―Sigh . . . It going to be a busy lunch time soon. It is not the kind of a happy-go-lucky sigh, but it’s because I’ve been feeling depressed lately.
“Kuzuhara-san . . . you’ve been sighing a lot lately, do you have any worries?”
“……Manager . . . There are times when everyone failed, right . . . ?”
While looking at far distance, I asked for the manager’s affirmation. At my sudden question, the manager became slightly confused.
“Well, uhh…… Kuzuhara-san, by chance did you do something but failed?”
I wiped another coffee cup and let out another sigh.
A week has passed since then.
Hazekura-san suddenly hugged me and proposed to me again, but I said something terrible due to agitation. But as the time passed by, I gradually calmed down and it may be exaggerated for me to say that I fell into self-loathing.
I think what Hazekura-san did was too much. Still, I wish I hadn’t rejected him like that . . .
……No, no, it’s not that I think that it’s nice to care about a person I don’t like. No matter how many times I think about it, I just can’t dispel this feeling.
In order to change my depressed mood, I decided to pa.s.s by a pastry shop to buy my favorite pudding on my way home. The shop’s pudding is not the thick and creamy one that is popular these days but the old-fashioned glutinous one. It is also moderately sweet, and if one would eat it with the caramel sauce below it, the combination of the sweetness and slight bitterness makes it exquisitely delicious. I was able to buy the pudding and resumed going back home.
But where does this burdensome feeling of guilt for Hazekura-san spring from? Thinking a little about it, I could not find the answer.
Well, whatever…… There’s no point in thinking about the things that I don’t understand. Banishing these thoughts out of my mind, I opened the door a little spiritedly.
When I opened the door of our house and passed by the entryway, I saw something that should not be there and stopped on my tracks. Neatly arranged at the narrow entrance, a pair of Japanese sandals―
No way…… No way, no way……!
“Ah, Kano! Hazekura-san is here.”
I heard the pitter-patter of Mother’s slippers in the hallway.
“……Wh-Why? Why did he come here……?”
Standing by the entryway, I was finally able to speak.
“He came here to especially deliver the handkerchief you dropped at the temple during the death anniversary. Hurry, go to the parlour and thank him! I will go to the supermarket’s time sale, so I will leave everything to you!”
Mother handed me the handkerchief and quickly rushed out of the house.
“…………You must be kidding……”
Putting my hands on the stile of the entrance, I hung my head in low spirits. What’s with this plot twist? I really wanted to apologize to him for saying too much. But why did this person suddenly come to visit our house?
Truth be told, this person’s behavior is way beyond my expectation. Nonetheless, I cannot ignore him who came here to return something I forgot despite his busy schedule.
I took a deep breath and headed towards the parlour. I opened the sliding door loudly, and my eyes met with Hazekura-san, who was sitting properly [T/N: “seiza”] and was wearing the same outfit he wore during the Bon festival.
The moment Hazekura-san laid his eyes on me, he removed his hands from the tea table and placed it on his side, then bowed his head towards me.
I was taken aback by Hazekura-san’s sudden action.
“I am very sorry for what I did the other day. If I ever hurt your feelings, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I am sorry.”
When I vividly remembered the time he hugged me, my heart rate increased. When I somehow calmed down, I also sat in the tatami mat. I put the shopping bag aside and looked at Hazekura-san who lowered his head.
In the past few days, I had a negative impression about Hazekura-san. And yet, when he bowed his head seriously like this, some kind of emotional feeling welled up from within me.
I felt disappointed at myself for being a soft woman. But it is also true that I’ve always felt gloomy. That’s why I will use this opportunity to apologize. That way, I will definitely feel better.
I took a deep breath again and spoke to Hazekura-san calmly.
“Hazekura-san, please raise your head…… I also wanted to apologize because I vehemently said some rude things to you that day. I’m sorry for saying cruel things. But―”
Hazekura-san raised his head and looked at me.
“I really cannot marry you.”
“……Why, if I may ask?”
“We don’t know each other well, and I can’t feel the sense of reality when you suddenly asked me to become your wife. Besides, I am not that knowledgeable about the circumstances of the temple, so isn’t it more appropriate for Hazekura-san to marry a woman who has more education than a woman who does not know anything like myself? That’s why……”
“A woman suitable for me, huh……”
Hazekura-san who was silently listening to me turned his eyes outside the window and muttered.
“I can’t think of marrying anyone except you, Kano-san. So if I can’t marry you, then I will remain a bachelor throughout my life.” [T/N: Dibs! I volunteer as tribute!]
“Eh? Hey, that’s an exaggeration.”
“It’s not an exaggeration. That’s how special you are to me. I’ve said it many times, Kano-san.”
Speechless, I could only gape when I heard Hazekura-san’s reply.
What should I do…? I can’t make myself understood…… Rather, it doesn’t feel like both of our assertions differ from each other, but . . . if I keep on telling him what I feel right now, won’t we just go around in circles……?
Then, Hazekura-san averted his eyes from me, who was perplexed, and bitterly smiled.
“But, it was indeed too hasty to marry someone as soon as you met them. Kano-san, I think that you are confused and do not believe me. I have reflected on that point.”
Yes, that’s right! The moment the mist in my heart has cleared, I looked at Hazekura-san with a relaxed expression. Seeing me in that state, Hazekura-san smiled broadly.
“And so I have one suggestion…… For the time being, why don’t we get to know each other?”
“In other words, why don’t you date me first without the intention of marriage?”
After coming to an agreement, we returned to the beginning again!
……But wait. Had he not told me suddenly to “marry him”, the situation could have been different. Again, I reassessed Hazekura-san, who was in front of me, as a man. He is tall and has handsome looks. Looking at him objectively, he is gentle-mannered, implying that he is a good person. However on the inside, he is assertive and does not listen to other people. Which is quite bothersome.
But even though he had been rejected many times, he came up with a new proposal in order to be in a relationship with me. Doesn’t it show that his feelings for me is strong? [T/N: Intense, rather.]
To tell the truth, I don’t know why he felt that way to me. It’s just that I am a little curious. I wonder what he has seen in me……
As I think about the proposal, Hazekura-san waited for my reply in silence. Raising my face, I decided to deal with him.
“……Is it really okay not to consider marriage?”
His handsome face broke into a wide smile.
“Got it. Then . . . let’s date. Please take care of me.”
Towards me who accepted his proposal nervously, Hazekura-san’s expression softened and smiled radiantly. [T/N: A cat got its cream XD]
“Thank you. If you still refused me even with this, then there will be no more hope for me. That’s why I am relieved.”
“No, it’s true. It really feels painful to be hated by you.”
Hazekura-san’s relaxed smile is fascinating to look at. His relaxed eyebrows, his straight nose and almond eyes. His pearly white teeth peeking from his thin lips…… This person is definitely good-looking.
While having such thoughts, I suddenly remembered that we are alone in the house. At that moment, I became strangely conscious of Hazekura-san and my heart started beating erratically.
“Kano-san, is something the matter?”
Perhaps sensing some tension from me, Hazekura-san inquired.
“No, it’s, it’s nothing.”
I desperately pretended to be calm in order not to recognize this excitement in my heart. Around this time, I caught sight of the shopping bag of pudding I bought.
“Uh . . . Uhm, Hazekura-san, do you like pudding?”
“Yes, this pudding is very delicious. I wanted to eat it for a long time, so I bought some on my way home.”
Pudding…… Will Hazekura-san eat it……?
I grabbed the shopping bag from my side and presented it.
“Kano-san, do you like pudding?”
“Yes. Aside from pudding, there are also agar-agar, youkan and kudzu starch noodles. I like those food that have a smooth texture.”
“Now that you mention it, the mizu youkan you gave away as a token last time was also very delicious.”
Hazekura-san smiled. Seeing his smile, my heart broke a little. Although I’ve decided to go out with him, I still treated Hazekura-san too coldheartedly. So why is this person smiling at me with such kind expression? Is because he is broadminded or very persevering……?
“……Would like to have a pudding?”
When I asked, Hazekura-san’s eyes widened in surprise for some reason.
“Ah, could it be that you could not eat…..”
“I have restrictions during my training, but I am not training right now so it’s okay. Then, I will accept it.”
Hazekura-san broke into a delighted smile that I have never seen before. Caught up in his smile again, I abruptly stood up.
“Then, please wait a moment.”
I headed to the kitchen in a hurry, prepared a new tea and moistened hand towel and returned to the parlour. I then placed them in front of Hazekura-san, together with the pudding I took out from the shopping bag.
“Please help yourself.”
Hazekura-san began to eat the pudding gracefully.
“……Indeed, it is smooth and tasty. The flavor of the egg is strong . . . It is very delicious.”
As he said that, he gently smiled.
“It’s good. I also like its taste very much.”
I also took a bite of pudding. While doing so, my attention went to Hazekura-san’s hands. He really has beautiful hands……
Speaking of which, I was also fascinated with this person’s hands when we first met at the Bon festival. Those hands that touched me, that hugged me……
Remembering those memories, I could not look at Hazekura-san because of embarrassment. We were eating pudding in silence when Hazekura-san, who finished eating pudding first, spoke to me.
“Since we’ve decided to date each other, would you like to go out with me somewhere?”
Having been invited to a date, my hand stopped from scooping pudding.
“Uhm, s-so soon?”
“Yes. I think it’s better for you to get to know me as soon as possible.”
Hazekura-san plainly said in a soft tone.
―Wh-what should I do……? Well, what he said was right, if we suddenly go out together, what are we going to talk about……?
To me who was having bewildering thoughts, Hazekura-san smiled and came with a suggestion.
“Let’s see. Why don’t we go out for a couple of hours on your day off, Kano-san? Let’s go eat some delicious anmitsu.”
I unconsciously looked up and muttered. When our eyes met, he beamed at me.
Anmitsu, huh…… I haven’t eaten it for quite some time. Ugh, I’m so weak against anko (red bean paste), aren’t I?
Moreover, I am interested about Hazekura-san’s recommendation……! Aren’t I too simple to be easily beguiled by such food?
Though it doesn’t feel that way.
Hazekura-san, I think you know my weaknesses well.
In the end, I’ve lost to my cravings and accepted the date. But it doesn’t look bad. Instead of being hasty and pushy like in the past, he certainly understood and decided to move along with my pace. Since I did not turn him down, I might as well face him and get to know him.
Thinking that way, I nodded in agreement.
“Thank you, Kano-san. I’m sorry to trouble you, but can you tell me your contact address?”
Oh, yeah. Obviously, it will be open for our families to see if we contact each other through the landline phone, so I took a memo notepad from my bag, wrote my phone number and email address, tore the page then handed it to Hazekura-san.
“Do you have a mobile phone, Hazekura-san?”
Hazekura-san chuckled at my question.
“Of course. Depending on the situation of my work, I may not be able to contact you soon, but even if there may be times when I keep you waiting for a reply, I will still contact you.”
After saying that, Hazekura-san quickly stood.
I also headed to the entrance for the sake of sending him off, but I suddenly remembered that I did not say thank you for the handkerchief.
“Oh, Hazekura-san, thank you for delivering the handkerchief.”
When I quickly bowed my head in gratitude, Hazekura-san stopped in his tracks.
Hazekura-san calmly turned around and stood before me. And then, looked straight back at me.
“That day, the moment I saw you getting up from your seat, I knew it was my chance so I lay in wait to surprise you. I’m sure you dropped it during that time. I noticed the handkerchief and immediately went to the banquet to return it, but you already went home.”
Hazekura-san, who was reminiscing that time, became silent for some reason. Then, turning down his eyes as if in hesitation, he continued.
“Actually, I could have handed it to your family. But instead, I used it as an excuse because I wanted to see you again.”
“I truly like you from the bottom of my heart.”
I gasped at the expression of Hazekura-san who was more serious that ever.
“If I could, I would have embraced you in my arms. But if it’s going to be the same as before, I’d rather stop.”
After saying it with a smile, Hazekura-san said, “Well then”, bowed and went home.
The moment Hazekura-san’s figure disappeared, I felt exhausted and sat down at the entrance.
His confession a while ago has begun to work like a body blow. Hazekura-san had confessed to me many times, but I felt somewhat more surprised and discomfited this time. However, today he told me in a serious and straightforward manner.
What should I do? My heart won’t stop pounding……!
With us dating each other, is my heart going to be alright?
With confusion and anxiety, I waited for that day to come.
A few days later.
The interphone of the house rang perfectly at the designated time in the afternoon.
I, who sat restlessly in the living room, went to open the door of our house in haste. Hazekura-san was standing there, smiling.
“Good afternoon, Kano-san. Shall we go?”
It was not the hybrid car I’ve seen before but a locally produced SUV.
“This car is different from the previous one, isn’t it?”
“That was the temple’s car. This is mine.”
Opening the door of the familiar passenger seat, Hazekura-san waited for me to get on.
“Don’t mention it.”
It was my first time being treated like a woman like this……
Hazekura-san contacted me last night. I just came home from work and I almost unconsciously dropped my smart phone out of shock. When I told him when he asked me about my day off, Hazekura-san said he has to work in the evening. When I said that it is fine with me to meet at another time if he is busy, he apologized for being busy with work and pushed to go ahead with today’s date.
Hazekura-san, who has work by nightfall, is in his monk’s clothes even today.
“Even though it is our first date, we could not do it comfortably. I’m sorry.”
He suddenly apologized, smiling bitterly.
“No, please do not mind. So, where are going now?”
“My home town is about thirty minutes away from here by car, and there is a long established Japanese-style confectionery shop that my family patronizes. The sweets they serve are delicious.”
Hazekura-san smoothly set the car in motion, grinning while keeping his eyes on the road.
I can’t imagine a man eating sweets, though……
“Hazekura-san, do you often eat sweets?”
When I asked, Hazekura-san laughed.
“I do. I do not eat so much pastries with a lot of cream, but the agar-agar and kuzu mochi I’ve been eating since I was a child, I like them.”
Hmmm, I see. Since he was a child, huh……
“Hazekura-san, have you ever thought of having this current job since you were a child?”
“Let’s see. Since I am a child of the temple, it seemed natural for me. I even attended at a Buddhist high school.”
“So it was like that.”
He was very calm. I guess he made the decision since he was a child. While thinking so, I leaned on the passenger seat.
“You finally listened to me. Did you get a little interested about me?”
Hazekura-san who was in the driver’s seat shot me a glance.
“……I wonder if it’s interest. It’s just that I don’t know anything about you.”
Because he pressed me to accept his marriage proposal, I just compromised with going out with him.
“There’s nothing to know. I’m just a Buddhist monk.”
Hazekura-san smiled as he replied, but I don’t think that he is just a monk……! It was my first time to be relentlessly pursued with a marriage proposal by a guy.
“Then, I don’t understand anything about you, Hazekura-san.”
“Is that so? I’m sorry. But I am showing you my real self, Kano-san.”
I somewhat threw a suspicious look at Hazekura-san.
“Yes. Whether wanting to hug you or kiss you, I tell you what I thought.”
Bu-But that’s not what I meant……
I did not know what to say, so I hung my head and stared at my hands on my knees.
“What about you, Kano san?”
“Huh? What is it?”
When I was suddenly spoken to, I briskly turned towards Hazekura-san.
“What are your thoughts about marriage?”
I put myself on guard upon hearing the word “marriage”. Hazekura-san also noticed and hurriedly said, “Ah, I’m sorry. You got it wrong.”
“I have no ulterior motive. I just wanted to know the opinion of women of Kano-san’s age.”
……he said, but even so.
“It’s kind of embarrassing but I haven’t thought about marriage until now.”
I got a glimpse of Hazekura-san’s surprise.
“When I was in my previous relationship with someone, I thought about it a little but…… I got tired of him even before marriage. In the end, we broke up even before we could seriously discuss about marriage. After that, marriage did not cross my mind anymore. Rather, I thought I’d be alone for the rest of my life.”
Oh right, I already gave up on it……
Reminiscing my past while I look at the scenery, Hazekura-san, who was silently listening to me, muttered.
“Did you care so much about your ex-boyfriend?”
“No…… He was a very ordinary office worker. However, he increased his demands for me while we dated, and I got tired of meeting his demands.”
“……What kind of demands?”
I somewhat winced at Hazekura-san’s probing questions.
“Well, err, uhm…… How should I say it? Even if I do not say it clearly, you know what the other person was asking for. When I was with him, it felt better when I act cheerful, but when I became exhausted, I end our date early. Maybe, I thought it can be done naturally with someone you like so much but……”
“Even so, you did not come to like him?”
“……Well, I guess that was the case.”
When I tried to clarify the ambiguous part, I nodded while smiling wryly.
“When we were together, we only became more and more dissatisfied, and both he and I were unhappy. That’s why if ever we got married, I think it would have been difficult if we were not thoughtful about the other person.”
“Is that why you said it is impossible for you to marry me when we just met?”
Hazekura-san, who has still his eyes on the road, asked in his usual calm voice.
“……Yeah. I still don’t know you quite well, Hazekura-san, and until the other day, I was a little troubled when you were quite pushy. But I think you are a nice person. For now, that’s all.”
Mixing in my real thoughts a bit, I cheerfully told him which I also thought was strange.
“So you do not dislike me?”
“Hmm, well. It’s strange. I don’t feel any hatred……”
Hearing my reply, Hazekura-san smiled in relief.
“Then since you don’t hate me, I think there is still hope for me.”
“We’re going to arrive soon.”
As he smoothly diverted the topic, I gazed at his side profile absentmindedly, feeling let down.
―This guy, I guess I can’t really let my guard down……
While I silently lamented, we arrived at our destination.
At first I was a little worried how I am going to talk with this person, but it was better than what I thought. Or rather, our conversation was smooth and very comfortable.
“This is the Japanese confectionery shop.”
Hazekura-san told me that it was a large Japanese-style shop in a corner of a quiet residential area. The old signage that says “Ikemoto-ya” gave a historical feel, and it looked like a well-established store.
As soon as we entered the store, the shop assistant greeted us. Moreover, that person lowered his/her head and approached us, carrying goods encased in a fine glass case. Fresh Japanese sweets such as youkan and kuzu mochi, and baked goods such as dorayaki are arranged in order. A gasp of admiration unconsciously escaped my lips when I saw the brightly colored high-grade Japanese fresh confections arranged into a flower motif.
―So pretty! Looks delicious~! Just looking at it is fun. While I was sticking close to the glass case, Hazekura-san watched me tenderly, who can’t take my eyes off it.
“Since it is close to our house, I often buy the sweets here as a gift. Will you buy something before you go home?”
“Yes. I will.”
My mother is going to be pleased if I buy her favorite sweets as a souvenir. While thinking of such a thing, Hazekura-san and I were led inside the store by the shop assistant. It seems that there is an area inside where one can eat sweets and drink tea. However, Hazekura-san gave the shop assistant a meaningful look and kept on following the shop assistance further inside the store.
“I have arranged it in advance.”
Hazekura-san said and offered me a reserved seat that was separated from the tea drinking corner with a screen. Although it is a reserved seat, it was an ordinary seat among the four-seat wooden table set. From the seat facing the large window, one can have an unbroken view of a Japanese garden full of greenery. Having the luxury of drinking tea while watching a wonderful scenery, I was in a good mood.
Every item in the menu looked delicious and I was wondering what to order, but I decided to try the white anmitsu that was recommended to me. Hazekura-san ordered zenzai and handed back the menu to the shop assistant.
But what is this…… I’m still fine just a while ago, but I got nervous the moment we were left alone. This sort of date . . . No, it is a date but it’s been a long time . . .
When I stared blankly as I don’t have any clue how to begin the conversation, our eyes met. I darted my eyes somewhere, causing Hazekura-san to smile bitterly.
“Please do no get tensed. Although I am reaping what I sow, it still hurts.”
“Ah, I’m sorry. I did not intend to……”
A beautiful woman, with her long black hair tied together behind her, came to our table, smiling radiantly. Looking at her, it seems like she is around the same age as me.
But more importantly, this person, did she call Hazekura-san “Soushun-san”? Is Hazekura-san’s given name “Soushun”? Although I don’t know much about him yet, it is a little shocking to think that I did not know his given name.
“Thank you for always patronizing our store. The other day’s sermon was very interesting. Please tell us more stories.”
The beautiful shop assistant spoke joyfully while looking at Hazekura-san.
“No, it is I who should say thank you. The schedule of the events in the temple is posted on our homepage, please come and visit if you like.”
“Yes. I’ll certainly do.”
The smiling beauty did not totally notice my existence……. But I wonder how she forced her way in. Well, whatever . . . I took a sip of my roasted green tea.
“Kano-san, this is the shop owner’s daughter. She is also a parishioner of our temple.”
The lady Hazekura-san introduced turned towards me for the first time and elegantly smiled.
“Welcome……. Hazekura-san, this lady is……”
“She is the one I am dating right now.”
I almost blew the roasted green tea out of my mouth.
“Eh…… Is she Soushun-san’s girlfriend……?”
The shop owner’s complexion paled. But whether he is aware of her situation or not, Hazekura-san happily continued.
“She is the one I’d like to share my future with…… which I fervently hope. The woman I love.”
Hazekura-san clearly told her with a smile.
Besides, phrasing it that way, it sounds like we are going to get married. I was rendered speechless, my mouth gaping in surprise. The shop owner’s daughter also stiffened and only stared at Hazekura-san……!!
“E…… Excuse me……”
The lady who finally was able to speak staggered back into the store.
“Hazekura-san…… Aren’t you a little harsh? That lady probably likes you, right? You……”
“Yes, I knew.” Hazekura-san nonchalantly replied.
“To be honest, there have been a few marriage talks involving that lady but I refused it every time. It was a good opportunity, and I hope she gives up from now on.”
“……So you used me.”
When I cast him a sharp glance, he smiled bitterly, his expression seemed troubled.
“I absolutely did not use you. You are my only fiancee. I only told her the truth.”
“I am not your fiancee!”
Hazekura-san beamed at me, looking completely unperturbed with my rebuttal. Damn, I really cannot drop my guard when I’m with him……!!
After that, the white anmitsu and zenzai was delivered by a different shop assistant. The moment I saw the anmitsu in front of me, a big smile appeared on my face as expected.
I could not wait and immediately got a spoon and took a bite of agar-agar in brown sugar syrup.
It was really delicious. I ate one spoonful after another.
The slick white ball was doughy and has the right firmness. The anko has the refined sweetness of red beans. The richness and sweetness of the brown sugar syrup complemented it very well.
“I’m glad. The zenzai is also delicious.”
In front of me, who was enjoying the anmitsu, Hazekura-san was eating zenzai as gracefully as ever.
“In preparation for my work after this, I am now eating a hearty meal.”
“Th-Thanks for the hard work…… By the way, what do you do on your day off, Hazekura-san?”
“Day off…… Well, it’s either I take a lot of reading or go somewhere by car…… Oh, I randomly go to museums and art galleries. Basically, I go out alone on my own.”
……I think, that it is more like him. Hazekura-san going to museum looks fitting.
“And you, Kano-san?”
“Hmm, it isn’t a hobby but I like electric appliances. So I often go to home electronics retail stores.”
I could have lied, but I decided to answer honestly. Then Hazekura-san, who seemed surprised, stopped moving his chopsticks for a while.
“That is also surprising.”
“Did you think that because my name is ‘Kano’, all I admire are flowers?”
Fufu, I laughed and Hazekura-san had a happy expression that I have never seen before.
“I am happy to know a new side of you, and I am also happy to see your cute smile.”
Again―! How can this man say such an embarrassing line with composure……..?
Not wanting for him to see the accumulation of heat on my face, I inadvertently covered my face with my hand.
“……Please do not say embarrassing lines.”
“I’ve told you what I honestly thought.”
Hazekura-san, who wanted to marry me, said. However, he carefully takes care of me and even made the maximum compromise. But I wonder if we’re going to date like this as it is. If there is no possibility of marriage, dating itself will be a waste of time. If that’s the case, I think it’s really better if I just refused him from the start…..
I stared right back at him, slowly releasing my hands covering my face.
“…..I agreed that we will date, but I could not really think about marriage at all…… Won’t you regret dating a stubborn woman who does not like marriage?”
Hazekura-san gave me a gentle smile in return.
“You still don’t understand. How happy I am being with you right now. Besides, even if you are stubborn and unwilling, the fact that I like you will not change. I don’t regret it.”
Far from being regretful, I could only gape at him after hearing the depth of his feelings. We were staring at each other in silence when we heard a vibrating sound.
“Excuse me, I will take this call.”
Hzaekura-san confirmed that it was his phone, and he suddenly lowered his head and stood up. Left alone, I pondered on what Hazekura-san told me as I ate the anmitsu.
What an astonishing confession of love. My ex-boyfriend never said such a thing. With the current feelings I have I wonder if I can respond to him in the same way……
I was called out while I was deep in my thoughts. When I raised my face, the shop owner’s daughter was standing in front of me.
“I’m sorry for interrupting your meal. I am sorry for not properly greeting you earlier. I am Ikemoto Hatsumi.”
As she said so, she slowly lowered her head. Flustered, I put away the spoon, turned towards Ikemoto-san and bowed.
“No need to apologize. I am Kuzuhara Kano. The white anmitsu is super delicious.”
“Thank you very much . . . Uhm, Soushun-san……”
With a smile, Ikemoto-san’s eyes wandered around in search for Hazekura-san.
“Hazekura-san stepped outside to answer a phone call.”
“Is that so…… I know it’s rude to ask but are you and Hazekura-san, uhm . . . are you guys dating…?” Ikemoto-san asked.
“Err, yes. We are dating…… Ah, but still with no intention of marriage.”
After all, I still don’t fully understand and I am still not sure with my feelings. Hearing my answer, Ikemoto-san’s eyebrows deeply furrowed.
“……Eh? But earlier, Soushun-san……”
That’s why I don’t want to say anything. Because of Hazekura-san, it became confusing.
“We’ve been thinking about marriage but we are still not engaged, or something like that.”
Ikemoto-san looked stunned for a moment, then showed her obvious dejection afterwards.
“……I-Is that so……. Even if you are not engaged, you will eventually get married……”
Shoot! Perhaps it was better to keep silent about marriage……
“I’m sorry. Uhm, Ikemoto-san, towards Hazekura-san……”
Ikemoto-san showed a sad expression and nodded.
“I have admired him since I was still a student. I felt shy so I could not do anything, but my father, who noticed it, brought up the topic about omiai to Soushun-san several times. However, because Soushun-san said that he has already someone he likes, he will not accept any omiai. I bet it was you, Kuzuhara-san.”
“Eh……? But we’ve only met just recently, and since that is the case, I think he meant another person……”
After disclosing such information, Ikemoto-san fell silent.
When I called her out after not saying anything, Ikemoto-san smiled sweetly.
“Kuzuhara-san, Soushun-san is a wonderful person. He is handsome, and his character is also very good. You might feel that it is difficult to become a bride of a temple, but please support Soushun-san.”
Wait, wait a moment! Somehow it sounds like I am Hazekura-san’s fiancee, but you’re mistaken!
“Err, Ikemoto-san, I……”
I was about to rectify her but I was interrupted by a sexy low voice.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
Finally, the person concerned is here. Hazekura-san! Do something about her misunderstanding!
When I tried to hurriedly explain the situation, Hazekura-san, who took a seat, shook his head.
“Hatsumi-san, the zenzai is delicious. The azuki beans are tasty as usual.”
Ehhh?! Suddenly diverting the conversation?!!
“Thank you. Even if you become married, please come and visit from time to time to eat sweets.”
Ikemoto-san smiled at us.
Like I said, wait~~! We are not engaged~~!!
“I’d like to relax a bit more but . . . we should leave soon, Kano-san.”
Before I knew it, Hazekura-san, who gracefully ate zenzai, suggested with a smile.
“I’d like to give this sweets as a souvenir to her… Between mizu youkan and kuzu mochi, which do you prefer, Kano-san?”
“I like kuzu mochi better……”
“Then, Hatsumi-san, could you pack some kuzu mochi?”
No, that’s not it! This person, he perfectly knew what I meant but he deftly ignored me……!!
I glared at Hazekura-san, who stood up from his chair and talked to Ikemoto-san, with grievance.
Th-This sly fox…!!
Leaving the store by Hazekura-san’s car, I glared at him. However, Hazekura-san’s almost hateful calm demeanor did not change.
“Why didn’t you dispel Ikemoto-san’s misunderstanding? Far from getting married, we aren’t even engaged!”
“But I always wanted to marry you.”
Hazekura-san said while driving. Sigh, how many times did we talk about this……
“It’s your own feelings! How about mine? Didn’t you suggest that I do not have to think about marriage while we are dating?! What you are saying right now is different!”
“That’s not true. What I said was not a lie. To marry you is my ultimate wish. It’s okay if you ignore it.”
“Again, saying such things…… When you frankly say that you want to marry me, it’s impossible for me to ignore it……”
When I hung my head dejectedly and let out a big sigh, he extended his hand and grasped my right hand tightly. At that sudden contact, my body jolted in surprise.
.”If you don’t like it, please run away.”
“If you don’t dislike it, then just leave it as it is.”
Hazekura-san showed me a slight smile and looked again in front.
……So frustrating. It somehow felt like I was always cajoled by that smile. His big and warm, graceful hand―
As he said, if I truly dislike it, I should fling off his hand. But……
The trouble is, I do not dislike it.
I know that it is quite contradictory when I am complaining about it a lot, but I can’t help it…… Because I was fascinated by this hand ever since I first saw it.
Looking at me with eyes wide with surprise, Hazekura-san tightened his grip on my hand.
―What should I do? Did he notice……?!
“P-Please release my hand……!!”
I was surprised at Hazekura-san’s reply, who was usually using honorific speech.
Hazekura-san parked the car in the parking lot of a big park that we happened to pass by, and turned towards me.
“Kano-san, why is your face red?”
“Are you conscious of me?”
Unable to endure it any longer, I forcefully grabbed my hand. However, Hazekura-san removed his seatbelt and closed the distance between us. Then, he seriously looked at me.
“Kano-san, I like you. I really, really like you. It sounds strange to hear such thing from a person who is living a religious life. However, my heart is beating for you ever since that summer day.”
Hazekura-san said it with a serious expression, and I couldn’t move after seeing Hazekura-san’s face. At such state, my body was then gently hugged by Hazekura-san. The scent of the incense a.s.sailed my nose.
“I love you.”
I blanked out upon hearing the confession of love he whispered in my ear. Hazekura-san then moved a little away from me, and chuckled when he saw my dazed state. He pushed my bangs away from my forehead and planted a kiss there. Then slowly released his lips and hugged me tightly again.
“Really, so lovable.”
I-I’m past my limit……!! I can see steam coming out of my body.
I put my hands on Hazekura-san’s chest and pushed him back.
“……P-Please release me-…… Hazekura-san, you’re supposed to go to work, right?”
I was finally able to speak. Hazekura-san checked his watch and muttered, “Ah, not good,” before finally releasing me.
My heart is beating intensely right now. It was not very casual, but I am sure.
O-Oh, jeez…… I want to get away from this situation as soon as possible. I want to escape~~~……!!
Hazekura-san, who started the engine again, suddenly called out my name, and my back muscles became taut with a start.
“If it’s amenable to you, can we meet again whenever it is convenient for you? During that time, I will come to pick you up again.”
“Huh, no, it’s fine! I know you’re busy.”
“I want to see you.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Alright. I will contact you again……”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
Hazekura-san smiled delightedly. Really, this smile of his is dangerous.
Oh, that’s right.
“Hazekura-san’s name is Soushun, isn’t it?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I failed to mention it even though we’ve seen each other many times.”
“My name is Hazekura Soushun. Originally, it was read as ‘Munetoshi’ in Kunyomi, but I changed its reading to Onyomi after becoming a monk.”
“……Somehow, that name sounds charming……”
“Haha. I am a son of the temple. They probably gave me this name while thinking of my future.”
Having his future decided when he was born, I guess it was hard. While I spent my life without a care for the future, Hazekura-san had spent his life with his future in mind ever since he was a child. He trained and legitimately became a monk. He does his work properly. Isn’t he amazing……? I thought of such things absentmindedly as I looked at the scenery outside the window.
“Well, seems like our delightful time is going to be over.”
When I noticed it, we’re already in front of our house. Hazekura-san parked his car alongside our house and got off the car to open the passenger side door.
I alighted the car and faced Hazekura-san.
“Uhm, thank you very much for your your time despite your busy schedule. The anmitsu was delicious.”
Feeling shy, I thanked him. Well, it was really delicious. Hazekura-san gazed at me and gently smiled.
“No, it was I who should thank you for coming despite my coercive invitation.”
After saying that, he bowed and got into his car again and opened the window of his car.
“See you again, Kano-san.”
Hazekura-san lightly bowed and went home. I stood on the spot and stared vacantly at the direction where Hazekura-san went to.
I felt a sense of relief after being released from that intimacy. It somehow felt like I am being dragged in his pace, but I do not mind. From an objective perspective, I can see that he is being gentle and very careful with me. And now that I became aware that he is an attractive man, my heart races just by being beside him. Being liked by that kind of person . . . feels like a lie . . .
“I love you.”―I remembered Hazekura-san’s low voice.
And just like that, my heart throbbed and my body felt hot. I embraced my heated body, and absentmindedly watched the sky full of stars for a while.
“Sister, you have a smile on your face.”
It was several days after my date with Hazekura-san. While having dinner at home, my brother Tasuku stopped moving his chopsticks and looked at me with suspicion.
“Eh? My face? Really……?”
It seems that I myself was not particularly conscious that my expression softened. I put my hands on my face.
“You’re creepy. Did something happen?”
“Nothing in particular.”
I calmly answered but―I’m sorry, but it is a lie.
The reason why I broke into a smile . . . was because of my recent interaction with Hazekura-san.
On the night of our date, Hazekura-san immediately sent me a mail.
『Kano-san, when is your next day off?』
So soon! As I thought of that, I informed him of my usual schedule. Then he wrote this in his reply.
『Even though we just saw each other a few hours ago, I can’t wait to see you again. Please don’t laugh at this impatient monk. Thinking of you as I go to bed, I hope I’ll meet you in my dreams. Good night. Sweet dreams.』
The moment I read his text, I who was sitting on my bed, groaned and fell on the futon.
―Is there someone who still sends this kind of mail these days?! That man, why does he keep on spouting such embarrassing things? I really don’t understand.
Although I was vehemently complaining in my head, I knew that my face is red.
From that moment, our mail exchanges continued and also talked over the phone whenever both of us are free.
『I’m sorry for calling you at night. I really wanted to hear your voice.』
Due to the first words he said, I didn’t know what to reply so I got speechless.
“Hazekura-san, please don’t tease me with embarrassing words everytime you send me a mail or talk to me on the phone.”
Worried for his response, I cautioned him lightly.
『Could you please tell me the part that is embarrassing?』
『Anyway, we will meet tomorrow and I wonder if you’d like to have a meal?』
“Ah, yes. I’m fine with it. I do not have any favorite foods or disliked foods, but your favorite food is……?”
During that time, I thought I heard Hazekura-san laugh at the other line.
“Is there something wrong?”
『No…… Coming from you who told me not to appear in front of you again, it felt like a dream to arrange a date with you like this. Once in a while, I doubt if this is the reality.』
“That’s…… It’s because you keep on saying that you want to marry me as soon as we meet, Hazekura-san……!”
Recalling the events, my face reddened again. Thankfully, we’re on the phone. Because he can’t see my red face.
『You’re right. I’m sorry for being forward. I shall contact you as soon as the details are decided. Well then, good night, Kano-san.』
“Yeah, good night.”
Every time, we have this kind of conversation. Hazekura-san would get in touch with me everyday in between his busy schedule. I feel so embarrassed every time, but I would find myself wondering what kind of mails will he send me today, or waiting for a phone call. We are not in a relationship yet, but I am enjoying this violent excitement in my heart that I am experiencing after a while more than I thought.