Shirayuki shut the fan, then wrote something else.
“This is Yukihito.”
I glanced at the boy, and he immediately bowed. Shirayuki still did not turn around, her gaze fixed on Mayuzumi. Closing the fan again, she wrote something on it and showed it to Mayuzumi.
Mayuzumi’s lips twisted. “Well, well,” she said. “What a peculiar guest. Are you sure you don’t need more bodyguards?”
“I tasked the clan members with reorganizing. We are already beaten. The next time the defector shows, it will be next to you. I told you that the evil born from our clan will be dealt with by our clan. Your leaving our side gives me no choice but to come to protect you.”
Moving behind the sofa, I followed the furious brush strokes with my eyes. Yuusuke and I tilted our heads.
“Protect me, eh?” Mayuzumi said, munching on her chocolate boredly. “You mean you want to stick to the bait and finish off the defector with your own hands. Am I right?”
“You can interpret it any way you want. Our objective remains unchanged. I am the only one in my clan who can fight the defector now, and he is wounded—I will not let him escape. I will finish him once and for all.”
Closing and opening her fan, Shirayuki’s brush darted across the surface. Her eyes were sharp.
“And I want no interference this time.”
Mayuzumi’s lips quirked up in amusement.
“I thought she would be a completely different type of person,” Yuusuke sighed, “but she’s just like Mayu-san.”
“…Is she?” I muttered.
“I’m not exactly sure how to put it. She’s the type who only follows her own plans. Egocentric, I guess?”
Shirayuki cast us a glance—we were hiding behind the sofa—and brandished her brush again.
“We cannot afford to lose any more clan members. If they cannot even stop him, I will have to deal with him on my own. I, too, do not wish to make pointless sacrifices.”
She shot me a glare. Why does she look at me like that? I swallowed.
Mayuzumi clapped her hands gleefully. “I don’t really mind,” she said. “If you insist, then please, knock yourself out. I doubt you’ll leave even if I kicked you out anyway.”
She cackled, then gazed at Yukihito. Carrying a huge wrapping cloth on his back, he looked like a thief from a bygone era. Mayuzumi nodded to Shirayuki, who was waiting for a reply.
“If you want to stay by my side, feel free. But unfortunately, the living room is already full with just us. If you wish to stay here, you can clean up any room you want.”
Mayuzumi pointed at a door. Shirayuki nodded and moved with Yukihito. When they reached the hallway and pulled open the door to the next room, she froze. She gave us a pleading look. But alas, the other two rooms were in a similar mess.
Mayuzumi’s private room was overflowing with clothes and random objects, creating a dense forest of some sort.
Shirayuki was frozen in silence. Then she sprang into action. Her resolve seemed to falter momentarily, but she had no intention of giving up. She beckoned Yukihito closer and took something from the wrapping cloth. Tucking up the sleeves of her kimono with a band, she disappeared into the room with determined steps. Several seconds later, pieces of junk came flying out of the room. Yukihito quickly organized them. Mayuzumi rolled over her belly and started laughing hysterically.
“I did not expect to see this at all,” she said. “It’s hilarious.”
I stared at the scene in cold sweat. What was she planning to do with all the junk she tossed outside? Leave them in the hallway?
Mayuzumi tugged at my sleeves. “That outfit looks difficult to move in. Odagiri-kun, would you buy her some more comfortable clothes? One set will do. She can use whatever’s lying there otherwise. But I don’t think the clan head would wear a Gothic Lolita outfit. I don’t want her raising a ruckus if her kimono gets ripped.”
“Sounds like a good idea. White gets dirty easily as well.” I nodded and got up.
It was a good suggestion, though it was not like Mayuzumi to be thoughtful. Shirayuki’s clothes did, in fact, look restricting. Before getting the clothes, I headed for the kitchen. I went by the hallway and handed Yukihito a garbage bag and tea for two.
“Drink this if you’re tired. I’ll lend a hand later, so please don’t push yourselves too hard.”
I had a feeling it wouldn’t end well if they did.
Yukihito nodded without a word. When I glanced to the side, my eyes met Shirayuki’s; she was dragging out a huge book. She lowered her gaze once and then glared at me. Flinching, I returned to the living room and told Mayuzumi I was leaving.
Then I remembered something important.
“By the way, Mayu-san. What about money?”
“What are you talking about, Odagiri-kun?” she said with a smile. “Use your own money, obviously.”
In short, I was an idiot for not seeing this coming.
I quietly left the office. Looking up at Mayuzumi’s room, I realized that human beings must learn when to give up. I was amazed at myself for getting used to this treatment.
The road in front of Mayuzumi’s apartment sloped gently from east to west. At the top of the hill stood an all-girls’ high school and a women’s college, with a mountain looming behind. There were numerous parks and plazas in the area. Down the hill lay a quiet residential neighborhood that led to a shopping mall. The mall had many stores catering to young women, perhaps because many of the customers were ladies on their way home from school. There was a large department store to the north, connected to the mall by a pedestrian bridge. After wandering through the aisles and stores, I went for the safer choice: the department store. I did not want to get caught shopping for women’s clothes alone among all the female customers.
As I stepped onto the pedestrian bridge, I looked up and saw a goldfish flying in the sky. A red fish floating in the blue expanse hanging above a gorgeous part of town.
Red tail fins fluttered in the air. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, there was nothing there. Only a blue sky. I felt relieved knowing that I was only seeing things.
“It’s impossible because you think it can’t possibly be. It’s all about what you think, Odagiri-kun.”
“I think, therefore I am. Everything begins with doubt. Your peace is yours to decide.”
Mayuzumi’s words replayed in my mind. I dismissed the bad feeling in my gut and made my way to the department store.
The items on display were quite expensive. I picked out an outfit that a mannequin was wearing, a knitted dress with ribbons. It was made of soft black fabric, a line of white ribbons adorning the cuffs, and it looked easy to move in. According to a salestaff, it was a popular outfit. I held back tears, wondering why it cost nearly 20,000 yen. It seemed like a safe choice, and I could imagine Shirayuki looking good in it.
But upon returning to the apartment, I was met with severe criticism.
Mayuzumi and Yuusuke exchanged glances. They looked disgusted for some reason.
“Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi said. “I told you to buy some comfortable clothes. A shirt and a pair of jeans would have sufficed. What’s this? A gift or something?”
“It looks like something straight out of a women’s magazine,” Yuusuke remarked.
“This is your preference, isn’t it? You like the pure and innocent type.”
“They say that people reveal their true feelings subconsciously.”
“Even I didn’t think you’d choose something that suits your own tastes.”
“You asked me to buy clothes,” I hissed as I put Yuusuke in a chokehold. “Any more and I’m gonna hit you.”
Their feedback was so harsh that I had to steel myself before I could bring the dress to Shirayuki. I headed over to her while they continued cleaning up the mess. Contrary to expectations, Shirayuki did not get mad. When I handed her the clothes, she took them quietly. Mayuzumi probably already told her in advance. Holding it by the shoulders, she checked the back and front, studying it blankly. After blinking several times, she stroked the sleeve cautiously.