Chapter 3 – Tokiko, Nishiogi Vibes
“What, really!? You sure you’re fine!?”
“Wow, didn’t expect you to propose that. I thought you were the type who didn’t like that.”
Morning after arriving to school, Hiiragi was talking with Sudou and Shuuji in front of the classroom.
“Y-yes… It’s all right,” agreed Hiiragi without meeting their eyes. “I can’t receive you grandly, but it doesn’t bother me if you come…”
A few weeks after the karaoke, Sudou and Shuuji were already treating Hiiragi like their friend. If they saw her in school they would come talk to her, and it seems like they even send messages to her on LINE.
That in itself was good luck. These two were a good training for Hiiragi. Though it would be a pain if I was in her place.
The problem, though,
“R-really, don’t expect much…”
Was on Hiiragi’s side. She still dressed a well between her and others.
“It’s a small and old house, so you might actually be surprised…”
During this casual conversation, she was still on her guard like a cat in a new house. Even right now, her expression was really stiff.
──The problem isn’t their age, sexe or their personality, and even less their appearance. It’s just that, if there was only one thing I could agree to from the bottom of my heart, then certainly, I wouldn’t fear anything.
There is this line in “14 Years Old” during a scene where Tokiko worries about people’s sense of distance.
It might be why she can’t get closer to them.
She doesn’t have something she can “agree from the bottom of her heart”. She doesn’t have a common point with them, so no matter how much time passes, the distance between them remains the same.
But that’s obvious, after all, from our perspective, these guys looks like aliens. The way we feel, our sense of values, our world view, our view on life, everything is different.
“… Guess it’s my turn.”
I rose from my seat and went towards them. It’s a pain to talk to Sudou and Shuuji first thing in the morning, but I can’t leave Hiiragi like that.
“What’s up, Hiiragi? Being pressured by them?”
The moment I asked, faster than Hiiragi, Sudou opened her mouth:
“Ah! What’s that!? This time we’re not forcing her to do anything!”
“So you’re aware that you usually are…”
“Umm, we were talking about doing a study group…” Hiiragi started to explain to me. “ It’s almost the midterms, right? So if we were to study all together we might make some progress…”
“I’m really in trouble~…” said Sudou, frowning miserably. “At this rate I’m sure to get a few red marks. You can’t laugh about getting red marks for your first exams of highschool…”
In Miyamae High we have midterms and finals.
As you can guess from the names, they’re tests on the middle and end of the term, and they have a direct impact on our grades. If you get red marks you’re good to go at the supplementary lessons.
Leaving the superior Shuuji aside, for Sudou who has around the same results as me, this month midterms are a pain in the neck. On my side I started to study a little to avoid the supplementary lessons.
“If possible I’d love to do something by myself!” said Sudou, starting to justify herself to me for some reason. “When going back home I think about doing this or that subject, really. But, I just can’t concentrate at home… My little brother wants to play with me, or I just watch videos on the net, and the end just ends like that…”
“You’re just sloppy…”
“I know!” I unintentionally retorted, so it made Sudou react. “I know that! But I just don’t know what to do!”
“And then, Sudou just thought that she might study if there is someone to keep an eye on her,” said Shuuji taking over the explanation. “That’s why she wants to do a study group with everyone. Plus we can help each others about the subjects we’re good at. But we didn’t have a place to do it. We can’t use Sudou or my house for a while, and when we thought about the library, Hiiragi proposed to use her house.”
“I see, so that’s what happened…”
I think choosing Hiiragi to help with studying is a good choice. Based on her attitude in class she should have good grades. I think she’s one of the “going to a good university type” in Miyamae High.
Still, it was a little surprising.
Sudou’s surprise was natural, after all Hiiragi looks like the type who don’t like people coming to her house. In fact, there wasn’t a single scene in “14 Years Old” where she invited someone to her house.
I guess she wants to get closer to Sudou and Shuuji as fast as possible. I understand that, but I think sometimes that she’s trying too hard.
“Anyway, open your schedule, Hosono!” said Sudou, as if it was a matter of course, while I was thinking. “After all, I’m sure you’re also in trouble for the tests! Let’s help each others!”
usually I would refuse here, but just this time I nodded silently.
I can’t leave Hiirani alone with them, and… In fact, I also wanted to go to her house.
A week later.
“Oh, so this is…”
“Yes, the house is old though, so it’s a little embarrassing…”
The four of us were standing in front of a house in the middle of the residential district.
“Yeah, it’s kinda cool…”
It was Hiiragi’s house, in a calm part of the residential district, around ten minutes by foot from the station.
An old two-storied Japanese style house.
Hiiragi said it was made during her great-grandfather generation, so it’s probably fifty or sixty years old. Still, thanks to the building being carefully maintained, rather than “old” it felt “charming”. The way the windows and entranceway were designed is stylish, it was not too extravagant, in fact it felt like a cosy and sweet house. Overall, it was the kind of stylish house you could see in anime movies.
As for me… Standing in front of Tokiko’s house, depicted many times in “14 Years Old”, deeply impressed me. Be it Tokiko gazing at the Japanese snake gourds outside the window, going on the roof to look at the stars, lying down in her futon when feeling depressed, or crying after quarrelling with her sister, everything happened in this house. For the past fifteen years since her birth, this house was the stage where Tokiko lived.
“Well… Welcome,” said Hiiragi inviting us inside, walking towards the entranceway enclosed in frosted windows.
After looking at the house one last time, I followed them at a jog.
Hiiragi’s room was a Japanese styled room on the second floor, at the end of the hallway on the south side.
“Whoa, it’s kinda… You know, like a literary master’s room…”
Hearing Sudou’s words, I deeply nodded in my mind.
Tatami mats you could feel the age from, olive brown bookshelves with countless little scratches. The desk, dresser and even the tea table were antiques with small ornaments. On the wall was a framed oil painting. It looked like the scenery in a rural town, but perhaps it was from this town dozens of years ago.
And everything didn’t look like it was brought by Hiiragi.
“All the furnitures are from my grandmother…” said Hiiragi somehow embarrassed. “She brought them as her trousseau when marrying, so I think almost everything is around sixty years old…”
“Whoa, the Hiiragi house really gives the feeling of having an history. How elegant! Tokki, you prefer furnitures like that rather than cute ones?”
“Yes… I think that, in their own way, they’re cute too…”
It’s true that it suited Hiiragi’s image. A quite literature girl living in a Showa era Japanese-style room. In a way, it’s harder to imagine her in a modern room with simple furnitures.
Hiiragi sat before the tea table, then we did the same as we prepared to study.
Incidentally, Hiiragi who was seating in front of me was in her plain clothes today.
It was obvious considering it’s a rest day, but it was the first time I saw her like that so I unintentionally gazed at her.
A white dress made of thin cloth with a light grey parka. She didn’t have any accessory aside from her usual hair ornament and the wristwatch on her left wrist. Just like it’s said in “14 Years Old” she had no view problem, so unlike Sudou who immediately put her glasses she was looking at the textbooks with her naked eyes.
It’s a strange feeling.
Hiiragi has been living in this room since she was a child. From before being portrayed as Tokiko to today, she must have experienced many things here, be it happy things, sad things, enjoyable things or unforgivable things. Just as she must have fit of rage here, she may even have done things so embarrassing she can’t tell anyone about too.
The moment I thought about that, for some reason I strongly became aware of would you would call the “living body” of Hiiragi.
She wasn’t on the stages like school or the town, but back in her everyday life in her own room. It was the room of a normal girl, where she lived and grew into until she became a highschool girl.
Perhaps she noticed my gaze as Hiiragi raised her face then proceeded to incline it on the side as if asking me if something was wrong.
And then, for the first time, I realised something I didn’t really take conscious of until now.
That she was really pretty.
Of course, I was already aware of her good looks. Even if she didn’t stand out and wasn’t flashy, based on her base specs I think she’s one of the prettiest in our class. However, in a way I looked at Hiiragi too specially, so I couldn’t even think something so simple subjectively.
And now, looking at her in her room, defenceless wearing plain clothes, I finally really felt it.
Hiiragi is beautiful. To the point I could be captivated for hours looking at her.
I finally came back to my senses when she called me. My heart was resounding like an alarm bell.
“I-I was just lost in my thoughts…”
“If you say so…” answered Hiiragi.
As for Sudou and Shuuji, they were looking at us curiously.
Immediately after starting, Sudou attacked Hiiragi with a barrage of questions.
“Tokki, can you help me with this?”
“The part asking what ‘that kind of half intentional mistake’ show… Like, there’s so many difficult words I don’t get anything…”
“A-aah… You don’t really need to understand what it means… You just need to see here and there as connected, then you’ll be able to solve the problem…” said Hiiragi bending over Sudou’s textbook. “Look, ‘that kind of’ refers to the previous sentence, right? Then the previous sentence is… here it is, it’s connected to the ‘in other words’ here, so──”
Just as she looks, Hiiragi is good with modern Japanese. She explained the method to answer Sudou’s question logically and clearly. I really think it’s impressive to be able to verbalise things most people do intuitively. She might be pretty popular if she became a teacher at a cramming school.
“Aaaah, It’s difficult. So you mean that as long as I pay attention to these parts I don’t need to read the text?”
“Y-yes, but, err, sorry for not being able to explain well…”
Hiiragi wore her usual stiff expression.
I had some expectations.
That the usually nervous Hiiragi would be able to relax at her house and it would be a good chance for her to open her heart.
But it was the usal. Hiiragi was talking with Sudou with a stiff expression like always.
“… What should I do…” I muttered with a sigh.
It seems that Hiiragi’s shyness is pretty hardcore and won’t change that easily. If there isn’t a good occasion, it most likely won’t get better.
“Aaaaaah, so tiiired…”
The instant we decided to take a ten minutes break Sudou threw herself on the tea table and let out a pitiful voice.
“I did a month worth of study, maybe I’ll get full marks…”
“You won’t get full marks by studying only an hour,” said Shuuji smiling bitterly.
“And we only revised a single subject,” continued Hiiragi, troubled, as she looked at Sudou.
I’m pretty sure Hiiragi can’t understand Sudou’s feelings. She has a pretty high concentration after all. In “14 Years Old” too it’s described that she can study for hours.
A common point.
Suddenly, I remembered these words.
Hiiragi and Sudou don’t have any common point.
No matter how you look at it, they’re pretty different. The things with furnitures earlier for example. Sudou, or any average highschool girl, would prefer girlish furnitures.
But this isn’t Hiiragi’s case.
She thinks the furnitures in her room are cute, read Japanese literature, can analyse and understand texts as well a concentrate on her studies for hours.
They don’t have a single common point. Their tastes are incompatible.
So in the end, perhaps it’s impossible for them to get closer.
… But is that really the case?
That question remained in my mind.
Is it really impossible for the two of them to understand each other?
True, they’re different type of people. Because they live in the same town and go to the same school they could meet, but other than that their personality, hobbies, way of life and way of thinking are too different.
Still, there must be something in common between them. Something that will get them closer.
Then, I realised.
If there really is something, then I’m the one who should be able to find it.
I gave up socialising with people. I’m not trying to get closer, nor to get to know their feelings, or even to sense the mood.
Nevertheless, I read “14 Years Old” many time for a year, and I’ve been around Sudou and Shuuji since we’re kids. If someone can find their common point, it’s me.
… Oh well, guess I have to. Let’s think about it a little more.
Sudou and Shuuji aside, I want to at least grant Hiiragi’s wish if possible.
I folded my arms and started to recall things about them. What do they like, what do they hate, what are they good at, what are they bad at, what are they confident in, what are they not confident in, how did they live…
Then suddenly, someone’s phone started to vibrate.
“… Ah, it’s my sister,” murmured Sudou confirming what was on the screen. “Uh-huh… What to choose… Maybe fried chicken…”
Sudou quickly wrote an answer.
And as I saw that, everything came together.
There is one, an answer to the problem.
A common point between them.
“A mail from your sister?” I asked Sudou the moment she finished to write her answer.
“Ah, yep. About what i wanted to eat for dinner.”
“I see. By the way, how is she recently? Doing fine?”
“… Why the sudden questions? Well, yeah, she’s fine,” answered Sudou a little puzzled.
“Good to know, just that I thought you didn’t talk about here these days. Still an amateur model?”
“Yep. Recently she’s been amazing. She’s going to a lot of photo shooting, and even appeared on a publicity on TV.”
“I see. … Come to think of it, Hiiragi didn’t know,” I said looking towards Hiiragi who looked interested. “Sudou’s big sis is a celebrity. Around highschool she started modeling in a magazine, and she’s still appearing frequently.”
“W-whoa, a model…” while being bewildered, Hiiragi showed her admiration honestly. “It’s amazing… people like this really exist…”
“Yeah, she’s tall, stylish and pretty, exactly what you imagine when you think about models. She even had a fanclub in middle school──”
“Stop talking about her!”
Sudou glared at me displeased. Rather than angry, it looked like she felt down.
“I have a complex about it. Even though my sister is so pretty, I’m like that…”
“T-that’s not true… Sudou-san, you’re so cute I’m envious…”
“You’re the only one saying that, Tokki…”
“… But it’s true that it’s difficult to have someone competent in your family,” said Shuuji, who’s been looking at the development of the conversation silently, smiling wryly.
“Ah, yeah, in your case it’s your father who’s amazing, right?”
Shuuji nodded to my question a little troubled.
“My dad is at the head of a company…”
“The head… So he’s the president?”
“Yeah. Though not a big one, just a normal IT company. He had big ambitions since his youth, so he really studied a lot to start a business. So from his point of view, it looks like I have no ambition… He’s been kinda strict because of that.”
I met, or rather saw, Shuuji’s father a few times.
He was always busily working before his computer while wearing a suit.
Shuuji always yearned to me like him, but in his mind he knew he couldn’t become “like that”. That’s why, instead of going to the best school of the region Shuuji decided to go to Miyamae High, because he wanted to try going a different way than being an elite.
“I see, everyone as it tough…” murmured Hiiragi, thinking about something.
“…Hiiragi,” I started to speak to give her a little push. “What about you? Anything about your family?”
“Something about my family…”
As she thought about it, she suddenly made an expression like she found something.
Then, turning towards Sudou and Shuuji,
“Umm… My sister is amazing,” she started. “She’s ten years older and already an adult… Also, she’s a novelist.”
It seems it managed to caught their interest as Sudou and Shuuji bent themselves forward.
“Yes, it’s true. What’s more, it seems her work is getting praised more and more recently… Even today, she went at a reunion with her editor…”
“Haaa, yeah, I guess it happens…” nodded Shuuji, impressed. “And here I thought that succeeding as an author was pretty difficult.”
“But you see, because I had such a sister I always had a complex too.”
Even in “14 Years Old” Tokiko was always aware of her sister.
The older sister who had many thing she didn’t. She’s excellent, has talent and is sociable. As a reader, I felt like Tokiko became introvert because of how amazing her sister is.
And Sudou as well as Shuuji had a complex with their excellent families.
This is surely one of their few common points. It’s a little cruel one, but we have to use it.
“So I guess we’re the ‘Inferior in their Family Alliance’…” said Sudou making an expression like booing. And yet, she looked strangely happy.
“It seems so,” agreed Hiiragi while smiling.
Yeah, she smiled. Hiiragi smiled at Sudou and Shuuji.
Her expression was softer and more natural than the stiff expression she had until now.
Anyway, it went well, so I’m relieved.
Of course, it’s not perfect. Hiiragi’s still going to be nervous around them. Still, just with this she got one step closer. Now she just needs to get closer little by little.
After all, Tokiko, that is to say Hiiragi, said it herself: “If there was only one thing I could agree to from the bottom of my heart, then certainly, I wouldn’t fear anything.”
Feeling a certain feeling of satisfaction, I took out a bottle of tea from my bag and took a sip.
On the side, Hiiragi and the other two continued to talk about their families.
The tea’s fragrance spread in my mouth, then it went through my throat before finishing in my stomach. Because of my satisfaction it felt strangely sweet.
But, only around my stomach did I feel a dull pain.
A tightening, irritating, strange sensation.
What is this? Did I eat something bad? I thought, stroking my stomach, but… I was wrong, it wasn’t where it hurt.
It was above. It hurt around my chest.
Why? I’ve had an healthy body for the past 15 years. I don’t have any disease. So then why? Why does my chest hurts? Did I pile up stress by being with Sudou and Shuuji?
“Considering that, Hosono has it easy!” Sudou suddenly turned the conversation my way. “He doesn’t have any siblings and got a really cute kitten. It’s unfair!”
“Oh, you have a kitten…” Hiiragi bent forward, interested. “I would like to see it… What is its name?”
“Shishamo…” said Hiiragi. Then after repeating it in a murmur a few times, “It’s a nice name.”
“Really? The name is from my dad, and I’m not particularly fond of it… Also, it’s not a kitten anymore. You last saw her three years ago, but now she’s an adult.”
“Even though she was so little she could fit in my hand!”
Sudou and Shuuji were really surprised. It’s true that when she was a kitten they really loved playing with her. But I stopped inviting them so they didn’t meet her after that, so I guess inside them she’s still the cute kitten she was before.
“Back then Shishamo really hated Hosono! She would hiss at him just because he approached her!”
“Aah, yeah it happened.”
Sudou and Shuuji smiled recalling the past.
“She was more friendly with us! She climbed on our laps and purred.”
“That’s was cute. We also played with toys. Though Hosono was a little pitiful left on the side.”
“Hey there, we reconciled long ago. Now she even uses my bed to sleep.”
“Seriously!? I guess even cats have change of heart!” exclaimed Sudou. “How nice, to be able to sleep with Shishamo…”
“Sometimes she gets a little wild during the night so it wakes me up though… Umm? What’s up, Hiiragi?”
I noticed Hiiragi looking down lonely.
“No, it’s nothing… It’s just that…”
“The three of you have been getting along since the past…”
“Well, yeah, in the past.”
The moment I said that, Sudou raised her voice dissatisfied.
“Don’t just put it in the past! In the present right now, and in the future too we’ll always be childhood friends!”
“Ahaha…” laughed Hiiragi with a somehow lonely expression. Then she muttered to herself, “How nice, I envy that…”
“Thanks for today!” said Sudou at the entranceway, smiling at Hiiragi. “Tokki’s lecture really helped me! Getting full marks isn’t a dream anymore!”
“Ahaha, full marks is still a little too difficult.”
“Let’s do that again. Next time you can come to my house,” said Shuuji with an actor-like smile.
“Yes, it’d be nice. Let’s talk about it again before the finals,” answered Hiiragi smiling slightly back at him.
In the end we studied until just before dinner time with a few breaks in between.
Thanks to that Sudou managed to briefly revise modern Japanese, as well as mathematics and English at which she is bad. We also could review with each others about the things we weren’t sure.
I think it was a pretty effective revision before the tests.
Hiiragi made a pretty big step forward, and I feel like I had a meaningful day for the first time in a while. For today at least I should thank Sudou and Shuuji.
Maybe I should should say something to them as thanks, I thought as I put my sneakers.
Sudou and Shuuji were waiting for me, bathed in the evening sun light coming from the windows on the side of the entranceway. Somehow it made me remember when we went back home together in primary school.
Then suddenly, my phone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out and looked at the screen:
Tokki: Would you like to meet my sister?
I raised my face in a snap.
Hiiragi was writing something on her phone.
Then another message came:
Tokki: I told her that a friend liking “14 Years Old” is at home, then she said she really wanted to meet you
My heart went full throttle to this unexpected development.
Would you like to meet my sister?
That is to say, to meet the author of “14 Years Old”, Hiiragi Tokoro.
“Aaah, s-sorry!” I reflexively raised my voice. “Well… I forgot that Hiiragi was supposed to lend me a book after that!”
“Yeah, so you can go ahead as it’ll take a little time.”
“Okay~” Sudou agreed easily, then smirked at me. “Still, taking time for reading, you’re so composed~. You’re going to get failing marks.”
“Don’t be too sure of yourself.”
Saying their piece, Sudou and Shuuji went away waving their hand while saying “Bye”.
Now only the two of us were left.
“… Y-you sure about it?” I asked nervously. “Your sister… Hiiragi Tokoro-san, she’s working, no? Yet to give me some of her time… Somehow… It kinda feels awesome.”
I read hundreds of books. I always had books with me since I was a kid, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the me of today was shaped up by books.
And now, you say I can meet an author, what’s more of a book I really like? I could never have dreamt of that.
“You don’t need to mind it that much. She’s the one who wants to meet you, and the meeting should finish soon,” said Hiiragi pretty easily.
Looking at her attitude, I finally actually felt she was Hiiragi Tokoro’s sister.
“Okay…” I nodded and took a breath to calm myself down. Then a few seconds later, as casually as possible I said, “Well, guess I’ll accept the offer then…”
You might ask where is the guy who tried to avoid people, that I’m just a fanboy treating celebrities differently. But I really wanted to know who was the person who could write a novel that could fascinate me so much.
“Yes, no problem.”
The moment Hiiragi nodded, the door at the end of the hallway on the other side of the living room opened. A man with amiable looks appeared from it. Then he noticed Hiiragi in the entranceway.
“Oh, Tokiko-chan, hello. You were here.”
I think he must be in the later half of his twenties. He held a bag in his left hand, and a phone in his right. He was probably the editor in charge of Hiiragi Tokoro.
“Yes, I was waiting for the meeting to end.”
“I see, sorry to have taken so long… The young man here is you friend?”
“… Yes, he is my classmate.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Nomura, from the first editorial department of Machida Edition,” said the man smiling at me. “Still, for Tokiko-chan to make a friend, it’s really moving. I hope you get along with her.”
“Well then, I’m going.”
Only saying this, Mr.Nomura opened the door of the entrance way and went out from the Hiiragi residence.
“All right, let’s go,” said Hiiragi after locking the door. “I’m sure my sister is eager to meet you.”
It was a workshop.
Yeah, if I had to give my first impression, it was like a witch’s workshop.
I was dumbfounded by the sight before my eyes as I entered Hiiragi Tokoro’s workroom.
There were bookshelves standing against each wall, packed with Japanese literature, Western literature, photo magazines, manuals, novels, shoujo manga, shounen manga, seinen manga and even adult manga.
But it wasn’t only the bookshelves. Towers made of countless books were around the floor, and I could see the heroine on the cover of a light novel on top of one of them. Apparently Hiiragi Tokoro is an extreme reader, reading indiscriminately a wide variety of genre.
And in the back of the room was an antique kneehole desk with the latest computer on top of it.
The high class office chair before it turned our way.
“Hey, so it’s you,” said the seated woman, smiling at me theatrically. “Hosono-kun, was it? Sorry for calling you, but I wanted to meet you at least once.”
I understood it was Hiiragi’s older sister at a glance.
She said she’s ten years older, so she should be twenty five or six. She had black, cat-like eyes, a small, straight nose and peach coloured lips, which wasn’t that different from Hiiragi. You could almost call them lookalikes.
But she had wavy, long hair. She wore a black dress on her tall womanly figure.
And above all, she had such a sex appeal you would almost feel dizzy even from afar, which was totally different from Hiiragi’s purity.
I’m sure Femme Fatale designs women like her. It wasn’t like she exposed a lot of skin, or wore more makeup than necessary, but the woman before my eyes, Hiiragi Tokoro had such an appeal you would step back instinctively when seeing her. I imagined novelists as sensitive and gentle people. Even more so for “14 Years Old”’s author, I thought she would be a delicate, pure and innocent woman. To think she would be someone like that…
“I heard from Tokiko,” I came back to myself hearing her clear voice. “That you really like ‘14 Years Old’. It’s an extreme honour to have my work being read by a young man like you. You could even say I’m getting more than I deserve as a novelist. Thank you.”
“N-no, it’s nothing! R-rather, I’m the one who should thank you for writing such an amazing novel… I’m really glad to have been able to read it,” I answered nervously, trying my best to continue to speak. “I really like ‘14 Years Old’, to the point that, without exaggerating, I read it everyday. I can really empathise with Tokiko’s feelings… Really, it’s the first time a novel made me think like that.”
Hiiragi Tokoro giggled and said with a smile, “You say really pleasant things. It might be the first time I’ve been praised so much directly.”
Looking at her smiling face, I could feel my body being taken up by a whirlpool of feelings.
First, nervousness and excitement.
The author of my favorite novel is just before me. She recognises me, and is pleased by my words. This fact made me have butterflies in my stomach and I felt heat with my eyes.
But at the same time, I felt considerable fear and wariness.
This woman wrote “14 Years Old”.
She minutely analysed Hiiragi Tokiko, a middle school girl, and made a story about her. That’s not something a normal person can do. She really is a witch, and using something, like magic, she wrote Hiiragi inside a book.
And the eyes of the witch were currently looking at me.
Her black eyes that seemed to see through everything were piercing me.
I wonder how far she can see? If she can see everything like with Tokiko, then I wonder how she’s seeing me?
Of course, in fact, it’s not like she knows everything about Hiiragi. When she wrote “14 Years Old”, she properly collected data about Hiiragi. Every night she would ask how her sister passed her day and wrote a large quantity of notes. Apparently Hiiragi was against it at first, but after being zealously persuaded, she decided to help.
That’s why, Hiiragi Tokoro isn’t actually seeing through everything about me.
In theory, I understood that.
But emotionally, I felt a strong unease, having gooseflesh all over my body, signaling I should stand alert in front of a danger.
“Now, don’t be so nervous,” said hiiragi Tokoro with a smile. “I’m not going to bite you, nor to appraise you. You should relax a little.”
Still, didn’t she get the reason of my unease…?
I don’t know how much I can lower my guard before her.
“Well then Hosono-kun, how is it? Is Tokiko doing fine at school?”
“… Well,” carefully choosing my word I started to answer. “At first, as you would expect, she was quite on her guard, but recently she made some friends and they seem to get along…”
Well, rather than recently, more like today.
The moment I remembered about it, I once again felt pain in my chest.
I reflexively put my right hand on my chest.
“Hmm…” Hiiragi Tokoro started to stare at my face. “… Excellent, you’re making a really nice expression. It’s really pleasing me.”
I didn’t understand what she meant.
A nice expression? Me? Right now i’m making a nice expression? Impossible.
Unless she meant that my expression suffering from the pain in my chest was nice in bad taste. That or she’s just making fun of me.
“By the way, I think you heard about it from Tokiko, but I’m currently writing the sequel of ‘14 Years Old’. Of course, it’ll still be about Tokiko.”
“Yes, she told me…”
“As for the period, I’m thinking about starting from her entrance to highschool. So what I want to say is that in the sequel,” Hiiragi Tokoro made a bewitching smile. “You’re going to appear in a way or another.”
I was at loss for words.
I’ll appear in “14 Years Old”’s sequel.
I’ll be a character inside it.
I almost reflexively let out a gleeful voice.
I met the heroine of my favourite novel, then met the author, and finally now I’m to appear in the sequel. As a fan, can I even be happier?
Hiiragi Tokoro is going to write about me. I’m going to be represented in her literary style.
I got goosebumps just thinking about it.
How will it be? How is she going to describe me?
… Thinking about it, my happiness changed to unease.
Yeah… That’s the problem. How will Hiiragi Tokoro describe me?
Unlike Hiiragi, I don’t have any appeal. I’m not pure like her, just a normal highschool boy who can’t adapt himself to his surroundings. I can’t imagine how someone like me could appear in the story.
In the first place, is even fine for me to appear inside the story? Am I even worth it?
At least, I don’t think I am.
If I appear, won’t Tokiko’s story lose a little of its appeal?…
“Like I said, you don’t need to be so nervous,” said Hiiragi Tokoro, giggling a little. “I don’t intend to write badly about you. In the first place, we can’t publish the book without your permission. Only after letting you read the script and agree can we proceed to publication. You don’t need to be reserved, if you’re against it, just say it. It’s my personal judgment as an author to use you in my story, so of course I’ll take responsibility. Still, I have to say,” she crossed her legs and peered at my face. “You’re really pleasing me. You’re a cute one, Hosono-kun. Not as cute as Tokiko, but still almost as much as her. That’s why, I really want you to appear a little in the story.”
“Onee-chan,” Hiiragi, silent until now, raised her voice. I felt a little displeasure in her voice as she said, ”Stop saying that so easily… Being cute and such…”
Something extremely unusual happened, Hiiragi was angry.
So she can even make that sort of expression… Even thought she rarely let out a smile and is usually just expressionless or has a troubled expression.
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” said Hiiragi Tokoro, waving her hand as if it to sweep what she just said away. “Anyway, Hosono-kun, you don’t mind if I write about you? Like I said, I’ll ask your permission before the final step.”
“Umm, well… I don’t mind.”
“Thanks. Well then, time for me to get to work. I have to say, though, I have the feeling that we’ll have another talk about Tokiko somewhere.”
“Err, if you say so…”
“Of course I am,” Hiiragi Tokoro nodded and smiled daringly. “I’m looking forward to that time with great pleasure.”
“I’m sorry, my sister is a little eccentric…” said Hiiragi downheartedly as we walked towards the station. “When someone pleases her she strangely gets in high spirits… Even though she’s usually more quiet…”
“Err, well, it’s fine…” I replied vaguely, still shocked by what happened. “It wasn’t disagreeable…”
She really was someone intense.
It was the first time I felt like I was in the palm of someone like that. To think the person a pure story like “14 Years Old” was like that… I guess I kinda was in high spirits to meet her, but she gave a very strong impression.
What’s more, it seems I really pleased her. So she wasn’t just teasing me when acting like that.
I don’t understand why I would, though, and if I were asked if I’m glad about it, I wouldn’t be able to fully agree. Still, it’s better than being hated. It’d be pretty annoying to make an enemy of her.
“Also… thank you for today,” said Hiiragi next to me, raising her hung head. “I finally felt like I could become friend with Sudou-san and Shuuji-kun. Back then, when you talked about families… it was to help me, right?”
“… Well, I didn’t do that much.”
“Still, I was really glad. Thank you,” said Hiiragi, sincere gratitude oozing from her voice.
But Hiiragi didn’t know my true intention.
That I just wanted to be by her side.
It’s not like I don’t want to help her and make her happy. Still, more than that, I wanted to appeal to her about the merits of having me by her side. That’s why, it wasn’t out of some good intention, but more like a selfish action for my own interest.
Letting out a small sigh, I looked at the sky. Right now the sinking sun was peeking through the crevice between the buildings.
The orange sky in the west, the blue indigo sky in the east and the white clouds blended together to form a complex marble pattern in the sky. A spectacle suitable for what was coming after the epilogue of “14 Years Old”, to the point I was fine even if the world were to be destroyed right now.
Then, I suddenly noticed.
Maybe I’m feeling like that because Hiiragi is next to me.
Hiiragi was holding down her skirt because of the blowing wind of May. For some reason, when I’m with her, the amplitude of my emotions endlessly becomes bigger and bigger.
“… Umm, can I ask you something?” asked me Hiiragi, reservedly.
“Hosono-kun, you were close to Sudou-san and Shuuji-kun in the past, right? You played and went home together, no?”
The palpitation of my heart increased a little due to the sudden question.
“… Well, yeah, there was a time we did,” I answered, trying to appear as calm as possible. “When you’re a kid, you don’t really care about what kind of people the others are, right? But when you become a high school student you start to mind, that’s why I think our current relationship is fine.”
“I-I see…” Hiiragi only said that then stopped talking.
But after walking a few steps:
“I thought perhaps something happened…” she said timidly, hanging her head like a scolded child. “How to say… it doesn’t look like you naturally got distant from them. It looks like you were the one to clearly show your stance, then they decided to act based on this…”
Her sharp remark startled me.
But thinking about it, it shouldn’t be difficult to see through this for Tokiko considering the sensitiveness she shows in “14 Years Old”.
Then Hiiragi raised her face and told to me, who couldn’t find any excuse:
“That’s why I thought… that perhaps something happened to make things like they are now…”
Hearing these words, unpleasant memories flashed in my mind.
I tried to seal them away so that I couldn’t recall the bitter regret as much as possible.
Noticing the change in my expression, Hiiragi became flustered.
“U-umm, it’s fine if you don’t want to tell! I’m sorry for being insensitive… It’s just that, I was curious… I, err…” Hiiragi lowered her voice to an almost inaudible level, “I want… to know more about you… Hosono-kun.”
Looking at her cornered expression, I finally noticed. That I never talked about me to Hiiragi.
Thanks to “14 Years Old”, I know most of Hiiragi’s life. I even know what she usually thinks about. Not only that, I know her complexes, her worries, the novels, songs, paintings, films she likes, and even the pattern of her underwears. In contrast, the only thing Hiiragi knows about me is that I like “14 Years Old”.
I want to tell her.
I don’t know if I have the right to talk to her about it.
After all, should someone who gave up on human relationship really want to talk?
But I wanted our relationship to be fair, and I had the feeling of wanting her to listen to me somewhere in my heart. If it’s now, I felt like I could talk.
“… These two always have been popular,” I opened my mouth, recalling the past. “Lot of friends, popular with the opposite sex, trusted by the teachers… Well, not really different from now. Anyway, the thing is that because we were always together, I misunderstood something. I thought that I was popular like them. That I had the power to move people,” I said, laughing at myself.
Me? Like them? Be it consideration for people, ability to communicate, popularity, looks, all things necessary to social interactions, nothing about be even reached their feets.
Hiiragi opened her mouth trying to say something. But perhaps she thought it was better to listen to me, she closed it and looked at me.
“Still, even someone like me noticed that something was weird by the end of primary school. Even though everything goes smoothly when they talk, when I do it doesn’t. Thinking about it, it was surely because I only said things which weren’t going with the flow of the conversation. But the me back then didn’t notice that. Well, I also think the others were kind enough to follow-up with what I said, making it harder to notice. And then, during our last year, she was in the same class as us.”
“A girl called Ashiya.”
Just saying her name made me feel bitter.
I really didn’t want to continue to talk. But I couldn’t just stop here.
“Ashiya looked and acted like a boy, tall and good with sports. That’s why, even though we were at the age when it’s starting to get complicated with the opposite sex, we could get along with her. Saying things like ‘You’re basically a guy!’.”
I think even her liked when we said that. I mean, even leaving me who couldn’t read the mood back then aside, Sudou and Shuuji said it too, and there were times when Ashiya herself made us say that. That’s why, that part at least isn’t wrong.
“And yet, one day, when I said the same thing as usual, she suddenly started to cry.”
“The thing is that just before that Ashiya was rejected by the boy she liked. Reason being… that he could only see her as a boy.”
Hiiragi’s expression warped, as if she could see the scene in front of her.
“It startled me. I didn’t understand why she would cry. After all, she was usually full of energy. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept apologising. And yet, she didn’t stop. Anyway, I only understood after the fact that everyone noticed that Ashiya was feeling down. They knew she liked a boy in our class, so they guessed what happened. When everyone was trying to be kind to her that day, I was the only one to call her a boy as usual.”
Hiiragi listened to me silently.
“The girls in the class got angry and said I was cruel. Then they said that: ‘Sudou-san and Hiroo-kun were considerate to her, and yet Hosono-kun didn’t notice at all’. After that, though late, I could only notice it. That I had bad social interaction skills. That maybe, I hurt many other people too.”
Hiiragi bite her own lip, looking pained.
“I was shocked. I know I wasn’t in the position to be, but I was. I liked everyone. It was fun to be with everyone, I was happy, and I wished it would always stay like that. But, that guy playing the idiot to make everyone laugh, the meddlesome class president-like girl, the carefree, soothing girl, that serious guy too… maybe I hurt them all with my words. Perhaps they were all just putting up with me. I noticed that. That’s why… they was only one thing I could do.”
──Not getting close to anyone.
Keep the conversations and the committee work to the minimum, not joining any club. Same for my human relations, keep them as small as possible.
That day, it became my policy.
“And that’s why,” I started to say showing a smile to Hiiragi. I thought it was a good forced smile for someone who decided to change himself, but I don’t know how she saw it. “I took some distance from these two, don’t talk to our classmates as much as possible, and try to live quietly on my own.”
“… I see,” muttered Hiiragi, looking at the tip of her toes. “Something like that happened…”
Silence came between us. Conversely, I became more aware of the noises in the residential area.
The sound of the bike from the evening newspaper delivery man. Sound from someone playing piano, two dogs barking at each other. The announcement of the evening news programme coming out from a house on the side.
“… Umm, sorry,” I apologised, unable to bear with the silence. “I’d love to have a more cheerful past to speak of… but I don’t really have the memories necessary.”
“… Please, that’s not true,” said Hiiragi shaking her head, her hair swaying with it.
Then suddenly, she made an expression as if she just got an idea.
“‘By possessing knowledge, I shall monopolise what is dear to me’,” she said before giggling.
“Yes… Haaa… It’s really embarrassing… To say something I said in the novel out loud… But that’s how I feel… Now, a part of Hosono-kun is already mine…”
That line directly came from “14 Years Old”, said by Tokiko herself.
Hiiragi white cheeks were tinged with red, and her mouth relaxed. I couldn’t tell if it was because she was embarrassed, or because she was smiling.
“I’m sorry for making you say something you would rather not… I’m sure you didn’t really have the occasion to talk about it to anyone until now… right?”
“… Yeah. Or rather, it was the first time I talked about it so clearly.”
“I see, the first time…” Hiiragi smiled at me. “Thank you for telling me.”
I reflexively squinted, looking at Hiiragi’s expression with the setting sun behind her.
Hiiragi is trying to cheer me up.
Hiiragi, who is bad with people and can’t even talk to our classmates, was trying her best to cheer me up, even going as far as to quote a line from “14 Years Old”.
And thinking about it made me feel incomprehensibly exalted.
My palpitation accelerated instantly. My heart felt higher than it should be.
And as pathetic as it was, even my hand holding my bag started to tremble.
“You know, Hosono-kun… I don’t know how to say it, but… I don’t think you are someone who should distance himself… who should abandon getting along with people.”
“Yes. It’s true that Sudou-san and Shuuji-kun are amazing… Still, it’s easier and more enjoyable for me to talk with you, Hosono-kun. Also… I want to be with you…”
I felt a lump in my throat hearing her words.
“I mean… You made that choice, to be distant from everyone, because you wanted to live beautifully, right? I don’t know if it’s the right answer. It might be wrong. Still, beauty has nothing to do with right and wrong. I like people who live beautifully more than the ones trying to be right.”
To live beautifully.
Tokiko said that many times in “14 Years Old”.
“… Oh yeah, you want to live beautifully, Hiiragi…”
“I’m quite shameful recently, though,” said Hiiragi, then she smiled. “You said you weren’t popular, Hosono-kun, but… To me, at least… You’re popular, so I think you should have a little more confidence in yourself…”
“… That’s some small scale popularity,” I replied trying to appear as calm as possible.
“… Not satisfied?”
I turned around, and standing before me was Hiiragi with an unexpected serious expression.
She looked at me with her dark eyes. Her long eyelashes were forming a shadow over her cheeks, and the iris of her eyes were shining like the starry sky.
I couldn’t think straight anymore.
Not able to think about clever words, I just said what I thought:
“Phew… I’m glad…”
As she said that, Hiiragi bumped in my shoulder.
I felt her soft upper arm through our clothes along the blunt impact. My chest tightened because of the smell of her shampoo tickling my nose.
Let’s admit it.
I can only admit it now.
I know the reason for the pain in my chest.
I knew from the start. The outcome was unavoidable.
The heroine from the novel I like appeared before me. She wished for my help.
As time passed by her side, we got closer and she started to think about me as someone important to her.
With things like that, it’s impossible to just be friends.
It’s impossible to not fall in love.
“Next time I want to meet Shishamo,” said Hiiragi, standing still.
Her face, illuminated by the setting sun, was dyed bright red.
──Illusions! They’re only illusions! Having your heart throb, breathing heavily, having your breath cut, they’re all impossible in real life. Using my sodden fingers to wipe the mist on the window, I could now see red Japanese snake gourds hanging on the tree in the corner of the garden.
(14 Years Old/Hiiragi Tokoro – Machida Edition)