On a certain night, the four of us were waiting for the two of them to return. Kohaku-chan, Aoi-chan, and Mel-chan were all waiting without having dinner.
It was already past 7 o’clock. I never imagined they would be out so late together… Well, they didn’t explicitly say they were going out together, but if they’re not here, it must be the case.
Perhaps sensing the situation, Kohaku-chan had a nervous smile on her face, while Aoi-chan seemed a bit displeased. By the way, Mel-chan pretended to be asleep, avoiding any interaction with them.
But seriously, how could they be this late without any contact?
No, I’m sure they wouldn’t do anything inappropriate, right?
[I-Izayoi, be gentle with me, okay?]
[Haa… Haa… Hihara-senpai…]
[Enchant me with your charm…]
No, no, such things would never happen. I’m just getting carried away with these delusions. What’s wrong with me?
For tonight’s dinner, Kohaku-chan made Mapo Tofu. It looks so delicious… Should I try it?
As I pondered, I finally heard the sound of the front door opening.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Huh? Didn’t you say it’s okay to eat?”
He and Karen-chan returned. Kohaku-chan welcomed them with a rose-like smile.
“You’re quite late coming back. I wonder what you two were up to… Could you explain?”
“Well, it’s not that big of a deal, you know…”
Both he and Karen-chan blushed and kept stealing glances at each other… Huh? What happened?
“Hey, can we sit down already? I’m tired of waiting.”
Aoi-chan urged them to sit down, her words containing a hint of anger. Whether consciously or unconsciously, she didn’t seem pleased with something.
“My bad. Thanks for waiting.”
As they took their seats, Mel-chan, who seemed to understand everything, quickly stood up, not wanting to get involved.
The dining table was set up in a way that he sat vertically at one end, facing Karen-chan. On his right side sat Karen-chan and Aoi-chan, while Kohaku-chan and I sat on the left.
Well, as usual, the two of us were on either side of him…
The first to take action was Kohaku-chan. Undoubtedly, she has the strongest possessiveness among us.
Holding a ladle with her special Mapo Tofu, she offered it to his mouth. Kohaku-chan doesn’t usually do things like this. Feeling something amiss, she made this sudden move to focus on him.
“Ah, no, I… uh…”
He seemed unsure of what to do, glancing at Karen-chan. Aoi-chan noticed and squinted her eyes, while Kohaku-chan persistently offered him the food with a smile.
That smile had a somewhat dark undertone. And I could sense an unwavering determination not to back down until he ate.
He seemed to sense that too and hesitantly opened his mouth.
Then, this time, Kohaku-chan placed some mapo tofu on the spoon and brought it close to his mouth.
“Come on, it can’t be helped, I’ll feed you. Open up…”
“No, senpai, you don’t have to do that. I’ll do ‘aah’ for him.”
“No, if it can’t be helped, then I’ll do it.”
“If it can’t be helped, can you just leave me out of it?”
Both of them were riled up. It was an unprecedented battle, but they were quietly burning with determination. Behind Kohaku-chan, there was a white tiger, and behind Karen-chan, there was a vermilion bird…
Behind him, there was only a small fish, nervously sweating, with a clenched fist on his knee and a pale face.
“Come on, Izayoi-kun, ‘aah’.”
“Well, eat mine too… I-I mean, because we’re… um…”
They both offered the spoon to him. It seemed like Kohaku-chan was saying something in a small voice, but I couldn’t hear it.
He ate both servings of mapo tofu.
“Here, it tastes even better when eaten together with rice. ‘Ahh’.”
“Well, you’ll eat mine too, right?”
They kept feeding him, one after another. Minutes passed…
Ah, this is becoming uncontrollable. Are they in a hot dog eating contest?! They kept feeding him at a pace that was hard to keep up with because they had become rivals.
Enough, stop it! His stomach must be full to the brim!
“U-Um, maybe we should stop for a moment? I think he’s full too.”
“Yes, you’re right… Sorry, Izayoi-kun.”
“I-I might have gone too far… Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s so delicious that I’m perfectly fine.”
As he said that, the two finally took a breath.
“Izayoi-kun, I made this mapo tofu. I can make such delicious dishes. Please observe me for a long time and make various judgments, okay? Like comparing me to older people who aren’t good at cooking…”
“Hey! Izayoi, just ignore this stubborn junior. She’s been gaining weight recently.”
“T-That’s not relevant!”
“What did you say?!”
As usual, in such situations, he still didn’t know what to do. But I understand. His gaze is different from before.
That’s something we all have in common, but Kohaku-chan seems to notice it more. That’s why she’s feeling anxious… Aoi-chan too…
“I-I’ll take a bath… I’ll go ahead.”
Aoi-chan left, and there seemed to be something troubling her… I feel the same way…
No, let’s stop this. I’m not foolish enough to engage in a losing battle…
Afterwards, we somehow managed to calm the two down, and the situation in the room settled down.
I sink into the bathtub alone. The warm water seeps into my mind and body. Normally, I would feel refreshed and relieved, but today… I don’t feel refreshed. It’s because of them… Because of their eyes… Only Karen’s eyes are different. I can’t put my finger on it, but…
Karen is my friend, that’s an undeniable fact. Yet, for a brief moment, I felt a black emotion welling up inside me when I looked at her.
I don’t want to see Karen and him trusting each other. Ah, but that’s just my irritation, right?
Even with Kohaku… there was a hint of black emotion. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just my imagination. It must be. There’s no way I would direct such feelings towards my friends. I submerge myself in the bathtub.
I let the water cover me from head to toe, trying to wash away all those feelings.
[Hihara Karen PoV]
In the steam rising from the bath in Izayoi’s house, I soak myself, calming my feelings… Today, he confessed to me… He said he likes me. Ah, joy, ecstasy, happiness.
All kinds of emotions.
However, we haven’t officially started dating yet. At the moment, we function as a team. Kohaku, Moegi, Aoi, and Mel. I can pretty much imagine what they think of Izayoi.
Mel is carefree. Safe and secure. No danger, just like a slime.
Aoi is… like a fledgling adventurer, I suppose? Somehow, she seems to be doing fine. No need to be wary, though there might be hidden talent.
Moegi… well, she’s a bit tricky too. Maybe somewhere in the middle as an adventurer. But I feel like she’s hiding her fangs… She may call herself a rookie, but who knows!?
That’s the vibe I get… probably…
Now, we have Kohaku, the hero-class adventurer. A bundle of robust physique. She always says she’s overweight, but she never is. I’m slightly envious.
A hero, and quite the carnivorous type. Dangerous in the truest sense, with all her talents. She’s quick to respond to any maiden’s signals like a crackling electric shock.
Well, still, at the moment, I am standing tall at the top…
We carry the weight of the world. That’s why dating Izayoi here is out of the question. After all, we’re a team, and it wouldn’t be good if things become awkward within it. Izayoi cares about our relationships…
And besides, he said he likes me, but it’s like a close race. Sure, I feel like I’m ahead, but on the other hand, that’s just it. I’ll keep appealing until I’m four steps ahead.
It may not work out perfectly, but…
Various circumstances prevent me from moving as I wish… But still…
I am the main heroine, that hasn’t changed.
“You said you liked me, and you made me say it, so I’m going to hold you …… accountable for it. …… Izayoi.”
I immediately saw something between Izayoi-kun and Kohaku-senpai… His gaze towards her was different from usual. And an uncontrollable mix of anxiety and jealousy dominated me.
Until now, there were a few occasions where Izayoi-kun gave us both a slightly conscious look. However, it never went beyond that. So, I had been calmly interacting with him, maintaining that balance. But now, that equilibrium started to waver.
Feeding him the mapo tofu with “ahh” was truly embarrassing. But I had to be bold like this.
Yet, the gap between me and Karen-senpai remained unbridged…
When she fed him, Izayoi-kun’s reaction was slightly different.
Unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair.
Why? Why is he more excited than when I did it? Why? Hey, why?
At that time, I skillfully pretended to compete with her, wanting to close the gap even a little, but that difference remained unbridgeable… It seemed like the two of them were becoming special to each other.
I don’t dislike Karen-senpai… I’ve often felt jealousy and envy towards her. She’s the only one who can have enjoyable discussions with Izayoi-kun about light novels and manga. I’ve been reading them too recently, but I can’t compete with her vast knowledge. There’s an insurmountable difference.
But I thought I could be reassured because there were areas where I surpassed her, where I could compete with her, but that sense of security collapsed like a stock market crash. I’ve never dealt with stocks, but I realized that stockholders must feel like this when the stocks crash. An emotion like a massive whirlpool, something I’ve never felt towards Karen-senpai before, erupted within me.
Envy, jealousy, admiration, and resentment, all swirled together and turned into something ugly. It was enormous, but my feelings for him were even more immense.
—That intense emotion, like the one at the summer festival…
Yearning, thirst, the fervent desire for him to understand my feelings, the craving to have him, the question of why he doesn’t look at me, the affection for him, an overwhelming fondness, the wish for him to look at me with the same gaze.
—And above all, an abnormal possessiveness.
I want to be with him too, I want to… I will quickly rise to the same level as you, Karen-senpai.
I didn’t care how disgraceful it seemed; I was determined to make him more conscious of me…
At that moment, my mother’s advice was nowhere in my mind.
I’m in the bath, letting the shower hit my shoulders and getting my whole body wet. When I’m in the bath, I often find myself recalling various events from the day.
And today… well, I ended up doing something like a confession. It’s embarrassing, and I feel a strong sense of guilt… but it’s true that the confession changed my perception of her.
Of course, it’s not just her. The perception of everyone else has changed too. But… after conveying my love and confirming our feelings for each other, I can’t help but become even more conscious of her.
I was aware of both Gindou Kohaku’s and Hihara Karen’s feelings. Pretending not to notice was impure and dishonest.
Perhaps, even Kikawa Moegi and Kataumi Aoi… I can’t put it into words, but confessing only to Hihara Karen is a terrible move. And moreover, I can never become special to her…
I can’t let the relationship between Hihara Karen and her friends become strained. I’m in trouble, honestly, revealing the truth at that time was necessary, but… what should I do?
Oh, what should I do?
Lost in thought in the bath, the bathroom door opens. Huh? Why? I was the last one to enter the bath!?
“Izayoi-kun, can I wash your back?”
Her voice reaches me from behind. Wait, what’s going on here!?
“Eh!? No, it’s… it’s fine.”
“Please don’t hesitate… but if you really don’t want it, if you hate it, I’ll leave.”
I still haven’t seen her figure. I feel her presence from behind. And her soprano voice echoes in the bathroom, filled with a tremendous sense of tragedy.
What kind of situation is this? I close my eyes and turn my back. Her voice is beautiful, but it exudes a tremendous sense of sadness.
“I don’t hate it.”
“Then, it’s okay, right?”
“I see… you hate… a pig like me…”
“That’s not true.”
“Okay, then I’ll wash your back.”
She wets the body towel with soap and creates foam. I can’t see it as I have my eyes closed, but I hear the sound of the foam through my ears.
“You haven’t washed your body yet, have you?”
“I, I, I haven’t.”
“Okay, then I’ll start with your arms.”
She washes my arms, and then she washes my back. I think she’s washing from a position behind me.
“What about the front?”
“Th, the front!?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind… I’ll wash it gently though…”
To even consider this… I’m such a piece of crap. This world is originally a wholesome world. There might be a little ecchi here and there, but it’s a proper world that anyone can see.
If I let her wash the front… this world would turn into a “hentai monk” world. Ethically, that’s completely unacceptable!!
“I’ll wash it myself!”
“Right… I guess I went too far…”
I can’t hear the latter half of her words very well, but I’m glad she retreated. Afterward, she hands me the body towel, and I wash my body and hair before soaking in the bathtub. I still haven’t seen her figure.
I can guess her approximate location, so I keep my eyes closed, but sometimes I hear her breathing and even lewd sighs, which leads to wild fantasies in my head. I can perfectly imagine her appearance, so it’s embarrassing even with my eyes closed.
“Can I also get in the bath? My body feels sweaty…”
She lightly washes her whole body and then joins me in the same bathtub. With her in the tub, the water level rises slightly, and some water spills out.
“Um, do you hate looking at me so much?”
“N-No, it’s not like that.”
“Then, please open your eyes. It makes me sad when you keep them closed…”
Her voice sounds sad, and I open my eyes.
“We finally made eye contact.”
She has her long, beautiful silver hair tied up in a bun, and she’s wearing only a white towel, which clings to her body, making her look even more alluring. She’s hiding her chest, but it’s even more tempting with the water sticking to her body.
And why are collarbones so alluring…? She’s not human… She feels like a being from a different dimension, like a goddess or an angel.
I inadvertently swallow my saliva. It’s impossible for any guy not to be conscious of her… Her beauty, sexiness, cuteness, alluring voice, mature body… and more.
When I’m taken aback, she suddenly hugs me.
“Ah… Why are you…?”
“…No, not those eyes. Why? Why? Why? What’s missing? Why can’t you love me more? Why am I the only one falling like this? Unfair, unfair, unfair, unfair. Be more conscious of me, depend on me, love me more… Hey, love me more, more than anyone, more than anything…”
“Uh, um, well…”
I didn’t know what the right reaction was. Is this her true feelings?
Suddenly, she teases me with a voice that sounds refreshing, not heavy or gloomy.
“Just wanted to tease you♪ Oh, it was so much fun. You’re cute when you’re innocent, Izayoi-kun.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, you really are. It was so much fun. Well, I’m getting bored now, so I’ll get out first. Excuse me…”
Saying that, she gets out of the bathtub.
Was it just a joke…? Well, she does sometimes have a mischievous side…
In the “story,” she once lied and said that Hihara Karen finally decoded the value of pi, so… I wonder which one it is?
I thought about it, but I couldn’t find an answer.
Whether she was teasing me or not, I couldn’t be sure.
“… What? Who are you? You…”
I heard a voice. Originally, I planned to have a conversation with Izayoi-kun while we soaked in the bathtub together, hoping to capture his attention.
But the moment I looked into his eyes…
[Be bolder, or you’ll lose, you know?]
[Use everything, absolutely everything, do whatever it takes to get him.]
[Your potential is not just this. If you become bolder, you can easily win him over. Come on, get even closer.]
I couldn’t restrain myself any longer and ended up leaping at him. I had revealed such heavy feelings…
I felt that it would be bad if things continued like this, and that’s when I suddenly recalled my mother’s advice. I managed to hide it by acting…
At that time, I was me and not me. Because that’s what I felt…
I can’t hear that voice anymore.
Even though it’s summer, I couldn’t shake off the chill from that day.