Jacob was acting suspicious.
It was well into the evening, dinner had already finished, and Alicia was sitting on the couch, watching but not watching an anime that Matilda had recorded for her. She could barely even recognize the anime that was on. It looked like one of those generic series that was indistinguishable from numerous other anime, but she couldn’t even pay attention.
Jacob hadn’t shown up.
“What is he doing? Why is he so late?”
Her companion didn’t respond, though this was to be expected. It wasn’t like the girl had responded to her any of the other times she spoke.
Sitting beside her, Yūgure remained completely passive, neither talking nor moving. She was like a statue. Alicia couldn’t figure out what was going through her head, but she supposed the thoughts of a nekomata wasn’t any of her business.
“I’m home!” a voice called from the entrance.
Alicia leapt to her feet. Yūgure did as well. She might have been even faster to respond than Alicia herself.
Not wanting the nekomata to greet Jacob first, Alicia rushed into the hallway, where Jacob was putting his shoes on the rack.
“Welcome home.” Alicia wasn’t sure if she should act angry or not, so she decided to remain neutral. “It’s really late. Where have you been?”
The smile Jacob wore was apologetic. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stay out so late. I guess I lost track of time.”
That’s not an answer…
It did not escape her notice that Jacob was avoiding her questions. That, to her, meant he was trying to hide something, which meant that she had two choices. She could confront Jacob in an effort to pry the information out of him, or pretend nothing was wrong and get the information another way.
As she thought about these options, Alicia remembered how she had gotten angry at Jacob when she discovered how people were abusing him. She didn’t want to act like that again. She also knew that if she did confront him and he kept avoiding her questions, she’d get angry again.
‘I should deal with this in a roundabout manner.’
Alicia had been taught politics by some of the best tutors in the Underworld, including her father. She knew when to confront someone and when to back off. Right now was the time to back off.
“You missed dinner,” she said with a smile, though that smile threatened to break when Yūgure grabbed onto Jacob’s hand. “Matilda has been keeping a meal warm for you. Why don’t you grab it and eat in the living room while we watch Strike the Blood together?”
“Ah.” Jacob scratched the back of his head, the smile on his face decidedly sheepish. “Actually… I already ate. Oh! B-but I wouldn’t mind saving her meal for later, and I’ll definitely watch anime with you. I’m really interested in finding out what happens now with that Rudolf guy.”
“Okay,” Alicia said easily enough. “I’ll let Matilda know, and then we can watch Strike the Blood together.”
“Sounds good,” Jacob said.
As she went to find Matilda, who she guessed was in the study watching samurai shows, Alicia thought over what Jacob had unwittingly told her.
'He’s already eaten…'
Jacob couldn’t eat out. The reason was because restaurant owners kicked him out when he tried to.
While there was a possibility that he had forced whoever worked their to cater to him, judging from how passive he acted when he was being abused by bullies, she didn’t believe that to be the case.
Since it was evening, and evenings were always crowded, perhaps he had used the crowd to his advantage. She had told him that people were less likely to kick him out when there were a lot of people because they couldn’t afford to ruin their reputation. Still…
'That would only be if he was with me.'
No one would complain if someone kicked Jacob out when he was alone, which meant he hadn’t been alone when he went out to eat. Someone had been with him. However, this posed an even bigger question.
Who had been with him and what were they after?
Alicia didn’t think the person with Jacob was with him out of the goodness of their heart. Whoever it was likely had some ulterior motive.
She would find out what this person wanted. Alicia wasn’t going to let her friend get hurt anymore.
And the first step toward helping her friend was enlisting the aid of the nekomata sitting beside said friend.