Gossu, you can't just abandon the site for 2 years then come back with a 40k word story.
That's where you're wrong, kiddo.
Anyways, greetings and salutations.
Why would I write this? For fun (Again) and I'll be honest; despite the length and numerous headaches, I had a lot of fun, especially with writing new perspectives. Anyways, there will be more explanation about the origin of the story at the ending author's notes.
With that being said, do take your time and enjoy.
Family. Noun. Definition: People who are related by blood or marriage and are living either under the same roof or in different houses while keeping occasional contact.
The offspring of said family is either called a son or daughter depending on their sex. Those offspring will of course be in an education with funding from the parents. As they grow older and get more education, parents will feel obligated to protect those offspring, not out of love but simply due to the fact that they have invested far too much into the offspring.
Therefore, with the reasons stated above, I showed the concrete proof that a family is but an endless cycle of investing into the next generations and anyone that came to realize this should not depend on their predecessors because if you do, you too shall be sucked into the endless cycle of investment. That is, if you get a marital partner in the first place.
"Oi, Tsurumi," The voice of my future advisor rang throughout the room, "I know you had some rough times lately but you-"
She slammed my papers down on her table, surprising the other teachers and students in the room.
"Hiratsuka-sensei," I replied, "The assignment stated that I had to concisely write my thoughts about the ideal family. I have shown concrete proof that no such thing exist and gave my thoughts on family, as you have requested."
Instead of an enraged outburst like I would normally expect, she just sighed heavily.
"Look here, Tsurumi," Hiratsuka-sensei looked at me wearily, "You're already held back in your second year and unless you want to get held back in your third, I suggest you rewrite this assignment. Again."
I normally wouldn't mind a lecture from her but things have rather been…stressful recently so instead of thinking and calculating my response, I spoke out on instinct.
"So you mean to tell me that saying the truth is wrong? Then I don't know what's right anymore." Even though it wasn't what I meant to say; deep inside, I felt a bit proud of myself.
"That sounds like something he would say," She chuckled a little bit, her eyes held a distinct look of nostalgia to them.
"Nah, it's nothing but an old student of mine," She brushed my question off with a wave of her hands. "Anyway, unless you want to be held back, rewrite the assignment. Y'know, the normal stuff."
Compared to her quite serious tone a moment ago, she reverted back to a nonchalant tone, giving me a false sense of security for a while.
….Aaaaand it's gone.
"I understand." Great, now I have even more work.
As I bowed and began to take my leave, Hiratsuka-sensei continued.
"Also, Tsurumi," I turned around and faced her slowly, "After school, would you mind swinging by the faculty office? I have something to discuss with you."
Well, I had plans after school. Namely, part-time jobs but I couldn't let her know that. She'll just lecture me again and again about focusing on my studies. Plus, with the tone that she was speaking with, it seemed that I didn't really have any choice.
Ah, the illusion of choice. After conquering society, it decided to invade schools too, huh.
"I-I don't know, sensei," I rubbed my head awkwardly. I was never the one to make excuses to bail out on something, seeing as I have no close relationships to do so anyway, "I have some plans with…uh."
"Ah, shut it. We both know that you don't have any friends."
"Excuse me? That depends on what you meant by 'friends'."
For the second time of today, she chuckled. "Y'know, people who talk about what friends mean are usually the one without them."
I recoiled back slightly. Not because it was hurtful but because it was painfully true. Tch, if only she was unmarried, according to some sources. I mean, by no means was she ugly but her personality often left much to be desired. But…
That silver ring on her left hand was proof enough that Hiratsuka-sensei did the unthinkable.
She managed to snag someone. I don't know whether to be happy or grieve for the poor guy. Maybe it was a win-win situation and both of them got something out of it? That was the only thing that I could think of that would make someone marry someone such as Hiratsuka-sensei.
On second thought, her figure and attitude right now doesn't leave much to be desired.
"So you just need me to come over to the faculty office after school finishes?" I tried to change the topic and luckily, she played along.
"I don't need to bring anything or anyone?"
Once again, Hiratsuka-sensei nodded. "Yeah."
"…There's really no strings attached?"
"Look. I'm not some crazed serial killer inviting a kid into a room, only to ferociously murder her." Despite her gentle and obviously forced smile, her tone and statement was anything but gentle.
"I understand," I said in my calmest voice before taking a bow and leaving the room which granted me a breath of fresh air and a chance to evaluate my plan for the evening.
Let's see…Part-time jobs at the mart, that bar…and uh…
I glanced around and spotted a few students bring piles of notebooks to the room I was in earlier.
That's right! The bookstore.
Considering that the meeting is thirty minutes long, I would have enough time to get to the mart, end my shift, and hopefully get to the bar in a reasonable time. With it operating so late at night, I was sure that I'd have enough time.
And luckily for me, my bookstore shift was only on the weekends, meaning I didn't have to worry much until tomorrow.
With that plan in mind, I set off to class; intending to get through the day without any hitch and maybe, get through my meeting with Hiratsuka-sensei as fast as I could.
I felt proud of myself. While others around me often followed their so called 'Gut feelings', I calculated everything in my life; ranging from my responses to my everyday plans. They often end up failing and blame it on their bad luck.
Pff, don't they follow the motto 'Ninety nine percent luck is ninety nine percent preparation'?
As I expected, classes were uneventful as usual despite it being classic literature. Even though I am a voracious consumer of classic pieces of literature, I am usually reading it; not listening on how to write one.
I exhaled softly as the class ended, as if letting out all the pent up emotions in one single breath. Two more classes to go and it will be the end of school day.
Luckily, due to my carefully calculated movements and responses; I was able to avoid most, if not all things that are either troublesome or social.
And then came the time of reckoning.
So there I was, on my not-so-merry way to the faculty office. The last class's teacher had given us an assignment that instructed us to write about what were the primary changes over the course of our life.
Of course, I planned to candidly write out my 'thoughts' on my change. Even though it wasn't much of a change as I am still the same wall flower that I am all those years ago.
Even though I would like to use the term introverted to describe myself, other people tend to use 'Social outcast' or 'Anti-social'. I can't blame them as there is a fine line between being introverted and being anti-social.
Making sure to knock three times on the door, I slid open the door and sure enough, Hiratsuka-sensei was sitting near the teacher's lounge area like some sort of mafia boss.
Who was she? The tenth leader of the Singola family?
Her eyes crossed with mine and she ushered me to her location with a wave of her left hand. I complied and strode through the room, eventually putting my bag down on the couch and taking a seat near it.
"You're earlier than I expected," Hiratsuka-sensei began as she crossed one of her leg over the other, "In fact, I expect you to run off."
"A Tsurumi never breaks her promise," I replied, pride in my tone.
"Riiiiight. Anyway," She began to sort through various papers which I didn't notice before, "So how many has it been this month?"
"Your part-time jobs," She looked at me softly though I could feel some sort of intent behind those eyes. I gripped my fists in response; the only thought passing through my head was 'How did she know?'
I had taken every precaution to make sure that no one, especially Hiratsuka-sensei would find out about my part-time jobs. It was simply due to the fact that she was a thorn by my side, often lecturing me on how those jobs were holding me back from my studies even though I am quite certain that passing the liberal arts exam is child-plays.
"Four," I said begrudgingly, seeing as she already knew about it, I saw no need to lie.
"And now you only have three left. I'm surprised; you normally lose at least two jobs a month."
"How did you even know that?" I asked her hastily, not wanting my privacy to be breached any further.
"Sources," She said with a playful tone. I only responded with a grumble and looked at the ground instead of her.
"Anyway, how's life?"
I looked back up and raised an eyebrow at her question, "Normally, you would berate me on having multiple jobs but now you're asking about my life? Did you take something wrong this morning?"
She appeared slack jawed for a moment before chuckling quite loudly, "Well, can't blame you."
Hiratsuka-sensei stayed quiet for well over a minute, leaving me in a somewhat awkward atmosphere. I glanced at the windows. It appeared that the sun was setting, leaving a faint orange tinge on the sky.
My calculations were wrong?!
I looked back at Hiratsuka-sensei who was still checking through the thin stacks of papers in her hands. Maybe I could transmit my brain signals onto her brain, effectively telling her that I need to leave.
This is bad. My desperation is reaching an all-time high level.
You see, I never had companions to hang out with so I never need to know any protocols on how to leave someone. Damn social creatures, this will be the only time I'll be jealous of you.
"Excuse me, sensei but…" I looked over to Hiratsuka-sensei who was still looking through the papers. Seeing this as a sign to continue, I did. "If you don't need me for anything then I guess I'll be going."
I stood up from my seat briskly but Hiratsuka-sensei didn't utter a word. I moved to the door slowly before I heard her voice called out to me.
"Tsurumi, be a little patient." I turned around to that comforting smile she wore. Ugh, that smile is but a cover of what she would do to you if you didn't comply with her. Gulping slightly, I strode back to the sofa and took a seat once more.
But instead of anger-filled eyes or even mocking ones, Hiratsuka-sensei looked…kind of sad, actually. Melancholy was basically dripping out of her body as she continued to stare at me in silence. It was kinda awkward, to be honest.
Finally she sighed before speaking up.
"Tsurumi…" She said softly, her eyes appearing more maternal by the second, "There's really no easy way to discuss what I'm going to bring up but…"
"Come on, Sensei," I brushed off her concerns, "I'm not that delicate as to be offended by everything, y'know."
Hiratsuka-sensei chuckled dryly.
"I guess so, but still…" Taking a deep breath and sitting straight up, sensei spoke in a much more energetic tone, "Guess we'll start at the point then, huh!"
It was a good thing that no one was in the office this evening, otherwise her proclamation might've invited some curious ears.
Calming herself down, she explained, "So Tsurumi, I'm going to be totally blunt, alright?
"Let's talk about you getting held back in your second year."
I visibly grimaced as Sensei brought that up. It was not a good memory for me at all, especially due to the fact that I could and would have passed all those exams if it wasn't for the fact that I got utterly decimated by pneumonia last year.
It wasn't my fault, alright? My stupid immune system decided to take a break for the entire month and I had to be hospitalized. Tch, my head recoiled in pain just thinking about that ordeal. And even though there were make-up exams, I couldn't even take those because the doctor wouldn't even let me out because my pneumonia was too severe.
"What's there to talk about?" I asked. Sensei already knew about my situation, so there really wasn't anything to discuss.
"Well, you're right in thinking that, but I just wanted to confirm something."
"How many jobs did you have when you got sick?"
I could feel a lump forming in my throat, as if beckoning me to not answer that question.
"Does it really matter?" I tried to deflect the question, even if I knew that it was useless when it comes to Sensei.
"Yes, it does. That's why I'm asking it."
Sighing, I dug my hands into the pockets of my skirt; perhaps to calm myself down, who knows?
"And I'm assuming you put those jobs ahead of your health, huh?" She nonchalantly said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Instead of 'assume', she could've just said that she 'knew' it.
Again, I tried to calm myself down before answering.
"And if I did?"
"Then we have a big problem, Tsurumi," Before I could get a word in, Sensei continued, "Look, you're a third year student, alright? So you seriously need all the time you can get in order to complete your studies."
"I know that…"
"And yet you have three jobs right now."
"It's not like those jobs are demanding," I made an excuse, "Besides, one of them is on the weekends so I do have time to do my assignments."
"That's not my point," Pinching her temple, Sensei sighed as she explained, "Look, I'm only talking about you failing your second year so that I can talk about your scholarship."
Another topic that I dreaded.
"You know how you got a full scholarship?"
"Yeah? What about it?"
"And the fact that the terms stated that if your average falls below a certain point, you won't have that same full scholarship?"
"Well, why haven't you questioned the fact that you didn't have to pay for your third year then despite having to repeat your second year?"
"Didn't you say that was because you pulled some strings?"
I knew that it was too good to be true, but I genuinely wanted to believe that Hiratsuka-sensei was this omnipotent being that could pull anything into existence.
Honestly, I really did, and even though there were signs that showed me that it was false, I still didn't question it.
"Heh, I may be a well-liked teacher here but even I'm not that influential," She gave another dry chuckle, as if angry at her lack of power, "What would you think if I told you that someone has been paying for your tuition?"
"Then I would thank that person sincerely," I answered with no hesitation.
It would be logical, no? Even if it was an anonymous donor, it wouldn't be right of me to not express my gratitude towards him or her.
"Wow, I expected a bigger reaction from you," She told me before waving aside my response, "But that's not the point I'm trying to make here."
"Then what is it?"
"I'm just saying that your lifestyle isn't sustainable."
Looking at me concernedly, she explained, "Look, it's obvious that you're barely living a healthy lifestyle. You're obviously stressed and overworked, and if you continue with this lifestyle any further, you'll self-destruct soon enough."
Narrowing my eyes, I retorted fiercely, "Sensei. Please don't comment on things that you obviously don't have info on."
"I've been living the same way for years now, and I've been doing just fine."
But instead of taking this lying down, Hiratsuka-sensei replied with a rather venomous tone, "Fine like how you were held back a year? Fine like how you got sick with no one to take care of you? Because I don't think that screams fine to me."
I clicked my tongue at her point. I shouldn't have let my emotions get the better of me, but she was really encroaching upon a topic that I never want to discuss, especially seeing as I live alone.
And so, instead of answering, I used my right to remain silent.
"Rumi…" She used my given name this time in an obvious ploy to seem friendlier, "I know it's been hard for you recently ever since-,"
"Please don't bring that up," I cut her off, "Just berate me or scold me or whatever. Hell, I'll even quit a job or two if it makes you happier. Just…don't, alright?"
Obviously, Hiratsuka-sensei was taken aback by my response. While one can say that Hiratsuka-sensei and I are close to each other, we never actually had a discussion that was this intense. It was always banters, her jokingly berating me about my assignments, or even just stupid discussions about the weekly issue of Jump.
We never had discussions about my issues because I assumed she knows my boundaries and respect my unsaid wishes to not talk about it.
Well apparently, those wishes are thrown out of the windows now.
"Can you please hurry up and get to the point already, Sensei?" I faked checking my watch, "I'm already running quite late with my appointments."
Instead of giving a snarky reply, she just relented and sighed deeply before leaning back into the couch.
"I think you would have a better life if you were under someone's guardianship."
I narrowed my eyes. The prospect was brought up to me before, but considering how independent I was, I never considered it.
"Didn't we already have this discussion?" I asked, "Besides, I'm already an adult; ergo, I don't need any guardians."
"You're half-right about that. Guess I shouldn't use half-baked terms anymore, huh."
Hiratsuka-sensei sat up straight, her eyes staring intensely into mine.
"Rumi…I think you should get adopted."
"I know, I know. It's a bit hard to hear comin-,"
"Adoption? For a grown girl like me?" I began to shout as a boiling rage suddenly came over me. How dare she? "I've been living alone for three years already and I have no problems living several more like that."
"And that's exactly why I want you to get adopted," Hiratsuka-sensei explained in exasperation, "I am acting as your guardian but since you insisted on living alone, it's hard for me to provide emotional support."
"The only support you should be providing is towards your family, not a stranger," I spat out rather bitterly as my mind kept on questioning her audacity.
"You're not a stranger, Rumi," She looked into my eyes, as if pleading, "I just think that a growing girl like you need a more supportive environment to be in."
"I'm perfectly comfortable with the environment I'm in."
"Are you? Or do you just think that?"
I wracked my brain for some sort of witty or sharp comeback but none came to mind. But instead of wasting my time in this stupid faculty office chatting about some stupid topic with a stupidly overbearing teacher, I decided to leave.
And so I did.
Picking up the strap of my bag in one fell swoop, I turned heel and went right to the door.
"I'm sorry, Sensei, but I don't think we should have this discussion anymore," I said with finality as I approached the door.
Hiratsuka-sensei muttered my name in resignation. Good, at least, she wasn't going to come along and drag me back to that god forsaken couch of hers. At least, I won't have the dilemma of dealing with the guilt of refusing a pleading teacher.
I may be cold towards overly invasive people, but I'm certainly not heartless.
"Goodbye, Sensei. See you on Monday."
Good, now I was free. Well, technically, I was only free to go to work. My shift was with the mart and the bar today, which leave the ever relaxing part time job at the bookstore for tomorrow and Sunday. Furthermore, there weren't that many assignments this week, leaving me with even more free time to hopefully laze about and recover from work fatigue.
Maybe I'll even get some new papers or inks from the art store before getting to my shift at the mart. My supplies have been running low for a while now.
And truth be told, that was supposed to be my itinerary for the evening.
Until I bumped into him.
"Oh hey, Rumi," He greeted me in a voice deeper than the last time I heard it, "Is Hiratsuka-sensei in there?"
Words wouldn't come out no matter how much I tried to force them. My eyes were glued on to a man that I haven't seen in seven years or so. It's normal to be this star-struck, right?
Especially by someone you admired all these times.
"And I thought the three of us were supposed to be talking together," He ruffled his rather unkempt hair in confusion, "But I gotta say. You've grown a lot."
He chuckled a little, amusement apparent in his eyes, "You're definitely a far cry from that little kid at the summer camp."
And just like that, this Tsurumi Rumi suddenly felt like she lost all feelings in her legs.
"So Hikigaya," Hiratsuka-sensei nonchalantly stated as she sipped her freshly brewed coffee, "How many years has it been already?"
There is only two Hikigayas I know. Certainly, with Japan's (decreasing) population, there was bound to be some parents crazy enough to have the family name of Hikigaya.
In fact, in this very high school, I heard that there was also a president with the family name of Hikigaya.
But the man sitting right next to me was no ordinary Hikigaya. Even though his voice and appearance changed somewhat, I could still recognized that it was him. No doubt about it.
His dead-fish eyes, despite being a little bit brighter than usual, were still there.
His cowlick was still there.
That cool smirk that he showed when we finally met after all these years were still as cool as ever.
No doubt about it.
It's Hikigaya freaking Hachiman in the flesh.
"Eh, five or six years, give or take," replied Hachiman as he too took a sip of his coffee, "You still look the same as ever."
With a scoff, Hiratsuka-sensei said, "I hope that was a compliment, because you looked positively dead right now."
Shrugging, Hachiman responded, "Well, corporate life does that to you."
And there I was, a child in an adult's world, hopelessly trying to seem as inconspicuous as possible. Both of my hands were on my knees, not because I was being polite, but because I was trying to stop them from shaking.
I mean, if you met someone that influenced you all those years ago, you would have the same reaction that I did. Guaranteed.
And not to mention, even though a small part of my brain urged me to just take off and go to my part-time jobs to avoid any more headaches, I couldn't move a single muscle.
Was it because I was nervous around him?
Or maybe this whole situation is just one giant crockpot of nervousness.
"So Rumi, how are you doing?"
My eyes widened as I realized that Hachiman was asking me something. So being the reasonable person that I was, I quickly turned my head to him and tried to answer as natural as possible.
"I-I-I…uhh-I'm fine…I think,"
"You think?" Hachiman raised his eyebrows, amused at my antics.
"Ah well," I stumbled over my words, wondering how he could talk so casually with me, "School assignments and all that. Stressful stuff, y'know."
"Right, right," Hachiman nodded before drinking his coffee again, "You're doing well with school?"
"M-Me? OH yeah-yeah, I'm doing…good."
"Good to hear that," said Hachiman, "So I assumed you've already explained everything to her."
This time, he addressed Hiratsuka-sensei instead, who seemed a bit startled – if her wide eyes were anything to go by.
Coughing into her hands, she said, "Well, you see…"
"You haven't told her?"
"Not exactly," Hiratsuka-sensei refuted, "I did tell her about that thing you asked me to but she didn't take it too well."
"But you did explained it to her, right?
"Told her, yes. Explained? Not really…"
I had no idea what they were talking about but all I knew was that Hachiman was just disappointed with Hiratsuka-sensei.
"Well, I couldn't really blame you," Hachiman said, leaning back against the couch. Looking at me briefly, he quickly turned his attention to Hiratsuka-sensei, "I shouldn't really be piling all these responsibilities onto you."
"No, no, it's fine," Sensei assured Hachiman, "Though I do think that it'd be better if you personally told her, y'know."
"Yeah, I thought so too. She said the same thing."
Chuckling, Sensei took her cup of coffee and headed towards the door, "I'm going out for a break. So just take all the time you need."
Before she left, she turned to me, "And Rumi?"
"Do listen to Hikigaya, okay? I mean it."
"Sure…?" I answered, not really knowing what she meant by that. Besides, the way she emphasized her words got me really worried. Hachiman wasn't going to lecture me about the importance of schoolwork, was he?
I involuntarily shuddered at the mere thought of it.
"So Rumi," Hachiman finally said once Hiratsuka-sensei shut the door to the faculty office, leaving just me and Hachiman inside the room, "So how's life?"
I grimaced, "You know, that's the second time someone has asked me that."
"Oh really?" Hachiman said, surprised, "I guess I'm not original as I thought after all."
He let out a dry chuckle. Was he nervous?
"…Do you need something from me?" I asked, "I mean, it's great seeing you again but I can't imagine you just wanting to sit down and have a chat with me."
"Aren't you as sharp as ever," replied Hachiman, "Well, more or less, yeah."
"And that something is?"
The man in front of me took a few seconds to think, probably being stressed out from my glares. But this is Hachiman after all; Hachiman doesn't get stressed out by someone's incessant glares.
So why was he taking so long in asking his questions?
"I'm just going to get straight to the point then," He put both his hands on his knees firmly, "Rumi, is your life okay?"
I raised my eyebrow, "That depends actually, but no, my life is not okay. If someone's life is okay, then their life wouldn't worth living, now would it? Wasn't it actually Buddha himself who said that to live is to suffer? So if my life is okay, that would mean-,"
"Okay, okay, I get it. Not the answer I was looking for, but I get it," Hachiman cut me off with a wave of his hand, "Sheesh, Hiratsuka-sensei is a really bad influence on you."
You have no idea.
"Then what are you asking specifically?"
Meeting my eyes, I could feel Hachiman pitying me for some reason, which irked me a lot.
"I'm wondering if you actually have leisure time. Do you take your time doing stuff you actually like?"
"And only Sundays?"
I shrugged, "Well, Saturdays too if I get lucky with my shifts."
"You work part-time?"
"Well, yeah," I answered, "What kind of high school students don't have part time jobs? We don't get our money from thin air, y'know."
Then as flatly as he could, Hachiman replied, "Normal high school students would only have one part time job."
Hachiman looked up at me in pity. Again, it irked me.
"Rumi, you don't have to hide. Hiratsuka-sensei told me everything already."
I clenched my fist unknowingly as I answered back, "Then you should know that you shouldn't be asking about this, Hachiman."
"Then you should also know why I'd be the right person to ask about this, Rumi," He shot back, his gaze unwavering, "Sensei already told you about someone paying for your tuition fees, right?"
My mouth hung agape for a few moment before it clicked for me.
"And I assume that person is you?" Before Hachiman could reply, I continued, "And if that's the case, then I thank you. Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you."
I bowed to him with no hesitation.
"But if you think that I'm just a burden, then please, you don't have to focus on my education," I explained, "I really appreciate the fact that you took your time and energy to care for someone who isn't related to you; and again, I'm really grateful for that."
Taking a deep breath, I said.
"But I just don't think that you should be doing this anymore."
I straightened myself as I took a look at Hachiman. Surprisingly, he had a confused look on his face, either due to my deduction being spot on or being a complete miss.
"Rumi, that's-," He rubbed his forehead gently, "Okay, first thing first, it's not actually me who paid for your fees. It's actually some- y'know, what? Let's just say it's me for now."
I nodded hesitantly.
"Secondly, no, you're not a burden. Thirdly, I'm not here to talk about me paying for your school fees. You're already in your third year and I believe you can complete it with no problem."
"Then you're here to talk about my part time jobs then?"
"That's a part of what I want to talk about, actually," Hachiman sighed before giving me a sympathetic look, "Rumi, I know it's tough."
A sinking feeling suddenly formed in my guts as I nervously came to the conclusion about what this talk was going to be about.
"I can't say that I've ever experienced the same things as you, and I can only imagine a fraction of the hardships that you've faced but…"
Please don't pity me.
"What are you talking about, Hachiman?" I said, putting on my most oblivious voice, "I'm doing fine. It's hard but I'm fine."
"Rumi…" He looked at me solemnly, "It's tempting to lie to yourself but I know it's never been the same since-"
"If you do know that, then you'd know that I don't wanna talk about it." I shut him down firmly, something that surprised him greatly.
"…sorry," Hachiman apologized, "I should really be getting to the point, huh?"
"You really should."
He sighed deeply. Maybe I was being too harsh on him, but I had my reasons. I made it clear to Hiratsuka-sensei that my family matters were private; and since Hachiman obviously got all my information from Sensei, I would assume that she also told him what was off limits and whatnot.
But clearly, I was wrong.
So was I too harsh on him there? Even though he tried to help me? No, I don't think I was.
"Rumi, you know how Hiratsuka-sensei has been a sort-of guardian to you?"
"I am aware of that, yes."
"Then you should also be aware that she has her own family to worry about as well."
"And because of that, I just think that she won't have enough time or energy to take care of you as well."
"Well, I don't-"
"Listen," Hachiman held his hand up, cutting me off, "I'm not insinuating that you're helpless – far from it in fact. But I'm just saying that a young adult like you needs an actual support system from an actual family."
As I digested each and every single one of his words, the pit inside my stomach opened up more and more. That sinking feeling returning far stronger than ever as I could almost predict what he was going to say.
"So what I was thinking was…I mean, if you don't mind, would you…"
I could never Hachiman being this nervous. Even though his entire demeanors exuded calmness and control, his word choices were all over the place.
And I knew why.
"Would you want to be a part of my family?"
And of course, that question got asked for the second time today, albeit in different manners.
And of course, my fist were clenched in anger, perhaps? Maybe disappointment. Disappointment from the fact that Hachiman could suggest such an absurd idea. Disappointment in the fact that Sensei and Hachiman obviously had this discussion about my life and future without even getting my input.
"Hachiman, please don't pity me."
"That's not what I-"
"You are," I said firmly, grasping at my knees, "You are pitying me. And to be honest, I am grateful for that. I am extremely grateful that you're caring for me, even when I was a kid."
Taking a deep breath, I stood up with my bag already strapped around my shoulder.
"I am truly grateful for everything that you've done for me, even if it was without me knowing. Without you, I wouldn't have gotten this far. But I'm sorry – I don't want to be any more of a burden than I already am."
"Rumi, you're not a burden."
"Maybe not to you, but what about what your family thinks?"
"Look, I'm not asking you to live with-"
"Would they really accept a stranger suddenly barging into their life? You may be fine with it but your family might not. And honestly, I don't want to be the reason of your familial tension."
"Hachiman," I said, looking him in his pitying eyes, "If you're worried about me then don't be. I've already saved enough money so that I can live on my own for a long time after high school. You should instead be worrying about your own family instead, not a stranger."
"You're not a stranger."
"Then an acquaintance, at best," I replied before bowing, "For everything that you've done for me, I thank you. Truly, I am grateful for all your support, but if you truly want to care for me, then you'd let me live the life I want."
"…can't you at least discuss this with us first?" Hachiman pleaded, his tone, while firm, was desperate.
"I can't…sorry," I said solemnly, "I have to go now."
Without even hearing his replies, I immediately darted out of the faculty office, opening and closing the door as quickly as I could. Hachiman did say something – perhaps even shouted, but I ignored all of that as I dashed through the hallway. I even noticed Hiratsuka-sensei at some point but by the time she could say anything I was already out of the school building.
Looking up at the setting sun, I could only groan as a response.
Not only did Hiratsuka-sensei dragged me into this time-wasting crapshoot of hers, but Hachiman was also there to reaffirm that it was a bigger crapshoot than I'd initially expected. And not to mention, my shift at the mart was probably over already!
…well, not necessarily over, but it'd be really awkward to just walk in way past my starting time.
Sighing, I reluctantly made the decision to call in sick for the day. Maybe I can go grab a burger or something in order to have something good about this crappy day.
In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have spent 600 yen on a burger set while I could just go to a convenience store and eat a cup of instant noodle for less than half of that price. But whatever, at least I got to charge my phone and killed sometime while waiting for my shift at the bar to start.
By the time I got out of that burger joint, it was already nighttime. The sky was dark and the roads were illuminated by passing cars and streetlamps – in other word, a perfect time for a high school girl to go to her part time job.
I sighed. Why did I pick such a bothersome job anyway? I could've just worked at an udon shop or something – and I'd probably get the added benefits of free dinner as well.
But nevertheless, I persevered and pushed through in order to get to my last job for the day. It was situated quite grandly at the top of a luxurious hotel. Despite the occasional weird looks I'd get from guests and staff, most of the workers at this place got familiarized with the sight of a 19 year old girl waltzing into an establishment meant for elites.
I mean, they were probably looking at my Sobu high uniform but whatever.
By the time I got there, the bar wasn't that packed. The only guests that were there were a couple that was about to leave and a rather elegant and refined lady sitting at the counter. Probably waiting for a date or something.
Sheesh, what a high standard to set for a date.
I sneaked into the back of the worker's room, and surprisingly, only Yukari – the other part-timer – was there. She was still in her uniform but I could already tell that she was itching to leave.
"Rumi-chaaaaan~" Yukari lighted up once she saw me, "Took you long enough. Boss was getting worried."
"My bad, my bad," I replied as I opened my work locker, "Besides, I'm not even that late, and it's not like there's many people here, y'know."
"I knooow that but there was a loooooooot of peeps before you came," Yukari whined, "Boss and I had a difficult time keeping up with all of them, and even he was wondering where you were."
"So that I can take over mixing the drinks for him?"
Yukari chuckled lightly, "Considering how old he is, he'd be glad that someone actually knows how to make cocktails."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll go relieve the old man of his duty now," I tied my hair in a ponytail before closing the locker and finally taking up my shift.
Boss clearly lit up the moment he saw me making my way to the counter. He even stopped cleaning the counter just to wave at me. I couldn't help but give a small smile. At least this manager is clearly more relaxed than my other ones.
"Tsurumi-kun, it's good to finally see you again," Boss said shakily, as if every ounce of energy has been drained from his body.
"Likewise, boss," I said as I took his towel and began cleaning in his stead, "You can go relax now. I'll handle things from here."
"Thank you, Tsurumi-kun," he said as he slowly walked back to the worker's room, his hand on his poor, poor back, "Oh and before I forget, the lovely lady over there wants another margarita."
"No problem," I said as I began preparing a margarita for the so-called lovely lady.
Though at this point, while mixing the ingredients, I had to ask myself why she was still here even though it was nearly midnight already. I mean, the same can be said for me but I was a working adult, okay? I had a legitimate reason to be there while she was probably waiting for a date that ghosted her.
But who in their right mind would do so? I don't swing that way but even I could admit that the woman sitting at the counter was a beautiful one. Her calm and cool demeanor coupled with a pair of eyes that look like they can contain the world made her one of a kind.
Plus her long, silky black hair only helped accentuate that elegance of hers.
"Here's your margarita, Miss. Sorry for the wait," I placed down her drink in front of her.
"Thank you," replied the lady, in a voice that seemed rather familiar to me, but I just chalked it up to me encountering a lot of these elegant people throughout my time here at the bar.
And I guess I came at the wrong time because there weren't any more customers coming. Right now, the only one in the bar was me and this 'lovely' lady who was occasionally taking a sip of her drink while checking her phone.
Poor girl. She should just dump her date right then and there and just go home. No reason to ignore such a blatant attempt at ghosting.
But again, none of my business.
And so I went back to cleaning glasses and the rest of the counter, as well as the occasional check-up of all the tables in the room – just in case someone barfed and the other two didn't notice.
All as well and dandy until the clock hit precisely at 11:42 PM – because that was when our lovely lady's lovely date arrived.
I wasn't looking at him when he arrived, but judging by his way of opening the bar's door, as well as his rapid footsteps, I could tell that he was either stuck in traffic or completely forgot his date. Oh well, sucks to be him.
However, my rhythmic cleaning of glasses and other wares at the bar counter was immediately interrupted once that man opened his mouth.
His voice sounded familiar; far too familiar in fact. Now, one might think of a family member or classmates when thinking of familiarity.
But no, it couldn't be one of my relatives nor one of my classmates. Could it be a teacher who was late to one of his night outings? Of course not. The only teacher's voice that I remember is that of Hiratsuka-sensei; and that's only because she reprimands me so much.
It wasn't a famous voice actor or singer that I've recently heard on Youtube either.
No, it was a voice that was ever so familiar.
So familiar in fact, that I could trace it back to this evening. An evening spent with a troublesome guidance counselor and a dead-fish-eyed man.
In fact, I can still remember that same voice pleading with me hours ago. But it couldn't be, right? There was no way that he was here in this very bar at the exact same hours as my shift.
"Sorry, Yukino," That man apologized profusely to the woman, whose name now also seemed familiar, "Traffic was horrible and my family just wouldn't let me go."
"Oh, it's fine, dear. You're only late by about an hour and a half or so; perfectly fine, right?"
"Ugh," In a pathetically familiar tone, the man apologized, "Sorry…I'll make it up to you."
"Tonight?" said the woman, obviously flirting.
"Hm. I hope you can back up what you say then because the night is still young, Hachiman."
Oh shit, he is here.
I was lucky to have my back turn against the two, because I honestly didn't know what sort of face I would make if I see Hachiman again so soon, just after I had blew him off. Calmly and steadily, I kept on cleaning the already clean glasses, just so I have time to think of a plan.
However, Hachiman's date clearly had some other plans.
"Miss bartender?" She asked, "Can I get a margarita for my lovely partner, please?"
I could hear the groan coming from Hachiman as he whispered about to his date about not embarrassing him in public, but honestly, all I could think about was how to get to the back safely and get the Boss to takeover.
"S-Sure thing, miss…" I replied in a falsetto tone, which from the corners of my eyes, made the lady raised her eyebrow suspiciously.
But as I was mixing her drink, I quietly excused myself to go into the break room while those two were talking in order to get a hold of the manager.
"Tsurumi-kun? What's wrong?" Boss said as he was going to take a sip of his tea.
"Uuuh, can you…umm…take over mixing the drinks for a while?" Seeing his confused looks, I explained, "Just until the couple leaves, that's all."
Boss' face suddenly hardened, "Did they harass you in any manners, Tsurumi-kun? If so, I shall give them a stern talking to."
I realized that this might be an outcome of me trying to avoid Hachiman and his date, and wasn't surprised by my manager's response – he is rather protective of his employees, often treating them like his own family even.
"No, no, no," I vehemently denied his accusations, "It's just that I feel a bit weird about them, y'know what I mean?"
His face softened considerably before a smile graced it. His eyes narrowed a bit as he rubbed his chin curiously.
"Interesting; I see what you mean, Tsurumi-kun. Fear not, I shall take care of this problem."
I grinned from ear to ear once I heard that my immediate problem was being solved. I didn't exactly know why he was smiling so weirdly or why he talked that weirdly, but whatever. It was another problem off my plate.
And thus, I silently cheered on my manager as he opened the door of the break room and went back to the counter with confidence in his stride.
Hachiman and his date was still chatting, though from the looks of it, he was being reprimanded by his lady. Nevertheless, their talk was interrupted once Boss stopped right in front of them and coughed rather loudly.
"Yes? What seems to be the problem?" Hachiman's lady friend asked, her face as cold and calculating as ever.
Boss, however, didn't flinch as he began talking.
"I apologize, but it appears that you have made some rather snide comments at my employee. I shall warn you that even though they are my workers, I treat them as family."
Oh god, no!
What was he doing? I only told him to take over mixing the drinks for me, not to give a lecture to Hachiman and his date! Boss, I trusted you!
The ice cold lady peered at my manager disinterestedly, "Snide comments? What, pray tell, are those snide comments exactly, dear manager?"
"Comments that made my employee uncomfortable, of course!"
Boss said boisterously, digging his grave (as well as my own) even further. Meanwhile, while I was signaling for my manager to stop, much like how a kid would try to stop her mom from bargaining, Hachiman was also getting second handed embarrassment as he lowered his head and began to look away.
"Manager-san," The lady began talking, a sick smile on her face, "I do not believe that a request for another margarita constitutes as a comment that would make someone uncomfortable."
"My employee is a young girl; as such, I'm sure there were some comments you made that caused her discomfort."
"Ooh, really now?" Scoffing, she said, "Then let's get your employee out right now. That would be better than us having a blame game, right?"
I could see Hachiman trying to stop those two from embarrassing me and themselves any further, but Boss wasn't having any of it as he proclaimed.
"Are you implying that my employee is lying?"
Boss, please don't talk anymore…
"Since you are the one who accused us of giving out snide remarks, the burden of proof should be on you, no?"
"Very well then!" Boss suddenly looked at me, and at that instance, I felt a pit at my stomach, "Tsurumi-kun, come over here."
And this clearly alerted Hachiman, who had been hiding his face earlier.
But neither Boss nor Hachiman's lady friend heard him as they both looked expectantly in my direction – or rather that of the break room.
Even though I tried denying him as hard as I can, Boss still had an expectant smile on his face as he beckoned me. I soon realized that I was fighting a losing battle, and that it would be better to just get this embarrassing trauma over with.
Didn't mean I didn't try to not go though.
But like before, I failed. Spectacularly, I might add.
I tried walking as slowly as I could, or perhaps as fast as I could – I didn't know what I was actually doing. All it felt like was doing a presentation on a subject that I didn't prepare for.
I mean, I did have my hair up in a ponytail so maybe he won't recognize me…
"Go on, Tsurumi-kun," Boss said, once again repeating my name, basically confirming Hachiman's suspicion – not that it hadn't already been confirmed by him seeing me.
"Actually…" I gestured for my manager to come closer before whispering to him, "I didn't say that they said some bad things about me. I just told you to man the station for a while."
Boss' eyes widened as he then gave me a dumbfounded look, "So you weren't being harassed…?"
"No, no I wasn't," I answered firmly, already regretting not clearing up this misunderstanding sooner.
"And what you said wasn't a code word for you being harassed…?"
"No…no it wasn't."
"Huh," Was all Boss said before he straightened up, tidied his uniform, and coughed into his hands to get Hachiman and his girlfriend's attention, which was unnecessary anyway, because that lady was staring at us with a knowing smirk on her face.
She was already expecting an apology from us.
"Well, it appears that we have a misunderstanding on our hands here, dear customers," Boss said politely.
"We clearly do."
"And as such, I do sincerely apologize for causing you any inconvenience whatsoever. Your drinks tonight will be on the house."
"Oh my, why thank you."
Sheesh, at least hide your sarcasm, lady. Or maybe that was her purpose.
"Prepare the lady her margarita please."
I nodded in silence before giving a thumbs up as Boss went on his way back to the break room. I was sure that the embarrassment was going to destroy both of us tomorrow and he was probably in the break room screaming about how Hachiman's girlfriend is going to sue him.
Oh well, I'm just a humble bartender after all. Nothin' much I could do.
"Rumi?" Hachiman said as I began to prepare his girlfriend's drink.
"I know you're Rumi, Rumi," Hachiman said redundantly, "No point in hiding things anymore, y'know."
Unable to take it anymore, I turned around to face Hachiman's expectant look. However, I was unable to say anything – mostly due to his lady looking at me weirdly.
"This is her?" She said, brushing a strand of her out of her view, "I remembered her being much cuter."
"Yuki, now's not the time," Hachiman addressed his lady friend, "Rumi, what are you doing here?"
"Work, of course," I answered before beginning to mix his girlfriend's drink once more.
"I know that, but why are you working so late?" He asked, apparently ticked off, "I know Hiratsuka-sensei said you were working quite a few jobs, but I didn't know you were working this late."
"It's only on Friday plus the weekends, so if you're worried about my academic performance, it'll be fine," I answered robotically, since I already had this discussion with sensei before.
"That's not the poin-,"
"Your academic performance is fine – just like how you had to repeat your second year?"
The lady cut Hachiman off as she gave a scathing remark and an equally scathing glare. I glared back but ultimately yielded because I knew I wouldn't get out of this easily.
"I was sick that year; I can assure you that I am and will be perfectly fine from now on," I said, placing the margarita in front of 'Yuki', "Your drink."
"Why thank you," Pushing it over to Hachiman, she gave me a questioning look, "But honestly, do you honestly think that we'd leave you here?"
"I see no reason why I would leave my shift before it ends."
"Rumi," This time, Hachiman spoke up, "We're just worried about you, alright?"
"And I appreciate your concerns, but you have nothing to worry about," I assured him, "Even if you've already paid for my tuition, this is just some extra cash on the side."
'Yuki' looked at me then at Hachiman before sighing, "Honestly, you're too soft on her, Hachi."
Taking a deep breath, the Yuki lady stood up before looking at me firmly.
I raised my eyebrow in contemplation before she finally spoke up, "Tsurumi Rumi, you are going to leave this place and come home this instance."
"W-Why are you saying it like that?"
"Young lady," Yuki said in a weirdly firm tone, like she was acting, "I will not tolerate any further insolence, you hear?"
"Young lad-? Look, I've been working here for a while now and I'm legally capable of being here. You don't have any rights to stop me from working."
"Is that so? Even though we've been looking out for you, you decided to do this behind our backs? Do you know how much we've worried about you?"
"W-Why are you so angry? It's not like you've been-,"
"I want to speak to your manager."
I narrowed my eyebrows before figuring out why she was acting so erratic. It was so simple yet it went over my head.
But not on my watch.
"Tsurumi Rumi, I said that I want to speak to your manager," Yuki said firmly.
But I didn't budge. Because judging from Hachiman's reactions, he realized what his girlfriend was trying to do too. Not to mention, he didn't utter a single word thus far, proving my point completely.
"And I said no," I refused, "I know what you're trying to do, and it's not going to work."
"Is that so?"
"It is so."
"Then I'll just directly go to the manager then," She said before walking towards our humble break room, "You have no problem with that, correct?"
"On the contrary," She said as she reached for the door, "I would."
However, before she could do so, the door burst open, revealing the manager, whose face did nothing to conceal his panicked state.
"O-Oh! Miss…" Boss stuttered before composing himself, "I trusted that my assistant's margarita was to your satisfaction?"
"Of course, it was," Yuki replied before looking over to me, "However, we seem to have another problem."
"I see Rumi failed to inform you," Yuki faked a sigh as she massaged her temple in faux exasperation, "Honestly, this young girl can be quite a handful some time."
I gritted my teeth, frustrated at the fact that the manager seemed oblivious to this conniving vixen's plot. Even Hachiman did nothing but try to avert his gaze to save himself from second-handed embarrassment.
"I don't get what you mean," Boss said, confused, "Did she say something offensive to you?"
"Oh no, no. It's just that…it's a little family problem, you know."
Oh god, she's actually going to that route.
"Rumi didn't inform you that that man there and I are her guardians?" Yuki said, faking astonishment at this 'reveal', "She has been out late every weekends, and we are both extremely worried since she never told us anything. It's just luck that we were able to find her here."
"Hold on!" I shouted before leaving the counter, "You're not my guardians and I have every right to be here!"
Placing a hand on my shoulder to calm me down, Boss supported my statement, "Even if you are her guardians, she is an adult and as such, has every right to work. I am very grateful that you are worried for her but please, she can take care of herself."
Sighing, the posh lady looked back at Hachiman, who had an extremely pained look on his face. If only he could be manlier and tell his lady friend off.
"You're employing a high school student."
Oh that bitc-
"Tsurumi Rumi is a high school student," Yuki slowly said, "As in she has her studies to worry about; something that she has been sabotaging just to work at your little bar."
"That's not…Rumi, is that true?"
"I mean…" I tried to look everywhere but at his eyes, "…yes."
"Why didn't you tell me earlier? From your appearance, I thought you were in college already."
"But that doesn't mean I can't work! I already planned it out and balanced my work to study life. It's perfectly fine!"
"Mister Manager, if you have to know, Rumi here had to repeat a year exactly because she worked too much, causing her to fail her classes."
"That's not-!" I failed to find a retort, "That's not the point…"
"Rumi, as much as we enjoy having you around, I can't live with the guilt knowing that I am sabotaging your studies."
"But you're not!" I denied vehemently.
"It's hard to say it, I know," Boss placed both hands on my shoulders, "And I know that I will miss having you around, but I think that it's for the best if you follow your mother's advice."
"She's not my-!" I spat out in disgust but that damned woman interrupted me.
"As such, I would like to request an early leave for Tsurumi Rumi. Also, we would like to have a little talk - that is if you don't mind, Mister Manager."
"Of course not," replied Boss, "Rumi, don't make such a grumpy face. After you've graduated from high school, you can come work here again. This bar is always open to you after all."
I tried to find something, anything to respond to him…but I couldn't. Boss won't change his mind that easily – especially matters concerning education or societal welfare; he was just that old fashioned.
"…will the others be fine without me?"
"Of course, they will! When you come back, I'll make sure this place is better than ever!"
I gave a small smile, perhaps already sentimental at leaving this Friday night haven of mine, "Thank you."
"Now, now. Don't be too sentimental," He waved me off with a smile, "You can go get changed for now while I have a small talk with this fine lady and her partner."
That was all I said as I walked dejectedly back into the break room, already feeling the gloom and pressure settling down on my back. I could feel Hachiman's eyes trailing after me.
I still couldn't accept the fact that my life has been turned upside down in just a single day. First with the hassle with Hiratsuka-sensei and that stupid adoption idea from Hachiman, and now Hachiman's girlfriend just decided to ruin my goddamn life.
Did someone set up a prank show for me?
As we left, I gave the Boss one last hug before bidding him farewell. Oh well, at least I now have a guaranteed part time job when I graduate high school.
Y'know what'd be better than having a guaranteed part time job during college?
Having a part time job during high school.
Something that this conniving, manipulative, sly witch next to me just took away.
Even as we walked back towards her limousine (Yes, she got a limo to take us back to my house for some reason), she did not utter a single word – and neither did I.
I wasn't going to waste my breath over her.
And as for Hachiman, he just silently lagged behind us, trying to find some way to mediate peace between us two; though I wish I wasn't mad enough to tell him that it was useless to do so anyways.
In any case, my anger clouded my amazement at the fact that a limo had just arrived to pick me up. Well, technically, to pick Hachiman and his lady up, but my point still stands.
Yes, I mentioned it before.
And yes, I was still too mad to be awed at this new development. I wasn't a kid who would just forget her tantr- I mean, injustice just because she got a fancy limo to pick her up.
…it looked nice though.
And so did its interior.
However, there was one major flaw.
A certain ice cold vixen was sitting right across me, which was a strategic decision on my part since I decided to position myself as far away from her as possible.
Again, no words were said, even as our driver began moving the car forward.
How bold; to trust a chauffeur to know the location of the house of a complete stranger. Perhaps more information that she got from Hiratsuka-sensei and told her driver beforehand. What a disgusting invasion of privacy.
"Uh, you two…" Hachiman quietly muttered, his eyes narrowed as we both still did not budge, "I think we got off on the wrong foot."
"What did you do that for?" I asked the lady in front of me, completely ignoring Hachiman.
"So you aren't mute after all," She remarked, snickering at her own joke, "For a second there, I thought I was going to have to learn sign language just to communicate with you."
"Answer the question."
Sighing, she gave me a tired look, "If you need me to spell out why exactly a teenager shouldn't be working the graveyard shift, then I'm not sure if you're mentally capable of even working there in the first place."
"I am an adult," I spat out.
"And I am your guardian," She returned with the same intensity.
We both stared down each other as Hachiman tried his goddamn best to not get caught in the crossfire.
"Hah, fat chance," I retorted, "Without the adoptee being intent on getting adopted, then there's legally no adoption. And I haven't signed any stupid documents yet to be under your supervision."
"Besides," I continued, "Why would I get willingly adopted by a complete stranger?"
At that statement, the lady's eyes actually widened in confusion as she glanced towards Hachiman, who had an equally confused expression.
"Are you serious?"
"What, are you going to say you're my long lost aunt?" I snickered, "Don't kid yourself."
Sighing, she rubbed her forehead in exasperation, "Hachiman, why did you pick such a troublesome child?"
"Perhaps you don't recognize me because I had longer hair before?" She asked, inspecting the length of her still long hair, "But would you remember something if I said 'Summer Camp'?"
"There's a crap ton of summer camps I've attended; what you just said isn't noteworthy."
"Honestly…" She sighed again, "Well, it's fine. I'll just introduce myself again."
"From this day on, I will be your guardian," She said with a smirk, gesturing to herself, "And I am Yukinoshita Yukino. Pleased to meet you again, Tsurumi-san."
The gears in my brain started turning round and round before it clicked.
"…are you that girl from-,"
"Yes, yes I was," She cut me off, a smirk on her face, "I find it surprising yet not so at the same time that you remembered Hachiman but not me."
"Yeah, well he didn't try to sabotage my life," I said immediately before backtracking, "And what's that crap about being my guardian? I told you that I have no intention of being adopted by you. Ever."
"Oh my, are we still-,"
"Yukino, let me talk to her," Hachiman said in a rather serious tone, immediately shutting up his girlfriend, "Rumi, we're only doing this because we care about you."
"Why exactly do you even care about me?" I replied, "Besides, you don't even know what I want or need."
"That might be true," He said, his eyes soft and sympathetic, "But what you might want isn't necessarily what you even need. And besides, we just want to guide you on the right path, okay?"
"You still haven't answered why you're doing this in the first place."
Hachiman immediately lost his composure as he immediately looked elsewhere. Honestly, at least try to hide it.
"Do we need a reason to help someone?" Yukino chimed in ever so helpfully, "Wouldn't you do the same in our position?"
"Yeah, but I wouldn't interfere with someone's life; especially not regarding their job of all things," Before she could get a word in, I continued, "And also, stop talking as if I already agreed to live with you."
"Yes, really," I replied with a huff and crossed my arms in defiance.
Since I didn't want to look at either of their faces, I decided to look at the streets instead, hoping to be near my apartment.
But there was one small, tiny, little problem.
The area I was in was absolutely unfamiliar to me. I couldn't recognize anything like I could with the way to my apartment block.
"Where the hell are you taking me?" I raised my voice while frantically trying to find any landmarks nearby.
"Oh my, you didn't know that we were going to our home?" Yukino asked condescendingly.
Not my home.
Not our home, as she said.
But their home.
"You're kidnapping me," I said flatly, "You're literally kidnapping me. Take me back home this instance!"
"So troublesome," Yukino said while rubbing her forehead again.
"I'm the one who's being troubled here!"
"Honestly…" Yukino sighed, "Tsurumi Rumi-san, I'd like to make you an offer."
"I refuse. Take me back home now!"
"Like I was saying; we're doing this because we want to give you a better chance in life and a safe space for you to grow in. But it seems that you don't want the same thing."
"Pssh, understatement of the century right there."
"And therefore, I would like to propose a solution," She said as-a-matter-of-factly before holding up one finger, "One week. That's how long you have to live with us. And by the end of it, if you're still not satisfied with your new life, then you're free to go back to your old one."
I looked at her cautiously, "What's the catch?"
"There is no catch," She replied instantly, "All you have to do is live with us for one week, and if you don't feel good about doing so any further, then we won't stop you from returning to your old life. How's that?"
"Hmph," I crossed my arms, "You're really desperate, huh?"
"Desperate to give you a better life, yes," Yukino replied, "Well, one thing's for sure; I look forward to living with you, Tsurumi."
My eye twitched at her blatant sarcasm, "Likewise, Yukinoshita Yukino-san. The feeling's mutual."
The remainder of the trip was spent in relative silence as both Yukino and I were content with observing the passing streetlights instead of each other. I wasn't going to let her live rent free in my head.
Though at one point, I did see Hachiman gently squeezing Yukino's hand, so there was that. How quaint.
And as I finally got to see their home, one phrase could only come to mind.
Damn rich people and their disposable income.
Yukino led the way, as Hachiman and I followed suite. At one point, however, she clearly let Hachiman take over the lead as she went into – what I presumed to be – hers and Hachiman's room.
Giving a confused look at first, Hachiman eventually sighed and signaled me to follow him towards 'my' room.
And I used that term very loosely.
The room that I was given was quite possible the largest bedroom that I've ever seen. Well, compared to my old one anyways. I set down my bag on the rather soft looking bed and came to the realization that I didn't bring any of my pajamas along.
Then again, most of the time, I would sleep in my work clothes anyway so this wasn't troublesome.
"If you want, I can get some old pajamas that Yukino still keep around," Hachiman said as he noticed my dilemma, "Umm, I mean, if you don't mind that is."
"It's alright. I don't want to impose on you any further. Besides, I got a tracksuit in here. I can just go get my stuff from my apartment tomorrow."
"Right…" Hachiman replied uncomfortably as he stood at the doorway, "Can we talk? If you're not too sleepy."
"Sure?" I replied, plopping myself down onto the comfy mattress.
Hachiman took a seat in one of the lounge chair nearby (Damn rich people and their disposable income).
"Hectic day, huh?"
"Oh you have no idea."
"Sorry for springing up this adoption stuff…and also for the whole taking you to our house without your permission stuff," He said, amusement in his voice, "I would say that it was my idea but…"
"It was Yukino's idea then?"
"Yep. Didn't even tell me about it beforehand," He mused, "Then again, kind of effective."
"Effective in making me hate her," I replied with equal amusement, "Speaking of Yukino, why her though?"
"Why her what?" Hachiman said, confused.
"Why marry her?" I sat up, pointing at the shining ring adorning Hachiman's finger, "I saw you hanging out with a lot of female friends, y'know."
Hachiman looked at his ring for a good while before giving a small smile, "Love is blind? Besides, we're not married yet."
"You don't even know why you like her?" I said before catching onto something, "Wait, you're not married yet?"
"And speaking of why, do I even need a reason to? She just…completes me, y'know?" Hachiman replied, "Makes me feel things I never felt before."
"Let's not get too deep into that," Hachiman said with a chuckle, "And earlier, I still haven't answered why I'm doing this, right?"
I nodded at his question. Yukino cut him off before he could do so in the car.
"Well, I guess it's just that I've been observing you for a while, and ever since…that incident, I just felt like you weren't living like you were meant to be."
"Rumi," He gave me a worried look, "No high school student should be working multiple part time jobs."
"It just feels like the world's being unfair to you and I thought…" Hachiman stopped himself for a bit, "Sorry if we're too overbearing."
"It's fine. Now that you actually explained it instead of Yukino, I could actually not feel like I'm being mocked all the time."
"Yukino can be a bit brash sometimes, but she means well…" Hachiman gave a small chuckle, "And speaking of which, about that one week deal; you're sure you're okay with it?"
"Yeah? One week is gonna pass by in a short while anyways so whatever."
"You sure? Because what Yukino said is still true," Hachiman said, "If you're not comfortable living here, then you can go back home. It doesn't even have to be one week; if at any point at all that you don't like living with the two of us, we won't stop you from leaving."
I took in Hachiman's words at face value, seeing as he had no gains in lying to me. The promise I made with that Ice Queen was one week, yet Hachiman literally just give me a way out. I could just say I'm uncomfortable tomorrow and that would be the end of this little charade.
"Hachiman," I said, still lying on my bed, "As much as I want to abuse the loopholes in what you just said, I already made a deal."
Mimicking Yukino's action earlier, I held up one finger as I sat up, "I promised to live here for one week, as excruciating as that may be."
At this point, Hachiman's small smile return again, "You mean it?"
"Yes, one week. No more, no less," I said, using his fiancé's own words against him, "Besides, sleeping in this bed beats having to sleep on my old one."
"So you're already admitting that this will be your new bed then?" Hachiman smirked.
"Oh please don't get started on that," I glared at him, "We already have one Yukino in the house."
"Duly noted," Hachiman said as he got up, "Well, it's getting really late, and you should turn in. Got any plans tomorrow?"
"Aside from the job that just got canceled, no, no plans at all." I lied through my teeth, knowing full well about the bookstore shift tomorrow.
"Aah…sorry about that one."
"It's fine," I reassured him, "I can just work there when I'm in college anyways."
"I see," Hachiman said, "Well, I should be going now."
"Umm, good night then…Rumi."
I smiled at his awkwardness. Never in a million years would I think that Hachiman would be the awkward one in our interaction. Oh well, you learn something new every day.
"You too," I smiled, "Good night, Hachiman. And to Yukino as well, I suppose…"
"I'll be sure to tell her," He chuckled, "Have a nice sleep."
And with that Hachiman closed the door to my new bedroom, and I had no choice but to turn off the lights. Strange, I've never slept this early before, even on weekends. What a strange new feeling.
After changing, I opted to lie down on my bed, still awake for reason. Instead of wasting my energy doing something else, my mind was occupied about the one week I was going to be spending in this unfamiliar house with two familiar yet unfamiliar faces.
One part of me wished that the next week would flash by in an instant while another part…
Whatever. Must be my teenager mood swings.
Millions of light years away, shining in all of its incandescent glory.
All just to fuck up my sleep.
Short story short, my immensely deep sleep got interrupted because of one sun ray deciding to shine into my room and right into my bleary eyes.
And like any normal person would do, I immediately woke up, eyes still half-lidded while trying to assess my surrounding.
All around me were fancy furniture, fancy furniture, and – oh what a surprise – more fancy furniture.
It took me five solid seconds to realize what happened yesterday and the implications of the promise I made with a certain Ice Witch inhabiting this very house that I also now live in.
For a week anyways.
Normally, my alarm would've rang way before I woke up on my own, but for some reason, that didn't happen today. Perhaps, I forgot to set my alarm; which was fine with me since it was a Saturday anyways.
I decided to wash up but since I didn't know where the bathroom was, I was in a bit of a pickle. Combined that with my not-so-clear mind, I wasn't able to think thoroughly enough and just headed downstairs, hoping that someone might be able to point me to the bathroom.
However, the random room I entered had a table in the center, with an array of food arranged on to it. Which was peculiar enough on its own, but what was more peculiar was the enigmatic, black-haired beauty sitting near said table while reading a newspaper.
My half-opened eyes couldn't register who it was but the moment she spoke up, I immediately recognized that condescending tone.
"Oh my, Tsurumi-san. How nice of you to join…well, I would've said us, but unfortunately, it's just me now."
I squinted and glared at her as hard as I could.
And most of all, my legal guardian. For one week.
"I would like to say 'Good morning' to you too," said Yukino, returning her attention towards her newspaper, "But it's more of 'Good mid-morning' now."
"Brunch's on the table if you have the appetite. I didn't know what you'd like so I whipped up a bunch of stuff."
I awkwardly walked towards the center table and seated myself, taking in all the wonderful sight and aroma that the various meals had to offer.
Fried fish, porridge, sausages, fried eggs, miso soup, toasts, and so on and so forth.
I would tell her that a cup ramen would suffice but beggars can't be choosers.
"…s'tanks for the meal…" I said drearily as I dug into the various meals, my brain still operating at half capacity.
I realized that I was in someone else's house.
I realized that I was eating food made by someone else.
I realized that I was taking this in far too easily.
Yet why didn't I feel any weirdness at all?
"You made all this?" I said with clarity for the first time today – thanks to the miso soup, "Seems a lot just for me."
"Well, considering that there's only two other people here besides you, I thought that much was obvious," Yukino retorted, still flipping the page of her newspaper.
"Oh…" Realizing that Yukino was one of the two people here, I asked, "Wait, where's Hachiman? Did he have breakfast yet?"
"Of course, he did," She replied, "Originally, he wanted to wait for you so that we can have breakfast together as a…never mind. The point is that he has to meet some of his co-workers, so he left first."
"I see. What time is it anyway?"
"About 11 o'clock, why?"
I almost choked on my toast but stopped myself short of doing so, "Excuse me?"
Yukino, confused, looked at me as she repeated herself, "11 o'clock…as in 10 o'clock but one hour later."
"I know that!" I replied, panicked, "Why didn't anyone wake me up? I never sleep in that much."
"I would've done so, but Hachiman persuaded me otherwise," She explained, "Saying that you should get all the rest you needed for once."
So it was already noon and here I was, still shoving toasts and sausages into my mouth like a savage. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I had a breakfast this extravagant. Downsides of living alone, I suppose.
Yukino didn't mind my lack of table manners either, opting to just read her newspaper in that silent, elegant fashion of hers.
"You don't have work today?" I asked after biting off a piece of toast.
"It's a Saturday; and besides, it'd be very dangerous to leave you alone."
"What do you mean?" I glared at her, "It's not like I'll destroy your house while you're gone or anything."
Putting her newspaper down in astonishment, Yukino stared at me for a while before responding, "That wasn't what I was afraid of…"
"I was fearing that you'd run away given the opportunity to do so," She explained, "Besides, you didn't bring any of your belongings from your apartment."
"…oh yeah, about that; can I go back there and get some clothes?" I asked her, pointing to my tracksuit/pajamas, "I'm not going to spend another day in my uniform or this."
"That has been taken care of."
As Yukino said that, she gestured towards an unassuming gym bag near the entrance of the dining area – which I had completely missed for some reason.
Like I said before, my brain was operating at half capacity.
Which was also the reason why it took me a few solid seconds before I understood what she was referring to.
"No, you didn't…"
"Yes, we did," Yukino smirked, "We also took the liberty of bringing some electronics that seemed important to you."
"You broke into my house," I said flatly, staring at Yukino, hoping for an explanation.
"Correction, we merely went into your house in order to get some articles of clothing and other items that you might need," Yukino had a satisfied smirk as she said this, clearly enjoying the torture that she was inflicting upon me.
"Hiratsuka-sensei gave you the key?"
"She did," Yukino replied quickly, "Besides, would you rather waste half the day moving your belongings here? Or would you have someone do it for you?"
"You're saying like I would take half a day to get the stuff I need," I said, "I'm only staying here for a week, y'know."
"Oh, we'll see."
"I guess we will."
We both huffed and turned away from each other. I could already see the burning fire of competitiveness lit underneath her eyes – which was a strange since this wasn't a competitive matter at all. I guess Yukino would be the kind of person to revel in the pleasure in telling someone 'I told you so' over and over again.
Why did Hachiman mar- I mean get engaged to this woman again?
Then again, this wasn't the first time she did something integral to my life without asking my permission first, so I guess I had to get used to it – strange as it may be.
Speaking of strange, the moment I took sip of the miso soup again, Yukino asked me a very strange question.
"Tsurumi-san, what do you usually eat for breakfast?"
By this point, she'd already turned back to her newspaper, but I could still sense some apprehensiveness in her tone.
"Uuhh, cup ramen."
Perking up at my response, she stared at me incredulously, "And?"
Her glares deepened.
"…corner store bento box?"
Sighing, she rubbed her forehead, "Honestly, this is why I don't trust you to be here alone."
"Tsurumi-san, that is not a healthy way for a young lady to grow."
"And I'm 25, yet I still eat healthier than you do."
"That's not the poi – what's your point anyway?" I asked, already confused by her sudden twists and turns in our conversation.
"The point is that I would like to teach you how to cook," She simply said, folding up the newspaper and crossing her arms haughtily.
"…and why exactly?"
"Because I'm not going to allow a kid under my supervision to continue eating junk food."
"You sound like a mom…" I replied with uncertainty, "And again, I'm 19. Not a kid, an adult."
"Legally perhaps, but you're still a kid to me."
"Whatever you say, lady."
I wanted to turn my attention back to my half eaten fish, but Yukino asked me again.
"So…do you want to cook?"
She sounded almost pleading at this point, as if me deciding if I'll be cooking or not will decide the fate of the universe.
"I mean, yeah, why not?" I finished my meal as I replied, "I got nothing better to do anyways."
Gotta kill some time till the bookstore shift at least.
"Perfect!" She shouted uncharacteristically before backtracking on her own statement, "I-I mean, good. It's good that you want to learn how to eat more healthily."
Sheesh, you'd think that she was a master chef looking to pass on her skills from her enthusiasm alone.
"Sooooo, what are we gonna cook then?" I turned to her and asked.
"Hmm, good question," Yukino said with an inquisitive look on her face, "I don't know if Hachiman will be back for lunch, but since it's the weekends, there's a high chance of that happening."
"So we'll be making lunch for the three of us then."
"Okay? But like, what kind of lunch though?"
Again, with another inquisitive look on her face, she mused, "Good question. Tsurumi-san, what do you usually eat for lunch?"
"And please don't say cup ramen," She cut me off almost immediately, giving me a self-satisfied smirk.
"I wasn't going to!" I said, though that was the first meal that came to mind when I thought of lunch, "I was gonna say yakisoba bread."
"That is acceptable for a school day lunch, but what do you eat when you're on your own? Like on this wonderful Saturday for example."
I never really thought much about that, because most of my memory of wonderful lunchtimes were at school. Now that I think more about it, I can't really pinpoint a time where I had lunch at home.
Did I really just eat cup ramen for lunch on the weekends?
No, it couldn't be. At least, I would've had some memories of it. Cup ramen were my favorite things to eat after all. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was sleepy because I usually woke up near lunchtime or something…
Scratching my cheek awkwardly, I tried to find any possible way to phrase my response – because I knew that she would have a kneejerk reaction to my answer if I didn't do so.
Just like before, her ice cold glare appeared.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean…I guess I kinda…" I looked at her glaring face, gauging a response, "…maybe, sorta slept through lunch on the weekends?"
Her eyes widened slightly as she pursed her lips into a straight line, giving me the most baffled look I've seen from her.
"This is why we can't have nice things."
"What nice things?"
"Nothing – it seems like something Hachiman would say to lighten up the mood," Yukino dismissed me before walking to a cupboard and rummaging through it, "Well, I guess today, you're actually having an honest-to-goodness lunch."
"…yay." I cheered enthusiastically, drawing the attention of Yukino as she threw a rather cute apron at me.
"We're making hamburg steak today," Yukino said, as she continued to rummage for – what I assumed to be – ingredients for the aforementioned steak.
But I didn't pay much attention to her as I laid eyes upon the apron she just gave me.
It was one of Pan-san.
…did they buy this in advance for me or something? I'd prefer something else less…dead-fish-eyed though, like Neko-yan or Same-tan.
Weird preference of apron design aside, I actually noticed Yukino pulling out another apron identical in design to mine, except hers was blue instead of yellow. Do they seriously need to buy two aprons for me? How do they even know if I cook or not? They wasted a lot of money, dammit.
"Y-Yeah?" I broke out of my daze to see Yukino already placing various ingredients near the stove top.
"I assume you don't know how to cook?" She asked innocently, but for some reason, I took it upon myself to think of her question as a challenge instead.
"Pffff, I mean…maybe…I don't know," I answered, "I mean I do know how to cook…in regards to instant ramen and stuff."
"It won't hurt you to be honest once in a while," Yukino remarked as she beckoned me over, "That was also what Hachiman said the first time I taught him how to cook."
"He doesn't know how to?" I asked, surprised at the revelation.
"He does…" Yukino then smirked, "In regards to cup ramen and stuff."
My eye twitched at her not so subtle jab. Well, whatever. I get free cooking lessons, and a free lunch afterward, so what the hell, right?
"You know what a hamburg steak is, I presume?"
"Good, then I don't need to explain what'll go into it," Yukino said, handing me an onion, "I trust that you can finely dice this?"
"Sure, I guess," I reluctantly accepted, taking a nearby knife and a cutting board, "You're not gonna be doing anything?"
"Well, I was, but since I'm supposed to be teaching you, I'll just observe you for now." She said ever so simply, a small smile on her face.
At least once of us was enjoying this.
The rest of the preparation went smoothly and silently, save for the occasional comments and tips from Yukino in regards to my cooking skills though.
Like 'Tsurumi, you shouldn't be afraid to get your hands dirty~"
Or 'Tsurumi, you shouldn't actually use the entire onion~'
Or even 'Tsurumi, the knife isn't supposed to be held that way unless you want to look like a serial killer~'
Come on, lady, even I know that much.
But one comment did catch my attention however.
"One of Hachiman's favorite dishes is actually hamburg steak," Yukino said nonchalantly as she watched over me as I mixed the ground beef with all the other ingredients, "And since today's technically the first day that you're with us, I just thought why not?"
"Oh…" I momentarily stopped mixing to ponder her comments. Why did she sound so soft compared to yesterday? "Uhh, in that case, shouldn't you actually make this? I mean, it's his favorite thing to eat so I don't wanna mess up."
"It's fine," Yukino dismissed me as she dug through the fridge again, "If he knows it's from you, he'll enjoy it regardless."
"You're making it sound like mine will taste bad…"
"Even if it does, I'll make sure it won't," Yukino said smugly.
I grimaced slightly before turning my attention back to the ground beef mix in front of me.
Unbeknownst to Yukino, I'd actually taken a few home economics classes before at Sobu, and though I hadn't retained much information from those sessions, I distinctly remembered the hamburg steak class – mostly from how messy it was to mix beef with the other ingredients.
Still, while the dish itself might be considered a main course, judging from the batch that I was mixing right now, it was only enough for one person, namely Hachiman as it was his favorite dish.
And even though the Hachiman I remembered was someone quite sarcastic and anti-social, I still think he would still feel awkward watching Yukino and I do nothing while he feasts like a king.
With that in mind…
"By the way," I said, catching Yukino's attention, "I know the steak is Hachiman's favorite and all, but don't you think that it's a little…too little?"
"What exactly do you mean?" Yukino replied, confusion etched on her face.
"Like…you don't just eat hamburg steak by itself for lunch, y'know," Pointing towards myself and her, I continued, "And not to mention, we're also gonna be eating, right? So I don't think this portion is enough for the three of us."
Yukino's mouth formed into a small circle as she realized what I meant before a small smile eventually graced her face.
"My, how thoughtful you are," She said sarcastically, "Don't you worry about it. While you were focusing on mixing up the beef, I had already prepared the mise en place for the other dishes."
"Mise en place; a French term for the preparation of ingredients before you actually cook them," Yukino explained proudly, puffing her non-existent chest.
Yeah, I went there. Sue me.
I huffed and turned back to my own bowl as I began forming the beef into a patty shape, "Fancy people with that fancy French…"
Chuckling slightly, Yukino simply pulled up a nearby chair and began spectating me again. Glad to see that Hachiman's girlfriend/fiancé/wife was so hardworking.
Well, it wasn't like she was entirely useless. Far from it, in fact.
As much as I hate to admit it, I am lacking in the culinary arts, something that Yukino has plenty of expertise in. By the time I was able to get my patty ready, she'd taken it upon herself to start making the other meals; namely shrimp tempura, karaage, and miso soup.
And as expected, Yukino had actually kept her promise of actually teaching me how to cook – even if most of the time, she spent it berating and teasing me.
I didn't know the stupid wet hand – dry hand technique for the tempura, okay, Master Chef?
"You're actually improving faster than I thought," Yukino said as I laid one of the karaage pieces into the fryer, "Well, compared to Hachiman anyways."
Not taking my eyes of the fryer, I answered her, "Was Hachiman that bad?"
"To be honest," Yukino took a few seconds to contemplate, "He was…clumsy to say the least; just like you and how you made a mess with the batter and all."
"You could've told me beforehand!" I exclaimed.
"But that wouldn't be a lesson, would it?" She retorted, "Besides, I had to go through the same – oh wait, no I didn't."
I gave her a side glare, "Well, aren't you miss perfect."
"Lots of hard work to be miss perfect. And sometimes, you don't even get that."
I paused momentarily at her impromptu lesson of hard work and fairness. Looks like the infallible Yukinoshita Yukino isn't infallible at all. Despite her saying that though, I still wonder how she and someone who is basically the opposite of her – Hachiman – even got together in the first place.
Seeing as I only had the karaage left to worry about, I decided to ask a simple, innocent question.
"Sooooo…" I took a small glance at Yukino and noticed that she was minding the miso soup, "How did…y'know…like, how did you and-,"
"How did Hachiman and I met? Simple, we got put in the same club in high school," She answered quickly, not even giving me a sidelong glance.
"Well, I knew that," I didn't but that wasn't the point, "What I wanted to know was how did you and him get together? Like, no offense, but you're almost like oil and water."
Finally, she focused her attention onto me, a small amount of surprise shown on her face, "Do we really seem that incompatible?"
Surprised myself, I replied, "W-Well, it's not like you don't fit together. It's just that you're more of the Ojou-sama type and Hachiman looks more like the…"
"Dead-fish-eyed loner type who sits at the back of the class?"
"That is suspiciously specific, but yeah," I responded, scratching my head, "So…how?"
Yukino grasped her chin with her fingers before asking me in return, "What brought on this question?"
"Curiosity kills the cat."
"But satisfaction brought it back," I retorted with a knowing smirk.
"Touché," Yukino then shrugged, "Well, if you must know, he confessed to me."
"Yes, for real," She confirmed quite adamantly, "No matter what Hachiman says, just know that he was the one who asked me out. If he's saying otherwise, he's lying."
"And you've been together ever since?"
"Now that you've put it like that, it is a long time to be together, no?" She leaned against the kitchen countertop, reminiscing about her past, "I've even been abroad to do my Masters but it still felt like yesterday was our high school graduation."
I gave her a deadpan look, "I knew you were old but I didn't realize that this old."
"Oh quit it, you whippersnapper," She played along, giving a small chuckle as she did so, "But seeing as it's almost lunch, I suggest we wrap things up. Hachiman is going to come back soon."
"Oh right," I replied as I went back to frying the karaage pieces while Yukino did the same with the shrimp tempura, "You think he's gonna enjoy eating mine?"
"Your meals? Certainly."
"You seem so sure."
"Two reasons; first, it's my recipe. Second, Hachiman is more sentimental than you think. You'd be surprised at how much he'd appreciate your cooking."
"Well, if you say so…"
But even Yukino's reassurance did nothing to ease my nervousness. I knew that logically, I did everything according to her instructions yet a small part of me was still paranoid.
And yes, despite the fact that Hachiman was the one who willingly brought me into his home, I was still afraid that I would disappoint him. Even if he never told me those conditions in the first place, my mind still couldn't understand why someone would do such a thing on their own accord. What was in it for Hachiman in the first place?
True to her words, thirty minutes later, I heard the front door being opened. Yukino immediately went to Hachiman while I opted to just take a peek; it wasn't like I was gonna get all chummy with Hachiman all of the sudden. This dynamic of ours was still too weird for me to take in in just one day.
"Welcome home," Yukino greeted Hachiman sweetly; with a blush on her face, might I add.
"Thanks, Yuki," Hachiman replied with an equally sweet smile. Honestly, what happened to the two sardonically sarcastic teenagers I met when I was younger.
Noticing me peeking out from the dining room, Hachiman also greeted me as well, "Sup, Rumi."
"S-Sup, Hachiman…" Which I wasn't particularly comfortable with because I didn't know how I should address him.
Should I keep up my normal ways or should I change it up to fit our current dynamics? I mean, this way of life for me was gonna be gone in just six more days so I see no need to actually change all that much, but should I actually do it anyways as courtesy?
"So did you get to eat anything yet, Rumi?" Hachiman asked, taking off his shoes and coat.
"I had brunch, I suppose," I replied awkwardly before remembering that I indulged too much in my sweet sleep, "And uh…sorry for not having breakfast with you. I kinda…slept too much."
At this, Hachiman's eyes visibly widened in surprise before it softened into amusement as he looked at Yukino and then at me, "It's fine. A growing girl like you should get all the sleep you need anyways. Besides, you're making up for all the sleep you lost too."
Yukino suddenly walked past me, with Hachiman's coat in hand, and tapped me on my shoulder. When I turned to look at her, she was already in the dining room so there was only one thing she must've wanted me to do.
"It's lunch time…"
"Oh, right," He stood up, and surprisingly, he was taller than I expected; but I digress.
"And uh…well, Yukino and I whipped up something."
"Really now?" He asked, amused as he walked besides me into the dining room. Yukino must've went inside first to arrange all the plates and silverwares.
"I mean, don't expect much since I don't cook too often," I gave him a fair warning though he immediately dismissed that by patting my head like I was a child.
"Relax; if it's from you and Yukino, I'm sure it'll taste great," Hachiman basically repeated what Yukino said.
Oh well, I heard food poisoning isn't that serious nowadays anyways.
And as we both headed into the dining room, I was once again reminded why Yukino was the exemplary example of a modern Yamato Nadeshiko.
The meals that I helped her cook was arranged intricately on the dinner table in such a way that even I had a hard time not drooling over it. Not only that, but she also put out some extremely mouthwatering side dishes that I didn't even help make in the first place, meaning that she'd probably did it while I wasn't watching or she'd prepped this beforehand.
"Well, the food is getting cold, so dig in already," Yukino said with a satisfied smile, as Hachiman and I took our seats.
Before I even got comfortable in mine, Yukino pointed something out, "Hachi, you know how Tsurumi helped me make these?"
"Well, she made this hamburg steak all by herself," Yukino said, obviously trying to hype me up as this dependable, genius girl.
"Really?" Hachiman said excitedly.
I, of course being extraordinarily humble, tried to refute this, "Oh come on, I had help from her."
"True, but just a little bit, right?" Yukino smirked.
With that, Hachiman and Yukino both said 'Let's dig in', and dig in we did. It was a bit off-putting considering that I never had to actually say any of those things, but then again, I was alone so I really didn't see any valid reason to.
The meals were, as expected, delicious beyond doubt, seeing as it was made by a Yukinoshita heiress.
However, the conversation at the table was anything but warm and delicious.
As I was basically an outsider, Hachiman and Yukino kept on conversing between themselves, mostly about deadlines, Kamakura (?), and their clients. It was boring to me, and to be honest, if I was telling them my stories, I was sure that it would bore them too.
I mean, they're in their mid-twenties so stories from a high school senior wouldn't really intrigue them that much would it? As such, I elected to shut my mouth and enjoy the homemade food before me before I go back to instant noodle in about a week's time.
Pessimistic of me to say? Yes, certainly; but not unrealistic.
I had already made up my mind to entertain Hachiman's wishes, but I didn't really want to ruin their happiness by imposing more than I already had. I was an outsider, a stranger; and these two deserve a child that they actually has blood relations to – not a high school senior who has already been held back a year.
So I kept on eating and eating, trying to brush off any attempts by Hachiman to include me into their conversations.
As much as I would love to have them as my family, I knew that it wasn't right for me to do so. Even if Hachiman would say otherwise.
Despite being a logical beast, he really is quite sentimental.
Our lunch ended rather uneventfully, and despite my insistence, Yukino refused my help to wash the dishes and instead told me to go 'watch TV or read manga like normal teenagers'.
I simply glared at her and knew that there was no way I was going to reason with her. And so I left towards the living room – which had quite a few novels that caught my eyes.
As I began reading on the living room's couch, I noticed another presence besides me and when I turned to it, it was a certain dead-fish eyed loner with an amused glint in his eyes and a newspaper in his hand.
"What are you reading?" He asked casually, turning the pages of his own reading material.
"Ah…" I discretely turned and looked at the cover of the random book I picked out, "No Longer Human."
"An Osamu Dazai classic, huh? Didn't know you had such an ancient taste."
"You're saying like it's a Ryunosuke Akutagawa story or something," I replied, "It's not that old, y'know."
"Alright, alright," Hachiman resumed reading, "Oh, you want to know something interesting?"
Being interrupted from reading my book wasn't preferable, but I had to at least give him basic courtesy.
"Yeah, sure," I replied, my eyes still glued to the pages of No Longer Human.
From the corners of my eyes, I could see an amuse smirk on Hachiman's face.
"Yukino really insisted on teaching you how to cook, y'know."
"Eh, really?" I looked at him, confused, "Why though?"
Hachiman shrugged, "Who knows? Maybe it's just her own way of apologizing for what happened yesterday."
"If she's really sorry, she should've told me so directly."
"Not everyone is as straightforward as you, Rumi," Hachiman retorted.
"Am I what?" Hachiman looked at me with his eyebrow raised in confusion.
"Straightforward." Was my simple reply.
In response, he leaned back against the couch and looked up in contemplation for a good few seconds.
"I guess you could say that."
"Oh, I see."
And that was the end of that. Once again, peace and quiet reigned supreme.
"Y'know, Rumi," Evidently, Hachiman doesn't appreciate peace and quiet while reading, "I'm going to tell you something that you can't tell Yukino that I told you about it, okay?"
Looking up from my book with narrowed eyes, I nodded my head with an approving hum.
Hachiman, in return, looked around the room for signs of Yukino, like a kid who's trying to sneak out past curfew.
Cautiously, he half-whispered to me, "She was really sorry for yesterday."
"You heard me right," Hachiman said with a satisfied smirk, "She's been sulking since last night because she thought that you'd hate her for what she did."
Well, she's almost right.
"And I think that's why she wanted to have those little cooking lessons with you."
"As, like, a bonding activity?" I asked.
"You could say that. Yukino has never really been someone to open up that easily after all."
"Could've fooled me."
Chuckling slightly, Hachiman said, "That's the sort of thing she would say as well. Guess you two really are alike."
"Could you not compare us…?" I grumbled and decided to focus on my book instead.
Honestly, we couldn't be more different. Comparing that Ice Empress to the warm rays of sunshine that is myself is blasphemy; borderline slander even!
"Alright, alright, I won't. Anyways, you got any plans this afternoon?"
Despite the innocent question, I had a feeling Hachiman was trying to play me. He probably betted on me responding on instinct and telling him that I had a part-time job at the bookstore.
But not today!
Since I had complete and total control over what I was thinking, I was easily able to come up with an excuse on the fly for what I was going to do this afternoon/evening.
"Oh, you know…nothing much," Which was true, "I was just thinking of heading to the park then maybe a bookstore or two to get some new reading materials."
All in all; it wasn't a total lie. I was indeed going to the bookstore after all.
"Eeh, really?" Hachiman perked up at that, "Want me to go with you?"
"Oh no no no, it's fine," I vehemently denied, "I mean, you probably got a date with Yukino or something, yeah?"
"To be honest, Yukino and I was thinking of having dinner together with you this evening. Y'know, all three of us and that."
"Like a family dinner?"
A small smile graced Hachiman's face, "If you don't mind, that is."
Sheesh, how could a person change so much in just a couple of years. Wait no, it's been almost a decade since I've met him but even then, that woman didn't change so how the hell did Hachiman undergo such a transformation?
"You've seemed a bit more sociable nowadays, Hachiman," I muttered in suspicion, "What's up with that?"
"Huh, do I?" Hachiman tried to look contemplative but he merely shrugged it off, "If you say so, then it must be true."
"See?!" I exclaimed, already abandoning my book, "You're so casual that it's creepy. Did Yukino do this to you?"
"Uh, maybe? Isn't there a phrase that goes 'Marriage changes a man's life?' it's probably something like that."
"Why would I know? I'm not married."
"I guess Hikigaya Hachiman just works in mysterious ways."
That was the preposterous answer he gave me as he, once again, shrugged ever so nonchalantly. I knew it; Yukino did really changed this man for the worst.
With no more conversational topics being raised, I turned to my book and began reading. Hachiman did the same with his newspaper, and this time, he didn't ask a single question. Guess he was either tired of this forced social interaction or he really did want to indulge in the peace and quiet that comes with reading.
As long as it was quiet, I didn't really care.
The grandfather clocked in the room ticked by ever so slowly as I could only focus on time passing instead of just reading my book; which was painful, because I was merely waiting for Hachiman to get up and go get a cup of coffee or something. Instead, I'm stuck in this awkward position where I could neither move nor say something, lest I bring attention upon myself.
Deciding that things weren't going to move forward at this rate, I stood up and said, "Umm, so I think I'm gonna go for a walk now."
Hachiman nodded slowly as he looked me over, "In that outfit?"
"Yeah? What's wrong-," I was going to say something witty and snappy before realizing that I had not taken a shower since yesterday. My eyes widened and my mouth was agape as the realization hit me like an Isekai truck.
Hachiman, however, seemed clueless to my predicament.
"I think I'm going to take a shower first," I said, my voice low and embarrassed.
"Oh sure," he replied, still clueless, "We didn't know what kind of shampoo you use so we got a whole array of them."
"…Thanks," I quickly said before climbing back upstairs and into my room with my bag of clothes that Yukino left near the kitchen. Luckily, as it turns out, the bathroom is in my room. I was just too confused in the morning to see it.
But why didn't Yukino say anything? Was she that content with letting me stink all morning and noon?
At least Hachiman was none the wiser about this…
After a refreshing hot shower, I dressed myself in my usual, casual outfit – which I don't get to wear often since I just stay home most of the time. I opted to also bring my backpack along in order to store my work outfit. If either of them ask, I'll just stay it's to store books that I'll eventually be buying.
Perfect alibi, if I do say so myself.
As I got back down, sneaked past Hachiman, and arrived at the entrance, I unluckily ran into Yukino who immediately noticed my outfit.
"Going somewhere?" She asked with an amused glint in her eyes.
"Uh yeah," I replied, "Kinda wanted to go for a walk then buy some books."
"I see. Do you want me to drive you there? It's rather hot outside today," She quickly offered with concern being evident in her voice.
"Oh no, it's fine. I'm a tough girl after all," I said to the amusement of Yukino, "Besides, someone needs to be here to keep Hachiman in line, right?"
"I feel like we're closer already," She chuckled, "Anyways, have fun, and take care."
"…yeah, I will."
I bade her farewell before going on my way. It wasn't like the bookstore was far from their house either so it wasn't a long walk. The heat certainly was beating down on me but it wasn't anything that I haven't faced before.
…yet why do I feel so weird having someone express concern for me? Maybe she was faking it in hopes of attracting me to be her adopted child. Even then, a small section of my brain was happy that she said goodbye to me at the doorway.
Did I miss social interactions that much?
Nevertheless, it felt…nice to have someone there for you.
Aaaaargh, why was I feeling so sentimental after one goodbye? It's not like this is my last day with them.
In my stupor, I somehow walked all the way to the bookstore in which I was supposed to work in. However, my watch currently read 2:30 PM, which was way before my shift. It wasn't a graveyard shift by any means but it was certainly a late one. Therefore, if I can somehow convince the manager to let me work early, that would be great, wouldn't it? Since I would be able to get off work early, I could use that time to relax…
But what do I usually do to relax anyways…
That was the question on my mind as I reluctantly stopped in front of the bookstore aptly named Ichibei after its owner. It was a small, quaint shop equipped with a lounge area located near the Chiba Train Station, which brought it decent amounts of traffic, especially on the weekends. Despite selling mostly classical literature, it attracted quite a few high school and college students alike, mostly due to the calming atmosphere and the jovial attitude of Ichibei-san.
Well, it's not like he would mind me coming in early, right? I did so a couple of times before and he was certainly appreciative of it.
With a reluctant sigh and an incredibly bored brain, I opened the door and walked in to Ichibei bookstore, only to find that the owner himself was nowhere to be seen despite the numerous students browsing around. Normally on a Saturday like this, Ichibei-san would never take a day off as he deemed it to be too important to skip.
Well, not that it really mattered because his wife was here as well.
"Ah, Rumi-chan," Ichibei-san's wife, Kyoka-san, called out to me as she maneuvered around her customers to meet me at the counter, "You're here early. Your shift doesn't start till 5, y'know."
"I was thinking of getting work done early, yeah?" I shrugged, already moving into the workers' locker area, "Besides, I don't really have anything to do at home, and I'm bored."
With an amused chuckle, Kyoka-san nodded, "I see, I see. No boyfriend yet?"
"If I do have one, I wouldn't here, would I?" I replied quickly, already used to her teasing, "By the way, where's the old man?"
"Ichi? The poor soul accidentally injured his back trying to look manly and carry all the shipments of books that came in on Friday," She shook her head in disbelief, "Honestly, I can't understand what goes through his head sometimes."
"Men…" Kyoka-san repeated, "So would you like to go home early then? Since you also came in early."
"Oh no, it's fine," I refused her offer while tying my hair up, "Besides, there's no one left for the night shift, right? It'll be unfair to you if there's only you in the store."
"How thoughtful. I'll raise your pay for today then," Kyoka-san said, "But if you want to leave early, just tell me, okay? Working in a bookstore on a Saturday evening isn't a good way to spend time for a teenager."
"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks, Kyoka-san."
She nodded with a smile before leaving me to change into my work uniform.
Since it is a small shop, there was only two other workers here besides me, not counting Kyoka-san of course. And as I emerged from the locker room, I was immediately given a box by Kyoka-san with a smile on her face.
Grimacing slightly, I wordlessly accepted my work for the day and began stockpiling the books – even though I prefer manning the cash register.
It was a normal job.
A quiet job.
A job which poses no trouble for me.
And that was perfect for someone like me.
While I do enjoy working at the bar to some extent, the atmosphere there always made me feel like I was out of my elements, even if my co-workers were rather amiable. If possible, I would like to work at this bookstore for the rest of my life.
But alas, I don't think I can survive working in a bookstore for the rest of my life so there's that.
However, as long as I get to spend time here, mindlessly arranging books in correct categorizations, my head was free to roam around and daydream. Most of the time, I used these moments to just relax and clear my mind of any assignments and stress from school.
Other times, I contemplated what I was doing and about the crushing socio-economic pressure that teenagers must face on a daily basis.
I wonder if other teenagers feel this crushing weight of insignificance and hopelessness every day or if it's just me. I mean in this world, what am I supposed to do after high school? Assuming that I was somehow able to attend a prestigious college, what would I do after? Study for four years, get a job in the city, and then work till I die?
Sounds like hell to me, but what other choice do I have?
Honestly, I just want to disappear. Maybe like become an incorporeal deity that would just watch over others and their daily lives, occasionally scoffing at the futility of it all.
I grimaced a bit as I realized that in my three years of high school, there are probably freshmen who have accomplished more than I ever could have.
I never joined a club nor got into the honors roll nor had any significant achievements. Despite knowing deep down that I shouldn't compare myself to them, I clearly understood that not doing those things hurt my chance at furthering my own education and career.
Still, it's not like I have the time to do them in the first place even if I want to.
Hiratsuka-sensei would've been laughing and saying 'I told you so' over and over again to me right now if she knew what was on my mind. Why does she have to make sense now?
Well it's not like I had any other choice regarding my choice in extracurricular activities. Sure, more than one part time job can be detrimental to a teenager's well-being but I can do it, so why shouldn't I? Besides, I can just put it as my extracurricular activities in my CV, right? It's not like I have to compete in anything or volunteer so that my potential employers can see what I can-
I gasped loudly as a cold sensation shocked my neck. Instantly, I turned around, ready to lay my wrath upon whoever dares to-
"Oh, it's just you, Ruri."
Giggling like a little, churlish, impetuous child, Ruri – the current president of the art club as well as the vice president of the student council – held up a cold bottle of water to my face. I quickly took it from her hands before partaking in her offerings.
"Senpai, why did you come so early anyways?" The little pipsqueak asked as I was chugging away, "Wait, are you really Rumi-senpai? Rumi-senpai isn't this hardworking."
"Shut it, shrimp," I said with a glare, "Why? Can't I repay this fine establishment for hiring me by coming into work early?"
With a flat tone, she replied, "Okay, you're definitely not Rumi-senpai. What did you do to her, you body snatcher!"
" . Now be a dear and go flirt with your boyfriend already," I retorted, obviously hitting a sore spot as Ruri immediately became flustered; especially since said boyfriend is also working in the same bookstore.
"Hmph!" She pouted, like the child that she is.
Seriously, if she is going to become the future president of the student council, much less a company or a country (I shuddered), I fear for the future of our human resources. Well, she is still in her second year and obviously had more than I do to mature along the way so I wasn't too worried.
Ruri's a good kid after all.
"By the way, Senpai," Ruri asked, and for some reason, decided to massage my shoulders, "You doing anything for the cultural festival?"
"I don't see the correlation between you giving me a shoulder rub and the festival."
"Oh come on," replied Ruri with a Chesire cat-like voice, "It's a little exchange, y'know. A qui quo quo, if you will."
"It's quid pro quo, you dumbass," I retorted, gaining myself a pinch in the shoulders, "Besides, you can't honestly think I'm going to draw for your stupid club again."
Last time that happened, I almost had an aneurysm dealing with her trying to get me to do more drawings.
"It's not stupid and you're good at it!" She exclaimed, squeezing my shoulders harder, "Besides, I give you shoulder massages, you give me drawings to display at the art club's exhibition? How's about that?"
"Oh come on. Do it for the artistic integrity, Senpai."
"I'm not even in your club."
"Which can easily be fixed," She retorted with a mischievous tone, "I'm not the student council vice-president for nothing, y'know."
"That's networking, Senpai."
"I'm still going to refuse, you know that right?"
Ruri pouted again, which was typical of her to do, "I knoooooow, but you can't blame me for trying, right?"
Finally, she took her hands off my shoulders, "Anyways, me and Shiro-chan is going to take our leave soon."
Shiro-chan being her boyfriend as well as the student council's president, of course.
"It's 5 PM already?" I asked, surprised at how time went by so quickly.
"5:30 PM actually," She looked at her watch, "Shiro-chan was just finishing checking the inventories. Anyways, want something for dinner? We'll get it for you."
"No, it's fine," I lied, not wanting to impose on the pipsqueak anymore, "Just go enjoy your date alright?"
Pouting for the last time today, she huffed, "Fine, fine. My offer about the cultural festival still stands, you know?"
"And my refusal still stands as well."
Sticking out her tongue, she later waved me goodbye as she followed her Shiro-chan outside.
Finally, some peace and quiet.
After I finished stocking the shelves, I went back to the cash register, where Kyoka-san was. She saw me and gestured me towards the seat behind the counter. I, once again, wordlessly accepted my work and did as she said.
"I don't think there's going to be many customers coming in after this time so you can take it easy," Kyoka-san said, "I have to talk to some suppliers, so that may take some time, alright? I trust that you can handle it by yourself."
"Yep, I'll be fine."
With a reassured nod, Kyoka-san went into the locker room, leaving me all alone in this vast yet tiny bookstore. I still saw a few college students hanging out at the lounge, doing some assignments and reading some books.
Well, this is going to be a boring afternoon…
Or so I thought before the ringing of a cellphone interrupted my presumption.
Specifically, my cellphone.
"Ah, Rumi; this is you, right?"
It was Hachiman.
"Yeah, it's me," I replied nonchalantly, "What's up?"
"Thank god I got the right number," Hachiman mused before switching up his tone, "Anyways, are you still at the park right now?"
"Yeah, I still am…" I almost bit my tongue over my words, forgetting that I told Hachiman a small white lie, "Do you need something?"
"Ah, no, it's just that…" Hachiman voice softened, "I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with my and Yukino; y'know, like…like a family and all that."
A sense of dread washed over me.
"Yeah…you like yakiniku? We found this new place and it looks amazing," Hachiman said with gusto, "Yukino want to try it too, so you're in?"
I cringed at his enthusiastic voice.
Then I remembered that I technically didn't answer him when he asked if I wanted to have dinner together.
I cringed harder.
"Umm, I sort of met my old friend from middle school and she really wanted to hang out," I 'explained', "So maybe some other times, yeah?"
"Oh…yeah, sure," Hachiman replied with disappointment. He obviously wanted this dinner with me and Yukino more than he let on, "Just come home early, alright?"
"Yeah, I will. Thanks for inviting me anyways, Hachiman."
"No problem," A shout from, who I presumed to be, Yukino could be heard through the phone, "Alright, see you soon."
"Yep, have a safe trip."
With a click, I turned the call off and with that, I was able to breathe easily again. Should I have lied to him? No, of course not, but it's not like this'll hurt him or Yukino for that matters. I was pretty sure that my presence at their dinner would actually make things more awkward than it actually is.
So what I did wasn't wrong. It wasn't right either, but it produced the best outcome for both parties.
…well, the best outcome for me at this stage was boredom.
Utterly excruciating boredom.
The reason I chose to work part-time at this store was due to the low energy required. Which was perfect for me as I am usually quite drained, even on the weekends.
For the most part, today mostly consisted of ringing up purchases, helping some customers find the right categories, and helping Kyoka-san unpack. There was also bell above the store's door chiming occasionally as customers came, which kept me from falling asleep.
Oh right, Ichibei-san came in on one point to give dinner to both Kyoka-san and me, which I was immensely grateful for. The husband and wife duo was as jolly as ever when they met.
If only I could have even a quarter of the energy that those two possess.
The most exciting part of the day came in the form of me helping Ichibei-san unloading some boxes of books from his trucks that were gotten from donations at the local community center. According to him, Ichibei Bookstore was going to be hosting a charity event in the next week or so for a local orphanage whose name already slipped my mind.
I asked if he would need help from me and I got the biggest hug of my life from the old man.
Kyoka-san also said 'What a good girl you are' and that was nice as well. I think I might've smiled like a kid back there.
Anyways, by the time that saga was done, it was already 8 PM, ergo one hour left till my official shift was done. Ideally, I should've left at 7 PM or so – something that even Kyoka-san asked me one more time about, but I felt bored so I stayed at the store anyways.
Though working here wasn't exactly exciting me either.
I kept up my observation of the remaining college students in the store before the ringing of my phone interrupted my train of thought again.
It was Hachiman again.
"Sup, Hachiman," I greeted him a bit more casually this time.
"Uhh, yeah?" Why was his voice so flat?
"Where are you right now?"
Swallowing a phantom lump in my throat, I replied, "I told you I was with my friend, didn't I?"
"Are you at the park near the station?"
"N-No," I berated myself mentally for stuttering, "I'm in the mall nearby. We just finished dinner."
"Yeah, I told you I had a friend with me earlier."
"Where are you right now?" He repeated his question, his voice firmer than before.
"…in the mall, hanging out with my friend from middle school."
"Really?" His voice was incredulous, "Well then, have fun then. Don't come home later than 10 PM, okay?"
He hung up immediately after that, allowing me to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Why did he sound so different compared to earlier this evening anyways? Almost like he was angry at me…
My musings were once again interrupted when the door of the store opened, chiming the bell above. I straightened my posture, wondering what kind of mad man would wonder into a bookstore at 8 PM of all times.
Well, that was until I realized who that mad man actually was.
Hachiman said with the flat tone that he used in the call earlier.
My lips quivered as I spotted the phone in his hand. He was calling me outside the store earlier.
"I thought you were at the mall with your middle school friend," He repeated what I said to him, "Where's this friend of yours?"
I gulped again. His eyes were scary, way too scary for how gentle his voice was earlier in the evening. It was as if I was listening to an entirely different person.
"Was lying? I'm not surprised," He said in a cold tone; colder than Yukino ever could be.
I had no response. There was little to no customers left in the store so it wasn't like he was making a scene either. His voice was low yet assertive and it was pressuring me to no extent.
"Rumi-chan, what's wrong?" Kyoka-san's gentle voice sounded behind me, "Ah, dear customer, what might you need?"
"Sorry, I'm her legal guardian and she's out past her curfew," Hachiman replied instantly, not wasting any time, "I'm actually here to take her back home."
"Oh my, I didn't realize Rumi-chan had a guardian. She never told me this before," Kyoka-san said, surprised as she looked at me.
"She's quite secretive about her part-time jobs," Hachiman said, keeping his glare on me, "With that in mind, I would like to ask for her to leave early."
"I see. That's fine with me," said Kyoka-san, "Maybe we should give you an earlier shift next time, Rumi-chan."
"That's…that's fine…" I said, trying to avert my gaze from Hachiman's cold ones, "Sorry, Kyoka-san."
She merely smiled at me and waved me towards the locker room so I could go and get my stuff. I did so reluctantly, knowing that when I go out there, I'll be in a world of hurt.
As I came out of the locker room, Hachiman was still there, his eyes tracking my every move before he motioned me to follow him. I did so wordlessly.
We arrived at a car parked nearby the store soon after.
Once again, he motioned me into the car.
And once again, I wordlessly followed his orders.
As I stepped into the car, the cold temperature in the car made everything worse. That was until a hand reached out and turned down the AC.
It was Yukino's.
She was here too.
I grimaced again. And Hachiman just told me that she was trying to better our relationship earlier today too.
Our ride 'home' was completely and utterly silent, save for the occasional honking from other cars. I didn't dare to even try to apologize or utter any words. It just wasn't the time for it.
The two of them didn't say anything either.
Why should they? I lied to Hachiman right in his face. The only person who had unconditional trust in me.
I hugged my bag tighter as we continued our ride until we got home.
When we eventually did, it was almost 9 PM, but I felt so emotionally and physically drained that I just wanted to hit the hay immediately.
Hachiman must've thought the same thing as he exited the car and entered the house without so much as a word. Yukino must've left with him to his room while I wasn't looking too.
Sighing, I dragged myself into my temporary room, took a shower, before plopping onto the bed, trying to get some semblance of sleep.
Great, now I had two people disappointed in me.
But like with everything that happened today, my sulking was also interrupted as my bedroom door opened, revealing Yukino already dressed in her pajamas.
"Rumi, are you still awake?" She asked as she sat on my bed, if the pressure from her weight was any indication.
"…yeah…" I replied, my voice muddled by the pillow I was holding to my face.
"Are you upset?"
"Rumi…" She placed a hand on my head, "Look at me."
"You're being extremely childish right now."
"I'm a teenager so I'm allowed to be childish."
"I'm not angry at you."
"Sure you aren't."
"Rumi," She slowly patted my head before lifting my head up from the pillow, "Look at me."
I was gently forced to look in her eyes.
Yukino was smiling.
I turned away.
"Why are you smiling?"
"Oh nothing, just musing on how childish both of you are."
I glanced at her snickering visage before turning back, "What do you mean 'Both of you'?"
"Later, but for now, I want to ask you something."
"What?" I retorted, "Why I lied to Hachiman? Why I still kept a part-time job despite you explicitly banning me from working? Why I am so ungrateful to the both of you? In that case, I have no correct answers for any of them so you're wasting your time asking."
I panted after my small outburst.
But in response, Yukino chuckled.
"You really are a kid," She mused and before I could say anything she interrupted me with a poke to my forehead, "Do you feel bad for lying to Hachiman?"
"I do…" I bit my lips.
Bad couldn't even begin to describe how awful I felt for what I did today. He trusted me, thought of me when thinking about dinner; hell, he was the guy who thought up of this adoption idea in the first place.
Hachiman cared for me and how did I repay him? By spitting right in his face.
Aaah, I am the worst singular barnacle scum on the face of the Earth right now.
"I see, I see," Yukino put a finger on her lips, her face amused, "Let's see…what was I going to say again?"
I watched her as she openly mocked me when she brought two fingers to her head, trying to do fake-concentrate.
"Oh right, you're not the only one who felt horrible, you know."
She tilted her head, "Oh I thought I made myself pretty clear with that one."
"Wait, wait, wait, I don't get it."
"Simply put, Hachiman is sulking in our room right now," Yukino stated, almost bursting out laughing.
I, however, wasn't laughing nor understanding what was going on.
"Why would he be sad though?"
"You don't get it?" Yukino asked before continuing her explanation, "Because he cared deeply about you. And because of that, he's berating himself for getting angry at you right this very instance. I, of course, was trying to calm him down but you know how men are."
"…he's blaming himself for getting mad?" I asked, "Even though it was my fault?"
"Exactly," Yukino shrugged, "And here you are, sulking in your own room as well. I daresay you two are becoming closer already."
"That's…" I shut myself up, "I don't know what to say…"
"How about this?" Yukino scooted closer to me to poke me in my nose, forcing me to look at her, "Tomorrow, you clear your schedule up and in return, I'll take you somewhere to relax; how about that?"
"That doesn't…" I trailed off, not knowing what to say.
"That doesn't resolve anything with Hachiman?" She asked with a scoff, "Please, I am Yukinoshita Yukino after all, so just leave everything to me. I'm not his wife for nothing after all."
I glanced at her proud expression, "I thought you're just engaged for now."
"Well, from what we're doing, we might as well be considered husband and wife, no?"
I felt a hand rubbing my head slowly and gently. It was Yukino's.
"Rumi, relax for once in your life and let someone else take care of your problems. Trust me, okay?"
"I'm still sorry for today."
"Hachiman is too, alright? So don't feel too bad about sulking," She said with a small smile. Rather than an Ice Queen, she slowly started to look like an Ice Mother now.
"Good girl," With one last rub of my head, Yukino lifted herself off my bed and headed towards the door, "Have a nice sleep, alright? Sulk if you want to, but as long as you get up before noon tomorrow, we'll be fine with our schedule."
"R-Right…" I nodded uneasily, "Thanks…Yukino."
"No problem, Rumi," replied Yukino motherly, "Sleep tight now. Goodnight."
"Same to you and Hachiman."
With a nod, she disappeared, leaving me all alone with my thoughts.
And just like any other teenager, I plopped down on my bed, back first, and stared at the ceiling while contemplating what I did to deserve this chance at a better life.
Why did Hachiman choose me in the first place? There are plenty more kids more deserving of this chance than me.
Why would he get mad at himself for something that I did?
Wouldn't it make more sense if he did something awful to me first? But no, what he did was completely justified. In fact, I'd say that he didn't do anything wrong whatsoever; and that what we did thus far was the tamest thing he could've done in response to my lie.
I clutched my head in an attempt to find any semblance of reason but none came to mind. My mind soon drifted to what Yukino said.
Why did Yukino ask me to clear out my schedule for tomorrow anyways?
Why did she doubt my ability to wake up before noon?
Honestly, I know I'm a horrible person but even I wouldn't sleep in that much, right?
The digital clock on my nightstand read 11:30 AM.
I pushed myself up and picked up the clock to read again.
It was still 11:30 AM.
My head was perfectly clear and my body was fully rested yet I couldn't believe my own eyes.
I shook the clock.
It was now 11:31 AM.
Yukino must be downstairs right now, haughtily checking her watch and the stairs at the same time, knowing full well that I'll be rushing down then apologizing to her. Then she would probably huff, flips her hair, and then say 'I expected that you'd be late so I made contingency plans'.
Unfortunately for her, I am not fast at taking showers or dressing myself up or anything at all. Well, it's not like I didn't do those things. Tsurumi Rumi is a hygienic person after all.
After cleaning and dressing myself up – which took a hefty 15 minutes – I finally descended the stairs into the living room, where Yukino was waiting for me, just as I expected.
She noticed me coming down and looked at her watch.
I smirked a little.
"11:46 AM," She raised her eyebrows incredulously, "I know I said to wake up before noon but I didn't expect 14 minutes beforehand, you know."
"Sorry…I was kinda tired last night," I apologized, feeling bad despite chuckling at my precognition earlier.
Yukino spared a glance at me before standing up, "No matter. I half-expected that you'd be late so I modified our plans for today as a contingency."
I held myself back again from chuckling.
"What?" Yukino looked at me strangely, which was justified.
"Oh, it's nothing. Just thought of something funny, that's all," I made up an excuse on the spot before switching back, "Anyways, what are we gonna do today anyways?"
With a chuckle, she led me out of the door, "You'll see. It's just a little surprise for you."
However, instead of the car I saw Hachiman driving last night, Yukino led me to a very antique-looking car, which had a chauffeur alongside it.
Said chauffeur greeted the two of us and opened the door. I followed Yukino inside and unlike the last time we rode in a fancy car, I didn't sit directly opposite of Yukino, opting to just stay next to her instead.
As the car ride began, I noticed one very odd thing and asked, "Where's Hachiman?"
"He's doing his own things," Yukino said, pressing her phones a couple of times before putting it away, "Why do you want to know? You want to meet him this early?"
"Well, yeah…" I replied, "And well…I'm sorry. To both of you."
"For lying and breaking your trust in me, even though you've both put unconditional trust in me."
"Oh, it's fine. I forgive you," Yukino said nonchalantly, something which I thought my ears weren't hearing right.
"Hm? Oh, Hachiman also forgives you. He isn't mad at you, you know," Yukino added, much to my confusion.
"Even though he has every right to?" I pressed her for an answer. There was no way it could be as simple as this.
"Yes, even though he has every reason to."
"Even though I've broken his trust in me?"
Yukino scoffed, "You broke mine too but that's beside the point. And yes, even though you've broken his trust, he isn't mad at you."
"Then why?" I voiced my confusion out loud to the amusement of Yukino for some reason, "I'm prepared to take responsibility for my actions. And I know that I've wronged the two of you, so I don't get why Hachiman and you are the ones that are feeling bad."
"You really don't get it, do you?" Yukino looked at me in exasperation. She then scooted closer to where I was.
With a small smile, she poked my forehead, "Rumi, no parents want to get mad at their children."
"Well, you're not legally our child yet, but sentimentally, Hachiman considers you to be close enough to be his own flesh and blood," Yukino explained, "He decides to take responsibility for you, to give you a better life; don't you think getting mad at you would be counter-intuitive to that goal?"
"You got a point there, but it's not like I'm a kid, y'know?" I retorted.
"True, but you're still a kid in our eyes, and trust me, Hachiman is more hurt about last night than he lets on."
I couldn't give any response as I tried to digest the information that Yukino gave me.
I did something wrong, ergo I should be punished for it. Said punishment was in the form of Hachiman getting mad at me yet he also felt bad for doing so despite being justified. Even though Yukino just explained it to me, I had a hard time grasping exactly why he could just forgive me like that.
…he looked so scary last night too.
"I see you're not convinced," Yukino remarked, "But that's not a problem. We're not here to spend our times contemplating the relationship between a parent and a child."
"…then where are we going?" I went along with her change in topic.
"To the mall, of course. It's where kids like you would go to relax, right?"
I grimaced a little at her strange assumption. Besides, if she wanted to get me to relax, she could've taken me to a bookstore or a park instead.
"Why aren't you driving?"
"Ah, already back to being your feisty self," Yukino chuckled, "I would but I'd rather spend this time bonding with my…"
Chuckling for the umpteenth time today, she waved my question off, "Oh, it's nothing."
Certainly, she was going to say a certain word which would certainly make me, as well as herself, uncomfortable. So I silently thanked her for not doing so. Really, I appreciated her gestures of kindness but even I know that we were not that close yet.
I scoffed at myself. Didn't I hate her just two days ago? Why did I suddenly feel this sisterly bond between the two of us? It's not like we did anything significant. If anything, we should've drifted further apart due to what happened yesterday.
Yet we didn't.
The drive wasn't overly long, however Yukino's conversational skills weren't that good either. She mostly asked about how school was and how many friends I have (Seriously, who counts their number of friends).
Not once did she mention my part-time jobs.
I didn't know if I should be glad or not.
However, the car soon came to a stop and I finally saw our destination.
A big mall.
Yep, an honest-to-goodness hyper, ultra-mall.
"You've never seen a mall before?" Yukino asked as she stepped out of the car, looking at me quizzically.
"Of course, I've seen one before. I'm not a sheltered kid, y'know," I retorted, quickly dragging myself out into the sun as well, "Well, why did you drag me out here on a Sunday anyway?"
"Shopping." Yukino said with a straight face as she checked her phone. It should be noted that by this point, the driver had already taken the car away somewhere – probably to a filthy rich second mansion of hers.
I looked at her incredulously.
"But why exactly do you need me?"
"Oh, my apologies," Yukino fake-apologized, "I meant shopping for you."
"Yes. Come now, we're burning daylight," Yukino ignored my question as she gracefully moved towards the door of the quite modern shopping mall, forcing me to follow suit lest I lose her in this crowd.
I was going to ask her to turn back or just ask her for more clarifications in general but she just kept walking. Despite her nimble frame, the woman moved like water flowing through a stream; ceaselessly and gracefully without any wasted motions.
By the time she slowed down, allowing me to catch up to her, we were already in front of a branded clothing store, filled with apparels that I wouldn't and couldn't buy in a thousand years.
However, unlike me, Yukino walked into the store with the utmost familiarity, even greeting the workers there amicably. I followed closely behind her because this was a really strange environment for me. Normally, I would just go buy a t-shirt from Uniqlo; and even that was rare since I usually don't go out often enough to warrant a wardrobe of casual clothes.
"Say, Rumi," Yukino mused as she brought a sky-blue dress and held it up to my body, looking inquisitively, "Do you like this color?"
"I…I do…" I said with much confusion, not really understanding why she would bring me shopping in the first place.
Instead of noticing my bemused face, Yukino simply huffed in satisfaction and walked to another aisle with the aforementioned dress on her arm.
"Wait, you're buying that for me?" I caught up and asked her, causing Yukino to look at me quizzically.
"Well, yes," was her simple answer, "Unless you want to pay for this yourself – which I don't object to but I sincerely doubt you'd spend your hard earned money on frivolities like these."
"That's…true," I admitted, "But why are you buying it for me? Why now of all days?"
"Ah, why not?" Yukino replied, not even looking at me as she picked out a skirt, "I have work on weekdays and you have school. Therefore, today is the perfect day to go buy something for you."
"Why for me?"
"Because I want to, that's why."
Before I get to answer, she held up a skirt and a cardigan to me.
"Try this on to see if it fits," Yukino looked at me and smiled, "You said you like this color, right? In that case, try on this dress too."
Again, before I could question anything, I was handed the dress that she took earlier and was rushed into the dressing room where I took a good few seconds to comprehend my situation.
Yukinoshita Yukino was currently buying expensive, branded clothes for me.
Why today? Because it was convenient, as she said.
Why for me specifically? Because…no reasons.
The two outfits that she picked out for me was okay by my standard. It certainly felt soft to the touch and looked very pretty. It was then that I decided to look at the price tag.
My eyes almost bulged out the back of my head from how many zeroes there were that I instantly tried to forget it. If she was this generous, who am I to refuse such an offer?
"Rumi, you're done in there yet?"
"Almost," I lied as I hadn't even begun to try on anything yet. Might as well start with the skirt and cardigan combo, I suppose.
As I finally donned the outfit and looked at myself in the mirror, I found out that true to her aristocratic nature, Yukino sure did know how to pick the right outfit as it was somehow the perfect size and blend of colors. Much to my frustration, this woman knows her sense of fashion even if her attitude so far wasn't very agreeable.
Stepping out, I saw Yukino was crossing her arms while waiting for me with a very worrying look on her face.
"So, how do you like it?" She asked with bated breath.
"Uh, quite nice, I guess," I lifted my arms up and looked around, "It's very nice, actually."
With a satisfied huff, Yukino congratulated herself, "Well, of course. I was the one that picked it. Now go on and try the dress. I want see how cute it looks on you."
I grimaced as I was once again gently shoved into the dressing room to try on the aforementioned dress. Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of shopping for apparels, especially in an expensive store like this one; but from time to time, even I can find the appeal in trying on different outfit just for the heck of it.
Yukino, however, made this experience extremely unappealing.
It would be fine if the skirt, cardigan, and dress was the end of it, but as she stated, two outfits isn't a good reason to go out so we should get as much as we can muster.
I swallowed a phantom lump in my throat from all the money that was going to be spent, as well as the torturous time spent in that small mirror-filled room.
Sometimes, the outfit fitted perfectly and was to my taste. Other times, it fits great except Yukinoshita Yukino is the kind of person that wasn't satisfied with just 'Great' and thus, she got me to try on more clothes. At one point, she even had a store attendant act as a clothes rack for me.
I silently apologized to said store attendant in my head.
At the end of it all, we came out with approximately six bags costing money that I would probably never touch in my entire life.
However, Yukino wasn't satisfied because she didn't slow down when she exited the store. On the contrary, she sped up and took me to various stores to either buy clothes, shoes, more clothes, more shoes, and surprisingly…
It should be noted that I have never worn makeup before in my life, unbelievable as that may be.
"So," Yukino asked, grasping my shoulder and looking with me into the small mirror, "How do you like it?"
It should also be noted that the power of makeup is amazing.
"Uhh…" My face never looked so smooth and my lips never looked so red before. It's almost as if I was looking at an entirely different person, "It's different…"
"You don't like it?" Yukino asked, that strange worried tone returning again.
"No, no! It's just…" I reached up to my face, "I never put on this much makeup before. It's weird for me, y'know."
"It's just lipstick and some foundation, Rumi," She spouted off some words I don't understand, "Well, it seemed that you like it so we'll be getting that."
Without another word, Yukino turned and told something towards one of the shopkeepers, prompting said shopkeeper to suddenly start packaging various boxes of cosmetic products. On one hand, I was happy that I get some of my own makeup while on the other hand, I felt like I was going to become Yukino's doll.
With another bag in her hand, Yukino led me out of the store; but unlike every other time she exited a store, Yukino didn't continue on. Instead, she decided to stop and asked me.
"It's almost time for dinner already," She said, "Any particular place you want to go?"
"We're done with shopping?" I asked innocently, prompting a small smile from Yukino.
"If you want more of it, I don't mind," She said, "Besides, you're the one trying on everything anyways."
"Ugh," I grimaced at the memory being stuck with at least five different dressing rooms, "In that case, let's have dinner."
"Alright then," Checking her phone, Yukino asked me again, "So any place you want to go?"
"Is Saizeriya fine?"
"Oh, that's…an uncommon choice," Yukino stated with a surprised tone, yet she kept on typing something in her phone.
Thinking that she was searching for other restaurants, I explained myself.
"Well, it's just that…I don't want to waste more money, especially on fancy food when we can just eat at Saize, y'know? Besides, I saw a Saize somewhere in this mall earlier so it'd be more convenient, right? And also-"
"Saize's perfectly fine with me, you know," Yukino chuckled, "Honestly, you two are much closer than I thought."
"We're going to Saize," She said with finality, closing her phone and leading me, "Let's go. I'm sure you're hungry from being a model the entire afternoon."
I silently grumbled but didn't bother retorting.
I mean, she was treating me after all, right? Besides, a dinner between two ladies isn't something that I experience often.
It was a dinner between two ladies and a Hachiman.
The moment we entered Saize and decided on our table, Hachiman was already there, back hunched and checking his phone. It wasn't until Yukino walked towards him that he finally noticed and waved weakly towards me, who was still lagging behind – both physically and mentally.
Why was he here?
How did he get here so fast?
Again, why was he here?
Did he already know where I was the entire day?
It was when Yukino sat next to Hachiman that I realized that all those downtimes when she checked her phone wasn't for business purposes at all. While she might've brought me here out of the goodness of her heart, she definitely intended to kill two birds with one stone.
And I daresay that she succeeded.
As I sat there in front of them, I found myself averting my gaze, often landing on the saltshaker then the pepper mill and finally Yukino – who looked at me in confusion before beckoning me in the direction of Hachiman.
The Saize that we were in was considerably crowded, which was typical due to it being a Sunday and all. Despite this, the area that we were dining in seemed suspiciously devoid of people, as if Yukino chose this location on purpose, as it was quite a ways away from the other customers.
It should be noted that while I was trying to not look at Hachiman, he was doing the same thing.
With a sigh, Yukino spoke up, "You know, with how you two are acting, I actually don't think there needs to be any apologies."
"You were the one who set this up…" Hachiman muttered, earning himself a glare and a jab from Yukino.
But I knew that we were going nowhere with this. It was obvious that Hachiman also felt hesitant in apologizing to me so I should initiate this, right? I'm not a kid anymore. I'm a full-fledged adult.
With a deep breath, I said:
"I'm so sorry for what I did."
"I'm really sorry, Rumi."
Only to find out that Hachiman also had the same idea in mind.
Staring at each other for a good while, I spoke up again.
"No, I'm the one who should be sorry."
"I'm in the wrong here."
And again, we were stuck in a stalemate. Despite this setback, Yukino chuckled and massaged her forehead in exasperation.
"Like I said, with the two of you being this close already, I don't get why you both can't just make up already," Yukino added, "However, if we want closure, let's do this correctly, no?"
With a sigh, Hachiman nodded in agreement before turning to me.
"Rumi, I didn't mean to have an outburst like the one from yesterday," He explained, his eyes downcast, "It's just that…it's late and I didn't want you to be in an unsafe situation. I know you're an adult already and you can handle yourself but I don't want to risk anything."
"Well…it's my fault, y'know," I replied, "For lying to you and going behind your back. I should've told you where I was going."
Chuckling, Hachiman rubbed his neck sheepishly, "I think that even if you told me, I wouldn't have let you go in the first place."
"That's true but I…I misused the trust you had in me; and I really regret doing that."
"Even so, a parent shouldn't get so mad at their child," Hachiman said firmly, "Even if it's with good intentions in mind."
...a parent, huh…
"However," Yukino interjected, "Disciplining you was going to be inevitable anyways, so I'm glad we got it out of the way early. Don't you agree, Hachi?"
"Right…" Hachiman said with some reluctance, "Anyways, Yukino – or rather we also want to talk to you about your part-time job."
"Well, both of us believe that-,"
I immediately cut in, "I'll call the manager to tell her that I have to quit due to schoolwork. So please don't worry about it."
Rather than 'Oh, that's good' or 'You sure work fast, Rumi', I didn't hear anything. In fact, it looked like they were both confused before Hachiman confirmed something with me.
"Rumi, we're talking about your job at the bookstore, y'know."
"We weren't going to stop you from working there," Hachiman explained, "In fact, Yukino and I just want you to maybe take an earlier shift so you can be in time for dinner."
"…you weren't gonna stop me from continuing?"
"Why would we?" said Hachiman, "Unlike your job at the bar, you aren't working extremely late at night so we both think it'll be fine. Besides, your manager seemed nice."
"Well, she is…but are you sure?"
"100% sure, Rumi," Yukino said with a smile, "I'm not going to let a…family member of mine be inexperienced about the working world."
"I see…thank you," I said slowly before realizing how I sounded, "I mean I'm really grateful for everything you've done for me. Really."
"Speaking of which, you sure did a lot today, huh?" Hachiman leaned over and looked at the assortment of shopping bags that Yukino and I accrued over our shopping spree, "I assumed you found everything you like."
"Oh, we did," Yukino smirked, "Maybe I'll show you some pictures later."
"You took pictures?!" I exclaimed.
"Well, of course. It's our first shopping trip, no? Got to have something commemorate it after all," Yukino said, satisfied with herself.
Grimacing, I laid on the table with my arms covering my head.
"Ugh…can we just order some food already?"
"Oh, we did that. Long before we arrived here," Yukino explained, and even before I could say anything, she added, "Who do you think I've been texting the entire day?"
"But we don't know what kids your age like, so we got quite a few meals," Hachiman said, looking embarrassed with himself, "It should be out soon."
I nodded blankly, trying to figure out just how the gears in these two grind. I mean, I noticed Yukino toying with her phone quite a few times today and I figured out that it was to contact Hachiman, but even I didn't know the extent to their planning.
…adults are scary.
And true to their words, they got an array of meals ordered. And since Saize isn't a restaurant known for any one specialty, the dishes ranged from traditional Japanese to Italian to American.
It was as if I was circumventing the world in one meal.
"Found something you like?" Yukino propped elbows on the table, looking at me inquisitively.
"You could say that…" I replied as I sneakily took a plate of pasta.
With a chuckle, she too took a dish, "Well, enjoy your meal then."
Even if we weren't legally a family yet, it was nice to eat with someone else.
It was nice to have someone else pass a piece of karaage to you.
It was nice to pass the pepper mill to someone else.
It was nice to have someone grab some food for you.
And I wouldn't trade it for any riches in the world.
"By the way, Rumi," Hachiman said to me while driving the three of us back home, "I heard Sobu's having a cultural festival. Any idea when it is?"
"Oh, right," I looked up from my phone from the backseat of Hachiman's admittedly very nice car, "If I remember correctly, it's supposed to be this Monday and Tuesday. Then we have the next three days off, thankfully."
"Only two days? And at the start of the week as well?"
"Well, the student council had to fight for those two days," I explained, "The school originally wanted to reduce it to one day then have the rest of the week be a normal study week."
"I see, I see. Is your class doing anything?"
"Uhh, we're doing a play based on Orihime and Hikoboshi."
I decided not to disclose the fact that we somehow turned it into a BL theater play. I think Hachiman would appreciate his former school's experience not being ruined by a fujoshi. We seem to have at least one every year.
"That's wonderful," He said with just a little bit too much enthusiasm, "So you're playing as Ori-,"
"Nope, nope, nope," I vehemently denied, "I'll just be doing odd jobs around the festival, mostly as part of the student council."
"Oh wow, you're a member of the council?" Yukino chimed in, almost in disbelief, which annoyed me.
"No, I'm just a friend of the vice president and she is a slave driver." I said bluntly, earning a chuckle from both of them, "I didn't even want to be in the festival committee in the first place."
"Oh, ain't that a relatable feeling?" said Hachiman offhandedly, "So you'll just be running errands for the student council all day then?"
"Basically, yeah. I mean, I've been doing it since my first year so I'm used to it."
"What about your club? Are they doing anything?" This time, it was Yukino who asked.
"Uhh, I'm not officially a part of any club so no, not really."
"Well, on paper, I'm not in any club, but I guess you can say I'm a de-facto member of the…" I contemplated revealing this tidbit of information but decided that it wasn't worth hiding in the first place.
"I'm in the art club, basically."
"That's a surprise," Yukino commented.
"It really is," Hachiman added.
"Is it that much of a surprise that I take interest in art?" I asked grumpily, even though I knew full well why it came off as a surprise, "A teenager gotta keep herself entertained and de-stressed somehow, y'know."
"We thought you'd be more interested in classic literature," Hachiman explained.
"Or online games," Added Yukino unhelpfully.
"Or maybe even writing stories."
"Or online games," Yukino repeated.
"What's with you and online games?" Hachiman asked exasperatedly, prompting a shrug from his fiancé.
The ride continued in silence for a good minute or so before Hachiman spoke up again, this time addressing me.
"By the way, Rumi, do you need to get to school early tomorrow?"
"Uh, sure?" I answered hesitantly because I knew that he was gonna suggest something troublesome, "I mean, I know I said I'm part of the festival committee but it's not like the festival is gonna start at 7 am."
"I'll be sure to wake you up then, dear Rumi," Yukino teased, "Wouldn't want the festival to start at noon now, would we?"
"…can you stop teasing me already…"
"If you can wake up on your own tomorrow at 7 o'clock, then I'll consider it," replied Yukino smugly, "Otherwise, I'll be your alarm clock for the foreseeable future."
"Sheesh, Yuki, can you leave the kid alone," Hachiman said, "Don't worry, I'll drop you off on my way to work, Rumi."
"Oh, that's…" I tried to find a word to convey my gratefulness but none came to mind, "That'll be nice…"
Even though Yukino annoys me and Hachiman makes me feel uneasy due to his friendliness sometimes, there was still this sensation of warmth within me.
Was it fake?
Was it just going to pass by and disappear in the next week?
I don't know…but I don't really want to find out either.
True to her word, Yukino did act as an alarm clock for me. Even though I woke up on time. Really, I did…no doubt about that.
But I digress.
Hachiman also fulfilled his promise of giving me a ride, which was a welcome change from all the walking I usually did since my original apartment was quite close to the school.
And as I'd expected, the day went by quite uneventfully as I did the exact same thing I did for the student council since my first year. Carrying props, checking on stalls, patrolling, and so on and so forth. It's not like I wanted to do anything strenuous anyway so it was fine with me.
Though I say that, the appearance of a certain lunch box from a certain mother bear actually improved this day tenfold.
I still remembered when we were leaving the house, Yukino gave me a bento box and proudly proclaimed that 'I'd rather die than eat those calorie-filled, salt-concentrated thing they call food at the canteen'.
Though Hachiman discretely whispered 'Apologize to every lunch lady in Sobu now'.
What a strange couple.
But again, I digress.
The fact was that today was very enjoyable – enjoyable as in nothing troublesome happened. Enjoyable as in I didn't have to pay for my lunch. Enjoyable as in no funky incidents happened during the festival that required my immediate attention.
My class' play went as planned and was received well.
The festival committee didn't receive any complaints.
And most importantly, I got to eat my lunch in peace.
Well, rather than lunch it was almost evening as the first day was wrapping up so it should be L-inner or D-unch, but that didn't matter because I got to eat it with no interruptions.
…well, I said that but…
I spoke too soon and jinxed myself again.
Glaring at the source of the voice, I had to stop myself from snapping the metal chopsticks in my hand.
"Senpai's so scary~" Ruri whined dramatically before slyly cozying up to a spot near me, "Senpai, are you busy?"
"What are you going to ask from me?"
"Oh, it's nothing much~" said Ruri in a sing-song voice, "It's just a tiny, itty, bitty favor from your lovable kouhai."
Seeing my impassive stare, Ruri slowly but surely broke down and desperately cried out.
"Senpai, please draw at least two paintings by tonight!"
"I refuse." I answered immediately.
"But Senpaiiiiiiiiiiii~" She whined, attracting the attention of some students who were walking by, "I'm dying right here because of the art club!"
"Senpai, you're cruel!" She exclaimed harshly, "Come on, you're an art club member, right? Think about your artistic integrity and how you can show off to the world."
"One: I'm not a member, and two: What do you mean show off to the world?"
Rubbing her neck shyly, Ruri explained, "Well, it's not the world. It's just the whole school and some festival visitors."
"…I don't follow."
"The art club is holding a competition and I accidentally wrote your name in."
The piece of egg that I was holding dropped back into my bento box and the autumn wind blew a bit too dryly for my taste as she said that. Oh yes, she did say that, didn't she? And I took my time in digesting each and every word, to feel-
"You goddamn idiot," I reached out and pinched Ruri's cheeks incessantly, which surprisingly felt very soft to play with.
Once I was done torturing the poor kid, I let go and allowed her to explain herself.
"Okay, first off, how do you accidentally write someone's name into a competition?"
At this question, it seemed the frantic mood that Ruri had going on disappeared and she looked downcast. Almost made me feel bad for the poor thing.
"Well, it's not on accident, per se," Go figure, "It's just…you still remember Hojo-senpai?"
Hojo Kairi – who wouldn't remember her? Third year, outrageous yet memorable personality, great figure, acknowledged by everyone, the ace of the art club as well as its former president. The only reason Ruri is the current president was because Hojo willingly gave up the position due to her being a third year.
And I hate her guts.
Because I and only I knew the mask that she was putting up in front of everyone. Only I knew the unstable genius personality that she so carefully crafted to sneak her way into everyone's goodwill despite the apparently arrogant attitude of hers.
…but I digress.
"The former art club president?"
"Yep. Originally, we were just going to do an exhibition," Ruri began explaining, "But this morning, Hojo-senpai said that we've been doing it every year so we need to shake things up."
"Which is why she proposed a competition between the members," I theorized.
Nodding weakly, Ruri sighed, "It's not like anyone could argue against her anyways. She was the former president and had a lot of weight behind her words."
I nodded. Well, at least she was coming out of her shell during her final year anyways.
"And she singled you out," Ruri added ominously.
Looking at me intensely, she explained, "Hojo-senpai said that she hasn't seen any pieces from you this year so you must be scared of being compared with her."
"And I couldn't stand for that, Senpai!" Ruri exclaimed, "And I defended you and I got carried away and said that your art can kick her art's ass any time of the day all year round."
I don't really care though.
But I didn't tell Ruri that.
"And because of that, I had to put your name in the contest…my bad."
She fell silent soon after, obviously feeling the weight of her actions. Or at least, I hope she did. The shrimp of a vice-president is also rather air-headed after all.
"You do know that I don't really care, right?" I turned back to my lunch. Might as well play with her a bit "I mean, just tell her that I forfeit this round or something."
Though I really want to shut that skank's mouth for a change.
"She's gonna trash talk you, y'know!"
"Not a good enough reason."
"She's gonna blaspheme your name!"
"You're saying the same thing twice," I finished my lunch and closed my bento box, "You're gonna need more incentives than that to convince me, y'know."
And I walked off. Because I knew getting into a catfight with Hojo, even if it gives me a chance to curb-stomp her, would be a death sentence anyways. That bitch is just too influential around the school to lose anyways.
As I walked off, Ruri surely but slowly began to get desperate.
"I'll buy you yakisoba bread from the canteen till you graduate!" When she saw that I didn't budge, she added, "It'll be the premium ones!"
Without turning, I asked, "What else?"
"You'll get a certificate of appreciation from the student council – personally signed by me."
I began walking.
"WAIT! I meant signed by Shiro-chan! I mean the student council president himself!"
"You do know that this contest is just a way for Hojo to show off her influence, right?" I told Ruri with my hands on my waist, trying to appear dominant, "She knows it's a popularity contest so she'll win regardless due to her standing with everyone."
"Yes, but with hard work, anything is possible." Ruri said unconvincingly with a self-satisfied smug. How shameless can a person get…
And so, I walked again.
Ah, she pulled a dogeza.
"The main prize for winning is a drawing tablet!"
I paused and looked back. Ruri was still holding her dogeza pose, which would give people very wrong ideas if not for the fact that there were no one in our immediate area.
"Kekeke," Ruri laughed smugly as she lifted her head up, a smirk adorning her face, "It seems that I have made you a deal that you-,"
"You have five seconds to explain before I walk again."
"I apologize for my hubris," Ruri pulled off another dogeza, "But I'm not kidding. Hojo-senpai said we need some incentives for participating in the contest."
"How can you guys even afford that?" I asked. It wasn't like the art club was starving for budget, but even with the leftover budget, it wouldn't be enough for a brand new tablet.
"Well, we took the remaining budget and pooled in some of our money," explained Ruri, "And that's why we can afford it. I know you're interested, Senpai."
"A little bit."
"Oh, come on. You've been wanting a drawing tablet for a while, right?" She got a point there, though it wasn't a priority for me, "This is a perfect chance to get a free tablet AND rub it in Hojo-senpai's face. What d'ya say?"
"You do make a tempting offer, runt," Well, I said that, but I already knew I was going to do it anyways, "But I'm not utterly convinced that this is worth my time, y'know."
"But Senpai!" Ruri raised her head up again, "Please, please, please join. I put my name in too and if I win-,"
"Which is unlikely."
"Very unlikely," Ruri added, "But IF I win, I'll give you the tablet. How's about that?"
I approached the shrimp of a vice-president and flicked her in the forehead, earning a 'Gah!' in return.
"Yeah, sure," I said before walking away from her, "Remember my premium yakisoba bread, okay?"
"I-I will, Senpai! Thank you so much!" Ruri said before I walked out of earshot.
Honestly, such a troublesome kouhai. The student council president should be stricter with her, though I suspect their status as a couple might be hindering that.
Well, whatever. Not my problem.
There wasn't much left to do at school since most of the preparations for tomorrow were done earlier today, meaning that I could go home early. But the moment I stepped outside the school's gates, I came to the realization that I had to come up with completely new paintings in one night.
Why did I believe in my own hubris so much?
However, in an effort to not let others stare at me as I contemplated my existence and reasons for living, I decided to just keep walking.
The rest of the club, and especially Hojo, have already painted quite a few pieces for the exhibition today. So they'll probably use those as their contest pieces. I, however, haven't painted anything since last year so I was at a complete and utter disadvantage.
Not to mention, I don't think my painting equipment was at my current place of residence.
What have I gotten myself into?
My former apartment, while close to Sobu High, was in the opposite direction of Hachiman and Yukino's house. Deciding that it would be prudent to get those equipment as soon as possible, I sent a short text to Hachiman about my activities for the evening, which won't allow me to get home in time for dinner. I even assured him that I wasn't going to any secret part time jobs.
Well, I could always get a burger on my way home anyways, so it's not like I'll be starving.
The walk home was oddly nostalgic. I've only spent 3 days away from it, yet it felt like forever. However, as I finally arrived and got into the 1LDK apartment, I felt a bit empty seeing it again. Most of my stuff were already moved to those two's house, courtesy of Yukino.
To think that I spent two years here alone and despite its barren nature, it was still my home.
But there were still some stuff left that hasn't been touched.
Like my painting equipment.
My portrait when I first entered high school.
My first amateur painting.
My picture with my parents.
Ah, well, there's only so much sentimental stuff a teenager can have in the first place, right?
And so I packed them along with me. No harm in doing that after all.
I quickly got out of that apartment soon after.
No point in wallowing over somber memories after all.
It was approximately 6:57 PM by the time I arrived home.
Surprisingly early considering what I was planning to do. Though now that I think back to it, there wasn't much stuff to take back from my former apartment anyways. My painting stuff was almost busted from lack of use so I had to get a couple of tubes of fresh paint and some brushes from the nearby arts and crafts stores anyway.
Oh, I got a burger as well on my way home, so dinner wasn't an issue.
I expected more missed calls and unread messages from Hachiman or Yukino when I was doing my own stuff but they were pretty mellow about it. My initial message to Hachiman only garnered a 'Stay safe and come home early, okay?'
When I opened the door and muttered a quiet 'I'm home', there was no response and almost all the lights were turned off, except the one coming from the TV in the living room. Figuring that the two of them must be minding their business there, I was going to just greet them briefly the escape to the comfort of my room to complete the tasks that I had unwillingly agreed upon.
However, as I moved towards the couch, I saw Yukino carrying a bowl of snacks and walking towards the same couch as well. I was going to greet her but she apparently had other plans in mind as she said.
"Hachiman, move," Yukino said, probably annoyed if her tone was any indication, "You're not getting any snacks if I'm not seated."
"Just put it on the coffee table," said Hachiman lazily.
I was curious enough to eavesdrop on their conversation but wasn't curious enough to barge in on their marital disputes.
"Yuki," Hachiman whined uncharacteristically, "Clients were really rough on me today with the sudden meetings and stuff. Don't you think your poor husband deserve a break?"
At his words, I could almost hear the veins popped out of Yukino's head. He really has no tact, does he?
"Oh excuse me for my lack of trouble in dealing with troublesome clients," Yukino said sarcastically, "Oh wait, I did. Dozens of them because they all lack common sense."
"Don't Yuki me, Hikigaya Hachiman."
I shouldn't look at this car crash of a dispute, should I?
As Hachiman apologized, I was going to make a dash for my room if not for Yukino apparently putting down her bowl of snacks on the table before dramatically proclaiming.
I could sense the few seconds of awkwardness as Hachiman recoiled at her loud voice. Since they were going to be arguing/pretend to argue anyways, I opted to sneak past them.
Buuuuuut curiosity got the better of me because I believed I'd just saw a goddamn anime staredown.
If said anime staredown consisted of a guy in his 20s languidly trying to move and a woman also in her 20s trying to look like a Sailor Moon.
The silence only continued for a few weird seconds though before I saw Hachiman's face light up with some weird realization, as he replied.
Then for some godforsaken reason, Yukino started dramatically and slowly stomping towards Hachiman, which was made even weirder by the Pan-san pajamas she was wearing.
"Hoho, you're approaching me?" Hachiman said smugly, still lazing about on the couch, "You're approaching me despite me taking over three-fourth of the couch, therefore not allowing you to have adequate room. Even so, you're still approaching me?"
Yukino smiled, "I can't cuddle you without getting closer."
"Hohooo, then come as close as you like!"
Then in an unexpected move, she jumped right into Hachiman's waiting arms, nuzzling into her fiancé's chest like a little girl.
"Sorry for earlier, Hachi," Yukino mumbled, "I was frustrated with today. My dad made things very difficult."
"I'm sorry too," With a peck on Yukino's forehead, he added, "I should've been more considerate."
In turn, Yukino responded with more nuzzles into Hachiman's chest.
Meanwhile, there was me who was hanging out by the doorframe to the living room, trying to process all the data that these two have just supplied me with. Should I have not watch that entire exchange? It felt like I was watching something I shouldn't have.
However, deciding that I should at least let them know I was home, I knocked on the door frame slightly.
"…hey guys, I'm home."
Almost immediately, I could hear the ruckus in the living room as the two of them switched into their professional mode, with Hachiman leaning back on the couch and watching the TV and Yukino somehow pulling a book out of nowhere and reading it.
"Oh hey, Rumi," Hachiman greeted me shakily with a hint of embarrassment in his voice, "How was the festival?"
"It was okay, I guess. Not much happened."
Yukino still didn't say anything so Hachiman asked me again, "And what did you do earlier that you missed dinner?"
"Just getting some stuff from my old apartment for the festival tomorrow," I answered while showing them the bag I'd put all my painting equipment in.
"I see…" Hachiman glanced at Yukino a bit before waving me off, "Uhh, you can go do your stuff now. We'll be down here if you need us."
Chuckling slightly, I nodded before going up to my room. Well, that was a blackmail material if I've ever seen one.
But I needed to focus on the task at hand if I wanted to finish this by tomorrow morning. Some might say that it is an impossible task and I'd say they're correct.
However, my pride won't forgive me if I allowed the chance to rub my victory in Hojo's face slip by.
Speaking of which, while Ruri said that I'd only need two pieces to enter the contest, I'd bet that Hojo and the others had probably painted three or more pieces; ergo, my target for tonight should be three paintings as well.
But I'd got new tubes of paint, a couple of new brushes, as well as some reference photos that I'd taken on my way home, so it wasn't like I was starving for ideas. I'd also taken the liberty to think up of the theme for all three of my paintings.
The only hard part was the time needed and execution.
Painting came naturally to me, as surprising as it sounds. It's just that compared to members of the art club, I've never really had the time to do much in terms of practice. But I'd definitely say that I can at least contend with Hojo and her obnoxiously beautiful paintings.
I mean, she was the one that proclaimed that I was her rival after all, as much as I hate to acknowledge it.
Oh well, if it can make her smug, haughty face disappear for even a minute; that will be a victory for me.
And so I started.
Slowly and carefully, trying to remember the sensation of moving my brush across the canvas again. It was tough considering that the last time I painted was over a year ago, but like riding an extremely complicated bicycle, it came back to me bit by bit.
Well, I actually had to step back and tried to focus on what I was doing, lest I forget my entire theme.
Unfortunately, since I wasn't quite smooth enough with my endeavors, I actually needed to pull an all-nighter for all three.
Partway through my session, which was about 9:30 PM, I almost finished putting the finishing touches on my first piece, if not for the knocking at my door.
I went to open it, and it was Hachiman, surprisingly. I thought it'd be Yukino, but she probably had a hard time looking me in the face after posing like a mahou shoujo protagonist.
"Oh, hello," I greeted Hachiman stiffly. Clearly, trying to paint a piece in one sitting took its toll on me.
"Sup," Hachiman replied before looking past me and at the incomplete painting, "Oh you're actually painting."
"Is it that much of a surprise…" I muttered sorely as he walked past me and inspected my piece.
"Woah, this is awesome," Hachiman said, "You sure you haven't been sneaking off somewhere to paint?"
"Not like I have the time, y'know," I sighed and plopped on my bed for a momentary rest, "And it would have been better if I'm not rusty."
"You call this rusty? It's still great, y'know," replied Hachiman, "So you're gonna put this up as an exhibition tomorrow?"
"That's only one outta three pieces," I explained, groaning at the workload, "And it's for a contest, not an exhibition."
I could feel Hachiman's judgmental gaze on me as he asked, "Why are you putting this much pressure on yourself?"
Groaning again, I answered, "My pride, the chance to have the student council vice president in my debt, and the chance to knock down someone a peg or too."
"You're going to lose sleep."
"I think it's for a good cause…" I replied reluctantly, "Probably."
With a heavy sigh, Hachiman instead asked, "Are you sure you're going to finish it on time?"
"Of course, I am. I'm Tsurumi Rumi after all."
"That doesn't make any sense," Hachiman retorted, "But I trust in you nonetheless, stupid as your goals are."
"Gee, thanks a lot, Hachiman. And you're supposed to be my guardian."
"Indeed I am," He snickered, "I'm only supposed to stop you from make stupid decisions, but if you're going through with one, then I can only support you."
I mumbled in agreement before realizing something.
"Oh, right. Can you bring me to school tomorrow too?" I sat up and asked, "I might need to set up early, just in case."
"Sure, no problem," He replied as he went to the door, "Don't push yourself too hard now. You can't enjoy your victory if you're too exhausted."
"You speak too much like an old man, y'know," I chuckled, "But I'll keep that in mind. Thanks."
"Good luck, Rumi," Hachiman said, "I'll come check your showcase tomorrow."
"Don't you have work?" I asked drearily.
"Well, my schedule is rather flexible but we'll see," said Hachiman with a grin as he closed the door, "Goodnight, Rumi. Don't stay up too late."
"Yeah, goodnight…" I heaved a huge sigh once more before dramatically leaping onto my feet. Might as well get energetic now since my first painting wasn't technically completed yet.
As I expected, the work needed for this was annoyingly immense.
It wasn't as if I didn't expect to work hard but even I found my energy being drained away every second. My hands moved smoothly across the canvas, sure, but my eyelids began drooping lower and lower, threatening to snap shut and whisk me into wonderland.
But I refuse!
That night was mostly spent rooted in one spot and occasionally taking a power nap. However, even that wasn't enough as my eyelids felt heavier than an anvil. So heavy in fact that I almost fell into deep, deep slumber.
And so, I sneaked into the kitchen to get something to munch on and brewed some tea as well. Might as well go all out if I was gonna beat that smug princess after all.
The paintings came out fine. Finer than I expected as I was extremely rusty and deprived of sleep. So deprived of sleep in fact that halfway through one of the painting, I tried to paint with a dried out brush.
I immediately brewed more tea after.
Then as I glanced at the clock on my nightstand and saw 12:15 AM, I heaved a heavy sigh, knowing that I was only finished with two paintings while being halfway done with the last one. All three of my paintings interlocked with each other thematically so this last one was the most important part.
If I couldn't finish it or get it right, my chances will all fall apart.
Argh, all this stemmed from me wanting free premium yakisoba breads. This had better be worth it.
And so I continued, powered by sheer willpower along with some snacks and tea.
Eventually, my supplies ran out and since my eyes still felt heavy, I figured that I'll just take a 15 minutes power nap. That should be enough to restore my energy, right?
Nothing could go wrong from a simple nap after all.
I was awoken from my reverie by constant knockings on my bedroom door.
The morning light shone through the curtain and onto me as I lazily stretched to get rid of any sore spots on my body. I never thought sleeping would be this troublesome.
"Rumi, are you ready?" The voice behind the door asked, "Breakfast is downstairs, and Hachiman is leaving soon, just so you know."
Ah, of course. The second and final day of the school festival. It would make sense that I would need to get there early. After all I…
I whipped my head and looked at the half-done painting in front me.
What the f-
"Rumi? You woke up yet?" The voice of Yukino can clearly be heard, "Hachiman is waiting downstairs."
"Y-Yeah, I'm up!" I stood up immediately and began rushing towards the bathroom, "Just give me a minute."
With possibly the fastest shower in history, I dressed up and packed up all of my important items – yes, even the incomplete painting – and bolted downstairs, quickly grabbing a toast and jetting towards a waiting Hachiman, who was looking bored sitting in his car.
He didn't ask me anything as I finally found the chance to catch my breath and reassess the absolute pickle that I was in.
On my right was all three of my paintings, bundled up neatly and ready to be displayed – except for the third and final piece which was only half done. Since I used acrylic paint, I should be able to finish it off at school at a reasonable pace. After all, if traffic was as usual, I should be able to get to school about 30 minutes before the actual festival started – which is probably when the voting period also starts.
The ride to school was silent, most likely due to Hachiman not being a morning person. And I was glad for that because I also didn't quite have enough energy for small talks.
As he dropped me off, Hachiman finally spoke up for the first time today, "Rumi, I'll swing by this afternoon, alright?"
Grimacing slightly, I replied, "You don't have to if you're busy, y'know. It's just a stupid art contest thing."
"Maybe," He grinned tiredly, "But I'll come check for fun."
"Right…" I replied before waving goodbye to Hachiman. I'll focus on him later. Right now, I had to get to the art clubroom…
Which was situated on the third floor of the school…
I crouched down a bit and took a moment to gather myself before I lose it.
With a heavy sigh and lots of reluctant determination, I began walking towards the stairs.
And after a lot of panting and three floors, I finally arrived. Well, almost. Because the gods hate me and decided that the art clubroom was also at the end of the hallway as well.
But that didn't matter. I was almost there after all.
As I got closer, I began spotting some familiar faces in the crowd, namely the members of the art club that I vaguely remembered. They all gave me a passing glance but resumed their own conversations soon after.
Well, it's not like I expected anyone to remember me anyway.
As I entered the room itself, I saw no signs of Hojo, but I did see Ruri, who was occupied with setting up her own exhibition. When I approached her, she saw me and rushed like a little puppy.
"Senpai, senpai," She said excitedly, "You're actually here!"
"Of course, I am," I said, panting in between, "Ruri, get me a canvas stand."
"You mean an easel?"
I grumbled a reply as I hung up my two finished paintings in an empty space with my name tag on the bottom, "You know what I mean."
"Yes, ma'am!" Ruri saluted and before I even got seated, she came back with an easel in hand.
"Thanks," I said as I began setting up the unfinished piece on the canvas stand and began preparing the acrylic paint alongside my brushes.
"Senpai, you're not done yet?" She said before noticing all three paintings, "Woah, I only said two was the requirement, right?
Despite her innocent voice, I couldn't help but be a little frustrated at Ruri. How did my painting look, Ruri? Did it look complete?
"Apparently. And let's just say I went overboard."
I calmed myself down and began remembering what I'd wanted to paint in the first place. The paint from last night had already dried out but since it was easy to paint over acrylic anyways, I had no problems in that regards.
With a deep breath and my hair tied up in a ponytail, the brush in my hand began moving.
…or at least it would have if not for a shrill voice calling out to me.
"Oh my, Tsurumi-san, don't you think that's cheating?"
Gripping my brush harder in an attempt to ignore her, my hand started moving again, "What do you want, Hojo?"
"Oh nothing really," Hojo said mockingly, "It's just that I haven't seen you yesterday so I thought you forfeited this little competition."
"Uh huh," I said absentmindedly as I continued to paint. Did I bring enough paint from my room or did I forget some?
"Well, Tsurumi-san," Hojo said through gritted teeth, "Don't you think you're cheating right now?"
"Well, the other art club members and I have already finished our pieces yesterday and decided to use those as our competition pieces."
For the first time today, I turned to Hojo, confused at her words, "I don't follow…"
"Oh my, Tsurumi-san," She said haughtily, "Don't you think that you having time to modify your painting invalidates all the hard work that we've done thus far? Isn't that unfair to those who can't change their work?"
"Hey, you're the unfair one!" Ruri jumped in, "Senpai had to paint all of these in one night, y'know!"
"That's on her, not us."
"Enough, Ruri," I cut in, my mind drained from their squabbles, "If she wants me to put up my work now, then that's fine with me. I'm basically done anyways."
"Senpai…we still have time, y'know…"
"I know," I said as I got up and hung my final piece near the other two, "But if that's what the princess wants, then let's give it to her."
It was fortunate that most of the art club members were outside the room, because Hojo probably couldn't handle them seeing her face getting so undignified.
I slowly approached her and muttered, "You're only doing this for your ego, aren't you? It's not like you're starving for the prize."
With a glint in her eyes, Hojo smirked, "And what if I am?"
"Then I guess we'll see by the end of today."
Still with a smirk, Hojo extended a hand out to me, "Let's be good-sports for our last cultural festival today. Right, Tsurumi-san?"
"Sure thing, Hojo-san."
She gripped my hand rather than shook it and I did the same in return. Immediately after, we both retracted our hand as if recoiling from the shock of having to touch each other.
Knowing that I wasn't gonna get anything done in the clubroom, I stomped away from it to distance myself as far as possible from Hojo. Even though she didn't say much, that princess still annoyed me to no end.
Ruri obviously followed behind me if the soft pitter-patters of her steps were any indications.
I kept on walking until the both of us rounded a corner. Since there weren't many people here yet, I came to a stop.
And then I fell to my knees, clutching my head in regret and despair.
"Senpai?" Ruri innocently chirped in.
"Ruri, I made a mistake, haven't I?"
"I think so."
"I shouldn't have fallen for her taunting, should I?"
"No, you shouldn't have."
"Y'know, your unfinished painting basically looked done anyways," Ruri pointed out as she crouched in front of me, "I trust in your artistic prowess, Senpai."
"…when did you learn such complicated words…" Before Ruri could reply, I added, "But whatever. What's done is done."
"And also, you're not gonna shirk on your responsibilities today. You're supposed to have a speech ready, yeah?"
"…I was hoping you'll forget that," Ruri admitted.
"Shrimp, I'm part of the festival committee; ergo, I make sure everything runs smoothly," I said with a bit of pride, "Now run to your precious council president to let him help you with it or you're gonna be in a world of hurt."
"Yes, ma'am!" Ruri mock-saluted me before running off, "Senpai, you'll do great! I believe in you!"
My little kouhai waved energetically as she disappeared from sight. Honestly, how did she have so much energy so early in the morning? She even got here earlier than I did.
Why did I fall for the most basic tactic in Hojo's book? She knows she can't beat me at my full strength so that was the reason she felt the need to stop me. I should feel good about that, right? To know that even Hojo was anxious.
But at the end of the day, the results will still spell out Hojo's name as the winner and not mine.
I'd hate that.
I don't want that.
I despise that.
Especially not with Hachiman coming to visit.
But just like what I said to Ruri earlier, there wasn't anything I can do to change the past after all. The best I could do was hope for that people will get what I actually wanted to showcase and infer the meanings from there.
I heaved a huge sigh in the empty hallway.
Good grief, today is going to be troublesome.
With much reluctance, I marched to the festival committee room to see if they needed me for anything. Hopefully, some menial tasks will take my mind off this conundrum.
No matter how hard I tried.
No matter how many stupid, odd jobs I did.
No matter how many errands I ran for the student council.
I just couldn't not think about the contest.
It was impossible to not think of how well I was doing or how much votes I was getting. But at least, from what Ruri told me when I went to meet her, as the art club president, she was going to be tallying the votes so I could at least know that this was going to be fair.
But it was still putting lots of pressure on me.
And from what I've observed from afar, there seemed to be a lot of people visiting the art clubroom. Either that or there was another great attraction nearby. But that wasn't the point.
The point was that even though I knew there were a lot of visitors coming in for the showcase, I still couldn't muster up the courage to go look in the room itself.
I saw various art club members. I saw Ruri. I even saw Hojo at one point. But even so, I was deathly afraid to enter the room to see if people liked my art or not.
Hell, even though I was supposed to be patrolling the school for any signs of trouble, I deliberately chose a path that would lead me away from the art clubroom. That was how paranoid I was.
It didn't help that I haven't seen any signs of Hachiman since morning either even though he said he was gonna visit me…
Well, whatever, right? Whatever happens, happens.
Just like yesterday, due to the accumulated expertise of me and the other festival committee members, the festival ran as smooth as ever with barely any signs of hiccups. That wasn't to say that I wanted something troublesome to happen. In all my years of attending the cultural festival, I always prefer a smooth-sailing festival over an exciting yet annoying one after all.
But there was one other thing that was occupying my mind besides the contest itself.
Namely, the fact that a certain Hikigaya Hachiman hasn't been seen on the campus premises even though there was less than one hour left until the closing ceremony.
Then again, what did I expect? He was a busy, working man after all, and coming to visit a silly art show of a teenager would be on the bottom of his priority list. So even though he promised me to come visit, I didn't actually mind because I understood the circumstances that he was in.
Of course, I do. I'm a rational person after all.
However, my patrol through the school was interrupted by a simple message from Ruri. It simply read:
Senpai they're announcing the results of the contest right now
Almost on instinct, my feet moved by themselves towards the third floor of the school building. As much as I've told myself that I didn't care in the slightest, I knew that deep down that I do care – even if the contest was silly and rigged from the start.
If I can get the first place and prize, I can actually show off to Hachiman and Yukino.
Even though my feet ached and throbbed from the incessant running, I didn't stop.
I can actually show them that I can do something worthwhile.
I pushed my way past the multitude of people that were crowding up the hallway.
Something that I can be p-
"Senpai…" Ruri muttered as she was the only one that noticed my arrival – and for a good reason too.
Because everyone else was focused on the slides that showed the rankings of the contest participants.
I gulped and moved forward, my eyes frantically shifting to the lower part of the ranking. Once I found out that my name wasn't anywhere near there, I breathed a sigh of relief and began looking upwards. At one point, Ruri held the sleeve of my t-shirt, as if to comfort me.
And as expected, I didn't win.
I let out a scoff.
Of course, I didn't. Why would an incomplete painting win anyways? The other club members, especially Hojo, had the time and resources to fully bring out their artistic vision. Meanwhile, I was being an arrogant teenager who was in over her head and tried to paint all three of my pieces overnight with minimal sleep.
Of course, I wouldn't win. If I'd won, I would consider it a loss for the whole art club because they would have lost to an outsider.
Of course, I wouldn't win. I haven't practiced painting in over a year so the rust would've set in compared to Hojo and the others.
Of course, I wouldn't win.
I had already accepted that fact. That cold, harsh fact that my name was ranked right below Hojo.
I tried to force myself to smile bitterly at the situation. Of course, she would win. She's a genius after all; basically the second coming of Katsushika Hokusai.
But I couldn't get rid of this bitter taste in my mouth.
And I knew all too well just why.
"Senpai, you did great," Ruri consoled me as the rest of the art club members and some visitors cheered the princess-like Hojo, who tried to look surprised. Meanwhile, I was stuck in the corner of the room with my own kouhai trying to cheer me up.
"You really did, Senpai," Ruri repeated herself, "Doing three pieces in one night isn't a small task."
Of course, it wasn't. I understood that. That's why I did it in the first place, because I wanted to prove that even with a small amount of time, I still had the talent and determination to make something beautiful and then win with that beautiful thing.
But I didn't win.
Far from it, in fact. I got completely destroyed by Hojo.
Because despite the small difference in our ranking, the disparity in the amount of votes shown on screen was tremendous.
I had to take in a deep breath and sat down on a nearby stool to compose myself.
I had lost by over 50 votes.
I knew that the incomplete piece would spell disaster for me but even I didn't expect to get utterly decimated by Hojo. Hell, I couldn't even look at her celebrating in front of the crowd because my hands were shaking erratically.
Taking in another deep breath, I crouched and rested my face on both my palms to gain some semblance of concentration.
"Oh my, Tsurumi-san."
Without looking up, I asked, "What do you want, Hojo?"
"Well, I was just going to congratulate you on a valiant effort in the contest," Hojo said mockingly, "Even though you only had one night, you were still able to put up a good fight. And I think that in of itself deserves some praises. Though that unfinished piece of yours was really questionable."
"You know that was unfair in the first place!" Ruri exclaimed, "You know that if Senpai had more time, she would've mopped the floor with you! You're af-,"
"Enough, Ruri," I raised my hand tiredly to stop her rants. I didn't need any more headaches today, "Congrats, Hojo. You won."
"I'd expect more praises but that'll do as well, Tsurumi-san," She said with a faux smile, "Even though some of our times spent together have not been agreeable, I really enjoyed your presence here, Tsurumi-san."
"And well, I just want to say: Let's enjoy our last year together."
I muttered absentmindedly, which Hojo immediately took as a victory because she soon shifted her focus to everyone else and announced something about treating the entirety of the art club to some food downstairs.
The details escaped me because I didn't listen any longer.
But once every person funneled out of the clubroom, there was only me and Ruri remaining. And unfortunately, I just wanted to be left alone.
"Senpai," Ruri crouched down to meet my eyes, "Don't be so down on yourself. You did awesome."
"Uh huh," I chuckled wearily, "Don't you have a speech to remember?"
"This is your last year with Shiro, right? Don't take it for granted and make some good memories with him," Noticing her somber face, I continued, "Don't worry about me. I'll be in tip-top shape in no time, as long as you get me my yakisoba breads, of course."
Ruri gave a sad smile as she stood up, "Alright, Senpai. You're not coming to the assembly hall yet, right?"
"Yeah…" I answered, "I'll stay here for a bit to…think about stuff, if that's fine with you."
"It is, Senpai," Ruri replied with a small smile, "I'll see you soon."
She waved goodbye soon after, leaving only me in this painting-filled room. I decided to walk around a bit to see the other contest pieces. As expected of the art club, they were exceptionally done. Some had even used oil painting as their preferred method.
However, I couldn't really focus too much on the variety of techniques used because at the end of it all, I ended up standing in front of a canvas that was only half-filled with my vision.
The earthy mix of colors abruptly ended near the center of the painting, giving it quite a jarring look compared to Hojo's works – whose colors were expertly blended and varied.
Tsurumi Rumi, the name tag underneath all three pieces read.
I chuckled bitterly before sitting down on a nearby chair.
I screamed into my hands, thanking the fact that no one was here except me.
Why was I so arrogant? So eager to prove myself? I could've just refused and save myself the embarrassment.
I thought I could actually show off to Hachiman and Yukino.
I took a deep breath and looked at my incoherent set of paintings once more. I can't show this to the two of them so I'll just say that they will become possessions of the art club from now on.
Sighing, I stood up reluctantly and decided to take it down. Maybe I'll just wrap it up and store it in some obscure location in the room so that no one can find it.
As I reached to take all of them down, I heard frantic footsteps and an exhausted voice calling out.
"Umm, excuse me…" The man said as he panted, moving into the clubroom, "I was just wondering…if this is the art club…"
In my stupor, I didn't recognize the voice and it wasn't until he walked around the corner that I actually saw him.
Hikigaya Hachiman actually came.
"Oh…sup, Rumi," Hachiman said awkwardly as he tried to catch his breath, a task made even more difficult by the fact that he was currently wearing a stiff-looking dress shirt, "Oh god, traffic was terrible and I had to park like a block away."
I couldn't say anything as he approached me, fanning his own face in an attempt to beat the heat.
"Ugh, my cardio is horrible," Hachiman complained, "Wait, is the contest over already?"
"…uh yeah, we…we just wrapped things up earlier," I replied, unable to directly look him in the eyes.
"Ah, such a shame then. But your pieces are still here, right?"
"Y-Yeah…yeah they are."
I backed off a bit to let him see my name tag underneath the three paintings that I'd been standing in front of us. Noticing this, he immediately moved in and looked at all three with childlike curiosity.
"Woah, you painted these?"
"In one night?" He looked at me incredulously. When I nodded, he only muttered, "That's awesome."
I scoffed, "It's not that great, y'know."
"But you did all three in one night. And with these details as well…" Hachiman inspected the paintings closer, "It doesn't detract from how amazing it is."
Again, I chuckled sadly, "It's not amazing either. It…I didn't win the art contest…"
Glancing at Hachiman, I found him looking at me with confusion, "Oh…so what? Not winning something doesn't make your art awful, y'know."
Before I could get a word in, he noticed something, "Wait a minute. Is this supposed to be our house?"
He pointed to the middle painting showcasing a typical modern Japanese house with the setting sun acting as a backdrop. I nodded before explaining.
"I…uhh, I didn't have ideas at the time so I took some reference pictures. I hope you don't mind."
"Oh no, far from it. Damn, you even got the balcony flowers right," Hachiman said before pointing to another one, "And is this…supposed to be us?"
Ah, the unfinished painting. It was supposed to show a fireplace adjacent to a couch with three figures sitting in it. I said supposed to but I couldn't really finish coloring it in. As a result, I looked like a sloppy mess that had no thoughts put into it.
"Well, yeah…but it's not finished…"
Despite my explanation, Hachiman kept looking at it, "Y'know, you say it's unfinished but I can clearly see that this is me."
Again, he pointed towards one of the figure sitting on the couch.
I nodded slowly which made Hachiman light up.
"I knew it. You even got my hair right," He chuckled, "And so this is Yuki and this is…you, right?"
Nodding again, I replied, "I…I hope I'm not being too presumptuous."
Since I'm not a part of their family after all.
"Presumptuous?" Hachiman remarked, confused, "Why would it be presumptuous to paint our family?"
A weird, phantom lump formed in my throat as I nodded again.
He backed off a bit and shifted his focus from one painting to another, smiling a bit in wonder as he did so.
"I never really had the chance to actually look at paintings like these when I was in high school," Hachiman explained, "So this is kinda a first for me."
Staying silent for a few second, Hachiman approached the painting again and without looking at me, he asked, "So can we hang these up?"
"I mean I know all these are contest pieces but technically, you own them, right?" I nodded at his question, "So that means we can take these home."
"Why?" I asked, a bit confused at his intentions.
In response, Hachiman looked at me as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world, "Well, we gotta hang these up in the living room, right?"
That weird, phantom lump formed in my throat again.
"But why?" I said bitterly, "It's not like any of these are good, y'know."
"So what? Paintings don't have to be Picasso-level to be considered great, right?" Hachiman replied, "Besides, the fact that you took the time and energy to make these – with all of us in mind, no less – really gives it a value no one else can appreciate."
Before I can retort, Hachiman cut in, "Besides, I'm pretty sure Yukino will squeal like a kid to know you kept us in mind when painting, y'know. Don't tell her I said that though."
I couldn't really say anything. What could I say? Not to mention, the lump in my throat was getting more restrictive and making it hard to breathe.
Hachiman then took the time to look over the painting again, specifically the one that I didn't finish.
"I feel kinda fuzzy and warm when looking at them for some reason," He said dreamily, "That's our house…and that's our family."
I tried to avert my gaze from him, lest I lose control over something I'll regret later but the pressure of a hand on my head basically forced my focus to land on Hachiman.
He was smiling and ruffling my hair like it was oh so familiar to him.
I tried to swallow the lump again to prevent something from bursting out.
"I'm really proud of you."
That was all I had to say.
Simple words that even a kid knows.
Simple words that I'd uttered over a thousand times over my 19 years of life.
Simple words that would be so easy to say…
Yet I couldn't.
Because I felt like a dam was bursting, and I didn't want to show that.
So instinctively my feet moved forward, and my hands reached and wrapped themselves around Hachiman as I couldn't help but bury my face into Hachiman's shirt.
It wasn't until an instant later that I realized what I was doing.
"I-I'm sorry…I…I didn't mean to…" I apologized, trying to remove myself from his body.
Except he didn't let it go.
"No, it's fine," Hachiman pulled me in closer, caressing my head gently as he did so, "Just…just let it all out."
Was it because I missed being comforted by another person that long? Was it because I desired the appreciation and acknowledgement of a parental figure that much? Did I even deserve to be comforted to this extent?
I didn't know.
But I didn't care either.
Because I just kept embracing Hachiman tighter and tighter, sobbing and whimpering like a kid as I did so.
Even so, Hikigaya Hachiman didn't mind as he rubbed the back of my head.
I knew that he wouldn't hear it but even so, I murmured:
"So you're saying this brush is no good?"
I massaged my forehead in exasperation, "No, that's a fan brush. I have two of them already."
"And you're looking for…?"
"A liner brush…"
"Hey, I didn't realize that there were different brushes," Hachiman complained while looking extremely suspicious as he crouched down to look for the types of brush I mentioned, "I mean, a paint brush is a paint brush, right?"
I had to massage my forehead again before I succumb to another headache.
If anyone was wondering why a 19 year old girl was explaining to her much older guardian what type of brush she wants, I honestly wouldn't know what to say. This morning, despite his apparently hectic work schedule, Hachiman still offered to take me out to buy some art supplies in order to finish that painting since he wants to show it off in the living room.
Something that I highly advised against but he still insisted.
Why, exactly? Because yesterday evening, as soon as we arrived home, Hachiman immediately gushed about my art to Yukino with no restraint whatsoever even though I kept telling them that it wasn't good in the first place. And unfortunately, Yukino soon fell to the same pit as she apologized for not going to visit me, and that as apology, they would help me buy some materials to finish my painting.
I remembered silently muttering a 'Thank you', much to their amusement.
And thank god they didn't mention anything about my puffed-up, red face. I honestly wouldn't know what to say.
However, despite what she said yesterday, Yukino was nowhere to be seen this morning though Hachiman explained that she had some urgent matters to attend to.
And despite his quiet personality, he spared no expenses in getting me the best gear possible.
Something that I, again, highly advised against yet he shot me down quickly with a 'It's fine'.
No, it isn't fine, Hachiman. What if Yukino kills you because of your poor financial responsibility?
After a painful trip of gathering all the stuff I needed, a large portion of which was spent on explaining various tools and their differences to Hachiman, he decided that we should eat out in the mall that we were shopping in, since he was too lazy to actually cook something and Yukino wasn't gonna be home till evening.
I immediately agreed because I too was too lazy to do anything strenuous.
And for some reason, Hachiman suggested Yoshinoya since he was craving beef bowls – something which I also wanted. Yukino is right; we were more alike than I thought.
"By the way, Rumi," Hachiman asked as we were eating, "Have you decided which university you'll go to yet?"
I paused and took a swig of water before answering, "I…I'm not sure, to be honest."
Well, it wasn't as if I didn't have any names in mind. In fact, I did have one; however, considering the fact that I was delayed by one year and didn't have that good of a track record, I honestly didn't want to let him know my first choice.
"You can be honest, y'know. I won't judge."
Grimacing, I shook my head, "No, it's just…I don't really have a university I want to go to."
I looked at Hachiman again.
He was smiling.
I grunted in dissatisfaction and laid my head in my arms.
"I told you I don't have anywhere I want to go to."
"Nowhere." I muttered.
"I won't judge you." He repeated, and when I took a peek at Hachiman again, he was still sporting that dad-like smile.
"Tokyo University of Art, huh," Hachiman nodded as he poured himself some water, "Very ambitious of you, y'know. But I trust in you."
I lifted my head up, confused at this reaction.
"What?" Hachiman asked, also confused.
"It's just…" I tried to find the right words, "You're not gonna say 'Oh, Geidai? Shouldn't you be aiming for something more manageable or an actually useful major'?"
"Where did you even get that impression from?" He stared at me weirdly, "And no, I wouldn't say that. Why would I trample over someone else's dream and passion?"
"I don't know…because you might want me to become a lawyer or doctor or engineer?"
Scoffing, Hachiman replied, "If the world was filled with only those kinds of occupations, it'll be very boring, don't you think?"
"Besides, Yukino and I are behind you all the way. As long as you put in the work yourself, of course."
"Of course, I will. I'm not a lazy bum, y'know."
"Riiiight," Hachiman answered, "Umm…so…you want to get new shoes or something?"
"…where did that come from?"
"Well, ya see," Hachiman looked sheepishly to the side, "I realized that I haven't been very supportive to you, so I want to make it up."
"Oh…but you've done more than enough for me, y'know," I said to him, feeling extremely guilty that Hachiman was the one who felt that way instead, "And besides…"
I scratched my cheek awkwardly, "I already got new shoes from Yukino…"
"Huh…" Hachiman stared blankly at me before toying with his phone for a few seconds, "What about clothes?"
"Got that too."
She even got the high-end ones even though I thought she would value practicality over anything else.
"Yukino also got me that."
"...damn," Hachiman muttered under his breath, "What about art supplies?"
"Hachiman, we just got that."
"Right, we did, we did."
He probably thought I couldn't see it but I could clearly see him pumping his fist underneath the table.
"Is there a competition between you and Yukino?" I asked incredulously, "I didn't realize I was the prize here."
"Ah, well no. It's just that Yukino has been bragging about how she has been spending more precious time with you compared to me," Hachiman said, a hint of frustration on his face, "And honestly, I just want to do that with you too since I'm supposed to be your guardian."
"Not because you want to stick it to Yukino?"
Reluctantly, he nodded, "A little."
"And you two love each other?" I asked incredulously.
"Very much so."
"Then why haven't you married her yet?"
"Her mom is…troublesome…" Hachiman said uncomfortably, "She's the definition of a tiger mom."
Well, who would've known that Hachiman and Yukino were in the classic case of Orihime and Hikoboshi? Yukino was certainly a princess type person, though I'm not sure if Hachiman is a Hikoboshi though.
My mind lit up with an idea on how to help Hachiman.
"You said you want to stick it to Yukino, right?" I asked, drawing a nod from him.
"I guess so? Why?"
"We have all the art supplies we need and some time till dinner," I explained, "If you don't mind, do you want to learn some basic painting stuff? We can treat it as a bonding activity so Yukino can't say that only she has done that."
"…sure…" His eyes lighted up.
"And after, we can cook something for Yukino," I continued, "What do you think? It'll be a great way to surprise her when she gets home, right?"
In fact, since we ate at home, Yukino decided to teach me one of her recipes. I mean, it'd probably be very boring to eat the same meal twice in a week but it's the thought that counts, right?
"…who are you and what did you with Rumi?" Hachiman asked, his face contorted into one of seriousness.
Glaring at him, I muttered, "…can't I do something nice for you guys for once?"
At this, Hachiman gave a small smirk before standing up, "Alright then. I'll pay the bills then we can go."
"Sure," I picked my bags of goodies and accompanied Hachiman, "Let's go surprise your wife."
"She's basically your wife already."
"I know, but if I say that, she'll never stop teasing me about it."
I chuckled a little at the dynamic of this weird couple. Initially, I thought Yukino was the dominant one in this relationship but seeing her leap into his arms a few days ago really solidified how much they complete each other. Maybe I'll ask how they came to realize this someday.
Even so, they're still weird.
But with them, I felt all warm and fuzzy…and I missed that feeling.
It seems strange to say this but I am not a person who's comfortable with having too much time.
Most likely, it was due to the fact that any day-offs that I get were spent on sleeping. However, for some godforsaken reason, I actually woke up at 8 am today instead of the usual 11 am.
At least, Yukino won't tease me about it anymore.
But it wasn't like she could anyways as both she had already left to work with Hachiman by the time I woke up, which was surprising since I thought one of them would wait for me at least.
Oh well, can't really blame them. And they did leave me some breakfast.
And thus, without any of the two to distract me, I lazed around. I did nothing. I became a barnacle scum of Chiba.
In other words, I was bored out of my mind.
I tried to use what I'd learned from Yukino to cook something for myself during lunch but the result wasn't as satisfactory as I'd thought.
I tried to read the daily newspaper that Hachiman had strewn around the living room, but I dropped it after 5 headlines.
I'd even tried to pick up the brush again to paint something just for the heck of it since I had so much time…but I hit a block and decided to do something else.
That something else being laying on my bed and contemplating the five days that I've spent thus far with Hachiman and Yukino.
To think that five days ago, I was kicking and screaming – metaphorically, of course – to go back to my old life, but now that I am actually living with them…it wasn't that bad. Sure, we had a couple rough patches here and there, but I daresay that Yukino and I mellowed out quite a bit.
Though I would never say that out loud to her.
Fortunately though, I was saved from my pit of boredom by a message from Ruri, inviting me to hang out with her at the mall. Unfortunately for her, even I knew that I was just going to be a third wheel, so I contemplated not going actually.
In fact, I could be doing so much more like reading books, studying for my exams, or taking up new hobbies.
I could be jogging in the park!
Watching self-help videos!
Be a productive member of society!
On the other hand, that wouldn't fun at all and all of the things I mentioned could be done at a later, more convenient time anyways.
Yep, yep, yep.
Thus I decided to basically become a third wheel to my kouhai and her boyfriend.
The shame wasn't lost on me.
Then again, Hachiman would probably say 'At least you get to go out, right?' while Yukino would snidely remark 'Being a chaperone to your own kouhai? That isn't very dignified, is it?'
Maybe I should just get a boyfriend to spite her…someday.
As expected, when I arrived at our intended rendezvous point, Ruri was already there, waiting with her arm locked around her precious Shiro-chan. At least, try to hide your public affection. Aren't you council members supposed to be upholding public decency?
The reason for this hangout, as the council president explained, was to actually help Ruri with the lessons that she'd missed or plain out didn't get. And apparently, the catch was that these two won't go on a date unless it's a study date.
And being the responsible boyfriend that he is, Shiro had the foresight to have Ruri contact me as I am very proficient at history, something that Shiro isn't.
I glared at Ruri.
She begged me with crocodile tears in her eyes and whispered to me that she'll pay for our meals.
I still glared but nodded nonetheless.
The day went by quite smoothly, if I say so myself. After an impromptu tutoring lessons for Ruri from both myself and Shiro, she suggested that we do some windows shopping.
Shiro and I looked at each other in apprehension because despite not interacting that much, we both know that today was going to be a big hit to our energy tank.
Ruri, however, was oblivious to this simple fact and dragged us all over the mall.
And I mean all over the goddamn mall.
More clothes stores.
More shoes stores.
And a bookstore…but that was Shiro's idea.
However, despite this abuse from the student council vice-president, I didn't have much to complain. Mostly because I was lost in my own thoughts on what I should do this evening.
Surely, Hachiman and Yukino was going to be coming home around 6 PM. And if I'm not mistaken, both Shiro and Ruri should have a curfew around 7 PM, which meant that I can probably leave once they also leave.
The time right now as 3:35 PM, which gave both Shiro and Ruri ample amount of time to enjoy their precious little date while I spectated from far behind. Since Shiro is a responsible person, he'll probably remind Ruri of their curfew, which would mean that I'll be able to go home just a tad bit early.
With the extra time I got, I can use it to prepare dinner for both Hachiman and Yukino. She taught me to make a simple yet extremely delicious curry last night that I've been waiting to try out on my own. I honestly can't wait to see the looks on their faces.
I had to chuckle to myself as to how perfect this plan turned out. Hell, I'll probably get some groceries too to make some other stuff besides curry.
Hehehe, all according to plan.
"SONO CHI NO SADAME!"
Everything was not according to plan.
Everything was going horribly and terrifyingly wrong.
I need an adult.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Shiro was also swept up by Ruri's enthusiasm and charm as he forgot to remind her about curfew and subsequently accompanied her to a karaoke, which also forced me to tag along with them because I'd just lost my only excuse to leave them both.
We have been inside this godforsaken karaoke booth for the last 3 hours, with Ruri calling for extension every single time we were supposed to leave. Despite being her goddamn boyfriend, it was obvious who wore the pants in this relationship.
At one point, I did text Hachiman to notify him that I'll be late but got no response. He must be really busy today, huh? Meaning he'll probably get home quite a bit late too. Could Yukino be in the same boat? Probably.
When we finally left that torture chamber of songs and despair, it was already past 8 PM – a fact which Shiro noted with widened eyes and a gaping jaw.
Only took you three hours, you love-struck dumbass.
We parted ways soon after with Ruri begging Shiro to take her to an izakaya in order to have them both feel like adults – a request that was promptly shut down by me reminding them that they were both minors and so was I, which mean that I can't accompany them either.
In the end, Shiro literally had to drag a whimpering Ruri back to her house, which was closer to the mall than my house anyways so I wasn't worried for them. What I was worried about was that I still haven't gotten a message or call from either Yukino or Hachiman.
Welp, by the time I get home, Yukino will probably berate me for staying out too late again, though I technically did have any alibi so I wasn't going to wreck my head over that. Maybe I swing by the nearby sweets store to get something for both of them.
After a quiet train ride and a quick trip to get some daifukus, I arrived home at approximately 8:30 PM, which was normal considering what I had to do in the first place. I'll just give them the sweets as an apology and eat some leftovers for dinner.
What wasn't normal, however, was the fact that the lights coming from the living room were turned on, meaning that we probably have guests over. From what I've known of these two's habits, they would prefer turning the lights off and snuggling against each other while watching some random 90s anime or drama.
I cursed under my breath as I opened the door as sneakily as possible. Should I go say hello or just sneak past? Last time it worked because they had the lights off so the probability of me going past them unnoticed was quite minimal.
Ah whatever, I'll just go say hi and go back to my room. It'll be fine.
At least, that was the plan until I heard a voice that didn't belong to either Hachiman or Yukino.
"Yukinoshita Yukino," The elderly voice said, "I am going to ask this one last time: Are you serious?"
Uncharacteristically, I could hear the apprehension in Yukino's voice as she answered, "I am, mother. This is what Hachiman and I want."
Mother? Her mom is here?!
I really was in a tough spot, wasn't I? Maybe what Hachiman said about Yukino's family being the barrier to their marriage wasn't an exaggeration at all. Maybe her mom is really opposed to their union.
A huge sigh could be heard as Mrs. Yukinoshita remarked, "Then are you alright in the head?"
"What exactly are you implying?" Hachiman said, his tone flat and unlike anything I've heard from him before.
"Hikigaya," She addressed Hachiman coldly, "This is between me and my daughter only. So I would appreciate it if you stay out of it."
"And Yukino's my fiancé so if anything concerns her, it also concerns me."
Silence for that few seconds felt like forever before Mrs. Yukinoshita started talking again.
"Very well; if you insist, then let's discuss," She cleared her throat and that authoritative voice rang out again, "You already know how much I was opposed to you being Yukino's husband."
"I am aware of that."
"However, as time passes, I began to warm up to you and realize that you are indeed a…reliable and dependable person," She paused a bit, "And because of that I…acknowledge my daughter's decision."
Maybe I could crouch and sneak to my room…would that work?
"But you had the gall to adopt a teenager behind our backs."
I decided to lean against the wall and listen to them. No point in overreacting, right?
"With no permission from any of us, with none of our inputs," She said harshly, "You had the nerves to influence my daughter to adopt someone she doesn't even want to."
"That someone's name is Tsurumi Rumi," Hachiman retorted firmly, "And I will not have you disrespect her or Yukino in this household."
"Tsurumi, is it? Tell me, was it your idea to adopt her?"
"And did Yukino agree with you on this?"
"I did," Yukino interjected, "I wouldn't have done this if I didn't agree with it."
"Then tell me exactly why don't you adopt a more…appropriate child?"
More appropriate? The hell did she mean by that?
"What exactly did you mean by appropriate?" Hachiman echoed my thoughts.
With a disappointed sigh, Yukino's mom replied, "I honestly thought you'd be more intuitive than this, Hikigaya."
I could almost feel the rage building up from Hachiman. Honestly, the way she said it and her tone was grinding my gears as well. But she is Yukino's mom after all so I can't just go up there and tell her a piece of my mind.
…though the pressure from her posture and tone alone could make me shut up in an instance.
"Both of you honestly think that it is a good idea to adopt a high school student?" Before Hachiman or Yukino could speak up, she continued, "A high school student whose graduation was delayed by one year no less?"
My mouth went dry. She had a point but it wasn't my fault. I overworked myself and couldn't fully study.
But even so…she had a point.
"She isn't defin-,"
"A high school student," Her voice got firmer and harsher, "Who despite getting a full ride scholarship to Sobu, decided to waste it all because she had no sense of responsibility."
"Mother, that's not-!"
"And you mean to tell me that despite this being her final opportunity at a good life, she still decides to attend an art school? Geidai of all places?" Mrs. Yukinoshita exclaimed incredulously, "I could understand wanting to do it as a hobby but to pursue in career in arts?"
"You want us to trample over her passion?!" Hachiman shouted before Yukino held him back and said something calming to him, "…we can't just do that."
"Why not?" Mrs. Yukinoshita pressed, "You intend to be her parents, do you not? Why can't you be more realistic? We're not talking about a child here; she is already an adult."
"…" Hachiman was speechless as Mrs. Yukinoshita continued to lay it in.
Well, not like I could do anything either. I had to let out a silent chuckle at what she said since it was so on point. No matter how passionate I am, it's not like a career in arts is a very fruitful one. In fact, I'll just be wasting their support and resources anyways…
"But let's say I approve of her choice; Geidai is still an extremely prestigious and challenging school. You both know that she won't thrive there," She said truthfully, "Be honest with yourself. Act as parents should and guide her on the right path."
"She has talent and is extremely hard working," Hachiman spoke up, futilely trying to deflect his mother-in-law's point.
Sighing again, Mrs. Yukinoshita addressed her daughter, "Yukino, convince your husband otherwise. If not, I won't be able to approve your marriage."
My ears perked up at her statement as I had half a mind to run there and tell Hachiman that it wasn't worth it to risk his or Yukino's happiness for me. But what can I do except eavesdrop and hope that Hachiman can work something out?
Even then, that hope was slowly fading.
...I'm not worth it…
"But she does have talent!" exclaimed Hachiman, standing up and gesturing around the room, "Look at all these! These are her works! How can you say she doesn't have any talent?!"
Mrs. Yukinoshita didn't respond and opted to look at the paintings that Hachiman pointed to – my paintings. I was on edge too, trying to hear what she had to say even though I knew that it was a bad idea.
Scratch that, it was definitely a bad idea.
I should've covered my ears.
I shouldn't have arrived here.
I should've stayed out late.
"You mean these motel arts?"
I heard a thud.
Those three heard a thud too.
A thud that suspiciously sounded like a plastic box falling onto a wooden floor, colliding with it and ricocheting off somewhere.
A thud that was just three centimeters to my left.
"Rumi?" Hachiman was the first to notice and walked to where I was. I immediately snapped out of my stupor and tried to retrieve the box of sweets that had slipped out of my hand.
However, in doing so, I ended up revealing myself to everyone.
"When did you-,"
"A-Aha…I'm home…" I sheepishly rubbed the back of my neck, "Sorry for staying out so late. Umm, good evening, Mrs. Yukinoshita."
"Rumi, did-," Hachiman tried to talk again but I cut in abruptly.
"I-I'm extremely sorry for interrupting your discussion. I hope I…I wasn't too much of a distraction," I bowed sharply and pushed the box into Hachiman, "E-Excuse me but I'll be in my room."
Hachiman probably shouted to me.
Yukino probably called out to me too.
Mrs. Yukinoshita probably glared at me in disappointment
But I didn't care as my legs instinctively carried me to the second floor without looking back. I could hear Hachiman's footsteps approaching but I was faster. With one swift motion, I got into my room, locked the door, and curled up against it, effectively blocking Hachiman from entering.
I could hear him shouting to me behind the door as I locked it, but I didn't want to hear anything.
I'm not crying.
I didn't want to see anyone.
I'm not crying.
I wanted to be alone again so that I don't have to be hurt.
It's just motel art.
So that no one else has to be hurt by me.
I'm not crying.
Ah, why was he still calling my name?
I rummaged through both my duffel bags once more to make sure.
Even though this was the fifth time I've check it, I still wanted to make sure so that I didn't have to make two trips. The painting equipment that I bought on the evening of the first day of the cultural festival was there, my laptop was there, my books were there, all my clothes were there, and….that was it.
This was basically all I needed.
Looking back at my room for the last time, perhaps in remembrance, I scoffed at my own sentimentality since I spent less than a week here. What did I even have to remember? The only noteworthy thing was the new bed as it was considerably softer but I wasn't going to miss it. I prefer the grounded feeling of a futon anyways.
I've already checked for the last train and luckily for me, it would leave at 12:30 AM, giving me about 15 minutes – give or take – to get from here to the train station. It shouldn't be too hard, I was used to long walks at night after all.
However, there was tiny problem that I'd forgotten to address ever since 7 PM.
I hadn't had dinner yet. A fact that my stomached growled at in agreement.
Well, this was embarrassing.
In my pursuit to be a good wingman to my kouhai, I'd completely forgotten to take care of my own appetite. Good grief, if only I had something in my room to munch on while I walk but unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
No matter, it was a simple matter of sneaking into the kitchen and swiping a snack or two from the fridge. It should be quick and painless since those two would be sleeping at these hours.
The cover of night was perfect for me as I descended the staircase swiftly and quickly as the summer wind. All the lights were turned off with the only source of light being the one coming from the full moon outside, bathing the living room with a mythical light.
Huh, maybe I'll take a picture for reference…
But I decided against it in favor of just getting into the kitchen and hauling myself out of there as soon as possible. No point in hanging around here longer than I need to, right?
With nothing worth my attention except for the howling wind, I sneaked into the kitchen and expertly navigated my way to the fridge. My time spent here allowed me to remember its layout like the back of my hand.
However, as soon as I opened it, there was light.
Of course, there was. Fridges have light inside them after all. But in this case, there was light all around me and they were all coming from above me.
I sighed wearily.
"Oh my, it seems we got a thief," Yukino said, sitting cross-legged on a nearby chair and checking her phone, "I honestly thought you'd be more subtle than this."
With another huge sigh, I closed the fridge and faced her.
"You're not stopping me."
"…then why are you here?" I asked, annoyed at her mind games.
"Oh? Why can't I be in my own kitchen?"
"It's past midnight already," I retorted, gripping the handle of my duffel bag tighter. I think Yukino noticed this as she smirked and put her phone away to give her full attention to me.
Which I hated.
"Yet here you are, grabbing a late night snack," Before I could reply, she cut me off, "What exactly are you doing?"
"Going home." Was my curt response.
"Oh, but you are home."
Gritting my teeth, I exclaimed, "You know what I mean."
Of course, she knew what she was doing, if that smile was anything to go off of.
"Well I do, but if I'm not mistaken," She checked her phone, "The last train should be leaving in 10 minutes."
Dropping her smile, Yukino gave me a blank stare, "Do you honestly think you'll be able to get there on foot? Do you want us to give you a ride?"
"I can just take a taxi," I replied, annoyed at her act.
"Taxis at these hours are far too expensive," Yukino replied, "Perhaps, it'll be better to wait till morning."
She was purposefully annoying me.
This goddamn woman was so annoying. Why couldn't she just leave me alone?
"Can your drop your act already?!" I lashed out at Yukino, raising my voice in the process, "If you wanted to get rid of me, you should've told me on day one!"
She tilted her head mockingly as she replied, "Oh, but I don't. I honestly want you to be a part of my family. I've grown rather attached to you, you see."
Before I could get anything in, Yukino continued, "And speaking of days, didn't you promise us you'd spend seven days before you make a judgment?"
"That's the deal I made with you, not Hachiman," I replied, "He told me I can leave any time I want to if I'm feeling uncomfortable with living here. And right now, I'm feeling very uncomfortable."
Massaging her temple, Yukino heaved a sigh, "That's such a knee-jerk and irrational reaction from you. Truly, you respect Hachiman's words to that extent but you don't think that you'll hurt him by just leaving now?"
I tried to find the right words but none came. Yukino noticed this and pressed me even more.
"By not even telling him any reasons?"
Swallowing an uncomfortable lump in my throat, I said, "…because it's for the best. For both him and you."
With widened eyes, Yukino stared at me in confusion for a few seconds before shaking her head.
"It's just…" She held her head in one hand, "It's time like these that I realize that you are indeed a kid."
"I'm only saying this because it's true!" I shouted again, my temper rising, "What your mother said was right! She was right when she said you shouldn't adopt someone like me!"
"You two deserve someone better than me!"
"Rumi." Yukino repeated.
"Not a kid who overworked herself and got held back because of her ego!"
Standing up, Yukino began walking to me.
"And especially not one who would go for such a useless career!"
"Rumi," Yukino said again as she placed a hand on my shoulders, staring straight into my eyes, "Despite all of that, do you know why we still want you in our family?"
Not waiting for to finish, Yukino continued, "Because we both love you. Well, I've grown attached to you but Hachiman was the one who really loves you, y'know."
"…if you love me so much then why did you wait so long…" I muttered.
"I said why did it take you so long to reach out to me?!" I shouted again, pushing her hand away, "You wait three years. Three years until you decided to contact me!"
With anger that I didn't know I was capable of, I lashed out even more as I stepped back from Yukino more and more, "I was already used to a life of solitude! And then you came along and broke everything for me!"
"Tell me why it took so long then!" I shouted one last time before I ran out of breath. Yukino showed no emotion on her face as she took a seat on the chair behind her again.
"Rumi, let me tell you this one more time then," Yukino said with her arms crossed, "Hachiman loves you, and you don't know the extent to which he does."
"That's not an-,"
"And let me ask you something else," Yukino cut in sharply as her voice softened, "How long do you think it takes for an adoption process to be fully realized?"
"…I don't know."
"Two years minimum," She said swiftly, "And in your case, it was three years. Now do you see why?"
"…that still doesn't explain why you couldn't just reach out to me," I retorted.
"We would have," replied Yukino, "But we couldn't. Hachiman didn't want to give you false hope in the case that this adoption falls through. You don't know how much it was tearing at him."
Sighing, Yukino looked at me wistfully, "And while I would say that I'd helped him, it was Hachiman who did most of the work, prepared the documents, and met with a lot of people that have helped us along the way."
"It wasn't until last week that it was finalized. Or well, most of it anyways," Yukino revealed to me, "And that was when we – or rather Hachiman approached you, unorthodox as his methods may be."
"Do you see why now? He truly wants you to be a part of his family. That's why he tried so hard in spite of everything…in spite of my mother even. That's why…at the very least, can you wait till morning to let him know?"
I was at a loss for words.
Why would he even do this…for a stranger no less? I am a stranger to them…to Hachiman yet he still went this far for what? He got nothing to gain out of this and everything to lose. He could've lost his fiancé. He could've lost his future family.
Both Yukino and I snapped our neck in the direction of the kitchen's entrance, our attention fully focused onto the figure coming into sight.
"Hachi," Yukino got up immediately and ran past me to attend to Hachiman, "I told you not to stay up this late. You can do it tomorrow."
"Ugh," Hachiman groaned, rubbing his eyes drearily, "Can you brew me some coffee?"
"I'm not letting you drink coffee at this hour."
"Well, then tell your dad to not have three secretaries. I mean I know he's out of the country and all but…" Hachiman said offhandedly before yawning, "Anyways, your old man's fine with the adoption and he's planning to talk to your mom. But you don't wanna know how long I was put on hold."
"So that means that my father is okay with us adopting Rumi?" Yukino said with a smile as she slyly glanced at me, "And all we need to do is wait for him to convince my mother?"
Hachiman, on the other hand, stared at Yukino blankly, "Yeah, that's what I just said. What else could I mean…"
He trailed off as his gaze landed onto me. Hachiman had his mouth agape for a few moments, a fact that Yukino relished as she chuckled and stepped backwards.
"Rumi, what are you doing here?" He asked with much confusion as he stepped towards me, "Isn't it like midnight already?"
"I was…" I stuttered and lost my train of thought when Hachiman grabbed both straps of my duffel bags.
"And aren't these heavy?" asked Hachiman, still not fully realizing what he was doing, "If you were going for a midnight snack, I don't think these bags are gonna help, y'know."
How could he be so casual about this? Surely he must've already realized what I wanted to do with these bags and my current attire.
I clenched my fists harder as I felt it was the only way to keep myself grounded. These two were so illogical, so incomprehensible…and I was sure that they don't understand me too. We are just strangers to one another.
"Why are you trying so hard for me…" I managed to force out a coherent question, feeling like I was going to lose my voice soon.
Despite trying to avert my gaze from him, I was able to catch a small smile from Hachiman as he set both my bags down and pulled a nearby chair.
"Do I really have to say it?" Hachiman stated, his face red and flustered as he looked back at Yukino, "We…argh this is gonna be embarrassing but we love you, Rumi, and we want you to be a part of the family."
"But I'm just a stranger to you!" I exclaimed, causing Hachiman to stare at me in confusion.
"So what?" He said ever so simply, brushing aside my worries, "Strangers can still bond and get close to each other, right?"
"That's just…" I failed at finding the right response. Seeing this Hachiman scooted his chair closer to where I was and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Rumi," His voice and eyes were soft and caring, "I know it must be tough to trust me and Yukino again after what happened last evening."
"No, no, no. I completely understand your frustration," Hachiman explained, "We totally got pushed around by Yukino's mom…we should've stood up more for you."
"But you'll lose your marriage!" I tried to find any excuses that I could but even then, Hachiman merely chuckled at it.
"If Yukino was the kind of woman that follows her parents' order to a tee, then I wouldn't even be with her in the first place."
"That hurts, Hachi," Yukino quipped from behind, earning another scoff from Hachiman.
"Pff, you know it's true," He said before turning his attention to me, "But I'm serious about what I said earlier, y'know."
"Rumi…" His hand moved from my shoulder to the top of my head before he began to move it slowly, stroking it affectionately like a parental figure would, "It won't happen again."
This was bad. Why was he doing that? My breath hitched and any semblance of words that I want to express got stuck in my throat.
"If Yukino's mom or anyone else decide to badmouth you, we'll stand up for you no matter what," Before I could even get a word in, he continued with confidence, "I'll tell it straight to their face that Tsurumi Rumi is an extremely wonderful person."
No, stop. I can't…
"That she is very gifted and a hardworking person."
He was giving me that smile. Stop it. I won't be able to hold back.
"That Tsurumi Rumi is a strong, kindhearted girl."
My hands were trembling. No way. Why was I feeling like my entire body was going to crack? My breath hitched again and I felt that if I tried to breathe in deeply, everything would break apart.
But Hachiman didn't notice that and kept on going. With a big smile on his drowsy face, he said.
"And then I'll proudly tell them that Tsurumi Rumi is my daughter."
At that point, I felt a torrential downpour of emotions washing over me, and I was unable to do anything against it. The lump in my throat disappeared and I was able to breathe smoothly once more, but with that, I felt something bursting out.
And the only thing I could do was covering my face in embarrassment.
"I-I'm…s-sorry-" I struggled to force out any words, "I-I'm really…sorry…"
"It's fine," Hachiman patted my head again, trying to console me.
"…I'm s-sorry for taking your kindness f-for granted…" Stuttering through my words, I still couldn't stop the tears flowing outward.
"Like Yukino said, since we're your parents, it's better to get those sort of stuff out of the way first, right?"
He still had that same drowsy smile that made me trust him in the first place. And because of it, now I still couldn't stop my tears. It was extremely unfair of him and Yukino.
I felt a hand on my shoulder that must've belonged to Yukino as she said, "It's alright, Rumi."
"I-I'm not crying," I said curtly between my breaths hitching, "I'm n-not…"
"Sure, you aren't."
"I'm r-really not crying-" I repeated myself again much to their amusement, "Something just got in my eyes."
I decided to lower down my hands once I felt that my face was dry enough, even though it must've looked red and puffy as a tomato. But they didn't laugh, and only smiled warmly. Yukino then went to the fridge before asking us.
"Do you want something to drink before going back to sleep?"
Sniffing slightly, I nodded and so did Hachiman – lazily, might I add – bringing about a small smile on Yukino's face.
To think that just one week ago, I was an egotistical kid who thought she could do everything herself. I mean, I probably could but then I never would get to feel the warm fuzziness of cooking with someone for someone. Or the joy of shopping with someone else.
And I would've missed out on someone being proud of my work.
Even so, these two as my family? It still felt weird. It felt like they're my siblings or friends rather than parental figures. I had to scoff at myself for that since these two have been as doting as any parents can be.
But even so…I still love and appreciate them.
After all, these two are already my family, right?
Even if they're a little weird.
The season for the National Center Test has finally arrived, and to be completely honest, I felt quite prepared.
I had enrolled in a cram school that was recommended to me by Shiro, casually reviewed some old lessons by teaching them to Ruri (Much to her dismay and shock), and I'd also joined some volunteering programs as an impromptu member of the student council.
Not to mention, the scores that I'd been getting on my mock tests were pretty good.
So all in all, a good month for me.
However, even though it was lightly snowing today and you can already see some kids in the park playing in said snow, I wasn't in my house with a warm cup of hot chocolate studying even though I had all the reasons to be. In fact, I was far away from home and was currently trekking behind two individuals in a wonderful, mystical place called Destiny Land.
But why exactly?
Well simply put, today was Yukinoshita Yukino's birthday. And since this was going to be the first birthday that she would spend with her 'full family', Hachiman decided that we should make it special and convinced me to free myself from self-study for a day (Despite there only being two weeks till the big testing day) in order for him to treat both me and Yukino to the amazing spectacles of an amusement park.
I honestly couldn't understand its appeal.
Meanwhile, I could literally see the sparkles of amazement in Yukino's eyes. She told me that she hadn't been in one for a long time.
I asked her why this place of all places.
'Sometimes a woman needs to feel like a princess too' was what Yukino told me as an explanation while we were eating dinner in a Pan-san themed restaurant.
And she's supposed to be my mom…
But even though that was the main reason, her other beloved half had something planned for today as well to cap everything off – even if he hid it quite poorly.
After dinner and a dozen of theme park rides, the three of us were walking up a hill overlooking most of Destiny Land. Hachiman must've planned this as I saw literally no one in our immediate proximity so that was a point to his favor.
Meanwhile, I was lagging behind them, observing the two love-struck adults that were supposed to be my parents. Well, I still respect and treat them as parents even if they have a tendency to act like high school students and are generally quite petty towards each other at time.
But that wasn't the point at all.
The point was that even a blind person could see the love and warmth exuded from the two of them for each other. Even I, with all my years of no romance, could see that they were practically husband and wife. In fact, they already reminded of an old married couple in spite of their immature tendencies.
It's just that Yukino like to throw the term 'Fiancé' around a lot to tease Hachiman.
However, that ends today – or so say Hachiman as he revealed his plan to me earlier today. It wasn't by choice though because I'd saw the red velvet box that he'd forgotten to hide from Yukino until I pointed it out. When I inquired why he would propose again despite already being engaged to Yukino, he merely told me that he wanted to do it properly this time.
I suspected that a visit from Yukino's parents last week also had something to do with that.
Furthermore, at his request, I would lay low and remain inconspicuous about his redundant proposal.
Hachiman, Yukino already knows though…
But I'll let the guy have his romantic moments.
After a few arduous minutes, all three of us finally arrived at the peak of the hill, conveniently filled with benches for visitors to sit in. Though tonight, I foresee a lot of knee-bending and gasping.
"Umm…Yukino…" Hachiman began awkwardly with a cough, drawing attention from a flushed-face Yukino in the process.
At this point, I'd already retreated further back and decided to watch the scene unfold in front of me. Maybe I'll use it as reference in the future.
With his hands in his jacket, Hachiman said, "Well, I was just thinking…that y'know, since we've already been living with each other for a while and I...uhh...didn't do it properly last time…"
"Yes?" Yukino responded with a knowing smile. Of course, she already knew about that same box I saw. She was sharper than I was after all.
"Okay, this is kinda harder than it looks…" Hachiman took a deep breath, "What I meant to say is that I really appreciate and love you…for everything that you've done to me."
"And also that – ugh! Why do I keep forgetting everything?" Hachiman groaned, much to the amusement of both Yukino and myself.
Sheesh, just ask her to marry you already.
"Anyways," Hachiman composed himself with several deep breaths, "I just want to say that you've been an extremely wonderful and patient person for me."
Yukino smiled deeper, already knowing where this was going while Hachiman's face was going as red as a ripened tomato.
"And the level of commitment you've shown me during Rumi's adoption was unreal," Hachiman said with a wistful look in his eyes, "Because of that I just think that I really want to spend the rest of my life with you."
"No, wait! I already wanted that ever since we got together!" Hachiman suddenly exclaimed, ruining the mood that he'd built up, "But it's just that because of that three years you spent helping me, I just know that I really want you by my side!"
Despite the ruined mood, Yukino still smiled in amusement at Hachiman's antics. Geez, with that much love in her eyes, why didn't he just ask her directly instead of giving all these stupid monologues?
"Ugh, I'm sorry," Hachiman apologized, his face downcast in embarrassment, "I just really wanted to make this night a memorable one."
"It's okay. You can try again," replied Yukino patiently, obviously waiting for the million dollar question. I, however, had enough of waiting in the snow.
Before Hachiman could ruin the mood again, from behind them, I shouted as loudly as I could.
"He wants you to marry him!"
"Rumi! What did you do that for?!" Hachiman exclaimed in shock with his face impossibly flustered, while Yukino just chuckled.
"I already knew."
Giving Hachiman an incredulous stare, Yukino explained, "You seriously don't think I find it strange that you suddenly asked me my finger sizes? Or what kind of gemstones I like?"
"I thought I was being subtle…" Hachiman pouted.
"Well, subtlety just isn't one of your strong suits," Yukino teased him with a poke to his cheek, "Besides, the Hachiman I know is quirky and definitely hates long-winded speeches, right?"
Even though his face was red to the core, Hachiman still let out a goodhearted chuckle as he rubbed his forehead in exasperation.
"You're right…honestly, I didn't know what I was doing with that whole thing," Hachiman said, embarrassed, "Can I do the whole thing over again?"
"Sure, my dear Hachi," Yukino said teasingly but immediately became flustered when Hachiman got down on one knee.
"Yukino, honestly, there's no words to describe you the way that I wanted to. If I had Picasso paint a picture of the most perfect woman, it still wouldn't come close to you," said Hachiman with no hesitation, causing his fiancé to become increasingly red and stiff, "That's why I want you all to myself and ask this."
With a deep breath and one look at Yukino's ethereal face, Hachiman posed a simple question.
"Will you make miso soup for me every morning?"
Yukino immediately chuckled, "What's with that?"
"You said I'm quirky, right?" Hachiman said, standing up and taking Yukino's left hand in his own, "Besides, I'm not one for long-winded speeches so this would suffice, right?"
As the beautiful ring slid onto Yukino's finger, she immediately pressed her body against Hachiman.
I, of course, didn't want to see this and turned around to give the couple their privacy. Hell, I'd even clapped silently for them in congratulations for 'officially' tying the knot.
As the signature fireworks of Destiny Land filled the cold, white night, I could already hear the wedding bells chiming in the nnear future. While normally, I would pester those two to take me back home because I was freezing but I didn't want to interrupt their…session.
To think that my parents would be equivalent to love-struck teenagers on their first date.
Well, as weird as it sounds, at least now I can them mom and dad, right?
Ending notes: Well, how did you like it? Hopefully, you've enjoyed it despite some of the iffiness and its length. It took a long time and I appreciate anyone that was able to read it to the end.
Anyways, if you noted the similarity between this and my other story, Cohabitation, it's because this was actually the alpha version of Cohabitation way back in 2015. However, I didn't know what direction I wanted to take it in so it got left behind till this year.
Also, there's a scene in this story that was inspired by a scene in another fictional work. See if you can spot it, which should be easy for fans of the aforementioned fictional work.
Well, that's it from me for now. Till the next story/update, au revoir!