Chapter 24:

Orange Hopes

Couple That Can't Touch

Golden Week arrived and with it an entire week of holidays. My family always enjoyed spending time together at the festivals, though doing so had gotten harder in the last couple of years because of our economical situation.

Shōwa Day was commemorated in Tokyo, so we were able to simply walk through the city. There weren't many celebrations during the day, but Yu-tan loved the dances people performed, so we mostly did it for her. And the picnic was also nice.

But there was another reason for us to watch the dance ceremony this time—the announcement of the high school student to represent Tokyo at the Kite Festival was always announced after the dance.

We prepared to go out and I wasn't in the best mood. I sunk my face into my pillow, disappointed that I wasn't able to make enough money to buy another ticket for the theme park. Mom didn't let me work for another week because I was exhausted. That meant that I had only two options left; ask Araki-kun to buy his own ticket or take Yu-tan on our date.

Why did I promise something I wasn't sure I could keep?

The sun rays shining through the window burnt my neck. Mom then knocked on the door and stepped in.

"Come on, it's almost time," she said.

"Sure…," I muffled on my pillow.

"Are you still sad that you didn't get enough money to buy your ticket?"

I nodded, brushing my face against the soft fabric. Then she patted my back.

"Don't worry, I'm sure your friends will understand."

I had lied to her. I couldn't tell her I was going on a date with Araki-kun. I knew if I had, she would have bothered me about it for the rest of my life! So, instead, I told her that I wanted to go with some friends, not mentioning Hisa or Rem because that would have turned very bad very fast.

"Take this as a lesson; you shouldn't promise things that you aren't sure you can keep."

"I know…," I muffled again.

"Good. We'll be waiting for you. Hurry up or Yu-tan will start punching us."

She walked out of my room and closed the door. At least it looks like my lie is over with—

The door opened again.

"I know! Why don't you invite them to spend time with us today?"

My chest was crushed as if weights were dropped on it. I instantly sat up on my bed.

"Oh, I-I already messaged them, but they are spending time with their families," I nervously giggled.

"Really? That's too bad."

The pressure was released and I could breathe again. That was close.

"But what if they were lying?" she questioned. "You haven't known them for long, right? Let me see the messages so I can give you my opinion."

My heart pounded once again. I knew this was going to happen, but my brain didn't want to accept it.

"S-Sorry, Mom, but I don't want you to see my conversations with my friends, it's embarrassing…"

It wasn't embarrassing at all, but I had to pull the embarrassed-daughter card to survive.

"Does that mean you have something to hide?" Mom asked, concerned.

I opened my mouth to reply, but I didn't know what to say anymore. No matter what I answered, she was going to use it against me; I was like a Kendo student up against a master.

I gave up.

"Fine, let me message them now," I sighed.

"Perfect," Mom grinned.

The next problem was what chat to use. Luckily, I didn't tell her how many friends there were, but I couldn't use a chat with only one person in it; she wasn't that outdated in technology so I couldn't easily deceive her.

Since Hisa, Rem, and I had a special code to let each other know that we are in a critical situation, my first thought was our chat group, but their names would appear at the top of the screen and Mom would easily see them. I had to use a group chat with people that she didn't know and I only was in a couple of them; Hisa and Rem, and Araki-kun and Kawahara.

I had no other choice.

Before sending the message and showing the screen to Mom, I opened the chat to make sure there weren't weird conversations about the swapping. Luckily, they were mostly Kawahara's messages asking us to meet at the garden.

I typed, "Hi! Sorry for bothering you, but does anyone want to spend time with me and my family today?" and sent it. I was sure they weren't going to reply anytime soon.

I showed the screen to Mom.

"Oh, someone's already replying," she said.

Wait, what?

I quickly turned the phone towards me to see it; it was Kawahara. Please don't say anything related to the swapping!

"I apologize. I'll be spending my time with my family today, but I hope you have a nice day," she replied.

I let out a deep breath of relief.

"Let me see," Mom requested.

I showed her the screen and she read the message in a second. Then she stared at it, thoughtful.

"It doesn't seem like they are lying."

It's just a message, there's no way to know that. But at least the dangerous part has already passed. I doubt Araki-kun will reply, though I don't know what he can be doing at this time.

"Well, at least they know you tried to invite them," Mom said. "We should go, Yu-tan has probably killed your father already."


I hadn't felt this amount of adrenaline in a while.

Mom stepped out of my room when my phone suddenly buzzed with a notification. She snapped around, came back in, and stared at me.

Are you kidding me? It can't be, right?

I unlocked the phone once again and saw the notification.

"Sure. Where should we meet?" Araki-kun replied.

My face suddenly burned as I stared at the message. Mom tried to peek at the screen, but I quickly turned it off and hid it behind me.

Oh no, what did I just do…

"Who was it?" she smirked.

"A-Another friend in the group."

She stared into my soul. My eyes bounced around, unable to keep calm looking at her.

"Is it that 'friend' from last time?" she remarked.

I sighed. "Yes, Mom. He's the same friend…"

She laughed. "What an interesting turn of events. What did he say?"

"He said yes…"

"Wonderful! Does he live closer to the city? Or is it better if he comes here first?"

"He lives closer to the school, so it'll be better if he comes here first."

"Great. Tell him that and we shall wait for him here, then."

"Fine… But isn't Yu-tan going to be sad having to wait more time?"

"She'll be excited knowing it's because we are waiting for a new friend of yours."

"You're right…"

"Well, hurry up and tell him."

Mom left my room at last and I stood still in the middle of my room, holding my phone with my sweaty hands.

Why did he accept? I mean, it's not like I don't want him to come, but… I don't even know what to think anymore!

Since he had already come to my house, and it was closer than the city for him, I told him to meet with us as soon as he could.

I headed to the living room to wait for him with Mom, Dad, and Yu-tan. Mom told them that a friend of mine would be coming with us and Yu-tan jumped in excitement. Dad, on the other hand, seemed happy about it, but something was off.

Surprisingly, Araki-kun arrived in only twenty minutes.

He rang the bell and Yu-tan instantly jumped up and ran towards the door. My heart wouldn't calm down.

Yu-tan opened the door and greeted him, "Hello!"

Mom, Dad, and I stood up to greet him as well.

"H-Hello. I guess you are Yu-tan?" Araki-kun asked her.

"I am! What is your name?"

"Araki Koji."

Mom and Dad suddenly stopped walking.

Don't tell me they've already realized who he is…

"Nice to meet you, Araki Koji!" Yu-tan said.

"Call me Koji, it'll be easier for you to say."

"Okay, Koji!"

Out of nowhere, Mom and Dad ran to the door.

"E-Excuse us, but can you repeat your name?" Mom asked Araki-kun.

"S-Sure. My name is Araki Koji," he replied, confused.

Mom's and Dad's eyes opened wide and shouted, "You are an Araki?!"

I couldn't believe their reaction. I jumped in front of them to push them away from Araki-kun.

"Mom, Dad! What are you doing?!" I yelled.

"Why didn't you tell us that your friend was an Araki?" Mom questioned.

"Can you at least present yourselves?"

"Oh, right! I apologize for our reaction," Mom said, turning toward Araki-kun and bowing. "We are Suzuka's parents. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Don't worry about it. Nice to meet you too. Thank you for inviting me," Araki-kun also bowed.

"Well, we couldn't say no. Suzuka was so keen to invite you! Right, Suzuka?" Mom smiled.

"What?! You were the one that made me—"

She quickly covered my mouth with her hand and laughed.

"What are you holding?" Dad asked Araki-kun.

"Oh. One of my maids told me this would be a nice gift."

He handed the red and golden box to Dad. He opened it; it was filled with dozens of tiny chocolate balls; the most expensive, foreign chocolate you could buy in Japan.

Not only did Mom and Dad recognize the Araki name, but they also recognized the chocolate because they worked in a food-related field.

Mom and Dad were speechless.

"What that?" Yu-tan asked.

"I-It's chocolate, sweetie," Dad replied.

"Chocolate! Give!"

I could see Dad's trembling hands and the sweat running down his forehead. He obviously didn't want to eat such expensive chocolate, but he had no other choice and gave one to Yu-tan.


"Thanks for the gift, Araki-kun," he said. Then he leaned forward to whisper to him, "But don't get your hopes too high."


I pulled Mom's hand away from my mouth and yelled, "What do you mean by that?!"

"Don't worry, he also went through this with your sister," Mom told me. "Anyway, we should get going or we'll miss the dance ceremony."

"No!" Yu-tan screamed and ran out of the house. "Let's go!"

"Be careful!" Dad shouted at Yu-tan and followed her.

Araki-kun walked behind them and I was about to do the same, but Mom pulled me toward her before going out.

"That time when you stayed at someone's house because of the typhoon, was it his house?"

I nodded. "Yes, b-but I, maybe, I glossed over the detail that it was a mansion…"

She sighed. "I can't believe it. We'll talk later, let's go."

I didn't know if I was in trouble or not, but there was no use in thinking about it.

We finally headed out and walked for more than one hour through the streets. There were multiple events happening around the city and a lot of food stalls. Sadly, we could only buy food at a couple of them, compared to previous years where we bought a lot, and, for some reason, Araki-kun looked somewhat disappointed every time we couldn't afford something.

The nervousness of Araki-kun meeting my family faded away after a while. Everyone seemed to have a fun time while looking at the beautiful decorations and listening to people tell a bit of the history of Japan in many different ways, like muppet theaters, public plays, and what we visited the city for; the dance ceremony.

We arrived at the temple, crowded from top to bottom. We still were very far away and we couldn't get any closer. Not only that, but it was dangerous for Yu-tan to be among too many people because she could get lost easily. So we decided to step back and find an open place that was not too far so we could still hear the announcement of the results for the Kite Festival.

Yu-tan was obviously sad.

"Don't worry, sweetie, we can still watch them," Dad told her.

"No! It very far!"

The dance ceremony hadn't started yet and even though we were on a hill, we were far enough away that it would make it difficult to enjoy it. The good mood soon vanished.

"I'm very sorry for this, Araki-kun. There are more and more tourists every year and we didn't take them into account," Mom apologized.

"There's no need to apologize, I still had fun," he replied. "In fact, I should be the one apologizing. I didn't think of bringing money with me and you missed a lot of nice stuff that I could've bought." He bowed.

"Don't be like that," Mom said. "Even if you offered to buy it for us, we would've rejected it. I know you would do it because you're a good person, but we don't want others to have pity for us. We are in this situation because of our decisions but don't worry for us, we'll be out of it soon."

Araki-kun stayed silent for a moment. "I understand."

"And you should save money for you-know-who," Mom smirked and winked.

Not even a second later I could feel Dad's aura of death.

"Mom!" I yelled.

"Don't worry, Mrs. Kozue. My parents would've earned more money than I could've spent in one second."

"Right," she nervously giggled. I could feel her heart shattering. "I don't know your family and I don't want to meddle, but let me give you a tip. Your parents won't be able to have you on their shoulders forever, so try to become independent as soon as you can."

"I'll keep that in mind, thank you," Araki-kun replied. "You just gave me an idea. Can I borrow your daughter for a moment?"

"What?!" Dad yelled. My cheeks flushed.

"I meant Yu-tan."

"Oh, what for?"

We walked back to the temple but didn't get into the crowd. Instead, Araki-kun crouched down a bit and Dad sat Yu-tan down on his shoulders; she now was able to see the dance ceremony up close thanks to Araki-kun's tallness.

Even though she was always happy, I hadn't seen her that joyful in a while.

The dance started a few minutes later. People with orange clothes and traditional hats gracefully moved around on a platform. It was nothing spectacular, but Yu-tan enjoyed it every year.

There was something different about seeing her bonding with Araki-kun. I couldn't understand what it was, but it was a nice, peaceful, feeling.

The dance ended after a few minutes and Yu-tan couldn't stop smiling. It also surprised me that Araki-kun wasn't tired at all after carrying her for that long because she had been gaining a lot of weight. Or maybe he was good at hiding it.

Not much later, an announcer started speaking through a microphone.

"It's time for the announcement of who will represent Tokyo at Hamamatsu's Kite Festival!"

My heart hammered against my chest. We hadn't told Yu-tan, but we weren't going to be able to go to the festival this year. But, there was an opportunity to go, though I didn't believe I could achieve it. However, I decided to take part in the city-wide exam—which was how the representative was chosen—in the off chance that I would be chosen so we would be able to go. Any high school or university student in Tokyo could take the city-wide exam.

"The exam was harder than ever before," the announcer continued, "and, for the first time in forty years, we had a triple draw! Quite a special occasion! We had no other choice but to request the three participants to take another exam for a tie-breaker. And, two weeks later, the results are finally here!"

The announcer on top of the platform lifted a golden envelope to show it to the audience. My heart was about to explode. Not because I wanted to be the best, but because I didn't want to disappoint Yu-tan.

"And the winner is…"

For a moment, I could only hear my heartbeat. Please…

"Kudo Takeo!"

The clapping started and my heart sunk under my disappointment. It stopped pounding, but it tightened.

"Don't worry, Suzuka. You gave the exam your best shot," Mom said and caressed my shoulder.

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm just disappointed."

"Sorry for interrupting, but can I ask what is happening?" Araki-kun asked.

"Suzuka participated in an exam in order to have the opportunity to represent Tokyo at the Kite Festival," Dad answered.


"But that was just a side goal. Her real goal was to get the free trip to Hamamatsu for all of us, especially Yu-tan since it's going to happen on her birthday," Mom added.

"Kite! Birthday!" Yu-tan said again.

"You saw how happy she was watching the dances, right? Imagine that, but multiplied ten times. That's how she is at the Kite Festival," Dad said.

"I also would've loved to surprise her by being one of the participants in the kite battle," I added.

"I see," Araki-kun replied. "If you want, I can—"

"But wait, there's more!" the announcer shouted. "I said this is a special occasion, didn't I? Well, I didn't only mean it because of the triple draw. It's a special occasion because we still had a draw even after the tie-breaker!"


The crowd uttered in awe.

"That's right! After this amazing event, the organizers agreed to expand the participants by one, meaning each prefecture will have two students representing them!"

Mom's grip on my shoulder tightened, but I didn't want to get my hopes too high.

"Without further ado, the second winner is… Kozue Suzuka!"

I stopped breathing. Huh?

Everyone started clapping.

"Sis!" Yu-tan shouted.

"Suzuka! You won!" Mom shouted and hugged me.

"…I did?"

"You did it!" Dad said.

"Congratulations," Araki-kun smiled.

People around us heard my name and started congratulating me. I couldn't believe it. Everything felt surreal.

Am I dreaming? I just won against hundreds or thousands of people for Yu-tan…

My brain took a while to be able to think again and the happiness finally arrived.

We headed to the organizers' office to sign the papers and get the train tickets for the entire family. They also told us that everything was going to be paid for by them on the day we were going.

Even though we had only been gone for a few hours, it felt like a long day. We returned home and Araki-kun returned to his home. I wondered how he managed to get permission to go out.

There was nothing much else to do while we waited for the Kite Festival next week, except for one thing.

The date.

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