Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu:Volume1 Chapter3
 Chapter 3
Although it was good to have sunny weather even after going into the monsoon season in June, the result of going into summer so early was that it became extremely hot. This was something that happened on the day that I got so fed up with the heat that I wanted to move to Australia to play with the kangaroos and koalas.
After school, I mustered up all my strength to clean up the music preparation room.
Firstly, I sorted the various papers into their respective categories, placing them back on the shelves and then I pulled out an amplifier from under the abandoned-looking conductor's stand. When I lifted a piece of music score from the teacher's table, a cloud of dust suddenly burst into the air like snowflakes.
The music preparation room looked as though it had been completely abandoned, just like the house of a useless man whose wife had divorced him and then kicked him out of the house.
I couldn't help but mutter.
I knew that the situation would be bad, but I would never have imagined that it was this bad. Looks like I've underestimated the potential ability of that person.
Looking at the music preparation room that could never be cleaned up, I sighed deeply.
As to why I'm cleaning up this place, it's all because of the owner of this room, the music teacher who is also my class teacher (A woman whom I have no resistance against).
I'll have to start from three hours ago.
"Yuu-kun~Are you free today?"
After the homeroom period, I had finished packing my bag and was just about to head home when the music teacher came looking for me. Her voice was as silky as the purr of a cat that was having it's chin rubbed by its master.
"No I'm not. My schedule is completely packed. I have absolutely no free time at all."
"I have a favour to ask of Yuu-kun~"
"I don't want to do it."
"If you're willing to do it, Onee-san will reward you for it~"
"I don't think I have a need for your reward."
"I have three types of set meals for you to choose from, how about that?"
"...I'm going home."
Since she pretended not to hear what I was talking about, I decided to just ignore this idiot and go home.
My arm was caught in a vice-grip, this is not good.
"I've already said that I have a favour to ask of you."
"And haven't I already said that I'm not interested?"
Nothing good ever comes out of doing her 'favours'. I speak from my personal experience.
"Don't say that. Why don't you hear me out first?"
Looks like she won't let go of me unless I hear her out. I don't have a choice but to nod my head reluctantly.
"...Fine, I'm only going to listen though."
"Mm~Onee-san loves it when you say that."
She pressed me into her sizeable bust. The soft feel that came into contact with my cheek, and the flowery smell that floated into my nostrils was indeed extremely tempting, but if I were to admit defeat here, I would have fallen right into Yukari's trap.
"What do you want to say exactly?"
In response to my question, Yukari gave a strange expression before saying,
"To be honest~The year director gave me a direct order today~"
"What kind of order?"
"He wants me to clean up the music preparation room by today."
I only managed to turn away before my arm was caught by Yukari's vice-like grip again.
"Wait! Why are you trying to run away before I finish what I have to say~"
"I already know what you want, you want me to help you clean don't you? Please clean up by yourself, I've already cleaned the toilet for you before."
"Ah, that's such a pity. Although you're close, but that's not what I'm here for."
I was sure that I won't be wrong, since all this person does is to trouble others.
Or could it be that I'm wrong?
"Hmm, it's not like that. Because I'm not trying to get you to help me clean, but trying to get you to do it for me."
Just what is going through this person's head!
There should be a limit to how shameless one can be!
I was already prepared to run for my life after throwing that phrase at her, but I would never have thought that Yukari would cling on to me for dear life.
"Hang on! I really want to help you, but I have something important going on today."
"What important thing?'
"It's SERAPH's live performance (whispers)!"
I thought that I had heard wrongly.
"SERAPH's having a live concert today, and I've already gotten my hands on the VIP ticket that I pre-ordered six months ago, so if I'm unable to go, I'll die because of this unfufilled desire."
"...You're serious about this?"
"Of course I am."
Yukari gave me a serious expression that I've never seen before as she replied. On a side note, SERAPH is the name of her favourite visual-kei band.
"Yuu-kun, I'm begging you, I really don't have anyone else to turn to, this is the biggest wish of my life."
Yukari attempted to climb on top of me while begging me with tears in her eyes.
Even though it was her own fault that things have come to this, but I was unable to just leave her in the lurch like that. I guess I don't have a choice but to help her then.
Since I have nothing to do after school today anyway, might as well let Yukari owe me a favour!
"...I've got it, so please stop trying to squash me from above, I'll clean the music preparation room for you alright?"
"Eh? You're willing to do it for me?"
"Yes, I'll help you for the time being."
Upon hearing my answer, the twenty-three years-old female teacher who was a diehard fan of visual-kei bands was filled with happiness.
"Thank you so much Yuu-kun, I love you!"
That's basically what happened.
This is how I come to be cleaning up this heap of trash, but right now, I really regretted my decision.
"This is ridiculous..."
Due to the corrosive influence of the owner of this room, the sparkly clean music preparation room had become a nightmare island of rubbish in merely two months.Feeling despondent, I swiped off a layer of dust off Beethoven's portrait with a duster, while writing the word 'meat' on his dust-covered forehead. This primary-school level prank probably has the legendary musician turning in his grave.
Just as I tiredly prepared to magically wipe of the word that I had written on Beethoven's forehead...
I seem to have heard the sound of a piano.
At first I had thought that I was hearing things, so I just ignored it, but after a while, I realised that there was a melody to the notes. The melody was one that was sounded melancholic at times and and poignant at other times, while sounding sorrowful throughout, and it seemed to be coming from the neighbouring music room.I looked at the clock that was hung up on the wall, it was almost seven o'clock atnight, which means that all the students who were involved in club activities should already have gone home by now. So why would there be anyone playing the piano at this time?
My first thought was of one of the school's seven mysteries - The piano that plays by itself in the music room.
It can't be?
I opened the door of the music preparation room quietly and surveyed the situation in the neighbouring music room. But from my perspective, the position of the piano was in my blind spot, which meant that I was unable to see the person playing the piano (hopefully it is a person playing the piano). But I could now confirm that the sound was indeed coming from the piano.
I hesitated for a moment before deciding to step into the music room. I slowly shuffled towards the piano while praying that a person was indeed playing the piano. As I gazed at the piano, what I saw was actually--
Bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun, Haruka was playing the piano.
Probably because she was too engrossed in playing the piano, Haruka did not notice my presence. Her soft fingers nimbly danced across the keyboard as I looked on, mesmerized.
The piece finally finished, Haruka breathed out.
Haruka jumped at the sound of my clapping, her eyes wide with surprise as though she just saw a rhinoceros beetle in the middle of winter.
"That...That's strange? Why would Yuuto-san be here? There wasn't anyone here when I came in..."
Of course she would be surprised at seeing a person that shouldn't be here after finishing a piece.
I explained my predicament to her.
"Ah,I see, you must be tired."
Haruka's tinkling laughter swept away the tiredness from the cleaning that had built up in my body. She's definitely an angel!
"Speaking of which, why are you still here at this hour?
In comparison, this should be stranger shouldn't it? It's not strange that Haruka would be in the music room, it's the timing that is strange.
Haruka tilted her head slightly as she replied.
I excitedly requested.
"Alright, I'll tell you then. To be honest, I was reading in the library a while ago when I came across this description of Shakespeare in a world history book..."
"Shakespeare? You mean that playwright?"
"Yes, I really like his works. He left behind an entire collection of brilliant plays, plays like <<Macbeth>> and <<A Midsummer Night's Dream>>.
I nodded while feeling extremely guilty.
Because out of Shakespeare's works, I only know of <<Romeo and Juliet>>, and only a rough outline of the story at that.
"But, how does that tie in with you playing the piano?"
"Because the tempest is mentioned in one of Shakespeare's plays. Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17 also carries the name of 'The Tempest', which is why I felt like playing this piece when I saw Shakespeare's name in the book...I also have a performance coming up, so I had wanted to practice a little before I went home."
Reading -> World History -> Shakespeare -><- The Tempest -->> Piano, so this is how Haruka thinks. A little complicated, but still understandable.
"Do you usually read until this hour?"
If she went straight to the library after school, then she would have read for about three and a half hours, probably longer than the time I read for the entire week.
"Yes, because mid-term exams are coming."
I was roughly hauled back to reality by those words.
Before that moment of enlightenment, I really had forgotten all about the mid-term exams (that is to say, I've been running away from reality the whole while). Two weeks from today, the dreaded mid-term exams will begin.
Although Hakujo Academy has a two-term system, which means that there are only four exams a year, students who failed the exams (thirty percent and below) would be forced to burn a third of their summer holidays on remedial lessons. Perhaps some people may think that thirty percent is extremely easy to get, but for people who aren't academically talented like me, it is an extremely dangerous obstacle.
"Is Yuuto-san also in the midst of preparing for the mid-term exams?"
"No, I haven't started preparing at all."
Since I just remembered that mid-term exams actually exist, I obviously have not even started on revision.
"Not at all? But you should already have a study plan for the next two weeks right?"
"Well......I'm not very good at things like that."
I really don't like studying, but if I don't study, then I'll have to burn a third of my summer holidays. It's unthinkable to give up a third of one's once-in-a-lifetime seventeen year-old summer holiday and to be stuck in a small classroom with mountains of notes and teachers, whose tempers are hotter than the weather (Why is it that most of the teachers in Hakujo Academy are single and male?).
"Now that I think about it, my notes are not even complete......"
I spend seventy-percent of my time in class daydreaming, so my notes are extremely disorganized and incomplete; one entry in April, the next one in June.
"I've got to borrow someone's notes to photocopy."
Although I said that, but I had no one to borrow from. In the years leading up to this year, the best candidate was Nobunaga (his results are extremely good), but since we're in different classes this year, our notes aren't the same either. I probably have to borrow from the three idiots.
...Looks like it's a matter of life and death.
Seeing that I was getting flustered, Haruka gave a pensive expression as she placed her finger next to the corner of her mouth, her head tilting forty-five degrees to the side.
She held that position for about thirty seconds.
After thirty seconds, Haruka seemed to have thought of something, as she opened her mouth to speak,
"Yuuto-san, why don't we study together?"
Study? Haruka and I?
"That's right, if you don't mind, I can lend you my notes to photocopy, even though my notes might not be that complete either..."
No, there would never be anything incomplete about Haruka's notes, for she's always attentive in class.
"That'll be too inconvienient for you..."
My results and Haruka's results were at opposite ends of the academic spectrum, so borrowing her notes would be the vital boost that I desperately need to pass the exams, but this wouldn't benefit Haruka anyway, and could even cause her to be docked points if the teachers found out.
But Haruka shook her head.
"It's not inconvienient at all! Studying is more enjoyable with a partner."
Is that so? I always hear that studying alone would be more efficient. But as long as Haruka doesn't mind, this would be a life-saver.
"...Is it really alright?"
"Of course it is."
Haruka answered without hesitation.
"Then...Thank you very much."
I have to take this chance to turn my results around. If I continue like this, I'm in real danger of landing in remedial classes.
"Then, what about the time and place? You can just pick a time that you're free..."
Haruka thought about it for a moment.
"About the time...How about this Sunday? From one o'clock onwards, the place...how about my home?"
"Ah, I'm alright with anything..."
I answered without thinking.
I suddenly realized that there was a strange noun in Haruka's suggestion. Did she just say 'my home...'?
"No, it's nothing..."
My ears must be playing tricks on me. Haruka would never invite me to her home. I must have heard wrongly because I was expecting too much. Mm, it must be like that.
Seeing that I was in agreement, Haruka happily repeated the time and place.
"I'll see you on Sunday then, please don't forget about it!"
And so, I came to Haruka's home on Sunday to study for the mid-term exams.
I got lost.
"This is a map detailing the route to my home, it's only ten minutes away from the train station, so I don't think you'll get lost..."
I should have known something like this would happen the moment I received the hand-drawn map from Haruka, but I was too excited about being able to visit her home that I had completely overlooked the probable result if I were to follow her map. It was already too late when I took out the map at the train station near Haruka's home.
I took out the map that Haruka had given me and saw monstrous creatures and hysterical eight-eyed eels covering most of the map.
A wide-eyed bird-like, sadistic-looking creature was drawn at the side of the map. It had a satanic smile on its face as it drove a sharpened rod into the belly of an eel, the words on the sharpened rod reading 'it's here'.
...What is this? Is it some kind of psychological test for first-timers?
I really feel like crying.
A row of neatly written words at one corner of the map detailed 'Drawn by Haruka'.
Now...what do I do?
I attempted to go forward, but immediately got lost at the first crossroad junction. I wanted to call for help, but Haruka didn't have a cellphone, while I didn't take down the number of her home phone. There was an address written on the map, but since I didn't live around that area, I had no idea where it was, and to make things worse, there wasn't a traffic police in sight.
Just as I was pathetically sitting at the side of the road like a tired bird, somebody called out to me from behind.
"Onii-san, what's wrong?"
I looked back to see a girl looking back at me. She looked like a middle schooler, with a pretty face and eyes that twinkled with charm. Her hair was tied down at the sides into two ponytails, giving her a mischievous but cute look. She would definitely become an extremely pretty girl in a few years.
"You've been groaning for a while now, are you having a stomachache? Do you want me to call the funeral car?"
"What, are you planning to send me to the crematorium?"
"Ah! I should be calling the ambulance in this kind of situation."
The girl laughed, but stopped almost immediately as she realized the seriousness of my situation.
"What do I do? I should call for help if you're really not feeling well, shouldn't I?"
She was serious.
"I'm not feeling unwell, I'm just lost..."
I suddenly thought that since this girl looks like she lived in the area, perhaps she would be able to understand the map. Maybe Haruka's map is a perfectly readable map to everyone but me.
And so I hopefully showed the map to the girl, who looked disgusted as she looked at the mep.
"What's this? Demons? Or the Tiger Lady?"
"Or are these ghosts?"
My last hope was destroyed in a moment...Well, at least I expected this reaction.
"...This...Should be a map."
Hearing the truth, the girl jumped in surprise.
"...A map? This is a map? That's impossible..."
I don't want to believe it either but this is really supposed to be a map.
"Hmm, it still looks like a drawing of ghosts and demons no matter how I look at it."
The girl looked at the map with the look of a person looking at a rare animal. I completely agree with her assessment of the picture.
"Are the giant snakes supposed to be roads? Ah! There's a weirdly shaped thing here! Ah! There're two Karakasas over here."
This girl's really jumpy.
She suddenly quietened down when her gaze stopped on a certain portion of the map.
"...It can't be!"
And then, she mercilessly tore the map to pieces.
I can understand her painful feelings of wanting to tear the map to pieces, but destroying the map would also destroy any clue that I had to finding my way to the Nogizaka residence.
"Hmm...Onii-san, you'll never get to your destination if you look at this map!"
"Even then......It's better than nothing isn't it?"
"It's definitely better to have nothing than that piece of map! I'll draw a new one for you, do you have any stationary with you?"
After tearing my only hope to pieces, the girl stretched out her right hand towards me. Although I don't know what she intended to do, but since she seemed to be willing to help me draw a new map, I quietly handed her my notebook and a pencil.
I let the girl have a look at the address written on one of the pieces of the map. The girl only took one look before beginning to work.
"This is how it should be."
Her pencil flying over the notebook paper, the girl drew a map for me.
"There, it's finished."
Compared to Haruka's map, this map was on a completely different level! To be honest, I would even think that even comparing the two maps would be an insult to the girl's map.
"You're really good at drawing..."
Even a monkey could get to Haruka's home with this map.
"Not at all, it's actually a very simple route to your destination, and it should be harder to draw a map that resembles a drawing of demons and ghosts right?"
Though the girl said something like that, but anyone could tell that she was rather pleased with herself.
"But you really saved my life here, thank you."
"You don't have to say that! It's not something to be so grateful about. And also...I'm partly responsible for something like this."
"Ah, it's......it's nothing! I'll be going now, see you soon, Onii-san."
Without any hint of acknowledgement, the girl left.
...Just what was that about? Well, at least I'm saved.
It was all thanks to the map that the girl drew for me that I managed to get to the Nogizaka residence safely.
Technically, even though I had already reached the Nogizaka residence, but...
"What is this..."
That was the first thing that I had to say after reaching the Nogizaka residence.
A huge door was in front of my eyes, along with a line of ridiculously tall walls that extended far beyond my line of sight. From far away, the Nogizaka residence looked like an estate that nobles in the middle-ages lived in, complete with a fountain like the one in <<Roman Holiday>>.
Is this place really in Japan? The estate in front of my eyes really made me question whether this was indeed Japan. I had known that the Nogizakas were rich, but...this is beyond the wildest imagination of normal people.
And that was only the beginning.
Seriously, that was only the beginning.
Immediately after I pressed the doorbell, a maid came out to welcome me. A real maid! Although I had seen cat-eared maids in Akihabara, but a real maid in a real Japanese household was right in front of my eyes! I was too shocked for words.
The maid bowed respectfully the moment she saw me.
"Ayase Yuuto-sama right? Haruka-sama is expecting you. Please enter."
I didn't even have the time to be moved over being addressed as 'sama' for the first time in my life before I was whisked into the huge garden. Whoa! The garden of the Nogizaka residence was like a forest, with bubbling streams running through the residence like a natural park.
"This way please."
After walking through the huge garden, I finally stepped foot into the residence itself. The residence looked like a castle from the outside, and even more from the inside. I've never been in hall with such a highly vaulted ceiling, and the luxurious decorations, ancient armor sets and art pieces were completely unknown to the son of a working class family like me.
"Wow, this is great..."
The Nogizaka residence was ridiculously luxurious.
Just as I was stupefied by the impressive entrance hall, the maid told me something extremely scary.
"Please follow closely behind me, it'll be dangerous if you get lost."
Could this place be a huge labyrinth? Judging by the scale of the place, a direction-idiot like me would probably die if I got lost here. I do not wish to get lost and embarrass myself in this place.
Following behind the maid, I turned seven corners, walked through two long corridors, went up and down three flights of stairs, finally reaching the living room (because the hall was extremely large, I didn't know if this was the living room or still the entrance hall), and finally met Haruka. I spent twenty whole minutes from the moment I stepped into the residence to get to the living room...It's ridiculous!
"Ah, Yuuto-san, welcome."
Haruka was wearing a white summer dress as she smiled at me, standing up from an ancient-looking sofa in the middle of the room.
"Hazuki-san, thank you for bring Yuuto-san here."
"It's nothing, I'm merely doing my job."
The maid answered expressionlessly.
"Please sit down and make yourself at home."
In accordance with the maid's directions, I sat down on the sofa. What a soft sofa!
"Would you like some tea?"
"Ah, would you mind?"
Haruka replied to the maid's suggestion.
"Not at all. Which kind of tea leaves would you like to use."
"Hmm, how about two pots of Royal Bengal Tigers?"
"What about snacks? We have Madeleine, plum pudding and Victorian cakes in the kitchen right this moment."
"We'll have the plum pudding."
"Alright, please wait for about ten minutes."
The maid left after receiving her orders from Haruka. I couldn't understand more than half of the vocabulary that they used in their conversation. Royal Bengal Tiger? Is that the name of a monster?"
"Please wait for a moment, Hazuki-san makes really good black tea."
...It's actually the name of a tea.
I've only ever drank canned and bottled black tea, so I wasn't knowledgeable about the different types of tea at all, perhaps it's actually a very common type of tea?
Exactly ten minutes later, the maid returned.
She placed the cups and pudding in front of us before standing behind Haruka like a statue.
Haruka then turned to face the maid.
"Hmm...Let me introduce her to you. This is Sakurazaka Hazuki-san, she's the head maid, in charge of our accomodation."
"'Head' maid? So you're saying that there are more of these maids?"
"I am Sakurazaka Hazuki, it's an honour to meet you."
The maid gave a perfect bow together with her perfect greeting, but her face remainded expresionless throughout. Mm...Looking at how she interacted with Haruka a while ago, she seems to be the calm and collected type. Although she's really pretty, but she seems to be hard to interact with. I was quietly assessing her.
"Hazuki-san looks to be a strict person, but she's actually really gentle."
Did Haruka say that in response to what I was thinking in my head?
"A while back, she fed the leftovers from dinner to a stray cat. She almost always goes to the pet shop on rest days. Her hobby is collecting stuffed toys, so her room is filled with cute stuffed toys."
Stuffed toys? Hmm...I really couldn't imagine such a strict-looking person would have a room full of stuffed toys and even name each and every one of them.
"...Haruka-san, I can hear you."
Hazuki-san retorted softly. Hmm? She's actually blushing!
She seems to be a little lost as to what she should do.
The three of us talked for a while longer.
After talking to Hazuki-san, I realised that although she looked stern, she wasn't hard to interact with, as she'll answer your questions and react to your jokes (she doesn't laugh, but at least there's a reaction). But the only thing that bothered me was that her expression almost never changes, means that you'll never know what she's actually thinking. But to that, Haruka said that 'You'll learn how to read the small changes in her expression once you get to know her better.' Hmm...Is that really the case?
So much had happened that I almost forgot what I was here for. I am here to study for the mid-term exams, not to get a feel of the upper-class lifestyle.
To achieve our original aim, we moved to Haruka's room after finishing our refreshments (I won't go into detail about the other halls, the dance floor and the mini cinema that I saw on my way there).
So this is Haruka's room...It's surprisingly normal.
Haruka's room is about thirty tatamis large, with a huge piano in the middle of the room and a luxurious-looking bed in a corner. Of course, this kind of room wouldn't be considered 'normal' in the usual sense, the normal that I'm referring to is the lack of any sign of Akihabara-influences in the room.
"Ah, please make yourself at home, I'll bring out the table."
Haruka said to me before she walked into a hidden closet to bring out the table. Judging by the size of that closet, it's probably bigger than my entire room.
I sat on the expensive-looking carpet before looking around the room once again. No matter how I look, this was the normal room of the daughter of a rich family, no Akihabara references to be seen anywhere.
This was really a room that looked like it belonged to the 'Nuit étoile', It would indeed be extremely strange if Haruka's room was like Nobunaga's with posters, manga, novels and figurines all strewn around the place.
Haruka brought the table out at this moment, so I asked,
"There doesn't seem to be any posters in this room."
"Ah, that's because..."
Haruka stopped abruptly. Hmm? Did I just ask something I should not have asked?
"Those things are really cute, and I really want to display them in my room if it were possible......but......I don't have a choice, because my family doesn't know about my hobby."
Even her family doesn't know?
"My parents.......especially my father, he's extremely strict, so he'll probably throw all my anime posters and figurines away if he saw them. Because he thinks that these things are bad for my education, so I can't put them in places that are obvious."
Haruka lowered her head as she explained.
That's......really too bad for Haruka. I seem to have gained an insight as to why Haruka lacks some common sense. And that's also because there's nothing that could be classified as entertainment in this room right? No television, no computer, this must be the reason why Haruka doesn't have a cellphone either.
"Oh right, is your family at home?"
I suddenly thought of her family.
If her father is at home, then I better go and pay my respects to him, or he'll think that I'm a good-for-nothing who's here to corrupt his precious daughter if he sees me.
"I'm the only one at home today. Father's at the Pentagon, mother's teaching at the cooking school that she runs, it'll probably be midnight when they return. My grandfather's in Hokkaido hunting bears, so he left in the morning......."
My god! Just what kind of person is her father? I could possibly disappear from the face of the earth if I make one wrong move.
Not noticing my feelings, Haruka happily continued talking,
"So you can relax, just treat this place as your own home. Let's start with English, since it'll be tested on the first day of the mid-term exams."
Haruka really wasn't the top student in the level for nothing, as she nonchalantly did her own set of practice questions while helping me with the foundation questions given by the school, pointing out my mistakes and explaining the solution to me at the same time.
"Ah this is a special usage of the future tense, so you can translate it as "After moving to the city, he never went back to his home village ever again", that is to say, he might have invested a large sum of money after he moved to the city, but it turned out to be a failed investment, and not able to find a job, he could only work part-time in a convenience store. And in the end, because his landlord refused to renew the rental contract, he got kicked out of his apartment, and so he died alone in a public park, with his dreams of returning to his home village as a rich man shattered."
"This question tests your ability to differentiate between verbs and adverbs, and in comparison with the former "stopped to smoke", the meaning of the latter is "to stop smoking". Which is to say that the first sentence refers a middle-age smoker who's in the late stages of nicotine poisoning and couldn't help but stop for a smoke at the roadside or some other place where it's illegal to smoke, and got fined for it. As for the second sentence, it refers to a person who really liked to smoke, but later quit smoking for the sake of his child, and now hates smoking to the extent that he'll want to kill anyone who smokes in front of his child."
"...Hmm, even though I won't know about the middle-aged man's condition regarding nicotine poisoning, but I guess that's probably it..."
Although Haruka was teaching me this whole time, our study session was proceeding rather smoothly. Even when she was teaching me, her right hand was still writing down the answers to her own practice questions.
"Oh, and this is..."
Just as Haruka-sensei was about to launch into her n-th explanation of the day, her left hand suddenly knocked my eraser off the table and onto the carpet.
"Ah, I'm sorry."
Haruka stretched to pick up the eraser, but I was closer to it,
"It's alright, I'll pick it up."
Miraculously, we reached for the eraser at the same time.
My fingers came into contact with something soft. Definitely not my eraser.
My heart started pumping into overdrive.
I hurriedly pulled my hand back, my heart still beating furiously as though I was on drugs and overheating. My face was also burning up as though I just came out of a hot spring.
What's going on! What a strange atmosphere! I looked over and saw Haruka blushing furiously, just like that time in the small park at Akihabara...If I were to describe the atmosphere in terms of colours, then the middle of this room would be covered in a shade of pink...
Haruka's slightly moist eyes were right in front of me.
Now that I think about it, right now, Haruka and I were the only ones in this room. By the only ones, I mean that there isn't anyone other than the two teenagers in this enclosed space. From this, the keyword that we'll naturally think about it......Secret room murder?
Not that! But if it's not that keyword, then I really can't think of any other keyword that's so, encompassing.
No,it's not the time to bash myself over my lack of imagination.
Anyway, I have to think of a way to pull away from this pink-shaded atmosphere, because if this goes on, my sense of reason will fly off like a satellite that's gone off-course, all the way to the other end of the universe...... Alright, to calm myself down, I shall start counting prime numbers. Starting from 0......Hmm, is 0 even a prime number?
Shouldn't I be starting from 1? Hmm, that doesn't sound right either...
My brain suddenly got itself into a knot.
My mathematics results are so bad that my math teacher came to me with tears running down his cheeks, 'I'm begging you, even if you're able to promote to the third year, please don't come for the science class mathematics lesson, alright?' That's basically a guarantee letter certifying that I'm an idiot.
......I'm so pathetic to call myself an idiot.
I turned to look at Haruka's face feeling sorry for myself and realized that Haruka was also looking at me.
Our eyes met! Haruka's face reddened even more, as she fidgeted around in her seat and looked away awkwardly before closing her eyes slowly as though preparing herself...... That's strange, why did Haruka close her eyes?
Another ten seconds passed like this.
Hmm...it'll would be an insult to Haruka if I were to do nothing at this juncture wouldn't it? I've never been in such a suggestive situation before, so I really don't know what to do.
Now that it has come down to this, I only have two choices, either I go with the flow and don't think about the consequences, or I pretend to fall asleep. After struggling with myself for a while (that is to say, after my mental condition deteriorated for a while), I was about to choose the first choice when...!!
"Please forgive me for breaking the nice atmosphere between the two of you."
Someone suddenly spoke from behind us.
I turned around to see a maid stand behind us.
"...Do I look that scary?"
The maid answered our screams of terror with a mildly disappointed expression. No, that's not the point, the point is, since when has she been standing there?
"I knocked five times, but no one answered, so I had no choice but to let myself in."
No... Even if all my focus was on Haruka, it was impossible for me to not know if someone had come into the room. This maid is scary.
"Ha,Hazuki-san, is there anything you need?"
Haruka hurriedly changed the subject.
"Yes. Mika-sama just returned and has something to talk to you about, are you free right now?"
Haruka was a little confused.
"Umm...Haruka, who's Mika?"
"Hmm? Ah, I haven't told Yuuto-san about her, she's my sister."
"Sister? I didn't know that Haruka has a sister."
"Yes, she's in the second year of middle school."
Not that she mentioned it, Nobunaga seemed to have mentioned it to me some time ago.
"I'm sorry, I'll go over to Mika's for a while......"
"Mm, I got it."
"I'm really sorry...I'll be right back, please relax and rest here for a little while."
After Haruka and the maid left, I was the only one left in the room.
Haruka wants me to relax, but I was unable to calm myself down in such a big room, feeling like a lab rat that has just been released from its cage into a huge laboratory.
It was really boring to just sit here, so I decided to take a tour around the room.
The first thing I looked at was the the large piano in the middle of the room. The maid had said that it's a Steinway grand piano...anyway, this is a branded piano that costs around 20 million yen, something my family could never afford. Even if we could afford it, we don't have anywhere to put it.
I suddenly felt this strong sense of defeat as I couldn't help but shift my gaze away from the piano.
I walked towards the bookshelf opposite the piano.
There were many music scores placed on the shelf, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms, I only knew the composers that my music teacher at school had introduced to the class.
"Could it be......that Haruka can play all of these pieces?"
<<Twelve Super Technical Practice Pieces>>...Although some of the scores sounded extremely hard, but I guess Haruka should be able to play all of them right? She was probably playing a super technical practice piece the last time I heard her play in the music room.
All of a sudden, I saw a book without a title hidden between the music scores. This book was covered with a classy white cloth, and was obviously treated more importantly than the music scores.
I was curious as to the true identity of the book.
I took the book down from the shelf and unwrapped the cloth around it.
It was a comic book.
No, to be precise, this should be a comic magazine, it's an old magazine that's the same size as a music score. The name of the magazine is,
<<Innocent Smile>> First Edition.
--Ah, that's the one.
Looking at the name of this magazine, I was reminded of how Haruka and I snuck into the school library at midnight about two months ago. This is something that Haruka loves, the magazine that started everything. The magazine had 'First Edition', so it should be the one that I saw at the library the other time, the magazine that got Haruka interested in the world of anime and manga. This magazine was the only thing worthy of Haruka's careful protection.
The magazine in Haruka's memory...
My gaze locked onto a smiling long-haired girl on the cover of the magazine.
She attracted my attention deeply.
Why would I be attracted to that drawing? I don't know, but it seems to have awakened some distant memory in my mind.
"Yuuto-san, Mika wants to say hello, would you mind?"
Haruka's voice came from outside the room.
"Of course I won't mind!"
I don't have a reason to reject a person who wants to say hello to me, and I'm also rather interested in Haruka's sister. I should think that her sister would be just like her, a natural Ojou-sama right?
"Is that so, Mika will be really happy. Let's go in, Mika!"
A lively girl walked in from the other side of the door.
"Hehe, good afternoon, Onii-san, we meet again!"
It's the girl who drew the map for me! She's Haruka's sister?
"Ah, don't be so surprised! Onii-san's such a naive person. Didn't I said 'see you soon'?"
She did say something like that. But...How could she have known that I was Haruka's friend?
Seeing that I was still confused, the girl came over and whispered into my ear.
(Because only my sister could draw such a demonic-looking map, plus her name was on the map.)
...Ah, so that's how it is.
(And also, Onee-san had mentioned that a guest would be coming today.)
The girl giggled again. Her innocent expression was exactly the same as Haruka's, proving that they were indeed sisters.
Haruka asked confusedly.
"Ah, it's nothing. Onee-san, introduce him to me!"
"You're right, but it looks like the two of you already know each other...Yuuto-san, she's the sister I was talking to you about earlier..."
"I'm Nogizaka Mika, fourteen years old this year. My hobbies are playing the violin and rearing wild boars. Onii-san, please take good care of me!"
I seemed to have heard something impossible when she was talking about her hobbies. Well, I guess I should just pretend that I didn't hear anything!
After putting my own feelings in order, I started to introduce myself.
"Mm, I'm Ayase Yuuto, Haruka's classmate, please take good care of me as well."
That's strange, why would Haruka's sister have this kind of reaction to my name?
"Mika, he's older than you, it's rude to address him by his name..."
"It's alright, I don't mind, it's just that...is my name very weird?"
"Ah, hehe, it's that..."
"It's nothing much, just that you call Onee-san 'Haruka'."
Haruka's sister, Mika, looked at Haruka and I with strange smile on her face.
"What do you mean?"
"Is there a problem?"
"Nope, it's just that there aren't a lot of guys who refer to Onee-san so intimately..."
Is that so? Well, everyone in school does seem to address Haruka as either Nogizaka-san, Haruka-sama, or the 'Nuit Étoile', and if a guy wanted to address her by her name directly, he'll have to go through the same punishment as I did (rolled up into a grass mat and thrown into the water). If I wasn't a guy who liked to step on such landmines, we probably won't have such a relationship right?
"It's......It's nothing special! It's just that, Yuuto-san is my classmate, and, we're friends, so.......so......"
"Hmm, Yuuto-san...it's my first time hearing Onee-san calling a guy by his name."
From Haruka's faltering answer, I could see how the relationship between this pair of sisters worked.
Seeing that Haruka was uncertain as to what to do, I decided to step in.
"Don't make any wild guesses, Haruka and I are just friends."
In truth, this explanation wasn't exactly correct, but since Haruka's family didn't know about her special hobby, so this should be how our relationship should look like on the surface shouldn't it?
"Onee-san, is that right?"
"Ye...Yes, we're just friends, our relationship isn't that spe......special."
Haruka answered in a suspicious manner.
Mika looked at Haruka as she gave a suggestive smile.
"Hmm, I see, so that's how it is."
"What do you mean?"
"Nope, nothing. If this continues, I think I'll be able to dig out all sorts of interesting things, but since I've gotten the gist of things, I'll let the two of you off today."
"Oh, right! Onii-chan, please call me Mika from now on!"
Haruka's sister was surprisingly different from her. If Haruka's the moon, then her sister would surely be the sun.
After that, I never got to touch my books again.
Under pressure from Mika, we played monopoly, international chess, and pieced puzzles together......and spent several hours like that.
"Mika, Yuuto-san's here to study."
"Ah, it's alright, just a while, just let Onii-chan play with me for a while longer."
Although Haruka's tone carried a hint of displeasure, she actually didn't seem to mind it much.
"Yuuto-san, I'm really sorry, Mika usually doesn't warm up to people she just met for the first time. If you don't mind, please play with her a while longer..."
"I'm alright with it."
"Yay, then lets play poker cards next."
And thus, I ended up feeling as though I was here to play instead of studying, but...I guess it's not a bad thing to just relax and enjoy myself! There should still be sufficient time to prepare for the mid-term exams next week, things will surely work out (I'm just running away from reality).
It was already evening when I looked at the time.
Haruka invited me to stay for dinner, but as I had a problematic sister who would go out of control if she wasn't fed at home (sometimes a problematic music teacher would be there as well), I had no choice but to regretfully reject her invitation.
"I see, that's such a pity."
"I'm really sorry to reject your invitation like this, I'll make sure to prepare dinner for her before I come next time."(!)
"Prepare dinner? Yuuto-san, do you have a dog at home?"
The two were similar in that 'both need to be taken care of', but 'she' would probably be unhappy about being put on the same level as a dog.
"A dog...Ah, that's right, there's still a bit of the plum pudding we had earlier left. If you don't mind it, please bring it back for your dog."
"No, I wouldn't want to trouble you."
"No, not at all, please don't stand on ceremony, I think your dog will like it."
Haruka jogged out of the room to tell Hazuki-san about the plum pudding. She really seems to think that I have a dog at home.
"Well, I guess she's not far off the mark..."
There isn't a lot of difference between the two anyway.
"Onii-san, come over for a while!"
Mika beckoned towards me. Could it be that she wants to show me Haruka's childhood photos while she's out of the room?
I went over expectantly.
"Onii-san, did you have fun on your date at Akihabara?"
She suddenly asked me something like that.
"You went on a date with Onee-san right? That's great, did the two of you hold hands? Did you guys kiss?"
My tongue got tied into a knot due to the flurry of questions thrown at my direction; why would she know about that?
"What are you talking about..."
"Hehehe, there's no point in pretending, I know everything."
"Pre,pretending? What are you talking about..."
Since she mentioned Akihabara, she must be referring to the shopping trip that I went with Haruka last month, she can't be referring to anything else. But, how would she know about that? Even if she was trying to get me to divulge certain information, but don't you think that it's a little too accurate?
Mika probably saw through my inner dismay as she continued with her next wave of attack.
"Hmm, you're still pretending? But I have proof you know. It should be the Sunday of that long weekend right? Because Onee-san happily went out wearing her new clothes on that day you know."
Seeing my trepidation, Mika gave me the finishing blow.
"Onee-san even prepared a special 'shopping bookmark' for Onii-san, you know, that demonic-looking drawing."
I had no choice but to confess.
"How do you know about that......"
Seeing that I finally admitted defeat, Mika flashed a victorious smile.
"Hehehe, because I saw the 'shopping bookmark'! But it's not my fault, because Onee-san placed it on the table in the living room right in full view of everyone."
"I took a look at it and saw two copies of the 'shopping bookmark'. One copy had 'specially for Yuuto-san' written on it. At that time, I was still wondering who that mysterious 'Yuuto-san' was..... Until I heard from Onee-san that a guest named 'Yuuto-san' was coming today."
I understand now, If it really was like this, then of course Mika would know about our shopping trip.
It was really something that Haruka would do, absentmindedly forgetting something on the living room table. Though Haruka seemed to be perfect on the surface, she had an inclination to slip up at important moments. But I was already used to this inclination of hers.
"Right--Could I ask you something?"
Right now, I don't think any question would make me more surprised than I already am now.
"Onii-san, you also know about Onee-san's secret right?"
This was something I wasn't expecting.
Speaking of Haruka's secret, she could only be referring to one thing, should I just answer her? No, Haruka's family do not know about her secret don't they? Or did Haruka tell Mika? God......I'm getting more confused by the minute.
"Onii-san, so do you?"
"Ah, just by looking at you I think that you should know about it. You'll be better off if you were more honest."
Mika said as she tickled my sides.
"Hey......Hey......I'm really ticklish!"
"Then answer my question! Hehehe"
After a few minutes of fooling around, Mika asked me again with a serious expression.
"Onii-san, please answer me seriously. Do you know about Onee-san's secret?"
Although I hesitated for a moment, but I still decided to tell the truth. Because something about Mika's gaze told me that I should.
"......I know about Haruka's secret. I stumbled onto it by mistake, but Haruka told me everything after that."
Mika's expression brightened considerably.
"Mm. I guessed as much. A woman's instinct is the most accurate thing in the world."
Mika smiled as she explained her rationale.
"Then, can I ask a question now?"
"Sure, what do you want to ask?"
"How do you know about Haruka's secret? She hasn't told her family has she?"
Although she might have guessed by looking at the 'shopping bookmark', but Mika's tone suggested that she has known about it for a long time already.
"Ah, about that."
Mika gave a slightly exasperated smile.
"Hmm......Onee-san did try very hard to hide it, but Hazuki-san and I have known about it for ages, because Onee-san never tells lies. I think my parents are the only ones who have not found out about it yet. But I know that Onee-san really wants to hide this secret of hers, so I haven't told her that I know her secret."
She didn't even stumble over such a long line of words. Mika thinks extremely far for a girl of her age......looks like she's a really good sister. In comparison, I really want to exchange my sister for a bag of toilet rolls.
I finally understood how Mika came to know of Haruka's secret.
But there was still one last thing that I didn't know.
"Why did you assume that I also know Haruka's secret?"
Regarding this, Mika should have been rather confident of my answer before asking me. But I already had been very careful in hiding the fact that I knew.
"This is easy. Onee-san would never invite someone who doesn't know of her secret to Akihabara, and she even prepared a special demonic drawing......Ah, no, I mean, she even prepared a special hand-drawn map."
Her explanation made a lot of sense.
"And......even if I don't go down that line of thought, it's easy to guess at the truth from Onee-san's facial expression."
"Yes. Because I've never seen such a happy expression on Onee-san's face before, until today. That expression means that she's giving you her heart. It definitely means that she's giving her heart to you. I guess that's because she's able to show her true self in front of you."
"......The real Haruka......you say?"
The Haruka that I see, is more real than the 'Nuit Étoile' that people in school sees......Is it because of the fact that I know her secret? I've only noticed recently that Haruka's actions in school are a little awkward, and that even when she's smiling, there's a small distance between the other students and her.
"I believe that Onee-san doesn't dislike Onii-san, and that this is something she's clear about, I also believe in my own assessment that Onii-san's a good person."
Both of them say that I'm a good person when I'm not as good as they think I am.
Mika's expression suddenly changed, as she looked at me with a serious expression on her face.
"No matter what happens......please don't abandon Onee-san."
About that......No matter how you look at it, it should be the other way round isn't it? Because Haruka is the 'Nuit Étoile', while I'm just an average student!
But Mika shook her head.
"Onee-san had a period of painful memories when the people around her found out about her secret. Because everyone around her felt that she should be a perfect Ojou-sama. In other words, they forcibly expect Onee-san to be the perfect person that they imagine her to be, which is why they would abandon her once their perfect image of Onee-san has been shattered. In actual fact, Onee-san's just a clumsy girl with a strange hobby."
Perhaps......it's really like what Mika says. There's a Haruka fan club in school, but how many of those fan club members would know about this side of Haruka? And how many of them would be able to look at her the same way they did before once they know about this side of her? A girl who gets addicted to capsule machines, who loves to read weird manga, who cries because she wasn't able to buy the game console that she wanted......This would never be part of the image of the 'Nuit Étoile' that everyone in school has of Haruka.
"I think the Onee-san needs someone beside her who doesn't look at her through a rose-coloured lens, so......no matter what happens, please be good friends with Onee-san, because I......never want to see an abandoned Onee-san crying ever again......"
Mika bowed to me as she spoke.
Mika really cares about Haruka. I can see that she's a really good girl from the way she speaks and her attitude towards me.
"......Don't worry, I will never abandon Haruka."
I placed my hand on Mika's head and told her using my kindest voice.
Although I hesitated for a moment, but I still decided to tell Mika about my feelings.
"Because Haruka's a very important friend of mine, and also......"
"......I......I think she's very cute. Whether it's her natural clumsiness or her strange hobby, I think she's really cute."
If I didn't feel this way, then I wouldn't have gotten into so many incidents in the two months after I found out about Haruka's secret (Breaking into the school at midnight, being ignored by all the members of Haruka's fan club etc)
"Onii-san......You're just like what I thought you would be like!"
Mika happily shouted as she hugged me tightly. The twin tails at the side of her head swished past my nose, bringing with it the same scent that Haruka has, probably pointing to the fact that they use the same shampoo. For a moment, I had the impression that the person in my lap was Haruka, and that......
Just at this moment......
"Sorry to keep you waiting."
The door opened with a click, announcing Haruka's return.
"The doggie's present has been prepared......Huh?"
Haruka walked in with a paper bag in her hands, her gaze coming to rest on Mika and I.
"Haruka, no, this is......"
This is the worst timing. Because from an objective point of view, it looks as though I'm the one who's hugging (or attacking) Mika.
"Mi......Mika! Say something!"
"Onii-san felt that I was too cute for words, so he suddenly hugged me. And then situation just continued as how such situations would continue, kya~"
Now's not the time to 'kya~'!
Not knowing what to do, my body stiffened like a husband caught in bed with a lover by his wife, but Haruka merely smiled.
"That's enough, Mika, you shouldn't trouble Yuuto-san anymore."
Mika let go of me as she gave a mischievious look, while Haruka continued smiling at Mika, what's going on?
"......Haruka, you're not angry?"
"Hmm? Why should I be angry?"
Haruka replied me confusedly, as though a question mark suddenly popped up in her head. It looks like she doesn't think that there was anything wrong with Mika hugging me......
For some unknown reason, I suddenly felt extremely sad.
"Onee-san's really slow about such things."
Mika latched onto my arm as she nodded knowingly.
"This is one of Onee-san's good points, as well as one of her bad points."
"Ah~ It's nothing if Onee-san doesn't understand. Onii-san, the most important thing is still......"
Mika turned her gaze from Haruka to me as she said with a serious expression on her face,
"I know that Onee-san frequently gets into accidents, but......no matter what happens, please take good care of her......Onii-san~!" (This Onii-san is different from the other Onii-sans as Mika's calling Yuuto 'brother-in-law')
Is it just me, or did that last 'onii-san' sound a little different from the ones that came before it? Or did I hear wrongly? I must be be imagining things.
"Then......I'll see you tomorrow."
Haruka, who saw me to the door, said her goodbyes reluctantly.
"This is the leftover pudding that we had in the afternoon, and some other presents."
A hand-drawn hellhound looked at me with demented eyes beside the words 'For Doggie-san' on the package that Haruka gave me. Looks like the contents of this package must be something extremely valuable.
"Then......I'll see you to the train station......"
"Even though I'll really like that, but I don't think you need to. It's not a long way to the train station, so I'll be able to get there by myself."
I rejected Haruka's suggestion reluctantly since it's only ten minutes to the train station (while it took me twenty minutes to get to the entrance from the 'castle' in the Nogizaka residence)
"Onii-san, be careful on your way back!"
"Please come again soon."
Mika and Hazuki-san also came to see me off.
I waved to the three of them before turning to walk towards the train station.
Just like that, I had a beautiful day.
Not only did I get to meet two interesting people, Hazuki-san and Mika, I also got much closer to Haruka. Although I got lost on my way to Haruka's home, jumped on from the back by that soundless maid, and also interrogated mercilessly by Mika, today was a beautiful day for me.
I hope that I'll have more days like this in the future.
What comes after this is not important to the story at all.
When I gave Haruka's present to the doggie-san in my home......
"Wow, this is delicious! The pudding's good, but the smoked meat is great to go together with Japanese sake. Although the taste is a little too light for my liking, but the person giving the present has been generous enough, so I'll probably be struck down by heaven if I complain anymore."
So there was something like that in the package? Oh, right, Haruka mentioned something about other presents.
I suddenly had a bad feeling about the package! I peeked at the 'thing' beside my sister.
It was a paper bag that read 'High class beef jerky'. Only thing is......it also read 'for dogs'.
I was lucky that my drunk sister didn't notice as she happily stuffed the beef jerky into her mouth. And so I kept my eye on my sister as I quietly transferred the beef from the paper bag into another plastic bag before throwing the paper bag into the dustbin (to destroy any evidence). Because if my sister found out......she'll kill me.
"Hmm? What's wrong?"
"Ah,it's......it's nothing, it won't taste as nice if it gets wet, so I placed it in another bag."
"Oh, thank you."
After saying a rare 'thank you', my sister reached for the beef jerky again. Looks like she really likes the taste of this beef jerky (for dogs).
Oh well, it's not like she'll die from eating it. And I've also heard that recently, pet food is becoming even classier than human food, so I guess it won't be a problem right?
"......I think I'll go sleep now, you should sleep early!"
"Alright, I'll go sleep when I finish this bottle."
Just like that, I was able to leave the living room without getting killed.
In the end, the beef jerky (for dogs) that Haruka gave me that day, all went into Ruko's stomach.
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