Two people are walking along the street which is lined up with stores. As I walk, I can see that the vestiges of the past have changed from the scenery that I remember.
That……… makes me feel a bit lonely.
(There was a cafe around here which served delicious roll cakes.)
It was a place where my childhood friend and I went to, but it has turned into a coin laundry now. I can no longer eat at the same cafe which had a good ambience and also served delicious cakes. It makes me feel blue. After all, it’s also one of the few places of memories with my childhood friend.
That said, I didn’t expect that this town would have changed so much. In the end, it’s good that she is here as my guide. I think I would’ve gotten lost (and panicked) if I was here by myself.
“Hinata-san, what kind of book are you going to buy?”
“I’m thinking of buying a new confectionery recipe book today.”
“Fufu, you really like making them, don’t you?”
“Yup. It’s fun wondering about what I should make next. Looking at the process in books is interesting, too.”
Besides, reading new recipes draws out my creativity, so I’ll be making them as soon as I get home. Hngg, I’m already getting excited.
“Oh yeah, Tsubaki, do you have a favorite kind?”
“Eh? Let’s see… I love custard pudding.”
I carve it deep in my brain so that I will never forget it. I’m going to make some for her as a gratitude for her help yesterday and today, too. I’ve made many varieties of pudding, so I can consider myself an expert in making it.
“After turning right around that corner, we just have to go straight to find the place.”
With Tsubaki’s directions, we’ve finally arrived at our destination. It’s the bookstore where I had frequented. But perhaps because it has thriving business, it looks neater now. On the other hand, I can see some traces of the past still remain.
“I’ll be right back, can you wait here for me?”
I enter the store in order to complete my objective, and I return to her side not long after.
“……Sorry for the wait—”
“Hm? You didn’t buy anything?”
Noticing how I’m not holding anything as I exit the store, Tsubaki tilts her head.
“The books will only arrive here in two days. This town is far from the city, so naturally the books will reach here a bit latter. I totally forgot about it.”
Unable to get the recipe book, I heave a sigh. There’s nothing I can do about since they haven’t got the book here yet, I’ll just return another time.
“That’s regrettable… ah, that’s it.”
It looks like she just remembers something.
“We have several books about confectionery at home. Would you like to borrow them?”
“Although, it’s possible that you have already read the books before, Hinata-san.”
“No problem! I’d love to take a look if it’s okay.”
“In that case, I’ll search for the books and bring them to you tomorrow.”
“Ah, I’ll carry them myself. Just contact me when you’re ready and I’ll go.”
“Fufu, all right.”
It’s regrettable that I can’t buy the book that I want, but knowing that I can borrow some books from Tsubaki brings my tension up.
“Still, you have guided me all the way here. Sorry that it ends up a fool’s errand. I got to know where the bookstore is, though.”
“Not at all, it’s fun being with Hinata-san.”
“I-Is that so?”
She smiles as she tells me that it’s fun to be with me. It makes me feel bashful. I’m happy even if it’s just a flattery from her part.
While we’re talking about trivial things, an adult woman approaches us from our front. I wonder if she is in her early twenties; she looks beautiful without having to dress up. It seems that she and Tsubaki know each other.
(Still, where have I seen her before, or have I?)
I search through all of my memories, but no one comes to mind. Is it just my imagination?
Thump, my heart jumps.
The moment I hear the name that exits Tsubaki’s mouth, the memory of a precious person resurfaces in my mind. However, that child’s appearance is entirely different from the one who is standing in front of me. Although… after taking a closer look, I can feel there are some similarities here and there.
(Yeah… who can imagine?)
In my memories, she was a child who was only as tall as my waist. Well, after 16 years, of course she has grown into an adult. It takes me by surprise that the small girl has turned into such a beauty.
“Oh, are you shopping with your friend?”
“Yes, we went to the bookstore.”
The woman shifts her gaze from Tsubaki to me, and she smiles. I silently take a deep breath to calm my heart, which is thumping like an alarm bell. It’s been a series of surprise from the day I came to this town, I think my heart is going to stop working.
“How do you do? My name is Hayase Hinata. I moved next to Tsubaki’s home just two days earlier.”
“I see. I am Sekiguchi Rumi. I am friends with Tsubaki-chan’s mother. It’s nice to meet you.”
She clasps my hand for a handshake, which gives me this weird, indescribable feeling.
“Rumi-san, are you going out somewhere?”
“Mhm, Mom caught me lazing around at home, so she sent me out on an errand.”
I stand beside the two as they have a pleasant chat. I listen to their conversation while staring at the woman who is taller than me.
“Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I last came to your house. I’ve been busy with work recently. Is your mom doing well?”
“Mother is doing as always.”
“…I see, is it okay if I come to visit sometime?”
“Of course it is. I’d be glad if you would help me with my studies again.”
They’ve reached a stopping point in their conversation, it seems. They both turn to face me, the outsider.
“Sorry for disturbing you. I’ll be going now.”
“Ah, no, no need to apologize.”
“See you then, Tsubaki-chan.”
She gives us a smile and waves her hand before walking away to where we came from. We stay and watch her go for a short while.
“Shall we go, as well?”
“Ah, yup… you’re right.”
I move my feet that has stopped momentarily, and we resume walking home.
“Hinata-san, what was the place where you lived before like?”
“Hm? It was an ordinary city, without anything to boast of.”
It’s more populated than this town and there’re many various stores. It’s a bustling city, but that’s all. Although, it’s where I had been living since I was born, so I do have some attachments. Also, I can’t simply go back to visit because it’s quite far apart from this town. It makes me feel a bit sad.
“My house was far from my school, so I had to wake up early every morning. It was really harsh—”
“Do you commute to school by bus?”
“Mm-mm, it’s by train. Having to go through the morning rush hour was hell, you know…”
Being buried along with company employees and the other students was the picture of hell itself. I had to jam myself in a small space, and I’m pretty much tired out by the time I arrive at my destination. And I rarely got to find myself a seat.
“Y-you had it hard.”
“Yeah. Do you ride a bicycle to school, Tsubaki?”
“No, I go on foot. I… um, I-I can’t ride a bicycle.”
If I remember it correctly, there are no buses around that area. In other words, she has no other options but to walk since she can’t ride a bicycle. There’s quite a distance from Tsubaki’s house to the middle school, it must have been rough. No matter how fast she walks, it will still take her an hour, I think.
“It’s fortunate that our high school is close… Uuh, you’ve worked hard.”
I imagine Tsubaki walking all the way to her middle school for three years. It makes me feel sorry for her, and I pat her head as a praise for her achievement. Although, the person in question makes a confused expression, wondering that it is about.
“We go same school anyway, let’s walk together.”
She happily agrees to my idea.
Chatting along the way, we finally reach the front of our homes.
“Thank you for today… no, I mean, for all your help.”
I make a quick, deep bow, and she follows suit.
“Hehe, you’re welcome.”
“See you, then…”
She calls me when I am just about to open the door.
“What is it?”
“Are you free tomorrow?”
To her question, I think about my plans tomorrow. I don’t think I have anything scheduled, though.
“I’m as free as I can be.”
“Then, would you mind coming to visit us tomorrow?”
“Ah, um, I want to lend you the books as I’ve promised. I’m free tomorrow, so, if you’re all right with it, then…”
She looks bashful as she murmurs with reserve.
“Is it really okay for me to visit?”
“Yes, I have visited Hinata-san’s place today, so…”
“…I’ll take up on your offer then.”
“Thank you very much.”
It sure feels strange to be thanked to when I am the one who’s indebted to her. After making the promise, we both enter our respective homes.
I wait for Hinata-san to go into her house before I enter mine.
“I have returned home.”
Even though I’ve announced my return, no one is here to give a reply. It’s how it’s always been, and how it always will. The sound of the door closing reverberates through the corridor. I go to the kitchen to find a glass, and I turn the faucet to pour some water in. I slowly drink it up to supply my throat with a sufficient amount of moisture.
…While rinsing the glass, I think to myself.
(I wonder why.)
I was never the type to assertively involve myself with others. I’m anxious with strangers, and I can’t start a conversation well. But somehow, I can speak easily with a girl whom I’ve just met a few days ago. Being with her reassures me, and it’s fun talking with her.
Her eyes are gentle. My heart feels warm when she looks at me.
“Oh no, I have to start preparing for dinner.”
Thinking about tomorrow, I hurriedly begin preparing for a meal.
My cell phone rings. I peer at the display to see that it’s a message from my friend in middle school.
“Let’s see— How is it going? Do you feel lonely living there? Are you crying? …Hey, I’m not a little kid.”
As I write her a reply, I’m amazed by how meddlesome my friend can be by sending me such a message. Even though she’s mostly messing with me, I can feel her worry from the message. It honestly makes me happy.
I place my cell phone after sending the reply, and I lie down on the bed. I promised to go to Tsubaki’s place tomorrow morning, so I can’t oversleep.
“Oh yeah, I should take something as a present for tomorrow.”
Tsubaki said that she likes pudding, so that’ll do.
With that decided, let’s make it right away. I vigorously jump out out bed to head for the kitchen. But before I can reach the door, I hear Mother calling for me.
“Hinata— come here for a bit—”
I go to the living room, and I see Mother and my sister, plus another person standing beside them. I can’t see her face from where I am, but her black, waist-long hair is beautiful. She gives off a dignified appearance. She notices me and slowly turns around.
I feel somewhat nervous, maybe because she is staring at me without saying anything. As a result, the words are stuck in my throat as I stay silent. Mother notices me a bit latter. She pitter-patters to my side and places her hand on my shoulder.
“This is my eldest daughter, Hinata. Now, your greetings.”
“Ah, erm, I am Hayase Hinata… It’s nice to meet you.”
“…I’m Tsubaki’s mother, Kurasaka Hiori. Hello.”
I didn’t expect that she is her mother, with how young and beautiful her looks are. But unlike Tsubaki, the way she speaks feels cold, and indifferent. However, from her graceful manner and class, and the shape of her face, it does strike me that they are mother and child.
“She’s taken the trouble to come and greet us, you know~”
Ohohohoho, although Mother tries to laugh in a refined manner, it only sounds idiotic to me when she does it.
“My daughter is the same as yours… please get along with her.”
“Yes, of course. Tsubaki has been helping me since the day I moved in here. I’m thankful to her.”
Our conversation ends short, and it became the mothers’ turn to talk to each other. My sister and I simply listen from the side. Mother is talking with a smile on her face, while her partner indifferently opens and closes her mouth with no expression.
“Tsubaki’s Mom looks scary, but she’s really pretty.”
“I wonder what kind of food she eats that makes her so beautiful.”
“…Isn’t she born that way? It’s heredity, you know. Heredity.”
“No way~ Then, will I become like Mom in the future~?”
“At least, chests are hereditary, aren’t they?”
I look at Mom’s chest area to see a pair of moderate mounds on it. Then I proceed to look at Saki’s desolate chest, and finally mine. I heave a sigh.
“Aah— I can’t see any signs of them growing at all. What should I do?”
“Just give up.”
While a conversation about breasts unfolds between the two of us, it seems that the mothers have finished talking. Tsubaki’s mother is going home.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t entertain you much.”
“I should be the one to apologize for greeting you so late.”
“No need to apologize. Please come visit us again sometime.”
“Thank you very much. Then, I’ll take my leave for today.”
Immediately after expressing her gratitude, she goes back home next door. After that, Saki returns to her room, Mother holds a rice cracker in one hand as she watches the TV. We all separate to do our own things.
I recall my objective to make some pudding, and I head to the kitchen. First, I finish setting up all the cooking preps. When I’m trying to break the eggs, I finally notice that my hands are trembling. I wondered why I wasn’t shaking at all, but apparently I did. Now that it’s come to this, various emotions well forth from my chest.
(Haha, she didn’t change, at all…)
I inadvertently laugh from how little she changed.