I would never have known Mai’s charms in my lifetime if I had not been open to her.
Yes,…… I have only recently realized her charm of innocent kindness.
I have always despised her and have always hurt her.
Ryosuke and Mai’s estrangement from each other was due in large part to my cold attitude,…… or at least not only because of puberty.
In other words, not a single good memory of me exists with her, rather it is all negative.
And yet,…… she forgave me for that.
She was really angry at me for the bad things I had done to Ryosuke, and she said she would never forgive me for hurting him, but she never mentioned anything about what had been done to her.
“I’m sorry, you are pregnant …….”
“What are you talking about! I was the one who asked you if I could visit, remember? Besides, you can drop me off. So, it’s nothing for Kaede to apologize for!”
“I see…… Truth be told, I was the one who wanted to go out to Mai’s house.”
[I can’t go to Mai’s house because Ryosuke is there], I almost said that, but I didn’t say it out loud because it would make her sad.
I took Mai’s hand and walked down the hallway.
I sat her down not at the dining table, but on the soft sofa that I had made for her.
I bought it just for Mai, but I’ll keep it a secret because …… it would make her feel uncomfortable.
But still,……, it has grown a lot.
“Fufu,……, are you worried about my stomach?”
“…! I’m sorry, ……, I’ve been looking too much.”
“Do you want….to touch it?”
“….Is that okay?”
“Yes! By all means!”
Saying that, Mai offered her belly to me.
My hands trembled as I gently stroked the abdomen that was carrying her child. This is the first time I have been allowed to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, but just touching it makes me feel happy.
However, I cannot imagine myself becoming pregnant.
That made me a little sad as a woman.
“Is it seven months already?”
“Yes, the baby will be born soon.”
“It’s Mai and Ryosuke’s child,…… and they will have a baby who is kinder than anyone else and prettier than anyone else.”
“Thank you ……, I’m really happy to hear Kaede say so.”
Mai smiled a big smile as I said this.
I felt the strength of a future mother, but Mai’s gently smiling face is as innocent as a young girl’s usually is.
She has a wonderful smile that draws people in, but she also has a reassuring strength that, despite her fragility, never breaks at the most crucial points.
And I can assure that she never betrays or hurts anyone.
I can’t believe I haven’t seen the best in her for over 20 years. …… How blind do I have to be to see other people ……?
“Can I sit next to you for a minute?””
I sat down next to Mai, still holding her hand.
Close to her, the warmth of her body transmitted from her shoulders is pleasant.
I feel like I want to do this all the time.
I can really understand now why Ryosuke loved her to no end. It’s because of her that I was able to move on a little bit.
If Mai had not forgiven me at the wedding and blamed me for my past deeds,…… I would surely have become a different person than I am now.
Like Ryosuke, I too have already been melted down to the marrow of my bones by Mai.
The only thing that I can say is that I am not a good person to be around.
We can never be equals.
Ryosuke, Mai, Mom, Ruiko, Nagisa, and Sayaka…… are very important to me.
But I’ve hurt all of them many times except Sayaka,…… or maybe Sayaka too, just because I don’t know her.
I don’t want to hurt everyone any more.
“Thank you for coming today.”
“……I will come anytime. After the baby is born, I won’t be able to for a while, but I’ll come when things settle down.”
Mai put strength into her overlapping hands and squeezed my hand tightly …… and looked sad.
“Kaede,…… please don’t hate yourself.”
I couldn’t answer.
But that is difficult to do, even if Mai asks me to do so. After all, there are too many irrevocable misdeeds in my past.
Even if Mai would forgive me, I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen.
I [Kaede Yamamoto] must not fall in love.
When I became silent without being able to say anything, Mai did not make any further mention of it.
Does it make her feel uncomfortable?
It’s hard to read people’s emotions …… the more important they become ……, the more conservative I am in my thinking because I’m afraid of being disliked.
“I forgot to mention something important.”
“…… hmm? What?”
“Thank you …… Mai, and take care of your baby.”
Aah…… all my thoughts were unnecessary…………. Mai laughed at me in a gentle tone of voice. When interacting with this child, I feel as if I’m a good person.
……There’s no way that could be true at all.
The child born to Ryosuke and Mai will surely be promised a wonderful future.
The couple would never do anything to make their child unhappy.
I sat next to Mai and we talked a lot about the baby. We avoided talking about Ryosuke, but we still had plenty to talk about.
The happy time passed in a flash.
The time was after 9:00 p.m. and we decided to split up.
As planned, I am going to drop Mai off at her home and go to talk to Ruiko, who was laying down in her bedroom.
I have no particular preference, but this is the first time I have let someone other than myself sleep in my bedroom.
“Ruiko, I’m going to take Mai home now. I’m going to be gone for a bit, is there anything you want?”
“D-drinking…… driving…… don’t……”
“I’m not driving, my manager is.”
“…… Is that so.”
She remains bright blue,…… and looks pretty bitter …….
If I look closely, I can see that her etiquette bag was also bulging …… and she seems to have thrown up again.
I casually replaced it with a new bag and put it down.
(I guess I’ll have to teach Ruiko how to deal with alcohol from now on.)
I don’t care how much trouble she causes me.
But that shouldn’t be the case in front of the others.
Moreover, Ruiko has a constitution that is …… quite troublesome, as she likes to drink even though she is weak against alcohol.
I have to warn her about drinking parties where the opposite sex are present.
“Is there anything you want me to do? Do you want me to rub your back?”
“……… kill me.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I gave Ruiko a glass of water and left the house with Mai.
After 20 minutes of driving.
We arrived near Ryosuke’s house.
I got out of the back seat first and held out my hand to Mai, who was sitting next to me.
I made sure that Mai held on to my hand, and I started walking slowly, pulling on her hand.
“Mai, I saw you and came to get you.”
Mai smiled happily at the person who appeared.
Mai has always had a sincere smile on her face, and now she walks up to the person she just visited with a sweet tone in her voice and a smile that bursts with joy.
There is only one person who is more special to Mai than anyone else in this world …… for the rest of eternity.
I quietly left the place while caring for Mai.
Ryosuke, whom I hadn’t felt up close with in a long time, was still more precious and wonderful than anyone else.
Mai turns around and faces me.
For a moment, she lost herself, and I wonder if she feels guilty for going to Ryosuke’s side …… apologetically, her face down.
In response, I gestured with my hand, “Don’t worry about it”. Even if Ryosuke couldn’t hear me, I was hesitant to speak up in front of him.
Little by little, I pulled away from them.
The sight of the two of them thinking of each other and gently embracing each other is still beautiful no matter how many times I see it.
“Manager ……, please drive the car.”
As soon as I got into the car, I quickly sent instructions to the manager. It’s probably not a good idea for me to be here forever.
On the way home, I sat in the back seat to support Mai, but on the way back I sat down in the passenger seat.
The fun and meaningful day was over with regret.
Tomorrow, Nagisa and my mom will be home a day late. I’m sure I’ll get something special from the two of them, too.
“Phew……………… yearning child? Why don’t you start the car?”
The manager would not start the car no matter how long it took.
I called out to the manager to see if there was some kind of trouble, but she pointed to the passenger window where I was sitting.
“No, I heard he spoke to you.”
He ……? I’m not supposed to know any men, right?
I looked out the window, wondering.
Standing there was Ryosuke.
I was sure it was Ryosuke, no matter how hard I looked at him,…….
I suspected hallucination, but that’s not the case because the manager is aware of it.
Besides, the manager would have started the car if a stranger approached.
The only reason she did not do so is because she recognizes that Ryosuke is my brother.
In other words, I am sure it is Ryosuke who is outside.
The manager who is driving, not me. ……?
No, Ryosuke’s eyes are definitely looking at me ……, so I’m still sure.
When I realized that I had rolled down my window.
“──Uhm, it’s nice to meet you, isn’t it?”
“Ah, no, um,…… yes.”
I was really pleased to hear from Ryosuke.
Moreover, he was looking into my eyes with a kind expression.
I don’t know why,……, but Ryosuke could definitely see me now.
The fact that this is the case makes my heart tighten.
“Thank you for taking Mai here.”
“Oh, ah …… that …… is …… I hope you don’t mind.”
How long has it been since I’ve talked to him ……?
To begin with, I was resented by Ryosuke for a long time before he stopped recognizing me,…… so it’s been even longer since he spoke to me normally.
I just can’t get the words right. …… I can’t remember how to talk to Ryosuke in a normal way.
Even the act of opening the window was an unconscious act.
That’s how shaken up I am.
I talk to Ryosuke eye to eye.
In the past, it was a normal thing, and now it is a miracle that should have only happened in a dream.
But it was happening in reality.
Dreams are much more realistic than reality,…… because in a dream, my heart would not have been so excited…
“I’d like to ask you to continue to support Mai.”
“……Aah, of course.”
Finally, my brain caught up with me.
Ryosuke came to thank his wife’s friend in person.
“I’m sorry I startled you earlier,……, but you must have been surprised that I called out to you so suddenly.”
Ryosuke is concerned about the shock I showed at first.
If I don’t clear up the misunderstanding soon, I will feel guilty.
“No, it’s okay, uhm ……. Thank you for taking the time to come and say hello to me …….”
What a disgraceful response.
What if he thinks I’m a strange woman?
But I hope this is the best I can do …be forgiven.
And then Ryosuke smiled and continued to talk.
I’ve not seen him smile so kindly at me in a long time.
“It’s really rare for Mai to go to a friend’s house to hang out. Mai is quite shy,……, so I hope you will continue to be good friends with her.”
“……Yes, we will continue to be friends.”
“Well, take care,…… and thank you driver for giving her a ride today.”
The driver answers with a nod of her head. I, on the other hand, am …… so pathetic.
I saw Ryosuke waving at me, and then the manager started the car.
I remember the image of Ryosuke as he gets smaller and smaller in my mind.
We had only talked for a short time, but I felt it was the happiest time of my life.
Even when I was close to Ryosuke and had a lot of skinship with him, I couldn’t feel this much happiness.
I could have talked a lot more back then. …… I wonder why I am the happiest now.
(I guess I’ll never know.)
─ ─ Even after we parted, I kept waving my hand outside the window where Ryosuke was no longer there. Thank God it was dark outside,…… if it had been light, someone might have seen my odd behavior.
“Good for you,…… that you can talk again.”
“……………Do you think so?”
The call finally brought me back to myself.
The manager, Ayako, knows what’s going on.
There were many times when Ryosuke was mentally ill, and I had told her all about it a long time ago, much to her annoyance.
In tears, she said these words to me.
“Yes, it is definitely a good thing.”
“…….. yeah …… but how come he can see me now?”
“Well,…… perhaps it happened when he saw Kaede cuddling with Mai?”
“The way we cuddled……?”
“Well, it’s just a guess. You’re doing something he thought Kaede would never do, and for Ryosuke, maybe that was the scene he wished for in the past?”
“…… Ryosuke’s wish?”
“I’m just an outsider’s guess, so don’t take it too seriously, okay?”
“……..I don’t think of it that way.”
There, the conversation with the manager was interrupted.
I didn’t say anything else either, because I was afraid that if I spoke in a strange way, I would burst into tears.
I was so happy to be seen and recognized by Ryosuke that it brought tears to my eyes, but I had one concern.
What if I get stuck on him like I did in the past?
I had such a fear.
However, I was immediately convinced that this would not happen again.
I am now ……
I love Ryosuke and Mai —- I love both of them.
I don’t think in the slightest that I’d ever want Ryosuke as my own.
However, the feeling of importance has not disappeared and I can’t express myself well …… because it is strange.
(I’m talking about myself, but it seems like I’m talking about someone else from a while ago.)
After all, I don’t understand much about not only others, but even myself.
“And yet …… nice to meet you, huh?”
It’s a complicated feeling, as if I’m sad …… to lose the memories and happy …… to start anew.
However, the sin is not gone.
I will try to live my life to the fullest from now on so that I will never repeat such a mistake again.
It looks like I can still keep up the good work.
I’ll be happy if we can talk again someday like we did before.
It’s really a shame when I think back on it. …… I could have talked to him more properly.
Perhaps if I were allowed to…
I’d be happy if I could get to know him better as “Nee” this time.
I was told later by the manager that I had been in tears all the way home…….
~Mai’s point of view
I was watching the scene from the entrance hallway.
I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes.
I didn’t even notice Kaede on the TV until yesterday, but …… just now I was looking her in the eye and talking to her.
When Ryosuke said he was going to say hello, I thought he was going to go to the driver of the car, but he headed straight for the passenger seat.
I was really surprised to see that.
But later, I was filled with an unspeakable joy.
I still cannot forgive what she did to Ryosuke.
But I know that Kaede has been resenting and blaming herself for the past few years.
Whenever she talked to me, she was always apologetic and sincerely regretted what she had done to Ryosuke.
That’s why I couldn’t stop …… crying, because even though I couldn’t forgive Kaede, I couldn’t continue to hate her.
Ryosuke says I’m such a kind person,…… but this kind of thing is just mean-spiritedness.
But the reason I can think so is because …… the only reason I don’t hate Kaede is because Ryosuke was safe.
If Ryosuke had been ruined at that time, I would have resented her forever no matter what happened.
“Mai……I’m home…… Eh? Why are you crying!”
Mou~, you’re such a good-for-nothing, Ryosuke.
You don’t even know what people are thinking,……. No, he doesn’t need to know after all.
I don’t want Ryosuke to know about these wicked feelings …….
“I got a little trash in my eye.”
“No, it can’t be trash in your eyes that you are crying ,right?”
Can’t he be fooled?
He looks pretty worried. …… Sorry Ryosuke.
“I know the trash is a lie, but I’m not crying because I’m sad, okay? They’re tears of joy, okay?”
I told him honestly and he believed me.
I’ve always been prone to show it on my face…… so anything I hide will be immediately obvious.
Ryosuke is very good at detecting lies and sensing the malicious intent of others.
Because of this, I don’t have to worry about being cheated by a scam or something.
But because of this, he suffered a lot in high school.
(He has been hurt a lot, right?).
So, I may fool around and make jokes, but I will not tell malicious lies.
I have made up my mind to do so.
After I had calmed down, I went to the sofa with Ryosuke.
Seeing that he is fine right away, Ryosuke is relieved to see that I am really fine.
I make sure he sits down on the couch, and then I lay down next to him and put my head on his lap.
This is the knee pillow ……yes, he does this to me every day.
I love having him pat my head in this position.
I would never give it up to anyone else, it’s my own special seat.
But if it’s with a child, it’s okay to share it… or rather, I’m happy to be able to share it.
We’ve been dating for many years, and we’ve been married for three years this year.
And yet we still love each other as we have always loved each other. I’m sure the feelings we have now will last even after ten years. We never get tired of each other, and the more time passes, the more our love for each other grows.
Since we got married, I’ve learned about some of Ryosuke’s bad habits that I didn’t know before, but I love even those.
“Hmm? What’s wrong?”
And the conversation started abruptly…… without warning.
“What do you think about ‘Kaede’ as a name for our child?”
“Out of the blue, what’s going on?”
Laying my head on Ryosuke’s lap, my feet, which had been flapping around, stopped.
I was surprised to hear Kaede’s name come out of nowhere.
“No….I’ve been trying to decide on a name for the baby that’s going to be born,……, but for some reason it just suddenly came to me.”
[Why?] Was my first thought.
Because a triggering event happened just a few minutes ago.
I listened to Ryosuke’s story in silence.
“I had never been able to tell you this, but I have always thought Mai was good looking. Of course you’re cute, but it’s your coolness that I fell in love with the most.”
“Good looking? Me?”
I can’t think of anything.
“Mai is an important person and …… hero to me because you supported me when I was going through a hard time and never gave up on me no matter how bad it got…….”
I can’t believe he thought that. …… I just believed in Ryosuke. …… I just did such a simple and obvious thing, I didn’t do that much.
And if I was a hero, I could have protected him.
But I couldn’t protect him,…… so I’m not a hero.
—-I told him that, but he shook his head and didn’t accept my claim.
“Mai, don’t say that. It’s not natural, I assure you. Mai is the most amazing girl in the world.”
“Well, you are the cutest girl in the world, too.”
“Oh~, suddenly you’ve lost all credibility!”
But I can’t make fun of Ryosuke too strongly because I think he’s the best in the universe,…….
But I’m the best in the universe, so I win, right?
Ehhh……I won’t lose to Ryosuke because of the strength of my love.
I don’t think I can lose this one.
I’m confident that I can keep winning against him until the end.
─ ─ And the topic returns to the topic of children.
“If I ever have a younger sister or brother, I want them to grow up to be strong enough to believe in me and protect me to the end, no matter what.”
“I don’t have a sister, so maybe that’s just how I feel.”
I had to shut up and listen.
“I might feel awkward about it if I actually had a sister.”
He has one…… Ryosuke has a big sister.
She loved Ryosuke with all her heart.
If not for that incident, she would have been a wonderful big sister to Ryosuke, you know?
“But you wanted her to be a strong big sister, so how did you come up with the name Kaede?”
—Ryosuke put his hand on his chin and began to worry about the question from Mai.
Mai reflected that the question was a bit mean-spirited.
After serious consideration, Ryosuke slowly began to talk about the reason why.
“I don’t know why I feel so powerful when I hear the word Kaede. I really don’t know why.”
He is surprised to hear himself talk about it.
I guess he really doesn’t understand.
“I’m all for that name too. …… Ehehe, I don’t know why!”
“Ah, you imitated me.”
“Ehehe………… then, shall we name the baby ‘Kaede’?”
“Eh? Is that fine? Are you okay with that?”
“Yes! Actually, I like that name too!”
“You don’t have to thank me……we decided on it together.”
“Hahaha. That’s true!”
“──She doesn’t have to grow up to be an amazing human being.”
“But I want her to be the kind of cool older sister—-
that her younger brothers and sisters aspire to be.”
End of Kaede story