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Chapter 6 – The Pervert Is Still at It to This Day…

An epilogue? There’s no need for that. It was a bad ending, after all.

Looking back calmly after everything that happened, getting my façade back had nothing to do with how the girls saw me. It wasn’t like I could sweep that Hentai Prince image under the carpet. The real trouble was getting back the trust that I had temporarily lost:“Eww, it’s that guy…” 

During the summer holidays, I went to the school roof, where the wind blew against me lazily under the shadow of the water tower. There was no other place where I could secretly observe the school grounds without having to meet anyone.

I could hear the harmonious voices from the Track and Field club today as usual. Ever since that day, the club’s atmosphere had brightened up immensely. I was taking note of how far the Steel King had embraced her peculiarities. Since she was bad at expressing her true feelings, she couldn’t get the younger members to warm up to her entirely. When she was patrolling the arcade, it could very well have been that she had just wanted to play with them.

Well, either way, I was an outsider. If I returned to the Track and Field club now, an overwhelming number of girls would give me the cold shoulder. “He said that spiel about running shorts, yeek…” “He wants to live as someone’s pet, yeek…” “He’s the Hentai Prince, yeek…”

I heard the Steel King had passionately attempted to win them over for me, but it’s the Steel King we’re talking about here.

“Yokodera is a good man. There is a world of difference between him and his twin brother! All that bastard is good at is ruining my little sister’s purity. If you see him, tell me.”

Yeah, I got the feeling she was still saying unnecessary things. I didn’t have a twin brother. When it came to the Steel King, I knew that if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. The first day after the holidays were over was tinged with melancholy.

“Who cares about other people? It’s like the difference between a frog and a toad,” Azuki Azusa tried to comfort me. “Understand the people who understand you.”

When I told her I couldn’t become Tsutsukakushi’s brother, the first thing she had done was gently encourage me, all the whole grinning from ear to ear. Why was that, I wonder?

Oh, right. Thanks to her not needing to earn money under her façade, she’d quit her newspaper delivery and her road construction jobs. The hourly wage at the Oriental Animal Café was bad, but it seemed she kept the job because she could play with the cats and dogs she liked so much.

“If I save up enough money, I’ll go on a trip, you see! I’ll go to the Okinawa next time, since I couldn’t go there last time. Me and only one other person! I-i-is that all right?!” she said with a bright red face.

Good for her, I thought. Just who did she plan to go with? It’d be nice if he could make her happy. She was flat-chested, though.

That was how my summer holidays went, doing this and that. I had absolutely no plans besides hanging out with Ponta, but spacing out and observing the Track and Field club ended up becoming a daily ritual for me.

From the grounds, past where the eye could see, one long line of vapour trailed across the sky diagonally like a javelin. Alone, I slouched against the water tower, stretching my legs.

I’d dreaded the thought of becoming the club president. But now I was aimless, I realised belatedly. For the first time, I understood what I had lost, and the thought weighed down on me. My cherry-coloured youth (1). That might have been the wrong phrase.

“Just where did I go wrong, huh…? Instead of peeping on girls in competitive swimsuits, I should have picked girls in, like, kendo outfits or tennis gear from the start.”

“I would say that kind of perverted way of thinking is where you went wrong.”

“Aaaaargh!”

Just when did that happen? All of a sudden, there was a little girl sitting next to me, hugging her knees unobtrusively.

“Senpai, you always exaggerate.”

“You’re always surprising me, Tsutsukakushi! I bet you were a ghost in your previous life!”

“A ghost does not count as a previous life. I always announce myself.”

“I want you to keep announcing yourself until I realise you’re there,” I said. Then I paused. “But I get that you’re here.”

“I see you understand somehow, senpai,” Tsutsukakushi said, playing with her ponytail out of habit. I could see a thin bead of sweat on her forehead. She could have been walking around everywhere desperately in this heat.

“…it’s been a while,” I said. “Has something happened?”

“No, I would not say something has happened, exactly,” Tsutsukakushi answered indifferently, before closing her mouth indifferently.

Without expression and without emotion, she was peering into a far-off world. By now, the memories I had of her crying under my arm were like a midsummer night’s dream.

And yet I knew without any doubt that Tsutsukakushi and I lived in the same world. The emotions she felt that I didn’t understand at all when I tickled her – I could feel them quite distinctly now.

“I see. There is no doubt… after you let go of your true feelings, you thought it was awkward to find someone else who doesn’t need their true feelings, so you oh-so-casually came to check up on me, remembering what I said to you in the kitchen, and now that you’re here you’re confused and you’re thinking you don’t know how to break the ice, is that it?”

“…you are a very, very malicious person, senpai,” she said, lifting her chin defiantly. As usual, she had no expressions, but she was sulking quite plainly. Her eyes told me so.

I saw that all with a glance. Her blue, cat-like eyes drew me in like a magnet and wouldn’t let go.

“…will you not help me anymore, malicious senpai?” she asked hesitantly, letting out one small, timid sigh.

For a short while, I mused to myself. This girl knew that I was a pervert, and yet still she said all that to me. What was I to Tsutsukakushi? Why did she want me to help her?

I had wanted to become this girl’s brother. But I couldn’t. So what did Tsutsukakushi see me as? What was my pretext for helping her?

I came to a decision.

“Hey, can I be your steed?”

“Huh? What is this all of a sudden?”

Before the girl beside me could refuse me, I pressed my finger against her cheeks. Since my sense of shame was gone, touching her was well within my boundaries. Tsutsukakushi stiffened, but she did not evade me. I pinched the soft skin on her cheeks gently, and took the opportunity to peer down at her through the corner of my eye.

“If I keep working at it like this, your smile…”

“…will not be seen.”

“No, it can’t. Your face looks weird.”

“Please let me go right now. I am very mad.”

Actually, the moment I saw Tsutsukakushi’s face, I understood.

What was important wasn’t our relationship or the label we put on it. The right answer was always a simple one.

I want to see this girl smile.

That was all. From the time we met, Tsutsukakushi had never once shown me her smile. That feeling never changed after all this time. There were things that I was okay with if they never changed.

“It’s a waste since your cheeks are as stretchy and squishy as a rice cake.”

“How rude. That hurts very much. I am looking for an explanation for just how that is a waste.”

“For example, just seeing you smile would make me feel so happy, like spring has come again.”

“…please do not praise me. I do not understand your meaning, senpai.” She sighed again.

This time she wasn’t angry or disgusted. I knew that. Tsutsukakushi was a shy girl, so she sighed constantly even when she was happy or in the highest of spirits.

If I could describe her right now, I would say Tsutsukakushi Tsukiko was positively beaming.

Of course, since I had my façade and all, I didn’t say that aloud, and since Tsutsukakushi didn’t have her true feelings, she couldn’t acknowledge anything like that herself. We balanced each other out quite nicely.

“If doing so will make you happy, will you let me be your steed too, senpai?”

“Afterwards.”

“A long time afterwards?”

“Forever afterwards. I’m sure that your true feelings will return, Tsutsukakushi.”

I got up and held out my hand for her, and Tsutsukakushi took it as she stood up as well.

So that we would face the future and meet it head on, we wouldn’t let go of each other’s hands, come what may. We shared the warmth in our bodies through our clasped hands.

I smiled – Tsutsukakushi didn’t. Only the cat in her eyes was smiling.

(Fin)


TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

(1) The correct phrase is “rose-coloured youth”, which is a Japanese phrase referring to a lively, fulfilling youth.

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