He’d been busy since morning today because it was finally the day of Hiyori’s birthday party. There were six guests scheduled to participate, so Yokozawa had to prepare enough food to feed seven in total; and while it hadn’t been easy to concoct a menu featuring food that was both easy on the tongue as well as on the eyes, after consulting the cookbook that Hatori had given him and discussing ideas with Hiyori, he’d finally managed to pull it off. He’d even cooked up a practice batch of the most difficult dishes the previous day and gotten passing marks.
“I bought the cake!” came Kirishima’s voice from the genkan as he arrived back home.
“Stow it on the top shelf in the refrigerator. I’ve left some space for it.”
Kirishima had been placed in charge of picking up the cake they’d reserved for Hiyori’s birthday—and with that done, he’d now be on hand helping wait on the guests once the birthday party started. It’d be a great chance for him to show off that characteristic charm of his.
“I also took the liberty of buying some flowers as well—won’t hurt to have a splash of color, now will it?”
“Well that’s surprisingly thoughtful of y—” Yokozawa started to return casually when his breath caught in his throat as he took in the sight of Kirishima standing before him, a bouquet of so many roses in his grasp they looked like they were about to overflow his arms.
While such a bouquet might not have suited Yokozawa himself, they made one hell of a portrait with Kirishima. “Most of the buds were open already—so they cut me a deal on them. They smell great, don’t you think?”
“…Y—yeah, they do.” He quickly busied himself, frantic to ensure that Kirishima not notice his agitation as he stood there captivated, when Hiyori poked her head into the room, having finally finished changing clothes.
“Welcome back, Father! Woooow, what’s what all these flowers?!”
“They’re a present—for you.”
“Huh?? For me?? But—I already got a birthday present from you…?” The dress decked out in sailor colors that she was wearing right now had been Kirishima’s present to her; they’d gone out to buy it together just for the party today.
“Nah, you’re allowed as many presents as you want! They’re pretty, don’t you think? Here, go put them in a vase before everyone gets here. Oh, and set some over by your mama, too.”
“‘Kay! Thanks, Father!” Her cheeks flushed darkly at the happy surprise, and taking up the roses with a smile that nearly split her face, she darted off to the washroom where the vases were stored.
“I’m gonna go get changed too; I’m drenched in sweat, and it wasn’t even that much of a walk. May as well grab a shower while I’m at it.” With that, Kirishima headed off to his bedroom, fanning his chest.
Actually, Yokozawa had something he wanted to tell Kirishima today, and while it might have been best to leave it until after the party, he couldn’t keep calm with the decision to speak lodged firmly in his throat.
He chased after Kirishima, delivering a knock on the door, and when granted admission, he softly slipped into the room. Deeming it best for Hiyori not to overhear this conversation just yet, he made sure to shut the door behind himself.
“What’s up?” came Kirishima’s voice from the closet as he rifled through his wardrobe to find a new shirt, and after a moment’s hesitation, Yokozawa finally came to the point.
“I wanted…to discuss something with you.”
“Discuss something? Does it have to be right now?”
“Well—no, I mean, we can discuss it any time, I imagine, just…” It was less a matter of timing and more a matter of Yokozawa’s own resolution. If he didn’t get this over with while he’d resigned himself to doing so, he’d wind up losing his nerve. “Have you…already gone and done your gravesite tending for the year?”
“Yeah. What of it?”
He swallowed thickly and took a deep breath. “Then… Just, it doesn’t have to be right now, and I won’t press it if you’re not comfortable with it, but…if you wouldn’t mind…could I…maybe go with you, some day?” Kirishima’s eyes flashed wide at Yokozawa’s words, and shaking off the urge to back down, he forced himself to continue in a deluge of explanation, “It’s only—see, I really…just want to introduce myself properly. Like—to make it clear, I guess? I mean, I’m sure she’s worried about Hiyo, after all, and I want her to…understand that I’m not…not here with half-assed feelings or anyth—”
But Kirishima’s hands shot out, gripped him by the head, and dragged him close; and with protests on his tongue, Yokozawa instantly found Kirishima’s lips sealed over his own. “Ngh—mm—!” He was shaken for a moment at the sudden assault, but he quickly recovered his senses and shoved Kirishima back. “What…the hell are you…”
“Sorry, I just—was kind of overwhelmed, and it went to my head…!”
“React like a normal person then!” He rubbed at his mouth with the back of one hand, conscious of the lingering sensation of Kirishima’s lips on his own, then abandoned his seat and placed a bit of space between himself and Kirishima. He couldn’t afford to be this careless.
“Seriously, though—you made me…so fucking happy. I’d love for you to come! And Hiyo would too!”
“…I certainly hope so, at least.” He’d never really discussed Hiyo’s mother with her—in part because he’d never had much opportunity, but also because it was a rather delicate subject, one not typically broached in day-to-day conversation.
“I guarantee it. And—yeah, we could bring Sorata along, too. She always wanted a cat, after all.” Selfish though the request may have been on Yokozawa’s part, Kirishima seemed to be more than thrilled to receive it, which was no small relief.
“So Hiyori got her love of cats from her mother then, huh?”
“Maybe. I always wanted a huge dog, myself, but it’s tough, living in an apartment like this; and then there’s my job, too.”
“True; big dogs need a hell of a lot of exercise.” With Kirishima’s workload right now, there was no way he’d have the time for it. Plus, once Hiyori started middle school, she’d get even busier.
“I’ll save it for retirement. I’ve got my hands full with a certain wild bear right now, after all.”
“Oi—when you put it like that, it makes it sound like you’re the one who has to take care of me.” And maybe that was true in a sense in the workplace, but in private, Yokozawa was the one at wits’ end looking after Kirishima.
“It’s a figure of speech, that’s all—don’t get pissy.”
“I’m not getting pissy.”
And as they stood there bickering, they caught Hiyori’s voice calling them from the kitchen: “Oniichan! I think the pie’s finished!”
“All right! I’m coming!” Yokozawa froze for a moment, realizing they’d just been entertaining a rather dangerous conversation, but Hiyori shouldn’t have been able to overhear them. Leaving Kirishima to his devices in his bedroom, Yokozawa hurried back to the kitchen.
“See? It’s all finished baking, right?”
“Looks that way. Should be fine, given that it looks nice and crispy.” The meat pie seemed to have turned out not half bad after baking.
Except for using a pre-packaged frozen pie crust, this was something he’d worked to make together with Hiyori. He hadn’t been too sure about asking the birthday girl to help cook the food for her own party, but Hiyori herself seemed to be having a wonderful time in the process, so he decided not to get too worked up over it.
“The oven’s still hot so be careful not to touch.”
Wondering what was next on the list of things to do, Yokozawa consulted the schedule he’d taken the liberty of drawing up beforehand when the doorbell rang.
“Don’t tell me people are already arriving…?” They still had over an hour left until the party was supposed to start. If any friends of Hiyori’s had been hasty in their arrival, he wanted to at least have cleaned up the parts of the house they’d see.
“I don’t think so. I made sure to tell everyone we’d start at 1 PM.”
“Maybe it’s a delivery or newspaper fundraising push. I’ll go check, so you set the table, all right?”
Kirishima was typically the one to answer the door, but he’d headed into the bathroom just before, and Yokozawa could hardly call the guy out in the middle of his shower. Glancing into the monitor, he saw a rather nervous-looking boy staring back at him, and after a moment’s confusion at the unexpected arrival, he pressed the ‘on’ button of the speakerphone.
“Yes, who is it?”
“Umm, I’m…Iokawa, from kirishima-san’s class! Is…Kirishima-san available to speak?”
“…Wait just a moment, please.” He held off from answering one way or the other—he was quite certain they’d only invited girls to the party, so maybe this was some sort of mix-up?
He considered checking in with Kirishima before calling Hiyori over, but he didn’t seem through in the bathroom just yet, and so he decided to confirm the boy’s business himself in the entryway.
“Please excuse the wait—could I ask what brings you here today?” As he stepped outside, he found a young man and a boy around elementary school age standing in front of the gate where the interphone was situated. The boy was very obviously frozen stiff with nerves, and that behavior suddenly clicked with Yokozawa.
The kid must’ve had a crush on Hiyori and the birthday of someone you have feelings for is always a major event.
“My apologies, but—would you happen to be Hiyori-san’s father?”
“Oh, no—I’m Yokozawa, a workplace subordinate of her father’s, here to help out with the preparations today. And you would be…?” Granted, that wasn’t an entirely accurate description of their relationship, but he had no reason to go into details with these people.
The young man seemed to be well-attired, with a rather serious appearance; and while he looked like a competent adult, Yokozawa had already come out here to receive them, so he needed to take the time to confirm just who these people were.
“Please excuse the sudden intrusion. I’m this boy’s uncle. I live on the third floor of this building. Here’s my license, if you’d like to see.” On the card was clearly printed the name IOKAWA and an address for this very apartment complex, and a quick glance at the birthdate showed that he was about the same age as Yokozawa.
“How polite; thank you very much. So, how can we help you…?”
“Actually—my nephew couldn’t bring himself to come up here alone, so I’m only here accompanying him.”
“Hey, don’t tell him everything!”
“Then you tell him what you’re here for. You’re the one who was begging someone to come with you.” At his uncle’s rebuttal, the boy grew silent, at a loss for words—but shortly, he recovered and turned to Yokozawa, seeming to have at last prepared himself.
After taking a deep breath, he spoke words that sounded as if they’d been rehearsed. “I—I came to give Kirishima-san…I mean, Hiyori-san a birthday present!”
Given the boy’s stiff expression and the complicated wrapping job, Yokozawa concluded that this wasn’t a joke or simple prank. He and Kirishima had toyed with the idea of what might happen if, one day, Hiyori found herself a boyfriend, but perhaps that day wasn’t so far off as they’d imagined after all…
One day was only going to get closer and closer to right now, and while Yokozawa had imagined he’d only feel irritation and displeasure when boys came along wanting to woo Hiyori, he actually found himself feeling…admiration. It must’ve taken this kid a hell of a lot of guts to come all the way to her house like this, and moreover, it made Yokozawa feel proud of Hiyori, that there was someone like this who felt so strongly for her.
“Was this…a bad time…?”
“Oh—no, no that’s not it. Wait right here—I’ll go call her over.” He slipped back inside for a moment and called out to Hiyori, who’d been checking over the roses she’d just received from Kirishima to ensure they were properly balanced where she’d placed them. “Hiyo—got a second?”
“What is it~?”
“There’s a kid here with a present for you—what should we do? He’s not one of the party guests.”
“For me? It’s not Yuki-chan or the others?” At Yokozawa’s question, she tilted her head—very obviously unable to fathom just who it could be.
“Yeah—a boy from your class named ‘Iokawa’, it seems.”
“Eh? Iokawa-kun? Wonder what he wants… I’ll go see!” And when she darted out of the entryway to greet them, the Iokawa boy flushed like a boiled octopus—but given that they seemed to be on decent terms for the most part, they were able to converse without issue.
Hiyori accepted the present with a bit of embarrassment, but otherwise didn’t seem to be all that concerned—suggesting that the boy’s feelings were one-sided. His uncle’s eyes crinkled from behind his glasses as he fondly gazed upon his nephew’s valiant efforts.
“I’m glad to see she accepted the present.”
“Apparently he was so nervous about it, he didn’t sleep a wink last night.”
While Yokozawa stood there conversing with Iokawa, Kirishima poked his head, still dripping from the shower, out into the entrance area, likely curious as to where Yokozawa and Hiyori had gone off to. “What’s going on, Yokozawa?”
“Ah—a classmate of Hiyori’s brought by a birthday present for her, and this young man accompanied him—”
“I’m his uncle, Iokawa. I’m so sorry to barge in all of a sudden like this.” He ducked his head again politely.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Hiyori’s father. My apologies as well for not introducing myself sooner. I’ve been rather busy, you see.” Kirishima extended a hand, gripping Iokawa’s in his own. He was likely on his best behavior, seeing as he was speaking to the guardian of one of his daughter’s classmates.
“I’m sorry we’ve caused such a fuss like this, and on your day-off, too.”
“Not at all—my daughter appears to be enjoying it, after all.”
“I’m please to hear as such. I mentioned this to Yokozawa-san just now, but I’m living on the third floor of this complex. Rude as it may be to take this opportunity to say so—but I hope we can remain close from now on.”
“Is that so? Then I also hope we can get along.” They then settled into idle chatting, Kirishima’s smile not wavering an inch.
Hiyori finished up her conversation after a bit longer, bidding Iokawa farewell with See you next semester! And after they’d headed back into the genkan and made sure the door was shut, Yokozawa asked what he’d been wondering, unable to keep it to himself despite feeling it rude to bring up. “So…who was that kid?”
“He said it was because I’m always taking care of him. Probably because I always help him with stuff he doesn’t understand in class?”
“Huh… So you sit near each other?”
“Yup! He’s right beside me. I’m gonna go put this up in my room!”
It seemed the boy hadn’t been able to clearly get across his feelings for her. He’d probably been trying his hardest, too—but Hiyori was open and honest and never looked for hidden meanings in people’s words, and it wasn’t really clear whether or not that had worked out for the best for young Iokawa.
Checking to make sure Hiyori was in her room, he voiced his thoughts: ”Doesn’t look like she feels anything for him, huh.”
“…What’re you getting all moody about? There’s no point in being jealous over that.”
“I’m not jealous over the kid.” Which meant his behavior was because of the uncle.
“You… Don’t go getting jealous over the guardian of your daughter’s classmate.” He’d thought Kirishima had been unnecessarily chatty with the guy earlier—and this seemed to be the reason. But as he stood there, dumbfounded at the reaction—Kirishima went and pushed the blame onto Yokozawa himself.
“‘S your fault for making that kind of face around him.”
“You’re such a child. It was a perfectly normal expression.” If he’d seemed particularly happy, it had been for no more reason than putting on a good face for the sake of Hiyori’s interaction with the Iokawas. He was just a random guy—not even family—hanging around the Kirishimas’ house on a weekend; he couldn’t be rude to them.
“Hardly; you were nicer than you ever are at work.”
“What the hell are you going on about? I wasn’t nearly as bad as you were with him!” And finding Kirishima’s sullen expression far too amusing, he let out a loud laugh.