Several years have passed since Ryosuke and Mai’s wedding, and today marks my 25th birthday.
Since this morning, I have been receiving a steady stream of ‘Happy Birthday’ messages and stamps.
“I’m pretty sure this guy took care of me on an end-of-year special and …… this guy sent me a New Year’s greeting card?”
I replied to the messages as I recollected the relationship with the person.
Some of them are people I don’t have much contact with, and some of them are almost unknown to the public.
A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable.
I would have absolutely ignored them. I only tried to interact with those with whom I could benefit from a relationship.
I’m still not much of a person, but I was a far worse person back then.
“I hope that’s about all the replies I’ve gotten.”
I took a breath as I finished replying to all of them.
I can see now that they are far more amazing than I am.
They are working and practicing with passion and pride. …… Even if they don’t get results, their way of life will be glorious.
I envy them. I really envy them.
I’m just an old doll, but they shine so brightly every day by my dark side. How could I make fun of them …… I thought to myself from the bottom of my heart.
I can play a role perfectly in a drama based on an event I have absolutely no experience in.
People around me praise me for my outstanding acting ability, but I am merely playing the characters as described in the script. Since I can only play a role according to the script ……I forget about the character after the play is over.
I just can’t seem to get the emotional connection right.
I don’t know …… what I’m feeling other than myself, so I just have to do what is written perfectly.
Anyway, I can’t find the passion to do anything.
It’s been seven years since Ryosuke stopped recognizing me.
The time that I haven’t been able to see Ryosuke is a really painful time for me.
And it will continue to be so for a long time to come.
Even now, there are nights when I cannot sleep because I miss him so much.
Even though I know in my head that I shouldn’t think about him, there are still days when I can’t control my emotions.
“I’ve already said goodbye.”
But I don’t want to go see him again.
I don’t want to make my family sad again, I don’t want Mai to hate me ……, and most of all I don’t want Ryosuke to get hurt.
“Still, I wish him happiness.”
And today, I will continue to play the role of “something”.
As the “Kaede Yamamoto ” that I hate.
I finished filming in the morning and headed home.
When I opened the front door, I heard the sound of Sayaka getting ready for lunch from the kitchen.
“Ah, Kaede! You’re right on time as usual! …… This one will be ready soon~”
I thanked her and sat down on the couch.
Of course, I usually prepare my own food.
However, today, Sayaka is going to give me a home-cooked meal as a birthday present as well. To be fair, she frequently barges in and serves me home-cooked food.
In addition, a while ago, she started always stopping by on my birthday to cook me a sumptuous meal that she has taken the time to prepare.
Since it is my birthday, she has prepared a fairly elaborate meal today as usual.
(Well, I also make sure to have some free time on my schedule for my birthday, so I can spend it with Sayaka)
I heard humming from the kitchen. Sayaka has her long hair tied up in a triangle and is wearing a pink apron.
“I got some good meat~”
She is talking to herself from the kitchen.
She seems to be in a very good mood.
She has improved her beauty over the past few years.
Now she can give a good speech on TV, and she no longer makes big mistakes against big names and has me to clean up her mess.
The Sayaka of today would be fine without me.
“I wonder if I can make it taste good~?”
And yet, she wouldn’t leave my side.
I can’t talk about anything interesting, so it shouldn’t be fun to be with me……?
The day before I appeared on a talk show, I couldn’t tell her how much it bothers me. Anyway, I’m the kind of woman who can’t even tell a single interesting story without a script.
And yet, Sayaka always listens and laughs at me. When no one was around, she would stick close to me, and if I took a nap in the break room, she would sleep by my side before I knew it.
[Kaede-san is my benefactor who changed my life, you know. If Kaede-san hadn’t saved me at that time, I would have spent a sad life frightened by malice.]
Sayaka said to me like this.
I couldn’t abandon her because she overlapped with Ryosuke, …… and that’s really all there is to it. ……
[You always stood around when I screwed up so that I wouldn’t be hung out to dry or hated, you know?]
I tried not to be noticed, but I didn’t think she was aware of it. …… She’s surprisingly perceptive in that area.
But since she stayed in show business because of me, I have to help her to some extent or I won’t feel good about myself.
[To me, Kaede-san is a hero! Not just a hypocrite at the top ……, you reach out to me when I’m really in trouble ……! That’s the kind of person you are!]
I’m not a hero …… I’m a hypocrite. …… I hope she realizes that soon. …… and…
[Kaede-san is the coolest person in the world!]
[Kaede nee-chan is the coolest person in the world!]
The word “cool” and the expression on her face when she said it were exactly the same as the Ryosuke of those days…… and the word soaked deep into my five organs.
I’ve heard Ryosuke say many times that I’m a cool sister…….
So I changed my tone of voice like this, and I worked hard in my studies and sports.
I love and cherish him so much that I could change my own personality.
I loved Ryosuke that much. ……
I thought he was really important to me…….
So why didn’t I believe him?
Because jealousy got in the way……?
No, it wasn’t.
Because I was jealous of the many women around him……?
No, it wasn’t.
Because I lack humanity……?
Yes, that is the truth.
Jealousy and envy are just convenient excuses.
In the essential part, I lacked a bit of substance as a human being.
I have no compassion for others.
All I care about is myself.
That is why I did not think about Ryosuke, whom I love dearly, and tried to obtain the one I love by cruel means.
I didn’t even give a little thought to that child’s heart.
I am happy that everyone celebrates my birthday.
On the other hand, it is also a day when I think deeply about a certain thing.…… Why did I…
Why did I come into this world?
“……! T-Thank you.”
I was thinking about the backward …… things I shouldn’t have done.
It would be disrespectful to Sayaka if I had a gloomy look on my face,…… because I must never show her the pathetic appearance that would make her disappointed.
“I’m doing it again…….”
The table is lined with roast beef, carpaccio, and other good-looking dishes.
She looks a little grumpy… is it just my imagination?
I haven’t said anything strange, so I should be fine.
“You sure you didn’t want me to help you like I usually do?”
“It’s your birthday, so take it easy!”
But by the time all the food was on the table, she had regained his composure. I was relieved, but thanks to her, the reason for my grumpiness was lost in the maze.
“Kaede-san! Once again, happy birthday!””
“Thank you, Sayaka …….”
“Don’t mention it!”
Sayaka sat across from me and held a glass of wine.
I put my hands together to say ‘Itadakimasu’ and then proceed to eat the roast beef she prepared.
Yes, it’s really delicious.
“Mu~! We haven’t had a toast yet!”
“Oh, I’m sorry.……”
I had forgotten about it even though it was a celebration.
Sayaka’s cheeks are puffed out as she holds her glass as well.
Normally, I should be able to show this kind of consideration, but when I’m dealing with someone I’ve allowed myself to be with, I tend to show my faults. …… It’s a bad habit.
We made a toast again and resumed the meal, this time with Sayaka.
“Kaede-san, you really can’t be left alone, right~… You’re leaving the dishes dirty too~?”
“I’m going to do it later.”
─ ─ That’s a lie.
I don’t even have the energy to do anything these days. I am not even sure what I am living for. But if I die, there will be people who will be saddened by my death.
I am alive only for them.
“Kaede-san, …… as long as I’m here, I won’t leave you alone.”
Perhaps the negative thoughts came out in my expression, but Sayaka was looking at me with a more serious face than ever before.
She has known me for a long time.
She notices even the slightest change in me.
“I see. …… Let’s hope for the best.”
“Fufu, you can count on me.”
Would Sayaka be sad if ……… I died?
If so, I’d hate it …… but I’d still be happy.
It’s really a contradictory thought, but there’s no sadder reality than not being looked at.
I am still a troublesome woman, me.
I am still troubled by many things.
I often wish for my own death.
Still, for the sake of those who care about me, I will try my best to live in hell today.
I despair that my current situation is hell, even though I have so many allies. I wish I had that strength …… even though I’m not in a bad situation compared to Ryosuke…….
I am so worried about whether we are really blood related, there is such a big difference in mentality between Ryosuke and me.…… I am really reminded that the only thing we resemble is our appearance.
“Aaaah …… I don’t want to go home~”
“Didn’t I tell you beforehand that I had an appointment with my friend?”
“You did say something like that, right?”
“…..Do you want to meet her? I wanted to introduce her to Sayaka, and …… I’m going to meet her now because she’s an important friend of mine.”
“…… dear friend ……, you really don’t understand the heart of a maiden! I’m leaving now!”
“…..But I’m also a maiden, no?”
For some reason, Sayaka is irritated when she hears the words ” important friend” and walks zigzagging to the front door.
Kaede sees Sayaka off to the front door.
“…… I’ll be back again.”
“Yeah, you can come anytime.”
Sayaka would leave the apartment, looking back and forth as if she had left something behind.
I didn’t realize she disliked being introduced so much,…… or maybe it was my fault for suddenly offering,…… ah I still can’t understand how other people feel no matter how long I’ve been here.
I guess I will never grow up.
─ ─ A little while after Sayaka left, Ruiko visited my house this time.
She is an important friend of mine. I didn’t have any work this afternoon in order to meet not only Sayaka but also Ruiko.
“I’ve been waiting for you ……, come on in.”
“Excuse me for disturbing you.”
I invited her in and Ruiko came into the room happily. In her hand she held a large paper bag.
“Kaede! It’s been a long time! And congratulations!”
“It’s been a long time. …… and thank you.”
It will be the first time we have met in approximately three months.
I don’t know if I would call it a long time.
How often do working people usually see their friends in private?
The only person I can call a friend is Ruiko, so what about Sayaka …… She is someone I see a lot at work……
“A little while ago, I was started by an Onee-chan wearing pink clothes and sunglasses at the entrance downstairs! I was really scared!”
“Pink clothes and sunglasses?”
Ninety-nine percent, no doubt, it was Sayaka.
She was dressed like that before she left.
She’s a celebrity just like me, she needs a disguise when she moves around.
(But that’s strange ……? Sayaka left more than 30 minutes ago. ……? Was she at the entrance the whole time?)
Hmmm — I can’t read Sayaka’s behavior.
But she’s certainly not the kind of girl who stares at people. I am sure Ruiko is mistaken.
I showed her Ruiko’s picture before and introduced her as ‘a friend I can trust wholeheartedly. That’s how she remembered her face, and that’s probably why she greeted her.
When I showed her the photo, she looked at it as if she was devouring it, so there was no doubt about it.
“Well, I guess we’ll never see each other again, so it doesn’t matter… Anyway, I got you a bottle of wine. Do you want some”
“Of course I’ll have some.”
I was right to hold out for just one glass of wine.
Thanks to that, I don’t have to turn down an invitation from Ruiko.
“So, Kaede-chan! Happy birthday! Cheers – or at least that’s what we’ll pretend, Renaissance!”
Her personality has changed a lot since a few years ago.
She has become more cheerful or positive.
She has lost the seriousness that makes her overthink things, and she now jokes a lot in private.
In her senior year of high school…… precisely after she found out that Ryosuke was falsely accused, she always seemed really bitter.
I couldn’t give her any advice because I was a person who didn’t have the time to care about others back then, and I couldn’t help her to the end.
I didn’t reach out to her when she was really suffering, the opposite of what Sayaka said. ……
And yet, Ruiko was there to encourage me.
It must have been a difficult time for her too. …… She is really kind.
Even though I betrayed her, she does not blame me for it at all and still comes to see me like this.
“Kaede, what is a renaissance? Hahaha.”
“You said it yourself.”
“Eh? You’re lying~?”
“Are you already drunk?”
Maybe there was a chance for something to change a few years ago.
It could have been Ryosuke’s wedding …… at the time, or maybe Ryosuke was…
She’s definitely drunk this time,…… I can assure that because her face is bright red.
So that means she was sober earlier,……, which is terrifying.
Well, I like the current Ruiko, too, because she’s so adorable.
“You’ve only had one sip yet you’re so drunk?”
I’ve been with Ruiko several times for drinks and I know she’s not very good with alcohol. But I can just barely handle a mug of beer or so. …… Is alcohol a problem?
I was curious and checked the alcohol content.
60% alcohol by volume
“…… Eh? What’s with the alcohol content? …… Wasn’t it wine?”
I don’t know much about it, but I have heard that the alcohol content of wine is about 20% or less, as I recall.
I checked the label again.
“I didn’t think I could mistake whiskey for wine. …… I see. …… I must have been an idiot. ……”
It certainly doesn’t look like wine, but I wish she had at least made sure of the product name.
“Ughhhh …… it’s disgusting ……… Oh, there’s some kind of beautiful Onee-chan! Who are you?”
“Oh, it’s Kaede-chan……!”
“Are you okay?”
“Come over here, …… and fall on your knees.”
“I don’t do that kind of service.”
Ruiko is a pain in the *ss when she gets drunk.
So I usually stop her if she is about to drink too much, but there is nothing I can do if she gets drunk at the drop of a hat.
In the end, I couldn’t refuse and had to fall on my knees.
Her body is mature, but I feel her personality is younger than it was in high school. If this is her true nature, how much did Ruiko push herself too hard in high school?
Just as she did while in school, she wears a headband on her head. Now it was digging in and looked painful, so she took it off.
That’s exactly when it happened.
Suddenly, Ruiko began to gag.
“I’m going to throw up……Uppp…….”
“……… No way…… on me!”
—What is happening, my favorite skirt has been ruined. It was a precious skirt that I got from Nagisa and yet… This unique smell is hard to get rid of.
“……I-I’m sorry…..Even though it’s your birthday, ……”
“D-D-don’t worry about it.”
I’m sorry, Nagisa,…… but apart from being drunk, I’m going to forgive her because she’s apologizing with a very pale face.
“You can stay the night now,……, you have tomorrow off, right?”
I decided to put Ruiko to bed.
But before that, I take Ruiko to the bathroom and clean her body in the shower.
She apologized the whole time while I was washing her, so I don’t blame her. …… I might at least say something snarky when she comes back to her senses. ……
But I couldn’t get the smell of alcohol out of my system.
The strong smell that stuck with me was particularly tough.
The time is approaching 19:00.
I am about to meet a pregnant woman …… and I should never meet her with such a stinking body.
I repeatedly take actions to alleviate the smell as much as possible by spraying deodorant and bathing as often as possible.
Perhaps such efforts paid off, because by the time she arrived, I succeeded in eliminating most of the sour smell.
─ ─ Ding-dong!
“……Good evening, Kaede-san.”
“Good to see you……Mai.”
And then I greet Mai, who is pregnant with Ryosuke’s child and has a big belly.