By the time I woke up, it was already 6 pm. The sky outside was colored in a bright orange, and while looking at the sliding door to the room, I thought to myself: Yep, it’s all over. Everybody’s gone off to the festival. Recounting the time I slept, it was roughly eight hours. I only managed to fall asleep at 10 am this morning. The sun had already risen, and my sleepiness finally emerged victorious against me being nervous. Realizing that I had been left alone, I just sat in my room in a daze and punched my futon.
I looked over at my phone. How long has it been since I felt this way? The terror of realizing I only had ten minutes left until work started, right after waking up. It’s the exact same sensation plaguing me right now, and my hands started shaking. I can’t…I can’t call the chief. I’m too scared. I should wash my face and try to relax, at least. Or so I planned, but the second I left the room, I ran into Biwako-senpai’s grandmother.
“Oh, Nananosuke-dono, finally awake? You must have been quite busy all night.”
“Nothing of that sort happened!”
“My oh my, let’s just leave it at that. Everybody has already left for the festival, but if you rush there now, you might make it in time for the fireworks.”
“I see, thank you very much.”
I said my goodbyes to her and washed my face. Once that was done, I opened up my phone again. Yeah, calling the chief won’t work. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to run from that. Right now, I’m not an employee, but just a high school student. There’s no need to report me oversleeping to Kamijou Touka-senpai. She’s just my senior at school, nothing more. So when thinking about who to call, it’s gotta be Biwako-senpai after all. Since the sunlight entering the bathroom from the small window started to dwindle, I wasted no time calling her.
As expected, she didn’t seem particularly angry or disappointed and just saw this whole ordeal as hilarious. She told me their location, so I quickly prepared everything and left the house. Because I went there yesterday with the chief, I knew where to head without much looking it up. Once I reached the place in question, the sky had already turned dark, and most people were preparing for the upcoming fireworks.
Biwako-senpai said they were standing at the stall for the spice mixes. I was dubious why it was all about spices with the chief, but I know her by now. I looked down at the lake, descending the stairs, searching for the sign that said spices mix.
“Ah, found it.”
It seemed surprisingly popular, as I could see a long line of people waiting in front of it. Though quite some time passed since Biwako-senpai told me, they’re probably already done buying their shares.
“Weird. She said she’d be waiting, but I can’t find them anywhere.”
Can’t help it, I’ll just call her again. However, right as I took out my phone, I got an incoming call. I was a bit surprised because of this odd timing, and opened up my flip phone.
It’s more than rare that Yuito-san would call me. I didn’t hesitate and accepted the call.
“Yes, this is Shimono.”
‘Shimono-kun, sorry for the sudden call.’
“It’s fine, what’s wrong?”
‘I’ll get right to the point since we might be short on time. You should be with Touka right now, yes?’
Touka…? The chief? How does he…
“You mean Kamijou Touka, yes?”
‘Yes, that’s right. Is she with you?’
“No, I just came to the festival.”
‘I see…Shimono-kun, listen carefully. It’s safe to assume that Touka is being chased by someone. I tried contacting her just now, but she was acting weird. She kept her voice low, and she seemed out of breath, so I think she’s wrapped up in some trouble.’
“Wait, the chief is?!”
“Ah, it’s just her nickname. Forget about it. Anyway, do you know what’s going on?”
Yuito-san asked with a serious tone I normally wouldn’t hear from him.
‘I don’t know the details. My only option was to contact you. But, you’re not together…Please, can’t you meet up with Touka? You’re the only person I can rely on for this.’
“Of course! If the chief is in trouble, I’ll help her right away! But…I happened to oversleep, so I don’t know where she is.”
‘No worries. I put a GPS tracker onto her smartphone that I can check with an app. If you can tell me where you are right now, I can navigate you.’
‘And please don’t contact anybody else. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s a good chance things aren’t looking good. I think I even messed up before, so…please hurry.’
“Yes! But…using a GPS tracker with her smartphone, what kind of relationship do you two have…?”
‘Well, I guess there’s no use hiding it now. Sorry about keeping quiet, but I’m Touka’s older brother. Shimono-kun, please protect my sister!’
While learning of this astonishing truth at the worst possible moment, I went to search for the chief under Yuito-san’s guidance.
Under Yuito-san’s excellent guidance, I reached a familiar location—the stone stairs I went up just yesterday.
‘Touka should be here.’
“Yes, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
If she was being chased by someone, she’d surely retreat to that secret place.
‘I don’t know what kind of trouble’s going on. I’ll hang up now, so be careful. Touka won’t forgive you if you end up hurt.’
“Yes, I know. Thank you very much.”
‘I should be thanking you. If something happened, contact me right away. Please take care of the rest.’
I put my phone back into my pocket. Just what happened? Is everybody else fine? Tension filled my body. After rushing up the stairs, I was greeted by a girl.
The girl spotted me, and clung to me while crying.
“What happened, Biwako-senpai?!”
“Touka is…Touka is!”
“Calm down, please. What’s happened to the chief? Where are Onikichi and Nao?”
I gently grabbed her shoulder, which seemingly helped her calm down, and she explained the situation.
“Those two from yesterday…?”
“Nananosuke, please save Touka!”
“I understand. You meet up with Onikichi and Nao. In case those two have some other friends, it should be fine if you stay with Onikichi.”
“Please leave the chief to me—I’ll do everything it takes to protect her.”
I rushed up the stairs.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry in my entire life. After rushing up the stairs, I reached the small shrine, stood in front of the chief, and glared at the two men.
“I still can’t believe you would do something like this, Hirai-san, Iijima-san.”
“Shimono-kun, right? I’m glad that tall guy didn’t come here. You look a lot weaker than him.”
I grit my teeth and looked at the chief. She must have been scared. Her toes were red, probably from all the running while wearing a yukata. And I could tell how much her legs were shaking in fear. The stairs were right behind us. It’s a possible escape route, but even if I let her go now, there’s still a chance they might ignore me and go after her. We’re talking about two well-built men. The best I can do right now is stay with the chief, and—
“Hirai-san, Iijima-san, can we please just stop this.”
I lowered my head without hesitation. I don’t care about pride. I don’t care about who is right or wrong. As long as I can protect her, I’m fine with whatever.
“Shimono-kun, raise your head.”
Iijima took a step towards me, dropping his tone. I did as I was told.
Immediately after, his fist rammed directly into my right cheek.
“I-I’m fine, Chief.”
I did lose my posture for a second, but I’m fine. I can deal with this.
“Are you Touka-chan’s boyfriend or something? Why don’t you educate her some more? Look at my eyes. She threw something like spice into my eyes. Isn’t that cruel?”
“That won’t do…Can’t you tell? I’m beyond pissed right now.”
Another punch from Iijima landed on my face.
The chief tried to step in front of me, but I opened up my arms to block her path.
“It’s okay, Chief. I’ve been training lately.”
I must have gotten hit pretty badly, I could taste metal inside my mouth. But even so, I kept on standing still. Hirai looked at me with a dubious expression, grabbing my bangs.
“Shimono-kun, what did you even come here for? What about protecting your princess, huh? Are you just scared? Never had an actual fight?”
“I had no intentions of fighting back.”
Hirai rammed his knee right into my stomach. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, but since I tensed up my stomach muscles at the right moment, I managed to avert most of the possible damage.
“Because I promised…I was taught that not everything can be resolved with violence…that’s why I won’t fight back.”
“Nanaya-kun, are you talking about…That doesn’t matter right now!”
“No, Chief, it does. I’m an adult. If I fought back here…I’ll be the same as them. The same will happen as two months ago. I can’t show such a pathetic sight to my superior. Unlike them, I’m a proper adult after all!”
Hirai let go of my hair, and looked at me in discontent.
“Do you want us to let you off the hook, or would you rather get beat up even worse? I get that some brats like you want to act all grown-up, but the world of adults isn’t as kind. Do you get it, you snobby brat?!”
This time, he rammed his fist into the exact same location his knee previously hit me.
That sure hurt. Unable to deal with the pain and anguish, I put my hands on my knees. However, I’m not going down.
“You’re some pathetic bastard of a guy, really. You’re just too scared to fight back. Is there anything else you can do besides bowing down?!”
“Well, the 90° Apology is my secret skill after all.”
“Oh really now!”
Right as I raised my head, Hirai smashed my face in. For a second, it felt like my consciousness blew out of my body. I grit my teeth to hold it back in when Iijima fired off another punch.
“If you want to be a punching bag that desperately, then we don’t mind helping you!”
Even so, I kept on standing tall, not going down on my knees.
“If it helps you blow off some steam, then keep punching me. If you let us go after turning me into a punching bag, then keep hitting me. I don’t care what happens to me. However—”
I glared at the two men. Right, I should have said this from the very start. If not, there isn’t any reason for me to be here in the first place.
“However…just try to do anything to Touka-san. If you hurt her in any way, no matter who you are, where you run off to, where you hide…even if you travel back in time—I will follow you to the end of the world and make your lives a living hell, so you better think twice, you bastards.”
For a brief moment, the two men went silent after hearing my threatening words. And then, almost as if that stirred them on more, they both leaped at me at once. Yeah, I think I’m at my limit here. I don’t think I can keep standing through much more of this. But, I still won’t go down despite that. I have someone I want to protect, and until I know she is safe—I won’t fall!
“Hey now, I was looking for the imbecile who made my precious granddaughter cry, only to run into some idiot getting beaten up.”
Behind us from the stone stairs, we could hear the clattering sound of geta sandals. And then, a tall, white-haired man appeared.
“Brat, is this the righteousness you spoke of? What troublesome justice this is.”
“Did I not tell you? All that happened was you suffering for no reason.”
Hirai and Iijima seemed bewildered at the sudden arrival of Kumaji-san, only to show sneering expressions.
“Hey now, old man. We’re a bit busy here, so could you piss off? You’ll regret making us angry.”
Kumaji-san inspected the two men, placed his large hand on my head, and spoke with a deep voice.
“That being said, you at least are a lot more manly than those small fries over there.” He said and walked past me. “Lad, I now understand who you wanted to protect, and for what reason. That doesn’t mean I accept it, but I regret calling you a fool. As an apology, leave the rest to me.” He showed his tall back to me, as she proclaimed.
Hirai evidently was fuming in anger at those words.
“Hey, you’ll regret underestimating us, you old man! We’re not gonna hold back just because you’re an old fart!”
Kumaji-san showed no reaction whatsoever, and just calmly opened his mouth.
“I am responsible for a karate dojo nearby. As it is my duty to teach small children, I cannot use my martial arts against small fries like you. However, I am somewhat trained in the art of self-defense, and I see this situation as a necessary circumstance to rely on. Youngsters like you are bullying a poor old man like me, after all. And respecting your justice, I should at least be allowed to fend myself, right, lad?”
I blinked once and answered him.
“Yes, of course.”
Kumaji-san moved his right leg forward. Hirai readied his fist to punch Kumaji-san, and entered into his close range. It happened in an instant. Despite watching from the sidelines, I couldn’t tell what happened. All I knew was that Hirai’s body soared through the sky, and slammed back onto the ground.
A loud bang rang out, as Hirai groaned in pain. He seemed to be still conscious but showed no signs of getting up, let alone moving. Rather, his expression distorted in anguish, partially with fear in the face of such a strong opponent. His partner Iijima watched this unfold in real-time, but the adrenaline in his body and fear from the threat he was facing made his body numb, and the best he could do was glare at Kumaji-san.
“What’s wrong, brat. If you don’t attack me, I can’t protect myself. Come at me already.”
“You shitty geezer!”
Iijima kicked off the ground, completely falling for Kumaji-san’s provocation. He stormed at Kumaji-san like a wild boar, and yet his expression immediately changed into fear. He went in close with Kumaji-san, raising his left hand between the two to measure the distance, as his right hand flung towards Kumaji-san’s face. However, his fist barely grazed Kumaji-san’s cheek, only meeting empty air. At the same time, Kuamji-san’s thick arms grabbed Iijima’s arm that was just resting in the air, and he pulled his body up and on his back.
It was a beautiful shoulder throw. Iijima’s face distorted in pain after he was slammed right onto the ground, to which Kumaji-san calmly commented.
“You lack training.”
The scenery of two men collapsed in the vicinity of an old shrine was quite a surreal sight. The two men just groaned, not standing up anymore. Kumaji-san swiftly grabbed the two, carrying one on his shoulder and the other beneath his arm, and started walking.
“I’ll hand these two in at the local police box.”
It all happened in an instant. Kumaji-san tried to pass by me as quickly as he came, and I called out to him one last time.
“Thank you very much.”
He didn’t even bother to look at me, just snorting out loud. And once he set foot onto the stone stairs, he stopped for a moment.
“Lad, you did well.” He left these words behind, and disappeared.
All the tension vanished from my body, and I sank to the ground. Ahhh, that was terrifying. Of course, I was both scared of those guys and Kumaji-san all the same.
“Nanaya-kun! We have to get you to a hospital!”
The chief immediately ran towards me with a quivering voice, looking at me with her beautiful and dampened eyes.
“I’m fine, Chief, I’ve trained quite a bit, lately.”
“This isn’t the time to fool around!”
“I’m sorry…But, there’s another place I’d like to go to. The fireworks are about to start, yes? How about we go to our secret spot to watch them?”
“At a time like this…”
“Especially during a time like this. We won’t get this chance again…and I want to finally earn some points for myself.”
“What are you even talking about…Also, do you even understand the situation you’re in? You’re bleeding from your mouth.”
“Chief.” I interrupted her and looked into her eyes. “Please.”
“That reminds me, I haven’t asked for any punishment after the sparkler game, right? I’ll use that up now. Kamijou Touka-san—will you watch the fireworks with me?”
She cast her face down, gently grabbing my hand. And then—
She responded with as cute of a reaction as always.
We found a perfectly flat rock we could use as seats while watching over the lake, when I took out a handkerchief from my pocket. I opened that up and offered it to the chief.
“Have a seat.”
The chief seemed a bit bashful, as she carefully sat down on the rock. I joined in next to her.
“I called Onikichi. Seems like Biwako-senpai managed to meet up with them. Kumaji-san is with them, too. Biwako-senpai seems to have calmed down, so we can take our time here.”
“I see…I’m glad. She should be safe if she’s with her grandfather.”
“He sure saved us back then. I’m surprised he knew where we were.”
“I asked Biwako to call her grandfather once she could.”
According to what the chief told me, they weren’t just hiding at the shrine for nothing. She knew that he would know the precise location of the shrine. We needed an adult who could come to aid us right away. As long as she stayed here, Kumaji-san would find his way to her. That’s why she moved away from the crowd of people on purpose. However, they were spotted by those two men before Kumaji-san could arrive, which was a miscalculation. As a result, the chief apologized to me first thing, even though she should be the one who was terrified the most.
“How did you know where we were anyway?” The chief asked.
“Ah, now that you mention it!”
“Huh, what about Onii-chan?”
Oh, she immediately revealed her blood-related relationship with Yuito-san with no hesitation. Onii-chan? Huh? The future love mentalist Yuito is the chief’s older brother?
“W-Well, it’s a long story, and I still haven’t fully processed all of that.”
“What?! Huh?! You know Onii-chan?!”
“I understand how you must feel, Chief, and I wholeheartedly agree.”
“I can’t follow at all, Nanaya-kun.”
With that exchange going on, we heard a whistle going through the air. Immediately after, several loud bangs rang out, followed by colors filling the night sky. Immediately after, even the black water down in the river shone in a thousand colors. The chief and I were illuminated by the lights at the same time, entirely entranced by their charm.
“So this is the place where Biwako’s grandfather proposed to her grandmother.”
“Yes…that’s why he still treasures this place to this day.”
“…What a wonderful memory this must have been.”
I imagined Kumaji-san proposing while looking at the final sparks of the fireworks. These fireworks will probably leave the biggest lasting expression on me. And the scenery ahead of us most certainly assisted in that. However, simply the fact that I had the chief next to me was the most important factor of all. Surely, I will never forget this moment. Immediately after, the next fireworks shot up into the sky. But instead of looking at them, I instead inspected the chief’s profile, lit up through the fireworks. I can’t even put into words how beautiful she was. But of course, I couldn’t say that to her, so I simply enjoyed the sight.
“That reminds me…”
The chief’s small lips suddenly moved, and I frantically averted my face.
“It seems like you were working hard for Biwako.”
“Well…yes. It was a lot of—Wait, Biwako?! Since when?! And she called you Touka as well!”
“What are you talking about? She always called me Touka.”
“By using your full name, that is! There’s a big difference between those two!”
“I personally feel like ‘Chief’ is ranked lower than calling me by my full name.”
“Oh come on…”
“But thanks to your efforts, we managed to make up.”
“What? Did Biwako-senpai spill the beans or something? I don’t know how to feel about that.”
Well, as long as Biwako-senpai’s dream has been granted, I’m satisfied. It was a troublesome job, but I feel satisfied now that we made it to the goal.
“I’m glad I could help you, Chief.”
“…? Help me?”
“Yes. You said that you wanted to experience a different kind of youth this time around, right? I realized that you wanted to spend time with friends. That’s why I figured you’d get a bit closer to that dream if you became friends with Biwako-senpai.”
“U-Um…the youth I want to spend is…No, you’re right. That might be it. Being friends with Biwako…having Nao-chan and Onikichi-kun…I’m definitely having a lot more fun than the last time. Thank you, Nanaya-kun.”
“You’ve worked for this, Chief. I didn’t do anything.”
“Modest as always.”
“I was taught that being modest gets me a higher evaluation as a newcomer.”
“Assistant Manager Nakagawa.”
In the meantime, more fireworks shot up into the sky. Right now they were smaller shots, lighting up left and right in the night sky. Once this rush ended, the mountains were wrapped up in silence again. The chief broke through this silence with a serious voice.
“To be honest…I was really scared just now.”
Her voice sounded as fragile as glass about to break any second.
“Really, really scared.”
I felt worried that she might disappear from next to me, and subconsciously grabbed her hand.
“I’m sorry that you had to go through that. If I had only made it to you sooner…No, if only I hadn’t overslept that long.”
The chief grabbed my hand as well, returning my grip.
“You’re wrong! With how much you got hit, ending up so hurt…I was scared that something might happen to you…that you might just leave my side…I was scared of that!”
Fireworks shot up into the sky again. Illuminated by these were the tears running down her cheeks.
“So reckless…and stubborn…I was really scared…so scared, okay…!”
I placed my free hand on the chief’s head, gently caressing it.
“I wasn’t stubborn at all. I was just trying to be a man, protecting the person who is important to me. I respect you more than anybody else, after all. You saved me so many times, so I’m still in your debt…At least let me repay you from time to time.”
The chief pushed her face into my shoulder, as her body kept on shaking. I felt the urge to embrace her. Hug her, and give her peace of mind. She might reject me. It would be a lie if I said I wasn’t scared, but that’s fine. Even if I’m scared, I have to accept this fear and stand tall despite that. Because that is what I really want to do. What I want to do—for the Kamijou Touka I love so much.
“Touka-san, can I hug you?”
I gently placed my hands on her shoulders, looking at her dampened eyes. For a moment, she responded to my gaze, only to look down.
She bluntly rejected me.
“I see…I’m sorry for saying something weird like that.” I muttered, defeated.
In response, the chief raised her head.
“Your body is riddled with wounds, you have to keep still, you know?”
“—I’ll be the one to hug you.” She said, and gently wrapped her arms around my back. “Just for today…okay?”
A gentle warmth enwrapped my body. The last few fireworks shot up into the sky. I could pick up the faint scent of gardenia flowers from her.
“I almost forgot to say it, but…that yukata looks great on you, Chief.”
“…Too late now, dummy.”
It’s the scent of summer.