On December 14, 2:00 pm, Grandma died.
Standing in front of the closed and silent, heavy looking silver door with a big handle attached to it, Youtarou thought: Ahh... now there is no one in this whole world who I can call my relative…
It was December. And even though winter had set in, in the new beautiful and strange funeral hall it was warm, just enough to cause slight sweating. There was a huge silver door, much like a bank vault door Youtarou once saw in a movie. And, on top of it, as if to make sure nobody could get near, a huge gold and black cremation hall style door was closed. As if it was telling him that there was no coming back from the other side. For a second, his hands shook.
This really is the end, isn’t it...? Wait, stop. Please open the door. Don’t take Grandma away from me! He felt as if a small child was shouting from somewhere far away. Of course, even if he thought that, he knew nothing was going to change. You can cry and shout all you want, but the truth remains that dead people can’t be brought back. Much less Grandma, who was pretty old. She did die of sudden Cerebral Hemorrhage, but it wasn’t unusual for her age. It was a painless death. You could say that she almost died a natural death. It was his duty to send Grandma off.
Grandma, thanks for all you have done for me until now. Of course, I do think that becoming kin―less at this age sure is unlucky, but that too is my destiny, so there is no helping it. I have no place to return to and no place to live, and frankly I have no idea what I should do from now on, but, for now, I’ll just thank Grandma who was there for me and raised me, after both Mom and Dad died.
Thank you, Grandma.
The person in charge of the funeral, wearing a black suit with a black tie, and wearing white gloves made a deep bow to him in silence. In front of the closed door were placed the memorial tablet and portrait.
You don’t need to bow your head so deeply to this...lanky student. Youtarou thought.
Grandma was laughing in the memorial portrait that was surrounded by black ribbons. Youtarou became self―conscious of himself because of the blue school blazer and the dark blue pants that he had intentionally bought a size larger than his fit. He had a light blue cheerful tie and a little creased uniform on, which didn’t suit this place filled with mourning people with placid faces. Even the kid that he saw in the hallway who looked to be about kindergarten age had a more proper attire.
I guess parents do these types of things for their children? I don’t have any experiences like that, so I wouldn’t know. As he was starting to feel uncomfortable, the clerk looked back at him and said:
“It’ll take about an hour and a half, so please wait in the waiting room.”
The neighbors who Grandma had gotten along with well clasped their hands together, and reciting Nanmandabu Nanmandabu1 bowed again and again towards the big black and gold door.
“Misora-san, we’ll be following you soon, so wait for us.” They said.
Youtarou couldn’t bear it anymore, so he went outside. It was a refreshingly unexpected deep blue sky for December. Hoping to catch a look of the smoke of the cremation of Grandma, he searched for a chimney, but didn’t spot one.
It would be troubling for the people of the neighborhood, so I guess they don’t make them anymore. The big parking lot was surrounded by a forest. Ah, I see. It’s not like in that Kindaichi Kosuke’s movie that I saw on TV once. You don’t become ash and smoke and rise gracefully towards the sky. Not anymore. Even though it’s called cremation, it’s not like you’re setting the fire yourself. All you have to do is throw a switch...
The sky he was gazing at all alone seemed infinitely empty...
Ten days after the funeral, on 24 December. The last day of the second semester.
On that day of the Closing Ceremony, Youtarou was in the Kendo Club Room that was attached to the side of the gym. When he had enrolled in Nino Private Junior High school at the Grandma’s recommendation, it was compulsory for boys to enter a physical activities oriented club. Out of all the various clubs, he had decided to join the Kendo Club. Judo looked too hard, Baseball looked too harsh, Sumo was out of the question, Volleyball shorts were too tight, er...
Out of all these dismal choices only Kendo was left. Today was the last competition which the Kendo Club was participating in. The opposing team was the one that was known as the strongest team in the area, the Golden Dragons. In the club, there was already a mood of defeat floating around. Even though the school is called Private, the studies here were so―so, the club activities were also so―so, and the whole school was just so―so. It wasn”t a school that could compete with such a strong team. When the match was decided, a lot of complaints and questions as to who decided the match were heard from the lazy members. Actually, hr had thought that too.
But yeah, too late for that now.
Will this become a good memory? He mused.
This would be his last day at this school. Grandma died so suddenly, so he hadn’t been able to do any withdrawal procedures yet. He didn’t think that he could remain in this private school for the 3rd semester. Grandma lived a simple life, and was far from being wealthy. And after she died, he did try searching but found nothing resembling a bank book containing money. He had already guessed that from their daily lives, but for now, he felt he should be thankful to her for letting him go to a normal school, no matter how so―so it may have been. And even if he did find some money, going to this Private School would be difficult, because he had lost his only guardian. So he had decided that he would drop out of the school as soon as winter was over.
No, because of that.
Just for once…
He decided to try his best.
Eei! I will take my chances and aim for the win! Today, I am feeling just a bit confident. No, rather than saying confident, I guess I am feeling a bit desperate. He thought to himself with some measure of self―deprecation.
“Men! Dou! Kote!”2 Facing the wall at the end of the dojo, he practiced various moves in his armor while sorting through his feelings. That’s right. Just for once. It’s my last match. Even if I’m not that confident, what’s wrong with me trying to take the lead role once in a while? Thinking that, he announced that he would like to have a match with the mysterious beautiful swordswoman of the Golden Dragons.
That’s right. His partner today would be a girl. Said swordswoman, while a girl, was rumored to have considerable skill, and was the captain at her own school. But the school she was enrolled at, Konohana Private Academy, had only become co-ed 3 years ago. It was an All-Girls school before that, and a pretty high class one at that. It still had a population of about 80% women, and becoming fed up with the low level of the team of the school, the swordswoman joined the Golden Dragons, the strongest team in the area, all alone.
Her name was...Amatsuka Hikaru.
She seemed magnificent just from her name. Before Grandma had died, he wouldn’t even have considered having a match with such a high class swordswoman. He would just have thought that it didn’t have anything to do with him. That’s why, he would’ve have joined his teammates who were not even trying to hide their ulterior motives as they used Rock Papers Scissors to decide who would enter in the contest against the swordswoman. Because as luck would have it, 4 days before the match, just as he had completed all of Grandma’s funeral procedures and returned to school, her opponent’s position became empty. Their member of the team who was supposed to face her got a sprain.
He wanted to become stronger.
He had no choice but to make himself stronger.
She on the other hand, had joined and proven herself in a team consisting of men only. Such magnificent strength, from his point of view, was like an unattainable flower...
He wanted to boldly stand as equals with her.
“She’s ultra-strong, you know!” everyone warned him. But just one last time, he wanted to do something with his meaningless life. Just for once, he wanted to believe that there were some good points about him too.
That’s why...he tried to get the position to fight her. Half of it was out of desperation, but half of it was serious resolve. His opponent was a girl after all, and even though he had entered the club on a whim and barely practiced, he was surprisingly good at Kendo. That’s how he had become a member after all.
Maybe a miracle will occur. Even I can do it, if I try! That’s what he wanted to think. He wanted to do something big and stand out...
I wonder if it was just my wishful thinking after all...He thought while fighting a losing battle in the narrow arena taped out inside the dojo. He was already a point behind.
“Haa!” With a shout to fire herself up, his dignified opponent came at him without a single other thought.
Through the slit in the Men3, he caught a glimpse of a pair of big bright eyes shining with determination. He was having trouble just trying to dodge her blows. The cheering of the crowd and his own hastiness was making it hard for him to think straight. In no time, she had already scored a point. And in rapid succession, another powerful blow was coming.
Oh, shi-! He barely dodged it. Now that it has come to this, it doesn’t matter if I’m not elegant or run around, I’ve got to find an opening to strike. He started swinging around his Shinai4 wildly, like a kid on a rampage. Moving around recklessly, and gulping down all his doubts, he somehow stood his ground. If he lost here, it would be too pitiful.
He remembered his empty life…and how kind Grandma had been to him.
Now that it’s come to this, I’ll have to reverse this situation with one solid strike from above… Okay, now! Is what he thought. At that moment he heard something go Bashin and Hikaru’s single stroke from above decided everything. He was one step too far. It was like cross counter.
Did I even last 2 minutes?
He had lost. Completely.
His amateurish plan to attack from above aiming for the Men had completely failed against the fast movements of his opponent. He didn’t have one good moment in the whole match.
Ahh, I guess it really was impossible…
He went outside and took off his Men. Sitting down on the floor, he leaned back on his hands, exhausted, defeated. It’s true, the more you get your hopes up, the more it hurts when they are all dashed to pieces. I guess even if the likes of me tires to struggle this late in the game, nothing is gonna come out of it.
Wheezing and drawing in rough breaths, he just sat on the floor, discouraged. Somehow, it felt like he was feeling the gravitational pull of Earth more than usual. And his surrounding club members just stood silently at a distance, not knowing what to say. Normally, the club members would laugh and tease him, saying “We told you it would be impossible for you.” But seeing his unusually serious figure, they were unable to say anything. Especially to him, who had lost his only family recently. Any normal high–school student wouldn’t be able to find any words. He became even more depressed, and thinking he had to get away, left the dojo.
Outside the dojo it was pretty sunny. Inside the school grounds, there were many evergreen trees, and even in winter, it got a lot of sunlight. When he looked at the sky– yup, it was the same empty sky as that day. He was close to the water faucets that were installed outside the dojo.
Filling his cupped hands with cold winter water, he drank his fill. Maybe it was because he had pushed his body to the limit because of nervousness, but his throat was completely dry, and the cold water felt incredibly nice as it slid down his throat. He hesitated but for a moment, then mumbling “I guess its fine…,” lowered his head and ran the cold water over his sweaty face and head. This time, it felt shockingly cold. He trembled involuntarily.
“Owa-” As he hastily stopped the water with one hand, and wiped his face with the other, a voice said:
“You can use this.” And someone pressed a towel to his face.
Because his vision was blocked by the towel, he had no idea whose voice it was. All he knew was that it was a girl’s voice. He hurriedly wiped his face clean and timidly turned around, coming face to face with the pair of big, determined eyes that had been constantly gazing at him from beneath the Men during the match. Amatsuka Hikaru, whose white, delicate face had been hidden under her armor during the match now stood before him with her face uncovered.
He was overwhelmed for a moment. She had small mouth accompanying her big beautiful eyes, and a firm face full of determination. On her head, below her towel were well-kept long and straight chestnut colored hair tied in a ponytail, which was swaying in the in the wind.
“Do you have something to do after this?” She asked me without wasting a breath.
“Not really.” He replied after thinking for a bit. After all, he had nothing do except return to that apartment without Grandma with a heavy heart.
“Then there is a place I want you to come.”
“That’s why, take this.” She suddenly held out a note. As she held it out, she seemed to hesitate a bit. He couldn’t take it because his hands were still wet. “I’ll be waiting. Make sure to come, okay?”
She suddenly took a set forward, stuck the paper inside the breastplate of his armor without taking care not to crumple it, and turned on her heel and walked away quickly.
“Eh? Ah, wa-wait! What’s this?” As he hastily took the memo in his hands, the paper instantly became wet, and the pencil lines on it began to smear. Ahh, this is bad. He hurriedly wrapped it in the towel he was holding.
Ah, that’s right. I’ve got to return this towel too. Thinking that, he spread the palm-sized memo on the towel and took a good look at it. There was something like a map drawn on it. It was the station next to the station where he got off. About 2 minutes from here by foot.
Hmm, it’s gotten a bit wet so I can’t read the details that well. Where is this?
Drops of water dripped down from his still wet hair.
And then, Youtarou was in a room of the boxing gym he had arrived at following the map and gotten beaten up at.
“Are you alright?” As he woke up, Hikaru noticed and called out to him softly. And as he tried to answer Yeah, the movement of his face sent pain shooting up his left temple.
“Ah, sorry.” Saying that, Hikaru gently laid down a towel over his left eye and forehead. The ice pack that was placed between the folded towels flopped down onto his face.
“Ugh!” Even that stung.
“Ah, I guess it is a bit swollen after all.” Hikaru said as she frowned. “Wait here, I’ll bring a new ice pack right away!” Saying that, Hikaru left the room in somewhat of a hurry. After silently watching her leave the room, Youtarou began looking around the room with his open right eye.
Under the bare fluorescent bulbs, he could see a drab gym office with gray steel furniture. Here and there, posters of boxers in various fighting poses were hung up. Among the furniture, the only expensive looking things were cabinets filled with trophies and shields, and a champion belt that looked to be about Hikaru’s size.
It finally came back to him as to why he was lying here. After Hikaru had given him the map, even though he was thoroughly confused, he had gone to the place drawn on it, which was this boxing gym. It wasn’t because I was interested in Hikaru, I just wanted to return her towel…I guess that’s not completely true. But if he had to pick one, his biggest reason for coming here was probably that he had nothing else to do. After that, he would probably have returned to Grandma’s house and played some games. That was about the extent of what he had to do.
To sum it up: 1, because I was free and had nothing else to do. 2, because Hikaru is cute. 3, because I had to return the towel. Those are probably the reasons I came here.
But really, he did not even imagine that he would suddenly be made a sparring partner. He lightly pressed down the still slightly cold towel on his left eye and sat up.
“Ita-!” He was kind of used to the pain now, but it still stung. The door opened, and Hikaru peeked in from the gap.
“Oh, you can already move around? That’s a relief. I guess you do have willpower after all.” She hurried over to him, and with gentler hands than he was expecting, changed his towels. She then placed two cider bottles side by side on the desk.
“While I was looking for a new ice pack, I found these in the gym fridge. Drinking them in here would be kind of a waste, so shall we go outside?”
They were near a riverbed.
Hikaru had lead them to the bank of a river near the gym, where they sat down side by side. They couldn’t see it form here, but on the other side of the river was Youtarou’s home. A home he was going to lose soon. Hikaru seemed to be thirsty and drank the whole bottle of cider in one go, and then threw a stone at the surface of the water.
1, 2, 3.
The stone skipped three times on water.
“But I’ve got to say, you’re pretty weak.” Hikaru said suddenly with an impressed face without even looking at Youtarou. He was a little taken aback.
“You’re probably too strong, is all.” Hearing this, Hikaru turned towards him.
“Then, why did you go out of your way to have a match with me?”
Youtarou stayed silent.
“Didn’t you volunteer to become my opponent in that match? It looked like you had no ulterior motives either. You were seriously trying to fight to win– At least that is what it looked like to me.”
Of course, since I really was trying to win.
“He’s so amateurish, so weak, so why did he volunteer to fight with me? I thought I had found a guy who would fight me seriously, so I even called you to a boxing match, but you were no good at that either.”
Yeah, that’s also natural, since I have never done boxing before.
“I guess it’s because I’m a woman, but out of all the guys who fight with me, the weak guys always fight with me for some ulterior motive and the strong guys never get serious. Either they are mocking me because I’m a woman, or they are afraid of losing to a woman in serious match. But you, you were different.”
I have lost fair and square. Isn’t it enough to leave it at that? Youtarou didn’t want to tell Hikaru why he had gotten so desperate in that match.
“You were really serious in that match. It was kind of mysterious really. I wonder why.”
He didn’t really want to get in that discussion, so without answering her question, he posed one of his own:
“Then I’ll ask you, why are you doing 2 martial arts at once? Both Kendo and Boxing. Isn’t it kind of rare to see a girl doing either of these sports?”
“Me?” Hikaru paused for a moment. She was searching for another stone to throw.
“Because I want to- because I have to get stronger. Much, much more.” As she said this, she threw the stone with a fast flick of her wrist. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 times the stone skipped over the surface of the water.
“That’s why, I’m also doing Karate and Naginata5 practice in addition to Kendo and Boxing.”
“But why so many?” I asked. Wasn’t she already strong enough?
“Because there are people that I have to protect no matter what. I’ve got to become as strong as- no, probably even stronger than a man or else I won’t be able to protect them.” Hikaru said bluntly.
“People you have to protect…?” Youtarou wondered aloud. Maybe her boyfriend?
“My little sisters…well, I have older sisters too, so I guess all my sisters. My sisters…or you could say my whole family…”
Youtarou nodded. Hikaru’s sisters were probably all very beautiful. If they were not as strong as Hikaru, they probably needed someone to protect them.
“Our father in not around. At least if we had a brother, that’d be nice, but there are no men in our family. That’s why I have to become even stronger.” Then she smiled. That smile was really cute.
“Then, I’m the same as you. I also want to become stronger. I haven’t really done anything with my life until now. And I don’t have a single living relative. I finally realized that –and it has become sort of unavoidable now– I want to become stronger. I had to live all alone from now on. That’s why I wanted to defeat a strong person such as you, to give myself some confidence.”
The last part was mostly monologue.
“All alone? No living relative?” Hikaru tilted her head. “What’s that all about?”
For some reason, Youtarou felt like telling Hikaru his story. Was it because her smile was cute? No, it was probably because he felt that Hikaru was thinking seriously about him. This super strong and beautiful girl was probably serious in everything she did. She was probably the type who was considerate sincerely about her opponent at all times…
“So now you know about his situation, what are you going to do about it, Hikaru-chan?”
In the comfortable air-conditioned room, the grownup voice of Amatsuka Miharu echoed.
“What am I going to do about it…?” Hikaru said with a slightly lowered voice. There was no chance for Youtarou to interrupt the two sisters. As Hikaru was explaining the situation, Youtarou was sitting in the middle of the room on a large white square sofa without anything to do.
After sitting for 20 minutes on a Private Local Train from the local train station near Youtarou’s house, he was led by Hikaru to a brand new Metro Station. A humble student like Youtarou, wearing a dull blazer uniform, felt very out of place in the expensive looking city. Even he, who didn’t know the name of the building they were entering, felt the high value because of the single symbol of a small olive tree. There was a small door plate with the title True House. Even the interior was very expensive looking. The interior had distinct accents of glass, polished wood and silver. Small, delicate, colorful accessories that Youtarou did not see often and were found in 100 Yen shops were lying here and there. The very description of elegant. What was even more surprising that in the middle of the courtyard there was a lawn in the middle of which was a huge Zelkova tree. Right now, he was looking down on that lit up courtyard through the huge glass windows of the top floor.
Which museum is this? Youtarou thought in awe. Why am I here again?
He was suddenly jolted from my thoughts, as Hikaru drew a quick breath and said: “I was thinking of having him stay at our place.”
“Haa!?” As Miharu obviously became surprised, Youtarou was also shocked. Doubly so.
Where is this coming from!?
“Are you saying, that we should have him live with us?”
“Because it’s hard to feign ignorance when you know he’s gonna have no place to live, right, Miharu-nee?” Hikaru replied with a very serious face. Evidently this person with a kind aura who looked like a grownup Hikaru wearing pastel colored clothes was Hikaru’s older sister Miharu.
At that moment, the chair at the CEO’s table in front of them, which had been turned around all this time, suddenly swiveled around and someone said:
“Wow! That’s a brilliant idea! Hikaru-chan, you really are the best! I wonder why you weren’t born a real boy. It’s such a waste!” Sitting there, behind a large desk, was a woman who had been silently listening up till now. She looked like both Hikaru and Miharu, but was about 3 times more beautiful than both of them.
“Mama has always thought so. Ever since I closed down the geisha house that Grandma ran and opened up this entertainment company True House, I had a particular dream. Ahh, Sound of Music6!!” She clapped her hands and was obviously happy. Miharu smiled wryly, and Hikaru…Hikaru smiled with relief.
“The center of entertainment is family after all! The Trap Family Singers!” But, be it Jackson Five or any other family group, the lead vocal needs to be a hot guy, right? The lead is always a stud! That is like, the law of the universe!”
“I don’t think that’s really the case…” As Miharu said in a small voice, the woman behind the table slammed down her hands on the table. The small silver plate that said ‘President’ on the table rattled.
“Naïve! That’s why you have long way to go, Miharu! If you want to take over this company in the future, remember this clearly! The lead is always a stud! There, repeat after me!”
“The lead is a stud…” Miharu looked over to Youtarou with puppy eyes and an expression that almost said Please take pity on me.
“You know, the creatures known as girls love Princes, no matter what anyone says. They are always dreaming about their Prince who will come and whisk them away. If we don’t make money off that, what else on this earth will we make money off of? Selling dreams is our job, right? But, the sad reality is that all my children are girls…”
“Mama, maybe you did not want girls at all?” Hikaru interjected suddenly.
“You are such an air head, Hikaru-chan. That’s not it! That’s not it at all. Having a lot of daughters is awesome too! Because male fans are so dedicated, even if female idol groups have a large number of idols, they can follow along. But for the studs, they have to have the center stage all alone or it just doesn’t work!”
‘President’…It seems like this person is Miharu and Hikaru’s mother.
After completing her speech with exaggerated body motions, ‘Mama’ turned towards Youtarou and stared at him.
“Hm, it all checks out. I’m all OK for taking you as my son!”
It seems like I have been given the OK…
“Really? Mama!” Hikaru said in delight.
“Yeah well, our house has so many daughters that we could practically sell them, so one more member is fine, right?”
“You shouldn’t put it like that, Mama.” Miharu retorted, probably for Youtarou’s sake. That’s because he had become a little scared.
A lot? So many that they can sell them? Just how many are there?
Mama continued “And you know, for Hikaru-chan to like a boy is pretty rare right? Mama is kind of relieved now. I was worried about what to do if Hikaru-chan turned out to be a lesbian. I mean, you know how you used to sleep together with Haruka on the same bed? Mama really doesn’t have any prejudice against gay or lesbians, but since you were sisters…”
Miharu and Hikaru both shouted in exasperation.
“What are you going to do if Youtarou-kun believes it!?”
Oh what, so it’s not true, phew… At this point, Youtarou was so amazed at the extreme behavior of ‘Mama’ the president that he couldn’t even say anything.
“Ah, but if I remember correctly, our household has a girl that hates men…” Mama stopped with a complex look on her face.
“Ah…” Hikaru also froze.
But this time, Miharu spoke up. “Then, why don’t you make Youtarou-kun a long lost family member?”
“Ah, I like the sound of that!” Mama said, lightly placing her fist in her palm.
Oi! Is it really fine just like that!?
“Mama has always wanted a son!” Mama came over to Youtarou and hugged him.
Uwah~. He became stiff as a board.
“Today is December the 24, meaning its Christmas Eve. So I guess you are our Christmas present on this holy eve? Wahh~. Working diligently really pays off right? I look forward to living with you, my son! I’ll take good care of you.”
She gave him such a kind and elegant smile that it made him a little dizzy. And then she leaned in so that only he could hear and said: “But there is a one year trial period. If, after one year, even one of my cute daughters says ‘NO!’ to living together with you, then…”
And this was how Youtarou’s fate was decided.