Chapter 64:

063 – Rena "Azuki"

Rainbow of the Horizon—Illuminating Our Darkened Path | Our World

July 27.Bookmark here

"Ringo… I believe in your conviction, and I trust you. I think I will feel at ease by telling you this…"Bookmark here

Rena's hands strongly grasped on her cup, and I had a glimpse of the expression she is wearing on her face. From that, I had a feeling of fright, sadness, anxiety, and seriousness coming from her.Bookmark here

Realizing how she might be feeling at this moment, I responded with silence and directed a straight gaze to her eyes.Bookmark here

"What I want you to hear is my story—a story that rooted from a time not very far off.Bookmark here

Ringo… I… I actually have a child."Bookmark here

I unconsciously covered my mouth upon a gasp after hearing such powerful words that resonated down to my bones. Out of the blue, I suddenly felt great fear to the point that I have to resist my tears from rolling down from my trembling eyes. I was put into a familiar state of shock that I had felt several times over the two years that made changes to my life. There was something heavy that is pulling my whole body and existence, as though I had been horror struck.Bookmark here

I nearly forgot to breathe after being done in with all that weight.Bookmark here

As I snapped back to reality, I quickly and wisely recovered my breathing that had hurt my lungs already. I took one final deep breath and wiped my damp eyes with the back of my wrist.Bookmark here

"If you are going to go through such lengths to tell me this… there is no way that I will cover my ears."Bookmark here

Rena took out a sigh of relief and held out on her chest. She nodded and continued.Bookmark here

"My child… my son just turned two years old this past March. This means that it has been two years since I was exiled from my family.Bookmark here

The father's name is Kobana, or I do call him Koba to this day. I was one of the first batches of senior high school students in this country. Originally, I took the ABM course in first year in Rosé. That was the time when I met with him. Of course, he wasn't affected by the senior high school program, so he was already at his third year in college and was taking Food Technology by that time. Since Rosé has an extension university of the same name, we always got the chance to meet.Bookmark here

We immediately became friends even with a bit of gap in our age. He was of course busy even if he was not very studious. What I clearly know is that he was still hardworking in spite of that to attain his diploma. That, and his motivation to reach his goal was what made me fell in love with him.Bookmark here

After a month, I discovered that our feelings were mutual, and then he admitted that he liked me. After talking it out to my parents, I got to a relationship with him. My parents of course had doubts, however. But all in all, they fully supported us after he showed his sense of responsibility. But that sense of responsibility that I got from him was also the reason why I left… or got kicked out of the house."Bookmark here

She momentarily stopped. On her trembling lips, she placed the rim of the cup. Almost in an instant, her face showed delight.Bookmark here

She continued after replenishing her will.Bookmark here

"The mistake… Our mistake happened one time more than two years ago. Actually, by this time, it might have been three years already. My older brother and I visited his family…"Bookmark here

She once again held out to her chest, as though it has been tightening. Her breathing had become shallow but she immediately recovered.Bookmark here

"I really don't want to make this any longer…Bookmark here

When we visited, only her mother and Koba were there. My brother was planning on giving Koba's father quite an expensive wine. But my brother mistakenly poured the alcohol to our glass. Immediately, I fell asleep as it was a strong liquor. But I did not know that Koba was very weak to those kinds of drinks.Bookmark here

I didn't know what happened… rather, I did not know that it happened. I wasn't aware of it, since I was fast asleep. And he was also out of it when it happened. We tried to hide it, even to my brother that was also unaware. But then, we confessed to my parents… when I discovered that there was life growing in my womb.Bookmark here

My father, unable to control his emotions, beat him up until my father nearly pointed a knife at him. So much time had passed of not seeing him at all, while I am only in the house. So much time had passed… that he didn't even see our child being born.Bookmark here

'I wouldn't bear it if my son will know nothing of what a father is to him,' I suddenly raised my voice to my parents. Upon not seeing Koba for nearly a year, he went to our house again, asking my parents to take responsibility of me and my son. Just like me, he also stopped his studies because of what happened, but even before he came to our house again, he proudly proclaimed his advancement in college. Knowing that there is so little chance of him getting my parents' approval, he still came back day after day without any unnecessary material offerings. He only brought his will and sense of responsibility with him.Bookmark here

After a few months of perseverance, they finally approved of him. In exchange, I was kicked out of our house together with him and our child. His parents let me live alongside with them while taking care of our son. Her father was very stern, but surprisingly forgiving.Bookmark here

He told me a story. After Koba's parents got married, it was his mother that was working while his father was always at home doing what the housewife should do. He was a proficient cook even without studying it. And so he taught me of the knowledge he gathered from being a househusband. Because of that, I learned how to cook.Bookmark here

With me finally settling well with him…"Bookmark here

From the inside of Rena's collar, she slowly pulled up a braided string that looked like a necklace. Suddenly, I saw a luster; the lights of the cafe reflected to do radial curve of a silver ring.Bookmark here

I stuttered and said, "T-Then… the 'Azuki'…"Bookmark here

"Yes. It is as you thought. My maiden name was Kodama. Meaning that I am actually married to Koba."Bookmark here

My face turned red and my heart raced, not because of my superficial thoughts of marriage. But instead, it was because despite of the unbearable hardships they have gone through, they were still able to take their vows.Bookmark here

"I… I-I know it's very late… but congratulations t-to having your child and to your marriage…"Bookmark here

"Mhm… I am very grateful. I know that it really was not a bad idea to tell you about this, Ringo."Bookmark here

"Wh… What do you mean?"Bookmark here

"I have always expected that people will judge my circumstances without any second thought. But you were different, Ringo. You carefully listened to my story, and now… you aren't taking it without foul intent."Bookmark here

"I understand your circumstances… and it would make you feel worse if you try to let everything out only to be shouted or ridiculed at as a response. I have always listened to the difficult experiences of others, especially Gin; so I was able to at least absorb those difficult words uttered, even if this is my first time hearing of such case with my own ears… Still I have to admit that I was overwhelmed.Bookmark here

But I should be the one to be thankful… You trusted and believed in me to the point that you mustered up the courage to tell me all of that. If anything, I wished that I also had that honesty you have. I'm happy that you can still smile even in the face of all that."Bookmark here

The moment her eyes widened, she immediately took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes where no tears were yet to be found.Bookmark here

"Good grief… I think it's time for us to leave before I bawl out here," she suggested, and I agreed.Bookmark here

After paying out the bill and leaving a tip, we left the heartbroken cafe.Bookmark here

▪ ▪ ▪Bookmark here

Present day.Bookmark here

‹Gin›Bookmark here

The line in the cashier is still painstakingly long. Rena was still standing stagnant without losing her gentle grasp to the infant while the man looks at her in confusion, seeing her somewhat frightened face.Bookmark here

"Dear, is… something wrong?"Bookmark here

Finally, she snapped back after a weak squeal from the child on Rena's arms.Bookmark here

"Ah, n-no… I just thought… the person in front of you is my classmate," a tense and rather troubled smile directed to the man behind me.Bookmark here

It was only in the corner of my eye. I barely saw a fearful expression, and so did Rena. Realizing that things might turn for the worse, she quickly walked in front of us, separated by an array of belt stanchions. Before she even began to mediate, I enthusiastically started.Bookmark here

In contrast to their worry and fear, my thoughts and feelings are opposite to those. Of course, I have to reassure them.Bookmark here

"So it really is Rena. A boy, huh. Is he your son, by any chance?"Bookmark here

"Umm… Y-Yes," she nervously replied.Bookmark here

"I see. So does this mean that he is your husband?" I then looked at the man behind me.Bookmark here

"A-Ah, yes I am…!"Bookmark here

I switched my grip of the basket to my left hand and extended my right hand to him. "Nice to meet you, I'm Gin Sakato."Bookmark here

"I'm Kobana Azuki…"Bookmark here

And so we shook hands.Bookmark here

"You sure have a very fine wife."Bookmark here

"Ahahaha… Do I really?"Bookmark here

I ignored his fawning face and faced back to Rena, and saw that the baby is looking at me.Bookmark here

"Ahahaha. Here you go, little guy," The child immediately grabbed the finger I had offered him to hold. "Can I know his name?"Bookmark here

Finally, she smiled, "His name is Yoru."Bookmark here

"Ohh. What a unique name. Nice to meet you then, Yoru-kun."Bookmark here

If you're thinking that he responded with a smile or a laugh upon calling his name, drag that in to your recycle bin. He didn't even react and yet he still tightly held out to my finger.Bookmark here

"It seems that you need a rest though, Rena. I heard what your husband said earlier. It's better not to get your child tired."Bookmark here

"Mhm.Bookmark here

Thank you very much, Gin…"Bookmark here

I had the feeling that she was thanking me for an entirely different reason. But suddenly, I recalled.Bookmark here

"Also, Kobana-san. Ah, that was out of habit, sorry. I would like to extend my gratitude for letting Ringo impose in your household."Bookmark here

"You know her…?"Bookmark here

"We're dating. I wouldn't be surprised if she mentioned a thing or two about me."Bookmark here

"I see… so you are that Gin."Bookmark here

I felt that there is sadness to his smile when as though he remembered. Now I recalled. Rin asked my permission to loosen her lips about me.Bookmark here

"But speaking of Ringo, she really went all out with making our lunch yesterday that we had to go shopping today. But in any case, she has so much skill considering her age. To think that I studied culinary for my college, and I'm still beaten by my wife…"Bookmark here

"Oh? You recently graduated?"Bookmark here

"I am glad that I did—for my family. I'm now a member of society."Bookmark here

For a moment, my eyes rolled towards his left hand.Bookmark here

"You look like a happy family."Bookmark here

"Does it really look like it…?" he shyly asked as a response and scratched his left cheek.Bookmark here

"I can at least guess a possible premise as to how it all happened. But look at Rena, your wife; she had such a sweet smile earlier for you and your son. Don't you think that it's enough to say that you are a happy family?Bookmark here

Although… I can't really say that for certain since I still don't know how it means to become a parent…" I did the same actions that Kobana did.Bookmark here

"So you're really quite perceptive and deep for a 17 year-old."Bookmark here

"Ahahahaha. Aren't you confused when she told you that I'm 17 but actually turning 20?"Bookmark here

"I really was. I gave up on trying to understand what happened. But nonetheless… to think that you were a part of that in such an early age. And your sufferings just didn't stop from that…"Bookmark here

"Well, I'm not actually that similar to you and Rena right now. I still can't express my happiness whenever I want. I'm wondering if it will take me decades to completely fill the void inside me. I really wish for a happy life to the future that I don't even know."Bookmark here

He lightly laughed for some reason. "Just talking to you makes me feel at ease, really. Has anyone told you that your voice is whole and gentle even if deep?"Bookmark here

"Ahahaha… someone told me that I can be a radio announcer when I held a microphone once."Bookmark here

"I completely agree with that.Bookmark here

But still, I'm very grateful that there are people who don't look at our circumstances superficially. It kind of lifted me up, actually."Bookmark here

"I told myself that I will never look at things at face value. I am glad that I made you uplifted."Bookmark here

"To think that we're still pep talking in our age… I guess it's not that bad for friends to do that," Similar to what I did, he folded his arm, and we shook hands.Bookmark here

"If you need a man to talk to, I can accompany you for a little drink."Bookmark here

His hand lost its grip.Bookmark here

"Ah… I actually promised myself not to ever drink anymore. I don't want everything that happened to repeat again…"Bookmark here

(!)Bookmark here

"…"Bookmark here

I felt like I made a mistake again… and I hate it that my heart can't show it out.Bookmark here

"I-I'm really sorry for mentioning that… I honestly didn't know."Bookmark here

I still have a long way to sweep away my self-hatred.Bookmark here

"No. Please don't be. It was my mistake to begin with. It is my responsibility so there's nothing for you to feel bad."Bookmark here

"That is relieving…"Bookmark here

Then I realized, I'm already at the counter.Bookmark here

"It is nice talking to you, Gin."Bookmark here

"It's also my pleasure."Bookmark here

"But you know, Gin. Before I forget…"Bookmark here

"What is it?"Bookmark here

"I'm sure that you know this already, but your lover really loves you."Bookmark here

"…Bookmark here

Ahaha… I can't believe someone is saying that in her behalf…"Bookmark here

I wasn't long until I left through the automatic door. But a few minutes after that, I stood up from a bench and went back to the family, who I waited for.Bookmark here

"Gin? I thought you already left."Bookmark here

"I'd feel bad for not parting ways with the whole family, Kobana.Bookmark here

I wish you three a good life."Bookmark here

Rena smiled, "To you too, Gin, and to your family."Bookmark here

"Ahahaha. Is that so… Then I'm thankful."Bookmark here

~ ~ ~Bookmark here

"Humans tend to be baseless critiques. We can never avoid being judged," is what my parting words are.Bookmark here

Right after going the opposite ways, I walked a few steps and made my way to Zen Park, in which I directed my path to the lake while passing by a familiar paved walkway in between an array of trees.Bookmark here

"The leaves will fall by September, huh…"Bookmark here

Right after I stopped walking and met the land before the lake, the cold breeze immediately blew, penetrating the coldness to my bones.Bookmark here

"Hahh… I miss it when you freeze."Bookmark here

After a lot of thinking, I came to a point of pulling out my phone from my pocket and gave someone a ring.Bookmark here

"Hello, Kaizo. Yeah, it really has been a while since we last talked.Bookmark here

Well, it's not about him, but you're close. I just want to say that it was a good idea not to pick Rena Azuki as an observation subject.Bookmark here

I can confidently say that there is nothing for her to be changed. There is absolutely no need for a restart."Bookmark here

▪ ▪ ▪Bookmark here

August 9, two days prior to present day.Bookmark here

‹Rin›Bookmark here

I'm not so delusional as to think that this world is like out of an anime or a manga, and it also implies to their little things that are not usually noticed or pointed out. This is the real world.Bookmark here

Today is actually the day we have an empty schedule, and it is Friday so why not? Thus, I am invited to crash in to Azuki family's house for an overnight. But more than that, I felt that there is an apparent need for me to tell the truths about the life I had and I have in elaboration. Unlike Rena's story, I don't think it would take more than an hour to tell everything in detail. And this is also a good opportunity to discover what it is like to be with people outside my common community.Bookmark here

But all of that is in exchange for today's club activities. Gin may have gone home with me, but I know that he will come back to school merely on his casual house clothes to attend club. I mean it.Bookmark here

As to why I didn't up and just went to their place, it is illogical. Rena's home is located on the same direction to where I live. Of course I will be passing by my house! And thinking about those cliched "you go to your classmate's house and borrow their clothes…" Flying apples over the rainbow of the horizon, it will make me extremely bothered with too much imposition to them! A handful of this country's culture may have been influenced by the Japanese, but we are not as developed as they are, and so the economy is nothing compared to the North. No wait, why am I even saying that. Orions are conservative (maybe not all)! Even if a household in Orio has a washing machine, most people will still opt to handwash their clothes, and it is manually, of course. You used up more manpower and time, but the results are saving costs in water and electricity. You didn't use your washing machine, and one does not simply throw away the laundry water you use, you use that to make your waste sink upon excretion instead of using the flush.Bookmark here

I knew this all without even leaving and asking anyone outside my family. I learned them through instinct. But heck, the only problem with that is when I'm hanging my clothes (in general!) when I'm in Gin's house back then, and it was embarrassing. But nevertheless, we also don't use the dryer much! That's basically the scenes in a household with an income that is just adequate, and I can imagine Rena's being like that too. And maybe also to her husband's parents that I will also meet; that, I just realized.Bookmark here

Enough with the nagging apple, I've said all of that when the message that I'm only trying to say is that I can't impose on them too much…Bookmark here

Life is hard.Bookmark here

~ ~ ~Bookmark here

Having the minimal things I need, I headed out to find the edge of White Street before a turn. But while I was on my way, I remembered that I had something to ask Gin, so I gave him a call.Bookmark here

The walking distance wasn't even that far. Maybe more or less the same as going to school from home. But in her case, the approximated five minutes is doubled. Thinking about it, Rena had gone through pregnancy. But with that constant but short exercise every day, I think that's how Rena got her good figure maintained.Bookmark here

I'm still thinking about that when I can now easily run 15km… I sure eat a lot, huh…Bookmark here

Still, walking at this distance feels quite long and slow. But I noticed that there is a change in the road I'm walking on—there is a very subtle incline. I guess that it answers why this part of White Street does not get flooded.Bookmark here

Then I saw a standard white-painted house with a small patio in the front yard. Immediately, I saw such a dignified looking woman along with a cup on the table. She had a stern but gentle look in her eyes, and her jet-black hair flawlessly waved following the breeze.Bookmark here

Seeing such a beautiful woman made me redden at my standsti-Bookmark here

That's Rena, dummy.Bookmark here

Meeting gazes, she waved from where she is with that smile of hers that I've probably seen more times than the entire world population, except for Kobana and his son, of course.Bookmark here

Indifferent to most of the houses found here in White Street, their house is also elevated from the road up to halfway my thighs. Climbing four steps to the small stairs, I returned a smile and lightly bowed unconsciously. With the empty cup and saucer on her hand, she stood up and invited me inside of the humble house.Bookmark here

There was a very peaceful vibe around. There was only a subtle noise of the television heard from the hallway. Aside from that, it is very quiet in the house. She then guided me to the living room and immediately saw a crib from my right, and a man sitting on the sofa on my left. It was her husband.Bookmark here

I saw, for an instant, a surprised expression from him but it was immediately overshadowed by a subtle but somewhat timid smile. He greeted, "Good afternoon."Bookmark here

"Ah, good afternoon too. I'm your wife's friend, Ringo. Thank you for having me."Bookmark here

At first look, he looked quite tall. I would say that it is close to how tall Gin was before he grew six more centimeters in two years. Seeing face to face, he looked mature in his naturally timid expression that made him look like she's the same age as her wife.Bookmark here

He stood up, and what I saw from his outfit is a black chef's uniform. Seeing that and only that, I froze.Bookmark here

"C-C-CCI?!"Bookmark here

"Did I not tell you, Ringo…?"Bookmark here

"Y-You didn't mention anything…"Bookmark here

"And here I thought I told you about it… But you even said of planning to study there. Hahh…"Bookmark here

Rena… So you're telling me that your husband is working as an instructor in fluffing CCI?! If only I can shout right now, I would! But looking closer, there's a baby on the crib and I don't want to make the cute one cry!Bookmark here

"I'm Kobana Azuki. Nice to meet you."Bookmark here

"L-Likewise."Bookmark here

"Well, he just came home before you got here."Bookmark here

But somehow, something tells me that there is something off with my prior assumptions. Bookmark here

"Please excuse me," I sat on the other couch and started rolling my eyes around. I then saw Rena walking towards the kitchen behind the living room that is divided by a big doorway with a sliding wooden panel made from planks that are spaced out to let out air. I guess that it was also for the aesthetics and architecture.Bookmark here

Upon further observation, something definitely felt off in the house. It is however not in a foul way.Bookmark here

"It's a bummer that my mother leaves immediately when Rena comes back from school. She takes care of our son when we're not in the house, you see."Bookmark here

So that's it. That was what I thought that felt missing in the picture. Just from those words, I immediately interpreted that the family had moved out from Kobana's parents, most likely upon marriage. Thus, my assumption that the parents are here is actually not that right.Bookmark here

Needless to say, I immediately felt awkward. For some reason, not a topic has arisen after that. But then I turned my eyes to the crib, thank goodness.Bookmark here

"May I see your child?"Bookmark here

"Sure. Go ahead."Bookmark here

I guess that Ichi really is a little different when he's at this age, being so well behaved and all. Looking at their child, he seems to be on the stage of normal development.Bookmark here

"Oh! Ahaha," suddenly, he stood up and held out to the rails of the crib.Bookmark here

"So you're Yoru-kun. Ah, that's out of habit.Bookmark here

He's quite healthy, I see."Bookmark here

"Mhm. Kids grow up fast, I have to say."Bookmark here

"Yoru~ I'm Ringo. Ane Ringo."Bookmark here

"…nn… ko…" he said.Bookmark here

"…"Bookmark here


"I made you coffee."Bookmark here

"Ah. Thank you."Bookmark here

~ ~ ~Bookmark here

Later on, Yoru had taken his slumber.Bookmark here

It was still sunset, and so we finally got a lot to talk about. I found out that Kobana really is an instructor at CCI, and due to his fast academic advancement, he is also a researcher of the chemistry of food, mostly molecular gastronomy. In the event that I actually pass my interview and the practical assessment, he might likely be my teacher. But before that, there's no certainty that I'll actually graduate. Anything can happen to life, especially with the graduate students' dilemma to boot.Bookmark here

And I was quite surprised. A certain someone finally moved on from his literal pain and terror after eleven years, and I see them wholly swallowing the fact that I got to know of their rather unacceptable circumstance even after just two years. They were calm on that uptake, which I did not see coming neither I did expect to while they are still telling me more of their stories.Bookmark here

Inexcusably, the words just came out of my mouth suddenly.Bookmark here

"I'm surprised that you weren't that bothered from that… how can you still be collected…?"Bookmark here

I thought that I did something wrong, but then Rena gave her reply.Bookmark here

"It's because I was the one that told you of it. And besides… seeing that a life has been born is something that is keeping us from giving up and stopping.Bookmark here

Someday… there might be perhaps one day that you will come to understand how it feels."Bookmark here

"…"Bookmark here

It is not exactly that I still can't understand. Rather, I have felt and seen it, but not in the same way how a parent does. I saw it when my father and mother finally told me about the truth about my existence that converged to Gin's past. Even at that means, they went through such lengths to protect the future of a child. But it wasn't right. Desperation clouded reason, and so that was what happened. It was illogical that a life shall be saved in an expense of another. In the end, it did not change anything—a life for a life.Bookmark here

Nothing was gained, but so much have been lost.Bookmark here

"Yes… I wish that I will understand someday."Bookmark here

"Ahh… Should we take a little breather? We kind of got preoccupied with talking that we haven't prepared for dinner, huh," Kobana then stood up and stretched out.Bookmark here

"If there's something I can help at, I would really want to."Bookmark here

"That's fine, Ringo," Rena countered. "You're a guest today so make yourself at home."Bookmark here

"Th-Then…! Please let me make lunch for tomorrow."Bookmark here

"If you insist."Bookmark here

There is this thought that comes to my mind whenever I let myself in Gin's house to join him for meals. I have grown fond of the silhouette of his back whenever he is in the kitchen. I have seen it time and time again, yet I never get tired of watching him. But frankly, the scene that I am seeing is miles more captivating that it literally takes my breath.Bookmark here

At a typical sight in an Orion household, not many people wears apron and I know that well since I, my family, and the Sakato has that trend.Bookmark here

The two Azuki's are merely side-by-side in the kitchen, but it felt and looks entirely different from what I have seen. I know for a fact that I have seen myself with Gin together in the kitchen, but to see the same scene in a third person perspective, it felt like I was somehow taking it for granted after seeing those two.Bookmark here

Happiness. That is everything I can see from them. I have always felt happy at those times, but this is a new definition of happiness that I can't describe. How did this happiness come to be, I asked myself. I wonder… have I felt the same way?Bookmark here

~ ~ ~Bookmark here

Nothing is not delectable after seeing that and actually tasting their fruits of labor. Up until I have finished my own portion of dinner, I am still thinking—I am so happy that I want to cry.Bookmark here

"Do you drink something at this time of the night, Ringo?"Bookmark here

"Not really since I just settle with water before I sleep. But I still drink hot milk, to be honest."Bookmark here

"Ahaha. So it's that time of the year again that it's getting cold," Kobana mumbled.Bookmark here

"My boyfriend is usually exact with his numbers. I can see him say that it is about 25-27 degrees by now.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

But I think it is time for me to share my own story. After hearing what your wife told me, Yuka Kobana, I just can't help but to repay in equivalent. I just didn't feel like I don't really deserve to know them. This is not entirely my own story, and I was hesitant to tell. But Gin told me to choose how I want my happiness to be, and I know that I will be relieved to share our own resiliency."Bookmark here

"Ringo, we'll gladly listen."Bookmark here

First and foremost, I told my story of how Gin and I met, and how our current relationship came to be. Of course, I told the truth about the incident in Queen Street, how he got his scar, and that there is no point for me to explain how Gin's real age works.Bookmark here

I then told them about what happened to Gin last year, which was still fresh from Rena's mind, as she saw him with his silver hair. I told them the things that concerned the month we were away, and explained how the silver hair reflected all of his pain and stress that had accumulated for a decade, with barely letting them out.Bookmark here

Even I mentioned the truth about Gin being a Medical Child. They doubted it, of course. But I explained that what Rishou Kagetora said to the public was to protect the survivors of the program. Although, I never said anything about Ken. It was the roots of Gin's pain, I added. And finally, I shared my bitter discovery that I was supposed to be a Medical Child, but was then arbitrarily replaced by another child, which was Gin. The Medical Children indeed were guaranteed an extremely likely death, but one escaped, and another survived.Bookmark here

"I know that this sounds like very biased towards Gin, but in truth, it was just because I was pulled to his story. Being someone beside Gin, I swore to him that I will accept his suffering, and share mine to him. Therefore, what was his only story also became mine; I became part of his life, and so did he to mine. In the end, I love Gin and we at most wish for our, and our individual happiness. We have realized that we can't always be together. We are like a pair of chopsticks. Even if we can't function together if separated, we will still find a way to move forward. In the end of it all, a pair of chopsticks will always find a way to be together as a pair for it to work."Bookmark here

"I'm amazed with how philosophical that is…" mumbled Kobana with a smile. "Tell me, Ringo. Are you two actually not teenagers anymore?"Bookmark here

"Uhh… Eh?"Bookmark here

"Don't mind it, Ringo. He's just joking about that. But seriously, you and Gin don't act your age in a good way. But I'd say that it is really apparent for Gin since he is a member of the society now."Bookmark here

"Eh? You mean that that Gin is already doing work, dear?"Bookmark here

"I haven't told you? He's a sous chef at Giotto's."Bookmark here

He blinked thrice and suddenly jolted from his seat. "Y-You m-mean, that Giotto's here in Ginga and the one in Japan?!"Bookmark here

"Y-Yes… he got admitted immediately and is now working there for almost two years…" I modestly replied.Bookmark here

"But you see, dear, Ringo here actually experienced the kitchen of Giotto's already for a week's training."Bookmark here

"W-What?! You're saying that you've already entered the battlefield?!"Bookmark here

"A-Ah… Yes," again, I humbly responded.Bookmark here

He facepalmed, "Alright… now I'm convinced that you guys really shouldn't be high schoolers anymore…"Bookmark here

"Umm… I actually can't do calculus."Bookmark here

"Of course, you can't. I can't too. We aren't even in an engineering course!" Rena knocked my head.Bookmark here

"But on the educational perspective, though, since Blue Ink is implementing specific departments, I don't think you and even Dear will last four years in college. Maybe… you two will be promoted faster than I did."Bookmark here

"What?! Do you mean of me actually skipping a grade, Yuka Kobana?!"Bookmark here

"Correct. But in your boyfriend’s case, if he's going to take the same course, I don't think he needs to, if he already hammered the concepts in his head."Bookmark here

"Ah… I don't think that he will aim for the same course- Huh?!"Bookmark here

"What's wrong?"Bookmark here

"Actually… I don't know if he intends to go to college."Bookmark here

"Hmm? Is it because of his work?" asked Kobana.Bookmark here

"I don't exactly know… but looking at it, he is finally becoming stable to completely support himself now. Maybe he thinks that there is no reason for him to go."Bookmark here

Rena fell to shock, "Wait, I know that he lives alone. But you're telling me that all of his expenses and bills come from his pocket?"Bookmark here

"Yes. The titles of his house were converted to his name when he turned 18. Meaning that it's his property now."Bookmark here

"Yep. He's totally on the stage of adulting now."Bookmark here

"Stop that," Rena smacked his husband's head.Bookmark here

"By the way," she then asked, "does he already know everything about us?"Bookmark here

"I don't plan to tell him yet.Bookmark here

Ah- Rena. Is it okay if I tell my parents about this?"Bookmark here

"It is not that we are hiding things about our life, but I will ask to tell if you have a reason," her toned suddenly sounded stern.Bookmark here

"Should I just say it as it is…?"Bookmark here

"The truth is… I want my parents to hear about this. I feel like they are being too lenient on my relationship with Gin.Bookmark here

But in his case, he has been so empty for his whole life that his parents were fine with it. As long as he finds his happiness."Bookmark here

In the enveloping silence, Kobana placed his hand on her anxious wife.Bookmark here

"Don't worry too much, dear. If the time when Yoru grows comes, wouldn't we also want to be strict about this matter?"Bookmark here

"Hahh… I guess you're right. I really am still lacking as a parent."Bookmark here

"Hey, neither do I, you know."Bookmark here

A yawn from Rena signaled that we should retire for the night. Thus, Kobana carried his son with him while Rena guided me to a guest room. It seems that she already prepared it before I came here.Bookmark here

"Actually, do you take a bath before going to bed, Ringo?" Rena's question came out of nowhere.Bookmark here

"I don't really… I only do when I'm extremely tired.Bookmark here

…"Bookmark here

"I really got spoiled with the hot spring, huh…"Bookmark here

"I see. There hasn't been a woman in our household aside from mother-in-law, who takes a dip at night."Bookmark here

My eyes showed a slight displease, "Of course you wouldn't want another woman in this house, right?"Bookmark here

"Eh…"Bookmark here

"Of course I'm harmless, you know. Surely you've gotten jealous at some point."Bookmark here

"I… I don't think I have."Bookmark here

"Wooow. What a healthy relationship," I said in monotony.Bookmark here

▪ ▪ ▪Bookmark here

Just as I promised, I prepared myself for lunch as I rummaged through their inventory after breakfast. I had permission, worry not. But while I'm doing that, I can't help but see in the corner of my eye that Yoru was laughing at me in his crib. I then gave him a look of "What're you looking at, punk?"Bookmark here

Since it is a Saturday, Kobana apparently doesn't come to CCI at weekends. Sometimes he has an at-home work, and sometimes it's just a plain old day-off.Bookmark here

I didn't really realize things as I just focused on my cooking, apart from being aware that the married couple is watching me prepare. In the middle of it, their attention was caught.Bookmark here

"Ringo… Has anyone told you that you have a high potential as a housewife?" a legitimate housewife asked.Bookmark here

I saw that they are looking mostly at my preparations, which I unconsciously set aside in a very organized way. I then stopped my knife and said, "As far as I know, Gin's the only one telling me that. I guess I picked it up from my sister who is also married already.Bookmark here

Ugh… Did I really daydream of saying 'welcome home' in this kind of environment…? I'm hopeless…"Bookmark here

"Did you also have that thought, dear?"Bookmark here

"I might have."Bookmark here

In the end…Bookmark here

"Wooohhh…! You managed to perfectly balance the umami and the aftertaste is pleasant. You really brought out the flavor of the meat, didn't you?"Bookmark here

It was then I discovered that Rena is objectively better at cooking, although by a margin, but Kobana brings out his skills in analysis of food and its flavor. We may be in the same culinary realm, but his knowledge is just incredibly vast.Bookmark here

"That's what you'd expect from one the best cooks at Blue Ink."Bookmark here

"Ehhhh. Please don't say it like that, Rena."Bookmark here

"Anyway! I can really say that you have a great skill in your age, Ringo. If you're really aiming for CCI, I don't think you won't encounter any problem.Bookmark here

And honestly, your aptitude can be a big help for my wife to achieve her dream."Bookmark here

"Oh? You have a specific dream in mind, Rena? That's news to me."Bookmark here

"I guess… you could say that. All I want is to establish a small family-ran restaurant. If ever I get to achieve that, I would be ultimately content."Bookmark here

"That's amazing…"Bookmark here

"But well… It's something that I still don't know if I can accomplish."Bookmark here

"Hey, don't be such a downer. It's always better to look at the present than seek an unknown future. But who knows! I actually don't have any plans on working at Giotto's, so maybe I can really be a helping hand this time!"Bookmark here

"Fufu… I guess we will both play the waiting game, then, Ringo."Bookmark here

"Yep!"Bookmark here

But sadly, my stay in the Azuki household did not last much longer after that. At five, I bid them my farewell and went back home with contentment. After dinner with my parents, I immediately told them about Rena, and her experiences. I also bluntly asked them to be stricter with their decisions in my current relationship. I said that our decisions as a couple shouldn't only be influenced by ourselves, but also by my parents' guidance.Bookmark here

And then, my father calmly said, "Even if we become stricter from now on, you've gone through so many things that shaped your relationship to what it is now. At this point… you two, as partners, have already proven that we can give you our full trust. This doesn't even concern what happened a decade ago anymore.Bookmark here

But I have to admit that you got Sumi and I frightened with what happened to your classmate… to have a child in her age. We promise, daughter, that we will guide you more so we can protect you."Bookmark here

I've always seen the cheerful side of my father, but it is really refreshing to see his calmer demeanor. It makes his words very sincere.Bookmark here

What the elderly man back in the northern Cotona said still struck me about the present and the future. But amidst that, I still admitted to my parents my outlook in the future, while still solely focusing on the present.Bookmark here

I may have come back home with contentment, but I closed my eyes in my slumber with more satisfaction in my heart…Bookmark here

And I actually didn't realize that I was a little sick…Bookmark here

▪ ▪ ▪Bookmark here

Present.Bookmark here

"Aunt Sumi…! I'm home-Bookmark here

Ah, sorry…! I didn't mean to say that!"Bookmark here

"Ahahahaha…! It just means that you feel at home in here. Anyway, you can put the groceries in the kitchen. I'll handle the storing.Bookmark here

Also, you may go upstairs."Bookmark here

"Uhh… Is that really okay?"Bookmark here

"Do you want me to change my mind?"Bookmark here

"Please don't… And also, Aunt Sumi. I feel the need to say this immediately. But I really wish that Uncle Shuu is here too… I don't really want to repeat myself."Bookmark here

"Hmm… What is it, then?"Bookmark here

"I promise… I promise that I will not let myself betray the trust you have given us. I promise that I will not do anything that will be a cause for our relationship to be ruined."Bookmark here

It was clear as a day that I saw the satisfied smile from Aunt Sumi's face. Once again, she placed her hand on my head and shuffled my hair.Bookmark here

"You know what, Gin? You're a really good son. I'll keep your words to heart.Bookmark here

I don't know if something happened while you're away, but you've already been a good son to me before this. I know that Shuu also thinks of that. I also know that you will bring happiness to my daughter."Bookmark here

"I'm flattered… I have so little roots of my happiness, and I wouldn't dare lose one of my happiness in this life that I have."Bookmark here

"Mhm. Well said. Now go upstairs! I know that Ringo is waiting for you."Bookmark here

"E-Eh. Alright…!"Bookmark here

~ ~ ~Bookmark here

"Rin? Can I come in?"Bookmark here

"You can."Bookmark here

Bookmark here

"How are you feeling?"Bookmark here

"My body still feels heavy and my nose is a bit stuffy."Bookmark here

"At least you don't have a destroyed throat."Bookmark here

"I'm thankful that I didn't."Bookmark here

"Yeah. I'm also very thankful."Bookmark here

"For another reason, I guess?"Bookmark here

"…Bookmark here

Coincidence led me to Rena, and her family earlier."Bookmark here

"I see… So the 'eventually' came faster than I thought."Bookmark here

"And about that… Don't forget this day, Rin. I promise that I will do my best to protect you and the bond that we have. And once again, thank you for being my light."Bookmark here

"And thank you too… for clinging to life."Bookmark here

"'Don't die anymore,' is pretty much what you're trying to tell me. Hahh…Bookmark here

There may be a new time where we will get separated again, but…"Bookmark here

"But what's wrong with that?"Bookmark here

"…Bookmark here

Great minds."Bookmark here

"We are a pair of chopsticks, after all."Bookmark here

"We are a pair of chopsticks, after all."

Chapter Message:Bookmark here

That ends 063!Bookmark here

It's a short character arc, but I think it's well enough! It goes without saying that this won't be the last time the family will appear in the story.Bookmark here

Now on the other hand, I actually haven't written a chapter, let alone a literal word for the past three months. I'm transparent about the large amount of backlog that I have, but it hasn't progressed for quite a while. Ideas are finally coming to my mind and I think I'll be able to write again soon.Bookmark here

That being said, I am still drawing in the time when I should be writing. It's improving for the most part.Bookmark here

Thanks for reading!Bookmark here

NextBookmark here

064: Nice to see you again, "doctor".Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.