."
What a good, conservative girl. If I had a medal for cash saving, I would've given it to her right then and there. But I reminded myself that as an adult, I should let a teenager enjoy her youth, even if it will be at the expense of my wallet.
"Ai-chan," I called out to the waitress as she began walking away.
I gestured her to come closer so that Rumi couldn't hear what I was about to tell her. She complied and I whispered as softly as I could into the waitress' ear.
"Get a milkshake as well."
"Flavor?" She spoke softly in return.
There was a pause in Ai-chan's action when she took the time to look over to Rumi, who was resting her chin on her hand and staring at the wall for some undiscernible reason.
"Understood." She giggled and was on her merry way to the kitchen.
Slightly slouching in my seat, I contemplated whether I should finish up my work right here. Even though the table is too small to fit a laptop and two plates, I doubted that it would take me that long to finish this particular draft while the meals are being prepared.
But before I could pull out my laptop from its confinement, a small yet mocking voice rang through my ears.
Rumi's voice was a strange mix of apathy and contempt. Though her question wasn't that much of a question, I still understood her inquiry.
"Don't misunderstand, that's just what she wants me to call her."
My eyebrows twitched a bit. This kid really knows how to push someone's button. She's a loner like me, so she should understand when a misunderstanding's occurring, right? I thought we were two birds of a feather, comrades even!
"Just so you know, it's only because I'm a regular here and she insists on it." A misunderstanding is like a cockroach. It should be squashed immediately as to not let it multiply any further.
With her chin still on her hand, Rumi glanced at me blankly before turning back to the wall.
"But really, 'Ai-chan'? That's something only a weirdo would call someone."
"If you want to really know, why don't we just ask her?" I retorted, annoyed.
"That's a good idea." She replied with a hint of underlying sarcasm.
While it may seemed like a bad idea and a waste of everyone's time, calling Ai-chan over to ask what her name is would definitely keep this kid quiet for a long time to come.
The waitress in question was walking by as we spoke about her.
"Ai-chan." I didn't have to shout that much, considering that she was mere meters away.
"Hmm? Do you want to order something else?" She asked with her note already taken out. How horrifyingly efficient of her.
"Nah," I waved off her question, "That girl there."
"…I have a name, y'know…" I heard Rumi muttering, but decided that it was for the best to ignore her.
"She wants to know what to call you. She likes the food here, you see, so she might be a regular soon."
What a perfect excuse. Seriously, could anyone think up of a more natural excuse? Nope, none whatsoever.
"Ah, I see," Ai-chan said gleefully as she looked over to Rumi. The latter straightened her posture and sported a curious look on her face.
A girl's acting ability is scary. Way too scary!
"Well, if you want something to call me by then call me Aikawa."
I froze upon hearing the two syllables after 'Ai'. What did she mean by Aikawa?! You don't just betray a regular at your restaurant. That bi-!
"Ah, I see. Thank you, Aikawa-san." Rumi smiled as she responded.
"No problem. I hope to see you around more."
She walked off to her previous destination, leaving me and Rumi all alone again, except for this time, Rumi got an impossibly large smirk plastered on her face.
"So Ai-chan, eh?" Rumi scoffed as she stared straight into my eyes.
Deciding that completing my work would be the best and most efficient course of action, I pulled out my laptop from its bag and began working. Though I said that, it took time for this hunk of plastic and metal to turn on.
Not that I hate this hunk of metal and plastic though. My life quite literally depends on it.
Despite being able to load up the text document containing the draft, the time it took was so long that Ai-cha-I mean, Aikawa was able to bring food to our table.
I sighed and begrudgingly closed my laptop as she set down our orders.
However, the plate full of pasta and the steaming coffee instantly perked me right back up. Ah, these two were the only remaining things in Saize that won't betray me.
Before digging in, I glanced over to Rumi, who had apparently ordered Chinese fried rice. I lightly snickered, hoping that neither of them noticed my amusement in Rumi's childish choice in food.
Then again, Rumi is a kid so I guess choosing those kinds of meal is a given for her.
But that wasn't the end of it. As Rumi was about to dig in, Aikawa placed a glass of strawberry milkshake right next to Rumi's plate, surprising the young girl in the process.
"Wait, I didn't order this." Rumi said while looking at Aikawa for answers.
I held back my snicker. That was a totally cool move on my part, wasn't it? I mean, it was obvious that Rumi was trying to be frugal about my money, since she is such a considerate person after all.
However, since I'm an adult and has the perception of an elite military general, I was able to pinpoint Rumi's desire by simply following her line of sight. Those outings that Komachi forced me to go on weren't just time wasters, y'know!
Besides, everyone loves milkshake. Combined that with the unique flavor of strawberry, how can a girl like Rumi refuse such a delicacy?
Also, it's free.
Everything's better when it's free.
"Ah, Hikigaya-san ordered that for you," Aikawa explained to Rumi as she gestured towards me.
I actually had to hide my smile as to not fluster Rumi any further. Ah jeez, my altruistic nature was showing again. I'm way too cool for this world.
Well, with that settled, it was time to eat.
Or so I thought until a glass that was filled with pink liquid, covered with whipped cream and had a straw bent into a weird shape landed in front of me. Well, it didn't exactly land in front of me; it was more like someone placed it there.
And who else could've done that besides our waitress herself?
I immediately turned to her, my eyes already signaling for an answer.
"Wait, I didn't order this."
A harsh scoff was sounded in front of me. As if it wasn't obvious enough, Rumi also gave away that it was her by hiding her mouth and looking off to the side.
It couldn't be…
Could it be in my pursuit to be the kindest of gentlemen, I didn't notice what was in front of me? Rumi ordered that drink just to spite me and my wallet, didn't she?
My mental rant was stopped short when Aikawa giggled softly.
"This one's a freebie. We're having a promotion, you see." She explained as her eyes directed towards the little plastic thing that advertise whatever promotion a restaurant is having. What do we call those things anyway? Mini popup ads?
"Well then, enjoy your meal," Aikawa added as she bowed and left us to our own accord.
But my attention was directly squarely on the mini popup ad thing. Due to my superior observational skills, I was able to quickly skim through its content before one single word caught my eyes.
Wasting no time, I spun the blasted thing around so that that abomination of a word couldn't be seen by me or Rumi any longer. Especially Rumi.
Speaking of Rumi, she was curiously staring at the drink; perhaps wondering what it tastes like or what I looked like up close.
I was doing the same thing, except instead of being curious about the properties of the mostly pink drink; I was wondering if Rumi noticed why this drink was free in the first place. Not only that, but I finally noticed what strange shape the straw was bent into.
Being the perceptive adult that I am, I noticed Rumi's immediate craving for the presumably sweet drink. As such, I coughed to get her attention and promptly pushed the glass filled with sweetness and youthful joy towards her.
"Here. You should be the one to drink this." I simply told Rumi.
As a response, she pushed it back to me, "No no no, you drink it. After all, I already have this, see?"
She pointed towards the milkshake that I ordered for her. Ungrateful kids these days. Don't even know when they're being given free things.
"You're a growing girl, aren't you?" I pushed it back, "You should drink it."
"Ah, but you should have some sweetness to go alongside your coffee," Rumi gritted her teeth as she smiled and pushed it back, "You drink it."
"There's already milk in this coffee so it should be sweet enough already. Besides, why are you refusing free calories?"
"I'm a girl. I have to watch my figure."
"I'm an adult," I mocked her response, "I have to watch my glucose level."
Rumi clicked her tongue, "Tch, old man."
Resigning to her fate, Rumi's shoulders drooped in defeat as she proposed an ultimatum.
"Fine, if you're going to be stubborn,"
"You're the stubborn kid here." I interrupted her, but she pretended as if I didn't say a thing.
"Why don't we both drink it? I can see at least two straws in there." Rumi said nonchalantly.
I almost grimaced at how she didn't notice the straw's actual shape. Speaking of which, why were they even doing this promotion anyway? It's way past February.
And was Rumi doing this to me on purpose? Nah, she isn't someone to play jokes like that. The best she could do is saying creepy things followed by 'Just kidding.'
At this rate, it would be better if I take the plunge for the both of us.
"Fine, fine, I'll drink the damn thing," I said, frustrated.
The glass was cool to the touch as I pulled it towards myself. I found it a bit awkward to drink out of this peculiar straw, but somehow, someway, I managed. It was as sweet as MAX coffee, if not, even sweeter.
However, when I was almost halfway through this conglomerate of sweetness, a cry was sounded.
"Hey, can I have my turn now?" Rumi beckoned me as she outstretched her hand towards the glass.
Because of the surprise, I actually had to take a few seconds to take in the fact that Rumi also wanted a taste of this blend of sweetness. Was she that curious about the taste?
I was reluctant at first, but I happily pushed the glass towards her anyway, but Rumi didn't respond in kind. She looked off to the side with the only thing alerting her of the glass being her outstretched hand.
The moment she clasped the drink, she pulled it towards herself and began drinking with her eyes still off to the side.
The problem was that there were indeed two straws bent around each other. Since Rumi wasn't looking when she took the straw to her mouth, she got the straw that she shouldn't be drinking from.
"Uh, Rumi…" I tried my best to salvage the situation, but it was too late as Rumi almost finished the whole drink.
But, in her defense, she did hear me and turned her attention towards what I was about to say.
"Hmm?" Her eyes questioned me as she still had that straw in her mouth.
I tried my best to find words that could describe her dilemma, but ultimately, I decided to follow the philosophy 'Brevity is the soul of wit'
With a sigh, I told the poor girl, "Rumi…that's my straw."
There was a delayed reaction, akin to that of a laptop freezing up. However, Rumi's face was anything, but frozen up. In a matter of mere seconds, her face matched the color of the drink in front of her.
She slowly and meticulously took the straw out, wiped her mouth with a paper napkin before standing up and outright dashed towards the general direction of the bathroom.
I watched her with dread before coming to terms that I should probably eat my own meal, which got cold during our banter.
This is why I live alone.
After finishing our uneventful lunch, Rumi and I made a silent pact to never speak about that incident again, whether it'd be to outsiders or between us. In fact, I don't even know what incident she was talking about. All I remembered was going to Saize and having a nice meal, consisting of seafood pasta and coffee.
I gave Rumi the apartment's spare key and promptly told her to go home, while I caught a train to meet up with the author. Instead of meeting at a normal, plain restaurant, he had decided to meet up at a rather fancy café.
What's with the obsession with cafés these days?
With no choice but to comply with his demands, I braced my wallet for what was about to be another battle. After all, it's usually the editors that pay for the drinks.
The meeting went fairly well…NOT. Not only did he not finish his draft, he also injured his hand from what he claimed to be a freak accident. I grimaced at all the negotiations that I would need to do to keep both our jobs afloat.
Well, mostly his.
He did give me a doctor's note, however, so maybe, I could use that to my advantage…
Who am I kidding? Well, time to brush up on my dogeza pose again.
The meeting with the other editors was the only thing that didn't go wrong. Partly, because I didn't talk much. But it didn't really matter at the end as the meeting wasn't anything important. After all, it wasn't arranged by our head honcho himself. Just a bunch of editors wanting to get together.
Unfortunately though, since our boss wasn't here to control these buffoons, they decided to have an impromptu outing to a sushi bar. I couldn't refuse since it was customary for a junior to go along with his senior whenever an outing such as this one occurs.
Curse you, Japanese workplace customs!
Now this may come as a shock, but I hate alcoholic drinks, especially beer. Ergo, I hate outings with colleagues such mine as all they would do is get drunk, vomit on the side of the street and pass out on a couch in their home…sometimes, even on a park bench.
Not wanting to be part of that experience, I nimbly and cautiously used an age old skill that helped me escape stupid social situations like this a dozen times.
With Stealth Hikki being activated, I snuck away under the guise of going to the bathroom. Those people would never notice me because of two simple reasons.
One. I do not have that big of a presence at the table
Two. They will get drunk. Every single one of them.
Summer might be warm, but its night air is undoubtedly cold. I shivered horribly as I walked through the streets without a jacket. Ah, now would be a really good time for someone to come pick me up…like Hiratsuka-sensei sometimes does when she's on her late night drive.
Oh wait, she's not in Chiba right now.
I sighed and continued my painful trek towards home. Within a few grueling minutes, I finally reached the front of the apartment complex.
As I reached the front door of my apartment, I could see light emanating from underneath. Of course, I expected this since I gave Rumi the spare key and all.
I fumbled in my pocket for a moment before fishing out a key and inserting it into the lock, producing an audible click in the process. Hopefully, it didn't wake Rumi up, if she was sleeping that is.
But my assumption was immediately proven false as Rumi emerged out of the bath, drying her hair and already adorning her pajamas. What time was it anyway? Going out with people really takes away your sense of time.
"Ah, Hachiman, welcome back," Rumi greeted me as she continued drying her hair with a towel.
"Ah, yeah," I looked around and saw that the room was spotless, shining even, "Did you clean this room?"
She looked at me as if I was the biggest dunce in existence, "Of course. Who else could've done it? A ghost?"
"I was just asking…" I mumbled before noticing, once again, that she was in her pajamas, "Wait, you're already going to sleep?"
If she was going to sleep, that meant that she had already had dinner. Which meant that I couldn't make my own dinner unless I want to ruin someone's sleep patterns.
"Ah, dammit," I pinched my temple, exhausted from today's events, "I knew I shouldn't have gone with them."
"What's wrong?" Surprisingly, Rumi asked in a concerned voice.
I tried my best to cover up my fatigue, but…
"It's nothing really," I waved off her worries, "It's just that I couldn't eat at this restaurant because of my co-workers. Honestly, it's ruining my eating habits."
That statement was meant to be a light hearted one, but apparently, Rumi took it the wrong away as her face had shock written all over it.
"Do you want me to wait for you for dinner next time?" She asked earnestly, which quite frankly, creeped me out.
"N-No, I was just rambling on, that's all…"
"If this keeps up then your health will deteriorate."
From a few nights of not eating?
"It's fine. Besides, how did you even come to that conclusion anyway?"
Bashfully, she answered, "It's just that…Hiratsuka-sensei comes home late at night most of the times, so I almost always eat dinner alone, since that's what she wanted me to do."
"And so," Rumi continued, her youthful vigor showing, "I was thinking that you might have a different…approach when it comes to having dinner…y'know…"
"I don't know." I piped in sarcastically.
Rumi, however, continued as if she didn't hear me.
"I'm saying that you might like having dinner with company…do you?" She asked sheepishly, looking at me with upturned eyes.
I was about to retort, stating that while I live alone, it didn't mean that I am lonely. In fact, I'm happier than ever, so it was naïve of her to presume that I would prefer having dinner with someone else.
But then, I realized that this wasn't a request for my sake. Underneath that concerned tone was a request for her own sake. Despite one part of my mind telling me not to be presumptuous, the other part reasoned that a girl with her circumstances needs company more than anyone else.
Was I wrong in assuming that notion? Perhaps, but it was better than not doing anything.
And so, I looked into Rumi eyes and told her without any hesitation.
"Fine, you can wait for me," I even tried to smile to reassure her, "What time do you usually eat?"
"Ah, I see," I lifted my hand and put it on her head, rubbing her hair gently, "Don't worry. I'll come home around that time too so you don't starve yourself to death. Sounds good?"
Rumi's face turned into one of embarrassment.
"Sounds good, but can you stop patting my head? I'm not a kid." She complained. I even noticed a small pout. Jeez, what a kid.
"Whatever you say, kid," I made sure to emphasize that last part as a joke. I'm sure she can handle a few banters. After all, she is Hiratsuka-sensei's student.
She growled lightly like a cat as I walked towards my room. A few seconds later, a loud growl was heard throughout the room.
It didn't come from Rumi, nor a cat (The landlord doesn't allow pets), but it certainly flustered me to the point that I was silent for a good ten seconds or so.
I turned around slowly, not wanting to look directly at Rumi, but I knew deep in my conscience that she had that familiar smirk adorned on her face.
"Yeah?" Rumi's sickeningly sweet reply almost sent me over the edge. I could just settle for cup ramen, but I don't think I have any left. Rumi made sure of that since, according to her, Hiratsuka-sensei told her to get rid of my junk food stash.
"…can you make me dinner?" I muttered, rather than ask.
In response, the younger girl just smile at me, pretending to be oblivious to me request. I knew what she wanted me to say. It was the same with all these stuck up princesses, and I had the pleasure of dealing with one in high school.
So, I knew what she expected from me, but I wasn't going to give it to her…at least, that was what I promised myself until I felt a growl emanating from my stomach once more.
Which ultimately caused me to succumb to the materialistic needs of my body.
"...please?" I added somberly.
Rumi could barely hold back her snicker as she walked towards the kitchen area. Donning an apron, she asked me with an impeccable smile on her face.
"Is stir fried chicken with vegetables good enough?"
With a twist and a satisfied hum, Rumi started preparing dinner. In her mind, she was probably feeding a stray cat that had nothing to eat for days.
I let out an exasperated sigh.
I miss living alone…
I hate my workplace.
But I don't think that sentence got my message across so let me reiterate.
I absolutely DESPISE my workplace.
Why, you ask.
The answer is quite simple. So simple yet the person hired to design my workplace was so incompetent that they didn't even notice this 'simple' reason as to why I hate my workplace so much.
There is no privacy.
Normally, you would imagine an office as a large room with many cabinets in which employees sit in and do their job. The cabinet is designed in such a way that one could focus while in the comfort of their own privacy.
My boss obviously never heard of that concept.
Privacy never once crossed his mind as he rambled on and on about creativity, citing that we, the employees, need to be able to see how one another work to gain experience.
But there lies an inherent problem.
Those that do walk around, often do so under the pretense of wanting to see how others work, even though we all know that they are just lazy.
For example: This particular man in front of me.
"So, Hikigaya, how's work?" He asked.
"Don't be like that, man. Life's too short for you to be too tense; ya get what I'm saying?"
I don't; now leave me alone.
Despite my fervent wish, I didn't think that he would leave. Reason: We were currently having a lunch break right now, and most of the other employees left, leaving behind those that have their own lunch.
I, as of this moment, belonged to the latter group due to a certain teenage girl.
"When you have to explain to the higher ups why one of their authors is way past the deadline, and why he can't write for two whole weeks, then you can talk to me about being tense." I spat out bitterly.
The apologies that I had to give out that morning were so much that the word 'Sorry' had lost its meaning to me. However, that only resulted in them giving 'consideration' towards the deadline extension.
Tch, I knew I should've done a dogeza.
Despite his injury, the author still managed to barely produce a couple of chapters for me to proofread and pick out the inconsistencies, which there were many of.
"How many volumes?"
"Huh?" I raised my eyebrow at his out-of-nowhere question.
"I mean his light novel. You'd know how many volumes have already been published, right?"
Taking a few seconds to think, I responded, "Eleven, I think. We're working on his twelfth volume right now."
I turned my focus back to the word document that was currently displayed on the monitor. There were many words, each one of them looking like worms crawling on top of a blank white canvas, but I've seen this sight way too many times to be unnerved by it.
Not that it mattered since all my focus was for naught as something impacted against my shoulder.
"Why are you even worried?! He has eleven fricking volumes already so there's no way that they're gonna cancel his twelfth one, right?"
It was common knowledge that higher ups have a higher tolerance towards any product that can generate them mad amount of cash. Therefore, any authors that can garner enough attention for their novel to get more than five chapters are certainly a big asset towards the company.
"I wouldn't be worried if he isn't tweeting out that he's 'working' on it every week towards hopeless fans that can't seem to get a clue that these things take time!"
My voice was a bit loud at the end there, but there was no one here except me and…this guy.
What's his name again?
"Jeez, you're really stressed, huh?"
Despite his nonchalant tone at my conundrum, I found myself agreeing with him. I was extremely stressed. From the tension of dealing with the board of directors and the frustration of dealing with an incompetent yet talented writer.
There's also Rumi at home, but at least, she was doing something to ease my stress.
"Here, have a drink, best buddy."
A can of coffee was placed on my desk as he said that. Despite his weird choice of nickname of me, I found myself grateful at his gesture. It wasn't MAX coffee but it was coffee nonetheless.
He then pulled a chair from out of nowhere and sat next to me, peering over my shoulder and onto the laptop's monitor. I take it back; he probably gave me that just so that he'll have an excuse to invade my privacy once more.
But he did give me a free drink though…
"So…I guess you must be into high school girls now, huh?"
My mouth stopped just mere millimeters in front of the canned coffee. He was behind me so I couldn't see his facial expressions, meaning I couldn't read his motives at all.
Who told him about Rumi?
More importantly, how did he know about Rumi? Was going to jeopardize my job by reporting me to the MP? No, he wouldn't go that far, would he? But I see that guy's face every day; it's far too happy for a normal person.
Steeling my nerves, I let out a sigh small enough that he won't notice before turning to him, my face contorted into the best smile that I could muster.
"What are you even talking about?"
My voice was calm, and so was my demeanor. However, my emotions were anything but calm. He looked surprise before giving me a grin.
"I'm just thinking that eleven volumes is a lot, y'know. So it's possible that you're into high school girls now, right? Since you have to proof read a romantic comedy every single day."
"O-Oh, so that's what you mean."
"Of course, I am. What else would I be talking about?"
I breathed a sigh of relief before taking another sip of coffee. My monitor displayed the time as 12:30pm, which was way past my normal lunch time. So, I brought out my lunch box, something that I hadn't held for years, considering that I was too lazy to cook.
Rumi was the one that volunteered to do it, citing that it was, once again, Hiratsuka-sensei who requested her to do so. Well, I did give her some spending money so she could buy something for herself in case she was hungry, but I still felt guilty about having a younger girl doing this for me.
"Man, must be nice to have a younger girl cook for you, eh?"
My eyes widened as my hands stopped short of taking the lid of the lunch box. He was playing with me, wasn't he? He knew about it all yet decided to lead me into a false sense of security just so he could strike me down when my defense is lowered. This couldn't be about money. We're basically the same as far as ranking goes.
Don't tell me I did something horrible in the past to him.
Before I got to question him, however, he began talking again.
"I miss the days when my sister used to cook for me. You told me that you had a sister, right? Did she come to visit you again?"
"W-Well no. This is just a store bought bento."
So he didn't know about Rumi after all. Jeez, years of being a corporate slave really messed with my nerves. I should just stay calm like I always do. A calm Hachiman is the best Hachiman.
"It looks too delicious for a store bought bento though…"
He muttered suspiciously as he took a long hard look at the assortment of dishes in the box. He is smarter than I give him credits for. If this keeps up, he would easily find out why it looked so good despite my claims.
"That bento must be one of those premium ones, right?!" He exclaimed.
Thank god, he's a dumbass.
But as I was about to dig into the delicacies that Rumi prepared for me, fate decided to play a cruel trick on me as another person entered into this two man comedy act.
It was the voice of a senpai that had shown me the ropes ever since I've gotten a job here. She's the only one besides…what'shisname to talk to me; not that I have a choice though.
"Sup." Was my simple greeting.
She was when she saw me, but as I followed her eyes towards the man behind me, I could feel her gaze sharpened.
"Hey there," She greeted him without any hint of warmth or camaraderie, "The hell are you doing here for?"
Her words were harsh enough that even I felt the venomous sting behind them, despite the target not being me. Despite the display of hostility, the rambunctious man behind me didn't flinch. In fact, he stood up without any hesitation to confront my senpai.
"Long time no see, Nanao. Why are you here?"
Nanao tried as hard as she could to keep her resentment in. So much so that I could almost feel the tension between those two.
Why don't you two just get a room already?
"I'm here to see my beloved junior; who I'm sure is starving from overworking himself."
"I'm actually fine…" I muttered, more to myself rather than to anyone since those two like to hear themselves talk rather than listen to someone else.
"Well, I'm here to spend precious time with my friend," The annoying guy countered stupidly before sharply turning to me, "Hey, Hikigaya, we're friends right?"
His proclamation of our friendship was loud and stupid. It was a good thing that everyone was out for lunch. I couldn't bear to be announced as this guy's best buddy.
"You're best friends with him, huh?" Nanao crossed her arms, "Then tell me. Does he even know your name?"
"Alright then! Hikigaya, what's my name?"
I smiled dumbly as he asked me that very question. To my sides, I could see Nanao's victorious smirk and to my front, I could see…that guy's passionate gaze, but as time went on, those eyes lost the fire inside.
He was mouthing his name to me. Unfortunately, I had never been good at lip-reading so I couldn't tell what he was trying to say. The 'Ta' was just a lucky guess as his face lit up the moment I said it.
His grin widened as he ushered me to go on. Tana-what? Tana…Tana…
Nanao laughed as I evidently got Tana-something's name wrong. The look on the poor guy's face as I said that. I almost feel sorry for him.
"It's Tanahashi! How could you forget? I thought we were best buddies!" The now named Tanahashi whined as he hung his head in disappointment.
Life lesson for today, Tanahashi: Don't expect anything from anyone, especially from someone such as myself.
Nanao's grating laugh echoed throughout the room. It was fortunate that no one was here to hear her besides me and Tanahashi.
She soon grabbed a chair, just like Tanahashi did and took a seat next to me.
"Oh, yeah, Hikigaya."
"Suzuki-san wants to see you before you're done for the day. Just swing by his office before you head home, alright?"
I nodded drearily as a sense of trepidation washed over me.
Please don't cancel. Please don't cancel. Please don't cancel.
"Man, what does the boss want with you?" Tanahashi asked, "He almost never meet anyone one on one like that."
I was too busy to reply since I was chewing, but a strong arm wrapped itself around my neck, almost choking me in the process. I glared at the perpetrator but she was too busy doing her own thing.
"Well, obviously, it's to reward Hikigaya here for being such a good employee. Probably even rookie of the year!"
"We don't even have any awards…" I mumbled, but somehow, she was able to catch it.
"Not with that attitude!"
Nanao laughed while I just grumbled in discomfort. Why do women have to use perfumes that choke you out? She smelled nice due to her perfume, but just like everything else, too much of something can be detrimental.
"Oh, and by the way," Nanao removed her arm off me, something that I was very grateful for, "What's with the high school girl?"
The egg roll that was in my mouth almost plunged down my trachea as I recoiled in shock at what Nanao said.
"W-What are you even talking about, Nanao?"
"Are you talking about his newly acquired fetish?" Tanahashi chimed in.
I glared at the young adult, but Nanao's voice brought me back to reality.
A cruel, harsh reality that I'd rather not live in anymore.
"Of course not, though that would be interesting…" I decided to ignore that last part, but Nanao kept on talking, "I'm talking about his date with a high school girl at Saize."
My eyes widened, arms stiffened and postured straightened. From the way she spooke, she wasn't confusing me for someone else. After all, there are only a handful of people who would eat out at Saize. I am one of those people.
It's a sad day when supporting your favorite restaurant becomes your undoing.
"So…who is she?" Nanao nudged me gently as she gave a sly smile, "Don't keep me waiting. I'm fine with losing to a younger girl, y'know."
"Do you really have to know?" I asked, exasperated.
"Yes, yes I do." She nodded smugly as she replied.
I turned to the other side, hoping that Tanahashi would back me up in any capacity, but instead of a dumb, cheery face, all I got was a sneer from the man who I thought was my comrade.
His mouth moved slightly and I could barely make out the word 'Traitor'. There was no way that he was jealous of me eating with Rumi, right? Well, he is a boy in a grown man's body.
Speaking of Rumi…
"How did you know about our lunch at Saize, huh?" I turned back to Nanao swiftly, "Do you have a tracking device on me or something? Are you a stalker? I swear, no one in this company have any sense of privacy. Seriousl-,"
A hand was placed mere millimeters in front of my face, stopping my impromptu rant altogether. Nanao sighed as she brought it back down, seeing that I stopped talking.
"Kid, you're not the only one who eats at Saize, y'know."
I finally relented, causing those two to come closer to me. We were already close enough physically so why did they have to invade my privacy bubble?!
"She's my former teacher's student." I explained.
Nanao had this confused look on her face, and judging by the lack of sound from either of them, I assumed Tanahashi had the same face as well.
Within a few seconds, Nanao spoke up.
"But why were you guys on a date though?"
"It's not a date," I retorted, earning a suspicious look from her, "She is just living with me for a while."
I was about to tell her about Rumi living with Hiratsuka-sensei, but I decided against it. Doing so would mean that I have to explain why she was living with her teacher in the first place. Unfortunately, there was enough guilt in me to point me to the other way.
"Her guardian is busy. She had to go to this important meeting in another prefecture."
"Huh…is that so?"
"It is so."
Nanao found my answer satisfying, as evident by her turning away to eat her own lunch. All this talking really wasted my lunch break. This was the second day in the row that I had cold lunch.
But as I soon found out, fate is a really cruel mistress.
"So…you're a lolicon now, huh?"
A voice whispered over my shoulder, sending chills over my body. I turned to said voice, and found Tanahashi with a very judgmental look.
I gave him a sharp glare before responding.
"What are you even talking about?"
"A date with a high school girl? Doesn't that make you a lolicon now?"
"No, it doesn't. Besides, that girl can't be even classified as an actual loli-," I stopped myself short of conituing, "What are you making me say…"
"Or so you say!"
Tanahashi pointed a finger at me dramatically, like something straight out of a mystery anime. There was awkwardness in the air as Nanao and I didn't utter a single word.
"What if you were lying to us, huh? How could we know that you're not participating in compensated dating?"
I looked at him incredulously before speaking up against his…'accusations'.
"I don't care if you believe me or not," I told him bluntly, "Besides, why would I do compensated dating anyway?"
Tanahashi wasted no time in responding.
"Because you have horrible social skills, especially with women so you can't get a companion on your own without promising materialistic things?"
"And also because you have anti-social tendencies that tend to give people wrong impressions about you?" Nanao chimed innocently.
"I hate you both."
The first half of my afternoon that day was spent on stuffing myself with the now cold lunch that Rumi had prepared, courtesy of both Nanao and Tanahashi. The second half of it was spent doing work while being surrounded by various distractions, both major and minor.
For example: Nanao bringing me sweets every 10 minutes or so. It didn't heavily impact my words as I only spared 1 second talking to her.
There was even one woman who announced that she was finally engaged. Of course, I stopped my work for exactly 5 seconds to clap for her. She deserved her happiness, but what kind of woman thinks that it's a good idea to announce your engagement to your co-workers? Honestly…
I persevered and I succeeded. I was like the firm, unmoving rock in a river of disturbances. I didn't budge from my seat, not even once, except for bathroom breaks, but that aside, I stayed in front of my desk all afternoon long
Even in front of Suzuki-san, who is my boss, I remained steadfast and confident. I thought that perhaps it would influence him in whatever he was about to do. Fortunately, I hit the jackpot that day as he told me that our deadline would be extended by two more weeks.
I made sure to thank him professionally before taking my leave.
The moment I stepped outside, my legs instantly turned into noodle as the nervousness finally set in. Perhaps, I wasn't as unmoving as I thought I was.
However, what happened next confused me to no end.
In one second, Nanao and Tanahashi stood in front of me, a grin plastered on their face. The next second, I was in a taxi with both of them as they explained to me why we were in there in the first place.
I didn't get to listen as they rambled on, but in the next next second, we were seated in a yakiniku place, our table filled with various meats.
Before I could even begin to comprehend everything, a bottle of sake was shoved into my mouth. I knew it was sake as the moment the liquid inside hit the back of my throat, I felt it burning.
It was uncomfortable, but the taste was so familiar…and somehow delicious. My eyes began to droop as I felt a strange sense of drowsiness enveloping my body.
I'm ashamed to admit this, but I, Hikigaya Hachiman, am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol.
I could hear both of them spouting off that we needed to celebrate since I got a promotion. Even through my drunken haze, I was still able to tell facts from fiction. Unfortunately though, I wasn't in any shape to correct them on that.
More sake bottles came in, and like the fool that I was, I downed them in a drunken haze. I am a quiet drunk, or so I heard, so I didn't jump around wildly or shout loudly whatsoever.
The night ended with Tanahashi asleep on Nanao's shoulder while us three were outside of the restaurant. It was already night and other people were also beginning to leave the restaurant as well.
"'ikigaya, ya sure you'll be okay?" Nanao slurred as she attempted to carry Tanahashi, "Tana and I live in the same neighborhood, but you live far away, don't cha?"
I assured her with the most sober tone that I could muster.
"It's fine. I lived nearby an'way…"
She nodded and bade me farewell as I responded in kind. Even in drunken stupor, I was still able to navigate Chiba with ease. I knew where the train stations are and more importantly, the location of my current home.
When I arrived in front of the apartment complex, I reached into my pocket for a key, just so that the door won't be a hassle when I finally reached it. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked. I immediately thought of who could've done such a thing.
I opened the door carefully, careful to not alert any to be robbers. Even though I was drunk, I still remember the golden rule of self-defense.
Kick them in that place. Or just run.
But something else surprised me. The dining area's lights were turned on, indicating that either someone was already in there, or we got a very dumb and hungry robber on our hand.
However, it was something worse.
The moment I stepped inside the dining room, my half-lidded eyes were immediately open, and I could feel myself getting a bit sober.
In the middle of that room was a table that I would normally use to eat dinner on. Right now, it was occupied by myriads of dish, delicious enough to make anyone drool.
But what caught my eyes was who was sleeping on that table. Her hair draped down her back as she rested her head on the hard wooden surface.
A sense of regret came over me as Rumi stirred due to my presence. She lifted her head up slowly yet surely before landing that apathetic gaze onto me.
I couldn't tell what she was feeling, either due to my drunken state or her emotionless stare, but one thing was for certain.
She wasn't happy.
I took a quick look at the clock, and my eyes widened at the time. It was almost 10 pm already.
I tried my best to form a coherent sentence. The girl, though, had something else in mind.
"I'll clean up now."
That was her simple declaration as she moved around the table, picking up the dishes and depositing most of the food in the fridge. I watched her wordlessly as she did her thing before speaking up.
"Rumi, look," I tried to find the best words to convey my thoughts, "I'm sorry I'm late. Some co-workers dragged me with them to this restaurant and I lost track of time…"
Rumi didn't respond, so I continued.
"Did you eat?"
She heard my question; I was sure of it, but she didn't immediately respond. After putting away the dishes, she walked by me and said.
"You reeked of alcohol."
"Sorry…my senpai forced me…" I apologized to the best of my ability, but she still had that glare on her face. Gulping in suspense, I asked.
"Are you mad?"
By the time I asked this question, she was already facing the exit of the dining room. The answer was obvious, yet I still had the nerve to ask it. Without even turning around to meet me, Rumi breathed out a sigh and spoke up in lethargically.
"It's fine. I'm not mad."
I tried to fix the situation, but Rumi cut me off instantly by walking through the doorway, only stopping for a bit, allowing me to see her eyes.
They were downcast, tired and above all, disappointed.
"After all, I'm used to it."
And then, she was gone.
There I was, standing in the middle of the dining room, all alone. I couldn't think straight, but one thing was for certain that night.
I screwed up.
I woke up early that day with a hangover. Far too early for a Monday morning, but I didn't mind it that much. It just meant that I had more time to get rid of this annoying hangover and hopefully, make it up to Rumi.
It was obvious that she was annoyed, angry even, that I broke our promise, however insignificant it may be.
To me, it might seemed like a childish promise, like something a kid would do with her parents, but I'm sure that behind that cold, tough exterior of Rumi was just a simple girl with simple wants.
Said wants include companionship.
But as expected, she was already up and about before me. It was kind of frustrating, to be honest. A kid who can get up and is probably more responsible than I am? That lowers my self-esteem quite a bit.
My breakfast was already laid out on the table. A simple fried mackerel with miso soup. It was a common sight seen in almost every Japanese household.
A tablet of pills and a glass of water were also on that same table. Since I could've gotten those pills myself in my current sorry state, I silently thanked the girl that did.
The one who was preparing said meal was currently washing her hand. Despite Rumi facing in my general direction, she didn't notice me, or rather, she ignored me.
"Good morning." I greeted her.
But instead of the usual response of 'Good morning', all I received was a hum of acknowledgement. She didn't even look at me.
I didn't bother her and decided to take in my nutrients for the morning. There wasn't a second plate anywhere on the table. So either Rumi must've eaten breakfast already or she had skipped making her own.
That just wasn't right.
But before I could get to ask her about that, she was already by the door with her school bag slung over her shoulder.
I called out to her, but it took more than a few seconds for her to respond. Excusable since she was trying to put on her shoes.
"Aren't you going to eat breakfast?"
"I've already eaten."
Even though she said it with a straight face, I couldn't help but think that it was a lie. She woke up way too early for her to be able to cook her own meal while also making mine. Not to mention, I noticed a distinctive lack of unwashed dish in the sink.
"And what's with the bag?"
"I'm going somewhere."
"Somewhere you don't know."
"Hey now, I might not look like one, but I'm pretty much an expert on every location in Chiba."
It was a fact that I am proud of, like a badge of honor of sorts. However, Rumi, didn't see it that way as she ignored me and was halfway outside.
Slowly, she turned her head, fixing me with that cold, unmoving gaze of hers. I almost didn't want to bother her.
"What do you want to do for dinner?"
In a tiny corner of my mind, I hoped that she would say 'Saize' once more. Not only does it have great food, it would also give us ample amount of time to sort things out between her and I.
Rumi held a finger up to her chin for a bit before replying.
"Our fridge looks pretty empty, so I was going to buy some groceries," She stopped and looked at me, "Unless…you want to go out to eat with your co-workers again."
The way she said it pissed me off. You can't hold that against me forever. It was a one-time thing and I wasn't even aware of it! Mostly…
"Fresh meals would be nice…" I muttered in defeat.
Before Rumi could actually leave, I called out to her again, hoping that we could arrange something.
But instead of carefully worded statements, all that came out of my mouth was drivel to her.
"Are you mad?"
The serene sound of the summer wind filled the room as I awaited Rumi's response. She could've just walked past the door at any time and I wouldn't be able to do anything about it, but she stayed.
"Mad about what, actually? There's plenty of things to be mad about. For example: Japan's crippling economy, or its aging population. What about world hunger? That's-,"
"You know what I'm talking about."
I cut in with no hesitation. Both of us knew that she was mad, and both of us knew what the reason was.
Yet, in that same monotonous tone, Rumi managed to tell the most painfully obvious lie in the history of mankind.
"Of course not. I'm perfectly okay."
She even gave me a thumb up. Whether it was to reassure herself or me, I didn't know.
I could do nothing but watch her close the door as she left. The meals that she had made for me was delicious, far more delicious than anything that I could cook up, but as of now, it felt…bland. I felt wrong eating it.
Finding no solutions to the dilemma at hand, I reluctantly ate breakfast while a teenage girl could be starving herself out there in the hot summer day.
As I prepared myself for work, I contemplated leaving early. Our publishing company wasn't too strict, but I had to do it without anyone noticing, especially Nanao and Tanahashi.
Luckily, as I got to the office, I found myself the receiver of good news as another colleague told me that those two had taken the day off, citing illnesses. Heh, hangover scrubs.
The day went by uneventfully, but my heads were still filled with thoughts of Rumi. Where could she have gone to? It's summer so school's a definite no. However, she did take her bag with her so perhaps, she was planning to go out with a couple of friends?
Nah, that's out of the realm of reality.
Deciding that sitting around here won't do me any good, I decided to message WW-san, something that the author that I am in charge of insisted I call him by, and scheduled a meeting with him. Of course, this was a ploy for me to get out of work early so I can search for Rumi.
In hindsight, that train of thought was extremely irrational.
But that didn't matter now. WW-san agreed with the place and time for my meeting, so, like any normal person would do, I wrapped up my end of the work and packed my bag. On my way out, I made sure to be as conspicuous as possible so that a colleague would ask where I was going so early in the day.
A perfect alibi, I would say.
Luckily, someone did do that, and I showed them the message before getting out of that folder-filled room.
It was unnaturally cold for a summer day, but I didn't mind. It would harder to search for Rumi underneath a heat wave after all.
I made sure to meet with WW-san first, though, I guess you couldn't really call that an actual meeting since he did 99% of the talking while I just sat there drinking a cup of black coffee. All his words went into one ear and came out the other.
He rambled on about ideas that he had, even though the current volume wasn't finished yet. He had even proposed about a third season of the anime, despite there being only one volume in the works. I didn't berate him on it though, as I merely responded with nods and hums of approval.
Actually, the only contribution to the conversation that I made was telling him to stop tweeting out about volume 12 being released.
But I didn't mind our impromptu meeting. He left a more determined writer (For some odd reason), while I was free to search for Rumi.
It was already past noon by the time I was done 'conversing' with WW-san. Rumi would probably be wandering around the station, or so I thought.
When I got there, there wasn't any sign of the adolescent girl.
Next, I went to the library. She seemed like someone who would bury their face into books, but even in that quiet place, Rumi was nowhere to be found. I quickly checked nearby bookstores, though, just to be safe, but once again, my search turned out fruitless.
My mind went through the list of possible places that she could be.
Rumi's a third year high school student so she might be studying at a cram school, but there were so many in Chiba that I wouldn't know where to start searching. She did say that she was going to stock up on groceries, but it was a bit too early for her to do so.
I would check the arcade…but I'm a 20 year old man.
Yeah…gonna cross that one out.
I thought up a bunch of places where Rumi could be. Saize? A park? A convenience store?
Just like my previous searches, they were all failures.
I let out a huge sigh as I returned to my apartment. Perhaps, she was in there, preparing food right this instant.
I inserted the key into the lock, and unfortunately, the door was indeed locked, meaning that no one was in that apartment. The door squeaked uncomfortably as I pushed it aside, hoping that the light in the dining area was turned on, even though earlier evidence stated otherwise.
My stomach growled as I noticed the sky outside. It was dark, pitch black and the moon was nowhere to be seen.
Ah, I had just spent half the day searching for a girl who might or might not forgive me.
What am I doing with my life?
As I began to contemplate my existence, I heard tapping on the window. Fortunately, it wasn't a stalker or a ghost, but rather, it was raining.
Summer rain, huh? Who would've guessed that? I was lucky to have come home so early; otherwise, I would be stuck underneath the dark sky while rain pounded my head. My condolences went out to those outside who didn't bring an umbrella with them.
…which included Rumi.
I quickly dashed towards my room to grab an umbrella and my phone. Rumi didn't give me her number so I couldn't call her, but she must be stuck out there somewhere.
I gritted my teeth as I ran through the streets, my mind racing at a hundred kilometers per hour, hoping to find Rumi underneath this pouring sky.
After a mere five minutes, I became desperate. It was bad enough that I had no idea where Rumi was, but searching for her underneath the rain? It was like finding a needle in a haystack.
I quickly thought back to dinner and how Rumi said that she'll stock up on food. Even though I thought of that earlier, I assumed that it was too early for her to do so. But right now, in the evening, she might have finished shopping.
The closest grocery shop in our block was a few hundred meters away so if I were Rumi, I would've done my shopping there as I went home. Maybe, she was seeking shelter there. If part-time jobs taught me anything, it's that customers have no qualms going into the shop just to escape the horrible weather.
But just like before, I had no such luck as there was no sight of the black haired girl anywhere.
The store was empty, save for a cashier and a couple of customers, but other than those guys, it seemed lifeless, a fact made even more apparent by the rain.
However, I was desperate, and I made a move towards the closest person.
I called out with a voice that was unlike me, but I quickly pushed that thought aside.
The cashier heard me and turned his head nervously. I couldn't blame him. After all, how often do you get shouted at by a customer?
I immediately asked him.
"Have you seen a teenage girl come in here?" I made a gesture indicating Rumi's height, "She's about this tall, black hair and…ugh, a really blank face."
That last part wasn't the complete truth, but if Rumi was shopping then she would most likely have a stoic face. Though…that's basically everyone who's normal.
The cashier scratched his head nervously as I dreaded his response. But before he could, another staff came out, replying for him instead.
"If you mean a girl who looks like she was about to pass out, she turned right after exiting the store."
About to pass out? What is this girl saying? Not to mention, if she was going to my apartment, then she should've turned left instead.
"Does she match my description?"
The second staff made a weird face at me before replying, "Of course, she does. Why would I tell you then?"
Rude. If I ever find out the name of your store, I'll definitely give it a negative review. However, since she gave me the information, I guess I couldn't do that at all. Rub my back, and I'll rub yours, or so they say.
"Thanks a lot!"
I didn't waste time with pleasantries as I rushed out the door and into the pouring rain. With my trusty umbrella in hand, I searched the streets.
As I came across a playground, lightning appeared. And soon enough, the thunderous applause from Zeus himself filled the sky.
Call it fate or a miracle.
Hell, call it the intervention of god.
But in that brief flash of lightning, I saw a lone figure illuminated underneath an awning. My feet automatically moved towards it.
It was a girl.
A girl that wasn't the headstrong girl that appeared at my doorstep last Friday. Or rather, maybe she wasn't that stoic or strong. Perhaps, she was just putting a front.
But one thing was for certain.
She was scared.
Rumi was scared.
The girl heard her name, and looked at me with little to no energy. Her eyes contained no spunk nor did her face. She was far too pale for a girl her age.
I took shelter from the rain with her, even though there wasn't that much space in between us.
"You're soaking wet."
She didn't reply, and kept on hugging her knees. Next to her was a bag of groceries. I bit my lips. Hiratsuka-sensei asked me to look after her, yet all these time, she's the one that's been looking after me.
What a pitiful adult I've become.
"Rumi," I called out to her again, "You're alright?"
She nodded wearily.
Nope, she wasn't alright.
"You can't stay in these clothes, you know. You'll get a cold."
She nodded again, this time, with even less energy.
"Come on, let's go home." I smiled even though she probably couldn't see me, "Can you stand?"
I lifted myself up and waited for Rumi to follow suite, however, the moment that her legs landed on solid ground, she fell right into my arms.
She wasn't heavy, but she wasn't light by any means. We almost fell into the mud together.
Rumi was in no condition to walk, much less, under the rain.
Then, what that shopkeeper said crossed my mind.
"Did you even eat breakfast?" I asked.
Rumi didn't reply, looking to the side exhaustingly. It took a while, but she shook her head as a response. Just as I had feared.
"You didn't eat dinner last night, didn't even eat breakfast-Wait, did you even have lunch?"
For some reasons, I started berating the poor girl. I should probably stop, but I felt a bit annoyed by what she put herself through.
I quickly realized the severity of the situation, and mentally put a hold on my impromptu lecture on nutrition. What mattered right then and there was getting Rumi out of this rain and into somewhere warm.
Quickly snatching the bag of groceries in her hand, I turned my back to her and lowered myself. I could literally sense her confusion, but we didn't have time to argue.
"…what?" She managed to squeak out.
"This is my back. I'm giving a piggy back ride." I stated as-a-matter-of-factly.
I still didn't feel her weight on me. She was stubborn to a fault.
"Look," I began after a sigh," I know you don't trust me. Hell, after what I did, I wouldn't trust me either, but I know what I did wrong."
Underneath the rain, her silence was even more nerve wracking.
"I broke our promise, and for that, I'm sorry. I really am, but just this once, trust me. I won't let you down."
She still didn't get one me. Come on, I basically poured my heart out on that one.
"Besides…I told you, didn't I? I'm not interested in high school girls."
I waited…and waited, until the familiar, mocking voice of Rumi rang through my ears.
"…even now, you're still cracking jokes…"
I gave a chuckle as Rumi finally climbed on to my back. With a deep breath, I lifted her up. Luckily, I was still able to carry her while still holding onto the groceries and the umbrella. I should get an award for this.
"You're surprisingly light." I commented offhandedly.
With a whisper-like voice, she retorted.
"I'm a girl…so I have to watch my weight…"
"Of course, of course."
Our walk home was silent, saved for the sound of the falling rain and the occasionally passing cars. I made sure to adjust the umbrella every few second so that it would cover Rumi, though I think some rain still got on her back.
Since she was close to me, I could literally hear her every breath. It wasn't as erratic as I thought it would be, but I didn't take any chances and sped up
At one point, Rumi dug her head deep into my neck, like a kitty cat furrowing itself into its parent's fur. It was kind of nostalgic since Komachi used to do this to me whenever I pick her up on the rare occasion that she felt asleep on the couch.
We finally reached the front door after what seemed to be eternity. Reaching into my pockets for the keys was troublesome enough on its own, but it was even more so with Rumi on my back and the rain pounding away on the roof.
With much fumbling, I finally succeeded in opening the chamber to heaven. Normally, I would close the door as soon as I got inside, but I decided that Rumi was more important at the moment.
So without any care for the floor, I rushed into the guest room, though I guess it should be Rumi's room, and gently laid Rumi down.
Her face was flushed and her skin was as pale as moonlight.
She really didn't eat anything this morning, huh…
Without waiting another second, I went and grabbed a towel from the bathroom before coming to check on Rumi. Her breaths were beginning to get a bit shaky, not to mention, her face was more flushed than ever.
I placed the back of my hand on her forehead, and felt heat exuding from it.
Ah, now the fever is here. Just great.
My hands moved without any wasted motion as I wiped the water off Rumi's body. It was a good thing that her entire wasn't too wet from the rain, otherwise I would have to get her clothes off and that might land me in jail if someone walked in…
I went and closed the front door, just in case.
Even though, she was perfectly fine before being carried home by me, Rumi was almost sound asleep on her bed. I really wondered how she did that, considering that said bed was wet.
I decided to stay and watch over her if she needed anything else. Despite being done with drying Rumi, I still sat there, observing the poor girl as her breathing was still uneven.
I was about to go get a wet towel for her, seeing as her forehead's temperature was ever increasing, but the moment I sat up from my chair, the ruffling of bedsheets alerted me that Rumi was awake.
Well, half-awake anyway.
She didn't sit up. Instead, she settled on laying in bad while glaring at me. It was very awkward, to say the least.
Her frail voice called out to me.
"How do you feel?"
Seconds later, I realized the stupidity of my question, but that didn't stop Rumi from doing her usual shtick though.
"Who asks that question anyway…"
We did nothing for a couple of awkward seconds, before Rumi spoke up again, this time, in an even softer tone.
"You want to change clothes or something?"
"Not that…" She took a deep breath, "Laundry…"
I realized what she meant and immediately dashed off towards the clothesline. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, the clothes that were hung out to dry were already back to their wet state.
As I brought the clothes back in, I noticed that it was already evening. Probably even night.
And night meant dinner.
Something that neither of us can do at the moment.
Oh, gods above. Why must you hate me so.
I walked back into Rumi's room as a bearer of bad news. She was still lying on her back, breathing softly as rain continued to pour outside.
She didn't respond. Not a single hum or even a word. Just pure silence.
"Since you didn't have breakfast and lunch today, I guess you must be starving now, huh?"
I tried joking around a bit. Still no response.
"Look, we can discuss why later, but right now, how does take-out at Saize sounds? You like the food there, right?"
Not even her preferred restaurant brought any reactions from her. I stared at her begrudgingly as she continued to lay in bad. She couldn't be asleep, right? She was awake mere minutes ago.
Seeing as there will be virtually no communication between us, I decided to get going. The longer I take, the hungrier Rumi'll be. And I absolutely can't allow that in my conscience.
Fried rice should be enough. Maybe, I should get two servings for her.
But as I walked off, I felt a small tug from behind. I turned around, and saw a fever ridden girl barely holding on to the hem of my shirt.
Her breathes were uneven, but eventually, she managed to form a coherent sentence.
"Are you going to break your promise again?"
"What are you even talking about?"
Rumi pouted, an unnatural sight to be seen from a girl like her.
"You said that you'll stay with me."
"I did not-,"
I stopped myself short of completing that sentence. Was it just her fever talking? It didn't matter much as I realized that it wasn't the words that I used to make my promise to her, but rather, the meaning behind it.
Rumi just wants someone to stay by her side.
Even someone like me can understand that much.
"My bad," I took a seat next to Rumi again, "But you do know that you need to eat dinner, right?"
She looked at me with a flushed face as she replied.
"At least, you know how to make porridge, don't you?"
She coughed a bit as I realized the weight of the situation. I, Hikigaya Hachiman, who has no talent whatsoever in cooking, was about to serve food to a teenager that has fever.
My face contorted into a grimace at that very thought.
Rumi squinted her eyes at me, "…Don't you?"
"I mean, I technically can make porridge," I tried to weasel my way out, "But I can't guarantee the taste."
"It's porridge. You can look it up on the internet. Even that's possible for you, right?"
Somehow, hearing her snarky comment brought a smile to my face. She seemed to be getting better. On the other hand, that meant that I did have to cook.
And as much as I would like to brag about being a good cook, I know that I'm not.
But I'll try anyway. For Rumi.
I took Rumi's advice and went to the kitchen, but not before taking my laptop with me. Loading up a page on a recipe for porridge, I immediately checked the fridge.
Despite Rumi saying it was empty this morning, there were still some ingredients in there.
Taking a bag of rice out, I began following the instructions on the website without missing a beat. I even double checked what was written on said website, just to be even more sure.
But as if Rumi had telepathic powers, she called out to me the moment I tried to season the porridge as stated in the website.
"Hachiman, make sure you're using salt, not sugar."
I heard her loud and clear, and honestly, it pissed me off. Who did she think she was talking to? I am a legal adult who has been on his own for at least 6 or 7 years. To think that someone such as myself wouldn't know salt from sugar is just downright insulting.
But just in case, I tasted the white seasoning in my hand before continuing.
Yup, definitely salt.
The porridge was finished after a while, and I brought it to Rumi with the utmost care, like a contestant in a cooking show.
My porridge was a hit with her, apparently. I mean, she let out a loud 'Blegh' when tasting it for the first time, but she soon devoured it down like a wolf.
Whether that was due to my awesome cooking skills or her empty stomach, I didn't care. At least, a kid wasn't starving herself in front of me anymore.
She ordered me, or in her words, 'requested', to get her a wet towel. I complied and she followed that order up by telling me to periodically change her wet towel.
Finding this a bit unfair, I responded.
"But then I'd have to be in your room for the night."
She responded without missing a beat.
"I see no problem with that."
I searched Rumi's face for any kind of smirks or grins, but found none. She was dead serious on it despite having a fever.
"Unless, you want to break your promise again."
It was rather annoying that she was using the guilt card against me over and over. However, even though it was annoying, it wasn't ineffective.
Throwing my hands up in defeat, I told her that I'll go get the futon from my room. Rumi gave me a small smile as I left the room. I guess I'll lecture her on stubbornness, and the fact that she starved herself tomorrow.
I also got my laptop as to continue my work, and fortunately, Rumi didn't mind as she slept soundly while I typed away. Though I had to wonder; did she decide to sleep in earlier because of her fever or because I was in here?
Well, it doesn't matter.
Not unless Rumi is a sleepwalker, of course.
Day 5 & 6
I woke up with a huge pain in my back. Actually, the more correct version would be that Rumi and I woke up with a huge pain in our back. This was evident as I didn't get up from my futon, and neither did Rumi, though the latter was probably due to her fever.
Rumi called out unenthusiastically.
"What are we gonna do for breakfast?"
"I don't know."
I stared up at the ceiling as I contemplated our first meal for the day. I can't cook that well and Rumi couldn't cook in her current conditions, which left us with instant ramen.
Which was fine for me, but for Rumi…
"Can't you fry a fish or something?" Rumi asked, "There's one in the fridge, I think."
"I might or might not have an affinity for cooking fish."
"It's fried fish. You don't need to be a professional to cook that."
"You sure? But won't that mean that I will break our promise?"
Deathly silence filled the room after I uttered those words. I didn't realize that using the guilt card right back at her would be this super effective.
"…Can you please disregard that?" Rumi pleaded with me, "I wasn't who I really am when I said that."
"I will…" Lifting myself up, I leaned against her bed, "If you come out and help me make breakfast."
I heard Rumi shifting on her bed as she grumbled.
"Forcing a girl to cook your meal. How low can you get…"
But I knew that it meant no malice. It was a typical cynic's grumble. All bark but no bite, so to speak.
And Rumi did keep her end of the deal as she did get out of the bedroom and into the dining area. However, she delegated the entire task of cooking breakfast to me.
According to her, she was here to 'make sure that I don't burn the house down'.
Who did she think she was talking to? I'm a certified adult, damn it!
Rumi gave me instructions throughout my cooking session, including how long it would take, putting salt instead of sugar (Seriously?) and all that stuff.
In time, two plates of fried mackerel were placed on the table for our consumption. Again, the moment she bit into the fried fish, she let out an audible 'Blegh', citing that it was too salty.
I didn't find it that salty though. Well, at least, on my fish.
After we finished our meal, both of us decided to watch TV.
"Don't you have work?"
"But won't that mean that I'll break our promise…again?"
I said in a mocking tone, and just like last time, she was visibly flustered.
"Can you please stop that…besides, if you want to lecture me then do it."
"I think you're sensible enough to know what you did wrong. And by the way," I looked towards Rumi, who had her eyes glued to the TV, "I'm sorry."
She reacted harshly towards my apology. Maybe I should lecture her after all.
"I'm just saying sorry for coming home late that day. I didn't know you were looking forward to dinner that much."
"Hmph!" Despite her fever, Rumi was still haughty, "As long as you understand…"
She settled down soon after, and I did the same. The TV was on a cooking show, so I grabbed a remote and changed it to a documentary channel. Not even one second later, it turned back to the cooking show.
I glared at Rumi. She returned in kind.
"Don't you have work?" Rumi asked, almost bitter.
"I already gave them a call. I'm not going to let a sick girl be all alone."
Rumi then made a noise as if something died inside of her.
"So I'm stuck here with you…"
"No, I'm stuck here with you." I retorted.
Rumi didn't have any retorts at that moment. I smirked victoriously as the apartment returned to its silent state, save for the noise coming from the TV.
For lunch, the responsibility was once again on me as Rumi cited that she was a sick girl, and therefore, shouldn't be anywhere near the stove.
She did instruct me on how to make a delicious curry though, not that I didn't know how to in the first place. As usual, she gave out a loud grunt of dissatisfaction before wolfing her meal down.
I gave a small scoff. Kids will be kids.
Both of us spent the day in the lap of luxury as Rumi played with my handheld games while I continued to work. That's the way it should be; the teenager lazing about while the adult works.
As evening came, I managed to tease Rumi long enough that she 'kicked' me out of the house. Little did she know that it was all according to keikaku.
I got take-outs from Saize, and while Rumi was displeased at first, her face lit up the moment she tasted the meals that I brought, specifically the seafood pasta.
And thus, one more person was enlightened.
The next day started exactly the same as the previous one. Nay, it was better by a large margin.
Rumi got well enough that she was able to cook our meals for the day. Never have I felt such a huge burden being lifted off my shoulder.
Since Rumi was all fine and dandy, I was able to go back to work while leaving the place for Rumi to look after. We had also exchanged phone numbers, something that I thought we had already done.
Apparently, Rumi did have cram school to attend, and unfortunately, she was absent yesterday which meant that she would have to stay behind for a while.
Using my amazing skills of deduction and phone call, I found the cram school that Rumi was attending.
And so, I waited. And waited.
Until a familiar figure walked out of the school building with her familiar duffel bag by her side. To say that she was surprised to see me was the understatement of the year. To be fair, she was the one that told me the cram school's name.
But she didn't make a fuss when we walked together back home, until a certain smell caught her attention. Actually, no, it caught both our attention.
It was a very peculiar yet familiar smell, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was like incense yet I knew that it was something else entirely.
Rumi, on the other hand, was quite curious on what that smell was though as we came across one of the many sources of the smell.
The teenage girl squinted her eyes at the smoke rising from one of the nearby houses.
"Why are they burning their house down?"
I plopped my fist down on her head as she let out an audible 'Ouch!' and a pout to boot.
"Don't say that in front of them, jeez," I continued walking, with Rumi doing the same, "Besides, I think it's….what do you call it…"
"Oh, yeah, it's Obon."
"Obon?" Rumi spoke inquisitively, "Like the dance?"
"No, not that. It's a festival that welcome back the spirits of loved ones," I spoke with a sagely tone.
"But why do they have to burn their house though?"
"Again, no one's burning their house down," I gave another bonk on the head to Rumi, "Those are ceremonial fires."
"To guide the spirits back home. Though, nowadays, most people use electric lanterns instead."
Rumi responded with a blank look on her face. It was the only aspect of hers that I didn't like. I couldn't read her nor guess what she was trying to do. Her face gave away no emotions as Rumi continued to trudge on.
Then, an idiotic thought popped into my head.
Rumi turned around, her face stoic, just like before.
"I know this might be intrusive, but…" I breathed in and out slowly, "Do you want to light a welcome fire?"
"For your parents, I mean."
As I finished, I kept my eyes on Rumi. Night began to creep in as darkness followed suite. The streetlamps turned on as Rumi and I stood in front of each other.
Because of the dark, I couldn't see her face very well so it was impossible to gauge her reaction.
However, Rumi was the one that broke the ice.
"Jeez, I'm already a third year high school student. I'm not such a little girl anymore, y'know."
She then gave a smile. Despite my previous statement of not being able to read her, I was able to in that instance.
Her smile was basically saying 'Please drop this topic.'
"I see…Sorry that I-,"
"No, it's okay. Thanks for your consideration," She then turned and began walking again, "Let's go. Dinner won't cook itself."
Dinner wasn't very good that evening. Maybe, my own attempt at homemade cooking spoiled my taste bud or maybe, it was something else entirely. I spotted her constantly spacing out while preparing our meals. Luckily, nothing too bad happened as a result.
For the entire dinner, no words were exchanged. I didn't even try to strike up a conversation as I felt that Rumi wanted silence instead.
We went to sleep early that day.
Since Rumi was better, we switched back to our own room. Good bye futon, and hello, my beloved bed!
But as I began to drift off into wonderland, the sound of a door being opened caught my attention. The sound of it was as if someone was trying to sneak in or out of here. However, since it was night and I was lazy, I concluded that it was merely Rumi's door that was open, and that she was going into the kitchen for a glass of water.
Finding that satisfying, I soon began to fall asleep once more.
However, after what seemed like 20 minutes, the sound of a door opening filled my ears again. I opened my eyes quickly as I came to a haunting conclusion.
Yup, that was definitely the front door.
I took time in getting up from my bed, seeing that I might need to defend myself and all. I opened the door cautiously, ready to strike if needed.
Instead of a burglar, I found the glass door to the veranda opened.
But that wasn't what surprised me.
What did was a little girl, crouching besides an unlit pile of twigs.
I instinctively walked to her, but before I could even reach her, she caught me dead in my tracks. Her face was one of guilt as she then avoided my eyes.
She didn't greet back. I simply walked to her and crouched down, before softly taking the match in her hand and lit the fire. She didn't even try to stop me when I lit the fire.
"Sorry for not telling you…But I bought it with my own money though…"
That was the first thing that Rumi muttered that night. We didn't look at each other as both of us were mesmerized by the dancing flames in front of us.
"It's okay. I was a teenager once, so I understand."
Rumi kept quiet as she continued staring into the flickering flame. Feeling that things were a bit tense, I tried to reminisce about things that I did during Obon as a kid.
"You know…"I began talking, hoping that Rumi would listen, "My mom once said that we lit the welcome fire in the evening so that our loved ones would hurry up and come home. She would often say something like 'Hurry up, dinner's starting soon'."
Rumi was quiet, so I continued.
"And then we would lit a bigger fire tomorrow at night so that they will stay as long as possible," I gave a small chuckle at that memory. Mom was such a romanticist.
"She would always prepare a large feast for them so that they would get 'stuffed' and can't get back."
There was no sound that night except for the crackling of fire.
Neither of us moved.
"So, Rumi, I was thinking," I turned my attention from the fire to Rumi, "How about we go buy more hemp twigs tomor-,"
A lump formed at my throat at that instance. Normally, the night sky would conceal any face, but due to the fire dancing in front of us, I was able to perfectly see what was on Rumi's face.
Tears flowing down her face with no restriction whatsoever.
The girl came out of her stupor the moment I called her name, her eyes still full of tears. She noticed this, however, as she began wiping her eyes.
"S-Sorry, must've been the smoke from the fire," Rumi said in between rubbings.
"Ah, jeez," Rumi let out an obviously fake smile, "I wonder what my parents would say to a daughter that doesn't even know that she has to prepare offerings, aha…."
"Honestly," Her voice began to crack again, "W-What are they going t-to do with such a…f-failure of a daughter…"
She began sobbing again, this time, she tried as hard as possible to hide it. But she and I already knew that it was useless.
And thus, as the fire danced and moon shined overhead, I, Hikigaya Hachiman, did something that I thought I'd never do in a million years.
My hands moved by themselves towards Rumi and with strength that I didn't know I have, I pulled her towards me, sandwiching her between my arms and my body.
She didn't make a sound as I did that. Immediately, I realized that she might not even like it so I pulled away, but it wasn't the case.
Rumi held on to my shirt, her face downcast, and her voice cracked and broken.
"Sorry…just a little longer, please." Rumi said before burying herself into my chest.
I wondered if this was the right thing to do. I never once truly experienced the loss of a loved one before, much less at a young age like Rumi did. The only relative that I knew of that passed away was my grandma, and I wasn't even that close to her.
So I seriously questioned if it was alright to comfort another person like this.
But I didn't care.
Underneath that August night, Rumi's muffled cries continued to echo. Maybe, even the neighbors and their neighbors heard it, but even so, I didn't care.
Right now, Rumi isn't this stoic yet sarcastic girl who could cook up a storm at a moment's notice.
Right now…Rumi is just a girl who misses her parents dearly.
After that rather eventful night, Rumi changed.
But not for the worse, mind you. In fact, she changed for the better.
She became less sarcastic and more dignified when I saw her cooking in the morning. Hell, I'll even say that she became more lady-like. She didn't slouch, didn't give out sassy remarks, and most importantly, she smiled.
Now normally, a human's reaction when being seen crying is embarrassment. Perhaps, Rumi was trying to do all these things to take her mind off what happened last night. If she did, I don't blame her. I would definitely do the same.
Thinking back to last night, maybe I was the one that cause Rumi to have that breakdown. It was probably what I said during our way back home. Actually, who am I kidding? It was definitely what I said.
Do I regret it?
Strange thing is…I don't.
Our six days together were very short yet it was filled with trials and tribulations, something that neither of us ever expected. What happened last night was just one of those trials.
Because of all the things that we went through together, I'm confident enough to say that we got closer, even by a single centimeter. All those roadblocks were troublesome, but they revealed a whole new side of Rumi to me.
And hopefully, it revealed a new side of me to her as well.
It's strange, really. On the first day, I wanted nothing more than for Rumi to go back home as fast as possible, yet now, I was kind of sad that today was our last day together. Tomorrow, Hiratsuka-sensei will come pick her up and my life will turn into its previously mundane state once more.
Since when have I become this melodramatic?
That was the lone thought in my head as I sat on the couch, watching TV while Rumi was washing the dishes. We had just finished our breakfast and since Rumi's cram school session was in the evening, she had nothing to do at the moment.
Then why was I lazing around while I had work? Well, I thought that since Rumi had become such a good housemate, I'd do something nice for her.
A 'Pomf' resonated from my side as Rumi plopped down on the couch. Her chest was moving up and down from her washing the dishes earlier, though who gets tired from washing dishes though?
My thoughts on that particular subject were erased completely when a soft object landed on my lap.
No, it wasn't an 'object' per se.
But rather, it was a human head…which belonged to a body…which coincidentally was Rumi's.
In short, Rumi was laying her head on my lap.
This couldn't get any more absurd even if I try.
"Umm…Rumi?" I spoke up while still staring at the TV.
"What are you doing?"
"I know that, but why here?"
Remember those nice things that I was going to do for Rumi? That plan is definitely thrown out now.
"Here as in, on my lap."
"You took the only cushion."
"I did no such-," My hand instinctively went to the back of my head where it grasped a soft material, "Never mind then."
"Can you scratch my head?" Rumi interrupted me mid-sentence.
Without even looking at me, she pointed towards her head.
"Like, somewhere around here."
"Why should I do it?"
"I forgot to wash my hair last night."
"And how is that my responsibility?"
She stayed quiet for a few solid seconds before speaking back up.
"You're morally obligated to."
"No, I'm not." I quickly retorted.
"Yes, you are." She countered just as quickly.
We both glared at each other.
Maybe, it was the power of my brotherly instincts acting out against my logical thinking, or perhaps, it was the strange feeling of a girl resting her head on my lap; but for one reason or another, I inexplicably found myself scratching the spot that Rumi pointed to earlier.
I did give a dissatisfying grumble before doing so though.
On the plus side, her hair was kind of soft…
This weird exchange between Rumi and I went on for about two minutes or so until I spoke up again.
"Yeah? You can stop, by the way."
Why didn't you tell me sooner?
"You know how this is our last day together?"
Without a single word, Rumi hastily removed her head from my lap as I watched on in bemusement. Then, she scooted as far as she could to the other side of the couch, eyeing me like a predator would to a prey.
She then proceeded to say something that I wouldn't even imagine.
"Are you hitting on me?"
Rumi pushed both her arms out at me, as if trying to stop me from advancing in on her.
"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that isn't possible. I'm still a high school student, you see, and a third year student at that so being seen hanging out with someone as old as you would be detrimental to both my social and academic life. Not only that, but strangers would even think that I'm participating in compensated dating which would also destroy any future that I may-,"
I sighed in exasperation as I tried to come up with an explanation that she wouldn't find a twist in.
"I was just thinking that since this is our last day together, AND," I raised my voice in an attempt to stop her from ranting again, "since you've also been such a good housemate, I thought that you might want to go somewhere."
"I'm saying that maybe, we could go out somewhere."
Rumi's eyes narrowed as she, once again, looked as if she was deep in thought. She still kept her eyes on me, however, taking in my every move before finally responding.
"So you do want to go out with me."
"Stop twisting my words."
I rubbed my forehead in confusion. Can't she just accept my favor without thinking that I have some ulterior motives? We've been living together for a week now, so I would think that she trusts me.
"But if you do want to go out with me, then-,"
"Rumi, don't start." I warned her.
But it had no effect on her.
"I'm afraid that I have to decline. Surely-,"
"A young adult such as myself, who is currently in her third year of high school-,"
"Cannot be seen hanging out with an older man. You understand that, right? But-,"
Why did you suddenly turn into Isshiki?!
"If you want to do so, then perhaps-,"
"Do it after I gradu-,"
"Do you want to go to Destinyland?" I was finally able to ask what I had intended to ask all along.
Rumi stayed quiet, which was way too eerie for me, considering that she was about to rant again a few seconds ago. She was just like a mannequin, her eyes and posture frozen.
Then, just like a volcano, she burst up with more energy than ever.
"Are you sure?" She asked in disbelief.
"As in Tokyo Destinyland?"
No words came out of Rumi's mouth as she observed me with more scrutiny than ever, almost like she was trying to find any sign of me slipping up.
Unfortunately, my face was as resolute as iron is hard.
"…You are paying for my tickets, right?"
So that was what she was worrying about. Honestly, at this point in time, I seriously questioned her sanity as what kind of incompetent adult lets a child pay by herself?
And no, Hiratsuka-sensei doesn't count as an adult.
But since she looked so serious, I decided to joke around a bit.
"Well, of course, since I am the one that's asking you out, aren't I?"
I expected a grunt or even a glare. Actually, I was expecting anything that wasn't the flushed face of Rumi. Perhaps, I had gone too far with the teasing? Rumi seems like the kind of person who has a retort for any kind of situation.
So why wasn't she using those retorts?!
I coughed into my hand to get her attention.
"Of course, I was only joking."
"Hmm? Do you find it that hard to believe that I can joke around as well?"
Rumi waved her hands in denial, stuttering as she did so, "N-No, not that! I was just wondering…"
"Were you joking about the free tickets, asking me out, or both?"
At that point, I had to physically stop myself from collapsing from the absurdity of Rumi's statement. I thought she was a cold, cunning, no-nonsense, logical girl who can twist your words into pretzels with ease.
"Of course, I was joking about asking you out. I literally said that three seconds ago."
"Oh, I see," Rumi responded, her voice monotonous, "That's disappointing."
My joke was disappointing?!
I sighed. Even on a good day such as this one, Rumi still decided to be a smartass of all things. Perhaps, I should really reconsider going to Destinyland with her.
"So when are we going?" Rumi brought up one of the most crucial things ever when planning a trip.
However, being the phenomenal adult that I am, I responded with no hesitation.
"What about after lunch?"
Surprisingly, Rumi didn't dish out one of her snarky remarks.
"Oh, sure…but don't you have work?"
"If I have work today, then I would've been gone to the office a long time ago."
"Meaning that I used one of my sick days for today."
"Eh?" Rumi's face was filled with surprise as she heard me, "But why?"
"Isn't it obvious? Today's our last day together so it's okay for me to spoil you a bit, right?"
Instead of words, Rumi replied with a quiet, incoherent grumble. I guess that was just her way of saying 'Thank you', though I would really appreciate it if she put it into words.
In the midst of our silence, the door bell rung several times, obviously from someone who wasn't very patient. Rumi was about to go get the door, but I beat her to the punch, citing that she should relax for the day. You know, do things that normal teenager do, like watching TV and playing games.
As I walked to the door, I wondered who could possibly come at this time. It surely couldn't be Komachi as she would barge in. Yukinoshita and Yuigahama might be a possibility as I had given them my home address.
What if it was Isshiki though?
I shuddered at the very thought of that happening.
Fortunately, when I opened the door, I wasn't greeted by an overly foxy junior, but instead, by a human wearing an ensemble of clothes that could only be found if you pressed the random button on your character creation screen in an MMO.
Seriously, what was with the sunglasses and straw hat? Not to mention, that shirt…
"Oh, it's you."
Was the first thing that came out of my mouth. She didn't take it too well, as made obvious by her scowl.
"And good morning to you too, Hikigaya." Hiratsuka-sensei greeted me with a huff.
I understood that she went to Osaka for a meeting or something like that, but did she have to return to Chiba as an Osakan? In fact, I don't think people in Osaka would wear clothes like the one Hiratsuka-sensei was wearing right now.
Then again, I never went to Osaka…
"I thought you would be back by tomorrow."
To that, Hiratsuka-sensei chuckled, "Oh, you naïve boy. Didn't I already tell you that I am a higher up at Sobu high? So, it was obvious that I could pull a string or two."
"No! It's just exercising my rights!"
Same old Hiratsuka-sensei. Even when she's higher up on the totem pole, she's still the same modern literature teacher who smoked in front of her students and own cars that a teacher her age shouldn't be owning.
"Well then," Hiratsuka-sensei put her hands on her hip, "Are you going to let me in or not?"
Like teacher, like student.
I made way for her to come in. I couldn't notice it before, since she was blocking it, but when she came in, I saw the amount of items that she bought. Again, something a teacher her age shouldn't be able to do.
When she came into the living room, Rumi was currently lying on the couch with a bored look on her face as she watched TV. The younger girl immediately straightened up; either from Hiratsuka-sensei's presence or her embarrassing position.
"Yo, Rumi. Long time to see, huh?" Hiratsuka-sensei greeted.
I was a bit taken aback by Rumi's use of Hiratsuka-sensei's given name, but then again, we are talking about a girl who uses my given name without asking for permission.
I don't care but…it wouldn't hurt to ask, y'know?
Hiratsuka-sensei, without any hesitation whatsoever, went to sit beside Rumi, smiling as she did so, which in turn, made the girl give an awkward smile.
"So, Rumi," Hiratsuka-sensei began, "How was it? Living with this guy, I mean."
She pointed towards me, making Rumi look at me as a result. The way she asked made it sound like living with me is a chore. Which isn't true, by the way; I am a very hospitable person.
"So-so, I guess."
"I see," The older woman then lifted herself off the couch and began unpacking her belongings onto the small coffee table in front of the TV.
"Shizuka…what's all of this?"
"This," She gestured towards the pile of junk on my coffee table, "It's just a couple of souvenirs from Osaka, courtesy of yours truly."
"But why are there so much snacks?" Rumi brought up an excellent question.
Littered all over the table were snacks of many varieties. Chocolates, Kakitane, short cakes, cheese cakes, Baumkuchen, and the list went on and on. The snacks coming out of her bag seemed infinite.
"Ah, you can pick out which one you like, Hikigaya," Hiratsuka-sensei casually commented, but how could I? From the way she spoke and the amount of snacks on the table, I would assume that she wanted me to take at least half of it, something that isn't plausible.
By the time I got around to eating all of them, they would probably be spoiled and inedible, wasting precious space and future garbage bags.
"Don't you think this is a bit too much?"
Hiratsuka-sensei stopped and looked at the mess she made before rubbing her head awkwardly.
"Aha…guess I went just a little bit too far, huh?"
A little bit? Seriously, sensei?
"Well, nothing that Rumi can't handle, right?" She put a hand on Rumi's shoulder, basically outright stating that Rumi will finish the snacks that she couldn't. Kind of irresponsible for an adult, don't you think, sensei?
The younger girl nodded meekly.
"By the way, Hikigaya," Sensei turned towards me, "Do you have any drinks? I'm parched!"
"We have Oolong tea."
"What about beer?"
Narrowing my eyes, I responded, "I don't drink alcohol."
"Oh, come on. It's a staple in any adult's life."
"If you want it so bad then there's a convenience store a few blocks away."
"I'm not going to get out into that heatwave again."
"Oolong tea, it is then." I was going to make my way to the fridge, but Rumi was already on her way there. I simply let her do her thing as I began sitting on the couch. For some strange reason, Hiratsuka-sensei was sitting on the floor, where some of the snacks were on.
Seriously, how much money did she wasted?
"So I assume you're here to pick up Rumi then?" I asked offhandedly, even though the answer was obvious as the day was hot.
"Well, yeah. How was living with her, by the way?"
"She's…a good kid," I looked over to Rumi, who was busy pouring Oolong tea into two cups, "Definitely got her quirks, but a good kid nonetheless."
None of us spoke as Rumi returned, carrying two cups of tea in tray. Why didn't she get one for herself? Honestly…
"So, Rumi, are you ready to head back home?" Hiratsuka-sensei popped the question after she took a sip of the tea.
Sensei looked at Rumi quizzically, "Well, obviously, I'm here to pick you up."
"But…we're going now?" She glanced at me with longing eyes for some reason.
"Well, as much as I believe in the neighbors, I'm still worried about our house, y'know. What if there was a burglary?"
"Then you could've just let me stay on my own there."
Was staying at my apartment really that bad? That was a harsh one, Rumi.
"I'm not going to let a young girl such as yourself stay in a house all alone," Hiratsuka-sensei explained before chuckling, "Though, even if something did happen, I'm sure you'll be fine."
I didn't make any comment and instead, let the conversation play out in front of me. But if Rumi was going back home now, then what about our plans for the afternoon? I wouldn't be so bothered, but judging by the way she acted, Rumi was eager to go to Destinyland.
"Also, you have cram school this evening, right?"
Nodding slightly, Rumi confirmed Sensei's thoughts. She was a third year student after all so it isn't farfetched for her to seek a guarantee for her entrance exams.
"Well…I can drop you off there, if you want, though I can't pick you up."
"Why?" Rumi asked.
Rubbing her head roughly, Sensei responded, "Argh, since I went on a meeting, the higher ups want a report or something like that. So I probably have to stay at the school for quite a while."
"Well, you can walk back home on your own, right? It's not like it has ever been a problem for you."
Somehow, that statement pissed me off more than it should. But I just blamed it on the mess of snacks that Hiratsuka-sensei made.
"But what about dinner?" Rumi asked, her voice hopeful.
"Hmm? Why don't we just do what we always do? Don't tell me living with this guy made you lose all of your cooking skills."
She obviously meant that to be a joke, but just like with what she said earlier, I found myself getting more irritated with every word that came out of Sensei's mouth.
On the other hand, Rumi just stayed quiet, keeping her eyes downcast. Sensei noticed this and immediately tried to fix the situation.
"If you don't want to cook, I can always get you a bowl of ramen on my way back. That's fine, right?"
I originally intended for those two to talk with each other, get all sappy and cheesy while I sit on the couch in the background of it all. I didn't intend to berate Hiratsuka-sensei in any shape or form on how to look after another human.
But by the time I realized that, the words had already left my mouth.
"Takeout ramen? Are you serious? After not seeing her for a week, you're only treating her to takeout ramen of all things?"
Sensei's eyebrow furrowed in confusion at my statement while Rumi just looked surprised.
"What's wrong with ramen?" Hiratsuka-sensei asked, "Rumi likes it so it's not a problem, right?"
"She likes it, or you like it?" I immediately retorted.
"Of course, she likes it…right?"
Looking to Rumi for a response, the only thing that Hiratsuka-sensei got was her turning away. With this, Sensei made a pained expression on her face.
"But it's convenient…" Hiratsuka-sensei whispered.
Gritting my teeth, I replied, "I'm not just talking about food. You don't need to bring high class food for her. I mean, she likes Saize of all places."
Not that there's anything wrong with Saize.
"Just spend time with her. Talk with her, go to the park with her, do something with her," I continued, exasperated even further by Sensei's expression, "I thought you were her guardian, but with the way you're acting, you're just a landlord giving her free rent!"
"I do want to spend time with her…" Sensei said, "It's just…I'm kind of high on the ladder at Sobu, y'know, and with that comes a lot of work, so I just don't have that much time for Rumi…"
I rubbed my entire face downward, beyond frustrated at this point. Rumi still didn't say anything, but I wished she did. It could've gotten the point to Hiratsuka-sensei much sooner.
"Work this, work that. At this point, you're just using work as an excuse," Sensei seemed like she was about to interrupt me, but I continued, "Look at me! I'm an adult with responsibilities and work, and when you dumped Rumi onto me, I still looked after her just fine."
Seeing a tiny glare from Rumi, I quickly added, "Mostly fine."
She didn't reply, and because of that, I got even more pissed; if it was even possible to be even more pissed than I was at that time.
"I know you're busy and all, but can't you make exceptions for Rumi? Right now, you're the only family that she has, so act like it."
Was all Hiratsuka-sensei said as she looked between me and Rumi, alternating her gaze every few seconds. That was the only thing that she responded with after I basically voiced my frustrations for her.
A short, single syllable 'Huh'.
Then, with as much care as a grade-schooler has for their future, she nonchalantly stated.
"You two got really close over the week."
"Don't change the subject, sensei."
"Fine, fine," She raised both her hands up in defeat, "I know that I haven't been the best guardian, but…I can't just ignore my workload, you know. I can't just take day-offs whenever I like to."
"Why don't you just pull some strings then?"
"Exercising your rights," I corrected her, "Besides, I think Rumi has a few things to say about you."
The girl in question jolted in surprise at the mention of her name.
"E-Eh?! N-No, I don't."
"Yes, you do," I crossed my arms, tapping my fingers impatiently, "Go on, she won't bite."
"That's not the problem…" Rumi said as she sulked, apparently unable to face Hiratsuka-sensei, while the latter also had her eyes downcast with a slight frown on her face.
I felt like a therapist for a couple.
"If you don't know what to say then answer this," I got fed up and initiated their conversation, "What do you think about Hiratsuka Shizuka's tendency to come home late every night?"
Silence reigned supreme for a couple of undisturbed seconds, until Rumi finally spoke up, or more accurately, mumbled.
"I don't mind…"
Taking a deep breath, she repeated, "I don't mind…but I would really appreciate it if you come home sooner."
With another deep breath, Rumi continued, "I also don't mind this, but I find it a bit annoying that you choose to eat takeout instead of my homemade meals."
"Well, I-," Hiratsuka-sensei tried to interject but Rumi cut her short of doing so.
"Also, I find it annoying that you come home drunk as well. I hate the smell of alcohol on your shirt whenever I have to wash it. I also hate the smell of cigarette whenever you finish your break."
A deep sigh escaped her lips.
"But the worst offense is that we see each other all the time at school, so why can't we do so at home? Is it really that hard?"
I stayed still. Rumi stayed still. Hiratsuka-sensei also stayed still. It was as if time was frozen within the confines of this apartment. We weren't looking forward; all of us had our eyes cast downward.
Finally, the sound of Hiratsuka-sensei's voice broke through the icy silence.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize it affected you that much."
"I'm sorry for not telling you sooner." Rumi said.
"Sorry isn't going to cut it, y'know," I chimed in.
"Then, what do you want me to do?"
"Well…" I gripped my chin with my hand in a faux-thinking pose, "Rumi and I planned to go to Destinyland this afternoon, but since you're here…"
It took a few seconds, but Hiratsuka-sensei managed to get my message. She sighed and then gave a big smile to both of us.
"Alright, I gotcha. I'll go with you as well."
"You're paying, just so you know," I added another penalty to her.
Even though I expected a protest, Sensei merely shrugged.
"Fair enough," She said, "So when are we going?"
"After lunch," Another thought immediately popped into my head, "Oh, and you're also paying for that as well."
"Don't push your luck, kid," Hiratsuka-sensei warned in a grim tone as she kneed my shin, eliciting a faint chuckle from Rumi as a response. What a kid.
The rest of the morning was filled with chatters, mostly between Rumi and Hiratsuka-sensei as they caught up with each other. I noticed that Rumi omitted the part where I made the same mistakes as sensei which ultimately led to her getting sick.
I mentally thanked Rumi for that. Who knows what Sensei will do if she finds out about that?
It was a really relaxing morning. Rumi and Sensei did girls thing like gossiping or whatever girls do while I edited what I could for the draft of the next volume. I told myself that it was no biggie. After all, it was due to my negotiation that got us more time.
There were a bunch of hiccups that we were worried about, such as Rumi's cram school, but fortunately, it was self-study day, so Rumi wouldn't miss too much of anything even if she didn't go to cram school. Hiratsuka-sensei also took the chance to cancel her evening meeting, citing 'family issues'.
The rest was history.
After lunch at a fairly highfalutin restaurant, courtesy of Hiratsuka-sensei's wallet, all of came back to my apartment to prepare for the trip to Destinyland. We actually almost missed the train because Rumi had to pull Sensei back into the house, deeming her outfit unfit for an outing.
I would've told her to relax, but this day was dedicated to Rumi after all, so I let her do her own things.
After 30 minutes, Rumi was finally satisfied with sensei's outfit, and in another 30 minutes, we arrived in front of the gate at Destinyland.
Once again, Hiratsuka-sensei's huge reserve of money came into play as she bought the passes for all three of us. Rumi was a bit nervous at Hiratsuka-sensei's sudden splurge of money, but her worries disappeared the moment we passed the gate, and right into the Land of Destiny.
It was safe to say that the sight of a grand castle overseeing the entire park took away all of our breaths.
I came here multiple times, most of them with Komachi, and others with Yukinoshita and Yuigahama, but each time I did, the sight of the magnificent centerpiece of Destinyland never failed to astonish me.
Looking over to Rumi, I smiled at the teenage girl's slack-jawed expression. Even a usually deadpanned kid like her could make a face like that.
Hiratsuka-sensei also made that same expression, but then again, she has the personality of a hyperactive middle schooler. Rumi's expression was much better anyway.
I was about to ask them where they would like to go first, since we have a whole bunch of time, but Rumi beat me to a punch, asking me instead.
"Hachiman, what's that?" Rumi pointed towards a cart in the distance.
I squinted in focus before replying, "It's a taiyaki stand."
"Oh…" Rumi muttered as she walked forward.
Once again, I intended to ask what she wanted to do first, but just like before, Rumi struck first.
"Hachiman, Hachiman!" Rumi called out to me excitedly.
"Yes, I'm Hachiman." 
Once more, she pointed towards a cart. Since it was closer than the last one, I didn't have too much trouble pinpointing what kind of cart it was.
"That's a crepe stand."
"I see," Rumi mumbled to herself as she looked around again, "Hachiman."
"Are you just going to ask about food again?"
Pouting, she replied, "No, of course not. I'm wondering what that big ride is."
"Huh…" For once, I didn't have the answer for her question, which was strange, considering that I came here before.
"Well, according to the map," Hiratsuka-sensei joined in, "It's a very fast roller coaster."
Noticing the sound that Rumi just made, and the glimmer in her eyes, I gulped and asked sensei.
"How fast are we talking here?"
"About 50 kilometers per hour."
"That isn't safe."
"If it isn't safe, they would've taken it down a long time ago," Sensei countered before a mischievous glint appeared in her eyes, "Don't tell me…"
"No, no, it's not what you think. At all. Not at all." I tried my best to salvage the situation, but unfortunately, Rumi also joined in.
"Are you scared, Hachiman?"
Straight to the point, blunt and sharp.
That was the Rumi that appeared last Friday, and I wasn't glad to see that Rumi appear again, especially in this situation.
"NO- I mean, of course not. What kind of an adult would be scared of a theme park ride? Pfft, I should be the one asking you if you're scared."
"I'm not." Was Rumi's abrupt reply.
"Well, since Hikigaya isn't scared, then he'll have no problem going with us, right?"
I gulped. Hiratsuka-sensei smirked. Rumi just looked at me innocently.
I heaved a huge sigh before muttering, "Let's go."
It was a huge mistake.
The ride rocked me back and forth, and even though I knew it was safe, it still didn't calm my throbbing heart as we sped through the tracks, turning, curving and even looping around. I kept my eyes closed throughout the ride, fearing that the moment I open them, I'll fall off the tracks.
By the time I got off the ride, I found myself almost unable to stand.
I noticed both sensei and Rumi standing under an awning, looking at something. Walking over towards them, I found out what they were looking at.
It was the pictures of the ride.
On one of the screen was the picture of our cart. It showed Hiratsuka-sensei's excited face, Rumi's awed expression, and finally, my face.
On which my eyes were closed.
A click was sounded to my side.
"Aaaaand saved." Hiratsuka-sensei said as she put her phone back into her purse.
"Please don't show that to anyone."
Smirking, she replied, "I'll try not to."
Our second ride, unfortunately, was also a roller coaster. My only saving grace was that there were no cameras to take any pictures of us.
Just like the last one, I got off with weak knees and heavy arms.
Fortunately, those two decided to do a little shopping for some Destinyland memorabilia. I took the chance to relax and calm my nerves.
When we were out of the store, I noticed the amount of bags that those two were carrying. I know that Hiratsuka-sensei should make it up to Rumi, but she didn't have to bankrupt herself in the process.
Our next destination was a haunted house.
"Wait, what's that?" Sensei asked.
"It's a haunted house." Rumi replied after taking a look at the map.
"A haunted what now?"
"A haunted house," I repeated after Rumi before coming to a juicy conclusion, "Don't tell me…"
"No, no, no!" Sensei shook her head vigorously, "It's not like I'm scared of haunted house or anything. Don't misunderstand, you idiot!"
What kind of sub-genre of tsundere did you just invented, Sensei?
"So you have no problem going with us, right?"
Surprisingly, I wasn't the one who uttered that line; instead, it was Rumi who did. I could see the look on Hiratsuka-sensei's face that basically screamed 'You traitor!', but like always Rumi was oblivious to sensei's glares.
After preparing herself for a couple of minutes, Hiratsuka-sensei finally found the bravery in herself to walk into the haunted house.
Said bravery disappeared after a few measly minutes.
I won't dwell on the disappearance of Sensei's courage for too long as seeing her frantically trying to grab my arm for reassurance was enough to heal my pride after that last two roller coaster ride.
Just like me, she came out of the haunted house a broken woman.
"So what's our next destination?" I asked Rumi, who was the current map carrier, seeing as sensei as incapacitated on a bench.
The sun had already set when we were in the haunted house, which honestly surprised me since I didn't expect time to pass by so quickly.
"Hmm," Rumi thought deeply as she looked at the map, "We could go for this."
I followed her finger to a spot on the map.
"Oh, so it's one of those rides, huh."
"The rides where you get dropped into a pool or something like that." I explained to Rumi.
I easily remembered that specifics of the ride since it was one of the few rides that I had the pleasure of going on to with Yukinoshita. That was like…6 years ago, I guess? Maybe even more than that. Time sure flies when you're a working adult.
"So you want to go to that one?" I asked Rumi, who nodded her head enthusiastically. I smiled at her eagerness, but once I turned to Hiratsuka-sensei, my smile disappeared almost instantly.
"Hikigaya…." She whined, leaning on the bench, "Can you get me a can of beer? Or two; I don't mind."
"Sensei, this is a family-friendly park. They're not serving alcohols."
"Psssh, fine then. Go on your little ride. I'll wait here...unmoving, beer-less and alone."
Jeez, you shouldn't talk about your non-existent married life like that, sensei.
Seemed like the haunted house really got to her. Rumi and I looked at each other before silently agreeing that it was for the best to just be on our way.
Fortunately, the line to that water ride wasn't too long and before we knew it, we were strapped into our respective seats.
Yet as we ascended higher and higher, none of us uttered a single word. Maybe, not bringing Hiratsuka-sensei with us was a mistake. Today was a day which her and Rumi can spend time with each other, but right now, the teenage girl was spending time with me, even though she did so for the last week.
"Hey, Hachiman." Spoke Rumi as we neared the peak of the tracks. After that, we would be plunged towards the cold and unforgiving water below.
"…Thank you for allowing me to stay at your place," She looked forward as she continued speaking, "And also, thank you for looking after me this last week."
"Pssh, looking after you? More like you looked after me," Seeing her surprised face, I explained, "Before you came, all I would ever eat is instant ramen and convenience store bento. So really, I should thank you instead."
"Nonsense, you were the one that took in a stranger into your home."
Not that I have a choice.
"Stranger? I thought we were more than that, Rumi," I chuckled a bit, remembering our first time meeting each other.
"Well, is that why you forgot my name when I came last Friday?"
"I can't help it, okay? It's not like I have a good memory."
At my denial, Rumi laughed softly, reminiscent of a wind chime. Out of the corners of my eyes, I saw her looking at me, so I returned the gesture in kind.
"What?" I asked as she stayed silent.
"No, I was just thinking…" She faced forward with a longing gaze, "The week that I spent with you…"
"What about it?"
"Well," Rumi turned to me with one of the most stunning smiles that I've ever seen, "The week that I spent with you…it was one of the happiest times of my life."
I stared slack-jawed at Rumi as she uttered those words.
Did my heart just skip a beat?
Before I could formulate a response, the ride plummeted down into the cold water, making a huge splash in the process.
When we exited the ride, none of us spoke a word to each other. Possibly due to the fact that Hiratsuka-sensei was, surprisingly, waiting for us at the exit of said ride. It would've been too embarrassing for either of us.
Therefore, what Rumi said up on that ride remained a secret between us.
All of us wanted to wait until late at night to see the firework show at the castle, but unfortunately, the constraint of time caught up to us as we decided to head home and help Rumi pack her belongings.
Well, we did so after dinner-again, courtesy of Hiratsuka-sensei's wallet.
As we walked back, I remembered something that I said to Rumi yesterday. So, like an adult would, I asked her about it.
"Do you want to light a farewell fire?"
"Farewell fire? Oh, I guess it is Obon, after all," Hiratsuka-sensei mused, "But wait, I thought none of your family members passed away yet."
Ignoring the insensitivity of Hiratsuka-sensei, I responded.
"Oh, no. It's not for me. It's for-,"
"It's for my parents." Rumi abruptly cut in, "And yeah, I would like the light the farewell fire."
"Are you sure?" Hiratsuka-sensei asked.
"Yes, I am." Rumi nodded with no hesitation.
I smiled and patted Rumi on the head. Surprisingly, the young girl didn't detest my gesture, instead, letting me rub her head for a few solid seconds.
"You two go on ahead," I lent my keys to Rumi, "I'll go get the twigs. Don't get lost now."
"We won't." Rumi replied.
With my luck, the flower store still had some twigs left in stock so I was able to get what I needed relatively quickly. The walk back home was a bit hard though, since I had to carry all the twigs back with me.
However, I didn't have to do much work setting up the fire though, as when I got home, those two were already waiting by the veranda with everything ready.
This time, Rumi was the one that lit the fire. I promised her a bigger a fire, but unfortunately, we didn't want to accidentally burn the entire building down, so no big fire that day.
Just like last time, no words were spoken as all three of us were drawn into the fire. The small, crackling and dancing fire caught our attention like nothing else.
Rumi was the closest to the fire, essentially squatting next to it, while Hiratsuka-sensei and I leaned against the railing, observing at a distance.
Despite saying that there were no words that night, I did hear something as the fire began to fade away though.
"Please come back next year as well."
That was what Rumi whispered as the glow of the flames began to dim, before the last twig finally burned out, allowing the August night to embrace us with its darkness.
We still had to help Rumi pack her things, however, which was hard in of itself, considering that we had to also pack the things that she got from Destinyland, and the snacks that I couldn't afford to keep. It was an arduous task, but ultimately, we succeeded.
I mean, they secretly took a couple of minutes to talk with each other, and they must've thought that I didn't notice; but other than that, it went by relatively quickly.
They both stood outside the door to my apartment. Hiratsuka-sensei with a smile on her face and Rumi with a stiff look on her face for some reason. The way she held her duffel bag and the fact that her posture was so stiff almost made it seemed as if she would shout something like 'Nebby, get in the bag!'
"Well, then. It's time to say goodbye, huh."
"Yeah." I nodded solemnly.
"What do you say, Rumi?"
"Jeez, you don't have to tell me." Rumi berated Hiratsuka-sensei, causing a chuckle out of her.
I thought it was going to be one of those sappy, cheesy goodbyes, but instead of stating anything, Rumi asked me.
With a deep breath, she continued, "If you don't mind…can I come hang out from time to time?"
Oh, so that's what the impromptu secret talk was all about.
"Sure, I don't mind." I replied.
"And also…umm, if I have trouble with one of my assignments, can I come to you for help?" She looked at me with hopeful eyes, "Shizuka says you're really good at modern literature."
"Also…can we eat together at Saize again? The last time we went there was really fun."
I chuckled a bit to myself. It was fun, huh? Even though there was a certain unspeakable event that happened between us.
"I promise this is the last one!" Rumi exclaimed, her face a bit embarrassed.
"I won't forget you any time soon…" She gripped the strap of her bag even tighter, "So you won't forget me either, right?"
I was speechless for a moment. Who knew that the apathetic girl that one day appeared at my door would become so melodramatic? In a span of one week, no less.
Patting her head, I responded.
"Just because I forgot your name that one time doesn't mean I'll forget it again."
After a few seconds, I added, "Rumi."
She swatted my hand away, "Jeez, when you say it like that, it's really embarrassing…"
Hiratsuka-sensei and I both chuckled at the young girl's awkwardness.
"Farewell, Hikigaya." Hiratsuka-sensei said as she raised her hand to her head in a mock salute. I did the same thing in return, albeit with hesitation.
"Farewell as well, Sensei."
"Umm…goodbye, Hachiman." Rumi uttered, almost too quiet for me to hear.
"Goodbye to you too, Rumi."
At the mention of her name, Rumi's face became flustered again, obviously from what she said earlier. I wouldn't blame her; I would be embarrassed in the same situation as well.
I watched the two of them leave quietly, with Rumi struggling quite a bit with her duffel bag, but somehow, someway, she managed.
When those two were out of my sight, I breathed in the summer air and stretched to my heart's content. Today was a long day after all; maybe I should turn in early.
But as I was about to go back into my humble abode, the sound of footsteps hitting against concrete filled my ears. I peeked out of the door, and saw the small figure of a girl running towards me.
She came to an abrupt stop right in front of my door, ushering me with her hand to come closer.
"Hurry up, I don't have much time." Rumi said.
I leaned closer into her. Was there a need for her to whisper though? It wasn't like there was anyone near us. Even if there were people outside, they wouldn't be able to hear us.
As I mused about Rumi's irrational actions, I didn't notice another action that she made.
That was the sound my cheek made when it came into contact with something. Actually, it was the sound made when that something came into contact with my cheek.
Said something was soft. Really soft. Like, cotton candy soft.
But before I could get a word out, Rumi was already running down the stairs, shouting something along the lines of 'See ya, Hachiman!'
I watched her descend the stairs and finally, into Hiratsuka-sensei's car in silence.
Then finally, the realization of what just happened kicked in, and for the second time of the day, I asked myself.
Did my heart just skip a beat?
Edit: Now if you have read the reviews section, then you might have read that this story is based on a manga called 'Koneko Hiroimashita'.
Without any shame, I would like to say that the plot of this story IS inspired by this manga as I remembered the plot of said manga, but couldn't actually remember its name, therefore, I was unable to credit it properly (If you find that hard to believe, I can't really convince you either way since...we are on the internet after all).
Big thanks to tesu for that, and it's on me for not trying to find the manga in the first place.
So if you want to read this story's inspiration, then go read 'Koneko Hiroimashita'. It's a great manga.
: Shokugeki no Soma reference. Yukihira is the family name of the main character that can cook anything from almost nothing.
: Keikaku means plan.
: Yes, it's a KonoSuba reference.
: Pokemon Sun/Moon reference, directed at Lillie, who is known for that line.
Final notes: Phew, that was a journey, wasn't it? Writing this was hard and arduous, but hopefully, you read through it all. Also, we need more Rumi stories!
With that said, good bye!