Is A Girlfriend Who Can't Say "I Love You" No Good? Houkage-san Reads Light Novels Too Much - Chapter 2 Harem Is A Flower That Blooms To Burn
- Is A Girlfriend Who Can't Say "I Love You" No Good? Houkage-san Reads Light Novels Too Much
- Chapter 2 Harem Is A Flower That Blooms To Burn
“There’s something fishy going on here.”
It had been four days since Hayu had first visited the literature club.
The literature club does not have any specific activities, and participation was completely voluntary. If the club room was open, people could come and go as they please, or read and write whatever they want freely.
The advisor was a full-time teacher, so the club was open on every weekday. If I don’t have anything to do later that day, I join the club and spend my time slacking off. Hayu only showed up once after that, and borrowed a light novel recommended by Iisaka Rin.
Now she’s lying slack-jawed, reading that light novel. On my bed.
As I stood there, I looked down at my sister in disgust and let out a sigh.
“If you’re going to read it, at least go and read it in your room.”
It was the same time as when I was first approached by Hayu for advice. It was late in the spring evening, and the background music of a detective drama playing on the TV was somewhat depressing.
She stopped flipping through the pages, but didn’t get up from the bed. She threw out her supple bare legs and looked at me with half-lidded eyes full of suspicion.
“There’s something fishy going on here.”
“That’s the second time…What’s fishy here?”
I asked her back in a disciplined manner, but I thought I could understand what she was trying to say. And the reply was as I had expected.
“Are you really dating her? Houkage-senpai.”
I thought I had answered her clearly, but there might have been a hint of hesitation present within my voice. Hayu seemed to have caught it by the ear. Her voice grew stronger as she continued to ask the question.
“But it doesn’t feel like that at all. It’s true that my brother is a bit suspicious whenever you
re in front of that senpai, but that’s always been the case anyways. Houkage-senpai treats my brother like he’s nothing.”
Thud… I realized after I fell down that this was the sound of my knees falling to the floor.
She slumped down and rested her back against the bed. The voice I finally managed to get out was trembling with anxiety.
“…Y-You think so?”
“I think so.”
The weak confirmation slashed me down with a great force. That was probably the conclusion of Hayu’s observations during her two visits to the literature club. She shrugged her shoulders dexterously while lying down and said.
“Because Houkage-senpai doesn’t talk much in the club room, she always looks sleepy, she doesn’t smile, and she doesn’t look happy at all. How is that possible if you’re sitting right next to her?”
“H-Houkage is just that kind of person…”
I protested, but my voice was strained and my back curled up as if I were fidgeting in response to her words.
Hayu closed her book and raised herself up from the bed. She peered after my face as I looked away, and followed me with a persistent voice.
“Is that true? …So, do you two do anything lover-like?”
“You know, as lovers…”
“Don’t get any bad ideas, okay? Just things like holding hands, dating…”
For a high school student of today, Hayu has a conservative attitude toward relationships. She may have been traumatized by the fact that her cousin, who was a good friend of hers, got pregnant as a student and thus there was a dispute among her relatives, and she never saw her cousin again.
Anyway, the relationship between me and Houkage hadn’t even reached that level of conservative thinking.
“Hey, hey… How’s it going between you two? How’s. it. going?”
She placed her foot on my completely dejected back and kneaded it roughly. She sounded a little happy, and her eyes were red. She took advantage of that momentum and thrust her final words at me when I couldn’t say anything back in response.
“—Isn’t it just my brother’s fantasy that you two were dating?”
“That’s… not true. It’s just that we’ve only been dating for about a month.”
I deny it once and for all. She pulled her legs up and hugged them as if she were sitting on the floor. She changed the direction of her question, glancing at the light novel she left by her side without looking at it.
“Why did you end up going out with Houkage-senpai then? My brother, a nerd who doesn’t talk much, and my senpai who I don’t understand what she’s thinking.”
It was strange for me, but I knew about it. The only thing I knew for sure about Houkage Ayumi was that she seemed to be a mystery in every possible way.
How did Aramaki Tenta fall in love with her and why does he continue to be attracted to her?
It was in that very literature club room that Houkage and I met—
Last spring — right after I entered high school — I had no friends.
It was not that I was being ignored or anything. It was just that I didn’t have the chance to make friends with anyone. Maybe I just didn’t make any, but whatever the case, I didn’t have any friends.
In layman’s terms, I’m the so-called “loner.”
Recess, P.E., lunch, all by myself. High school life was as gray as a black and white film, but since there were no major inconveniences either, I had no motivation to break out of that situation. The sooner I went home without socializing, the sooner I could play games and browse the internet freely.
Still, as I looked around my seat at my classmates talking about their after-school plans and them creating group chats, my stomach churned at the feeling of being left behind in a way.
It was probably after I became a junior high school student that I became such a passive person, and there was no clear reason for this really happening. If I had to give one reason, it would be that while my friends from elementary school and classmates I met in junior high school found some things to work hard on, such as club activities, hobbies, personal relationships, and their entrance exams, I didn’t have any of those ‘special’ valuable things to experience. Time passed by while I was just slacking off, playing games and reading manga, and the gap between me and them grew wider and wider.
So I was kind of dazzled, and I felt like I was inferior, and so I was afraid to mix with “everyone”.
Until I was in elementary school, it was easy. All I had to do was protect my sister without my busy parents and try not to worry about her much. However, before I knew it, my sister had become known as a strong person, and with her talent, hard work, and cheerful personality, she even became the student council president, adored by everyone, and saw me off when I graduated from junior high school.
She’s not the kind of person I can protect anymore. (Or so I thought, until the other day.)
So, my high school life was in a state of exhaustion for about half a month. It was only on a whim that I decided to join the literature club.
One reason was that at the orientation for the club activities, the president of the club said that it was free to join and that there was no specific activity quota. The other reason was that the main character in the late-night anime I was watching at the time lived in a Western-style house filled with books, which I thought was kind of cool.
Of course, I couldn’t deny that I had a naive expectation that joining the club might change something. In addition, it would be annoying if I went straight home and stayed in my room. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I could pass the time by reading a book at random times.
So I arrived at the third floor of the Special Classroom Building, in a corner lined with the rooms of the cultural club. Nervously wondering how to greet my seniors, I forgot to knock and opened the sliding door. The next moment.
She fell on me.
The girl’s body suddenly fell from inside the room, and I reflexively held her in my arms. I was confident in my physical strength, but as expected, I couldn’t support the weight of a single person, and I fell heavily on my buttocks.
As I let out a voiceless scream at the intense pain that pierced my tailbone, I felt something wriggling on my leg. Before I could realize what the soft, round weight of the object was, the girl who had fallen on top of me had raised her body. Our eyes met, it was so close that our bangs had touched each other.
She looked at me with a strange gaze that made her look sleepy, yet also intelligent.
Having never been that close to a woman outside of my family, I forgot about the pain and instead became aware of the weight of the girl on my lap. I became aware of the softness of her writhing in my arms.
The body of another person with a different will than my own. Whenever the weight of the body shook, the softness and body heat of the other person’s body pressed against it — and slowly, the blood raised to my head.
A forceful breath tickled my earlobe, which has probably turned bright red at this point.
I was dumbfounded by the suddenness of the situation, but then I finally came to my senses.
“Ah, are you okay…?”
She didn’t answer me, she just nodded back.
So I stood up with her, lending her my hand. I was surprised to find that the girl’s hand was unexpectedly small as she took my hand.
That was how I met Ayumi Houkage.
She was climbing a stool to get a book from the top shelf of the bookshelf near the entrance of the room, when she was startled by my sudden entrance and stepped off the stool.
If that was the case, it was my fault for not knocking. I apologized to her for hugging her, even though it was unavoidable. But no matter what I said, Houkage remained unmoved, repeating the words,
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I don’t think much of it.”
I gave up on my apology when I heard a line that was much more hurtful than I could have imagined when said by the opposite gender.
At that time, Houkage was the only one in the club room. The other members of the club were away on errands or recruiting trips.
“Okay… I’ll go for now then.”
I could tell by the color of her tie that Houkage was a first-year student, and with the president of the club and senior students absent, there would be no way to guide me through the entire process of being a part of the club.
More than anything, I couldn’t stand to be alone with this unworldly girl while I waited for the rest of the club to come. It wasn’t that I had any bad feelings or anything. On the contrary, I was actually pretty troubled since I was the only one present with her in this room.
But as I put my hand on the sliding door to leave, I was yanked back by my arm. When I turned around, I found my sleeves being pinched by Houkage’s small fingers.
“W-What is it…?”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been told, ‘If anyone wants to join the club, capture them.’”
I might have stepped into a black club — I regretted it instantly, but it was too late now. I didn’t have the guts to forcefully shake the girl off, so I turned on my heel. Houkage was still pinching my sleeve.
Are you going to carry out the order to not let anyone escape? I was confused, but I couldn’t find the right words to say in this situation. I stood there for a moment, and then I remembered.
In the midst of the tension of talking to a girl I had never met before, the words I finally managed to squeeze out were unintelligible. Naturally, Houkage’s eyes widened, unable to answer me. The simplicity of her expression somehow calmed me down, and I was able to rephrase myself.
“You were trying to get a book off the high shelf earlier, right. Which one was it?”
“Ah……Yes. Right there. It’s called “The Name of the Rose”.”
Houkage pointed to it with the hand that wasn’t pinching my sleeve. I didn’t know the word “Shirokuban,” but I easily found it because of the large book title on the spine of the thick book.
“You want the first half volume?”
Houkage nodded, but didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. I stood on my tiptoes and stretched out my arms to pull the book off the shelf. Which was a little shorter than the average height for girls, but just barely tall enough for me to reach.
“…Here you go.”
When I was about to hand it over, my nerves came back and I had to be careful not to touch her hands in this exchange.
Houkage received the book firmly with both hands. And before I knew it, the hand that had been gripping my sleeve had fallen away. I smiled bitterly at the fact that the book had taken more precedence over me.
From the cover of the book to my face. Whilst slowly looking up, Houkage made a strange sound.
“Why did you take it for me?”
I don’t have a specific reason, even if someone asked me that, I had no real answer to give. So, I answered honestly.
“Huh… I guess I don’t really know?”
Houkage didn’t care about anything else either, and sat down on the pipe chair with her book in her hands.
Now that I had been freed, I could have escaped the room easily.
But I was lost. I was still lost for no specific reason at all. So, I stood there for a while, and then sat down on the chair that was placed the opposite from Houkage.
I glanced at Houkage, and our eyes met. I looked away in a panic, but as if to follow it, a voice reached me.
“Thank you very much.”
The voice was small and powerless, as if it would drown out at any moment, but it stayed within my ears forever.
I joined the literature club. But it was more accurate to say that I was forced to join the club by my senpai who came back soon after, but anyway, I joined the club thereafter.
The president of the club at that time was a third-year girl named Shiozaki, a quiet person, but she didn’t show up much because she was busy studying for her exams. She was not a very enthusiastic person to begin with.
Instead, there was a senior male student named Kandagawa who seriously wrote novels, and he was the one who made me join the club. The literature club has a long history since the school opened, and even though the club was below capacity, it will never be abolished, but instead the budget would be reduced. It was a desperate invitation that I couldn’t refuse.
And the only other members of the club were me, a new student, and Houkage.
In the club room, where Shiozaki-senpai’s attendance was low and Kandagawa-senpai continued to stare at his laptop, I naturally felt bored.
Houkage, another newcomer, was quietly reading a book she had borrowed from the club room or the library. I’m not much of a talker, but it’s not like I can just talk to her all of a sudden.
But I continued to go to the club room because I felt the sterility of going straight home every day very lacking, and I was also curious about Houkage because of the impact of our encounter.
She has a rather nice face, but her expression was still and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. She seemed to be cold, but when I called her while she was absorbed in a book, she responded in a charming way like a small animal would. She seemed to have a smartphone, but I have never seen her actually use it. She did not hold back on yawning and covered her mouth with both her hands. Her favorite candy flavor was—wait.
Kandagawa-senpai easily saw through this observation and took care of me from time to time. To be more specific, he would leave his seat for blatantly inappropriate reasons so that Houkage and I could be left alone.
…As I have said many times before, I am not a good speaker, so I was a bit annoyed with being left alone with her.
However, surprisingly, it was Houkage who would talk to me in such situations.
That day, too, I suddenly felt a presence and saw Houkage looking at me. I gulped in nervousness looking at her face.
After I looked back into her eyes, she opened her mouth.
“? What is it… Houkage-san.”
At that time, Houkage and I were still sitting across from each other. Our faces were far away from each other, but we were still talking to ourselves.
“What is ‘Moe’? Do you know what it is?”
So, when she said something very abruptly, I would inquire into my eardrums to see if I had misheard anything before responding. The tempo of the conversation lagged behind by a beat, and to the casual observer, it must have seemed like an awkward scene.
“Moe? That’s kind of like… a bushing and cute thing.”
“I was asked by Shisui-san. I have no clue what it is.”
Shisui was a classmate of hers that Houkage had talked about several times. Ever since they had been seated in front of each other right after entering the school, they had taken a liking to each other and had been doing something together from time to time.
“Shisui-san called ‘Moe,’ a thin macho man with a stubble beard and mustache, but I didn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘Moe,’ so I couldn’t answer her.”
Shisui, who was a member of the women’s judo club, liked action movies and fighting manga, and so she learned some internet slang while looking around on the Internet for opinions and fan communities.
If that’s the case, the “Moe” that Houkage referred to must be “Moe”.
…I’m in trouble. What should I do?
It later became clear to me that although Houkage seemed to be indifferent to the world around her, she was actually more curious than most people. Whenever she came across a word or an object that she did not know about, she would not just leave it at that, but instead she would ask about it in much detail.
“Ah… how do I put it…”
But at that time, I was so bewildered by the fact that it was my first time properly speaking to her, that I couldn’t come up with an answer immediately. Even so, Houkage’s gaze was patiently fixed on me, and I desperately tried to choose my words, feeling as if I were scooping up spilled sand.
“Let’s see… the cute and cuddly factor, something like that?”
Perhaps there was no clear definition of “Moe”. But I guess that’s what Shisui-san meant when she used it.
She parroted the words out loud, and Houkage seemed to be having a hard time digesting the meaning. When she turned her head down, her straightforward bangs hung down smoothly, creating a shadow around her eyes.
“I see. That’s very important.”
“? Important… huh?”
She nodded with a serious look on her face and turned around in her chair to put a bookmark in the book she was reading.
I also turned my body toward her. But I didn’t move my chair any closer.
So Houkage threw a few words at me from across the divide of the table.
“Humans are creatures with low fertility, and their children are born in a very immature state. In other words, we have a very low potential to survive as a child just after birth.”
“Yeah… Well, I guess you could say that. We don’t have multiple births like dogs do.”
I flinched at the idea of describing a baby as a “child,” but I accepted it as I was carried away by her words.
“These weak creatures need the protection of their parents and others in order to survive. They need to be held and cared for, fed, and have their waste and excrement cleaned up by others.
So babies need to be loved. But they needed to be lovable as well.”
After being told that much, I began to understand the connection between the two stories.
“I see. I guess babies… have to be moe.”
My earlier words seemed to have been in line with her thoughts, and Houkage leaned forward, propping her hands on the chair between me and her. The space between me and her distorted, and I could feel some pressure emanating from her.
“Yes. It is very important for humans to love their children because we have a strong ego and a weak constraint on the mechanism of procreation according to our genes. Otherwise, they won’t be willing to take care of a child who will be a nuisance in the short term.”
“I guess… That’s important.”
“I heard in an ancient literature class or something that the word “kawaii” itself originally meant ’embarrassing, unbearable to look at,’ which in turn meant ‘pitiful, unbearable to look at, unable to be left alone.’ In addition to the fact that the word “kawaii” has changed from there to its current meaning of “adorable” and “to cherish,” it can be seen as a word that indicates the attributes of a small child who is helpless and cannot be left to die.”
If we are not attracted to small, weak, crying, and moe babies, we cannot survive as a species.
I was honestly impressed by the fact that “moe” was such an important sentiment in our lives.
“…You think of the most amusing things, Houkage-san.”
It was my half-unconsciousness that made me say it out loud. Houkage didn’t answer me back — she just leaned forward even further. She bent forward a little, emphasizing her chest, though she didn’t intend to do so at all.
—It was big. From the first time I held her in my arms, I could tell that… But at that time, the situation was so confusing that I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then, the distance between Houkage and I was closing rapidly. It was so close that I could feel its volume not only with my eyes but also with my skin, and even if I looked away, I couldn’t stop my body temperature from slowly rising.
The words of Houkage, who had no interest in discovering the physiology of such a high school boy, continued in an indifferent manner, but as if buoyed by a slight feverish manner.
“But there is more to it than just that. Newborns are known to have a smile called a ‘physiological smile,’ which is a smile that comes out without emotion as a biological mechanism. It is said to be simply a whim of their facial muscles.”
I nodded my head. Not only was I overwhelmed by Houkage’s vigor and chest, but I was also curious to see what she had to say about moe.
“However, adults who are smiled at, will feel happy and smile by themselves out of empathy. The baby’s emotions are irrelevant, it’s a primitive ‘moe’ that arises on its own within the viewer.”
In the sense that it was a one-sided liking that is felt by the receiver, well, perhaps it was exactly “moe” itself.
“Babies who are raised in this way will eventually grow up and learn the importance of facial expressions and the cause-and-effect relationship between smiling and positive results, and they will actively use their facial expressions more and more. The most important thing for a social animal was to learn from the chance of facial expressions and how to react to them.
I don’t think there is any creature for whom the ability to communicate through the face and facial expressions is as important as it is for humans.”
“Well… I guess.”
It seemed strange and funny that the expressionless Houkage would say that. But when I remembered that I myself hadn’t smiled at school since I started high school, I couldn’t laugh. I guess it was because I don’t smile, I can’t make people laugh, and that’s why I can’t make any decent friends.
It was like a baby’s ability to communicate without any emotion.
With this in mind, I stared at Houkage’s sleepy face. With that look on her face, she was trying to tell me her hypothesis.
“Now, this ability to perceive the face as an important organ and to have a keen insight into our appearance and facial expressions has given us a great byproduct.
“Letters? Why letters?”
“According to some hypotheses and experiments, the human ability to identify letters is most likely achieved by recycling and repurposing the brain’s ability to identify faces.
And by keeping written records, humans have been able to efficiently accumulate and disseminate knowledge, building a civilization that no other animal has been able to achieve.”
The conversation quickly turned into a big deal, and I opened my mouth halfway… If that’s the case, I don’t think that ‘moe’ is, wait, is it possible…
Houkage must have read the look of understanding on my face. Her expression became a little stronger and she nodded.
“Yes. The ability to identify faces and facial expressions, which babies develop starting with moe, gave birth to writing and led to modern civilization.
If you think about it, Moe is the great power that created civilization, isn’t it?”
Human civilization was born through ‘moe’. Cute was not only justice, it was civilization itself.
I was taken aback by this dynamic hypothesis and let myself loose for a while.
I was able to understand each of the theories that Houkage talked about without any particular stumbling blocks, but when they were pieced together, they became a ton of theories merged together into one big theory. Moreover, the slang word “moe” which is used to talk about manga and anime characters being cute has turned into civilization itself.
I watched and liked what was commonly referred to as “moe manga” or “moe anime”. However, I don’t think I could proudly say that I enjoy them, and in the first place, I felt that I myself am a kind of shallow consumer. There were times when I felt that I was a frivolous and worthless person for liking it while thinking so, without needing to be told that by Hayu.
But with just one way of thinking, we could make sense of the fact that the human function of feeling the “moe” of such works was the same as the one that created civilization.
I felt myself being shaken on a fundamental level that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
Houkage stared at my face for a while. I noticed it too and opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t find the right words to say back.
I stared at her face for a while, which was still hard to read, and then fell silent with my mouth open.
Houkage slowly pulled herself up and sat back down on her original pipe chair. Then.
“I’m sorry. It’s been a long time.”
She apologized in a voice that still did not show any emotion at all.
I couldn’t see any emotion within it, but I felt it on my own. I wondered if she was regretting talking too much out of the blue.
Or, I don’t think so. …Was she getting embarrassed after all that talking?
Like a parent sympathizing with a baby, my mouth naturally curled up in a smile. And then I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t help but laugh at Houkage’s thought process that made ‘moe’ into the dawn of civilization.
Houkage rolled her always droopy eyes at the sight.
“…What is it?”
When she asked me curiously, I tried my best to suppress my laughter. I didn’t want her to think that I was mocking her.
“No, sorry… Um…”
Even so, there was no way I could suddenly fix my poor speaking skills. However, even though I was not good at speaking, I did not give up on my words.
“It was very… interesting. If I know a lot of things that Houkage-san does, I”ll be able to climb to the heavens in otaku slang.
And… I think I’ve figured it out. I can’t even look people in the face, so I must be hopeless.”
If you avoided communicating with others, there was no way you could make friends. I thought I had said this with some reflection, but Houkage told me.
Her voice sounded even more sullen than usual. Houkage didn’t seem to understand any of my words, and asked me back curiously.
“I don’t know much about anything, and Aramaki-kun has looked at my face. Even when we were talking, you kept looking at me.”
If you ask me, I haven’t felt too much awkwardness with Houkage ever since our first meeting. Of course, I felt nervous and pressured by the opposite gender of my age, but I could look her in the eye and talk to her normally, probably because she was such a supernatural being.
When she pointed this out to me, I felt somewhat embarrassed and ended up turning my face away.
I could see that the Hōkage’s curious gaze was following me, but I didn’t think I could turn around for a while. After a while, she gave up the pursuit, and said something else, something completely different.
“Do you ‘moe’ to anything, Aramaki-kun?”
It was hard for me to react when she talked about ‘moe’ in such a matter-of-fact way. In addition to that, it was not a simple matter to explain to a girl something that was close to my own preferences.
However, I felt that it was somehow insincere not to reply to Houkage, who had taken the trouble to tell me her theory. I chose my words and replied without looking Houkage in the eye.
“…T…The shape of a girl’s shoulder, I like that…”
After I said it, I regretted that I had answered in a normal yet perverted way, despite my choice of words. But I didn’t want to lie to her.
Houkage didn’t recoil back at my words, but instead she rubbed her shoulder, not understanding me at all. The blazer was a bit oversized, or maybe it was because of her prominent chest, but Houkage’s shoulders looked a bit pudgy.
The way she traced the line on her shoulder curiously looked like the grooming of a small animal, and I was finally able to look directly at Houkage. Perhaps noticing my gaze, Houkage asked me something else.
Again, it was an obvious question.
“So, does your family… for example, are you ‘moe’ to your sister?”
I remember telling Kandagawa-senpai about my family structure at some point. Houkage must have heard about it. So it was no surprise that she knew I had a sister, but why did she ask if I was ‘moe’ for my sister?
Anyway, I answered honestly.
“I don’t dislike it, but I don’t think it’s possible to be… ‘moe’ about it. Even if you’ve had one to five years of good memories with her, you’ve also seen one to five years of bad ones.”
When she was still a little girl, she was a cute little sister who followed me around, but now she’s a catty, flip-flopping, nagging bailiff.
“…Why are you asking me that?”
I asked back, and this time Houkage looked away.
“What kind of family is it that doesn’t ‘moe’ after… No, please forget it.”
She opened her book back up and went back to reading.
As I stole a glance at her quiet profile, I realized that it had been a long time since I had been able to laugh so openly in front of others. I thought without even thinking about why I hadn’t laughed before, and why I could laugh now.
A while later, Kandagawa-senpai came back after buying a steamed bun at a nearby convenience store.
When he saw Houkage quietly reading a book and me pondering with my cheeks puffed, he sniffed as if to say, “What a bore.”
“…That club was all about chests being human beings themselves, ‘moe’ being the origin of civilization, and so on…?”
After hearing about my past reminiscing, Hayu asked me about it. She was lying on her back on the bed with her arm on the pillow. I shook my head wickedly.
“That’s not possible. It’s just that Houkage sometimes says such… outlandish things.”
In the second half of my reply, my voice softly floated, which made her eyes narrow.
“Hmmm… and you fell in love with that outlandish Houkage-senpai?”
“…Not so suddenly. At the time, I still thought she was just kind of cool.”
Hayu’s reply was curt.
“Then, how did you end up going out with Houkage-senpai?”
In that order, the next thing I remember was…
When I thought about it, it was after that “moe civilization” discussion that I started to have a clear awareness of Houkage as the opposite gender.
Ever since that day, I’ve enjoyed showing up at the club room. Since Houkage had the second highest attendance rate after Kandagawa-senpai, I decided to attend almost every day. Although I was there for the sake of Houkage, I didn’t mind reading books, and I felt comfortable talking about useless things with my senpai.
Houkage was always quietly reading a book with choices that seemed like nonsense to me. As she read, she would join in when we were talking about topics that interested her as well.
The light in her eyes peeking out from her slicked-back bangs and the faint bounce of her breath make her look more lively than usual.
Since I was in such a state, my fondness for Houkage was immediately detected not only by Kandagawa-senpai but also by Shiozaki-senpai, who only showed up once in a while.
Shiozaki-senpai seemed to be the type of person who was always interested in other people’s love affairs, and as soon as she noticed my feelings, she was so considerate that she suggested that we exchange phone numbers and email addresses with all the club members.
I am not very good at being interfered with in my personal life, but at that moment I was grateful to my senpai. If I had been on my own, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to get Houkage’s contact information.
But I hadn’t expected at the time that the memorable first phone call I would receive from Houkage would be from the bathroom.
There was a sign. On the day my smartphone rang at nine o’clock in the night, the literature club was talking about e-books.
After listening to Kandagawa-senpai’s tricky talk about how paper books have the aspect of toys for comfort and how manipulation affects the brain, I said.
“It’s convenient to read in the bath.”
In my house, there was a tablet that my dad bought a few years ago, and we use it as a family device. My mom mainly used it to discuss the menu and check the weather forecast, but I sometimes borrow it and bring it into the bathroom to read manga and watch videos on the web.
The one who quickly took a bite out of my words was, shall we say, surprisingly Houkage.
“Books in the bath…?”
The inflection in her voice was still weak, but her eyes were brighter than I had ever seen them before. She looked at me with those eyes, and it made my heart thump as I explained.
“But won’t it break if I bring it into the bath?”
She asked me how since it seemed so skeptical. It was then that I learned that Houkage was not familiar with electronics.
“If you put it in a plastic bag with a zipper or something, you can use it without worrying about steam or water droplets. But if you submerge it in water, it might be dangerous.”
“I see… Can that still be read in this?”
I downloaded an e-book app and a free sample onto Houkage’s smartphone, which she hurriedly took out. Needless to say, my hands trembled when I was entrusted with a girl’s smartphone, but Houkage’s was still in its default settings, with a dreary gray wallpaper.
I showed her how to use it and returned it back to her, and she picked it up with both hands and took it as if it were some kind of treasure.
“You can read a book in the bathtub… It’s a true paradise.”
It was also then that I learned that Houkage thought bathing was a bliss on par with reading.
—That’s exactly what happened that night.
After dinner and bathing, I was relaxing in my room playing a game when my smartphone started ringing.
I was not prepared. It was the first time I had received a call at this hour on my phone, which was mostly used for communicating with my family.
I almost dropped my smartphone on the low table, and after an awkward fumble with my hands, I checked to see that the call was from ‘Houkage Ayumi’. I should have been happy, but I broke out in a cold sweat.
W-What? What is it? Why Houkage-san? Why at this time?
After a moment of confusion, I managed to work up the courage to get out of the sun. Hello… When I let out a voice that sounded very suspicious to me, I heard a slightly cagey voice coming from Houkage.
“Is this Aramaki-kun? I’m Houkage Ayumi.”
“Yeah… What’s up?”
I cursed myself for only being able to respond with a stiff voice when she had taken the trouble to contact me.
“I think I might have broken it.”
My nervousness increased even more at the incomprehensible conversation. The fact that Houkage, who always tried to talk about things in a logical manner, was talking like this must mean that she was in a great hurry.
“…Houkage-san. Calm down and speak in order.”
Houkage’s voice trailed off a little from the receiver. She seemed to have taken a deep breath, but the sound of water mixed with the thumping of the phone was distracting.
“I’m taking a bath now.”
This time I took a deep breath. But it didn’t help me to understand.
“…What do you mean?”
“I’m calling you while soaking in hot water.”
“If you are naked and don’t take a hot bath, you will catch a cold.”
Houkage’s response was simple and naked (literally). The tempo of her response was steady and precise, but the order in which she responded to me was still wrong.
I used my reason and self-controlled nervous system more than ever before to squeeze out the right question from my mouth.
“Houkage-san… can you tell me why you called me from the bath…?”
“Why did you become so respectful all of a sudden?”
“Never mind that.”
“Before I took a bath, I told my grandfather about what I heard from Aramaki-kun today, and he lent me a tablet.”
I could hear the echoes of Houkage’s voice in the small space, and the sound of the hot water dripping and splashing was picked up every time she moved around. My normal mind was shaking along with the surface of the water over the phone’s speakers.
Anyway, according to Houkage, when she tried to read an e-book on the tablet that she borrowed from her grandfather and had set up for her, the screen froze and stopped working.
“Is it broken…?”
Houkage’s voice over the phone was plain as usual, but the end of the sentence might have been faint. If she was anxious, then…
I gripped the smartphone in my hand tightly and put pressure on my stomach.
Then I tried to calm down and find out the problems. However, it was the first time for me to talk to a girl on the phone — except for my sister — and I didn’t speak very well, nor did I have any troubleshooting know-how on what to do. The combination of Houkage’s mechanical ineptitude also made it difficult to grasp the situation.
While I was at a dead end, I had a sudden idea.
“If you take a picture of the tablet and send it to me, I might be able to figure it out. Do you know how to use the camera on your phone?”
“I see. Hold on a second…”
After a hint that the smartphone had left Houkage’s mouth, the sound of the shutter and a distant voice saying ‘Ah, I made a mistake…’ could be heard. And then I could hear the shutter again.
Soon after, I received an email with no body text. The attached image showed a tablet sealed in a plastic bag, just as I had said during the day. The home screen was displayed as usual.
…If it doesn’t respond to this, then it’s frozen. I’d reboot it first.
I figured it out and was about to resume the call, but before I did, I saw another image and checked it out.
It showed Houkage Ayumi soaking in a bathtub.
This time I froze.
The photo was of her from her head to her collarbone, which was clouded by the steam, and from there on everything beneath was hidden by the surface of the water reflecting the light of the bathroom. It was clear that she was taking a bath, and her burning face and the curve of her shoulders, covered with various water droplets, may have been things that should not have been photographed. In any case, it was probably not something someone else should have in their possession.
With that in mind, I couldn’t help but stare at the bathroom in my hands.
The pearl-glossy steam doused her head in a small tilt. A strand of moist, wet hair was sticking to her cheek, which had become inflamed. In the moment when the drop of water floating on her forehead was running down the bridge of her nose — she was looking at me in the photo with a puzzled look on her face as she realized that she had taken the wrong picture.
“How’s it going?”
I came to my senses when Houkage called me out, suspicious of my lack of response, and so I rushed to answer her.
“Ah-Ahhh… um, there’s something about two photos…?”
“Eh? Yes. I’m sorry. I think I may have sent you all the wrong ones at once.”
I wonder if it meant that she used the front camera to snap the shutter before taking the tablet, and sent all the files for today’s date without deleting them. Since she had hardly ever used the camera or email, is that possible…? No, but then again, I’m a serious computer geek.
“Did you find anything out?”
Houkage was completely unconcerned with the fact that she had sent me a glamorous image of herself. I was a little at a loss for words. I couldn’t say anything back. I felt like I was being one-sidedly obnoxious with her.
In the end, I couldn’t see any more photos and told her to reboot by pressing and holding the power button.
After a while, Houkage reported in a somewhat cheerful voice that the tablet was now working properly.
“Thank you very much. I would have disappointed my grandfather if I broke it as soon as I borrowed it.”
Houkage’s voice was even more mystical than usual, and I could feel her respect and affection for her grandfather.
It was more than nice to be thanked, it was a relief. I didn’t have any ulterior motives, but I felt relieved that I had been able to help her without screwing up. I felt assured that it was okay for me to be here.
Perhaps because I was in such a good mood, I asked her something that had been bothering me.
“But why are you calling me?”
“It’s something I had learned from Aramaki-kun after all. I’m sorry. It’s so late.”
“N-No. That’s totally fine, but I was wondering if you hadn’t talked to… your father or mother about it.”
When I thought about it later, the answer came back to me with an unnatural pause and tone of voice.
“There’s no father or mother in this house.”
…No. I can’t talk to Hayu about this. After remembering as much as I could about that time, I decided to skip this episode.
If I talked to her, she would surely look through my pictures folder. I had already erased the pictures the next morning — I swear to God that I did — but I had some other pictures of Houkage, and I was somewhat embarrassed to show them to Hayu.
And I still haven’t been able to get any details about Houkage’s parents. All I know is that Houkage was living at her grandparents’ house for some reason. I felt it was still too early to tell her about this.
Even after the day of the phone call from the bathroom, Houkage and I gradually grew closer through a number of events… or so I thought—
I think it was on the day of last year’s cultural festival that I became conclusively aware that my affection for her was in a romantic sense.
Every year, the literature club printed a club magazine that contained novels, essays, and articles about the books recommended by the library, but there was no particular obligation to contribute to the magazine. Last year, Kandagawa-senpai’s novel was quite popular, and if one wanted, one could compile an anthology of good works from the previous years’ magazines.
Well, if you’re feeling up to it, write about it, was what Kandagawa-senpai said.
At first, I had no intention of writing anything. Still, I felt bad about not participating at all, so I read through the past journals and was moved by the many short, twisted small stories that were published.
I had one idea that I wanted to write about.
So I wrote a short story called “The Third Planet Investigator” for the club magazine of the cultural festival. It was a simple story about an alien who arrived at Earth after a long journey in the future, and in the devastated and uninhabited Earth, searched for the identity of the extinct Earthlings and the mystery of their civilization.
The aliens then discovered that Earth’s civilization was formed by “moe” from the only complete cultural material they could find, a late-night anime filled with beautiful girls.
─ Needless to say, I just made a story out of the theory that Houkage came up with. That’s why I added the line “Original idea: Houkage Ayumi.”
As usual, Houkage agreed with a face whose emotions were, as usual, hard to read. Then she asked me if she could read it too. There was nothing wrong with that so I let her.
On the day of the festival, I put the club magazine in the club room and library and sold it at a low price, but most of the people who read it seemed to be disappointed or confused, probably because of my poor writing. Needless to say, I regretted that I should have stopped writing that story…
In such a situation, the only one who gave me a great deal of praise was Iisaka Rin.
“D-Did you write this story about the Moe civilization, Aramaki-kun? I didn’t realize there was a character in my class with such a funky sense of humor! You’re Aramaki, so you’re Shake…Shake-sensei!”
She was so overwhelmed with emotion that she even hugged me. Naturally, I panicked and asked for help, but by that time, Iisaka’s eccentric behavior was already well known, and no one could help me.
Iisaka had a surprisingly good figure, and there was no way I would not have liked being hugged by her, but Houkage was there watching me, so I desperately tried to pull myself away.
I don’t know what it was about my short story that struck a chord with Iisaka. I pointed out that it was the idea that Houkage had given me, but whatever it was, I was liked by Iisaka and ever since then she has been talking to me in the classroom and club rooms.
Iisaka drew manga as a hobby, and seemed to regard me as a good creative opponent, saying, “Let’s compete creations with each other.” However, I had learned my lesson about exposing my bad work to the public, and I haven’t written anything since then except for class assignments.
In the evening after the festival, when I returned to the club room after throwing away the trash, I found Houkage alone. She was so absorbed in reading the club magazine that she didn’t notice I had arrived.
From the position of the page, it seemed that she was reading the part I had written. This bothered me, and somehow, I couldn’t speak to her when she was so engrossed in reading it.
After a while, Houkage finished reading and closed the book. There was no sound of it closing at all. Because she closed it slowly, carefully, and regretfully.
She then stroked the cover on the table with her white petal-like hand and smiled slightly.
It was as if she was caressing her own chest, right down to the inside of her skin.
The blood rushed to my head and I fled the scene. I ran down the stairs and out of the school building, and sat down, holding my throbbing chest. My heart, stroked by Houkage, would not stop beating no matter how hard I tried to calm it.
I was so hopeless – so hopeless that I had never imagined that such intense feelings could grow inside of me.
“However, adults who are smiled at will feel happy and smile themselves out of empathy. The baby’s emotions were irrelevant, it was a primitive ‘moe’ that arose on its own within the viewer.”
—The words I heard that day repeated in my head. That’s right. I don’t know what the meaning of Houkage’s small smile was. Maybe she was laughing at how badly I did. But it doesn’t matter.
I ‘moed’ at the smile on Houkage’s face as she became my reader.
That was already a ‘moe’ moe.
—There was no way that I could tell Hayu that. Not only will she think I’m an idiot, but she’ll think I’m a pervert with stalker-like tendencies.
So I just explained that I was so happy that they were pleased with the small piece I wrote for the festival that I fell in love with her in earnest.
Hayu listened to me somewhat grumpily. I was expecting her to say something like, “You’re too cocky for your own good, nii-san…” But my sister’s impression was completely different.
“Hmmm… Ani, you’ve started writing again.”
“You wrote when you were in elementary school. The one you had me and Kaho read.”
What is she saying… ah, I remember it.
“—No, that was like graffiti.”
She was referring to the manga or picture book that I used to write in my notebook when she was on good terms with me. I used to write impromptu stories and read them to her when I was bored and when she and Kaho wanted to read them. Of course, the contents were all messed up, and I’m sure there were some that were written almost verbatim from the text I read in Japanese class.
It was nothing more than a child’s imagination, with poorly drawn pictures and poorly written words, and could hardly be called a work of art.
“I-I’m not sure if those really count…”
She agreed, but also seemed to be unhappy about it. I remember that even with those things, Hayu and Kaho would happily ask me to continue making more.
While I’m trying to remember, my sister asked me in a blatantly suspicious voice.
“You said earlier that you’ve been going out with her for about a month, right? So you fell in love with her at the cultural festival, but you didn’t do anything else for the next six months?”
“…Eh? What? Are you serious? You’re kidding… Wow. You’re pathetic… My brother is so pathetic…”
It wasn’t deliberate sarcasm or anything, but she seemed to be seriously taken aback by my reticence. She held her mouth with her hand and gave me a look that seemed to indicate she was looking at a poor, pitiful creature.
“It’s… it’s none of your business. It’s fine, we’re in a relationship now after all.”
Shaking with humiliation, that was all I could say back to her. Her blank stare did not change, in fact it became more and more suspicious.
“That’s why I doubt it. How did my brother, who is such a chicken, end up going out with that Houkage-senpai?”
…There was no way around it. I decided to tell her about the day I confessed my feelings to her.
It was the graduation of the former president of the club, Shiozaki-senpai, that made me decide to tell Houkage how I felt about her.
During the first year of school, I didn’t have much time to talk to Shiozaki-senpai. This was partly because she was busy and didn’t come to the club room often, and partly because I didn’t have anything in common with her.
But when I got right down to it, it was probably because I didn’t feel like it. I’m not very good at socializing, and I felt intimidated by the former president of the club, who was a senior and a girl. Although I was a member of the literature club, I didn’t particularly like literature, and I felt inferior and reserved as a mere otaku present in the club, so I couldn’t muster up the courage to talk to the president of the club who sometimes appeared.
I thought that the other side would not want to be associated with a gloomy junior when she was about to graduate.
However, after the graduation ceremony, Shiozaki showed up at the club room and apologized to me. She said she was sorry that she was too busy with her exams to help me with my activities. Also that she was sorry that she couldn’t help me with Houkage-san.
I was completely flustered and followed up by saying that she had nothing to apologize for, but my heart was filled with regret. I was the one who should apologize. If I had been more proactive, if I hadn’t closed my mind, I might have been able to talk and get to know this senior better.
However, Shiozaki-senpai has graduated. Even if there was a way to get in touch with her, it would be unnatural to ask for a reason to be together now. Even Kandagawa-senpai, who I had gotten along with quite well, had only exchanged a few emails with me after graduation about club activities and various procedures.
I strongly felt that it was only during high school that we could naturally connect with each other, just because we were in the same club doing the same activities.
So I decided to throw my feelings, which by that time I was sure were love, with Houkage. As soon as I became aware of the time limit, I couldn’t bear to do nothing.
Spring break was over, and I was in my second year in April.
It was easy to set the stage for the confession. There were no current third-year students in the literature club, so we could be alone in the club room until new students joined the club. Our advisor was a retired grandfather who was always available to help us if we had any problems, but he was rarely seen in the club room itself.
So far, we didn’t have any concrete activities to perform, but I was the president of the club and Houkage was the vice president. Since neither Houkage and I are the type to talk much, and my awareness of being alone in a room with only the two of us has made me say even less, this has definitely been the quietest club activity ever since the school’s reopening.
However, the days that Iisake came to visit us from the club room next door was the only time it was extremely noisy.
It has been a few days since our silent club activities had started. I told Houkage, who still spends her after-school hours quietly reading a book, that I wanted to talk to her.
Houkage didn’t have any particular qualms, she just nodded “Yes” curiously and closed the book she was reading.
We both turned our chairs around to face each other without a second thought. The parts of the pipe chair rubbed against each other, creating a high-pitched metallic sound in the otherwise quiet club room. It resonated with my heartbeat, making every nerve in my body tense up painfully.
We looked at each other. Houkage tilted her head. While her words and actions are logical, her gestures are more like small animals.
I was still hesitating at this point in my life. No matter how many times I tried to imagine it, I couldn’t predict how Houkage would react to my confession. I had no idea whether she would accept or reject me, or what kind of words would come back to me in either case.
Confessing your feelings to someone without even being able to simulate being rejected was harsh. There are no psychological precautions, and when you are rejected, you have to take a blow to your defenseless heart. However, I fell in love with Houkage because she showed me a world that I couldn’t predict, a world that I didn’t even know existed.
Once I thought of that, there was no reason to run away anymore.
“Would you… go out with me?”
It was the first confession of love that I, Aramaki Tenta, had ever made in my entire life.
In response, Houkage.
She said. The end of the word hadn’t been said yet, so I expected a, “Huh? You want to go out with me? Why don’t you take a look in the mirror before you say anything?,” but I was still desperate. “Huh?” was not “yes”. It was a close call, but not a “no” either. That’s for sure.
However, there was more to Houkage’s words.
“Does that mean we’re going to be lovers?”
I wanted to say, “Exactly,” but my heart was racing immensely and I couldn’t get the words out, so I just nodded yes.
Houkage put the tip of her loosely clenched fist to her mouth and seemed to think for a moment. To this day, I still don’t know what she was thinking at that moment. Anyway, it wasn’t long before she said her reply.
The reply to my confession was just as indifferent as when Houkage had said she didn’t live with her parents. It was, after all, an answer I hadn’t expected.
“I don’t really understand, but if that’s fine with you.”
“‘I don’t really understand, but if that’s fine with you.’?”
Hayu repeated what she had heard from me, with a dumbfounded intonation.
“You seriously got that as a response?”
I couldn’t say anything back as I felt the cold stare of my sister who had started stretching on the bed before I knew it. She was doing acrobatic poses to show off her softness, but her shirt was flaring up so much that I’m afraid she was going to get sick to her stomach.
…No, Houkage confirmed that “going out” means “becoming lovers” and agreed to it, so there was no doubt that Houkage and I are lovers now. But that was all. The only thing that seemed to have changed was that we now go to school together more often than before.
I had to admit that the reality of the situation was far from the “love” I had imagined from manga and dramas. Nevertheless, I told Hayu about it.
“It’s okay. Houkage is that kind of person. If you build a relationship with her slowly…”
Tired of stretching, Hayu slouched down and shrugged her shoulders in a very exaggerated manner.
“This is how otakus who only watch manga and anime where confessing is the end of the story, get confused. They don’t know what to do from there.”
“…Ugh. Sure, a lot of romantic comedies end where they start dating.”
“Well, you are my brother, after all.”
Yop… and she stood on the bed, holding out the light novel she had been reading earlier.
“It’s no use, I’ll make sure that Hogakage-senpai is telling the truth…
I’m only doing this as part of my light novel research, though.”
The title of the light novel that Hayu was reading was “Sword Girl Gradation”. On the cover was a beautiful girl clad in black. It was one of the works that Iisaka had recommended to her because it was currently being aired as a TV anime in the midnight slot.
Inspired by the KenKaiHou, a variation of the ‘Shikai’ method, in which humans become hermits, the souls of famous swords from all over the world take the form of girls and fight each other to fulfill the wishes of their owners.
At the same time, it was also a romantic comedy, with multiple KenKaiHou girls who would come into the possession of the protagonist literally scabbing each other over the seat of his beloved sword.
“—Well, it’s a harem story.”
The next day after school. I showed up at the literature club room and Hayu asked about “Sword Girl Gradation”, to which Iisaka replied without any hesitation.
The members of the group were the same as when we talked about the cover of the light novel. As usual, I sat between Hayu and Houkage.
Iisaka began with a light explanation, perhaps to give an overview to Houkage who did not know the contents.
“The heroines are girls who had various problems before their deaths and became hermits or demons using their respective swords as a substitute, and when one of them is recognized as the owner of a sword, her alter ego will lend her power. The personalities of the alter egos are immature from when they were human, and they become strongly attached to the person who has the sword in their hands.
The protagonist, Shinzabushin, has a very strong sword that he first acquires, and he steadily collects KenKaiHou girls and becomes popular with them.”
However, he was too busy training and working part-time to earn his living expenses to understand the female mind.
“There are some unnecessary gory scenes, and the content looks terribly like something from the Mono Volt Bunko of the 2000s, but I guess it’s a style that’s always been in demand, because it’s been around for a long time, even if the number of releases has begun to fluctuate.”
Mono Volt Bunko was a major light novel label and a standard-bearer in the industry that continued to develop a wide variety of products, from catchy, girl-filled works like this one to edgy, anarchic and violent works.
Hayu, who doesn’t care about labels or anything like that, had a few words to say about what Iisaka called “a style that always has a certain demand.”
“The main character is a normal high school student, but he’s just too popular! It’s not hard to understand why, because that’s the way it is with the swords, but I think it’s strange that he’s fallen in love with his childhood friends and seniors, and even with his supposed rival, the swordsman!”
It’s a common occurrence in light novels and manga, but it seemed that Hayu couldn’t understand it. I also watch such works — what Iisaka called “harem stories” — and while I enjoy them, I also feel somewhat guilty about them.
But fundamentally, it was fiction in the end. Iisaka also talked about it lightly.
“Well, in classics and historical dramas, the protagonist is always popular. The more popular the character, the more flamboyant the drama will be.”
“In shoujo manga, there aren’t many protagonists who aren’t popular at all and just watch over other people’s love lives.”
I’ll add a few words. Hayu makes fun of otakus, but she does check out the latest shoujo manga after all.
Hayu nodded reluctantly. I thought she was going to drop the matter, but there was more to it.
“Even if it’s for the convenience of the story that he’s bizarrely popular… it’s so unrealistic! I think it’s abysmal that he can get several girls to like him and keep them away with his insensitivity!”
Again, a good argument that everyone thinks. And this was not a matter of setting, but of the protagonist’s — and the reader’s — mentality.
Iisaka, on the other hand, nodded her head and replied, but only in terms of structure.
“No, well… in a work like this, you have to be morbidly insensitive, morbidly indifferent, morbidly indecisive, or else you have to be the morbidly hyper emotional type of harem, otherwise you’ll end up with too many dead characters. The possibility that beautiful girls and boys will end up with the protagonist must always be left open until the story is almost finished.”
There were some works that were full of characters who were always in love with the hero or heroine, but they were either anomalies or secondary elements of works that have a separate theme.
“This kind of characterization of the protagonist can be seen as a kind of cliche, a standard. It’s like a traditional literary template.”
Iisaka was still a bit of a mimic. She explained with an analogy that might offend people in the field.
However, my sister, who was very serious, did not want to be convinced with that.
“In this age of individuality, there is no excuse for making promises! He’s not a protagonist, he’s a puppet, a puppet for the content that gains the majority of girls!”
Finally, she started shaking her fist and making passionate arguments against the series. And just as I put my hand on my sister’s shoulder — I heard her voice.
“I’m not so sure about that, Imouto-san.”
It was Houkage. She had been watching the first episode of the anime version of “Sword Girl Gradation” on the Internet on her laptop, when she took off her headphones — the ones with the cat ears and the idol anime logo that she borrowed from Iisaka.
I saw my sister’s eyes narrow sharply.
“Hehhh? What is it, Houkage-senpai? Now you’re saying that there’s even a meaning to the unfaithful harem structure present in these series?”
She leaned forward and pushed my body away, glaring at Houkage with a clearly different belligerent attitude than before. As usual, Houkage stared back at her emotionlessly.
“Polygamy and polygamous harems like this one exist in many places in nature.”
“For example,” she continued, holding up her index finger.
“Thomson’s gazelles live in herds consisting of dozens of females for each male, and the males who lose the fight for females die alone, unable to have children for the rest of their lives. In prairie dogs, the males in a pack kill each other and the winner builds a polygamous nest called a coterie, and if a territorial dispute breaks out, the winner may eat the enemy’s children and bury the male alive.
These are patterns that match the interests of females who want the genes of the strongest male and males who want to leave their genes to many females. In some species of monkeys, the leader surrounds the females, and I think this is a rather normal survival strategy for mammals.”
The whole thing was laid out so smoothly and in such a short order that Hayu seemed to be at a loss for words. However, she was still undeterred.
“Humans are not monkeys. Besides, that’s just a convenient theory for men!”
“It’s not just men who create harems.”
Houkage was unfazed by the pressure. She continued unperturbed.
“A honeycomb contains one queen bee that bears children, a large number of worker bees, which are female bees that do not bear children, and dozens to hundreds of male bees.
Male bees are fed only to mate with the queen, and when the mating is over, the queen tears off their reproductive organs and they die.”
Houkage’s voice was plain, and as I listened next to her, I was in the dark about the strange life of bees.
“The queen bee accumulates enough sperm in her stomach from the dead male bees and becomes the mother of the next generation of bees. This is another harem in which death is used as a chastity belt for the male bees. The queen bee is like an egg-laying organ for the whole swarm, so she may not be as much of a queen as she seems.”
Hayu listened quietly until Houkage finished her words, and then whispered in my ear. The whispering in my ear was very unsettling.
“Hey… what is a chastity belt?”
It was only natural that my sister, who was in junior high school until a few weeks ago, didn’t know what it meant. I knew the meaning of the word, but it would be troublesome if she asked me why I knew about it. But I still whispered to her, “Ask Iisaka about it later.”
As usual, Houkage looked at her with flat eyes, unable for anyone to decipher her intentions.
“Another example was the famous Bonellia viridis.”
Hayu makes another sound of incomprehension. This time, I didn’t know either. Was there such an insect in the world?
“Bonellia viridis are invertebrates that live in the sea, and they differ in size between females and males. The difference in size between males and females is so extreme that males are only a few hundredths to one hundredth the size of females.”
“A few hundredths? For the exact same creature?”
I rolled my eyes, and Houkage nodded broadly.
“Yes. Males are about one millimeter long, while females are about two centimeters long and seven millimeters wide. If the volume includes the proboscis, which the female extends like a tentacle, the size difference is even greater.
These small males are taken into the female’s body and live only by spitting out sperm while the female shares nourishment with them. The female may parasitize as many as 20 males at a time”
“I-I see… That’s definitely a harem.”
The female’s body itself is a harem. If you keep a male in your body, you don’t have to look for a partner every time you mate, and there is no room for cheating in this case. The male will be able to nourish himself and produce offspring without having to do anything, and this may be the ideal form of a yandere woman and a pimp-like man.
“How about you, Imouto-san? A harem is a system that is widely adopted in nature by males and females alike. Don’t hate it so much.”
“I hate it!”
When Hayu denied her outright and immediately, Houkage had an unusually clear expression on her face. It was a puzzled look. She thought it was a convincing argument against her.
I wanted to hold my head in my hands. There was something about Houkage. As Hayu once said, she places humans comparable to animals. I like the uniqueness of this point of view, but for better or worse, it’s like oil and water with the self-centered way of looking at things.
And today, Hayu was strangely quarrelsome towards her senpai, Houkage.
—Sister-in-law… Such an unfamiliar word popped into my head, and I sat there still.
“Listen, Houkage-senpai. We’re talking about humans now. We’re not talking about bees or insects or anything like that.”
“But, Imouto-san. It’s a system that was established after a long period of natural selection, so it’s not strange for humans to have some kind of connection with it…”
Houkage was being Houkage, and she couldn’t stop talking. I, caught in the middle, wanted to somehow mediate between the two of them. This was a needle in a haystack srot of situation.
I tried to take action against Houkage first, as it seemed that chiding the heated Hayu would have no effect.
I tried to get her attention by lightly touching her feet under the table. But she didn’t respond, either because I was too weak or because she was too focused on her argument with Hayu. I had no choice but to take off my slippers and step on the back of Houkage’s foot.
“This is also biomimetic…ug?”
This time, Houkage’s gaze turned to me, as she had noticed and cut off her words. I made eye contact with her curious eyes and asked her to match my sister a little.
(Please Houkage… don’t provoke Hayu any further—!)
I don’t want to upset Hayu and make her more of a nag at home.
Houkage gave a small nod, as if such earnest thoughts had been understood. I did it! I made a gut pose in my heart. I thought that no matter how unresponsive we are, we are still lovers and our hearts are in each other’s hands.
Then Houkage stepped back on my foot.
She took off her shoe and gently stimulated the top of my foot, which I had not yet put back in the shoe.
So close, I almost squirmed without a care in the world.
…Wrong, Houkage…! I don’t mean this… Ah, Houkage’s feet feel so soft and comfortable… No, that’s not what I meant!
“…Hey, what’s going on here?”
When Houkage fell silent after making eye contact with me, Hayu called out to her in a cryptic voice.
“Ah, no… nothing”
“Why is my brother answering for you?”
Hayu’s voice cooled down a notch. It seems that she doesn’t like the fact that her own people are dating an eccentric like Houkage, and that they seem to be communicating right now — although they’re not communicating at all.
Iisaka, on the other side of the room, watched the scene with a grin, thinking it was just another person’s business and that she wasn’t involved in it at all.
“Hayu-yun is worried about her onii-chan~”
“Not really… That’s not why. And please don’t call me that…”
Grumbling, Hayu sat back in her chair. As a result, she seemed to have calmed down a bit.
I patted my chest inwardly and said my thoughts.
“I don’t care about Bonellia viridis… In human terms, it’s not a good idea to have a bunch of girls sitting around on a balance sheet. If you’re the protagonist, you’d want to keep thinking about one person, and not have an unfaithful heart.”
“Oh…is that right? That’s normal!”
When I finally agreed with her, Hayu’s face lit up. It was a more honest reaction than usual, and perhaps, despite her words, she had been shaken in her sense of values by Houkage’s discussion.
In any case, I’m glad she’s in a better mood—I was just about to smile when it happened.
“Is that really so, Aramaki-kun?”
As expected, I turned around, feeling tired, and saw Houkage’s face, who was just a little bit more intense in her eyes when she wanted to talk about her theory.
“—What do you mean?”
I couldn’t help but ask her back in a tone that encouraged her to talk more. I had a feeling that my sister was going to get her knickers in a twist again, but I couldn’t help it, I liked that look on Houkage’s face.
Houkage nodded yes, and her toes, still resting on my feet, tightened further.
“In ancient China, King Hyungi of the Shang Dynasty was so fond of his wife, Tanuki, that he disregarded other wives and tyrannized over them. In addition, Emperor Ling of the Later Han Dynasty placed relatives of his former lowly favorite princess in important positions, which led to the collapse of his country.
Suleiman the Great of Medieval Turkey was known for his wisdom, but he seems to have spent his last years covered in the blood of his own people, as he confused the succession struggle by taking a slave woman as his empress.
In other words—”
Houkage took a breath once and concluded.
“If you want to destroy the harem in the palace because of your personal feelings, it is the act of a dark lord and a fool. The protagonist of the light novel I just saw, his ability to maintain relationships with multiple girls on an equal footing, is pretty much the spirit of a great ruler, isn’t it”
I felt very complicated when Houkage clenched her fists in front of her chest and seemed to be rather seriously impressed. While I’m attracted to this kind of sensitivity, the subject lacked common sense.
“…What Houkage is talking about is political, and it was something that took place a long time ago. KenKaiHou has strong fantasy elements, but it’s set in modern Japan, and it’s about a private love story between the characters.”
Hayu nodded her head and gave the same accusing look to Houkage.
Houkage repeated my words and gave a small tilt of her head. No, why did you tilt your head here… I began to feel uneasy. I’m sure that the two of us have very different perceptions of the fact that we are in a relationship…?
However, it was Iisaka who took over the conversation, despite my worries.
“No, no, no, Shake-sensei. That’s not exactly how it works.”
As she said this, she showed me the screen of her laptop. It was a search result screen from a major mail order site for KenKaiHou. There was a full lineup of goods, from clear files with illustrations of the heroines, USB chargers, hugging pillow covers, and life-size figures.
“Wow… Ani, don’t buy a body pillow or anything, okay.”
Forgetting that she was wearing a catsuit outside, she let out a stern voice. It was not hard to understand how she felt. It was a scene that exposed the diverse desires of the users. It also meant that the product development potential as content was vast.
Iisaka continued to talk as she watched the people looking at the screen with different expressions.
“Not only the original work and visual media, but also the sales of goods are important for the work. And a character that sells a lot of merchandise is a really popular character.”
“Well… you do pay for it.”
As I nodded my head in agreement without understanding her point, Iisaka nodded with a mysterious look on her face.
“That’s right. Popular characters that make money can be transformed into highly profitable products, such as more merchandise, external stories, and spin-offs. This expansion will also extend the life of the content as a whole, including the original work. Buying merchandise… is, shall we say, a dedication to a character, a chest tax. Character fiction is a Kingdom built on taxes from fans!”
“After humanity and civilization… now a kingdom…”
Hayu groaned in a tired voice. Iisaka must not have understood what she meant, but she continued without any concern.
“So, the heroine who wins the romance race in a romantic comedy that focuses on character appeal is the End of the Kingdom, a leaning sorceress who eliminates the other heroines and their investor fans, bankrupts politics, and leads the kingdom to its final demise!
As Hoka-chan says, the sense of balance that maintains a harem in a character-oriented light novel is the most important vessel of a king. If you look at it from that perspective, romantic comedies may be a kind of political suspense.”
This made me twitch before Hayu did.
“No… that’s not right. The work has to end at some point, and you make it sound like it’s wrong to settle a romance between everyone…”
“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. Even the actual form of politics changes with the times. Whether it is a good government or a bad one is ultimately a matter of whether or not it has lasted long enough to make the appropriate changes. In the same way, it’s a question of whether or not the story can be settled at the right time.
In the case of romantic comedies where the protagonist falls in love with multiple partners, the protagonist who can keep the characters from dropping out while there is still room to bring out the potential of the work is a gem. In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it’s a great talent like Liu GenTouku.”
The voices of us Aramaki siblings overlapped in our disapproval. I understand what Iisaka is saying. As this is a commercial work, and the main selling point is the appeal of the characters, it is of utmost importance to have the most popular characters play an active role, and in order to do so, the protagonist must be in all directions.
And in fact, such works are very interesting. At least, many people find them interesting. It was natural that attractive characters kept showing us various expressions as they kept interacting with the main character, who was within their point of view.
Commercial considerations aside, it is understandable that maintaining the harem structure was beneficial to the entertainment value of the work itself.
Normally, I would have been immediately convinced by that, let alone Hayu. However, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the fact that Houkage was supporting this kind of abacus-like answer. Unlike Iisaka, who was speaking only within the framework of anime and light novels, I felt that Houkage recognized that rationality even in the real world.
If that’s the case, then… Houkage, your relationship with me is a lot lighter than you might think…?
While I was struggling with my thoughts, my sister next to me continued to raise her voice stubbornly.
“But then again, I don’t approve of harems!”
Houkage was still staring at her with the same unfathomable eyes.
In the end, the day’s club activities ended without a compromise with Hayu.
I visited a coffee shop.
It was a small, fancy restaurant called “Rusoen” located on the opposite side of the station from the school. It was the first time for me to come here, as it was a place that I was not familiar with as an indoor person who spent most of my weekdays going back and forth between my home and school.
I had seen the store while strolling in front of the station right after I entered the school, and I knew it had a nice atmosphere. Of course, I didn’t have the courage to go in alone, but since I started to be interested in Houkage, I had been dreaming of visiting the place with her and having a cup of coffee together someday.
And today, I finally took a leap of faith and put my dream into action.
I was guided to a table by a friendly waitress, where my girlfriend, Houkage, was seated at the other side of the table, her face as vague as ever.
I had a feeling about what Houkage had said and done in the club room, so I asked her out, feeling like I was jumping from the stage of clean water, and she readily agreed.
In the end, the cowardly otaku himself managed to get a date in a coffee shop — my heart was hot… when I thought of it.
“It seems that this was the second store of a chain store that became popular in some towns. I heard that it was introduced on TV as a coffee shop with delicious omelet rice.”
The reason was because my sister is sitting right next to me, spouting information that I don’t know where she got it from.
Her shoulders shook as she glared at me, but I ignored her as if there was nobody beside me.
These hellish ears of hers had heard that I had invited Houkage to come to this place, and so she had followed me.
“I’m going to find out if you two are really dating.”
I smiled at Houkage and overheard her say something like that.
I can’t turn her away because she chose to follow me before I could do anything. My first after-school date turned out to be with my sister right next to me.
Houkage didn’t seem particularly bothered by Hayu’s presence, and looked around the restaurant curiously. She seemed to be curious about the large stuffed mushroom on the other side of the counter.
“Are you ready to order?”
In the meantime, the waiter from earlier came to take our order. He was in his late thirties, with a fresh face. There were no other waiters in sight, so he might have been the manager of the restaurant.
I had been distracted by the restaurant’s interior alongside Houkage and my sister, but I rushed to look at the menu.
—I broke out in a cold sweat. I couldn’t understand what was going on with all the horizontal letters. Just as I was about to ask him to wait a little longer for my order.
“Decaf, single espresso with soy milk, please.”
The sister next to me ordered in a very fluent manner. She spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand her meaning at all. The waiter’s recitation was just as fast.
For Hayu, who had been going to trendy stores with her friends since junior high school, ordering something at a coffee shop was probably a basic skill. But for me, who only went out after school to the fantasy world of TV screens and portable game consoles, this was a tight spot.
If I don’t show my sister, and more importantly, Houkage, that I know how to use this light string of katakana, I’m not going to look good.
But I was in a hurry and couldn’t just order something random. It would be safe to say that it was drip coffee, but with the addition of French press and aeropress (wind-based attack magic?), it could turn into any kind of mysterious drink. I wondered what kind of coffee Hayu was talking about earlier. If it was a double, will it be built into different coffees on each side? …Well, maybe I’ll just order an omelette, which I’ve heard is very popular. …No, I still can’t not order coffee…
My thoughts start to run in circles and my eyes start to roll. I feel the presence of Hayu looking at me suspiciously.
In the midst of all this, Houkage looked up from her menu and opened her mouth in a whisper.
“Do you have anything like coffee milk?”
—What a manly woman! I felt my heart flutter for her once again
“In our store, Cafe Latte is served as a seven-to-three mixture of espresso and milk!”
“Okay, I’ll have a medium café latte, please.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll bring you a tall cup of Cafe Latte.”
The waiter was as calm as could be expected, taking in Hōkage’s vague order and writing it down on the slip of paper. His hand was as graceful as if he were writing a haiku.
I puffed…and let out a breath, and now I just ordered in peace.
“I’ll have a tall café latte, too, please.”
I thought I heard my sister next to me say with just a movement of her lips, “Ugh… tsk…!” and I thought I heard her even click her tongue soundlessly. But I went through with my order gracefully.
Immediately after finishing our order, Hayu went to the bathroom with a pouch in her hand that she had taken out of her bag.
Finally, and for a brief moment, I was alone with Houkage. As soon as that happened, I felt my body stiffen.
It was the first time in my life that I had ever sat across from a girl in a coffee shop. In contrast, Houkage’s expression was as calm and expressionless as ever, as she traced the letters on the menu with her finger…
It would be a shame to let Houkage know how nervous I was, so I looked around the restaurant, feeling comfortable with relaxing my muscles.
We were the only other customers here, there was a couple sitting across from each other at a table some distance away. The woman was wearing our school uniform, and the man was a college student in a neat jacket.
It was clear that they were not brothers and sisters. Their arms were stretched out on the table, their fingers intertwined as they whispered something to each other, something like, “We had a good weekend.”…
I almost overheard it — I wanted to reference it — and then I came back to myself. Now I have to keep Houkage in front of me occupied.
In the meantime, I decided to talk about something I wanted to finish before Hayu came back.
I moistened my throat with a glass of water before cutting to the chase with Houkage, who looked up at me.
“I’m sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to step on your foot.”
“Yes. That was a bit of a surprise.”
This was when I tried to urge Houkage to pay attention to Hayu and failed spectacularly. Houkage’s face fell and she too put her hand on her cup.
“I didn’t expect to suddenly be fondled in the club room.”
The cup trembled in my hand and a little bit of the contents spilled out.
Seeing this, Houkage tilted her head slightly.
“Was it not?”
It took me a while to compose myself. Calm down, Tenta. Fondling was a word used to describe stroking a child or animal. If it sounded like a dirty word, it’s because your heart is filthy. Stop.
I explained to Houkage what I really meant at that time. Houkage said, “I see,” and clinked the ice in her cup, which she wrapped with both hands.
“No wonder I had never heard of foot stepping fondling. I don’t read many books on erotic themes, so I was about to make a mistake.”
My instincts warned me not to think about the meaning of her words. My head was already boiling, and it was about time for Hayu to come back.
I don’t know how she took my attitude as I looked away, but Houkage bowed her head slightly.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been acting weird.”
“N-No! There’s nothing weird with Houkage. I was the one who stepped on you first, and I didn’t mind at all.”
As I rushed to speak quickly, Houkage raised an eyebrow as if she had noticed something.
“Are you someone who likes to step on and be stepped on, Aramaki-kun?”
“That’s not what I meant!”
I almost shouted louder than I thought I would, and rushed to put my hand over my mouth. Fortunately, the waiter in the kitchen and the couple in their own world didn’t seem to hear me.
I took a deep breath and decided to close this story.
“A-Anyway… I’m glad we cleared that misunderstanding.”
“Yes. I’ll try to think of ways to avoid upsetting your sister.”
“Thank you… please do.”
Feeling Houkage’s concern, I finally smiled and chuckled naturally. Houkage didn’t return the smile, but she touched her lips to the rim of the cup as she looked back at me with quiet eyes.
Shortly thereafter, Hayu and the items we ordered arrived came back at about the same time.
“You two are dating, right?”
As soon as she came back — Hayu suddenly threw this question out.
Houkage had just lifted her cup of Café Latte when she spoke to me and almost spilled some. She slowly put the cup back into the saucer with her left hand as well, and then turned to face Hayu.
“Yes. We’re dating.”
“I know right, eh…?”
When Houkage said it without hesitation, Hayu groaned weakly.
“What an insensitive reply… Besides, from my point of view, it doesn’t look like you and my brother are dating at all.”
After being pointed out, Houkage’s eyes turned from Hayu to me. Unusually, I felt that I could understand exactly what Houkage was trying to say to me — “Is that so?”
As if to cover up the uncomfortable feeling present within, I sipped on the Cafe Latte. The mild bitterness and moderate sweetness blended together to create a comforting taste.
“…That kind of thing is different for everyone, so just leave it alone.”
“That’s not how it works. If Houkage-senpai has misunderstood something and my brother is taking advantage of it, it’s like you’re a stalker. As a sister, I can’t just abandon you and let you go on that path.”
“You… have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She caught my arm with both hands as I tried to grab her by the neck, and I dodged the kick she threw under the table. After both of us gnashed our teeth together… We peeled ourselves off each other quickly.
As she watched us struggle, Houkage threw a sugar cube into her Café Latte. It was sweet enough for me, but it seems like it wasn’t enough for her.
As she fixed her messy bangs, Hayu indicated the back of the store with her thumb.
“Okay, brother. Usually, couples are people who look like that.”
There was a couple from the other table that I had seen earlier.
—They exchanged happy glances across the table, and both of them burst into smiles at the joke that one of them made. Suddenly, the man leaned forward and wiped the cake cream from the girl’s mouth with a paper napkin, who stopped moving. The girl’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment and she giggled—
Everything, from the very beginning to the very end, was so far fetched from us. The two of them were such a couple that I forgot my rebuttal to my sister and admitted defeat.
She gave me a triumphant look as I fell silent, and turned to Houkage. Houkage was also looking at the couple in question, but blinked when she noticed Hayu’s gaze.
“What is it, Imouto-san. Tell me if you’re dissatisfied with anything.”
It was an auspicious line, a little too much, I think. It was because I had just told Houkage earlier, but the uninformed Hayu was taken aback and hesitated to say anything else.
After sipping espresso from the toy-like cup and calming her head and tongue, Hayu once again expressed the frustration she must have had since the club.
“Houkage-senpai is dating my brother, so why did you just give me an opinion that would allow a harem? It’s like admitting to cheating on your lover.”
“You, that’s the kind of thing that’s okay if it’s fiction.”
I intervened and calmly pointed out, and then Hayu sharply said, “But—”
Houkage said simply.
“In fact, it’s a harem right now.”
Us two siblings, who had been bickering with each other, looked at each other speechlessly, and then we both looked at Houkage. She was sipping her café latte with a calm face.
“…What do you mean?”
It was Hayu who asked the question. Her voice was harsh, almost aggressive-like. Houkage, still unfazed, asked back curiously.
“Isn’t one person being with multiple members of the opposite gender called a harem in light novels?”
“No, this is my sister! She’s nothing like Houkage!”
I put my hand on Hayu’s head and rushed to deny it.
“That’s right! Please don’t say anything so sickening.”
She was annoyed and brushed my hand away, but for now, she agreed with me.
Houkage nodded, “Wha…” she said, not quite sure what to say, and then said.
“I understand that I’m not a s*x object.”
The words were so easily uttered that we were both stunned. I don’t know how it would sound to the average high school student, but it was enough to shock me, who’s not very good at those types of things, and also Hayu, who’s always been an honor student. The fact that Houkage’s voice sounded so innocent in spite of what she said reminded me of some perverse kind of grenade throwing.
Houkage continued nonchalantly.
“However, the anime I saw in the club room was also about falling in love with a sword girl who was unlikely to bear children. Then I guess your sister is also within the harem of the light novel definition.”
Perhaps because of her personality, she was watching the anime version of “KenKaiHou” quite seriously, even though she didn’t seem particularly interested in it.
We pointed at each other as if we were fighting.
“T-That’s… but I don’t particularly like him.”
“I’m the same way!”
“But lately, Aramaki-kun seemed to be spending most of his time with Imouto-san.”
Ugh… I was at a loss for words. Even though I was thinking about it for Kaho-chan, it was probably not a good idea to leave my sister alone in the club room with Houkage, whom I had just started dating.
“And your Imouto-san always seems to be concerned about you, Aramaki-kun.”
“It’s… because if my family members are sluggish, it’s going to affect my school life…”
Hayu was not very good at talking. She was a serious person at heart, so when she was accused by Houkage, my girlfriend, she probably felt like she was doing something wrong.
However, Houakge shook her head like a hawk at Hayu as she shrunk. Before continuing, she tried to drink her café latte and frowned when she realized that it was already empty.
“That’s fine, Imouto-san. As I said in the club room earlier, I don’t think the harem system is necessarily detrimental. Both prairie dogs and bonellia viridis have a meaningful ecology and produce results.
I don’t know if you understand the light novel meaning, but I benefit from being alongside Imouto-san as I am now. So I don’t care if it’s a harem situation or not.”
“B-Benefit…What do you mean by that?”
She tried to say something more, but couldn’t find the right words, so she let her half-open hands wander in the air.
“Eh… uh, there is something wrong with Houkage-senpai after all. Love is more like… this kind of definite thing.”
The words she tried to say didn’t come together until the very end, and they became muddled.
As she moved her gaze to search for the words, she looked at me.
“Yes! What does my brother think? As her boyfriend, you have something to say!”
Of course I have something to say. I won’t have an affair — I’m not worthy of one — and this sister was not in the harem category by any definition, natural or the light novel one.
I’d like to say that I can only see through Houkage now… but I lack the courage to declare such an embarrassing thing in front of my sister, even though it’s still difficult to do so alone with her.
The words that eventually came out were these.
“Yes, Houkage. Some animals have one-on-one love relationships too. …birds, you know, a couple that gets along well is called a ‘loving couple.’”
Perhaps because the topic was easy for her to understand, Houkage nodded her head clearly.
“Indeed, birds are often monogamous, one to one, and some species continue their marital relationship until death.”
“Isn’t that right? That’s why people—”
“However, even among birds that are considered to be monogamous, DNA tests show that dozens of percent of baby chickens are the offspring of individuals other than the husband. The wives and females want to secure a male husband as a partner who will maintain the nest and help them raise their children, not a lover. By the way, that kind isn’t even the most lifelong type, they change partners every year.”
“Why are you saying something that’s even more depressing!?”
A snake in the bush. I was unsuccessful, and even Hayu cursed me due to that. And so I held my head in my hands.
I don’t know what I can say to convince her. I don’t have any feelings for anyone other than Houkage, and to be honest, I also have a kind of possessiveness type feeling within me. I don’t want Houkage to be concerned about other men besides me.
Perhaps it would have been quicker if Houkage had feelings that bound me as well, but she was too flat for me to expect that sort of situation. Normally, that’s a good thing, but I feel uneasy about going out with her as a man and a woman.
“…Maybe you two, are not on the same page?”
Houkage did not show any particular reaction to Hayu’s words. She just looked at me with her usual sleepy eyes.
I looked back into her eyes, held my breath, and turned to face Hayu, holding it.
My sister’s name was on the next breath I exhaled. Hayu jerked back as if her name had pushed her over the edge.
“It’s true that me and Houkage may not be on the same page. But if that’s the case, we can work on it. Is that not good enough for you?”
When I addressed her head-on, she seemed to have been discouraged. Even so, she continued to complain in a depressed manner.
“…My brother thinks so, but what about Houkage-senpai? How do you feel about my brother?”
When I followed her gaze, I saw that Houkage’s eyes seemed to waver slightly. She looked down at the cup in her hand as if she was thinking about something, then looked back at us and opened her mouth.
“For me, Aramaki-kun is…ug?”
She was about to say something, but then cut her words off as if she had realized something. Her eyes were looking in a different direction from us. Hayu and I immediately noticed, and followed Houkage’s gaze.
A man and a woman had appeared in front of the seats of the example couple. The staff couldn’t see them, so they must have been distracted by our conversation with Houkage and didn’t notice them entering the restaurant.
It was obviously not a normal customer. The woman was about the age of a junior high school student and was wearing a hooded hoodie over some kind of school uniform.
The man looked like a thug, to put it simply. He wore smoke-blue sunglasses pulled up over the tip of his nose and a shiny, patterned shirt that blended in well with his stocky figure.
They looked down at the couple, the man’s face set, and the girl’s eyes comparing her lover to the intruders, seemingly unable to comprehend the situation.
“Dear customer, what is it…?”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I’ll be right out. Please don’t mind me.”
The man in sunglasses put his hand on the back of his head and bowed his head in a surprisingly low posture. The man’s voice sounded like a cheerful older brother, but the gap between his voice and appearance was eerie.
The staff seemed to be familiar with the situation, but seemed unsure of what to do if he couldn’t grasp the situation. In the meantime, the girl in the hood moved. She took a step forward and let out a fluffy, ungrounded voice.
“Hey, Yuma-kun…let’s go on a date!”
“W-Wait, Cokoha-chan. I told you I’m not available today.”
The young man in the couple’s eyes was moving back and forth between the two girls with his mouth drawn up in a tight line — he looked like he was desperately trying to smile and failing — and his face turned towards the girl in the hood.
The girl in the seat said, “What? What do you mean?” The girl in the hood clung to his sleeve regardless of the young man’s words.
“Hey… let’s go, Yuma-kun…”
“How… How did you know I was here!?”
“Onii-chan’s friend is good at following people into apartments. …He took a lot of pictures… Ehehe, lots of pictures of Yuma-kun with various women~”
“Hey, let’s go… I’ll pay for the hotel again today…”
“I-I keep telling you! I can’t do that today!”
The young man stands up, shouting violently and shakes off the girl in the hood. The waiter rushed to support the staggering girl.
Then a man in sunglasses grabbed the young man’s arm. An inarticulate scream burst out from the young man’s mouth, and the previously frivolous man turned and barked.
“Hey, you! You’re the one who r*ped my sister, so why are you having tea with another woman!?”
“What do you mean, ‘r*pe’!? Ah, I was just playing with Cokoha…”
“You can possibly call that ‘playing’! You’re still pushing my sister away… Haahhh!? Do you understand me? Hey, come here!”
“Eh…? Umm… where to?”
“It’s a lawyer’s office! The lawyer who’s been taking care of you, he’s going to give your parents a very nice lecture! I’m going to get a phone call from him!”
“Then you really are just like a yakuza!?”
“If you don’t like it, go date my sister.”
—After such an exchange.
The man in sunglasses and his sister took the young man like a prison guard and left. It was unclear whether they were going on a date or to the office, as the young man was so terrified that he let himself go halfway through the conversation.
There was a silence that seemed to have confirmed the end of the matter, but it just continued on and on.
The girl, who was once one half of the couple, was left in her seat, staring at a spot on the table — an empty spot — with a lifeless face. It was an unpleasant sight to look at.
“I apologize… for all the trouble we’ve caused you.”
After a while, a waitress came to our table. He carried a tray with enough coffee for four people. One of them was Cafe Latte, the same one we had ordered earlier.
“If you’d like, please. I don’t mind paying for it.”
“No, it’s… a bad idea. It’s not the store’s fault.”
The waiter gave a gentle, yet unwavering smile as I waved my hand across in panic.
“No, sir. We are really sorry about this.”
A real adult, I thought. So, I decided to be honest with him. A cup of blended coffee was placed in front of me and Hayu, and a cup of Cafe Latte was placed in front of Houkage.
“Now, please, take your time…”
The waiter — no, that’s definitely the master, I’ve come to realize — headed straight for the girl’s seat.
The girl seemed to have finally regained her composure after the meticulous psychological care. Then she began to worry about the safety of the man who had taken her. She wondered if he was still in love with her, or if he was afraid of what might happen to him.
The master was still calm. His voice was as warm as the coffee he brewed, with a mildly astringent tone.
“Don’t worry about your companion. I know his ‘boss’ in those sunglasses, so I’ll ask him not to do anything rash.”
“I-Is it true?” He nodded deeply to the tearful girl and walked back to the kitchen. While opening the address book of the smartphone that he took out of his pocket.
“I’m pretty sure those cufflinks were given out at Gokabayashi’s group’s New Year’s party…”
Who are you…?
I looked away from the master’s back with a mixture of admiration and awe in my eyes.
“—I think I understand now.”
After a while, Houkage, who had been licking her Café Latte, muttered to herself. She was licking her lips and mumbling.
“Eh? You know who the Master is?”
As expected of my sister, she was wondering the same thing I was.
But Houkage tilted her head, “?”
“No, about what we were talking about earlier.”
“Is that about… the harem?”
As I sipped my coffee black — it was bitter, but it was a “drinkable bitterness” — I asked her back. I had half forgotten about it after seeing that incident.
Houkage covered her mouth with her cup and nodded.
“I have heard that animals that marry one to another, such as dogs, often have large brains in relation to their body size. As far as the trouble I just mentioned, the reason for this may be that they need imagination enough to come to terms with the opposite gender with different ecology, and insight to monitor each other’s infidelity. Without that kind of power, we will just end up being exploited one way or the other.”
“Well, if you’re smart, you can be considerate of others and hide things from them. And you’ll be able to find out what they’re hiding.”
I admitted, remembering the young man who had probably been two-timing and recalling what had happened to him.
Houkage made a rare gesture. She let out a sigh of remorse.
“Marriage has the advantage of securing a procreative partner and a workforce, but I underestimated the cost of sustaining it. Nowadays, trying to secure several members of the opposite gender, like the man I mentioned earlier, can lead to ruin like that.”
I thought that was an extreme example, but I didn’t dare point it out. It was just an extreme case, but I guess that kind of relationship breakdown was common in the world.
Houkage continued her words as she blew into the remaining Café Latte.
“It may be that one person is the limit of the number of people that one can care for and continue to detect. I didn’t really understand that part.”
“I told you so, didn’t I? It’s always right to be in love with only one person.”
Hayu, who was in tears after taking a sip of her drink, tried to drink it black to try and compete with me, but she folded her arms and stretched her thin chest.
“Yes. Harem is still the best way to go. I’ve learned that the system is too far gone for humanity.”
On the contrary, Houkage shrugged her shoulders as if in shame. I couldn’t help but look away, as it seemed as if her even larger chest had been pushed out. The bitterness of the coffee was gratifying now.
It was then that I heard my name called, and I winced. When I looked back at her, I saw that Houkage was staring at me more straightforwardly than ever.
I should have been happy that the person I loved was staring at me, but I had dark roots and almost backed away like a bug afraid of the light. But I endured it, and looked straight back at her. I imagined that if I leaned back here, I might hurt her in some way.
I’m a human being, and as Houkage said, I should have enough brain power to keep thinking about one person.
“W…What is it?”
“The reason I was able to understand this was because I was able to actually see the ‘love tangle’ in this store today. I would never have thought of coming to such a store on my own. The coffee in the cafe was also much more delicious than I had imagined from reading the book.”
Houkage did not smile. She just said it in a serious manner, with her usual hard-to-grasp expression and voice.
“So… Thank you very much for bringing me here.”
And yet, I felt my heart swell up and feel as if it were about to burst.
My eyes widened and my cheeks slowly heated up.
I’m not a person who has anything to be proud of. I’m not a person who likes to talk with other people. My hobbies are not something I can boast about to other people. I’m not bad at sports or studying, and if you ask me if I have anything outstanding about me, I’d say no.
That’s why I lack self-confidence, and my sister, who seems to have no flaws other than her personality, tells me all I need to know about it. I naturally become withdrawn and hesitate when I should take the plunge. That’s why it was strange even for me that I was able to act with a single thought, like when I confessed my feelings to her and today.
It was not every day that I got to be thanked face-to-face like this. And this was the first time in my life that my girlfriend had thanked me.
…No, it’s the opposite. For the first time in my life, I was dealing with a girlfriend, so I was able to do my best. I wanted to see her happy face somehow, and to ‘moe’ at her face. I was taught by Houkage that this repetition was what created civilization.
How many more times do I have to ‘moe’ at her before I can write something that won’t embarrass me at the festival?
I was so excited thinking about it that I couldn’t even respond back. There were so many things I wanted to say, like “I didn’t do anything special,” or “Thank you too,” but I couldn’t find the words.
The words that came out after a lot of flailing around were something completely different from my inner thoughts.
“Then, let’s go to some other places together too.”
This time, Houkage took a slow, wordless breath and then nodded her head.
I poured the contents of the pitcher of milk and was about to take out a sugar cube when Hayu stopped me and drank it without adding sugar. She looked as if she had heartburn even though she didn’t add any sugar to her drink.
The harem was still a long way from the palace.
With these words, somehow in the style of a motto, Houkage took the first step toward a humanistic love story.
…Maybe, it’s something like that.
Today’s light novel gently closed its pages.
The Hokage’s L/RightNovel
[TLN: Thank you spynine for editing this long chapter! Thank you who are still reading this. Next chapter would be idle talk 2]