It was the next day, Sunday.
After meeting up, Ryuuga and I made out way towards the station where Agito would be.
The time was eleven in the morning. We would meet with Agito in around thirty minutes. It seems that Agito agreed on going to the cake restaurant for lunch and for our discussion.
"Listen, Ryuga. Sorry to say this, but you and Agito will be doing most of the talking. I'm going to stay as quiet as possible unless I need to intervene."
"What? You're not going to give him a stern talking-to?"
Ryuuga, who had a displeased face, wore her school uniform despite it being Sunday. Though, I was the same.
It was a measure I reluctantly took after Ryuuga said "I want us to be matching." Even though this was still some sort of date, she wore her usual boys' uniform...that'll probably disappoint Agito.
"Of course, I'll tell him 'Give up on Ryuuga,' when I have the chance. However, Agito clearly sees me as a nuisance. He won't listen to me if I try speaking with him right from the get-go."
That was made clear after his sharp gaze from yesterday.
Come to think of it, Agito asked me one question back when we first made contact during PE. "Are you close with Hinomori Ryuuga?" were his words.
Perhaps he was conscious of Ryuuga very early on. However, since I'm the friend character constantly by her side, I've been monopolizing her. That's my best guess for why he's annoyed with me.
(Furthermore, since I've been constantly pestering him by acting like a fool...I have a feeling that I've rubbed him the wrong way.)
I have an indescribable feeling of guilt. After all, I couldn't predict that this would happen. I just wanted to be Agito's friend character.
While caught in my dilemma, the square in front of the train station came into view.
(Only on Sundays are there so many people here...I hope we don't come across any familiar faces.)
The nearest station is called "Oumei Station," holding the same name as our high school. There's a mall, shopping district, and business district around the station, making it a fairly crowded place. It's mostly confined around the rapid train.
Originally, this place had been the battlefield of conflict against the "Evil Spirits" many times in the past. Ryuuga told me that this place has a close connection with the spirit world.
A long time ago, the Hinomori family thought that the spirit world was the "underworld," and called this place "Oumei." However, citizens thought that name brought a bad omen and so it was tweaked.TLNThis is a kanji thing. The original "Oumei" stood for "near underworld" (近冥) while the current one stands for "center of light" (央明), but both are pronounced the same way.
(If I'm not mistaken, hell is associated with the underworld...I didn't know that was how this place got named.)
As we made our way through the people coming and going, we soon arrived at the meeting place.
Thereupon, we found that Agito was already there. Unlike us, he wasn't wearing his school uniform, of course.
He wore a long leather coat and a pair of black leather pants. He also had a scarf, which was black as well, around his neck. He had the same fingerless glove over his left hand and most of his fingers wore rings. They had unsettling designs like skulls or pentagrams.
(Come to think of it, Agito is in a band. Judging from his attire, I guess he's going for a kind of rock band aesthetic...it doesn't seem like he's the type make 'afterschool teatime' songs.)
With his usual poker face, Agito walked up to us. He didn't even take one glance at me, perhaps trying to act like I'm not there.
"Hi, Hinomori. I suspected this would happen, but it seems that you're still dressing as a man."
"Of course. I am a man."
Agito didn't seem offended by Ryuuga's blunt manner of speaking. In fact, he spoke more than usual.
"You wanted the cake restaurant, right? A more high-class establishment would've been fine though. I can pay."
"No thanks. Ichirou will cover everything for me today. I let only Ichirou, my dear best friend, do this──"
Someone soon interrupted Ryuuga as she emphasized her close relationship with me.
A roar of anger came from within me.
Of course, it wasn't me. It was Taotie. This idiot...I thought I explained it to him last night!
(Hey, Tie! Stop it!)
"Who's this meddling kid?! Ryuuga is mine!"
Since Taotie didn't stop, I reluctantly had to lip-sync his words. I ended up looking odd by shouting words of fury while making apologetic motions.
In confusion, Agito looked at me for the first time. Onlookers also looked at me with confusion.
(Hurry up and calm down! Someone will report us! A police officer will take me away and then Ryuga and Agito will be alone!)
"Bring it on! If someone tries to apprehend me, I'll just beat this kid to death! Then the date will be over!"
(Then my life will be over!)
I desperately held down Taotie as he attempted to manifest.
Suddenly, Ryuuga chopped my head with her hand. She then got close to my ear and reprimanded the "Evil Spirit" while whispering.
"Taotie, do as Ichirou says. If you comply, I'll dress as a bunny girl and serve some iced milk."
"Yeah. So be quiet today. You'll cause me trouble if your temper goes out of control."
With an immediate "Okay!", Taotie silenced himself.
I immediately slapped my cheeks and apologized to Agito.
"My bad, Agito. It seems that a vile phantom possessed me for a moment. It's just been exorcized, so don't worry and carry on with the date."
"...I don't really care. I've already gotten used to your oddities."
That's a relief. Nothing surprises him. Fortunately, he seemed to think that I was just being my usual foolish self.
(That 'Stupid Evil Spirit'...he just suddenly exclaimed 'Ryuga is mine,' didn't he?)
I don't want to make any more blunders. I don't want Agito's opinion of me to lower.
Keeping my lips shut like a shellfish, I followed behind the two like an attendant.
...Before long, we arrived at the cake restaurant and we secured a four-person table by the window without having to wait.
Ryuuga obviously sat next to me, so Agito sat on the other side. While we got the usual small cake served on a plate, Agito only had coffee in front of him.
(Perhaps he doesn't like sweets that much. If he just said so, I would have gotten something else for him.)
While I was hesitating on whether or not to offer something else...
"...Now then, Hinomori. First off, let me ask directly."
Agito suddenly spoke. He stared right at Ryuuga.
"Why are you pretending to be a guy? What's your reason?"
"You're still going on about that? I'm not pretending. I'm a guy."
Ryuuga gulped down her cake as she replied while irritated. She was eating more crudely than usual, likely trying to act like a guy.
"Well, I will admit that my looks might be on the feminine side, but...let me ask you, why do you so strongly think that I'm a woman?"
"Here's the first thing. I checked your family register. The Hinomori family has an eldest daughter and a second daughter...both women."
Ryuuga and I were astonished when Agito shamelessly declared that.
Is it that easy to look at someone else's family register? Or rather, do people normally go that far?
"Second, you don't attend PE class. You supposedly have been visiting the hospital because you were born with a weak body, but there are no records of such a thing. You probably cooperated with a doctor to create that medical certificate you submitted to the school."
Is this level of investigation normal?
Confidentially speaking, Ryuuga's medical certificate is indeed fake. The local Oumei General Hospital is run by a family who've been acquainted with the Hinomori family for a long time, and have provided some assistance.
It's not strange for them to have a relationship since in Oumei town, apostles are frequent. I've been there twice and received an apostle discount.
"And third, this is the most important one."
"I, Tenryouin Agito, will never lust for a man."
That last reason is completely subjective. Now we're bringing lust into this conversation.
I took a glance at Ryuuga and sure enough, she was taken aback. She was obviously shaken from the receiving a "lust" fastball right after a "family register" and "medical certificate" curveball.
"T, T, Tenryouin! What are you trying to say...?!"
"In my opinion, it would be absurd to think of you as a man. This is the first time in my life that I've thought 'I want to embrace this guy.' So most importantly...I need confirmation that you're a woman."
"L, like I said, I'm a man! I have that thing in my pants!"
"No, you don't."
"You don't. You having a member is absurd."
"I have it! It's a very fine one at that!"
"Then take it out. Show me your member."
Two handsome boys continued their phallic conversation in a cake restaurant mostly occupied by women. I remained still and quietly listened.
Onlookers stared at us and whispered, but Ryuuga didn't seem to care.
"There's something wrong about your investigations! Besides, even if I was a woman, I wouldn't like a guy who snoops around!"
"Human feelings can changes. Even if one's first impression is poor, that can easily be overridden with a small trigger. That's how men and women work."
...As expected from a "romance story" protagonist (I think). His theory is not entirely out of the question.
There are heroines who shun the protagonist at first by saying things like "Who are you?!" and "I hate you!", but gradually grow attached to them...such things are common in love stories.
Basically, a pushy approach may work with girls. After all, it's a common trope.
"Hinomori, One day, you'll fall in love with me. Oh right, let me invite you to a live concert next time. Listening to my rhythms will make your body tingle. That's how female instinct works."
Perhaps there's no use trying to get through to him. Ryuuga, on the verge of tears, whispered to me.
"Ichirou, help...this guy is definitely crazy...why is he so confident? His talk of female instinct...is absolutely disgusting."
"Ryuga, don't diss the other protagonist."
"Hey, now that it's come to this, we have to say it. We have to say that we're going out. Maybe I'll even tell him that we'll move to Canada, where gay marriage is legal, after graduation."
"Wait. Don't be hasty. I'll help you out, so don't force me to move to Canada."
At any rate, now would be a good time to intervene.
I'm not giving Ryuuga to Agito. I'm not going to let their stories cross any longer.
(I need Agito to give up on Ryuga. In exchange, I'll have to give up on being Agito's friend character as well. It's a bit of a shame, but I can't let this go on.)
With a cough, I straightened my posture. Then, I turned towards Agito and was about to firmly make my statement.
──That is, until I looked out the window. I saw a girl walking alone about ten meters away.
Ryuuga probably couldn't see the girl from her angle. Agito didn't seem to notice either and was only staring at Ryuuga.
So, I was the only one who noticed the girl──Yukimiya Shiori.
(Y, Yukimiya? No, that's not right. That's...Tao?!)
My reasoning was simple.
Yukimiya wouldn't carry a patterned furoshiki wrap on her back. She wouldn't restlessly look around the town like that. She wouldn't say "Whoa there~, them's some big buildings," either.TLNFuroshiki are a type of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth normally used to carry items
(She went outside without permission again?! Of all times, she did it now?!)
I can't leave this matter alone. I need to secure this situation.
"Sorry! Excuse me for five minutes!"
When I urgently got up, Ryuuga responded with "What? What?" in a confused manner.
"W, wait, Ichirou. Don't leave me alone with Tenryouin."
"Your story's in a state of emergency. If you don't want to talk to him, order some cake and stall for time. I'll be back until then."
I persuaded a teary-eyed Ryuuga with a whisper and patted her head to cheer her up.
Seeing that, Agito showed an expression of displeasure, but I didn't bother with him and made a mad dash out of the restaurant.
(I don't have much time. I need to catch Tao and tell her not to move until Renie comes to pick her up. Then I'll immediately run back to the restaurant!)
──I hope we don't come across any familiar faces──
I wanted to slap myself for raising such a flag by making that thought earlier.