The person who treated me gently that day
Thanks to Kazetani-kun... I said goodbye to my classmates, this is like a dream...
There are already seven cafe stamps, another three more to get the cake, keep it up. Yosh. After chatting with Ao and bidding him farewell, Hiyuki’s footsteps were light, as if she was walking in the clouds.
She kept thinking about Ao’s serious expression as he said that he didn’t want Hinomiya-san to misunderstand. Whenever she thought of that scene, her chest would throb strongly and she would feel really blessed.
Kazetani-kun was different from back then, he might be scary... but it really moved me and made me glad.
When Ao said in a bright expression and voice that it wasn’t strange for Cyan to like Subaru, her heart was deeply moved, and she thought things would really be as Ao said.
Ever since Kazetani-kun started talking to me, I encountered many wonderful and unbelievable things. Kazetani-kun is just like a magician. I think that if Kazetani-kun is by my side, even I could change.
Or rather, she was already changing.
There was still some time before evening. The streets were covered in gentle mist, the familiar dry cleaning shop, walls of the residence, the roofs, the cute yellow and orange flowers potted at the entrance, even the warm fragrance of dinner being cooked in the houses felt so gentle and soothing.
When Subaru and Cyan watched the sun set into the sea, and when they had their first kiss, the entire world probably looked like this.
Hiyuki remembered that Ao said the scene reflected in the character’s eyes would change according to their state of mind.
It’s really true, Kazetani-kun.
Hiyuki muttered in her mind as she passed through the extravagant gate of her house with a heart full of bliss, walked along the stone paved path to the entrance and pulled the sliding door open──
Goosebumps appeared on her skin out of fear, and she froze in place just like that.
At the entrance was an elderly woman with a pale face carved with wrinkles. Her back was straight, brows were frowning, eyes were sharp and her lips tightly sealed, sitting properly there like a demon.
The gentle scene was shattered instantly, and complete darkness loomed over Hiyuki’s head.
The world turned into an abyss unreachable by light, and its master, a powerful and terrifying creature was glaring at the startled Hiyuki.
Her grandmother stood up with a start, her bony hand reaching out to Hiyuki and grabbed Hiyuki who still had her shoes on.
It felt different from Ao grabbing her hand. Fear and sense of danger stemming from her basic instincts hit Hiyuki. Pulled by a force that seemed much greater than what a seventy year old woman could muster, Hiyuki trembled from the pain and fear.
Taking her shoes off in an unnatural stance, Hiyuki had no time to place her shoes properly as her grandmother dragged her through the corridor and into Hiyuki’s room.
Why is grandmother so mad? I came back before curfew, did the chores and tidied the courtyard before heading to school...
What entered her eyes the next moment threw Hiyuki down the valley of despair.
Spew all over the tatami were books with bright colourful covers. The illustrations were girls with revealing costume and large breasts, young girls in primary school with cat ears, and girls wearing armour that looked like underwear posing sexually. The coloured spread pages even had nude girls washing the back of a male main character in the bathroom, all these were laid out here.
Hiyuki felt her blood freezing over.
Her grandmother detested manga and anime. She even ordered Hiyuki to throw away the notebook with an anime character that she got at a sports meet. There was no way she would allow Hiyuki to read light novels.
She knew that her grandmother would throw a fit if she saw the covers of these books, so Hiyuki carefully stowed the collection of light novels she bought into the deepest part of her drawers.
There was no way of knowing when her grandmother would enter her room, so she would never read light novels at home. It wasn’t just light novels that were spewed on the floor. Even the manuscripts Hiyuki wrote were thrown into the heap.
My light novel──
She felt as if someone was crushing her chest. Her grandmother was trembling from rage, and said in a sharp tone:
“What is the meaning of this? Hiyuki!”
Hiyuki slumped her body and lowered her head. Her grandmother jerked her hand hard, as if to say: “Look at me when you talk!”
A moan escaped from Hiyuki’s lips.
“You are reading these lowly, shameless and poisonous things behind my back?”
Her grandmother shook Hiyuki’s hand hard, and interrogated Hiyuki while staring at her face with angry eyes.
“And what is this? You wrote this? Hiyuki?”
She then dragged her to the stack of manuscript paper and yelled.
Hiyuki stumble forward and fell beside the pile of manuscript. Her grandmother looked down at her as if she was staring at a criminal with her body trembling.
“Is such lowly, childish and unpleasant scribbles written by my granddaughter? How frightening.”
Her grandmother’s words pierced Hiyuki’s ears. Her dismissive voice overlapped with the cruel criticism on the comment sheet.
‘The story is messy, use cheap words, vulgar’, ‘the main character feel unpleasant, a pain for the reader to sit through’, ‘the content is presumptuous and childish’.
The comments floating in Hiyuki’s brain tormented her.
Stop it, don’t say it anymore.
Hiyuki wanted to stuff her ears.
My novel is childish, unpleasant and presumptuous, so it never made it through the selection and everyone at school avoided me...
When she felt that she was about to be dragged into dark waters.
── Good bye, Hinomiya-san.
She suddenly heard a cheerful voice.
Right, I... greeted everyone in school today.
── G-Good bye...
Hiyuki’s cheeks blushed from happiness, and she replied with a smile on her lips; Ao watch over her from the side with his bright, gentle eyes.
── Hinomiya-san’s novel is interesting
“Get rid of all the filthy things here right now!”
Hiyuki collapsed onto the floor with her head down, and said softly in this position.
“What? I can’t hear you!”
Her grandmother’s stern voice sounded out.
This time, Hiyuki answered with a slightly stronger tone:
“These are not lowly, shameless and poisonous things. They are not cheap or childish.”
── The good thing about light novels is that anything goes, and the writing style is very liberal, right?
Its fine even if it was just one person, Hiyuki just needed someone to listen and accept her words.
Just someone to tell her that her writing was good.
Someone to read the clumsy story written by her. Someone like Ao who would push her forward cheerfully.
── Just do whatever you want, write whatever you wish!
Hiyuki lifted her head up and shouted.
“My novel won’t make anyone unpleasant!”
“Ao has finally become a man.”
The moment he stepped into Sakutarou’s place, Ao heard the sound of poppers as confetti got showered over his head.
After parting with Hiyuki at the cafe.
Ao returned home, and brought food to Sakutarou’s condo on his mother’s behest.
“Aeka-san, you can’t pull that thing while pointing it at others! Uncle Saku too, why are you grinning so widely!?”
“Ara, I just felt a bit hot.”
“Yes, you actually said ‘sharing this secret is a thrilling experience and feels really special, so it isn’t strange for me to fall for you.’ Ao-kun, you are really cool!”
Aeka said in a voice of a boy. As expected of a professional voice actress, even though her voice was sweet and cute, her performance sounded like a cheerful boy in his teens.
No, that’s not the problem.
“Why... Why do you know that!?”
“Ara, why indeed?”
Aeka laughed eloquently.
Ao was anxious.
“That’s the line of the character in the story. And what I said was that it isn’t strange for Cyan to fall for Subaru.”
“Ao, you said such sweet words to a girl so smoothly by using the work as an excuse, good job. I will use this trick in my next game.”
“Yup, Onee-san was really moved when I heard that too.”
“You heard? Where did you hear that!?”
Were the two of them there too? When? Where were they?
Ao’s face was heating up.
“Uncle Saku and Aeka too, you two are invading a person’s privacy!”
“Ara, don’t be so angry. Wawa and I both felt responsible for the spat between you and your girlfriend, that’s why we were worried.”
“That’s right, definitely not because Saku can’t think of a plot, and thought he could use the two of you as reference, that’s definitely not it.”
“Aeka-san, you let the cat slip!”
Ao retorted on reflex.
These two adults were really...
Embarrassment and anger made Ao’s fist tremble. Sakutarou offered him tickets at this juncture.
“These are tickets for a movie premiering this weekend, go with her. This is a fantasy theme show that is popular with girls, and would be suitable for dates.”
“Ao-kun phone her quick.”
“That’s right, phone her right now, you have to.”
“Uncle Saku, is your script stuck so badly!?”
The terrible adults cheered him in high spirits ‘Phone her!’ ‘Phone her!’ ‘Call her now!’ ‘strike while the iron is hot’.
How could he ask Hiyuki to a movie in front of these two?
But like Sakutarou said, Hiyuki might like this movie. If he asked her, she would probably be very happy. Ao imagined her lips with a mole beside smiling gently.
Yes, for Hinomiya-san’s sake.
Ao browsed his phone for Hiyuki’s number, and pressed the call button.
This is my first time calling Hinomiya-san. What would Hinomiya-san be doing at this time? Did she have dinner yet... or maybe not...?
Sakutarou and Aeka also leaned closer.
“Amazing, Ao-kun! Go ── Go ──!”
“I will count on you for the super embarrassing line that would make the heart of the players itch.”
“Keep it down! Really!”
As Ao was complaining, the call got through.
“Ah, H-Hinomiya-san? Sorry for calling you so suddenly.”
Ao shooed Sakutarou and Aeka with his hand, and decided to get straight to the point.
Snivelling sound came from the other end of the phone.
This was the sound of crying and her voice breaking from tears.
Hinomiya-san is crying...?
“What happened!? Hinomiya-san, what is the matter?”
Ao suddenly shouted with a serious expression, which made Sakutarou and Aeka open their eyes wide.
Hiyuki seemed unable to articulate herself properly, sounds of snivelling and vehicle driving by could be heard from her side of the line.
“Hinomiya-san, where are you right now?”
Ao shouted desperately, and there was finally a response.
He could hear a weak voice brushed across his ear.
“I, I... Grandmother.... Home...”
The sound of cars mixed in with the rain.
Looking out the window, Ao saw it was starting to rain.
“Hinomiya-san, tell me your location! I will pick you up!”
After telling Hiyuki to seek shelter somewhere, Ao left Sakutarou’s condo and headed for her. The rain became heavier and the air was freezing.
Ao wore sports shoes and splashed water everywhere as he ran, headed for the convenience store near their school where Hiyuki was waiting.
He told her to wait inside, but Hiyuki was standing at the entrance of the store with her head down, her school bag on her shoulder and a large tote bag clutched before her chest. She was wearing her uniform and her blouse was completely wet and sticking to her skin, she looked really cold.
Ao called out to her and Hiyuki lift her head, her eyes red and welling with tears.
“K-Kazetani-kun, I... ran away from home, I, can’t go back anymore...”
Ao brought the sobbing Hiyuki back to Sakutarou’s condo, and let her changed into clothes that Aeka prepared. She didn’t have dinner yet, so Ao took out the food he delivered to Sakutarou, which include stewed yam and tofu steak.
“Anyway, eat something to calm yourself down.”
Hiyuki was wearing a pink sleeveless blouse with black dots, and tights with pink and white stripes, which made Ao wonder if there were any normal clothes here. But these were comfortable clothes Aeka wore if she stayed the night at Sakutarou’s place, so it couldn’t be helped. This was much better than wearing Sakutarou’s clothes.
He was thankful that they provided a refuge for Hiyuki.
If Ao and Hiyuki who were high schoolers stayed out too late, they would be sent for counseling by teachers on patrol. If Ao brought Hiyuki home, his mother would probably interrogate him about this. He had younger twin siblings at home to, so it would be hard for Hiyuki to calm down.
Hiyuki lowered her head, cut the tofu with her disposable chopsticks and sent it to her mouth.
“... Delicious, it’s tasty.”
She muttered softly, and ate the smooth yam next.
She said again.
“I have rather young siblings at home, so the seasoning would be sweeter. Kids would probably love this. It’s great that Hinomiya-san likes it. Ah, Hinomiya-san!”
Hiyuki covered her face with one hand and started sobbing, which made Ao panic.
“Ao-kun, at a time like this, you have to hold her close and comfort her.”
“It’s fine to kiss her too, Ao.”
While the adults were being sarcastic, it wasn’t the time to do that.
Ao pulled some tissues from a box and offered it to Hiyuki, who rubbed her nose and said:
“I-I’m sorry. But this is really... delicious... so tofu steak could be so delicious... t-the stewed yam too, just what kind of stewed food had I been eating in the past...?”
“If you like it, eat more.”
Hiyuki cried as she ate, muttering delicious, delicious as she ate the tofu steak and stewed yam. When she finally stopped sobbing, Ao asked what happened to her, she sat on the floor and pulled her knees to her face.
“... Grandmother discovered the light novels and manuscripts I hid.”
Hiyuki told him everything in a hoarse voice.
Isn’t Hinomiya-san’s grandmother a very strict person?
She banned children from reading manga and anime, so Hiyuki had to write her light novels at school.
Hiyuki’s curfew was very strict, Ao knew that Hiyuki was very afraid of her grandmother. Hiyuki once muttered sadly: ‘Grandmother hates me...’
“I-It’s probably because I am acting... strange recently, so my grandmother went to search my room. Grandmother would do something like that... I already knew that, if I had only hidden it better...”
Hiyuki gripped the hands on her knee tightly as her shoulders trembled.
“Grandmother said that light novels are lowly, corrupting and unpleasant things, and wants me to throw them all away... I have always been afraid of my grandmother and wouldn’t dare go against her... But I couldn’t back down regarding this point, and I talked back to her for the first time.”
For the docile Hiyuki, this was a big matter.
Hiyuki told her grandmother that to her, reading and writing light novels were important things, and she couldn’t abandon them.
── If you want to throw the light novels away, I will leave this house with them!
Hiyuki kept the light novels and manuscripts into a tote bag on the spot and dashed out of the house, leaving behind her grandmother who was shouting ‘wait!’
She must have been enduring it all this while, that’s why she exploded like this. Hiyuki continued talking about her feelings as she sobbed.
“I, I... absolutely don’t want to go back to that home. I want to work, and rent a place to live in. Grandmother should... probably think that is better. Because grandmother hates me, she thinks that my mother leaving me with her after she died is a nuisance.”
“Wait a minute, is that what your grandmother said?”
Aeka leaned over, as if she couldn’t let this matter rest. Hiyuki nodded with tears on her cheeks.
“Before mother was hospitalized ── When my parents divorce and we just headed back to grandmother’s place to stay, I heard... Grandmother talking to my mother. ‘What, what about me? That’s why I objected so much, the person herself might not mind, but the one who have to shoulder the burden will be troubled. It is really too cold, so cold it makes one shivers...’ I-I was young back then, so I didn’t really understand. But when grandmother was scolding my mother, my mother said in tears ‘When I got married, I didn’t know I would be getting a divorce.’”
── That’s why I objected it so much!
── The one who have to shoulder the burden will be troubled!
Her grandmother’s voice was stern, and her expression tensed like a demon.
── It is really too cold.
Hiyuki’s mother was hospitalized not long after coming back, and passed away.
Hiyuki’s grandmother believed that her daughter had a weak constitution. When Hiyuki’s father had a mistress, it increased the psychological burden on her daughter, so she hated Hiyuki’s father, and Hiyuki who took after her father, Hiyuki explained.
“I... Don’t look like my mother... My mother was gentle and kind... After my mother got married and left the house, grandmother still loved my mother deeply and cherished her... In the past, an acquaintance of grandmother said... your granddaughter don’t take after your daughter, and resembles her father... Grandmother had a disgusted expression... She used an unhappy and scary voice and asked me to go somewhere else...”
Hiyuki showed the photo of her mother she brought along when she ran away from home, and showed it to everyone.
“There... isn’t much left. The photos I took with my father had all been thrown away by grandmother...”
The few photographs she had were all taken after she moved in with her grandmother. The young woman smiling on the hospital bed had a petite and cute face.
If her face wasn’t that pale, she would look cuter and happier. Even though she was smiling, it had a hint of sadness about her. On the trees outside the window were pink begonia flowers. The smile on the face of Hiyuki’s mother was like the beautiful flowers.
The three year old Hiyuki in her arms was probably very happy to be with her mother, and was all smiles. Besides them was a woman with a stern expression and an elegant aura. She wore a kimono with her hands overlapping gracefully in front of her, standing tall with her back straight. This should be Hiyuki’s grandmother.
She does look like a strict person...
“This grandma is like a daughter of a noble clan born in the Taisho era, a woman who survived alone through the ravages of war. That’s how she feels.”
Aeka furrowed her brows.
“No, it’s impossible for her to be born in the Taisho era.”
“Hmm...? This was the time you visited the aquarium?”
Ao’s gaze rested on the little Hiyuki who was standing nervously before an aquarium tank. A woman wearing a long skirt and white glove was holding Hiyuki’s tiny hand.
Hiyuki wore a cute short sleeved frilly blouse, a pink skirt and a flower shaped bag on her back.
“Is the person wearing the glove your mother?”
“Mother... have allergies, on days when ultra violet rays were strong, she would wear her gloves...”
A white and shiny dorsal fin and a grey tail could be seen on the corner of the photo.
“It is cut off, buy... this is a... Kitefin shark.”
Hiyuki muttered in a heavy voice:
“I am very afraid of Kitefin sharks, mother said that Kitefin sharks are powerful creatures that move on their own and won’t form groups, and I have to be strong like the Kitefin sharks...”
“The words of this mother are incredible.”
Indeed, it is too ambitious to tell a three year old girl to be like a Kitefin shark.
Hiyuki said as she sobbed:
“It’s all because of grandmother. She kept blaming mother saying you are too weak, too weak. Mother was conscious about that, that’s why she asked me to become strong. Grandmother also told me... Your mother is a really frail person... You can’t be like your mother. She would frown and sigh as she said that...”
From Hiyuki’s perspective, her mother didn’t die from illness, but was murdered by her grandmother’s accusations.
Aeka felt very sorry for Hiyuki.
“Don’t go back to your grandmother’s place. If you want to find a place to live by yourself, we will help. We will help you find work too, with your looks, there are plenty of job opportunities.”
Aeka was ready to call the director of her agency at any moment.
“Hey Ao-kun, you think so too right?”
Aeka turned towards Ao.
Ao placed the photo onto the floor and replied quietly:
“... I think Hinomiya-san should return home and have a good talk with her grandmother.”
Hiyuki opened her eyes wide and her shoulders trembled from fear. Aeka couldn’t believe it and yelled:
“What are you saying, Ao-kun! She couldn’t take it and ran away precisely because the other party wouldn’t listen. What’s the point of going back?”
Ao’s words seemed to have dealt a huge blow to Hiyuki. She looked at Ao with watery eyes, and muttered with her trembling lips:
“G-Grandmother... won’t listen to me... I-I have nothing to say to her too... S-So... Can I not... go back?”
Ao understand how depressed and helpless Hiyuki was feeling. She looked straight at Hiyuki and said firmly:
“If Hinomiya-san’s grandmother hates you like you said, it would be better to live apart. If that is true, I will stand on your side, and help you no matter what. But before that, I have some things I want to confirm.”
“... Some things... You want to confirm?”
The lips with a mole besides it uttered these words timidly, her transparent eyes showed signs of confusion.
Aeka who was puffing her cheeks angrily besides Hiyuki and Sakutarou who remained silent behind her listened carefully to what Ao said. Aeka was not satisfied, while Sakutarou was smiling.
Ao nodded strongly.
“When you write a novel, the scenery you see would be different if you change to the perspective of another character, and would notice foreshadowing that is not apparent before. After listening to Hinomiya-san’s words, there are several points I am concerned about, so let us go confirm them.”
After drying her uniform with a dryer, Hiyuki put them on again and left the condo with Ao. Braving the icy rain, they came to Hiyuki’s house, which was a large japanese style mansion like what Ao heard from his classmates. The courtyard that was obviously bigger than the surrounding residence was enclosed in tall, coffee coloured fencing. On the grand looking gate was a sign engraved with a formal looking ‘Hinomiya’.
Before coming here, Aeka made a phone call to Hiyuki’s grandmother, saying they were taking care of Hiyuki right now. Following Sakutarou’s instruction, Aeka’s voice was: 27 years old, librarian, elegant and steady, the voice of a mature big sister who was gentle and reliable. The reply from the other end of the line was:
“I will pick up my granddaughter right away! Please tell me the address!”
It sounded rather stern.
“I-I couldn’t talk to... grandmother right now.”
With Hiyuki beside him, Ao grabbed the phone from Aeka.
“You don’t need to pick up Hinomiya-san personally, Madam grandmother. My name is Kazetani, I am her classmate. I will send Hinomiya-san back home.”
The two of them sat in the back seat of a taxi and Ao held Hiyuki’s hand the whole journey. Hiyuki held Ao’s hand uneasily saying in a barely audible voice every now and then: ‘Grandmother won’t forgive me.’ ‘She still hasn’t forgiven the fact that father and mother married and gave birth to me.’ ‘No matter what I say, it is useless.’
The taxi driver looked worried and kept peeking at them, wondering if they were a pair of high school lovers eloping. Maybe they were going to a suicide pact?
Hiyuki slumped her body at the gate, and Ao said to her gently:
“Let’s go in.”
They passed through the gate.
After carefully walking on the slippery stone paved pathway that had gotten wet from the rain, came to the door and pressed the bell. The sliding door opened immediately.
A wrinkled, bony hand reached for Ao and Hiyuki, and which made Hiyuki held her breathe.
She was probably waiting anxiously at the entrance.
With an expression sterner than the one she had in the photograph, the elderly lady wearing a kimono glared at Hiyuki with a strict look. She then pulled on Hiyuki’s arm and dragged her towards the house.
Hiyuki shook off the hand of her grandmother, which angered her grandmother further. She furrowed her brows and shouted:
“What are you doing!? You are not permitted to leave this house!”
She then looked at Ao with eyes that threatened to pierce through him.
“Please leave, this is a family matter. Don’t talk to me or my granddaughter ever again.”
Ao took a step forward as if he was shielding Hiyuki behind him, and muttered in his heart:
He then answered very calmly and honestly:
“I can’t do that.”
The gaze of Hiyuki’s grandmother had an intense emotion known as hatred mixed in. Her eyes sent a chill down Ao’s back, but he continued.
He was already sweating under his clothes, and Ao was careful to not let her notice. She couldn’t let Hiyuki’s grandmother think that this was just playful words of a high schooler and looked at her firmly.
“I am here to help Hinomiya-san’s grandmother. To let Hinomiya-san understand that her grandmother raised her with love and concern.”
Hiyuki’s grandmother and Hiyuki who was slumped besides Ao both looked surprised, which turned into doubt.
Hiyuki’s grandmother glared at Ao, and said in a stern voice:
“Foolish, I am raising this child because it is my obligation. Because this child’s mother was too weak, and passed away with a broken heart after her husband abandoned her, so no other person would take her in.”
Hiyuki’s face twisted in pain and said:
“Y-You should know, Kazetani-kun... Grandmother hates me... She told mother that I am a burden and is so cold it makes others shiver...”
The expression on Hiyuki’s grandmother turned stiff, she furrowed her brows and said coldly:
“You heard that, Hiyuki?”
“Yes, mother said in tears that she never expected to divorce, and grandmother scolded her saying that was why you objected so much ── Mother didn’t died because of father, it’s all because of grandmother... Because grandmother keep blaming mother for marrying my father, and having me.”
Hiyuki’s grandmother didn’t deny this. Her thin and stern face was tense. With her lips tightly close, she looked at her granddaughter who was accusing her with eyes on the verge of freezing.
“That’s wrong, Hinomiya-san. Grandmother might have really said that, but her intention was different from what Hinomiya-san imagined. It was the same for the other matters ── Am I right, grandmother?”
Hiyuki’s grandmother fell into silence. Her brows, cheeks, lips remained unmoving. Placing one hand over her other thin hand, she stood there in a formal posture.
This person is always wearing an ice cold mask, unwilling to reveal her true emotions. Ao felt a stab of pain in his chest.
── I will pick up my granddaughter right away! Please tell me the address!
If Hiyuki’s grandmother really hated Hiyuki, she wouldn’t have said that she would pick her up personally.
Other than that, Ao noticed a few details after listening to Hiyuki’s words.
Ao felt that maybe Hiyuki’s grandmother wasn’t the type of person Hiyuki thought she was.
Ao would reveal the foreshadowings he noticed one at a time!
First, Ao turned towards Hiyuki, who showed an expression that she didn’t understand what Ao was saying. Ao looked at her, and asked gently:
“Hinomiya-san said that the last time you visited the aquarium with your mother, she told you to be as strong as the Kitefin shark correct?”
Hiyuki answered with a stiff expression:
“Yes... That’s right. Because grandmother always blamed mother for being too weak, too frail...”
“That wasn’t Hinomiya-san’s mother, but what your grandmother said.”
Hiyuki’s lips that had a mole beside it opened a little.
“But, I went to the aquarium with my mother...”
“Yes, Hinomiya-san did say that this was an aquarium full of memories, that your mother took you there before she was hospitalized.”
Ao emphasized the words ‘before she was hospitalized’.
“But Hinomiya-san’s mother was already hospitalized during that time, and couldn’t have visited the aquarium together with Hinomiya-san.”
“What... does this mean?”
Ao explained slowly to the confused Hiyuki.
“Among the photos Hinomiya-san have of your mother, there were some taken in the hospital room with Begonia blooming outside the window. My next door neighbour planted these trees too, and the flowers would bloom in April. That would be too early to wear short sleeves. But in the photo of the aquarium, Hinomiya-san wore a short sleeved blouse.”
Hiyuki held her breathe.
“If that wasn’t your mother, than the one who could have brought Hinomiya-san to the aquarium would be your grandmother. Isn’t that only natural?”
That was what Ao noticed in the beginning.
When Hiyuki visited the aquarium, Hiyuki’s mother had already been hospitalized. If so, who was the one who brought Hiyuki to the aquarium?
Hiyuki turned to her grandmother.
Hiyuki had a complicated expression of confusion, doubt and surprise. She looked to her grandmother to confirm if this was true. Hiyuki’s grandmother didn’t even move her brow, and looked back at Hiyuki coldly.
Hiyuki muttered in a voice of disbelief:
“Then... the one holding my hand in this photo isn’t my mother, but grandmother...?”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Grandmother always wears a kimono. And this glove is the one mother always wears when she goes outside...”
“That’s right, because she wore gloves, that’s why Hinomiya-san kept thinking that the one who went to the aquarium is your mother. When you think back on your childhood, you will first think of the white gloves.”
“How could that be, I...”
Hiyuki suddenly showed an unconfident face. She probably remembered something from her early childhood.
This time, Ao shift his gaze to Hiyuki’s grandmother.
“Grandmother specially wore gloves and wore western clothes in order to put Hinomiya-san who was attached to her mother at ease, correct? Grandmother?”
Hiyuki’s grandmother fell into silence.
Her hands that were placed one over the other didn’t move either. Hiyuki said that the thin hands with wrinkles were scary. Since young, she must have thought her grandmother’s hand was different from her mother’s, and felt unfamiliar and terrifying.
This was common among children. For the twins in Ao’s home, the sister cried when she saw her grandfather took out his dentures. After that, she would run away whenever her grandfather came near, which made her grandfather sigh.
What if Hiyuki was like that too? Could it be that her grandmother wore a dress to cheer up her granddaughter who was getting depressed because her mother was hospitalized? And even wore the soft gloves Hiyuki’s mother owned to conceal her bony hand for her sake?
From what Hiyuki said and the photo she showed Ao, Ao told the conclusion he drew to Hiyuki’s grandmother who was silent:
“And so, the one who mentioned Kitefin sharks to Hinomiya-san, is you.”
── Kitefin sharks are powerful creatures that move on their own and won’t form groups.
── You have to be strong like Kitefin sharks.
That wasn’t something a mother would say to her daughter that she was leaving behind, but the words a grandmother said to her granddaughter who would lose both parents in the near future.
You might be alone, but you can’t lose.
Don’t be weak like your mother.
You have to be strong and live on.
That’s the depressing hope that she had...
Hiyuki’s grandmother continued looking into space with cold eyes. Her tense face and overlapping hands remain unmoved.
── Grandmother hates me.
Using this belief of Hiyuki as the premise, and changing it into ‘Hiyuki’s grandmother is worried about her, and raised her with care’, another line of thought would be visible ── Another scenery.
For example, Ao noticed another thing.
“Hinomiya-san, you remember what your name was before your parents divorced?”
The stunned Hiyuki twitched her lips that had a mole beside it and answered:
“Hanai Hiyuki... a gentle and cute name. It gives the image of a small energetic flower blooming in the snow. Your parents must have thought hard to choose such a suitable name. Also, which month were you born?”
“That would be spring, but your parents chose a name related to winter. Your mother must have wanted to give you a name that reminds you of the family name from your mother’s side. What is your mother’s name?”
“... Aika, the Kanji are love and summer, because my mother was born in July.”
“Your mother has a lovely name too. She was probably attached to her name Hinomiya Aika, that’s why Hinomiya-san, her daughter as Hiyuki. But didn’t your grandmother object that name?”
“A reason was giving you a winter related name even though you were born in spring. Maybe your grandmother also considered the problem if your parents divorce and her daughter took back her family name. With two ice kanji in the name ‘Hinomiya Hiyuki’ sounds too cold, maybe that’s what your grandmother thought?”
Hiyuki was enlightened and then fell into deep thought with her face tensed. She was probably thinking about the conversation her mother had with her grandmother.
── I heard... Grandmother talking to my mother.
── What, what about me? That’s why I objected so much!
── The person herself might not mind, but the one who have to shoulder the burden will be troubled. It is really too cold, so cold it makes one shiver...
“Grandmother wasn’t saying that Hinomiya-san was too cold, but was worried about her granddaughter who had to change her name after her parents divorced. The people who picked the name for her granddaughter might not mind, but the child who had to shoulder the burden would be too pitiful. That’s why your grandmother blamed your mother, but your mother said that she didn’t know she would get a divorce and take back her family name when she first got married.”
Intense and confused emotions stirred in Hiyuki’s eyes.
The childhood memories that kept playing back in her mind and filling her chest with pain actually have some other meaning, which made it hard for her to believe.
Also, her grandmother kept her lips tightly shut and back straight, keeping quiet with her back straight.
“B-But… Grandmother is very strict, and objects no matter what I do. When I caught a cold, she said it was my responsibility and to take care of myself… A-And, whenever she mentioned mother, she would talk bad about her, saying that my mother was too weak.”
“She wasn’t talking bad about her, grandmother was just warning herself. Hinomiya-san’s mother, fell ill because of the emotional trauma of divorce, so she was determined to raise Hinomiya-san to be a strong child.”
── Grandmother keep blaming mother saying you are too weak, too weak.
── Grandmother also told me... Your mother is a really frail person... You can’t be like your mother. She would frown and sigh as she said that...”
Ao shifted his gaze onto Hiyuki’s grandmother again.
"I heard that before Hinomiya-san’s mother got married, grandmother cherished and doted on her a lot. I could deduce from the effort she put in to pick the name Aika. Grandmother raised Hiyuki-san’s mother, her only daughter with plenty of love and care. But wasn’t she regretting this? If she had raised her to be a stronger child, her daughter might not have died.”
Because she doted her daughter too much, she couldn’t withstand sadness and became a frail person who lost her life because of that. Did Hiyuki’s Grandmother, regret this after her daughter passed away?
Mother died because of Grandmother, when she heard Hiyuki shouted that, grandmother kept her lips coldly shut and did not refute that.
This must have been what she thought.
If I had been stricter when I raised her.
Then she wouldn’t have died.
That’s why grandmother treated her granddaughter Hiyuki in such a stern manner, even if Hiyuki held a grudge against her. All this was to raise Hiyuki to be someone who won’t lose to predicaments, a person with a strong spirit──
"Behind grandmother’s stern words and actions lies her wish to atone for her daughter and her love for her granddaughter. I am here to confirm this point. Because this is important for Hinomiya-san right now.”
Hiyuki’s grandmother didn’t open her tightly closed lips, her expression remained ice cold.
But her overlapping hands were slightly tensed ── She was squeezing her left hand with her thin and bony right hand──
Hiyuki looked confused, and was drawn in by the pair of hands she feared all this while, staring at them.
"This… couldn’t be helped."
In the quiet atmosphere, a trembling voice suddenly echoed out.
Hiyuki raised her head in surprise.
With her eyebrows upturned and a cold glare in her eyes, Hiyuki’s grandmother glared at empty space with such a look, her thin lips remained drooping with her back straight ── She muttered in a sternly ── but sad voice:
"... I had Aika when I was almost forty, I am so old right now… I don’t know when I will leave Hiyuki behind… at the end of my life. I have no other relatives to count on, if I die… Hiyuki will have to live on alone… What I can do for Hiyuki is to teach her not to rely on others, have the tenacity to live on alone, and not sadden her too much if I die… That’s all I could teach her.”
With a cold expression, Hiyuki’s grandmother stared in a direction with nobody there and said in a stern tone, voicing out her thoughts hidden behind her freezing armour of ice.
She educated her so strictly so that Hiyuki would be capable of living on alone.
Not saying any gentle words and always leaving her alone was because she didn’t want Hiyuki to feel the pain of losing family again when she dies.
It would be just fine if Hiyuki hated her.
A transparent drop of tear fell from her wide open eye. Was she aware of that?
Hiyuki fluttered her eyebrows, tears oozing from her eyes too as she listened to what her grandmother said.
And then, Hiyuki spoke.
── I understood when I saw grandmother cry, that the one who told me about Kitefin shark and bought the Kitefin shark pencil for me was grandmother.
── The person who told me to become strong had a very strict voice, and I felt scared just like the time I saw the Kitefin shark. But when I peeked up, a teardrop as beautiful as a pearl fell from that person’s face... I always thought that was my mother.
However, when she saw the tears streaming down her grandmother’s face, it overlapped with the face that shedded pearl like tears in her memory.
── That reminds me of so many things. The reason grandmother wasn’t in the photo was because she told the person taking the picture for us: ‘please capture just my granddaughter, an old lady wouldn’t look good in a photo.’
The person helping to take the picture was at a loss.
Her grandmother then muttered after the fact: ‘How could I let other see my frivolous look? People will think I have gone crazy.’
When she ate the steamed bun handmade by her grandmother, the young Hiyuki would complain: ‘This isn’t sweet… I don’t want to eat this.’ Her grandmother would say: ‘Your mother ate too much sweet snacks when she was young, and had serious cavities. She was picky about food when she grew up and had a lot of allergies... ‘ Before Hiyuki finish her food, grandmother would watch her carefully. After she was done and said ‘Thank you for the meal’, her grandmother would keep a strict face with the corners of her mouth in a frown, pat her head and says: ‘Good girl.’
── Grandmother would say gentle words to me before my mother died...
She was actually a clumsy person.
Keeping a distance from her granddaughter, not showing how she cared for her, but would make snacks for her to eat, and would pat her head with unfamiliar movements.
She brought the depressed Hiyuki to the aquarium, and bought a Kitefin shark mechanical pencil for her.
── Thanks to Kazetani-kun, I remembered that grandmother is actually a gentle person.
The lips with a mole besides it parted in a smile as Hiyuki said that.
And now ──
The grandmother and granddaughter watched over by Ao told each other their true feelings for the first time.
“I-I know that grandmother really detest anime and manga, but I won’t give up on reading and writing light novels.” Hiyuki did her best to convey her feelings, and her grandmother looked at her with stern eyes and said:
“Aika drew a lot of such mangas too, and joined a video game club online where she met your father. She was still a college student, but she fell deeply in love with a man eight years her senior, and want to marry him no matter what. But that man had an affair with a woman in the same club and bore a child, so he divorced Aika and went to live with that woman. Just what was he unsatisfied about Aika? She might act pettishly, lack tenacity and was bad at housework, but she was cute, frank and gentle. Abandoning her after marrying her, the men in such anime clubs must all be like that.”
“I-I didn’t join any clubs, and not all fans of anime or light novels are like that.”
Hinomiya-san can finally talk to her grandmother and express herself.
Ao looked at the red faced Hiyuki who was facing her grandmother bravely.
There won’t be any problems now...
“They are all similar things. In the beginning, Aika only shut herself in her room to play video games. Over time, she joined the gathering organized by the club and played until morning before coming home.”
"I am not my mother, I, I won’t… only come home in the morning."
"But didn’t you run away from home?"
"And you brought a boy home."
Ao was shocked when the topic turned towards her. Hiyuki’s grandmother walked towards him very bluntly.
"Please don’t deceive my granddaughter. If this child turned out like her mother too, I will──"
Hiyuki stopped her with a pale face.
“Our family has always been plagued by useless men, leading to unhappiness. My daughter, my mother, my grandmother all suffered a lot because of men. When I was pregnant with Aika, my husband at that time committed crimes that goes against public morals and was sent to the police station, so we divorced. The man said in his police statement he did that because he was under a lot of stress after marrying into the family, what an embarrassment. Although we only married after a marriage interview, he was rather manly when we first tied the knot. Shortly after our divorce, he married a young woman fifteen years his junior.”
She is comparing me with such people…
Ao back off a little.
"N-Not just mother, even grandmother, grandmother’s mother, and grandmother’s grandmother too...?"
Ao saw a flustered Hiyuki.
Hiyuki’s grandmother continued walking towards Ao.
“That’s why I didn’t look for a son to marry into the family, but let Aika marry away. Even if the Hinomiya family line ends, as long as Aika could be happy, even if it was someone she met in a video game club, eight years older than her, looked unreliable, a red haired man born in France was fine too. But that man abandoned Aika and Hiyuki, and ran off with another woman──"
Hiyuki’s grandmother voice choked, as if she was trying to swallow something that had welled up.
Seeing her grandmother averted her head with a blink, Hiyuki furrowed her brows.
Ao’s heart ached a little.
Hinomiya-san’s mother probably chose her name in remembrance of her old family name out of gratitude for her mother’s feelings…
Hiyuki’s grandmother really doted on her only daughter.
But when all of her daughter’s wishes were fulfilled, she lost that precious daughter of hers. The pain must have been agonizing.
In order to avoid making the same mistake, she educated Hiyuki strictly, not letting her come into contact with anything related to anime or manga. Ao could empathize with how she felt, and felt that blaming her would be too much.
Hiyuki also looked at her Grandmother as if she was on the verge of tears.
Hiyuki’s grandmother kept her head turned, not looking at Ao as she said in a stiff, sobbing voice:
"My mother passed away at 77. I am 75 now, I only have two years left. Even if Hiyuki gets abandoned by a man and come back here, I won’t be able to receive her here… That’s why I hope Hiyuki can choose a life without depending on a man or anyone. Is that wrong?”
Hiyuki’s grandmother turned her head back suddenly, and Ao straightened his body on reflex.
The face staring at Ao was tensed, showing her will to protect her granddaughter no matter what.
Ahh… Hinomiya-san’s grandmother, is really worried about Hinomiya-san...
His chest heating up, Ao maintained his posture and said calmly:
"Would Hinomiya-san be happy like this?"
Hiyuki’s grandmother was speechless.
"Hinomiya-san isn’t living by herself as grandmother wished. Before I started talking to Hinomiya-san about light novels, I have never seen Hinomiya-san smile before. But recently, Hinomiya-san had become more approachable and would smile warmly."
Ao wasn’t criticizing Hiyuki’s grandmother for her way of doing things, or intended to refute her. He was plainly stating what he observed calmly and honestly.
Hiyuki’s grandmother held her hands together tightly as Hiyuki looked at Ao with watery eyes.
"As Hinomiya-san’s friend, I hope she can always smile."
"I… I also..."
Hiyuki’s grandmother was hesitant about speaking. Her throat trembled as she blinked her eyes. She must be thinking about saying: ‘I also wish for that.”
“The average lifespan of a woman is 85 years old, and the trend is on the rise. Grandmother will definitely live more than two years… And you still look energetic and young now.”
Ao said with a smile. Hiyuki’s grandmother brows that had eased up furrow once again.
“Impossible, all the women in our family died before 80, no one in our family register lived beyond 80!”
"Even discounting that, I am sixty years older than Hiyuki."
Grandmother blinked and averted her face.
At this point, Hiyuki spoke.
"Grandmother, I… light novels are something very important and wonderful to me, I want to talk to grandmother every day… about how strong I have become after I knew about light novels and Kazetani-kun, brave enough to talk to grandmother, and I will be strong in the future too… In the world of light novels, there are Kitefin sharks that aren’t by themselves… I want to… spend some time and tell you about these things bit by bit…”
Hiyuki’s grandmother kept her head averted, as if she was suppressing her overflowing emotions, listening to Hiyuki with a blank face. Her thin and bony hands was a bit pale because she was gripping too tightly ── The way she looked seemed to overlapped with Hiyuki who had a lot to say, but kept her gaze and head down ── The two of them are really similar, Ao thought.
Not just their looks, their characters were similar too.
Their serious side, and their clumsy side.
Both of them had the delicacy and kindness to think about others.
Hinomiya-san isn’t like her mother, she takes after her grandmother.
Hiyuki mustered all her courage and held her grandmother’s hand fearfully.
The thin, bony hands engraved with wrinkled ── The hands that held Hiyuki’s hands when she was young. Hiyuki closed her own pale soft hands around that pair of hands.
"Two years won’t be enough to say it all. Ten, twenty or even thirty years won’t be enough… So, please live on…”
The shoulders of Hiyuki’s grandmother shook and her voice was whimpering. Her tense face, lips and brows were on the verge of breaking down──
All the foreshadowing had been revealed.
The relationship between Hiyuki and her grandmother would slowly change in the future.
This old house would become a comfortable and warm place for Hiyuki to stay in. Hiyuki’s grandmother shook off her hand coldly.
“Don’t talk here in the entrance, come on in… You too.”
Grandmother glanced at Ao with a sharp gaze, straightened her back, and walked into the mansion.
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