After reserving beverages at the drink corner, we finally entered the karaoke room, each holding our glasses.
As if rather worried that we wouldn’t get started, Totsuka raised his glass high in the air.
“Um… o-okay. Yuigahama-san. Happy birthday!”
To match that, we all performed a toast and raised our glasses in suit.
“Happy birthday to you!”
“Hmph, happy new year.”
“Um, that might be a greeting, but not a birthday greeting…”
Yukinoshita, Komachi and Zaimokuza uttered congratulatory messages to follow, to which today’s leading actor, Yuigahama Yui, raised her arm and responded. “Thank you, guys! Now I’ll blow out the candles. Whooo.”
“Yay!” When Yuigahama blew out the candles, we raised our glasses in toast again. Then we ended up clapping. Very fitting for a birthday.
Then, there was silence for a while…
“Huh?! Wh-what’s with this atmosphere?!” Yuigahama looked around her surroundings with surprise.
Komachi was also making a sour face. “It’s like watching over a dead body…”
But Yukinoshita and I dealt with the silence calmly.
“Ah, I’m not used to this sort of thing,” she said.
“I have no idea what to do at birthday parties and gatherings, so I’m not good at handling it,” I said.
“I fervently agree,” said Zaimokuza. “By some mystery, I have never been invited to a gathering.”
“Besides that one time, I can’t say I’ve ever been,” I said normally in an unconcerned tone.
For some reason, Zaimokuza confirmed his victory with a loud laugh. “Mwahahahahaha! You’re so weak! Be happy you even got invited once! That’s hardly very loner-ish!”
“Whatchu say…?! Since you don’t seem to understand, I’ll fill you in. I was invited because the whole class was obligated to go. Plus, since I was never invited a second time, I must have made some fatal mistake, right? You’ve never been once, so the possibility of having fun still remains for you. I’m one step ahead of you!”
“Wh-what?! Urk, can’t beat a professional loner…”
“What an unsightly squabble… I have been invited every time, but not once have I ever gone. I suppose this is my victory, then?”
“Urk… this girl’s competitive!”
I had no idea where the basis for competition was in this conversation, but Yukinoshita appeared to have the victory.
Perceiving the strange atmosphere, Totsuka cut in. “W-well, since we’re at a birthday party and everything, let’s talk about something fun, okay? Right, Yuigahama-san?”
“Eh? Ah, I’m having quite a bit of fun here. Since no one’s ever done so much for my birthday parties till now, I’m really happy…”
Yuigahama was actually happy. The happiness slowly spread across her face and a serene smile played on her lips.
“What a surprise,” I said. “I thought you were a Juicy! Party! Yeah!-type all year round.”
“What’s with the incomprehensible English…? Wait, is that even English?” Yuigahama wondered aloud.
“Uh, I dunno if it’s English… aren’t you missing Miura and the others girls like her?” I asked.
Yuigahama stroked her chin in thought. “Hmm, it’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity, but they only came to congratulate me and there were lots of people slipping out the back door and when they realised the food was gone the party would just end…”
“I see how it is… ah, um, sorry.”
It was a sad story. When I apologised reflexively, Yuigahama also lowered her eyes in discomfort.
“Ah, mmm. I don’t really mind.”
As the two of us fell into silence, Komachi opened her mouth with a strained smile on her face.
“…and it’s like we watched over a dead body again… I can’t stand it anymore! Yui-san, let’s just drink cola for now!”
Komachi and Yuigahama held a toast – just the two of them – bringing out a light atmosphere.
I let out an inadvertent sigh in the midst of that.
To be perfectly honest, these types of gatherings are not my forte.
You could say I’m not used to it since I’m not invited to gatherings and class meetings, but I simply can’t help but feel suspicious. Looks to me that everyone does the act of raising their voices in unison and lifting each other’s spirits with all their might. I bet male and female riajuu wouldn’t help becoming anxious if they didn’t make a noise. If they were quiet, they’d be recognised for the boring people they were.
That’s why they forced themselves to talk, broadened the topic and roused each other up exaggeratedly. If they puffed themselves up any more, they’d be like menaces.
“Hachiman? What’s wrong? You’re sighing so much.” Totsuka peered at my face.
“Oh, uhhh. Nah, I mean, what’s with this party? In the end, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Er, ummm… you eat food, have a toast, party tricks? …and then cut the cake (1)?”
“That’s a wedding ceremony…”
“Ahahaha, so it is. But the celebrating part is the same.” He paused. “So then… shall we cut the cake?”
“…my first time teaming up with Saika.”
I put on a determined face without thinking.
“H-Hachiman… i-it’s mean to say my first name so suddenly…”
“Stooop, okaaay, stop. I will be the one to cut the cake,” Yuigahama cut in between us suddenly. Thanks to that, I regained my senses.
“…huh! How close! The image of Totsuka in a wedding dress was flickering in the back of my mind just now… how weird. Totsuka’s a boy, after all.”
“…uh, that is really weird – and also gross.”
I smiled lightly at Yuigahama’s utter dismissal. “It is strange, I know. It isn’t gross, though. Totsuka’s a boy so he should be in a tuxedo!”
“You’re dead set on marrying him?!”
And at that moment, a violent banging sound rang out against the ceiling.
“Whoa, that was a shock! See, Yuigahama, if you raise your voice, the people next door will get mad.”
“Ah, sorry… how weird, this room is soundproof… well, whatever,” Yuigahama grumbled as she brandished the knife she had borrowed from the kitchen. “O-okay, I’ll… cut the cake. H-Hikki, could you hold the plate still? Th-there’s no real meaning about us being together or anything.”
She mumbled the second half so I couldn’t hear it at all. Are you like me when I go to the hair salon and get asked what hairstyle I want? Spit it out, woman.
“Nah, it’s your birthday today so you ought to take it easy. Totsuka and I’ll cut it for you.”
“Eh. Eh. Th-that would be bad on Sai-chan…”
“You don’t think it would be bad on me…? All right… Komachi.”
“Ehhhhh? Making me cut after saying all that kinda lowers my Komachi points. It’s okay if it’s just the two of us at home, but I’m shy. Ah, my Komachi points went up this time.”
“…shut up. Okay, Zaimokuza.”
And thus it was time for me to rely on Zaimokuza.
“…ugh.” Yuigahama pulled a really sour face.
“Uh, that reaction kind of makes me feel sorry for him.”
As I resisted the mild urge for sympathy, Zaimokuza clutched his chest and grimaced in pain next to me.
“…ooof. My sealed door has been opened! Indeed, I went through military training when I was still in a normal elementary school. By strange chance, when I volunteered as a rations boy, the lone Valkyrie tearfully refused the curry I served up…”
“Look see, thanks to you stimulating his trauma, his character started blurring…”
“Ah, I-I’m not really that repulsed, it’s just, you know. I want you to go to the toilet or something.”
As Yuigahama pierced Zaimokuza and brought him to a standstill, Yukinoshita let out a short sigh and picked up the kitchen knife, all the while looking at Zaimokuza’s mannerisms with a disgusted manner of her own.
“I’ll cut it. I’m good at cutting.”
“Ah, you do seem good at cutting – cutting off people with your impatience.”
“Isn’t that your forte? Getting cut, I mean.”
“Why are you saying it as a passive verb on me? And anyway, I’m a Buddhist. I’m aiming to cut off my earthly existence and become Buddha. From a Buddhist perspective, my standing is very high.”
“Again with the half-baked Buddhist knowledge… At its heart, Buddhism is not a religion that is concerned with lines. Buddha preaches the concept of direct cause.”
“…Yukipedia-san has arrived.”
“What’s with that fishy nickname…? Well, whatever. More importantly, we’re cutting the cake into pieces, so hold onto the plate.”
“Yes’m,” I said, as I held onto the plate gingerly.
At which point Yuigahama stopped us, her manner disconcerted. “H-hold on a sec! I’ll do this part after all! P-plus, Hikki and Yukinon doing the work together is…”
I could barely hear the second part of what she said. Are you like me when I’m stopped by the police after riding my bicycle to get my lack of criminal record checked out? Spit it out, woman.
Be that as it may, Yukinoshita looked perplexed, as if she had heard what Yuigahama had said. “Hm? Really?” she went on speaking. “Then by all means please.”
“Oh, yay! Yep, yep, I’ll do it.”
“Right then, Yuigahama-san, please hold this plate still for me.”
“Yukinon and I are working together?! Ohhhhhh… I’ve got mixed feelings.”
(1) The Japanese word 入刀 explicitly refers to cutting the wedding cake.