“Hey, Kokonoe-Sensei! Can I see your homework?”
“I can’t just give it to you for free, you know.”
After school, a traditional scene on the last day of summer vacation unfolds, a scene that has been going on since before the vacation started.
“You’re not going to ask for money from your classmates, right…?”
She looks up at me with pleading eyes, shaking me precisely. As expected of a gal, she’s well-versed in these negotiations.
Kukuku. But you’re too naive, Mineda. I’ve been learning how to deal with gals.
“In that case, how about showing me your panties?”
“Hey, Yukito, what are you saying!?”
“You can’t do something like that!”
They hurriedly try to stop me. The whole class is buzzing.
“Ku! Better to be safe than sorry. Today’s my favorite pair, and if it’s just a peek, it should be fine… It’s for the sake of summer vacation, after all. I’ll endure it if you want to see that much, Kokonoe-chan!”
“Mineda-san, don’t take what he says seriously!”
“Yuki, what’s gotten into you!?”
“What’s wrong with you two? Calm down a little. Listen up, okay? To avoid being manipulated by gals, I need a preemptive strike, like a preemptive punch—”
“I think you mean a preemptive punch, not panties!”
Huh? Did I get something wrong? According to my sister, “Since you’re unlucky with girls, if a gal starts bothering you, go for a preemptive panty strike,” but maybe I misheard her.
Right, a punch, not panties…
Yeah, I don’t want to see them, okay? Seriously, I don’t!
When I returned home, my mother was waiting in the living room with a serious expression. The atmosphere was heavy, and I wondered if something had happened. I searched my memory, but there were too many possibilities, and I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific. Who am I, really?
“There’s something very important I want to talk to you about. Will you listen?”
“Sure, what’s wrong?”
She took out a pamphlet with a serious look on her face.
“Since the ‘GoTo Travel’ campaign has started, how about our family of three going on a trip together?”
“In this mood, seriously?”
“…Because it’s our first time. We’ve never gone on a family trip before.”
“Come to think of it, you’re right.”
“How about going to a hot spring? Maybe for two nights and three days?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Really? You’re really going to go? No second thoughts?”
“You don’t have to be so insistent…”
“But I’m so happy—”
Her eyes became teary. It’s true; our family of three has never gone on a trip together before. I had always declined the idea, thinking I would only spoil the fun for my mother and sister.
I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. So whenever they went on a trip, I stayed home, and I never questioned it.
But the past doesn’t have to dictate the present.
My mother and sister no longer hide their goodwill. I don’t understand their true intentions, but if they invite me to go on a trip with them, it means they are willing to accept my presence.
Even though we’ve never been on a family trip before, if they’re inviting me now, maybe it’s a chance for a fresh start.
I was still a little unsure about the idea of going on a trip with them, but if they genuinely want me to be there, then maybe it’s worth giving it a try.
“I’m looking forward to it too, Mom… Wawawa?!”
Once again, my mother hugged me tightly. Do the people in this house have a habit of hugging?
I never expected my son to agree to come along! I’m so glad I invited him. I thought he would refuse again. I wonder what caused this change in his feelings. But for now, I’m just filled with joy. I can’t help but feel excited like a young girl.
We’ve never been able to have a proper family trip before. He always hesitates and holds back.
Why? Even when I asked, he never gave me an answer.
The reason is probably very sensitive, and it’s my fault that he ended up feeling that way. I couldn’t love him properly, and because of that, he carried the burden of guilt.
His bad luck with relationships and always getting hurt, it’s all because of me.
It’s been sixteen years since he was born. It’s been too long.
Our complicated and twisted relationship hasn’t been fully repaired yet. I don’t know how much more time it will take to untangle everything.
Finally, there’s a faint hope that we might be able to be normal from now on.
But I know it’s going to be a difficult journey. To return to a normal relationship, I have to make up for sixteen years’ worth of time.
I, trying to start over from the beginning, am still halfway there. I don’t have enough time to regain the time spent as a family, as a mother; there’s too little time left.
I can’t afford to spend another sixteen years. By then, he will no longer be with me. So, doing things the way we used to won’t be enough.
The only way is to pour an overwhelming and intense amount of love.
Day by day, I’ll give him all the love that I should have given him for the past sixteen years. Family love, parental love, and even the kind of love you would give to someone you are romantically attracted to. I don’t care about the form it takes.
Any kind of “love” is fine. The distinction doesn’t matter.
I’ve decided that I will love him with all of myself, in whatever way it may be.
Even if it means going through great pain, even if it seems abnormal,
I don’t want to regret anymore—.
Summer vacation means radio gymnastics. The standard time for radio calisthenics is early in the morning, but that is only due to the broadcast time.
In my case, I have purchased a CD of radio exercises, so I can do them any time of the day. (After the exercises, I ask my sister to stamp my name on the CD.)
I don’t think high school students should be doing radio calisthenics in the first place, but it is a promise of summer vacation. I was a man who loves to do the exercises.
After waking up in the morning, I did the third version of the fantastic radio calisthenics to loosen up my body, but now my body is tense and stiff. If this were a date, my heart might be in high spirits, but it’s not.
I’d rather have a chance encounter with someone who might be a cynical jerk to me in school. A familiar figure arrives right on time.
“The day is fine today—-“
“Why are your greetings so stiff?”
“Aren’t we rivals?”
“We are not! Geez, you’re just the same as always, aren’t you.”
“So, what can I do for you, Sanjoji-sensei?”
“It’s outside of school. You don’t have to be so conscious of it. I don’t think teachers and students can be neatly separated in and out of school, but at least I didn’t call you here to lecture you.”
Sanjoji-sensei was wearing a blouse, a tight skirt, and heels, and she wasn’t wearing a jacket, which made her look slightly more casual than usual. To the casual observer, she could easily pass for a competent office worker.
Earlier in the morning, when I was called to the station by Sanjoji-sensei, I was anxious about what she wanted to talk about, but her expression was gentle. Her gaze through the glasses didn’t seem as strict as usual. The real Sanjoji-sensei was quite charming.
When I received a message from Sanjouji-sensei, I was surprised, but secretly, I felt a little happy.
“Since it’s not easy to talk here, please come to my house.”
Me, going to her house? During summer vacation? A once-in-a-lifetime experience!?
“Isn’t it big?”
“The Sanjoji family has been a lineage of teachers for generations. My father, mother, aunt, and uncle, all of them. I’m not boasting, but it’s quite impressive. It can be pressurizing at times, but please don’t worry and come on in.”
It was a single-family house in Tokyo, and quite a large one at that. Unexpectedly, Sanjoji-sensei’s roots became clear.
As we passed through the entrance, a large Golden Retriever came trotting up to us. It didn’t bark, but instead rubbed its body against us. Taking advantage of its momentum, I petted it.
“Oh, it’s rare for Inukichi to warm up to someone.”
“What about that naming sense?”
As I patted Inukichi, it let out a contented sound.
There was a time when the idea of getting a pet was discussed in the Kokonoe family, but at the time, my mother was busy and my sister wasn’t the type to take care of it, so the idea was abandoned. I wanted to have a pet…
“Actually, she’s a female.”
Inukichi’s sad eyes seemed to be pleading something to me.
“Now, let’s go to my room. Wait here, I’ll bring some drinks.”
“E-Excuse me for disturbing?”
There was no specific indication of who else might be present, and there was no response either.
In ordinary cases, a home visit would involve the teacher visiting the student’s house. So why was I, the student, at Sensei’s house, and that too, at the house of Sanjoji-sensei, who wasn’t even my homeroom teacher?
In a sense, it was like enemy territory. I didn’t know when I might step on a landmine.
Sanjoji-sensei’s room was about ten tatami mats in size, spacious and comfortable. It reflected her personality, as it was neatly organized. I couldn’t touch her personal belongings, so I sat quietly on the provided cushion and looked around.
Ignoring my nervousness, Sensei brought cake and drinks.
“Do you like sweet things?”
“Yes. Sweets hunting is my only hobby.”
“Fufu. You’re like a girl.”
Sensei, who usually scolded me for various things, had a refreshing smile. She took out an album and placed it in front of me. Then, she looked straight into my eyes.
“Kokonoe-kun, do you remember me?”
“Uh, I’ve been called out by you quite often recently, so I guess I see you a lot.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. We met back in elementary school.”
“Elementary school? Ah, I see. We had a promise to get married, didn’t we?”
“Stop lying! Don’t make up things! That’s not it at all! Stop teasing with me! There’s a considerable age gap between us…”
Sensei’s enthusiasm was waning. The situation had taken an unexpected turn.
However, even if she mentioned our elementary school days, I had absolutely no memories of it. Perhaps due to the fact that I had always encountered nothing but hardships, I’ve become quite adept at forgetting things. Even if I remembered, it would only bring pain.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember at all.”
“I see… Well, I must have made memories you wouldn’t want to recall. It was my immaturity that made you feel that way. Take a look at this, Kokonoe-kun.”
Sensei opened the album, and there were many photos of elementary school students in their uniforms.
Among them was a boy with an extremely stoic expression, looking very serious.
That boy was alone in the photo, with no one else around.
Was that me? And the name of the homeroom teacher written there was “Suzuka Sanjoji.”
“I was your homeroom teacher when you were in elementary school. I’m truly sorry for that time.”
With teary eyes, Sensei stood up and deeply bowed.
Elementary school and the homeroom teacher. Just hearing that much, even I, as expected, started to remember.
――Speaking of the early years of elementary school, that was when I got involved in my first “false accusation” incident.