Yuigahama crammed the cake in her mouth and let out a deep sigh of appreciation.
“Mmm, Yukinon’s homemade cake is so yum!”
“Really? I’m glad you’re happy with it.”
“It really is yummy!” Komachi insisted. “Yukino-san, you can afford to get married! Right, onii-cha-?” Right then, a loud sound roared next door. “Yikes!”
“Not again…” A bit fed up now, I gazed sharply up at the ceiling. “They’re kinda loud next door.”
But Totsuka shrugged with a strained smile. “Yeah, they are. But karaoke is noisy no matter what you do… ah, does this have peach in it?”
“Yes. The good ones are in stock now,” Yukinoshita replied.
Actually, the fresh peaches were a top class flavouring used lavishly in Yukinoshita’s cake. As Zaimokuza gobbled down that delicious cake with relish, he launched into a slow rant.
“Hachiman, the peach was once treasured in Ancient China as a secret medicine for perpetual youth. It is a truly auspicious food, you know?”
“Ohhh, cool story, but why are you only saying that to me? Ah, but I totally understand your feelings.”
“Anyway, Yukino-san’s cooking is amazing,” Komachi said, visibly impressed.
Yukinoshita responded with neither self-importance nor modesty, but with total coolness. “Not to that extent. After all, Komachi-san, you do the cooking at your house, I believe?”
“Yeppppp, both our parents work so I do the cooking. Ah, but when we were little my brother did it.”
At that, Yuigahama jumped in exaggerated surprise. “Huuuuh?! Hikki did?!”
“Yeah,” I said. “It was too dangerous for her to use sharp tools and the fire until the end of elementary school. That’s why I can boast the most distinguished cooking skills among sixth graders in the country.”
“What a questionable thing to be proud over…” Yukinoshita said uneasily in reaction.
It wasn’t questionable – it was a reputable achievement.
“Come to think of it, if I’m at a sixth grader’s level I can do pretty much all the housework. I’m ready to become a house husband any time! I will not work! To work is to lose!” I declared loudly.
Yukinoshita pressed her hand against her forehead gingerly as if all this was giving her a headache. “Yet again you mouth off with your rotten eyes…”
“I see, Hikki can cook as well. I’ve gotta learn how to do it too…” Then Yuigahama started muttering something. “I still haven’t given him the cookies…”
“Ah, the subject of cooking reminded me.” Yukinoshita pulled something out of her schoolbag with a rustling sound and handed it over to Yuigahama. “Here, Yuigahama-san.”
“Eh? W-what’s this?”
“It’s your birthday present. I don’t know if it matches your interests, but…”
“Ah,” I said, “that thing you searched relentlessly for by reading the type of dumbass magazine you don’t understand and would normally never touch,” I said.
Yukinoshita glared at me sharply. Scary. “Spare me the running commentary.”
“Yukinon, you got this for me… thank you. Can I open it?”
“Oh, yes… go ahead at your leisure.”
Flashing the slightly embarrassed Yukinoshita an overtly brightly smile, Yuigahama undid the wrapping.
“An apron… uh, um, thank you! I appreciate it so much!”
Gazing at Yuigahama’s sincerely happy expression, Yukinoshita’s face cleared with relief. “I’d be happier if you used it rather than hung it up somewhere to show your appreciation.”
“Okay! I’ll appreciate it by using it.”
“Okay, my turn.” As he watched the exchange between the two girls, Totsuka searched his schoolbag. “Here. Yuigahama-san, you always tie up your hair, right? So here’s a hair clip.”
“Sai-chan, thank you! And whoa, this is really cute. You’re more into girly stuff than me…”
“Now then, here’s mine.” Komachi, who seemed to have waited precisely for this moment, took out a neatly wrapped present from her schoolbag. “Here, it’s a photo stand.”
“Thank you too, Komachi-chan!”
“Honestly, I wanted to put a photo inside it too, but in all the photos he’s got rotten eyes… maybe he’s not very photogenic?”
“Ahh, so his eyes are rotten even in the photos… wait, I really don’t want his photo!”
So Yuigahama said, but she really did look happy.
As the chain went around, Zaimokuza, who had been watching in silence, suddenly scratched his head. “Hmph. This won’t do. Since this was sudden for me, I have not made any preparations.”
Well, it was out of the blue. In fact, it would be creepy if he had prepared something. As if she thought the same way, Yuigahama smiled lightly and offered him warm words.
“You really don’t have to worry about it?”
“And thus! You may sign my freshly written manuscript.”
“You really don’t have to worry about it…”
She uttered the exact same words, but the chilliness was at absolute zero.
“Oof, what is this rejection, urrk. In that case, I’ll give you My Choice: 100 Anime Songs CD-R.”
As soon as I heard that, I grasped Zaimokuza’s shoulders without thinking and drew him to a halt. “Stop it, Zaimokuza. Just stop it.”
“Ohh, w-why? It is not like you to stop me so tearfully.”
Zaimokuza looked over his shoulders at me with utter non-comprehension drawn across his face.
“It can’t be helped. I’ll tell you… this story comes from a friend of a friend…”
“S-somehow, I feel like I’ve heard this before…” Yuigahama looked disturbed.
In spite of that, I began the tale.
“Back in middle school, there was a girl he liked. She was a cute, music-loving girl who belonged to the wind instrument club. On that girl’s birthday, my friend summoned his courage and gave her a present. For that music-loving girl, he stayed up all night compiling a bunch of anime songs to recommend. He paid careful attention to the song selection. They were not too otaku-ish, and he even had the foresight to slip in love songs from the ranking chart at the time.”
“Hmm, he had an admirable spirit.”
“I can see a twist coming, though…”
Zaimokuza and Yukinoshita both said something, but the real heart of the story was yet to come.
“His present was accepted, and my friend almost cried with joy. But tragedy occurred the next day. At lunch time, there issued from the school’s PA system the stylish song intro the broadcast committee chose: ‘Aaaand the next song was requested by Class 2C’s Otagaya Hachiman-kun (snicker), a love song (snicker) for Yamashita-san!’”
“That’s enough! Stop it now, Hachimaaaaan!”
Zaimokuza caught me swiftly in his arms. As I stayed in his embrace, the tears flowed out of me. Yuigahama averted her eyes to avoid getting a square look at that scene.
“So it was Hikki’s story after all…”
“You fool! It’s not my story at all! It’s Otagaya-kun’s story!”
Not a single person believed my objection against Yuigahama, and even Yukinoshita’s expression had gone well past sympathy and become something very much like dismay.
“I overestimated you, Hikigaya-kun… you’re even more pitiful than I imagined…”
“The Otagaya-kun name was passed down after my brother graduated,” Komachi said. “It was tough on me pretending he was someone else…”
“Hachiman, you became a legend…” Totsuka said.
Mixed with my quiet sobbing, the sound of everyone’s gentle voices was too excruciating for words.